Jeremiah 2

Sermon preached on 18th November 2012

Forsaking God

wedding clip art

Chapter 2 of Jeremiah gives at least 9 little word pictures to help us understand what it is like when people / societies forsake God.  I remember a preacher saying, “When you preach a sermon, say one thing in 7 different ways, not 7 things in 1 way!”  This was very good advice and it’s what Jeremiah does in chapter 2.  He expounds the main theme already introduced in chapter 1, namely Judah’s principle sin in forsaking the LORD their God (1:16).   Using imagery and analogies he exposes their fallenness.

Each word picture, (or at least the idea behind it,) finds its way into the New Testament, and each idea is highly relevant in our day.  Unfortunately I can only expound 5 of these word pictures here.

The first word picture is that of an adulteress.

Behind this is the incredible idea that God’s relationship with his people is like a marriage.  There is no other image which could better communicate to us the tender love God has for His people.

“I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me, and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were guilty, and disaster overtook them” declares the LORD. [Jeremiah 2:2-3]

Israel was holy to the LORD, that is, set apart and belonged exclusively to the LORD, like a wife belongs exclusively to her husband.  God, as her Husband, protected her from all her enemies.  In these verses God remembers their first love, and you sense God’s heart is breaking over his people who have forsaken Him, like a faithless wife who has chased after other lovers.

This is what the LORD says, “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me?  They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”  [Jeremiah 2:5]

In this verse the LORD is saying, “What have I done wrong?”  It is a perversion of sinful human nature that when we turn our backs on God, God gets all the blame!  However the marriage breakdown is on account of the faithless adultery of the people and God is well within his rights to file for divorce.

In Ephesians 5, in the New Testament, Paul uses the same imagery of marriage to describe the relationship between God/Christ and his people (the church).  Marriage between a man and a woman reflects this relationship and thus the glory of God.  This is why for Christians marriage can only be between a man and a woman and anything else is idolatry.

People who have forsaken the LORD are like a woman who has forsaken the husband who truly loves her.

The second word picture is that of a nation which has changed its gods.

“Cross over to the coasts of Kittim, and look, send to Kedar and observe closely; see if there has ever been anything like this: has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.)  But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the LORD.  [Jeremiah 2:10-12]

This word picture is more difficult for us to understand because we don’t live in a world where people really talk about a nation’s gods.  But in Jeremiah’s time all the different nations had their gods.  For example the Canaanites worshipped Baal and Asherah.  It was unheard of that a nation would change their gods, so why should Israel think of such a thing?

Paul picks up on this word picture in Romans 1:22 to explain the godlessness of the pagan world in his time,

“Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”  [Romans 1:22]

When Israel changed its gods it was like exchanging the Divine Majesty and Glory of God for dumb idols made of wood and stone which couldn’t see or hear or speak.

To exchange this glory of God for the worship of idols is like confusing the light of the Sun with the reflected light of the Moon.  It is to reduce the glory of God to a created thing and this is idolatry.

In Western society we don’t usually worship statues, but the idols are alive and well in our hearts!  One of the biggest idols is greed for material things and money.  We confuse the Giver with the gift.

The third word picture is that of broken cisterns which cannot hold water

“My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the springs of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns which cannot hold water.”  [Jeremiah 2:13]

Imagine living in a desert where it is always dry and water is essential for life.  Imagine that you find a wonderful oasis of water with springs of water bubbling up all the time.  Do you head out into the dry desert where there is no water, where you will die of thirst?  This would be a stupid thing to do, yet Jeremiah says that people who forsake God are just like this.

God is pictured as springs of living water. This metaphor reappears in the teaching of Jesus, for example when he spoke to the woman at the well,

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” [John 4:13-14]

Jesus told the woman He would give her living waters.  If we think about this for a moment we will understand this was a remarkable thing to say since only God is the spring of living waters!  We know from John 7:39 Jesus was speaking of the Spirit.

Human beings are spiritually hungry, but if we are not drinking from the Living Waters we seek an alternative and dig our own cisterns.  But our attempt to provide what only God can provide is like digging broken cisterns which cannot hold water.   We rely on other relationships to meet our need for protection and provision.  Human relationships are a gift, and can be a means by which provision is mediated; but they are not the source of provision, and so we should not ultimately put our trust in them.  Israel relied on other nations and international treaties (see Jeremiah 2:18,) but in the end they would prove to be unreliable like broken cisterns since, at heart, this was just another form of idolatry.

In what ways do we make the same mistake these days?

The fourth word picture is that of a beast which has broken its yoke

“Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, “I will not serve you!”  Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute.” [Jeremiah 2:20]

Here, forsaking God is like a wild ox which has smashed its yoke against the barn and runs off wild into the open country.   Israel thought that by refusing to serve God she would be free.  But the alternative is not freedom but serving our own sinful nature – which is bondage.   Israel ended up being in bondage to idolatry and associated prostitution, which involved wild and extravagant forms of sexual perversion.   We can easily recognise that in our day the determination to shake off so-called “traditional values” for the sake of freedom has run parallel to increased sexual immorality of all kinds.  It has been called “sexual liberation” but the reality is that increasing instability in family life and breakdown has resulted in untold misery and financial hardship, and above all the children suffer.  This is nothing other than exchanging one yoke for a much heavier one!

Jesus called the yoke of sin a heavy but the yoke of serving Him light, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30]

What do you think our nation would be like if we laid down the heavy burden of sin and took up the light yoke of following Christ?

The fifth word picture is that of a wild vine

“I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock.  How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” [Jeremiah 2:21]

Here, God is pictured as the Gardener and His people as a good healthy vine.  Israel was made of good and reliable stuff!  God’s people were those in whom the true seed to God’s grace dwelt.  They would be as a choice vine bearing much fruit for God’s glory to bless the world.  Instead, in forsaking the LORD, they became like a corrupt like a vine running wild yielding only wild and poor quality grapes.

I am sure you recognise this is very similar to Jesus’ teaching in John 15.  Jesus said, “My Father is the Gardner,” and “I am the true vine.”  Jesus identified himself as the true Israel, the choice vine of sound and reliable stock.  Jesus followers are the branches and bear the good fruit God desires as they remain in Him.  They are to abide in his love and their lives are enriched in every way.

Individuals and societies which have forsaken God will be marked by diminishing fruitfulness; a lack of productivity, declining education, declining economy, declining politics, increasing disorder in society.  We see these characteristics all over the western world.

Conclusion

Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the LORD, and with your children’s children will I plead. [Jeremiah 2:9]

For all their wickedness in forsaking the LORD, God would not give up on them, but continue to plead with them to return.      And god doesn’t give up on us either.  We see the full extent of God’s love expressed through the self giving of Jesus Christ on the cross.  We can return to God through faith in Christ, an be forgiven and restored.

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