Not gonna lie, this season has a way of amplifying my readings in the major prophets. Not that I equate America with Israel. Not that I believe God is in the final judgment business in this age of grace. But that I believe the God of the prophets is an unchanging God, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Thus, the sin which provoked Him to anger in Jeremiah’s day will, no matter where it is found, provoke Him to anger today. To be sure, there is a place for that anger to be quenched, the cross of His blessed Son, but only for those who run to it. And God, just as He did in the days of the prophets, even today intervenes to reveal Himself, and to point people to the way of rescue through seasons of siege.
. . . they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know Me, declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: “Behold, I will refine them and test them, for what else can I do, because of My people?”
(Jeremiah 9:5b-7 ESV)
They’re lost. They’re hard-hearted and stiff-necked. They’re running themselves ragged with sin. They refuse to know Me. So what else can I do, says the LORD, but turn up the heat? To refine them in the fire, to test them under pressure, that they might come to their senses.
Even as God was mustering up the Babylonian horde to evict the people from their land because of their persistent, perpetual rebellion and unfaithfulness, He calls them to return. Even as the Babylonians set up siegeworks on Jerusalem’s doorstep, hemming them in, God appeals to His people through His prophet, wanting their season of siege (talk about your shelter in place!) to act as a wake up call and a catalyst for repentance.
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. . . . For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place . . .”
(Jeremiah 7:3, 5-7a ESV)
And while their return to God would be manifest in amended ways and deeds, what strikes me this morning is that it would be initiated through understanding and knowledge.
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
(Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)
Nothing new under the sun, those who reject God are those who are full of themselves. Trusting in their wisdom, confident in their strength, relying on their wealth, they say to themselves “Self, we got this. We don’t need no God.” True of fallen Israel, true of fallen empires throughout the ages — even during this age of grace.
But, I’m thinking, God turns up the heat on the nations He has loved — and loved unto death on the cross — so that when their wisdom and their strength and their riches are no longer sufficient to maintain control of their lives, they’ll look up . . . look wwaayy up! And they’ll understand and know there is a God.
They’ll understand. They’ll give attention to, ponder, look towards. Clarity will come. The light will go on.
They’ll know. They’ll recognize, discern, confess to be true, and experience. They’ll taste and see.
And what will they understand when the light comes on? What will they know and admit when they taste and see? That the LORD is not just the God of steadfast love, but also of justice and righteousness. And not just in ancient Israel, but “in the earth.”
They will know there is a God. They will understand He is the Sovereign Creator of all things. And they will experience the holy, put-you-on-your-face-in-reverent-awe fear that saves the soul. And then, by His wisdom, and by the power of His might, and as heirs of His eternal riches they will have the desire, strength, and ability to amend their ways.
What can I do, says the God who loves a people who have strayed? What can I do but refine them and test them? That they might know Me and live.
Even seasons of siege are by His grace. That our boasting in Him alone, though for our good, might be for His glory.