By Pastor Steve Ellison
As Jeremiah 16 opens, we find Jeremiah the prophet in a difficult position. God has commanded Jeremiah to resolutely stick with a difficult message to the people regarding their sin and impending punishment. The stiff-necked people of God would not listen, and Jeremiah would be despised, rejected, and mistreated. God commanded Jeremiah to live out some difficult object lessons in front of Israelites that would indicate what awaited the nation. Jeremiah was commanded to refrain from marrying and raising children. God was using Jeremiah to declare that the people of Israel would lose that blessing as well because of the impending attack from Babylon. Furthermore, God told Jeremiah not to grieve and to comfort those who lost loved ones. This would illustrate that the people of Israel would lose loved ones and not be afforded opportunity of normal grief and closure. Also, Jeremiah was ordered not to join in ordinary feasting. This meant that times of feasting and celebration would soon end for Israel.
Jeremiah 16:10-13 presents us with several questions. God predicts questions from His people, and He answers the questions before they are asked, “Now when you tell this people all these words, they will say to you, ‘For what reason has the Lord declared all this great calamity against us? And what is our iniquity, or what is our sin which we have committed against the Lord our God?’ 11 “Then you are to say to them, ‘It is because your forefathers have forsaken Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘and have followed other gods and served them and bowed down to them; but Me they have forsaken and have not kept My law. 12 ‘You too have done evil, even more than your forefathers; for behold, you are each one walking according to the stubbornness of his own evil heart, without listening to Me. 13 ‘So I will hurl you out of this land into the land which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers; and there you will serve other gods day and night, for I will grant you no favor.’ (NASU)
These anticipated questions seem to indicate that God’s people either do not believe they are guilty of grave sin or do not believe that God will follow through with real punishment. God declares that they are definitely guilty of grave sin and that He will certainly mete out the punishment they richly deserve. Their ancestors were guilty of idolatry and so is the current generation. In fact, the current generation is even more evil than the preceding generations. They wouldn’t even listen to God. The punishment for their idolatry would be exile and thus even greater opportunity to worship idols. As God often does, He gave these voracious sinners the desires of their heart. He gave them over to their own degraded passions. He sent Babylon, a great foreign power, to attack, lay siege, and destroy their homeland and capital city along with the Temple. Babylon would be the human instrument, as God Himself would hurl the Israelites into a foreign land they and their ancestors had not known. There in that faraway land they would have the dubious pleasure of serving with hard labor the idols of the Babylonians.
Perhaps there is a lesson here for me. I am called to serve/worship the God of the Bible. Why do I so regularly with great impudence worship the false god of self? The choice of Scripture is quite clear. I will either worship the Creator of heavens and earth or I will fall into idol worship, at which point God will allow me the desire of my heart and He will show me no favor. The choice is crystal clear as is the result of the choice.