JEREMIAH 7:1 – 9:26 and JAMES 5:1–20
The prophet will now address the problem of external religion, which is a modern day problem as well. This is the practice of putting more emphasis on ritual as opposed to a person. It can also refer to putting trust in institutions than upon the Lord. This was the case with Israel. They were reverting to the form of temple worship and holding on to experiences, which had no profit. In fact, Jeremiah will address this point throughout this chapter. In verse 4, he addresses their reliance on the form of worship as done at Moses Tabernacle. The formalities of the service at the Tabernacle were for the purpose of revealing Christ and His ways. In verses, 12 and 14 Jeremiah reminds them what the end result was for this manner of worship. It was at Shiloh where Israel lost the presence of God. How did this happen? They took the presence of the Lord for granted. They went through the formalities of worship but they had no heart for God. This was seen when they brought the Ark of the Covenant into the midst of the battle (1 Sam 4:3-10). God fought for them before and He would fight for them again, or so they assumed. This is exactly the problem with Israel in the days of Jeremiah. Israel was in trouble against the Assyrians under Hezekiah and God delivered them. They were now in the midst of revival due to a godly king who was lifting up the standards of God’s laws. Jeremiah is trying to make the point for them to remember what happened at Shiloh. The same attitude that they were displaying here is the same attitude that allowed for Israel’s defeat at Shiloh. One cannot help but see similar tendencies today. Have we not taken the Lord for granted? Is there not the same tendencies existent in us as seen in Israel? In America there seems to be this sense of invincibility that God will always rescue the nation in its time of crisis. If the nation was seeking the face of God and living honourably this would be true but such is not the case. What Jeremiah is prophesying to Israel he may as well be prophesying to us. The similarities are that real.
What were some of their sins? In verses, 5-7 there are four different things that are mentioned. 1) They oppressed those who were defenceless. 2) They did not look after the fatherless and widows. 3) They shed innocent blood. 4) They were steeped in idolatry.
It was when Josiah read in the Book of the Law that he discovered that Israel was in violation in many of these areas. This is what allowed for a season of revival. The revival under Josiah was meant to serve as a precedent for the greater revivals to come. If they would uphold these areas, God would forgive them and honour them. The Lord becomes even more specific regarding some of the sins they were guilty of such as murder, stealing, adultery, false witness, and other forms of idolatry. In other words, they were in violation of many of God’s commandments. It was with this attitude and pollution of sin that they would come to the temple and practice church. The formality of church and temple ritual would somehow cover over their transgressions. It is another attempt to sew fig leaves over the problems of their sin. Do you see any modern day parallels?
There is a sobering truth seen in verses 15-16. The Lord instructs Jeremiah to no longer pray for his people seeing that a line has already been crossed. This was seen earlier when Samuel was told to no longer mourn over Saul after he was rejected in being king over Israel. It is important to always be mindful that God is compassionate and longsuffering. His mercies extend far and wide but there is a limit with God. This had to be a very difficult burden for Jeremiah to bear. The idolatrous ways of Israel are mentioned again as being one of the primary culprits for judgement in verses 17-20. The serving of idols will result in confusion, despair and wandering. Is it any wonder that the nations of the earth today are becoming more “zombie” like in the way they live their lives. This is the fruit of sin. It was because of their sin that God would not accept their sacrifices or their prayer. What the Lord desires more than anything else is obedience over sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22). Saul did do some of what God spoke but he did not fully obey. This is a danger for any of us. We make take comfort in performing portions of what God has called us to do but if there is disobedience, it will be for naught. Through the many generations of Israel’s history, there is a noticeable cycle of sin, repentance, rejoicing and sin once again. True revival must get to the heart of man for it is there where true change takes place. Through all of these journeying of God’s people, we gain keen insights into the nature of God. He is a God of great long-suffering and compassion. He is a God who seeks to restore that which is broken and torn apart. We also come to know the propensity’s that lurk within man. The generations of our day should pay special attention to this period and ask honest questions as to whether we would be like a Jeremiah or like the people he was prophesying to. Can we be honest in our assessment and seek to learn from this critical period?
The idolatry and perversion of worship leads the people to the spreading of the bones of the kings, prophets and princes before the sun and moon. The judgement will be so severe that their families would choose death over life. This is a true picture of the last days as well. It is amazing to see the lengths people will go to seek relief and help in time of need. These are the type of gods they have been worshipping all along. It may not have always been as blunt as it is presented here but why would they resort to seeking after the dead bones of priests and prophets? Has not the seeking of the living God been sufficient? Even today, we honor the men and women who have gone before but there is a trend in some circles to claim and lay hold of former mantles etc. Personally, I feel we need to be very careful. There is some New Age tendencies beginning to creep into the church today and it has a resemblance to what is presented here.
A tremendous indictment is placed upon Judah in verses 4-12. The Lord speaks of them as perpetual backsliders. In the midst of their sin and deceit, they refuse to return. The Lord had given ample opportunity at so many junctures yet they would not return. The example of migratory birds is given as to how they know when to change course in order to survive but this was not the case with Israel. Not only do they not repent but also they charge ahead further into their ways of wickedness. Their penchant for rebellion and sin seems to now be an unstoppable force. What a dangerous place to be! The people saw themselves, as being law abiding but this was certainly not the case. They had become a law unto themselves. It is like the “hyper-grace” message of today where the true essence of the law has been rendered irrelevant. The very things we see Israel and Judah as being guilty of during this period are issues that confront the church of our day. It is cleverly repackaged in a way that is suitable to today’s culture. Is it any wonder that they also reject and minimise the Word of God (vs 9)? The following verses will showcase the corruption in the priesthood revealing clearly that the laws of God were not kept. These priests would proclaim peace when there was no peace and they would not be shamed by sin. There are no way such persons and priesthood will be able to stand in the day of the Lord’s visitation.
Mal 3:2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap:
In verses 13-17 there is the picture of the army that will be marching down upon them. All of the blessings that the Lord had given them would be removed and taken away. This is the way of the backslider and those who do not turn back unto the Holy One. The terror of what it will be like at that time is conveyed in verses 14-16. Up until now, they had heard about the warnings but it is now when it is actually happening. Today, there is considerable evidence that things are happening in the earth. There have been warning signs but is anybody giving heed and preparing? In a literal moment, everything can change. What is powerfully mentioned here in these verses should give each of us pause. The more I read and meditate upon these prophecies the more I see it as messages for us. We actually have more of a prophetic blueprint than we realize; if only we would hear and respond.
Jeremiah has a very sad lament in stating that the harvest is now past and the people are not saved; the opportunity has been lost. Jeremiah is in such anguish over this situation because he is feeling the Lord’s heart; he sees clearly, what will transpire. He is desperate for the balm of Gilead that can provide a measure of relief. Sadly, there is none and so the prophet carries on. Let us not forget that when we are looking at Jeremiah we are also seeing the Lord’s heart as well. More than ever, we need to press into the heart of the father.
Jeremiah is now overwhelmed with both the sin of Israel and the judgements that will come upon them. The assault by the Babylonians was still a long way off but he could see clearly that which was to come. Jeremiah had a deep love for God and he well understood the pain in seeing how sin had brought about a deep separation. At the same time, he had such a love for the people and the land. He knew what was coming and it was tearing him apart. How can one define or express such emotion? Jeremiah had the ability to speak truth with all boldness but here we see him as the weeping prophet. These sentiments are echoed throughout the few chapters of Lamentations. Do you still want to be a prophet?
Another one of the problems in Israel was that they were not valiant for the truth. Israel allowed truth to be redefined and altered. Once truth begins to waver or be weakened, it allows for the opening of doors to the enemy. Today, more than ever we need to be valiant for truth and be willing to fight for it. The secularists have been allowed to redefine culture by its own set of standards and laws. Who is guilty of this? The fault lies primarily with the priests and the church (Jer 5:31). It was true in Jeremiah’s day and it is becoming more acute in ours. The people have missed every opportunity in coming to know the ways of the Lord. It is similar to what Paul spoke to the Romans. They chose not to maintain or keep the knowledge of God (Rom 1:28). They did not find truth or the Word of God to be convenient; it did not fit their prescribed version of Christianity.
The indictments upon Israel continue as they have continuously made the decision to forsake the laws and ways of God. Moses came to know the ways of God when he was given the two tables of stone (Law). This is what distinguished Moses from the rest of Israel. This same distinction will be seen in the last day church as well (Psa 103:7). Instead of seeking after the law of the Lord they gave heed to the corrupted prophetic ministry of Balaam. His counsel opened the door for immorality and sin to enter into the camp. His ministry also put into motion the ways of Baal that would affect many of the generations to come.
It is hard to get a picture of the enormity and scope of the devastation and persecution that is to come. Does this cause us any concern and pause? One of the best words of advice found anywhere in scripture is found in verses 23-24. If we are to glory in anything let it be in the Lord. If we ever become anything in life, it is solely due to his grace. It is imperative to be clothed in the garments of humility knowing that the sins that Israel is guilty of could be ours. I keep thinking to that precious garment that Paul refers to in his letter to the Colossians. He constantly speaks of having a “humbleness of mind” (Col 3:12). It is important to know who we are in light of His glory. We honor Him when we seek to do His will. There is no room for false humility because in the end it dishonours God. We are who we are by the grace of God. May he always be praised and exulted!
The subject of riches is now brought front and center by the Apostle James. It needs to be stated clearly that riches in of themselves is not the problem, it is the love of them (1 Tim 6:10). What do we do to make money; is it obtained legally and ethically? What do we do with money? One of the greatest gauges in assessing where a man’s heart is can be reflected in the way he spends his money. The purchases help to affirm what is within the heart. The indictment that James will bring forth is towards those who live for wealth and money. The love of money has been the downfall of many who have been in ministry. An inheritance quickly gained can be lost overnight. Oftentimes it is the mercy of God that keeps us from fame and money knowing in how it could be abused. As we grow in Christian character we should be able to glorify God whether we are rich or in a place of need. Paul also wrote to Timothy in his closing epistles that godliness with contentment is great gain. The ability to be content is more of a blessing than people realize. The children of Israel failed in this area because they became dissatisfied with God’s wilderness provisions. It all can start with a simple heart of ingratitude and unthankfulness. In fact, one of the keys to living a successful Christian life is to learn to be content. In God is the fullness of joy in all things. God will pour out blessings to people who know how to live in such a way because they can be trusted to steward His blessings.
A rich man spends exorbitant time on the maintenance of his possessions. We will come face to face with that which we treasure when we stand before the throne of God. If the pursuit of money and riches has been our desire, we will then see it measured against the true riches. There will be an eternity of regret when we see how futile and empty our ambitions have been. There will also be the eternal torment of suffering that will accompany a life that has not been lived for God. James gives very strong warning on this subject.
James speaks of an indictment against those who defraud others from that which has been earned (vs 4). It is bad enough to seek after riches with an impure heart, it becomes even worse when people are not given their due. What does this say about such a person who would do this? They are covetous and they are robbers. We may not have seen Judas doing these sorts of things in its raw form but he was guilty of both. He was a thief and he had a covetous heart. Judas had these traits in seed form and James would have seen this first hand (John 13:2, 27).
In verses 7-12 James will speak concerning the patience of the saints. This is a most important truth; in fact, it is one of the attributes of the Spirit that Peter mentions as being added to our faith (2 Pet 1:5-6). Paul could even come to the place of rejoicing in his tribulation because of the fruit of patience being developed within him (Rom 5:3). The fruit of patience is given to those who have an ability to “endure” till the end. If one is going to endure they will have to be anchored by hope and by a vision. Jesus was able to endure because of the joy that was set before Him. He had an understanding of the bigger picture and what was to be accomplished if He were to finish the task (Heb 12:2). If we do not have a progressive vision we too will dwell carelessly and make decisions that will reflect this. It is here where the enemy will seek to allure through subtle alternatives so as to get the saints of God off the appointed mark for our lives. There will also be the need for discernment so that his attempts and devices can be exposed. The tendency in man is to not be patient while having a “gotta” have it now mentality. Sad to say there are many teachings and doctrines that cater to this appetite. Let us never forget that the enemy is a master of shortcuts. He seeks to show an alternative way to an established target that circumvents the appointed Divine path that God has authored. The challenge to the believers of our day is to have the ability to respond to Satan’s attempts by saying “It is written”.
James will conclude by addressing the need for prayer, faith and true intercession. As leaders and believers living in these exciting and challenging times we need to have that Divine connection with God so that we can hear His voice, know His heart and then seek to pray it into being upon the earth. The Lord’s Prayer helps to establish this truth. “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”. How do we come to know what God wants to do upon the earth? Is there a danger of praying something to come to pass that may not be God’s will? This is an important question and it must be addressed. Whose kingdom are we actually looking to establish; is it ours our God’s? This goes back to the danger of presumption which we looked at in Hebrews. We can presume the will of God and then go about praying and interceding for it to come to pass upon earth. Jesus would have preferred an alternative to the cup of suffering and if left to His will and disposition He would have failed in His mission to establish the will and kingdom of His Father on earth as he decreed it before the foundation of the world (Luk 22:42, Rev 13:8). Today’s Word of faith movement is dangerous because it leaves man to make presumptions as to what God wants to do. More than ever we need to spend time and come to know the heartbeat of God and carry His heart and burden through our respective work and ministries. Just like Nehemiah we need to come under the burden of God and then go about seeking to implement His will in our sphere of influence. At the same time, we need to pray the prayer of faith in our day to day experiences with God. If one is sick we need to believe by faith that God has made the provision for healing. On one hand we need to seek the mind and heart of the Lord as to what he looks to do in a church, city and nation and then pray accordingly. On the other hand, we need to approach people with the prayer of faith with expectation that God will heal. There may be reasons why a person may not be healed and unless God gives a specific Word we are to take the position to pray in faith. There are many different discussions as to whether it was God’s will for Job to go through his season of suffering. Personally, I think the Bible is clear that it was God’s will and it was not because of anything that he did wrong. His suffering served many purposes not just as seen in the life of Job but for the benefit of others. This can also be said of Paul. His suffering showcased the pattern of suffering seen in the Lord Jesus Christ. His suffering allowed opportunity to write epistles from a prison that benefitted the churches of his day and for the generations to come. The bottom line is that we need to have a walk of intimacy with the Lord that helps us come to the place of knowing His ways and His glory. The distinction seen in Moses from Israel is the same distinction being made today; which of the two groups do we reflect? (Psa 103:7)
James brings forth one more exhortation of great importance. It is important as leaders to have the ability to point out error in doctrine. It is vitally important that this work first be established within us. If we are quick to point out error in others while being beholden to sin in our own lives, we make ourselves a prey to the enemy. There is a great promise however that is given to those who minister the truth in love; having an ability to admonish and correct those who err from the Truth. In the revival to come there will be many backsliders who will return into the church. The key is to prepare our nets now both in our individual lives and within the church. This is the true heartbeat of God; to restore that which has been broken down and to prepare a people to be ready for the 2nd coming of the Lord (Luke 1:17). The epistle of James helps to provide significant keys in knowing how to prepare and what we can look forward to.