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The Insanity of Unbelief - Jeremiah 37

Why do all people prefer to believe lies instead of the truth of the Bible?

Jeremiah 37:1-21, 32:1-5; John 3:19,8:12,43-45,12:46; Acts 26:14-18; Romans 3:10-18.

Jul 28, 2013 12:00 PM

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I have a friend who has been in a conversation with someone for many months.  The topic of the conversation has been the sovereignty of God over all things, including salvation.  It is a conversation about the Gospel.  In spite of numerous references to totally unambiguous scriptures regarding God’s free will to choose to save or not save, to grant eternal life or withhold it, his friend’s denial of the truths taught in these passages has continued with a passion.  What began as a debate has resulted in a parting of ways.  A friendship has been dissolved over an insistence upon the truth of Scripture.

So be it.  What is truth worth?  Would we have friendships at the expense of truth?  Would we prefer superficial relationships based upon lies?  Jesus tells us He came not to bring peace but a sword.  The truth sets people at odds with one another, even family members, with children against parents and husbands against wives, neighbor against neighbor.  The very presence of Jesus divided people.

There is a saying within Evangelicalism: Doctrine divides.  That is very true.  Sound doctrine separates truth from error.  But the intent of the saying, “doctrine divides”, is to denigrate doctrine.  In other words, since doctrine divides believers from one another, we should minimize doctrine and maximize . . . What?  Love?  Compassion?  Missions?  We should neglect truth for the sake of superficial unity?

Jesus did not say, “I am the way, and the love, and the life.”  He did not say, “I am the way, and the unity, and the life.”  Jesus said “I am the truth.”  What is more important than spiritual truth?  What is more important than determining rightly what God has said?  Nothing.

There is nothing more important than a right understanding of the word of God, and God Himself through His word.  So when someone rejects the word of God, they reject God.  That is what we saw in Jeremiah 36.  Jehoiakim not only rejected God’s revelation of His plans to destroy Judah if they refused to repent, but he also rejected the God who spoke those words.  Rejecting the prophet through whom God spoke His word was (and is) equivalent to the rejection of God.

Now we come to chapter 37 and a different king (since King Jehoiakim is now dead), and maybe this king will attend to Jeremiah’s words.  Let’s read it together.

Last week when we looked at the appalling behavior of King Jehoiakim towards the word of God, we said his attitude was like the attitude of all men.  His disdain for the Word of God is an example of every man’s disdain.  Men naturally hate the gospel.  It is offensive to their sensitivities, just as it was to ours before the Lord showed us mercy and granted us eyes to see and ears to hear what He was saying to us.

Now we come to King Zedekiah.  As his name indicates, he will be the last king to reign in Judah.  The reason for this is his hatred for the word of God.  There are several interesting statements in this passage because Zedekiah seems to want to know what God says.  Notice verse 3.

3 King Zedekiah sent Jehucal the son of Shelemiah, and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, to Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “Please pray for us to the Lord our God.”

If that was all we had to go on, we’d say they had a Christian king on the throne.  He seems to recognize Jeremiah as a legitimate prophet, he asks him to pray for Judah, and he asks Jeremiah to pray to the Lord our God. This guy MUST be a believer.  Look at verse 17:

17 King Zedekiah sent for him and received him.  The king questioned him secretly in his house and said, “Is there any word from the Lord?”

This is good!  The king wants to know what God has said.  Imagine having a leader who is concerned about spiritual matters.  It must be nice to have such a godly man at the helm, inquiring of the Lord, calling upon the prophet of God to ray for him and his country.  Zedekiah was an excellent king.

Well, . . . No.  He wasn’t.  Because what I’ve pointed out to you is not the whole truth.  The full disclosure

Regarding Zedekiah reveals that he was a very evil king and his interest in Jeremiah and what God had to say was superficial at best.  Notice verse 2:

But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land listened to the words of the Lord that he spoke through Jeremiah the prophet.

That is the prefatory statement in this chapter.  That verse tells us ahead of time what we’re about to discover regarding Zedekiah and Judah.  Neither the king, or his servants, or the people of Judah were interested in what God had to say.  Their apathy toward God under Jehoiakim led to a universal rejection under Zedekiah.

Zedekiah’s request of Jeremiah that he pray for Judah was disingenuous.  We know this because the text tells us he didn’t listen to God’s word by means of Jeremiah.  Had he listened, he would have done something similar to what King Josiah did when he heard the word of God: tore his clothes and led the people in repentance away from their idolatry.  Zedekiah is concerned with politics.  He wants to know what is about to happen in regard to the Chaldeans who are surrounding the city.

So Jeremiah tells the king what he wants to know.  Or rather, what he doesn’t want to know.  He tells him the truth: “The Egyptians will head this way and when the Chaldeans hear of it, they will retreat.  Then the Egyptians will go back home and the Chaldeans will return and burn this place to the ground.  That is what will most certainly happen.”

So the right response to this, if you’re listening, and if you believe Jeremiah really is a prophet of God, is to run to God immediately and pray for deliverance.  Repent and beg for mercy.  That is the right response.  So what does the king do?  Nothing.  Now look at verse 11:

11 Now when the Chaldean army had withdrawn from Jerusalem at the approach of Pharaoh's army, 12 Jeremiah set out from Jerusalem to go to the land of Benjamin to receive his portion there among the people. 13 When he was at the Benjamin Gate, a sentry there named Irijah the son of Shelemiah, son of Hananiah, seized Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “You are deserting to the Chaldeans.” 14 And Jeremiah said, “It is a lie; I am not deserting to the Chaldeans.” But Irijah would not listen to him, and seized Jeremiah and brought him to the officials. 15 And the officials were enraged at Jeremiah, and they beat him and imprisoned him in the house of Jonathan the secretary, for it had been made a prison. (Jeremiah 37:11-15 ESV)

People believe what they want to believe, regardless of whether it is actually true or not.  We see this over and over and over again.  The condition of the human heart is such that it is more interested in self-vindication than in what is actually true.  We are more committed to defending our own sense of rightness than we are to what a holy God who cannot lie has said.  And in this case, this sentry and all the officials determined that Jeremiah was a defector, a traitor, with absolutely no regard for what was actually going on!  People believe whatever they want to believe, even if it contradicts truth!

Does truth matter?  Ask Jeremiah.  And in this case, it had nothing to do with anything God had said.  These people weren’t treating him in this manner because he was preaching to them and they didn’t like what they were hearing.  He’s going down to the land of Benjamin, possibly to take possession of the field he purchased from his cousin back in chapter 32.  But someone makes a false assumption, doesn’t listen to what is actually being said, isn’t concerned with what is really taking place, arrests him and takes him before the officials who become enraged at him, beat him, and Jeremiah is thrown into a prison where he nearly dies.  All of this happens through no fault of his own.  He has done nothing wrong.

Then we see what kind of stuff the king is made of.  Look at verse 16.

16 When Jeremiah had come to the dungeon cells and remained there many days, 17 King Zedekiah sent for him and received him. The king questioned him secretly in his house and said, “Is there any word from the Lord?”

Once again, if I had been there I don’t think I would have done this the way Jeremiah did it.  I would have had a real problem with this man Zedekiah.  Back in chapter 32, we read there that is is Zedekiah who imprisoned Jeremiah in the first place because he kept on talking about the Chaldeans coming and burning the place down.

Here in chapter 37, verse 16, after Jeremiah had been in a dungeon for many days, Zedekiah calls for him and asks him if he’s heard anything from the Lord lately.  “You mean, have I heard anything from the Lord while you’ve left me to rot in that dungeon for many days?  You want to know if I have a good word for you from God, you who have allowed me to live in those squalid conditions in that hell hole of a prison for many days?  Oh yeah!  I’ve got a word for you.  I’ve got a great word for you, straight from God!”

Actually, Jeremiah did have a word from the Lord for Zedekiah.  The same word he had already given him on numerous previous occasions.  He did not listen to it then, and he is not listening to it now.  Look at chapter 32.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. 2 At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah. 3 For Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him, saying, “Why do you prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall capture it; 4 Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face and see him eye to eye. 5 And the shall take Zedekiah to Babylon, and there he shall remain until I visit him, declares the Lord.  Though you fight against the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed’?” (Jeremiah 32:1-5 ESV)

Why do you prophesy and say, “Thus says the Lord, we’re all gonna die?”  Why do you keep saying stuff like that Jeremiah?  Answer: Because you haven’t yet listened to what I’ve said!  The very same reason why I had to write that scroll for Jehoiakim twice.  Because if y’all were listening, you’d be repenting.  But the fact of the matter is you don’t care what God says.  You only care about what you want the truth to be, regardless of what the truth actually is.

And like Jehoiakim, Zedekiah is also a picture of all of us.  Tell us what we want to hear, not what God has said.  Let us make idols in our own image, so we can worship gods that are like us.  We don’t want a God that makes us feel bad.

Why do we keep telling people to look at the Bible with us?  And why don’t they want to do that?  Why do they prefer some other word, some other prophet, some other holy book, and not this book?  What is wrong with this book, this message?  In the minds of unbelievers, what is wrong with the Bible is that it is true.  It is the truth of the scriptures that they reject.

And that qualifies as spiritual insanity.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19 ESV)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:ESV)

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:46 ESV)

‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’  And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:14-18 ESV)

This is the same argument Jeremiah had with Zedekiah.  The king has the audacity to call for Jeremiah from his torture chamber to ask him if he has a word from the Lord!  And Jeremiah says, “Yeah.  The same word I had the last time you asked me.  And the time before that and before that and before that: “You shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon.”

43 Why do you not understand what I say?  It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. (John 8:43-45 ESV)

37:19 Where are your prophets who prophesied to you, saying, ‘The king of Babylon will not come against you and against this land’?

“O King, who has consistently told you the truth?  And you throw ME in prison?  Does that make sense??”  To the Jews Jesus said, “For which of My good works do you want to kill Me?  What have I done to you to give you reason to seek My life?  Healed the sick?  Fed thousands?  Performed countless miracles?  No, you want to kill me because I tell you the truth!”

It is clear from all over Scripture that men are not interested in what is true.  On the contrary,

“None is righteous, no, not one;

11 no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good, not even one.”

13 “Their throat is pan open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 in their paths are ruin and misery,

17 and the way of peace they have not known.”

18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18 ESV)

That is undeniably the human condition.  There are no seekers.  No one is really searching for truth.  No one is concerned about what God REALLY says.  No, not one.

And this is exactly why salvation is a miracle!  Men do not decide to forsake the sin they have always loved.  Men do not decide that everything they have ever believed about God is a lie.  Men do not suddenly come to the right conclusion that they are desperately sinful and are fully deserving of the wrath of God.  Men do not do that.  Men do not repent and turn to God.  The sons of the devil do not make themselves sons of God.  Men do not naturally believe spiritual truth.

Adam didn’t believe it.  Cain didn’t believe it.  Pharaoh didn’t believe it.  The children of Israel didn’t believe it.  The kings of Israel and Judah, for the most part, did not believe the word of God.

Why?  Because we are natural born enemies of God.  And unless the light shines in the darkness, unless the Spirit of God works in the heart, unless a sovereign God exercise His free will and determines to save someone through the death of His own Son for their sakes, . . . No one is saved.  No one believes.  No one understands.  No one listens to the prophets as they speak for God.  There is no fear of God before their eyes.

As a race, we have been afflicted with a kind of spiritual insanity.  Sometimes we give the appearance of having an interest in God and His word.  Zedekiah called for Jeremiah repeatedly.  “Pray for us, Jeremiah.  Give us a word from the Lord, Jeremiah.”  And it’s all fine until Jeremiah opens his mouth.  Then he gets thrown into a pit.  They want to kill him.  Because people REALLY don’t want to know the truth.  They think they do.  They may dabble in “spirituality” or religion.  But until the Spirit of God grants the new birth, they are in a darkness that will not allow them to see their own lostness.

Just - like - we - were.

Yesterday we were talking about a court case where a teacher was sued for telling a group of kindergarteners that Santa Claus is make believe.  The parents of those children took her to court.  Why?  Because she told those little children the truth.  And the parents were more concerned about maintaining a lie than about having their children taught how to discern truth from error, fiction from reality.

That was the case with the kings of Judah.  They preferred make believe over reality, and they didn’t want anyone telling them otherwise.  Not even a prophet.  Not even God.  Because that is our condition.  It is insane.

Would you like to hear the definition?  Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a person who is mentally deranged. Some synonyms are demented; lunatic, crazed, crazy; maniacal; foolish, irrational. See mad. (1)

Ours is not a mental insanity necessarily.  But it is a spiritual insanity.  A madness.  A deadness.  An insensitivity to truth.  Worse than that, it is a spiritual condition that causes us to PREFER deception and lies over the truth of the Word of God.

How does one escape this dreadful curse?  Only by the power of God.  Only through the blood of Christ.  Only through the quickening of the Holy Spirit.  Only by grace.  If the Lord has delivered you from this cursed condition, you are blessed beyond measure.  What a miracle it is when God sets the captives free, when we are released from our bondage to our own fallenness, when we are brought out of the darkness into the light, when the Truth overcomes the lies and we are set free.  The truth of the word of God sets us free.

Jeremiah was in a dungeon.  Zedekiah was on his throne.  Which one was the real prisoner?  The one who preferred lies over the truth.

Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.

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(1) Dictionary.com


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