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Jeremiah Chapter Five, Justified Punishment

In this study of Jeremiah chapter five, we look at the fact that God was justified in bringing judgment on Judah and Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 5:1 & 2

'Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city. Although they say, "As surely as the Lord lives," still they are swearing falsely.'

A challenge is issued to find one righteous man in the whole city of Jerusalem. God offers to spare the entire city for one man but there is not even one. We remember, from Genesis 18, how Abraham had asked God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if ten righteous men could be found. Either Abraham did not understand the depth of their sin or the heights of God's mercy when he stopped asking at ten. We see that, in Jerusalem, there were those who were claiming to acknowledge God but it was not a reality in their lives. Jesus also said that there would be those that, on the last day, do not enter heaven even though they had done things in His name. We see from both cases that what matters is what is in the heart.

Jeremiah 5:3

Lord, do not your eyes look for truth? You struck them, but they felt no pain; you crushed them, but they refused correction.

We see that God is right in punishing them because He gave them the opportunity to turn from their ways but they refused. As we see in Hebrews 12, correction from God is a sign that we are His children.

Jeremiah 5:4 & 5

I thought, 'These are only the poor; they are foolish, for they do not know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God. So I will go to the leaders and speak to them; surely they know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God.' But with one accord they too had broken off the yoke and torn off the bonds.

We see that God is right in His judgment as they could not use the "I didn't know" excuse. It was not just the uneducated people that were disobedient but also the city leaders. They are compared to oxen that had been hooked up to a load but had gone wild and broken away from the cart.

Jeremiah 5:6

Therefore a lion from the forest will attack them, a wolf from the desert will ravage them, a leopard will lie in wait near their towns to tear to pieces any who venture out, for their rebellion is great and their backslidings many.

In Leviticus 26, God told Israel that this would be the punishment for disobedience. Backsliding is where you know what it required but dig in your heels and resist. This is not accidentally breaking some rules but is outright rebellion.

Jeremiah 5:7

'Why should I forgive you? Your children have forsaken me and sworn by gods that are not gods. I supplied all their needs yet they committed adultery and thronged to the houses of prostitutes.'

The next generation had already been taught to follow the sins of their fathers. Can you imagine raising a child and providing for all of their needs but them calling another person mommy or daddy?

Jeremiah 5:8 & 9

'They are well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for another man's wife. Should I not punish them for this?' declares the Lord. 'Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?'

They had all that they needed and yet looked to other gods. The simple answer to these questions is that it is perfectly right and just for the Creator of all things to punish a disobedient creation.

Jeremiah 5:10 & 11

'Go through her vineyards and ravage them, but do not destroy them completely. Strip off her branches, for these people do not belong to the Lord. The people of Israel and the people of Judah have been utterly unfaithful to me,' declares the Lord.

Even though all are guilty and deserving of punishment, we see that, in His mercy, God spares a remnant. This is a pattern that occurs throughout the history of Israel and continues even to this day.

Jeremiah 5:12 & 13

They have lied about the Lord; they said, 'He will do nothing! No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine. The prophets are but wind and the word is not in them; so let what they say be done to them.'

Their religious leaders and prophets were saying that God would not punish them because they were His chosen people. It is much the same way with the world today as many say that everyone should just get along and there are many paths to salvation. Many say that God will not judge people as long as they are trying to do the best they can. This is nonsense and we should remember that the events that are described here did happen.

Jeremiah 5:14

Therefore this is what the Lord God Almighty says: 'Because the people have spoken these words, I will make my words in your mouth a fire and these people the wood it consumes.'

Fire refines and here the words the people spoke will be refined and the truth made known. They had said that God would not judge them for their idolatry but God's action would demonstrate the truth.

Jeremiah 5:15-17

'People of Israel,' declares the Lord, 'I am bringing a distant nation against you - an ancient and enduring nation, a people whose language you do not know, whose speech you do not understand. Their quivers are like an open grave; all of them are mighty warriors. They will devour your harvests and food, devour your sons and daughters; they will devour your flocks and herds, devour your vines and fig trees. With the sword they will destroy the fortified cities in which you trust.'

Once again, God lets Judah know that it will be Babylon that is used to judge them. The judgment would affect everything from their children to their fields and cities.

Jeremiah 5:18 & 19

'Yet even in those days,' declares the Lord, 'I will not destroy you completely. And when the people ask, "Why has the Lord our God done all this to us?" you will tell them, "As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your own land, so now you will serve foreigners in a land not your own."'

Once again, we see that God promises to spare a remnant from the coming destruction. We also see that this remnant is left for a reason which is to tell others about what God has done. There would be no doubt as to who brought on the judgment and that it was deserved (God was just in His judgment).

Jeremiah 5:20-22

'Announce this to the descendants of Jacob and proclaim it in Judah: Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: Should you not fear me?' declares the Lord. 'Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it.'

God uses the example of the sea to remind the people that he is the one who created all things and even the earth obeys Him. As the Creator, it is only right that God should tell the creation how it is to operate.

Jeremiah 5:23 & 24

'But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts; they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say to themselves, "Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives autumn and spring rains, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest."'

Even though the people had known that God was the creator and was in control of all things, they still rebelled. This reminds us that it is not merely a "head knowledge" of the things of God that is required to be saved. A change of heart is required and that change of heart is commonly called repentance.

Jeremiah 5:25

'Your wrongdoings have kept these away; your sins have deprived you of good.'

God makes it clear that the judgment of famine is due to their rejection of Him. God is not only the Creator but also the Sustainer of all things. When they rejected Him, then, God was no longer under obligation to provide for them. This is another example of how God's judgment was justified. Even as Christians, our sins can rob us of the good things that God has in store for us. We are guaranteed salvation but we are also given freedom to make choices every day. Those choices can either lead us to the good (blessings) that God has put in place for us or they can lead us in our own direction and the struggle to provide for ourselves.

Jeremiah 5:26 & 27a

'Among my people are the wicked who lie in wait like men who snare birds and like those who set traps to catch people. Like cages full of birds, their houses are full of deceit;'

God compares the actions of His people to those who trap birds and put them in cages. At first glance, we would not think too much of this as we are familiar with keeping birds in cages as pets. It was not like that in Jeremiah's time as birds were caught for food or for sacrifices but not for pets. Although we are free to do so, it is sad to think that birds who God created to fly freely through the sky are put in a cage where they mostly just sit on a perch. Imagine how the bird that is used to soaring in the sky feels when all it can do is sit on a perch. In the same way, people can get caught up in their sin where they cannot soar like God desires for us. This is the same type of frustration. We can escape that cage through Jesus Christ and be free to soar again!

Jeremiah 5:27b & 28

'they have become rich and powerful and have grown fat and sleek. Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not seek justice. They do not promote the case of the fatherless; they do not defend the just cause of the poor.'

The people of Judah and Jerusalem were blessed with wealth but did not take care of the poor and the orphans. The depth of our love for God is demonstrated in our treatment of people such as this.

Jeremiah 5:29

'Should I not punish them for this?' declares the Lord. 'Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?'

God has presented His case against Judah and asks if He is not right in bringing the coming judgment. The answer would have been obvious to the people as they knew that every charge that was presented was true.

Jeremiah 5:30 & 31

'A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?'

As we see, God is just in bringing the judgment on all of the people as they were all guilty. The so-called leaders and prophets were making up things and telling the people what they wanted to hear. This sounds like the same type of thing that is happening today and it is going to get even worse as the Day of the Lord approaches. Jesus answered the question of what will happen to these people when He said: "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" (see Matthew 7:22 & 23).

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