The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof? (Jeremiah 5:31)
It was a prosperous time, yet a treacherous one. The country had negotiated with a southern neighbor for improved relations. National zeal and confidence ran high. Wealth was increased for some, yet others felt the sting of a present natural plague. The threat of war by two large and populous foreign lands, whose speech and script were entirely different, was dismissed as practically impossible. Only those faithful to God were bleating out her underlying problems: the worship of everything but Jehovah was the root cause of the economic downturn; wicked men grew fat off the backs of the laboring poor; judges failed to hear flagrant cases of abuse; no one went to prison for their evil deeds; those who spoke truth to power would risk a prison sentence; and rulers lived by two sets of laws – one for themselves and another in writing. It seemed like they were in a different land than what their forefathers set up. Ironically, most people seemed to like it this way. Sound familiar?
The nation was Judah, and the time was ~612 BC. A deal with Egypt whose goods Judah imported made her rulers feel confident against the growing Assyrian and Babylonian threats. The lack of rain impacted the harvest of the poor, while the wealthy could weather out such inconveniences. Lawless lifestyles, expected among the heathen and their rulers, was found grievously excessive among Judah's religious leaders, undermining the nation's raison d'etre, their very reason for existence.
Only Jeremiah, a young priest, held forth the penetrating light of God's word: Declare this in the house of Jacob, and publish it in Judah, saying, Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not: Fear ye not me? saith the LORD: will ye not tremble at my presence °? But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone. Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest. Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you. For among my people are found wicked men: they lay wait, as he that setteth snares; they set a trap, they catch men. As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great, and waxen rich. They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the LORD: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? (Jeremiah 5:20-29)
As Pastor David Lewis profoundly said in a memorable sermon, "God is no novice in governing the universe." God is good, patient, and slow to anger; yet without contradiction, He is the just, holy and sovereign Lord of all who ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will, and setteth up over it the basest of men, and that by no means will clear the guilty. In the estimation of Babylon's king one generation later, all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing. He alone is the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.
As Jeremiah prophesied of Babylon's powerful sweeping deluge and a difficult-to-swallow course of action – just submit to Babylon and it will be well—it quickly became evident the king of Judah wasn't warm to any such advice. The faithful remnant in Judah surely pondered the worst. Will this doom overtake us? Will our worst fears be realized? What of our crops, our houses, our families and our land? So long as their eyes fixated upon the immediate circumstances, restlessness prevailed, and prosperity seemed dim. Sound familiar?
Yet our God, the same God Who prevailed in nearly identical circumstances millennia ago, gave all His elect the same Word of comfort: For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. The response of God's people to such words is always the same: Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD. Perhaps one of God's purposes in such distress is to wean His people from too much attachment to this sin-cursed world, so heaven's glories beam brighter. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
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