Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Deceit & Judgment (part 1 of 2)

The human mind is more deceitful than anything else.  It is incurably bad.  Who can understand it?  - Jeremiah 17:9  (NET)

With these words, the God of Israel, presumably speaking through His prophet Jeremiah, sends forth a stinging rebuke against His covenant people.  Before attributing an incurably bad and deceitful mind to His own people that had been culled out from humanity so as to be the shining lights of His glory in and to the world, He accuses them of placing “trust in mere human beings” (17:5b).  The Creator God here says that He will curse His people that do such things, “who depend on mere flesh and blood for their strength” (17:5c), because in that, they demonstrate that their “hearts have turned away from the Lord” (17:5d). 

Of course, when the reader of Scripture stumbles across any mentions of curses, that reader’s thoughts should be caused to dwell upon the curses to be found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that are especially pronounced against idolatry, which are set in juxtaposition to the blessings that are to be enjoyed for faithfulness to covenant obligations, the proper worship and recognition of the covenant God, and appropriate bearing of the divine image. 

The statement about the human mind found here in Jeremiah is not necessarily to be taken as a generalization and universal condemnation.  Rather, it is specifically connected to trust in human beings, so it asks to be understood as a reference to idolatry.  Jeremiah is in the midst of communicating judgment and exile to the Creator God’s people, and in doing, lets them know that their idolatry is the key component of that judgment.  The implications of the judgment is that rather than being a light reflecting the glory of their God, and subsequently directing the nations to the worship of the one and only God of Israel, they had instead imitated the nations surrounding them and gone after their idols.  It is because of that then, that “The Lord said, ‘So I will let them know My mighty power in judgment.  Then they will know that My Name is the Lord’.” (16:21) 

Remembering that there is a wider context and a continuous narrative stream in Jeremiah, it is appropriate to back up to the fifteenth chapter so as to learn that the punishment to be rendered by their God for this idolatry will be severe.  The covenant God speaks about His people and says “I will have war kill them.  I will have dogs drag off their dead bodies.  I will have birds and wild beasts devour and destroy their corpses.  I will make all the people in all the kingdoms of the world horrified at what has happened to them” (15:3b-4a).  Naturally, kingdoms being horrified at the woes of Israel stands in stark and glaring contrast to what the God of Israel had intended for His covenant people. 

It is worth inquiring as to when the fate of this people was sealed?  It is suggested that the were going to suffer judgment “because of what Hezekiah’s son Manasseh, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem” (15:4b).  As is to be routinely found in the historical narrative of Israel, the king stands for and represents the people, with the people often subject to cursing because of him and his actions.  Later on in the Scriptural narrative, it will be possible to find another King that stands for and represents the people, and that it is through Him that the people of God become blessed.  

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