Listen up, you people… part 1

Listen to this message from God, O King of Judah, sitting on David’s throne; and let your servants and your people listen too. The Lord says, “Be fair-minded. Do what is right! Help those in need of justice! Quit your evil deeds! Protect the rights of aliens and immigrants, orphans and widows; stop murdering the innocent! If you put an end to all these terrible deeds you are doing, then I will deliver this nation and once more give kings to sit on David’s throne, and there shall be prosperity for all.”

And woe to you King Jehoiachin, for you are building your great palace with forced labor (slave labor). By not paying wages you are building injustice into its walls, and oppression into its doorframes and ceilings….Why did your father Josiah reign so long? Because he was just and fair in all his dealings. That is why the Lord blessed him. He saw to it that justice and help were given the poor and needy and all went well for him. This is how a man lives close to God. Jeremiah 22:2-4, 13, 15-16 (TLB)

I really enjoyed reading through Jeremiah recently. What a difficult ministry this prophet had—being called a traitor and persecuted because he preached a spiritual message that became politicized because it advocated surrender to the forces of Babylon and not seeking help from allies such as Egypt. Essentially, he was called to speak on God’s behalf to a people that would not listen. I had never before noticed how often the word listen was used in the text, especially from chapter 20 through through the end of the book. To listen to the Word of the Lord means to obey the Word of the Lord—you will not listen to me and obey the laws I have given you. (26:4)

There is a powerful example of this in Chapter 42*, where a guy named Johanan comes to Jeremiah and asks him to pray to God on his behalf, to show him and the men he was leading what to do next. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had already captured Jerusalem, removed King Zedekiah, and replaced him with a governor who would rule of the king’s behalf. Johanan was a Jewish guerrilla leader and did not know whether they should stay and fight or whether they should flee to Egypt. Apparently this guerrilla force was sizable because it included families as well. “May the curse of God be on us if we should refuse to obey whatever he (God) says we should do. Whether we like it or not, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we send you with our plea.” (42:5-6) So far so good. God gives his answer to Jeremiah who sends for Johanan and his guerrilla force: “Stay here in this land. If you do, I will bless you and no one will harm you….Don’t fear the King of Babylon any longer, for I am with you to save you and to deliver you from his hand.” (42:10-11)

You won’t believe what happens next. Johanan and his leaders said, “You lie! The Lord our God hasn’t told you to tell us not to go to Egypt!” They proceeded to flee to Egypt and took Jeremiah as a captive along with them. He was viewed with distain as he continued to prophesy and the people continued to worship their false gods. In fact, there was a group of women who were burning incense to the “Queen of Heaven” (the goddess Isis of Ashtoreth) and said to Jeremiah who was most likely on their case, “We will not listen to your false messages from God. We will do whatever we want to. We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and sacrifice to her just as much as we like—just as we and our father before us, and our kings and princes have aways done in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem… ” (44:16-17) Tradition tells us that Jeremiah died in Egypt, most likely stoned to death by his own people.

We may marvel as the brashness and irrationality of this Jewish remnant who seemed so eager to hear from God and then refused to listen to what he said. But we must understand there this was the result of a long process of disobedience, where their hearts had become hardened to the place where they listened only to what they wanted to hear. Do you listen when you read or hear the Word of God or does it in one ear and out the other? Please do not get to that place where your heart grows hardened and your ears deaf. We must daily be on our knees before our God asking him to bend our hearts toward him so we might listen to him speak to us in his Word. And when we hear it, It must lead us first to repentance, then to worship, and then to obedience. May we heed to counsel of old Eli to young Samuel; “Speak Lord, for you servant is listening.”

*another powerful example can be found in Jeremiah 38:14-28

part 2 is coming...

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