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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 5:7-11

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, August 11, 2014

7 Why should I forgive you?
     Your children have abandoned me
     and sworn by gods that are not gods.
I satisfied their needs,
  yet they committed adultery
  and crowded into the prostitute’s house.
8 They are well-fed, lusty stallions,
     each one neighing after his neighbor’s wife.
9 Should I not punish them for this? declares the LORD.
     Should I not avenge myself on a nation like this one?

There is no problem understanding what God means with these words. But we need to go back two verses to remember who “you” refers to when the Lord says, “Why should I forgive you?” They were the leaders, the “great ones,” who broke away from God’s yoke and tore off what they imagined to be God’s chains. Now we begin to see their actual sins a little more clearly. Up to this point, Jeremiah has equated idolatry with the marriage-breaking sin of adultery. Now he lets us know that the idolatry of these great leaders also involved adultery and fornication.

Let’s clearly define these words, adultery and fornication, so that there won’t be any misunderstanding about them. Adultery (Hebrew נָאָף, na’aph) is a word used in two ways in the Old Testament. It sometimes specifically means that a man, married or not, has sex outside of marriage with a woman who is married (or engaged). This was regarded as one of the vilest sins possible, because it broke her marriage vow to her husband, and it was to be punished with death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-24, John 8:3-5). However, adultery (na’aph) is also used in a broader sense of anyone who has sex outside of marriage. This might refer to the sins of a prostitute (Hosea 4:14), or to any sexual act that does not take place between a husband and his wife, as in the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). Fornication (זָנָח, zanah) is used more generally for any sexual act committed outside of marriage, usually prostitution (Genesis 38:24), but also for any sexual sin.

Although some cultures might look with tolerance on some sexual acts committed outside of marriage, God does not. A nation might legalize polygamy, but that doesn’t mean that God tolerates polygamy. A state might say that there is no crime in “consenting adults” having sex outside marriage (fornication), but that doesn’t mean that God gives his blessing on the act. A city might legalize prostitution, but that doesn’t mean that God turns a blind eye to prostitution. A high court might give certain legal and civic rights to people who are gay, but that doesn’t mean that God no longer treats homosexuality as a sin (Romans 1:27).

So God’s question, “Should I not punish them for this?” tells us two things. It tells us that God does not change his mind about the way he wants his blessing of sex to be enjoyed, and it also tells us that sexual sins were not just a metaphor for the idolatrous sins of the people in Jeremiah’s time. Sexual sins, including shrine prostitution, were part of the way the leaders of Judah were showing their idolatry.

10 Go through her vineyards and destroy them,
      but not completely.
Cut away the branches
  because they do not belong to the LORD.
11 The house of Israel and the house of Judah
        have been completely unfaithful to me,
        declares the LORD.

God cannot be approached by beings—humans or angels—who have their sins on their heads. The angels who fell into sin were banished forever from God’s presence (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). People who embrace a sin and live in that sin without repenting will be judged by their unbelief and condemned to hell (Mark 16:16). God pictured this for his people by forbidding even a Levite with a physical defect from approaching his tabernacle (Leviticus 21:23): If a Levite, set aside by God as a servant of his temple, could not enter into the holy place or approach the curtain of the temple because of a physical flaw—because he was missing a finger, or was crippled or blind or maimed in some way—how much more should someone crippled by an unrepentant sin be kept away!

So Jeremiah heard God’s command, “Cut away the branches because they do not belong to the Lord.” The sinful nation would be removed from God’s garden. And just because God said, “but not completely” (verse 10), that wasn’t mercy on the branches—the people—being cut away. When a tree is cut down with only the stump remaining, that doesn’t mean that the woodsman has mercy on the trunk, the branches, or any of the leaves. They’re all killed and done away with. When a fisherman hauls in a thousand fish in his net and allows one little one to leap beck into the sea, that doesn’t mean that he will have mercy on the thousand that are there on the deck of his ship. They will all die. So when God allowed a stump, a remnant, to survive the catastrophe of the siege and exile of Judah, that meant that God was showing mercy to those who trusted in him, who looked for the Messiah who would grow out of that stump (Isaiah 6:13, 11:1).

God warns and warns and warns. Take his warning to heart, and turn away from the sins in your life. You know about some of those sins; others you might be blind to. But ask his forgiveness for sins you know about and don’t know about alike, and look to his Messiah, Jesus, who came to rescue us from those sins. He came to take away the defect of sin and to give to us the holiness we do not otherwise have, letting us share in his own holiness (Hebrews 12:10) so that we don’t wonder whether we’re holy enough. Through faith in Jesus, we have God’s holiness for our very own.

“Now that you have been set free from sin…the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:22-23)

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.