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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 18:13-17

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This passage falls into three parts. First, the Lord asks who has ever heard of a nation doing the thing Israel has done, abandoning their God. Second, Israel has left the path and is wandering around on “byways” instead of God’s highway. Finally, Israel has become an object of scorn, and God will abandon them.

13 Therefore this is what the LORD says:
Ask among the nations,
  Who has ever heard anything like this?
Virgin Israel has done a most terrible thing.
14 Does the snow of Lebanon ever disappear from its rocky slopes?
      Does cold water flowing from a long distance ever run dry?

In Israel, there are many streams called wadis that we would call gulches. They fill up with rainwater, but they quickly run dry. They can’t be relied on. Jeremiah focuses on the other kind of stream: rivers fed by springs and constant melting snow in the mountains. Those streams never run dry, no matter how far the water flows before it empties into a lake or into the sea. That’s the kind of stream the Lord has been: Why has he been abandoned by people running off to drink from gulch water?

“Who has ever heard of anything like this?”

15 Yet my people have forgotten me:
      they burn incense to false gods
that make them stumble in their ways,
  in the ancients paths.
They walk on byways,
  on roads not built up,
16 making their land an object of horror,
      an object of lasting scorn.
Everyone who passes by will be horrified
  and shake his head.

In the Hebrew text of verse 16, more than half of the eleven words are dominated by ¬¬s-sounds (the first phrase is lasum arsam lesamma – try sounding them out, out loud). It adds to the thought of the verse that Judah will be scorned by people who pass by, evoking a hissing noise or the whistling of people who are shocked by the destruction brought on by God.

Idolatry is exchanging what it priceless for what is cheap. The Lord has given to mankind a precious path to walk: his holy will. God gave Israel the Law of Moses that was cherished by his people for a thousand years. But now they had turned away. The built up road or highway of the gospel was there, but Israel was wandering off on a goat-track into the hills. There’s something to be said about scenic drives, but can you imagine trying to drive across the U.S. by avoiding every paved road (including gravel) and sticking only to wheel ruts, logging tracks, and things like that? You wouldn’t get very far. Most roads like that are dead ends. That’s what the people of Judah were on as a nation: a dead end.

17 I will scatter them before their enemies
      like the east wind.
I will show them my back and not my face
  on the day of their disaster.

After years and even centuries of offering forgiveness to his people, God was finally turning his back on them. Even this was for their good, so that they would see more clearly what it means to be separated from God. The Lord was going to blow like the strong east wind and scatter his people like leaves.

Jeremiah’s book does a lot of condemning. There’s plenty of law, and it doesn’t seem like there’s very much gospel. But don’t forget that Jeremiah lived in a time when people were so far off track in their lives that they needed to hear this again and again. They were not like a Christian group today that’s wandered into a false teaching about this or that doctrine. They had abandoned God altogether, and the whole nation was in danger of eternal damnation. That’s why Jeremiah spoke up and spoke often. He was trying by all possible means to win a few souls back. It can’t have been a very enjoyable ministry or life that he led. His life was in danger, the king burned his scroll, he was imprisoned again and again, and he had to watch as his family and friends were chained up and deported to Babylon. He never saw them again. But his consolation was that he would see them again in heaven. Everyone who trusts in Jesus—even those who lived centuries before Jesus came and could only look forward to his coming—are saved by faith, thanks to the grace of God. That’s our motive for proclaiming the gospel, too. We endure the hardships of this life to gather our Father’s harvest, because his labor is a joy even when it is difficult, and the harvest is so very precious.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.