Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Sin of Judah

Week 17 – Book of Jeremiah

 Read: Jeremiah Chapter 17

Background

Throughout Jeremiah the heart of the people gets much focus. In Scripture, the heart refers to a person’s intellectual and moral and emotional responses. Multiple references to the heart describe negative attributes, such as hearts that are proud, idolatrous, stubborn, hardened, deceitful, and backsliding. Some positive characteristics of the heart in Scripture are clean, reverent, broken, contrite, tender, joyful, and “a heart after God’s own heart”. Not like today’s use of heart which is usually all about feelings, in ancient writings that include the Bible, the heart represents the center of one’s being, frequently interchanging heart and mind and will.

There are over a thousand references to heart in the Bible. The intensity of matters of the heart finds sharp contrasts, from divided to devoted. Deuteronomy 10:12-13 both asks and answers the question of what God requires: “Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” Using the Hebrew leb, the scriptural use of heart consistently means the inner person or conscience. 

In our Jeremiah lesson this week, verse 9 reads, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” Humanity is naturally prone to deceit. A deceitful heart is dishonest, fraudulent, and willfully turns from truth. This is the very reason we need God, because on our own we are simply unable to keep a pure, faithful, honest heart. God sees each heart and knows its motivations and deepest emotions. While today we use the word somewhat differently, sometimes to depict our emotions and sometimes to describe our physical heart, the weakness of the human heart will always need rescuing! Our everlasting hope rests in trusting the Lord with our whole heart, and Christ brings us the grace we so desperately need.

Study

During Josiah’s reign, there seems to be a great spiritual revival, now as his life ends, the deceptive and idolatrous practices return. The people never really experience a true, sincere, repentant heart. As an introduction to chapter 17, Wiersbe says these are the sins of Judah outlined in this chapter: idolatry (v 1-4), unbelief (v 5-10), greed (v 11), forsaking the Lord (v 12–13), rejecting God’s covenant (v 14-18), profaning the Sabbath (v 19-27).[1] This is the sin of Judah.

The opening verse spells it out as we digest the mental image of the depth of the sin, “it is engraved” on the hearts of the people. False gods are abundant in this time and the early verses examine how influential they are and the outcomes of such idol worship. Their wealth and “all your treasures” will be plundered, and more importantly, your inheritance. The prophecy reminds they will lose everything.

Some commentaries call verses 5-8 a wisdom poem. An image of curses or losses are given, suggesting that political allies are trusted more (“flesh his strength”) than God. The image of “parched places in the wilderness” paints a picture of turning from God. “Unbelief turns life into a parched wasteland; faith makes it a fruitful orchard.”[2] A relationship with God is paramount.

We leave the gloom of the curses and enter the blessings in verses 7-8, images of trees by the river, roots soaking in water, no worries about drought, no lack of fruit. “Here is the supreme promise with the best hope for individuals who will live through the desperate days ahead and the Babylonian exile; there is hope, but it is exclusively in Yahweh.”[3] Today, we find the same hope in Christ, the One who blesses us, provides for our mental health, guides us to living water that sustains us, especially in times of drought or difficulty.

“The heart is deceitful above all things” (v 9) makes us stop and reflect on the significance of that statement. With the next thought there is greater pause, “I, the LORD, search the heart; I test the mind” and “give everyone according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (V 10) The heart of any person leans toward selfish motivations, AND God, not only sees it all, but He rewards each person on the fruits of his or her works or deeds. The ‘partridge’ in verse 11 gives us an example of what happens when we try to take what others have, cheat our way through life, bully and demean people, act without justice.

The Lord is the “hope of Israel” and the “fountain of living waters”. Jeremiah’s fourth prayer (v 14-18) is for deliverance from his enemies. The Message uses these words in verse 14: GOD, pick up the pieces, put me back together again. You are my praise. God is our hope, too. He is our hope in whatever “woeful day” or “day of doom” that we encounter.

The last part of this chapter reminds Judah of its failure to keep the Sabbath day holy. Certainly not a new idea here, we know that even God rests on the seventh day during Creation. Nearly 100 years before prophets Amos and Isaiah speak of the problems with not observing the Sabbath. Working seven days a week is purely for greed. This disrespectful behavior reveals another act of stubbornness. The Ten Commandments require this (Ex. 20:8). “The Sabbath was given as a sign of the covenant (Ex. 31:13,17), for it is a key indicator of the nation’s spiritual commitment to Yahweh.”[4] A national crisis or potential national blessing rests on the honoring of the Sabbath.

Reflection

Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.Psalm 37:4

In our seeking God and searching for a deeper relationship, we find that our desire to know Him more grows. Scripture encourages us, even convicts us. While Scripture defines grace and describes joy and directs obedience, the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to God’s heart, teaching us to delight in God. In this way, God can give us His desires - some new, some newly discovered.

“We sacrifice our desires on the altar of other people’s expectations.”[5] In his book Whisper, Mark Batterson gives us some “caution signs” to watch for, such as ego, wrong reasons, emotions, the source of our desires, and emotional intelligence. In discerning God’s desires, we must be careful of our pride, idols, and reactions. We must keep God first and seek the things He desires for us.

Desire is a language of God. Far too often, we settle for good enough or better when God desires for us His best. By divine design, each person is uniquely created by God; yet we try to re-create ourselves with individual efforts to reach personal goals we set for ourselves. Batterson writes, “God-given gifts are what we’re best at. God-ordained desires are what we are most passionate about.”[6] Along with me, let us ask, “Who do I desire to serve?” 

Application

  •  What ways do you try to honor the Sabbath and in doing this, honor God?
  • What comes to your mind when you think of a “deceitful heart”? Do you seek God’s desires for your life? If not, how can you begin to think and act differently in sincerely seeking God’s best for your life?

Donna Oswalt



[1] Be Decisive, Wiersbe, Warren; p79-81

[2] Wiersbe Study Bible notes on Jeremiah

[3] Walking the Ancient Paths; A Commentary on Jeremiah, Kaiser, Walter C; p 222

[4] Ibid, p 227

[5]Whisper, Batterson, Mark; p 82

[6] Ibid, p 83

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