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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 5:1-6

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, August 9, 2014

In Chapter 5, the prophet will return to the threat coming from the north. But before the threat reappears, the Lord has a task for Jeremiah: See whether you can find just one person who is faithful…

They Have Been Completely Unfaithful
5 Hurry here and there through the streets of Jerusalem,
     look and take note,
     search her open squares:
see if you can find just one person
  who deals justly,
  who seeks the truth,
  and I will forgive her.
2 Though they say, “As the LORD lives,”
     they are still swearing falsely.
3 LORD, do not your eyes look for truth?
You struck them,
  but they felt no anguish.
You crushed them,
  but they refused discipline.
They made their faces harder than rock
  and refused to repent.

This search is a lot like the conversation between God and Abraham before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:23-33. There, as Abraham and God watched God’s destroying angels walk away toward Sodom to destroy it, Abraham boldly asked: “What if there are fifty righteous people there? Would you forgive them for the sake of the fifty?” When God said yes, Abraham asked the same question for forty-five righteous people (Genesis 18:28), forty people (Genesis 18:29), thirty (Genesis 18:30), twenty (Genesis 18:31) and even ten people (Genesis 18:32). But there weren’t ten righteous people there. When God’s angels offered to save six people—Lot, his wife, his two daughters and their husbands—the sons-in-law laughed and refused to go, and Lot’s own wife couldn’t help but look back at what she was losing—and she lost her life. Only three made it out of the city; three of the fifty Abraham had first estimated, and they were all his own blood relatives. Now God gets right to the point: Find one person, just one, living in Jerusalem who is righteous, and the city would be spared. For a time, Jeremiah himself was in the city (although he came from Anathoth a few miles to the north), but after the king deported him to Egypt, the city fell (Jeremiah 43:1-13). There might seem to be some believers there, but God warned: Even they were lying about their faith and acting falsely.

4 Then I said, “They are only the poor,
     they are foolish;
they do not know the way of the LORD,
  the just regulations of their God.

Jeremiah’s compassion makes him speak up on behalf of the ignorant people. They have no education! They don’t know! It’s the fault of the priests and teachers who fail to teach or minister to them! But Jeremiah’s argument won’t get very far.

5 I will go to the leaders
     and speak to them,
surely they know the way of the LORD,
  and the just regulations of their God.”
But together they have broken the yoke
  and torn off their chains.
6 That is why a lion from the forest will strike them,
      a wolf from the desert will attack them,
      a leopard watches their cities.
Everyone who comes out from them will be torn to pieces
  because their rebellions are so many
  and their unfaithfulness is so great.

King Josiah had swept the temple clean; the idols that had stood around to mislead the people were no longer standing. The multitude of altars to false gods were destroyed. It seemed as if there was no longer anything to turn the people away from God. But the problem was that they had never turned back to him in the first place. Deprived of their pagan religion, they chose no religion at all.

In just one other place in the Bible are the lion, wolf and leopard all mentioned together. That’s in Isaiah 11:6, a gospel promise about the coming Savior. That was the promise that “the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples” (Isaiah 11:10). Here, however, the danger of those beasts is not tamed by God’s grace. Now it is unleashed in all its ferocity on people who have openly rejected God. This scene is recalled in the beginning of Dante’s Inferno when the travelers encounter a lion, a wolf and a leopard in the dark wood. Some readers of Dante have speculated that the three beasts represent three classifications of sins, but it’s more likely that the poet had this passage in mind as a reminder of God’s sovereign authority as the one who punishes sins.

In verse 5, the leaders are literally the “great ones.” They are the ones the prophet wants to search out to find some righteousness. But in the end, it is not the leaders who are great in God’s eyes, but their unfaithfulness that’s become so big—“great,” but not good at all. That’s what he means when he says in verse 6, “Their rebellions are so many and their unfaithfulness is so great.”

The prophet still reminds us that the way of the LORD is good; the regulations of God are holy and just. And that justice can roll down on mankind in judgment, because we have all sinned and deserve his judgment. That’s what makes his mercy so spectacular. Despite our sins, he keeps on offering his forgiveness and his love. His mercy is there for us, offered and held out to everyone who won’t push it away, but who will receive it like people dying of thirst offered a cup of water. The water of God’s mercy is the water of life, the water that washes away our sins and give us life through Jesus; life in heaven forever.

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.