Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 13-15; John, chapter 15
Scripture: Jeremiah 14:7-12 (NRSV) – Although our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake; our apostasies indeed are many, and we have sinned against you. O hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler turning aside for the night? Why should you be like someone confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot give help? Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not forsake us! Thus says the Lord concerning this people: Truly they have loved to wander, they have not restrained their feet; therefore the Lord does not accept them, now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins. The Lord said to me: Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Although they fast, I do not hear their cry, and although they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I do not accept them; but by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence I consume them.
Observations: It is a frightening thing to reach the end of God’s patience. Over the years, Israel had cried out to God for deliverance, only to turn back to their idols and their sin. The people of Judah even had the additional warning of seeing what had happened to the northern kingdom, when the Assyrians came and carried them off – but Judah continued in its idolatry and sin. Finally, God had reached the point where he would no longer withhold punishment.
This passage really caught my attention this morning, for two reasons. First, in verses 7-9, Jeremiah is obviously praying a prayer of repentance on behalf of the nation. Our iniquities…our apostasies…we have sinned against you. Jeremiah had not participated in those sins, yet he felt compelled as God’s prophet to repent on behalf of his people. What a powerful reminder to us! In a day and age when people are all too ready to “pass the buck” – “I didn’t do that; it’s not my fault; don’t blame me” – Jeremiah repents on behalf of the people, acknowledging their sin and begging for God’s forgiveness. As God’s people, we need to do the same. We need to acknowledge where we’ve gone wrong – not only individually, but as the Church, and as a nation. If we’re not willing to acknowledge those things, how can we call for people to return to God?
The second thing about this passage that strikes me is God’s response to Jeremiah: Do not pray for the welfare of this people. I’m not suggesting that God has directed me in this way, but I do think we need to recognize that praying for God to bless us may not be what God wants us to pray. When the Church fails – or even refuses – to proclaim God’s truth, why should God bless it? When a nation fails to honor God and obey his commands, why should he bless it? At some point, God may again say, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people.” I think he wants us to pray for their repentance, for their salvation, rather than for material blessings and protection. That’s not a popular message today, any more than it was in Jeremiah’s day – but that doesn’t make it any less true, nor any less important.
Applications: God is reminding me that our call, as the Church, is to do far more than pray for people’s blessing and welfare. We need to pray for their salvation; we need to pray that God will show them his way; we need to pray that God will help us to know what to do in order to help people find their way to him. If our nation, our culture, is failing to honor God, and leading people away from God, we should pray for them to wake up and turn back to God. Praying for blessings in those circumstances may serve only to deceive people into thinking that they’re on the right path. We need to recognize what God’s principles are, we need to live by those principles, and we need to proclaim them as God gives us opportunity to do so.
Prayer: Father, I confess that it is a frightening thing to think that you might again say, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people.” I have no idea how close you might be to that point, but it worries me. Help me today to live in ways that point people toward you, your truth, and your priorities, so they might turn to you and be made whole. It is a frightening thing to think about Jeremiah, and how he was hated and rejected for speaking your truth, because it wasn’t popular or comforting – but I know that I have to be willing to obey you, no matter what. Give me the strength to do your will, and to proclaim your message, regardless of the response. Hallowed be your name. Amen.