By now in the book of Jeremiah, God and Jeremiah have warned the people of Judah and Jerusalem that their rebellion would bring destruction, the destruction came, and they have been warned again that if they continue in their sinfulness they will suffer even more for their sins. Everything Jeremiah said would come to pass came to pass, and the people he talks with in this passage know it. So what might be their reaction to another warning and promise from Jeremiah: a warning that sin will bring more pain and a promise that repentance will bring the blessing of God?
“As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you.” (vs. 16)
That is a pretty straightforward response. Instead of listening to Jeremiah, they decided to move ahead with their pagan family traditions teaching their children how to worship foreign gods. Part of what is so valuable about their full response is their reason for ignoring God.
“For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.” (vs. 17-18)
In the Message paraphrase, they literally say, “In the good old days” things were great. What they are more than likely referring to are the days before Josiah’s reforms. Josiah, the last good king of Judah, tried to return the nation to God a generation before. For a while and in some circles the reform found fertile ground, but on the whole, it did not work. These people’s perception now is that things were all wine and roses before Josiah came along talking about God. Josiah’s reign coincided with the rise of their Babylonian conquers. In their minds, worshiping God fouled everything up.
Jeremiah responds by clarifying their memory. Instead of their obedience to God, it was their insistence on making offerings to foreign gods that brought disaster. In fact, when one traces the historical fact, Jeremiah is right. The way the rebellious people are remembering the past is exactly wrong.
If their facts are all wrong, why, then, did they make the religious decisions they made? In their perception of things, these pagan religions worked for them—they were religious pragmatists. As far as they were concerned, if religion did stuff for them, or if a god served their needs, that was all the reason they needed. Notice this decision has nothing to do with whether it is actually true or false.
Our culture views religion in general and Christianity specifically this way. As a whole, we want God and Christianity to do stuff for us. In light of the rebellious, doomed worshipers in Egypt, we need to pose this question: why do I make the faith decisions I do?
Is my faith about what “works” for me according to my own definitions? Is church about what they have for me? Do I read the Bible to find God’s promises to me? Do I worship when it fits my needs, my tastes, and my schedule? Do I pray because it may get God to do stuff for me?
Don’t get me wrong. These things are realities in my journey through life and faith. But, ultimately, do I come to Christ as a genie in the sky, or as the Creator and sovereign Ruler of the universe and Lord of my life? God resists being told what to do. The unfathomable riches of the Kingdom of God are open to the worshiper who humbly comes to God saying, “Thy will be done.”