In our study of Jeremiah chapter two, we look at his first prophecy to the people of Jerusalem. We will see what happens when people turn their backs on God and trade the Creator of the universe for things that they make with their own hands. Although we may be quick to say that we would never do anything like that, we will see that it is easy to start trusting in our own hands or in other people instead of God.
The word of the Lord came to me: 'Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: "I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown.'"
In chapter 1, the Lord touched his mouth and put His words into the prophet's mouth. Now, he is sent to share those words with the people in Jerusalem. He declares that God remembers how devoted they had been when He brought them out of their slavery in Egypt. He reminds them that they were in a barren land and that it was God who had brought them into a land that did not have to be cultivated. They went from working day and night to grow food to a place where they could just pick and eat what God had provided. This is a picture of our salvation as well and a reminder that we do not have to work at salvation but we must simply accept what God has provided. That is what Paul was talking about in Ephesians 2:8 when he reminded them that they were saved by grace. That is the only way that anyone ever has or ever will be saved from the coming wrath of God.
'Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,' declares the Lord.
When they walked with God, they were set apart (holy) from the peoples around them. The word firstfruits is talking about the first part of a crop that is ready for the harvest. This first part was offered to God as a wave offering in faith and worship. God goes on to remind them that, when they were holy, those that opposed them were judged and faced disaster. God is the same today as He was back then and so we have the same assurance that, if we are set apart for His use (holy), He will handle those who would seek to harm us.
Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, all you clans of the house of Israel.
The house of Jacob refers to the fact that all of the leaders of the tribes of Israel were sons of Jacob who was the grandson of Abraham. There were twelve sons (tribes) and we remember that the number twelve is associated with the display of divine authority throughout the Bible. God changed Jacob's name to Israel and these sons and their families were chosen to be used by God to introduce the world to the one true God.
This is what the Lord says: 'What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.'
God asks the people for the reason that they turned their back on Him. This question was meant to get them to see how ridiculous it is to turn from Him and embrace worthless (dead) things. The simple answer is that there is no fault with God.
'They did not ask, "Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and rifts, a land of drought and darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?"'
When times were tough and they had to go through struggles, the people clung to God and followed Him wholeheartedly. As time went by and it was forgotten (and not taught to the children) the people felt as if they did not need God. Then, when the tough times came again, they turned to any and all idols to help them. Many of us do the same things today as we have forgotten how God has delivered us out of our sin. This leads us to trust in our own efforts, our bank accounts, or other things and we get further and further away from God. During the smooth times, we need to remember how God has delivered us from the rough times. This will prepare us for the trials and troubles that are to come. A big part of remembering is sharing your testimony with others.
'I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.'
The people forgot that God was their provider and that He had given them this wonderful land. They turned to worship things that they had made with their own hands and so even the land became detestable to God. This verse can also remind us that God does not want to only deliver us through the tough times but He also wants to richly provide for our needs.
The priests did not ask, 'Where is the Lord?' Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.'
Jeremiah describes a complete breakdown in the leadership of a nation. First, the priests (who were supposed to connect the people with the things of God) did not even seek God on behalf of the people. Then, the kings did not follow the leading of God and so led the people astray. Finally, the prophets (who were supposed to warn the people) did not do so. This describes the bankruptcy of the religious, political, and commercial systems as it is everyone for themselves. Does this sound familiar?
'Therefore I bring charges against you again,' declares the Lord. 'And I will bring charges against your children's children.'
Because they have forgotten the past and turned to idols, God is calling them to answer for their actions. Not only the adults but even their grandchildren. We may ask how God could say that He is bringing charges against the "children's children" and the simple answer is that God knows that the people are not going to turn back to Him for three generations. The older adults had not taught their children the things of God and so they cannot teach their children what they do not know themselves. It is as if God were speaking to our country today with the way parents are no longer teaching their children about God. Some children get a dose of knowledge on a Sunday morning but for the rest of the week they get no training at all in the things of God. How, then, will they be able to teach their children?
Cross over to the coasts of Kittim and look, send to Kedar and observe closely; see if there has ever been anything like this: Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,' declares the Lord.
God tells the people to check out the coasts of Cyprus (an island off to the west of Israel) as well as the deserts of Saudi Arabia (off to the east of Israel) to see if anything like this has ever happened before. Then God gets specific with what they have done and that is they traded the presence of God in their lives for the worthless idols that they created. All of heaven shudders at this and how ridiculous it is but the same thing is happening more and more today. We need to stop and ask ourselves a question about all of the material things in our lives: What's it really worth?
'My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.'
Not only did God's people reject Him but they actually replaced Him with things that they created themselves. That is not only misplaced trust but it is a very bad trade because a spring does not end and does not need maintenance to keep the water flowing. A cistern requires work to keep it to where it can hold water. We, too, can either choose the "spring of living water" or we can try to do things on our own.
'Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth? Why then has he become plunder?'
God is basically asking His people to look at what they have become (slaves) and to compare that to what they were (the chosen people of God). The first step in coming to repentance is realizing where you are (separated from God) and how you got there (sin).
'Lions have roared; they have growled at him. They have laid waste his land; his towns are burned and deserted. Also, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes have shaved the crown of your head. Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when he led you in the way?'
God points out the ultimate shame that Israel faces as their enemy has even shaved the crown of their heads. Their land is now empty and it is all because they turned their backs on the Lord.
'Now why go to Egypt to drink water from the Shihor? And why go to Assyria to drink water from the River?'
God continues by asking His people why they would turn to other countries to provide for their needs. For us, water is not such a big deal because we can buy it everywhere in plastic bottles but it is still vital to support life. Therefore, God is sorta asking them how it makes sense to turn from the One that created life and all things and trust in someone else to provide for their basic needs. The Creator of all things can provide all that we need and, in fact, through Jesus has given us everything as an inheritance. We should be careful to remember that all things come from Him and give Him the praise.
'Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me,' declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty.
God basically tells His people to look at their surroundings and to realize that their current condition is because of their turning away from him. The same is true for us as well in that, if we find ourselves in a mess, we need to stop and search our hearts for sin. Although Jesus has paid for all our sins so that we are saved, we still suffer effects (consequences) of sin.
'Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, "I will not serve you!" Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute.'
The people had decided that they could just go anywhere and worship God but He had commanded them to go to Jerusalem. They went to all of the hills and set up altars for worship but it was not what God desired from them. Although, today, we can worship God anywhere and at any time, the best act of worship is obedience. If we pursue the things of this world and the ways of this world instead of listening to God through the Holy Spirit, we too become like prostitutes and God is not happy with us either.
'I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?'
The difference between a wild vine and one that has been planted and tended is in the fruit. With a vine that is planted and tended, you know what type of fruit will be produced and you know that it is good. With a wild vine, the wind can carry pollen and the fruit of the vine can be changed. Therefore, you cannot be sure of the quality of the fruit. God is telling His people that they chose to move away from Him (become wild) and so they are corrupted (you cannot be sure of the fruit). The same principle is true for us today in that, when we stay close to God by listening to the Holy Spirit, the fruit is good but, when we move away and try to do things on our own, the fruit can be corrupted.
'Although you wash yourself with soda and use an abundance of soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me,' declares the Sovereign Lord.
God tells His people that, no matter how hard they try, they cannot remove the memory of their sin from the mind of God. This passage reminds us of the hopeless state that the world was in before Jesus Christ. Through God's grace, our sins are paid for and we are as if they never even happened thanks to Jesus paying the penalty. As this verse says, we couldn't do it on our own.
'How can you say, "I am not defiled; I have not run after the Baals"? See how you behaved in the valley; consider what you have done. You are a swift she-camel running here and there, a wild donkey accustomed to the desert, sniffing the wind in her craving - in her heat who can restrain her? Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves; at mating time they will find her.'
When the biological clock is ticking in a female animal, they will chase after males to mate. The males do not have to work too hard. That is what God compares their idolatry to. It is the same for us and what Paul described as the battle inside us between the flesh and the spirit. (see Romans 7)
'Do not run until your feet are bare and your throat is dry. But you said, "It's no use! I love foreign gods, and I must go after them." As a thief is disgraced when he is caught, so the house of Israel is disgraced - they, their kings and their officials, their priests and their prophets.'
God urges His people to resist the flesh but their reaction is to give in. We see that this leads to disgrace when the deeds are exposed. We, too, face this battle on a daily basis but we have the victory through Jesus Christ. If we grab hold of that victory, we have the power to resist through the Holy Spirit.
'They say to wood, "you are my father," and to stone, "You gave me birth." They have turned their backs to me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say, "Come and save us!"'
The people had forgotten that it was God who created them but, when trouble came, they asked God for help. The same is true today as many will try to put God in the closet and only bring Him out to pray when there is an illness or a physical need. The Lord wants a relationship of constantly walking and talking with Him and anything less is idolatry as described in this passage.
Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah. 'Why do you bring charges against me? You have all rebelled against me,' declares the Lord.
Their sin (idolatry) separated them from God and yet they blamed God for abandoning them. In fact, God never left them; they had turned away and left God. Many of us do the same type of thing today as we trust in our own efforts until we get into a mess and then we blame God for our being in a mess. God allows our rebellion to lead to bad things on hope that we will repent and come back to Him.
'In vain I punished your people; they did not respond to correction. Your sword has devoured your prophets like a ravening lion.'
God sent prophets to deliver a message of repentance to the people but they did not listen. God sent troubles upon the people but they did not humble themselves and repent. God is still the same today as He will send messengers to us and He will also send troubles if that is what we need to get back into His will for our lives. God disciplines His children because He loves us and wants the best for us.
'You of this generation, consider the word of the Lord: "Have I been a desert to Israel or a land of great darkness? Why do my people say, 'We are free to roam; we will come to you no more'?"'
God asks these questions to get them to see how ridiculous it is to go from the provision of God to chasing after false idols. If they (and we) would reflect on what God has done, then, they (and we) would see how foolish it is to turn away and chase the things of this world.
'Does a maiden forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number.'
A maiden wants to look nice in order to find a husband and the bride wants to look nice for the groom. Therefore, they do not forget their jewelry but God's bride (His people) have stopped caring about how they present themselves to Him. This is even more relevant to God's people of today as it seems that many want to be saved from judgment but don't want to live like they are saved. This is the same type of thing that James was talking about in James 1:23-25.
'How skilled you are at pursuing love! Even the worst of women could learn from your ways. On your clothes men find the lifeblood of the poor, though you did not catch them breaking in. Yet in spite of all this you say, "I am innocent; he is not angry with me." But I will pass judgment on you because you say, "I have not sinned."'
God compares their idolatry to the actions of even the worst of prostitutes. Not only are they accused of turning their back on God but also of neglecting the poor. It is interesting to note that God does not say that they are being judged for the sin but for the denial of the sin. That speaks to the fact that God will forgive us of our sins but only if we confess that it is sin.
'Why do you go about so much, changing your ways? You will be disappointed by Egypt as you were by Assyria. You will also leave that place with your hands on your head, for the Lord has rejected those you trust; you will not be helped by them.'
God's people had turned from one country to the next for help instead of trusting in Him. God warns them that trust placed in anyone but Him is misplaced trust. The same is true for us in that our hope for everything is in Jesus Christ and we can look to people but they will always let us down.