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Unbelievable Unbelief - Jeremiah 42

It is sometimes difficult to comprehend the spiritual blindness of others, while being blind to our own.

Jeremiah 42:1-43:7; Ephesians 5:15-21; Philippians 4:8

Oct 20, 2013 11:00 AM

MP3 audio icon Unbelievable-Unbelief _10-20-2013.mp3 — MP3 audio, 12176 kB (12468476 bytes)


Last week we asked the question, “Have you ever made a decision you later regretted?”  And the unanimous answer was yes.  So the follow-up question was, “If you had known beforehand how things would eventually turn out, would you have made a different decision?”  It seems like a no-brainer.  If I were able to foresee the future, of course I would make decisions accordingly.  I would base all my current decisions upon the foreknowledge of future events.  It would be extremely foolish to do otherwise.

But suppose we were to look at our lives from the reverse perspective.  Since none of us is able to predict the future and we cannot determine what course of action we should take based upon a knowledge of what will happen, maybe it would be helpful to look at the past and what has already happened.  Suppose we knew that, based upon past experiences, certain decisions and behaviors always turn out badly.  Shouldn’t the bad experiences of the past influence our decisions about the future?  The whole, “If we don’t learn from history we are doomed to repeat it” idea?  Doesn’t that make sense?

The Jews of Jeremiah’s day had both.  They had prophetic knowledge of what was coming but had not yet happened, and they had historical knowledge of what had already taken place as a result of really bad decisions in the past.  Now, in chapter 42, the refugees of Judah, being led by a man named Johanan, have a decision to make, and here it is:

1.  Do we stay here in the land of Judah and face the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar?  (Because a wicked man by the name of Ishmael had murdered Gedaliah, the governor that Nebuchadnezzar had appointed, as well as a number of Chaldean soldiers), or . . .

2.  Do we run to Egypt and live there, beyond the reach of the Babylonian king?  (Because surely, if we stay in Judah, he will come and kill us all.)

What to do?  What is the best course of action?  Well, here’s what they did:

Then all the commanders of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, came near and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the LORD your God for us, for all this remnant—because we are left with but a few, as your eyes see us—that the LORD your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard you.  Behold, I will pray to the LORD your God according to your request, and whatever the LORD answers you I will tell you.  I will keep nothing back from you.” Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the LORD your God sends you to us.  Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God.” (Jeremiah 42:1-6 ESV)

Now if you are Jeremiah, at this point you break out into a rendition of Oh Happy Day! Or you might be tempted to do so if you didn’t already have a sordid history with these people.  What they are saying is the stuff of revivals: we will obey the voice of the LORD our God. That’s as good as it gets!  These people are asking for direction and guidance from God.  This is the Christian counselor’s dream come true!  “Tell us what God says, and regardless of what He says, whether we like it or not, we will do it.  We will obey Him so that it may be well with us.

Did you know it is far easier to be a preacher than a pastor?  I love preaching.  I love standing here and opening the word of God and teaching it.  I love it when I say something from the Scriptures and explain something, and one of you nods your head in agreement, or I get the occasional “Amen” from someone.  Or even better, when someone says something like, “You know, I never understood that before, but your explanation makes perfect sense.  Thank you.”  Music to my ears.

Preaching is relatively easy.  You know what’s hard?  Pre-marital counseling.  Because you know they aren’t paying a lick of attention to what you’re saying.  I have actually tried to talk people out of getting married and they couldn’t care less what I think about their future.  They are going to get married, and that’s that.  I do not like pre-marital counseling.  Consequently, I’m not too keen on weddings either.

Marriage counseling isn’t any better.  In fact, it’s worse.  “Pastor, we’re having problems and I need you to come over and talk to him/her and straighten him/her out.”  I hate that.

Church discipline is worse yet: “Brother, you’ve got to stop stealing money from the offering basket.  You know that’s a sin, right?”  Don’t like confrontation.

I could preach and teach all day long.  But trying to fix people, instructing people how to correct sinful behavior, to tell them of those things of which they must repent, is no fun whatsoever.  And Jeremiah is about to have a very un-fun confrontation with some very sinful people.  But they sound like a lot of Christians I know.  They ask for counsel, but they don’t really want to be counseled.  They don’t want to be corrected, or instructed, or directed, or advised, or helped.

They want to be affirmed.  They want to be justified in their own sight.  They want to be told what they want to hear, and nothing else.  But they say, “Pastor, we need to know what God would have us do.  What does the Bible say about . . . ?”  That’s when I’d much rather be a preacher.  Or a traveling evangelist!  Not a pastor.

These people come to Jeremiah.  “Please ask God what He wants us to do and whatever it is, we will do it.  We will obey the word of the Lord.”  And Jeremiah DOES NOT break into song with rejoicing.  Why?  Because he knows who and what he is dealing with: Stiff-necked, hard-hearted, hard-headed, thick-skinned, calloused, spiritually insensitive, selfish, idolatrous, stubborn, professional sinners who are SO hypocritical they can say with a straight face, “We will do WHATEVER God says.”

I think Jeremiah has become rather calloused himself.  He answers them, “I have heard you.  Behold, I will pray to the LORD your God according to your request, and whatever the LORD answers you I will tell you.  I will keep nothing back from you.” He knows, based on previous experiences, this is not going to turn out well.  He looks back and sees forty years of fruitless ministry among these people, and now they are asking him what the future holds.  Who would blame him if he thought to hImself, “Surely the future holds more of the same stuff of the past forty years!”

Ten days pass and God finally speaks to Jeremiah.  Look at what He says:

At the end of ten days the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah.  Then he summoned Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces who were with him, and all the people from the least to the greatest, and said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before him: If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you.  Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid.  Do not fear him, declares the LORD, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand.  I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land. (Jeremiah 42:7-12 ESV)

“Hey!  That sounds really good.  So that settles it.  We said we would do whatever the LORD said we should do.  So let’s head back up to Mizpah and settle in.  The LORD will protect us, just as He said.”

But if you say, ‘We will not remain in this land,’ disobeying the voice of the LORD your God and saying, ‘No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there,’ then hear the word of the LORD, O remnant of Judah.  Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die.  All the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to live there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.  They shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I will bring upon them. (Jeremiah 42:13-17 ESV)

OK.  So we have a decision to make.  We have the errors of the past which led to complete disaster (which God has just reminded us of), and now, thanks to Jeremiah, we know what the future holds based upon whether we stay here in Judah or travel down to Egypt.  If we stay here, everything will be swell.  If we go to Egypt like we were hoping to do, we will all die.  Man, this is a tough one!

Actually, no.  This isn’t a tough one.  This is astoundingly clear.  They just came from a burnt-out wasteland that was recently the city of Jerusalem.  The reason it is now a wasteland is because the people never listened to God.  Now it’s time to listen to God.

“For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: As my anger and my wrath were poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so my wrath will be poured out on you when you go to Egypt.  You shall become an execration, a horror, a curse, and a taunt.  You shall see this place no more.

The LORD has said to you, O remnant of Judah, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’  Know for a certainty that I have warned you this day that you have gone astray at the cost of your lives.  For you sent me to the LORD your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the LORD our God, and whatever the LORD our God says declare to us and we will do it.’  And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the LORD your God in anything that he sent me to tell you.  Now therefore know for a certainty that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to live.” (Jeremiah 42:18-22 ESV)

You are all going to die.  You are going to go to Egypt and die there.  How do I know this?  Because you have not obeyed the voice of the LORD your God in anything that he sent me to tell you. You don’t need to be prophet to see what’s coming!  Anybody could have prophesied this.  You have never had a heart for God, and you don’t have a heart for Him now.  So get on your camels and ride to Egypt.

When Jeremiah finished speaking to all the people all these words of the LORD their God, with which the LORD their God had sent him to them, Azariah the son of Hoshaiah and Johanan the son of Kareah and all the insolent men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie.  The LORD our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.”

So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces and all the people did not obey the voice of the LORD, to remain in the land of Judah.  But Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces took all the remnant of Judah who had returned to live in the land of Judah from all the nations to which they had been driven—the men, the women, the children, the princesses, and every person whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan; also Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch the son of Neriah. And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the LORD. And they arrived at Tahpanhes. (Jeremiah 43:1-7 ESV)

I have been thinking about this for weeks.  Again and again, I found myself dumbfounded over the utter blindness and stupidity of these people.  How is it possible that they accuse Jeremiah of lying and, contrary to the word from God WHICH THEY ASKED FOR, they head out for Egypt.  It’s nearly incomprehensible.  We would NEVER do such a thing.  We would NEVER act in complete contradiction to God’s word.  Right?  We would NEVER ignore a clear word from God and sin against Him!  Right?

Have you ever been confronted with something you knew God wanted you to do, but you didn’t want to do it?  While not all of these things apply to everyone here, some of these things do apply to some of us, and to many Christians elsewhere.  It is easy, incredibly easy to read this story of yet another rebellion on the part of God’s people and shake our heads in disbelief.  You ask for God’s direction, He gives it, and then you deny it because it is not what you wanted to hear!  How stubborn can these people be?!  However:

  • God says we must not take His name in vain, and we do.
  • God says we must love and forgive the brethren, and we don’t.
  • God says not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, and we do.
  • God says to trust Him for the future, and we don’t.
  • God says not to love the world, neither the things that are in the world, and we do.
  • God says to be good stewards of our time and money, and we aren’t.
  • God says His word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, and we don’t read it.
  • God says to come to the throne of grace to find help in time of need, and we neglect prayer.
  • God says we must love Him with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, and we say,

“OK, I will pray and read my Bible and be in church every Sunday . . . as long as it doesn’t conflict with my schedule.”

Or, “OK, I will forgive him . . . just as soon as he gets his act together.”

Or, “OK, I will do better on the stewardship thing . . . as soon as I get a raise and pay off my credit cards.”

Or, “Oh my God, you’re right!  I will stop using the Lord’s name in vain.”

Or, “OK, I’ll stop loving the stuff of this world so much . . . tomorrow.”

Or, “OK, I’m gonna be in church and prayer meeting and Bible study from now on . . . If there’s nothing else going on.

Or, “OK.  I get it.  From now on, I’m taking my Christian life and my responsibility to live for God and with His people seriously . . . as soon as we arrive in Egypt.”

There are times, and I’m sure it happens more often than any of us realize, when we can rationalize our disobedience to God as well as any of the Jews to whom  Jeremiah was talking.  “Here’s what God has said.”  “No, that can’t be right.  Surely God doesn’t expect me to do that!  No, really, I don’t feel led to do that.  God would never tell me to do something I don’t want to do!”

Well, what did God say?  Here’s a sample:

Don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together.  Give with a cheerful heart.  Love one another.  Forgive one another.  Pray without ceasing.  Don’t partake of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.  Obey those who rule over you.  Cast your cares upon Him.  Be filled with the Spirit so that you do not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.  Abstain from sexual immorality.  Obey your parents.  Love your wife.  Obey your husband.  Don’t allow your liberty in Christ to cause others to stumble.  Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8 ESV)

If stubborn, unregenerate, idolatrous Jews were rebellious toward God without excuse, what excuse do we have?  We who are the Lord’s, who have been born again, who have the Spirit of God dwelling within . . . what excuse do we have for our disobedience, who have the entire canon of scripture in our hands?

Beloved, it is easy for us to shake our heads in disbelief over the unbelief of the Jews.  But is it not unbelief on our part that causes us to try to justify ourselves and make excuses for our own sin when we ignore what God has said to us?  How is it possible that we would ever sin in any way against our beloved Lord Jesus, much less excuse ourselves for doing so?  How could we ever have the attitude that “I’ll gladly do whatever the Lord wants . . . as long as it doesn’t conflict with what I want to do?”

It is true that the men and women whom Jeremiah confronted had major issues with denial.  Their rebellion in this instance is breathtaking.  But we dare not think their behavior is beyond us; that we would never look at God’s word to us and blatantly reject it like they did.  We do just that every time we violate biblical principles clearly taught in the Scriptures for the sake of going our own way, doing our own thing, in opposition to what the Scriptures teach us to do..

Next week, we’ll look at the depth of Judah’s rebellion in more detail.  But let us not be deceived.  In shaking our heads at the Jews, let’s be sure to examine ourselves.  There are some planks in our own eyes we need to address.



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