For the past five days, I have been meditating on this haunting text in Jeremiah 4. Three days ago I took a 16-mile ride with verses 1 and 2 echoing through my spirit as I rolled by farmers bringing in their soybeans and corn. Honestly, it was hard to get away from the first two lines.
The implication of YHWH’s declaration/invitation is that there is a way of “returning” that is NOT a returning to God.
Is it possible that a people could be called to repent, hear that call, know that they needed to repent, begin to move in the direction of repentance, change their behavior in some discernable way, return to some more overtly “religious” patterns of devotion, think that they are somehow doing something good and yet, . . . it all be false, a turning that is for naught, unproductive, even counter-productive?
Listen to Jeremiah’s text.
1 “If you return, O Israel,” declares the LORD,
. “Then you should return to Me.
. And if you will put away your detested things from My presence,
. And will not waver,
2 And you will swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’
. In truth, in justice and in righteousness;
. Then the nations will bless themselves in Him,
. And in Him they will glory.”
3 For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem,
. “Break up your fallow ground,
. And do not sow among thorns.
4 “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD
. And remove the foreskins of your heart,
. Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
. Or else My wrath will go forth like fire
. And burn with none to quench it,
. Because of the evil of your deeds.”
The nation was far from God. Israel had turned from God and lived in idolatry, apostasy, and become hardened in heart toward both truth and justice and as a result, righteousness was not a high priority. As a judgment, God was about to send the nation into exile in Babylon. And He told them that when they returned to the land at the end of the exile it was imperative that they also return to Him. So even before they go into their 70-year exile, God pleads with Israel to repent and return to Him.
In fact, the whole chapter is an earnest plea for the nation of Israel to get serious about repentance. And that earnest plea seems particularly relevant not just for ancient Israel but for 21st Century America as well. And what would that look like? The second part of verse 1 tells us.
- We will put away detestable practices to God.
(That will require understanding what is detestable to Him).
- We will not waver in our commitment to eradicate these things from our lives.
- We will swear as God is our judge.
Just as with Israel, 2,600 years ago, God is calling His people to put away detestable practices and declare our allegiance to Him as our sovereign and only Lord.
He is calling us to put away anything that stands in the way of obeying Him. He is calling us to love truth, justice, and righteousness. He is calling us to swear by His name that we will live lives that are pictures to the world of an earnest pursuit of God, and His Kingdom and His righteousness.
Israel did not heed the call.
Will the church of America in 2016?
Will you? Today?