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The Conspiracy Against Jeremiah 11:1-12:4

The best way evil men have found to silence their critics is to kill them

Jeremiah 1:1, 11:1-12:4; 1 Kings 19:10; Job 12:6; Habakkuk 1:2-4,13; Malachi 3:14-15; Job 21:7-15; Psalm 73:3-12; Psalm 37:7; Psalm 92:7; John 21:21; Proverbs 3:5-6

Nov 11, 2012 12:00 PM

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On August 19th, 1986, a mail carrier for the city of Edmond, Oklahoma was reprimanded by one of his superiors for his poor work.  During his 16 month part-time employment by the United States Postal Service, he was disciplined twice for poor performance.  He had delivered mail on several occasions to wrong addresses and was often late in his deliveries.  He was not a very good mailman.

So, to address the issue of his own incompetence as a mail carrier, the next day Patrick Sherrill drove to the Post Office carrying two handguns in his mailbag.  He shot 20 of his co-workers, murdering 14 of them before killing himself.  And so, the problem of Patrick Sherrill’s incompetence as a mailman was solved.  Thus the phrase, “going postal”.  Not a very good way to deal with one’s own incompetence.

I have an elderly friend who was married for 52 years when his wife served him with divorce papers.  One night when his wife was “out shopping” and he was home alone, a police officer came to the door and told him he had 15 minutes to pack some things and get out of his own house.  For the next two years he lived in a hotel until the divorce was final.  As you can imagine, there were some very bitter feelings toward his ex-wife.  He lost everything, and that, when he was in his late seventies or early eighties.

In my conversations with my friend, it never occurred to him that in order to deal with this problem he should have shot the police officer who delivered the eviction notice and the divorce papers.  It never dawned on him that his wife wasn’t the problem, or that he wasn’t at least partially to blame for this problem.  The thought never entered his mind, “The police officer with the divorce papers is the problem.”  So the solution to the problem (“had he been thinking clearly”), would have been to shoot the police officer.  Right?  That’s how we solve problems here in America.

The people of Jeremiah’s day had some very similar problem-solving skills.  In the Old Testament, prophets were a constant problem.  They were always saying things people didn’t want to hear, always confronting people about their own shortcomings, their own sinfulness.  Jeremiah was a prophet like that, always preaching about the evils of idolatry and telling people they needed to repent.  Therefore, Jeremiah was a problem.  And the people of Judah knew how to deal with problems like Jeremiah.

1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 "Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 3 You shall say to them, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant 4 that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, 5 that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day." Then I answered, "So be it, LORD."

6 And the LORD said to me, "Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. 7 For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. 8 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not."

9 Again the LORD said to me, "A conspiracy exists among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 10 They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers. 11 Therefore, thus says the LORD, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. 12 Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they make offerings, but they cannot save them in the time of their trouble. 13 For your gods have become as many as your cities, O Judah, and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to make offerings to Baal.

14 "Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble. 15 What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done many vile deeds? Can even sacrificial flesh avert your doom?  Can you then exult? 16 The LORD once called you 'a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit.'  But with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed. 17 The LORD of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal."

18 The LORD made it known to me and I knew; then you showed me their deeds.
19 But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.  I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more."
20 But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.

21 Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the men of Anathoth1, who seek your life, and say, "Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD, or you will die by our hand"-- 22 therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: "Behold, I will punish them.  The young men shall die by the sword, their sons and their daughters shall die by famine, 23 and none of them shall be left.  For I will bring disaster upon the men of Anathoth, the year of their punishment." (Jeremiah 11:1-23 ESV)

Who is the problem here?  Jeremiah?  God?  Or the people?  And how does one solve this problem?   There seem to be only three options:  Repentance, denial, or murder.  And since the people Jeremiah is talking to are not prone to humility and repentance, and since they are already deeply committed to the worship of Baal and Molech, . . . murder is the only "viable" option for them.  

No one is going to say to these people who sacrifice their own children in the fire, “Wait a minute!  Do you hear what you’re saying?  You’re talking about murdering a prophet!  What is the matter with you?”  That is a conversation that will never happen.  We’re talking about people who have shunned the covenant God made with them and their ancestors.  They have altogether become unrighteous, ungodly, deceitful, and murderous.  So taking out this big-mouthed prophet who is always preaching doom and gloom and destruction and repentance and sin and putting a damper on our healthy self-image, . . . Taking him out will be a pleasure.  "Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD, or you will die by our hand". “If you don’t shut up, we will kill you ourselves, Jeremiah.”

Death threats from evil people.  Who are these evil people?  The men of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s hometown!  

The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin (Jeremiah 1:1 ESV)

These were Jeremiah’s own neighbors.  The very people to whom the Lord sent him to preach!  And what Did God tell him to preach?  “The LORD of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal."

“Jeremiah, can’t you ever say anything good?  We’re tired of this nonsense.  We’re tired of this constant Bible-thumping, fire and brimstone, “holier-than-thou” self-righteous, moralizing, badgering, sermonizing.  We’re tired of you trying to cram your religion down our throats.  Shut up or we will kill you.  We know how to deal with problem people like you.”  "Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD, or you will die by our hand."

Jeremiah didn’t even know this was going on.  19b I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more."

Then the Lord said to Jeremiah in verses 22 & 23, Behold, I will punish them.   I will bring disaster upon the men of Anathoth. God will repay.  Jeremiah need not worry.  And with that reassurance from God that He sees the hearts of men and no conspiracy, no plot against His prophet can succeed, Jeremiah speaks rather candidly with the Lord in chapter 11.  He asks the very same question of the Lord we often ask:

Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all who are treacherous thrive?  Why do these people who are plotting my death get along so well??

1 Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you.  Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all who are treacherous thrive? 2 You plant them, and they take root; they grow and produce fruit; you are near in their mouth and far from their heart. 3 But you, O LORD, know me; you see me, and test my heart toward you.  Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and set them apart for the day of slaughter. 4 How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither?  For the evil of those who dwell in it the beasts and the birds are swept away, because they said, "He will not see our latter end." (Jeremiah 12:1-4 ESV)

First, I want you to notice that even prophets complain to the Lord from time to time.  In fact, it seems to be a habit with them.  Elijah: "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts.  For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." (1 Kings 19:10 ESV)  “I serve you faithfully, I do what you tell me, I even killed 400 false prophets of Baal, and now what?  Here I sit in this cave all alone with that crazy woman Jezebel hunting me down to kill me!”  I’d say that qualifies as a complaint against the Lord.  It is not criticism.  It’s an admission of ignorance: “I don’t understand this!”

So we join in with Jeremiah and ask the question with him, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” I’ve asked those same questions for years.  Recently I’ve been asking that question of God quite a lot.  Do you ever ask that question: “Lord, why do evil people get along so well in the world?  Why are their lives so trouble-free?  How is it they seem to have nothing to ever worry about?  They make plenty of money, they live in big houses, they’ve got those cute little Daddy and Mommy and sister and brother and brother and sister and baby brother and grandson and granddaughter and dog and cat and gerbil stickers all the way across the rear windows and around the side of all three of their relatively new cars.  

And they would never ever even THINK of wasting a perfectly good Lord’s Day by going to church! Why is that, Lord?  They vacation in Disneyland EVERY year.  They take Caribbean cruises for their anniversaries EVERY year.  They spend their weekends with their multitudes of friends.  They live the good life, they never give You a thought, and You don’t seem to care at all.  Why, Lord?  I don’t get it?”

Beloved, we are not the only ones who have made this observation:
The tents of robbers are at peace, and those who provoke God are secure, who bring their god in their hand. (Job 12:6 ESV)  Why is that, Lord?

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?  Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.  For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. (Habakkuk 1:2-4 ESV)

13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?
(Habakkuk 1:13 ESV)

Listen to what the people in the days of the prophet Malachi were saying: 'It is vain to serve God.  What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed.  Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.'" (Malachi 3:14-15 ESV)

Once again, Job says, 7 Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? 8 Their offspring are established in their presence, and their descendants before their eyes. 9 Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them. 10 Their bull breeds without fail; their cow calves and does not miscarry. 11 They send out their little boys like a flock, and their children dance. 12 They sing to the tambourine and the lyre and rejoice to the sound of the pipe. 13 They spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol. 14 They say to God, 'Depart from us!  We do not desire the knowledge of your ways. 15 What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?  And what profit do we get if we pray to him?' (Job 21:7-15 ESV)

The Psalmist writes, “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. 5 They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. 7 Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. 8 They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. 9 They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. 10 Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. 11 And they say, "How can God know?  Is there knowledge in the Most High?" 12 Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.” (Psalm 73:3-12 ESV)

Have you ever felt that way?  Have you felt that way recently?  Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all who are treacherous thrive?  Why do politicians who hate God and who promise people the right to do everything that God hates get RE-ELECTED?  Lord, why do you allow them to prosper like this?  

Do you want to know the answer?  I do too!  I don’t understand it.  The Lord doesn’t give us that information.  But He does respond to the question.  Psalm 37 gives the proper response - “Be patient.”  

7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices. (Psalm 37:7 ESV)  Don’t you worry about them.  I’ll take care of them.  “. . .though the wicked sprout like grass, and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever” (Psalm 92:7 ESV)

God does not explain to these men in the Bible nor to us why evil men prosper.  He only tells us how we ought to respond to it.  He says to us, “Don’t worry about it.  I got this.  I see what’s going on.  Those evil men have not escaped my notice.  I’ll take care of them.  You just take care of you!”  

It’s like when Peter said to the Lord Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" (John 21:21 ESV)  “Lord, what about John?  What are you going to do with him?  How do you intend to use him?  What’s going to happen to him?”  Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!"

“Peter, you of all people have enough on your hands just taking care of your own business.  I’ll take care of John.  Don’t you worry about him.  You need to worry about Peter!  Follow Me!

•    As much as I’ve been tempted to worry and fret over the events of the past week,
•    wondering what is becoming of my country and my countrymen,
•    as I see this nation being overrun by people who have absolutely no fear of God,
•    who are entirely unconcerned with anything that the Almighty might have to say . . .
•    And as much as I’ve wanted to complain and say to the Lord,

“Don’t you see what is happening here?  Don’t you understand what kind of people these politicians are?  Why Lord?  Why do you just stand idly by and allow them to destroy this nation?” . . .

. . . I know what God has said about that: “Trust Me.  I’ve got this.  I am not asleep.  I am not oblivious.  I am not absent.  I am not unconcerned.  I am not idle.  If the evil prosper, AND THEY DO, don’t you worry about it, Keith.  Trust Me.  And you just worry about you.  You just keep preaching the truth and take care of your own house.  Take care of the flock and I’ll take care of these others in due time.  You’ll see.”

And that is true.  Beloved, do not fear.  Do not envy them.  Do not fear them.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).  He will tend to those prosperous evil people who flout and mock the name and the word of God.  Let’s be careful to keep our own house in order and live for the sake of the name of the One who loved us so.

1. From the ESV Study Bible - Jer. 11:21 Anathoth. Jeremiah’s hometown (1:1). Do not prophesy. Even his old friends hate his message, for it exposes their sins. They prefer false prophets.



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