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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 9:12-16

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, September 17, 2014

12 Who is wise enough to understand this? Who has been instructed by the LORD so that he can explain it? Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness, so that no one can pass through it?

The desolate land was a warning. When God withholds his blessings, isn’t it time to pray and to repent? In verse 10, the animals are depicted as bounding away from the ruined land and the city in terror of what was approaching. Now the prophet has to ask: “Who is wise enough to understand this?” When it comes to physical safety, animals have more sense than most people. The rats have abandoned the sinking ship, but Judah has gone back below deck to flirt with the crew in ankle-deep water that’s getting deeper by the minute.

13 The LORD said: This is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them.

A staggering number of Bible commentators simply do not believe that passages like this could be true. They speculate that Moses did not write the books we have today at all, but that they were produced later, and the guess is made that they were written during the times (like Jeremiah’s time) when Judah was spiritually at its weakest.

The Bible teaches clearly and in words that are easy to understand that Moses wrote down the law of God on Mount Sinai. The first part, the moral law, was written by God himself in stone: the Ten Commandments (Exodus 31:18). The second part, consisting of the civil and ceremonial laws—the vast collection recorded especially in Exodus and Leviticus—were written down by Moses and presented to the people during the year that Israel was still camped at the foot of Sinai (Exodus 24:3-4). Moses wrote the law on scrolls (Exodus 17:14), and before he died, he completed all of the books from Genesis to Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 31:24). This is what God means when he says, “I set my law before them.” They knew God’s will. They knew what God expected of them.

They did not listen to my voice or live according to it. 14 Instead, they followed the stubbornness of their hearts, and they have followed the Baals as their ancestors taught them. 15 Therefore this is what the LORD of Armies, the God of Israel, says: Watch. I am about to make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water. 16 I will scatter them among nations that they and their ancestors have not known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have destroyed them.

Included in Moses’ law was a warning about idolatry. The warning describes all of the calamities in these verses of Jeremiah:

“Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, ‘I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,’ they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry… All the curses written in this book will fall on them.” (Deuteronomy 29:18-20)

There are a few different ways of saying “pursue” in Hebrew. One is the ordinary verb radaph, “pursue, chase after,” which is what God promises that his goodness and mercy do (Psalm 23:6), chasing after us all the days of our lives (this is also what Pharaoh did to the Israelites, Exodus 14:8). Here, however, God lets someone else do the pursuing for him. This is the word shalach, which means that God has “given free play” to the sword, or “sent” the sword (held figuratively by an entire army) to attack Judah. This is also how God sent the hand that put the handwriting on the wall in Daniel 5:24. He sent a messenger (perhaps an angel) to do the writing for him. Here in Jeremiah, God was warning that the nation coming to attack Judah was doing his work even if they were unbelieving pagans. “I will draw out my sword,” God warned, “and pursue you” (Leviticus 26:33).

So the time to turn back is right now. Turn back! Turn to the Lord with repentance and ask for his mercy. God is compassionate, and his mercy spreads out to everyone who turns to him. Our sins cling to us like stains on clothes, but the blood of Christ washes us clean again. Trust in the forgiveness God holds out to you through Jesus, and don’t let go of it. Not ever. Jesus is our only hope, and Jesus is every hope we need. He is the one who brings us peace and makes us right with God.

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.