(Note: I’m a very proud person who hasn’t thought I needed anybody for anything spiritual. For several years I had eschewed the idea of commentaries or other helps – why invite the counsel of other godly men when you already know it all? With that background, any correction of inaccuracies or any way that I’m not being faithful to the Word here or in other posts would be a great blessing to me. Please feel free to do it!)
In our family Bible reading, we’ve been in the book of Jeremiah. We’re finding some fascinating things in there!
Jeremiah and Abraham
Remember in Genesis 18 where Abraham is pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah, and he asks if the LORD would destroy the city if there were found 50 righteous people, and the LORD says if he found fifty righteous people, he would not destroy it? After that, Abraham asks about 45, 40, 30, 20, and 10 righteous people, and each time the LORD says that if he found that many righteous people in the city he would not destroy it. God eventually does destroy the city… but it leaves us hanging, doesn’t it? How many righteous people were in the city?
WELL… with this background in mind, I was quite surprised when we came to Jeremiah 5 and found a further development:
Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem,
look around and consider,
search through her squares.
If you can find but one person
who deals honestly and seeks the truth,
I will forgive this city. (Jeremiah 5:1, NIV)
But one person. And we know what happened – the LORD overthrew his own city. The implication: There was none righteous, no, not one. There’s the starkness of the human condition Romans 3 tells us about, right there in Jeremiah!
Jeremiah and the Implicit Condition
How could God prophesy destruction on Ninevah through the prophet Jonah and then not carry it through? And there are other examples in the Old Testament where God threatens some disaster but then relents when the people repent. We know God wouldn’t lie, but how can we reconcile this?
God spells it out more clearly than I remembered seeing, in Jeremiah 18:5-10:
Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. (NIV)
So implicit in the LORD’s threatened punishments is an implicit “if you do not repent”.
Jeremiah and Presumption
A third eye-opening thing is in Jeremiah 21. I’ve heard many people quote Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
And that’s good. Let’s claim the promises of God! But I’ve never heard anyone quote Jeremiah 21:10:
I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the LORD. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.’
Hmm, in one place he has plans to prosper and not to harm, but in another place he has determined to do harm and not good. What’s the differentiating factor?
In Jeremiah 21 he’s speaking to the stubbornly unrepentant, while in Jeremiah 29 he’s speaking to those who will seek him and find him when they seek him with all their heart. Does this not warn us against presumption in claiming Jeremiah 29:11 for ourselves? Let us examine our hearts for fruit in keeping with repentance. If we find it, let’s thank God for his mercy in granting us changed hearts. If not, let’s tremble at the threatenings of Jeremiah 21:10 and repent!