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How Long?


Our reading in a chronologically arranged Bible seeking out the questions asked by the Creator of the creature brings us to Jeremiah 13. The context is that the nation God created from one man to be a missionary nation bearing the testimony of God to the nations has failed miserably. God’s people were arrogant, prejudiced, and greedy. For those and other reasons, God was about to bring severe chastisement in the form of an attack by Babylon. The attack will result in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple plus the carrying off of a significant portion of the population beginning with the best and brightest.

Jeremiah 13:20 begins a series of rhetorical questions that ends in verse 27 with the clincher, “How long will you remain unclean?” The guilt of Judah has been well established. Jeremiah 13:20-21 describe the calling to account, “Lift up your eyes and see Those coming from the north. Where is the flock that was given you, Your beautiful sheep? 21 “What will you say when He appoints over you —And you yourself had taught them —Former companions to be head over you? Will not pangs take hold of you Like a woman in childbirth? (NASU) God had entrusted to the leaders of Judah care over His people. They were guilty of gross sin and dereliction of duty. Their punishment will be humiliating, drawn out, and painful. Judah had trusted in other nations, not God, and that would be their downfall.

Verses 22-23 graphicly point out how far-gone Judah was, “If you say in your heart, ‘Why have these things happened to me?’ Because of the magnitude of your iniquity Your skirts have been removed And your heels have been exposed. 23 “Can the Ethiopian change his skin Or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good Who are accustomed to doing evil. (NASU) The chances of Judah repenting and returning to the Lord in time to avoid discipline were nil. The time for accountability has come.

Verses 24-27 describe the appropriateness of the specific punishments from God for the crimes against God, “Therefore I will scatter them like drifting straw To the desert wind. 25 “This is your lot, the portion measured to you From Me,” declares the Lord, “Because you have forgotten Me And trusted in falsehood. 26 “So I Myself have also stripped your skirts off over your face, That your shame may be seen. 27 “As for your adulteries and your lustful neighings, The lewdness of your prostitution On the hills in the field, I have seen your abominations. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will you remain unclean?” (NASU) The conclusion is sobering indeed. Woe! and how long before you come to your senses?

Perhaps there is something for me to learn here. Certainly, I must trust in God alone and not in human allies. They will surely fail me and disappoint me because they are as weak and undependable as I am. Certainly, I am as guilty as Judah was of crimes against God. Certainly, I am as deserving of severe punishment. The final question is arresting indeed: How long will I remain unclean? How long before I come to my senses? Repentance is a gift from God and freely available to the one who humbles himself. Why do I wallow in sin and guilt rather than turning to the only place where forgiveness and cleansing is available and generously given? Why does it take so much painful discipline before guilt is admitted? Why is a humble spirit so hard to come by? How long will I remain unclean?

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