“We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord!”
Jeremiah 44:16 (NIV)
Jeremiah is an old man.
Consider with me all that he has witnessed.
He began his prophetic ministry under the reign of the reformer King Josiah. Josiah heard the Book of Law read, and he followed the God of Abraham and Moses faithfully. He outlawed idolatry and destroyed all of the idols and shrines. He did what was right. Jeremiah was right there in the palace, and in Solomon’s Temple to witness it all for the first twenty years of his ministry.
Then Josiah died.
His successor, Jehoahaz, immediately turned back to idolatry and the people of Judah with him. Over the next thirty years, Jeremiah witnessed a succession of four kings and the people of Judah harden their hearts in idolatry despite Jeremiah’s persistent warnings of judgement at the hand of the King of Babylon.
Jerusalem is destroyed.
The palace is destroyed.
The Who’s Who of Judah are all living in captivity in Babylon.
God’s Temple is in ruins.
The nation of Judah is no more.
The old man Jeremiah wakes up to find himself in Egypt, the nation where it all began for his people. They started as slaves in Egypt. That’s where God came to rescue them from their chains. God freed them from Egypt, made a covenant with them, and led them back to the land promised to them through their ancestor, Abraham. All God asked in return was faithfulness. Worship him alone. Live differently than all the other nations and peoples. Bless others. Show them a different way.
They refused. They broke covenant. They chose to be like everybody else. They refused to listen to Jeremiah. More than that. They mocked him, beat him, imprisoned him, and tried to kill him.
Jeremiah gathers with all the Hebrew expatriates in Egypt. I imagine him looking at this rag tag crowd. In some fifty years he’s witnessed the long, steady decline from a good King on the throne determined that his people will be faithful to the God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt and raised them up there to small remnant, wandering, lost sheep without a shepherd living back in Egypt. How ironic. These Hebrews have come full circle. The former slaves return to the land of their slave master.
These chapters about Jeremiah after the destruction of Jerusalem are striking for a couple of reasons.
First, Jeremiah is still proclaiming God’s Word and the message hasn’t changed.
Next, the leaders of this group of remnants have become increasingly defiant to anything Jeremiah has to say. They started by at least asking the prophet if he had a word from the Lord. Now they are simply telling the crazy old man to shut-up.
Also, the women have decided that the destruction of Jerusalem and all of the troubles were not the result of God’s judgement, but because they stopped worshipping Asherah, the “Queen of Heaven.” It wasn’t their unfaithfulness to the God of Moses who freed them from slavery in Egypt that brought all of the calamity but their unfaithfulness to Asherah. God no longer registers for them at all.
Jeremiah, the crazy old man, stays on message. God proclaims that He will give His people in Egypt one more sign. Pharaoh will die at the hands of his enemies. Indeed, in 570 B.C. (The remnant likely fled to Egypt sometime around 576-575 B.C.) Pharaoh was deposed and killed in a military coup.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on this big picture irony of the former slaves returning to their slave masters. In His first public message, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”
He was speaking of freedom from sin, as Paul so beautifully explains in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome:
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.
The lesson of the Hebrew remnant is a lesson for me. Am I spiritually growing in freedom toward a more intimate relationship with God and an increasing measure of love, joy, and peace in my daily life? Or, am I time and again returning to the shackles of pride, fear, shame, and the behaviors they produce in me?
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.