Over the next few weeks we will be looking at the book of Jeremiah in the Bible
Jeremiah lived about 600 years before Jesus.
If you remember, ancient Israel at the time had been divided into two. In the North was Israel and in the South was Judah. The North, Israel, had been crushed. The Assyrians had come, conquered them and taken many of their people into exile. So all that was left was the small community in the South, Judah, with its capital Jerusalem.
Jeremiah was the son of a priest, but more importantly, he was a prophet. That is, he spoke the word of God. He speaks God’s word for about 40 years, during one of the most dramatic times in Judah’s history.
Jeremiah sees a religious revival. They’re looking through the temple and they discover, in one of the old chests, the first five books of the Bible. They read them to King Josiah. He realises that the people have forgotten God and are doing things that they should not do. So he brings in big reforms. But as you know, changes are not always welcome, and after his death the new rulers take Judah back to the old ways.
Jeremiah warns the people that if they reject God, God will reject them. But they do not listen. And so when the Babylonian army appears, Jeremiah tells the people that this army is God’s judgement on them, and that they must receive it as such, and not resist the Babylonians. If we do, he says, it will be dreadful for us. He is accused of being a traitor, thrown into a pit and then locked up, but he is proved correct. Judah falls and many of the leading people are taken into exile.
Jeremiah however remains behind in the land. But even when he was preaching judgement, he also did preach a message with a glimmer of hope. And now, after the disaster, he says to those in exile, ‘God has not completely abandoned you. Recognise God’s judgement, settle where you are, be obedient to God and in 70 years time your children's children will come back to Judah. God will do a remarkable new thing’.
Today we read Jeremiah 2, in which Jeremiah accuses the people of turning their backs on God.
He reminds them that their great great grandparents were faithful to God: Jeremiah 2:2, ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness’. He reminds them of what God did for them: how he led them through that wilderness: ‘a land of deserts and pits in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that none passes through’ (Jeremiah 2:6). He reminds them that God brought them into the land in which they were now living. It is a good land, and God was good to you.
But, he says, you forgot God.
You defiled the land (v7): you did things that God did not want you to do.
And he goes through a whole list of people who should have turned to God but who did not turn to God:
● The priests. Priests are in the God-business. Their job, in the Old Testament, is to bring God to people and people to God (That is still true, but in the New Testament all believers are priests). But, says Jeremiah, the priests show no concern for God.
● The lawyers/teachers ‘do not know me’. They teach laws but they do not teach about a relationship. In other words they are telling people to obey something, but they are not telling them to know and obey someone.
● The shepherds, the rulers, broke the laws of God. Much more is said about them later!
● The prophets, who should have been listening to God and speaking his words, were not speaking his words. They had turned to other authorities. At their heart was not God but other gods. They did not speak what God wanted them to say. They spoke what they wanted to say - the things that would make them popular and rich and respected.
And, says God, my people have turned from me.
There is a great verse here: ‘Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit’.
God was their glory. He loved them. He cared for them. He provided for them. At first they loved him. But now they have turned away. And they have turned to that which is ultimately worthless.
And God says to the people, through Jeremiah, ‘I was like a fountain of life giving water to you. In the past you came and drank from me. I gave you life. But now you have turned your back on me. You have hollowed out big caves (you can still see some of the cisterns that they built) and you have filled them with water. And even though those cisterns leak and the water is stagnant, you drink from them rather than from the living fountain’.
If I gave you a choice between this lemonade (which is fresh), or this lemonade (which has been in our cupboard, half opened for over a month now) which would you prefer? The flat stuff or the sparkling stuff?
God says to the Israelites: ‘you’ve rejected me and chosen the flat stuff’.
I’m only going to draw one application from this.
It is easy to love God in the beginning and then to lose it.
We meet with God, we discover that he loves us, that he forgives us, that he provides for us, that he promises to go with us through everything in life, that he gives us great promises about the future (but not necessarily about our future here on this earth). We begin to get to know him, and his love. We start reading the Bible, and it comes alive for us. We spend time in prayer because we desire to get to know him better. We begin to learn to receive from him. And we do love him. We begin to live the sparkling life with God.
But then, for whatever reason, it is very easy to turn from him. We turn our backs on him. We forget him and again start to seek the things that offer us profit here and now. We pursue wealth and power and pleasure. We try to make things safe. We build systems to contain and control the living water, and we lose the sparkling life and exchange it for something incredibly flat.
Like the priests, we do not ask where God is. We do not seek him.
Like the lawyers or teachers, we teach morality without relationship. Religion becomes all about being good. It is not about knowing God
Like the shepherds, we make decisions without referring to God.
Like the prophets, we speak what we think will make us popular, cool, respected and rich.
And there are times when we need a Jeremiah: times when we are reminded of what we were and what we have become.
But I need to add one more thing. Whether we have known God and fallen away, or whether we have never known God, the fountain of living water is still flowing. And when Jesus came he said, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’.
And if we realise we are thirsty: thirsty for the sparkling stuff, for the life that really matters, we can always put our trust in him, come to him and drink - allow him to come deep into us.