Thursday, March 04, 2021

In the Midst of Deceit

Week 9 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 9



Background

Many ancient cultures record historical findings of the rituals of mourning. This wailing custom “prevalent in classical Greece… is still practiced in the Middle East.”[1] Routine and expected, professional mourners are arranged for events of distress such as personal loss or death or national crisis. In 2 Chronicles 35:25 Jeremiah chants a lamentation or funeral song at the death of King Josiah. Blackaby defines lamenting as, “Loud weeping which is a sign of honor for the one who has died.”

In Chapter 9 of Jeremiah, two images given is “mourning women” and “wailing women”. The outward expressions of the dramatic mourning rituals include wearing mourning garments (sackcloth), tearing one’s clothing, fasting, prostate position on the ground, putting ashes on the head, and sitting in the dust. No jewelry or perfume is worn. Laments or chants of grief accompany this time, which lasts from 7 days to 30 days. 

Scripture contrasts these mourning clothes with garments of salvation, such as the imagery of robes of righteousness. Likewise, Jeremiah’s description of the mourning women outlines deep distress and inconsolable grief in comparison to the description of Yahweh who is lovingkindness and justice and righteousness. “These practices show that the Israelites had practices at most levels of culture that were virtually identical to the people around them… Yahweh’s revelation to them in general did not change their culture; it changed their theology – particularly regarding how they thought about God.”[2]

Life is fragile! The book of Lamentations is “a ritual text of mourning over the fall of Jerusalem”[3] in 586 BC. These demonstrative, woeful wailings have become more ritual than heart felt. “The most singular custom of wailing every week, at the wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, has been kept up for ages, by those Jews who still look for the Christ and hope for the deliverance of Zion.”[4] With the resurrection of Christ, our coming death changes our tears and mourning turn to tears of joy and dancing through His grace. This is the Hope of Christianity. 

Study

This week’s lesson opens with Jeremiah weeping (vs 1-6). The third part of the Temple Sermon describes Judah’s false confidence. Society’s wounds come from the misuse of words, “sins of the tongue” and carelessness toward others. Lies and deceptions crowd their talk creating mistrust and harm. “Here is a picture of a society that has lost its ability to function coherently and communally, for where there is no trust there is no longer a community.”[5] These sins reveal the heart, the recurring theme of the unrepentant heart. They find themselves “in the midst of deceit.” (v6)

In the next set of verses (7-16), the message of no escape from judgement repeats itself. God weeps for the people turn from Him. The lament or death song wails with hopelessness, as God paints images of Jerusalem in “a heap of ruins”. (v 8) The people act “according to the dictates of their own hearts” and idol worship. (vs 14)

In verse 15 we see the images of “wormwood” and “water of gall” representing both bitterness of the heart of disobedience and bitterness of loss. This wormwood is “a small shrub in the aster family with multiple branches and hairy leaves bearing masses of small yellow flowers.”[6] Bitter in taste and poisonous, “Scripture uses this shrub as a metaphor for the experience of suffering and bitter sorrow, and even cruelty (Lam 3:15, 19; Jer 23:15)”[7] 

The “wailing women” appear next in the series of prophetic imagery. “For death has come through our windows.” (v21) Death does not choose some but all, ordinary or official, young and old, men and women. There is no escape. The “favored people” have become comfortable depending on what they believe will protect them – God’s Covenant with them, the possession of the Ark, the Temple, the Book of the Law. The truth does not consist of false confidence in rituals and worship habits. “God promises covenant blessings to those who obey Him, not to those who only submit to religious ceremonies.”[8]

The chapter ends reminding of what is worthy, of the glories of God. God delights in the one who “understands and knows Me”. God’s attributes are “exercising lovingkindness, judgement, and righteousness in the earth.” (v 24) God delights, also, in the ones who “practice kindness and justice and righteousness because they know and fear the Lord.”[9] All the nations listed in verse 26 will be punished, and the recurring reason is an unrepentant heart. 

Reflection

The unrepentant heart continues to be the big problem with Judah. An intimate relationship is what God desires, and He delights in finding us people of kindness and fairness and goodwill. The examples on today’s lesson hit close to home, despite the over 2,500 years of history. Our words harm, with slander or in carelessness. We, too, find security in the rituals of our faith practices, the comfort of the familiar, the fellowship of those we have grown to know and care about. God is not saying He hates the practices or habits that help us worship, rather, God knows that these are only outward expressions. The real relationship happens inside at the heart-level. 

We find verse 24 quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:31b, “Let him who boasts, boast in the LORD.” Paul again quotes this verse in 2 Corinthians 10:17, adding in verse 18, “For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.” Paul also writes in Romans 2:29, “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart; and his praise is not from men but from God.” Unfortunately, we like the world’s applause for a job well done!

Our truest blessings come in knowing God, knowing His character, knowing His promises. Scripture teaches this intimate relationship is what we are to celebrate – to celebrate God’s goodness and grace. As Christians, we can only do this if we have open and willing hearts, both repentant and redeemed through Christ. Our life always exposes the heart.

Application

We can easily boast about our service or church ministries or mission activities. Like Judah, culture often figures into how we identify our beliefs, what we decide is acceptable, and who we believe God is. Our actions are influenced by society, and culture can alter our theology.

·         Where do our ministry successes come from? Our own efforts? God’s design?

·         Do we give God the credit for the successful ministries of our churches?

·         Is our confidence (or faith) in the outcome of a circumstance or in God alone?

·         What is God teaching me about serving with at pure heart? How does culture affect my beliefs about God?

Donna Oswalt

 

**Please leave some comments regarding the way God is leading you in the study of Jeremiah.

 

 



[1] NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, commentary on Jeremiah 9:17

[2] Ibid, “Mourning”

[3] Archaeological Study Bible, Sackcloth and Ashes: Rituals of Lamentation

[4] Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Mourning

[5] Walking the Ancient Paths, Kaiser, Walter C., pg 147

[6] Walking the Ancient Paths, Kaiser, Walter C., pg 150

[7] Ibid

[8] Be Decisive, Wiersbe, Warren, pg 150

[9] The Wiersbe Study Bible, commentary on Jeremiah 9:24

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