Do your Land Good and Live as an Exile

From 606 to 586 BC, the people of Judah were conquered by the Babylonian Empire. At different times, different groups of Jews were taken to live in Babylon. In all, the nation would spend 70 years in exile under the judgment of God. But God promised that, after that exile, he would return the nation to its land.

Of course, there are many false prophets who urged the people not to willingly go to Babylon, to try to avoid the exile. These evil men tried to get the people to believe that God would restore the nation to the land within 2 or 3 years. But God’s word for the people was a call to go to Babylon, settle down, and live godly lives.

Jeremiah 29:4-7 — 4 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

God had a word for the people who were in exile. Build a house. Have a family. Get a job and feed your family—the whole concept of growing a garden. Pray for your new city. Do good for the city. As you help the welfare of the city, you help yourself. Even if this land is not your ultimate home, do what you can to live a godly life and do the land good.

While modern Christians are not Jews in the 6th century BC, we sometimes feel similar things. WE look around in our land, in our city perhaps, and we feel like strangers and aliens in a foreign land. The nation does not value what we value. The nation can be harsh to our beliefs. The nation participates in grievously sinful acts. What are we to do?

I would suggest that God’s word in Jeremiah is pretty close to what his word would be for us today. WE are not to run away and hide. Nor are we to embrace the sinful worldview of our culture. We are to live godly lives in the real world. Set up a home. Have a family if the Lord provides that opportunity. Work a job. Pray for the nation. Share the gospel. Bring about God-honoring change when you can. Do what you can to do your city good, for in doing your city good, you do yourself good.

False Comfort for Societal Gain

Jeremiah had a very hard ministry. He spoke to the people of Judah the word of God in a time when the people were not following God. The people disobeyed. The kings of Judah disobeyed. No matter what Jeremiah said, the leaders of Judah would not listen. And, as frustrating as anything, there were others who claimed to be prophets who said exactly the opposite of what God was actually telling Jeremiah to say.

Take a look at these words from Jeremiah, and notice the radical comparison that the Lord makes.

Jeremiah 23:13–17 – 13 In the prophets of Samaria I saw an unsavory thing: they prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray. 14 But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.” 15 Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets: “Behold, I will feed them with bitter food and give them poisoned water to drink, for from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has gone out into all the land.” 16 Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’ ”

In verse 13, God said that the people of the northern kingdom had faced his judgment because of their idol worship, their following of Baal. But then God says something about Judah that appears, by comparison, to bring the wrath of God even more. God is going to judge Judah for the evil messages of the false prophets.

And what were those false prophets doing? They were speaking messages not from the Lord as if they were from God. They were telling the people of Judah that it was OK for them to live in sin before the Lord. The false prophets were telling the people to just keep enjoying what they were doing, that God is fine with them, and that no consequences were on the way. As verse 17 says, “They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

We could think of this as an interesting historical footnote for us were it not for the fact that the same thing is happening among those who claim to be Christians today. God’s word speaks absolutely clearly about issues of sin and righteousness. And there are those in our day who will claim that things that the Lord says are sin are now OK given our progressive culture. They will claim to have a new word from God allowing evils that the Lord formerly called abomination in his word.

Of course, there are also those who claim to have a word from God that they use to manipulate others around them for personal, financial gain. Evil men claim to have prophecy from the Lord, words from God that God did not speak. They will use this language to get people to send them donations in exchange for the Lord’s healing or the promise of a prosperous business.

Christians, take a note from our text in Jeremiah. It is deadly to claim to have a word from God when God has not spoken it. It is deadly to say that things are right when God has called them sin. It is evil to tell someone that they will have only peace and prosperity with God when that person stands in opposition to the Lord. May we be a people of the word of God who rightly proclaim the word as God intended. May we live in accord with his word and never give anybody false comfort for the sake of societal gain.

The Unenviable Job of a Prophet

There are so many blessings to following the Lord. There is forgiveness, peace, joy, fellowship, hope for eternity, and so much more. But the truth is, following God is hard, sometimes very hard.

One person who understood this point very well was Jeremiah the prophet. Jeremiah saw miracles from God. Jeremiah had the word of God to communicate to the people around him. But Jeremiah had it hard. The people who lived around Jeremiah were not following God. And the people really did not like it when Jeremiah prophesied that God would bring judgment on the land by allowing the Babylonians to conquer Judah.

Look at this passage where Jeremiah laments his difficult position.

Jeremiah 20:7–11 – 7 O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. 10 For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.” 11 But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.

Jeremiah declares that he feels deceived. Of course God has not deceived anybody, but Jeremiah is unhappy about the hardship he is facing. Jeremiah has the word of God. But as he communicates that word, the people attack him. Jeremiah has a message of life for the people. The people reject that message and then turn on Jeremiah, attacking the messenger. And, at times, Jeremiah just wants to quit.

But verse 9 tells us that Jeremiah can’t quit. When he tries to remain silent, he feels like he could explode. Jeremiah says, “there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Jeremiah wishes he could stop. He would like a nice, easy, soft life. But Jeremiah cannot have it.

This brings also to my mind the story of John Calvin. Calvin wanted very little more than to live a simple life of study. But he could not. Calvin, in passing through Geneva, was approached by the leader of the church in that city, a man named Guillaume Farel. Farel made it clear to Calvin that Calvin’s genius for theology and for organization was needed in Geneva, and Farel would pray that Calvin would have no peace if he did not do what he should to help. Calvin wanted nothing more than to travel on to Strasbourg, but he feared the curse of God pronounced by Farel, and so stayed and worked in Geneva. The work was hard. The people were often unappreciative and even hostile. Eventually the city banished Calvin and Farel, but then brought them back.

Calvin’s life of preaching and teaching was hard, and I wonder if he would not have spoken like Jeremiah did in our passage. In truth, I think many a pastor would tell you that we have days when we feel like Jeremiah. It would be easier not to confront people with their sin. It would be easier not to warn the culture around us of the judgment of God. It would be easier not to call people to repentance. It would be easier not to tell someone they are unqualified for the ministry they want to do. It would be easier not to tell someone that their doctrinal claims are unbiblical.

But the truth is, the Lord is great. The Lord’s word is perfect. And the ministry of communicating the truth of God to people, whether they be welcoming or hostile, is a privilege and an honor. The true follower of God will have a fire in his or her bones that will not go out until we tell people the truth, even if that telling costs us.

It Didn’t Enter God’s Mind

God is all-knowing. We know that. We teach and proclaim that. What then do we do with a verse that declares that men did something that never entered God’s mind?

Jeremiah 19:4-6 – 4 Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, 5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind— 6 therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.

Does verse 5 above indicate that there is something God did not foresee? Did God miss the depth of man’s evil? No, not at all.

Contextually, this passage comes in the middle of Jeremiah’s promise of judgment from God upon the people. God lists for the people his grievances against them. There are some who not only worshipped false gods, but who also added the horrible evil of child sacrifice.

In that context, God says that he did not command that the people sacrifice their children, nor did it enter his mind. He is not saying that it did not come to his knowledge that they would do such a thing. Instead, God is letting them know that it would never have entered his mind to command such a thing. God is not going to be pleased by the evil ritual of child sacrifice. Such is at the darkest root of mankind’s heart.

What do we learn here? Of course, we learn that there is nothing in Scripture that points to there being anything God did not know. We also see that God is not at all like the evil and false gods created in the minds of men or inspired by demons. God does not command humans to practice vile things like child sacrifice in order to gain his attention or blessing. And we learn that the human heart is desperately sick, dark and depraved. Mankind, left to ourselves, will go to places God would never command in order to find ways to manipulate deity. But there is only one way to salvation, by grace through faith in Christ.

Blessed or Cursed

When God sets before you and me a pair of options, be blessed or be cursed, it really should not be hard for us to decide which we want. This is quite often the way that God speaks in Scripture, especially in poetic passages like psalms and Proverbs. God lets us know with simple clarity that one choice will lead to our life while another will lead to our death.

We see one such choice spelled out in Jeremiah 17.

Jeremiah 17:5-8

5 Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
8 He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Look at the poetic opposites, the antithetic parallelism. We see a description of the difference between a man who is blessed and one who is cursed. The cursed man is compared to a dying shrub while the blessed man is like a flourishing tree. One lives well. The other meets destruction.

What is the difference in being blessed or cursed? This is a big deal, as knowing this is as important a bit of data as a person can grasp.

  • ““Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD” (verse 5).
  • “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD” (Verse 7).

Look clearly. Trust in man, and you are cursed. Trust in God, and you are blessed. Trust in your own strength, and you will meet destruction. Trust in the Lord, and you will find life.

All in all, this is the message of the Bible. We are weak. We are sinners. We are incapable of making it to heaven on our own. We are incapable of earning the favor of God through any of our actions. And when we trust in ourselves, our strength, our goodness, our power, our wisdom, we die.

God certainly owes us no explanation for why this is the case. God has every right to choose to save us or destroy us based on his own standards and his own reasoning. But this one is not hard to guess as to why God does things the way that he does. To trust in yourself, to try to do things your way, is for you to make yourself your own master and your own savior. To trust in self is to reject the authority of God over you. To trust in self is to say to your Creator that he must take a back seat to your own wisdom and your own will. This will lead you to death. It is not at all hard to see why trusting in self and walking in our own ways leads to destruction.

What is actually harder to understand is why the Lord would be so gracious to us as to allow us to trust in him for life. God has every right to simply destroy all the universe. God has every right to wipe out humanity and start over. After all, he is Creator. His creation is stained with rebellion from Adam on. But God has always intended to display his glory, not in simply making a perfect creation, but in rescuing from a fallen world a people for his glory. The honor of God is magnified in his choice to have mercy on a people, a people he draws to himself and grants forgiveness when they trust in him and not in self.

In Jeremiah, we see this principle spelled out for national Judah. If the people in the land trust in and follow God, they will be blessed. If they do not, they will be overrun by the Babylonians. But in our lives, the principle is more personal and more eternal. Trust in yourself, live only for yourself, and you will face the right wrath of God. But turn from sin and trust in the Lord by surrendering to Jesus in faith, and you will find eternal life and forever goodness.

Two Types of Prophets

Examining the claims of those who claim faith, we find that the message is not consistent. This makes it hard for people from outside the church to understand our claims. After all, one group will say one thing and one another. Who is to say who is right? One group claims a gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Another proclaims a gospel of liberation, of financial prosperity, of throwing off of all restraints. Who is telling the truth? Or do we just get to pick and choose?

In Jeremiah’s day, not long before the fall of Jerusalem in the early sixth century BC, there were contradictory claims coming from the religious. And this is important for us to see. You see, God was only putting forth one message, no matter what multiple groups were claiming.

Jeremiah 14:13-16 – 13 Then I said: “Ah, Lord God, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’ ” 14 And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. 15 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. 16 And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them.

Jeremiah was carrying the word of God to the people. He was warning against the coming judgment of God. He warned the people to turn from their sin. He warned them to prepare for the invasion to come and the captivity to follow.

But other prophets were assuring the people that there was no judgment they would face at all. These prophets told the nation that soon prosperity would overtake them. These men were gaining personal wealth and social status by telling the people things the people already believed and wanted to hear. They were preying on the people’s greed and lust and idolatry to gain influence. And God promised that these men and their followers were in big trouble.

But how do we know? How can we tell who is right? How can we know who speaks the real message of God and who is misleading us? Notice what Jeremiah tells us about himself.

Jeremiah 15:16

Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
O Lord, God of hosts.

Jeremiah tells us that he has the words of God. But, in our world today, who now has the word of God? Who has a genuine message from God? Let me make it simple for you. The one who has a true message from God is not the one claiming personal, supernatural, spiritual revelation. The one who is talking to us from God is not the one who claims that the word of God and the ways of God have changed. The person with the message from God is not the person who is trying to shape Christianity according to the present culture or according to the modern intellectual theories of oppression and power playing. No, these are not and have never been the voice of God.

What is the voice of God? Scripture, Holy Scripture, the Bible is the word of God. The same Scripture that was completed in the first century, that has been preserved for generations, that has been translated for our ability to read it, that is the word of God. And the one who is bringing us the message of God is the one who loves the word, communicates to us the word, and is faithful to cleanly handle and interpret the word. The one bringing us the voice of God is the one not telling us new things, but the old, old story of the holy God who rescues sinners in Christ, God the Son. The one telling the truth is the one who lets Scripture speak for itself, who upholds God standards for justice, for faithful living, for kindness, for marriage, for sexuality, for honesty, for worship, and for all that God commands.

Do you want to know who is telling the truth? Do you want to hear the voice of God? Open the Bible. Study it faithfully and prayerfully. Do not look for hidden codes and secret mysteries. Do not look for ways to make it say the opposite of what it actually says. Just love the word and you will be loving the voice of God. Do not fall for those who claim to speak for God while ignoring or inverting the word of God. But follow the counsel of those who honestly, simply, clearly, and faithfully open the word to the people.

An Odd Sermon Illustration and the Purpose of Our Lives

I don’t think I’ve ever used a pair of underwear to make a sermon point—nor do I intend to do so in the future. But in Jeremiah 13, the Lord asks the prophet to make a point to Judah with a loin cloth. The illustration is simple. He takes a new loin cloth, clean and whole, and buries it in the ground. Then, after several days, he digs it up again, and it is now ruined. And God says this is a picture of what has happened to Judah.

Jeremiah 13:8-11 – 8 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 9 “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10 This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. 11 For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.

Much of the book of Jeremiah is like this passage. Judah has turned from the Lord. Because they have turned, they are in deep trouble.

Before we start thinking that God is being harsh here, remember a few things. First, we have no right to ever judge the actions of God. Second, the people of Judah agreed to follow God according to his standards and accepting God’s promised consequences for disobedience. Third, God had given them warning after warning for centuries. Fourth, the people were not only refusing to follow the law in general, but they were actually rebelling against their ultimate purpose.

What was Juda’s purpose? God says he made Judah his people for this reason, “that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory.” God rescued Judah as a people, drawing them out of Egypt and entering into covenant relationship with them, so that these people would shine forth a light on the glory of God for the world to see. Their purpose for existence as a nation was to show the greatness of God. And they, as a nation, were not only failing to show the glory of God in general, but were particularly rebelling against their purpose, behaving in dishonorable ways, and still wanting the protection and provision of the Lord. And it was for this reason that God was going to bring in enemy nations to destroy Jerusalem and ultimately take Judah captive for 7 decades.

God wanted his people to know that Judah would go into exile, and it would be because the people of Judah would not obey the Lord and live to his glory. But what shall we learn from this? Like the people of Judah, all human beings have been created by God, in the image of God, for the glory of God. There is no person on earth whose reason for existence is not the glory of God. And all people everywhere have a choice to either glorify God in their submission to the Lord or glorify God as God judges them for their sin. We all deserve the latter. It is the grace of God that offers us the former, the opportunity to glorify God by coming to him for grace and then living in obedience to his word for his glory.

Get personal here. You are made by God. God, as your Creator, has the right to tell you why you exist. You exist to display God’s glory. You, in fact, will display God’s glory for eternity. And you have a responsibility. All humans have failed to live up to our responsibility. Thus, we all deserve for God to eternally judge us and display his glory by enacting his just retribution on us for fighting against him. But God calls us to turn from fighting him, to trust in Jesus and Jesus’ finished work on the cross, and to be saved by his grace through faith in Christ alone. If you will repent and believe, God will save you, change you, and empower you to find great joy in honoring him with your life. Then you can obey the commands of God and find that your whole purpose for being is to magnify the perfection of God.

Which would you prefer to be? Would you prefer to display the glory of God by being an object lesson of his justice? Or would you prefer to be a trophy of his grace and kindness? Jeremiah used a rotten loin cloth to illustrate the destruction we all deserve for not being what God created us to be. But in Christ, God can make us new and useful to him for his glory and our joy. Will you trust Jesus? Will you then give your life for its real purpose, the honor, the glory, the name of God?