I’ve spent some time recently reviewing the first ten chapters of Jeremiah. I am sobered by how this prophet, who wrote some 2600 years ago to Judah in the days before its fall to Babylon, still speaks so powerfully to our present generation. I encourage you to read those chapters and draw your own insights through the Holy Spirit, but allow me to share some observations for your consideration.
1) While Jeremiah’s audience faced an outside world full of threats, God directed him to challenge His own people. These beginning chapters of Jeremiah make it clear that the primary problem was God’s own people’s decisions, not the threat of external groups, nations, or circumstances. While Judah certainly faced its share of foreign enemies and powerful outside influences, the focus of Jeremiah’s message was the sinful choices of God’s people. Instead of condemning “those others,” God called out His own, suggesting that their challenges stemmed directly from their lack of faithfulness. Jeremiah speaks correctively to those who today might wish to focus blame for society’s ills solely on outside forces, whether foreign nations or protest movements or social action groups or political agents. The only actions we can control are our own, and as the people of God, it is important that we remember, as 1 Peter 4:17 suggests, that judgment begins with us.
2) God’s people were guilty of “hedging their bets” by trusting in sources other than God for answers. A repeated thought in these chapters is God’s frustration with His people for their lack of undivided confidence in Him. Whether they turned to other gods and goddesses, or sought political alliances in an effort to stave off outside threats, or looked to their own wealth and resources, the cumulative effect was that they demonstrated a lack of faith in God. As He says so powerfully in Jeremiah 2:13, “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” They trusted in alliances with other nations (2:18) and claimed to be faithful to God even as they ran after other sources of security (2:23-25, 35-36). These words speak powerfully to those who live in a religious culture that tends to trust in political and governmental systems, financial resources, human planning, and material security, even as they claim that God is their only source.
3) God’s people were presuming far too much upon God’s grace and favor. Jeremiah 5:12 says, “They have lied about the Lord; they said, ‘He will do nothing! No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine.” Jeremiah repeatedly references the tendency of His people to believe that their status as “God’s own” would guarantee that He would somehow protect them from harm, while ignoring their own continued compromise and sin. What a reminder that, in any century or situation, it is unwise to assume that God will ignore His people’s unrighteousness indefinitely just because they claim to follow and honor Him!
4) The people of Judah underestimated God’s concern for “the least of these.” Jeremiah was led by God to remind His people that a claim to love Him must be accompanied by a heart to love others, including the broken and struggling. In 7:4-7, addressing those who were coming to the temple to worship God, Jeremiah says, “Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’ If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place.”
In today’s cultural climate, it remains a temptation to rest in one’s own moral righteousness while neglecting God’s call to actively demonstrate selfless love and concern for those in need. It is not “individual righteousness or social concern”—it is “both-and.” As James 1:27 echoes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
5) Through it all, God remains willing to forgive and restore those willing to repent and return. The core of Jeremiah’s message, along with that of all the Old Testament prophets, is a basic two-part theme: “If you continue to choose to disobey, judgment is inevitable. However, if you confess and repent, God will forgive and restore.” Jeremiah shares this thought multiple times, as in this example from 3:12: “‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will not be angry forever.’” As then, so now, God invites all of us to evaluate our own hearts and actions honestly, confess any sinful attitudes and choices, and receive His promise of forgiveness and renewal.