God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, September 12, 2014
In Hebrew and Greek Bibles, the verse beginning “If only my head were a spring of water” is the last verse of chapter 8 (Jeremiah 8:23), but in Latin and English Bibles as well as most modern translations, it is the first verse of chapter 9. This is a phenomenon that happens in other places in the Old Testament, especially in longer books, but sometimes in shorter ones, too (Jonah 1:17 in English is Jonah 2:1 in Hebrew). The numbering of verses is an invention that came much later than the writing of the original books. Chapter and verse divisions are only there to help us navigate quickly through a book without having to say things like “in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush” (Mark 12:26), but simply “Exodus 3:6.”
9 1 If only my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
Then I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people.
2 If only I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers.
I would leave my people
and get away from them.
They are all adulterers,
a congregation of traitors.
Sometimes Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet. This is partly because we have strong evidence that he wrote the book of Lamentations, and partly because of passages like this one. This is a good example of the burden placed on the prophets. They were men who felt the pain of people condemned and rejected by God, but they themselves were the ones who had to proclaim that condemnation and rejection. Jeremiah even says he’d rather run away “to a lodging place for travelers” somewhere out in the desert. He wanted to be gone from people, because he knew that where there were people, there would be the judgment of God. That was the scope and the point of his call, to “root up and tear down” (Jeremiah 1:10, 12:14-17, 24:6, 31:28, etc.).
The prophet’s grief reflected the same emotion in the Lord, and in anyone who has to pronounce God’s judgment on someone who is sinning. It is never fun, but it is always necessary. God’s will is that sinners would be saved, but to do that, sinners need to be told that their sins really are sins, that what they’re doing is sinful. That’s painful. But if it doesn’t happen, then sinners don’t think that what they do is sinful at all. Sinners begin to think things like, “God loves me, so he wants me to be happy.” That’s a slap in the face to God. We should say instead: “God loves me, so I want to conform to his will and obey his word. God loves me, so I want to show love to other people even when it means that I won’t get what I want. God loves me, so I will serve God and I will serve my fellow man.” Even Christ took on the nature of a servant (Philippians 2:7), and we should follow his example.
We might have the impulse, like Jeremiah, to get away from sinners so that we won’t have to do the hard, messy and dirty work of telling people that they’re sinning. But that’s what God wants us to do. Pray for courage, for the right words and the right moment.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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