|Volume 19 Number 2 February 2017||
Astonishing and Horrible
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah spent his whole life watching his beloved society crumble. Moral decay followed spiritual decay, and this then led to a prophesied and consummating destruction by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. Jeremiah was selected before birth (1:5), and called from youth (1:6ff). Due to the hardships that would be coming upon the people of Judah, he was not allowed to marry (16). He would thus not have to endure watching a wife and any ensuing children suffer the miserable fates that others of that nation would suffer.
Indeed, Jeremiah would be quite unpopular and even persecuted. While other prophets gained their followings with artificially positive preaching, Jeremiah faithfully told the truth, no matter what it cost him. The false prophets of the day lied to the people, saying those who had already been captured would only be there two years (28:3). This made the people feel good. When Jeremiah prophesied at length that the real duration would be seventy years (25:11; 29:10), it secured him the harsh judgment of governmental and public opinion. He was imprisoned and endured much with the remnant left after the destruction.
In the midst of his prophesies warning the people of this impending destruction, there are some passages that stick out as succinct statements of the philosophical tragedies of the society. One of the most remarkable is 5:30-31. “An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their own power; And my people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?”
It is astonishing and horrible when culture at large prefers lies over truth. The well-educated of that religious society, the prophets, were feeding the people with a constant barrage of lies. The lies assuaged the anxiety, albeit temporarily. The lies made the people feel good and the prognosticators popular. Everything seemed to be working fine—just keep lying to the people and all would be well. The trouble was that the lies, like all lies, had no force. Lies never have any backing. Building upon them—whether in individual life, religious organization or society—is like building a house on sand (Matthew 7:24-27).
Eventually, the house will fall and fall hard. As a partner to the pattern of lies was the abuse of power. The leaders of the day did not rule according to God’s written law, but they made up the law as they went. They did not care if their decisions regarding justice, morality, fairness and civility were based upon God’s law or any rule of law. They just did whatever they felt—not even what they felt was right, but just whatever they felt. If they wanted things a certain way, they ruled that way. There was no regard for what was written. Jeremiah answered this horrible pattern of behavior with his thoughts in 10:23. “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his steps.”
Capping those two problems—lying and power-mongering—was the wicked capstone of the people’s attitude—they loved to have it that way. Implied is the possibility that the people knew lies were being told them and dictators were legislating their own wills. Even so, they loved it. Indicated strongly is that there is no hope for such a person, group or society. When an oligarchy rules with headstrong disdain for what is written, and lies keep a possible moral remnant at bay, there may be a superficial calm, peace and order for a while, “but what will you do in the end?”
I love the Lord’s church. It is the greatest entity known to man. What, though, makes the church great? How does a church stay healthy? Paul answered this question when talking to the struggling church at Thessalonica. It was not struggling because it was weak but because the resistance to the truth was so strong.
They had three qualities that made them strong, the same three that make individuals strong. Paul also talked about those traits in 1 Corinthians 13:13 when he said the three things that matter are faith, hope and love. Those three characteristics that make the individual strong are the same three that keep the church healthy.
As the church, we must be full of works of faith. A healthy church will be identified by the good things it does for the community and for the world. A healthy church is marked by its labor of love. Just as in 1 Corinthians 13:13, the greatest is love. Love is the reason that anything we do has meaning. As the church of Christ, we must love as He loved us. Hope is the key to keep us moving forward. No one does anything unless there is something toward which to look forward at the end of the effort. Our hope is in Jesus Christ, and He is trustworthy. We remain steadfast in His Word because we know He has something in store for us if we do continue to abide in the Gospel.
When we hang on to faith and do good things in His name, do our work in His kingdom because of our love for Him and our neighbors, then we have hope in the future that our efforts will be rewarded. Let’s keep our Lord’s church healthy. “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3).