The Lord said to me, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.”
Jeremiah 3:11 (NIV)
There is a stretch of my life journey that I look back on and call “the dark years.” I was angry for a number of reasons, and underneath the anger was an internal struggle with God, with myself, and with my circumstances. In this struggle, I acted out in unhealthy ways.
A therapist friend of mine says that “everyone is having a conversation with Life,” and I have found this to be true in my own experience. During my dark years, I wasn’t ignoring God or pretending He didn’t exist. I was in constant conversation with God. Like a rebellious teenager, I screamed at God. I threw tantrums. I argued with God, I swore at God, and I defiantly did things I was forbidden to do out of spite. And, when my attitude and actions led to really painful places, I found myself walking in the shoes of the Prodigal. I was humbled. I was broken. I was ashamed of the pain I had caused my loved ones, and I returned to the arms of my Heavenly Father and learned what “amazing grace” really means.
The dark years came to mind as I read today’s chapter. It begins with God addressing the southern kingdom of Judah. Judah couldn’t make up their mind regarding their relationship with God. Of their 20 monarchs, nine of them were somewhat faithful to God, while 11 of them followed after the local pagan gods. I can’t help but think of the words of the prophet Elijah from a couple hundred years before Jeremiah: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
I have to remember that Jeremiah is addressing the people of Judah amidst the religious reforms enforced by King Josiah. The people of Judah are pining for their idols despite the fact that the king has destroyed and outlawed them. They feel no shame about this. Theirs is a life of duplicity and wavering. They want it both ways. They contend to have an open marriage with God. “I should be able to make love to my pagan idols, and God should love and bless me anyway.”
God then tells Jeremiah to consider the northern kingdom of Israel. At the time of Jeremiah’s prophetic sermon, Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrians and led into captivity a hundred years before. Unlike Judah, Israel didn’t waver. They wholeheartedly went after idolatry. Not one of their 19 kings was faithful to God. Like me in my dark years, they flipped off their Heavenly Father in oppositional defiance. And, then they hit rock bottom thanks to the Assyrian Empire.
Now God speaks to Jeremiah as a frustrated yet loving Father. He sees Israel’s outright rebellion as more honest than the duplicitous wavering of her sister, Judah. God uses two different Hebrew adjectives. Israel was “faith-less” (there was no attempt to even pretend they cared) while Judah was “un-faithful” (they toyed and pretended they would be faithful, only to betray God over and over again). Father God then has Jeremiah face the leftover remnants of His people in the north and pleads for the Prodigal to return.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over my dark years. Ugh! I honestly see the shadow of both Judah and Israel in my own oppositional defiance, neither of them good. But today’s chapter has me contemplating the fact that there is something that God respects in those sinners who don’t even pretend to care about Him in contrast to those who say they love Him and then live as if they love the world and the things of the world. I see this in the way Jesus hung out with the outright “sinners” like Israel while directing His sharpest criticism and condemnation on the “religious” leaders who, like Judah, pretended they were faithful, but whom Jesus described as “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”
I head into the day with this episode from Matthew 9:11-13 resonating in my spirit:
Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and misfits?”
Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”
Featured Image: Prodigal Son by Thomas Hart Benton
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.