I had my first ever colonoscopy a month ago. I followed the procedure: fasted, drank the colon-clearing drink, and went under anesthesia for the procedure. Colonoscopies save lives because they can detect problems deep inside, giving doctors information they need to remove polyps before they become cancerous. To maintain health, we need regular check-ups. In this week’s devotional, God gives the Jewish remnant a much-needed check-up. We’ll find that this check-up has great significance for us too.
We continue our study of the life and ministry of the prophet Jeremiah, this week looking at chapters 44 and 45. To recap, the land of Judah and the capital city of Jerusalem lies in smoldering ruins, having been destroyed by the Babylonians. The Babylonians then exiled most of the Jews back to Babylon, leaving only a remnant to work the land in Judah. God instructed the remnant to stay there, saying he would protect them and restore them in the land. Most of the remnant, however, fled to Egypt against God’s wishes, thinking they would be safe from Babylon in Egypt. Now in Egypt, God gives Jeremiah a prophetic warning for the people.
In verses 1-6, God recounts the recent history of his interaction with the people of Judah. Simply put, the people had rebelled, burning incense in worship of false gods, and God sent prophets to call the people to repentance. The people refused to listen, and God allowed them to face the Babylonians without his protection, which of course led to Judah’s devastation and the people’s exile. In this section verse 5 is critical, “They did not listen or pay attention; they did not turn from their wickedness.”
The remnant of Jews in Egypt should take this warning to heart because it is not ancient history. They had just lived it. They endured the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the starvation and eventual destruction, the pain of watching loved ones exiled to a foreign land, and finally the desperate flight to Egypt. In other words, the people should clearly be able to see that it was their rebellion and wickedness that led to their downfall.
Sadly, this is not a people who are known for seeing things God’s way. After the reign of the godly king Josiah, the people of Judah were ruled by a string of ungodly kings. Frankly, we could go backwards in time before Josiah, and we would discover plenty of wickedness in Judah. That’s why Josiah was a reformer, leading a movement of repentance and recovery of God’s Law. Josiah’s revival is needed because the people were so deep in rebellion, they had lost God’s law.
Josiah was a wonderful godly leader, but he was just a short blip of righteousness in an otherwise rebellious era. These people, even though they had lived through the Babylonian devastation, still did not trust in God. As we saw last week, when God told them not to go to Egypt, they disobeyed and went anyway. We can make an educated guess that now in chapter 44 when God recounts their wicked history, it will not shake the remnant back into communion with him.
God has retold the history because he is grieved about something new happening among the remnant in Egypt. In verses 7-10, God reveals that some of the people have been worshiping idols there in Egypt. He wants the people to know that this is an awful mistake, a terrible affront to him. If they keep it up, not only will they be left without the land of Judah and without their beloved capital city of Jerusalem, also they themselves will be no more. God says that if they continue their rebellion, they, the remnant, will destroy themselves. He pleads with them to remember their history, to see that it was the wickedness of their forefathers that led to the defeat of Judah and Jerusalem. God desperately wants the remnant to make a different choice. He wants them to choose him.
How can they choose him? In verse 10, he says that choosing him will require humility, reverence and obedience to his law and decrees. Those three words refer to our mind, our heart and our action. Let’s look at each one, as this is the check-up we all need.
First, it is true that humility is something we practice, something we can learn, but it starts in our mind. Humility is a choice to think about our lives in a certain way. We consider our options with our minds, we deliberate, and ultimately we decide to act. The principle of humility is that of thinking of ourselves as under the leadership of another. Humility is when we use our minds to believe that we are not everything, that we might be in some kind of need. How we think in our minds, therefore, because it is logically prior to action, is of utmost importance. We must strive for humility.
Once we humbly believe in our minds that we need help, our heart expresses awe or desire or reverence for that which can help us. So often in life our heart reveres what is not worthy to be revered. We revere someone or something that we believe can help us, satisfy our desires, or fulfill our needs. This misplaced reverence flows from a humility in which we know we need help, but sadly we look for help in the wrong places. Some revere money as the solution to their needs. Others revere a person. Maybe some revere education. What we revere will direct our actions, and thus it is also of utmost importance that we revere the right thing.
Finally flowing from humility in our minds and reverence in our hearts, we make a choice to act. If we believe money can help solve our problems, we will likely pursue acquisition of wealth. Perhaps we addictively play the lottery. Perhaps we invest in a get-rich-quick scheme. Perhaps we obsessively work. If we believe a relationship can solve our problems, we will likely pursue people, maybe manipulatively, to serve our needs. If we are feeling the pressures of life, we can believe that we will find satisfaction in books, social media, TV, porn, or a substance like food, alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.
Do you see how God is making a deeply significant point in this section. What goes on in our minds and hearts leads to action. It is in our best interest to nurture humble minds, reverant hearts and faithful actions toward God. These three centers of our lives are of vast importance to God.
He has watched as the remnant of Judah turned away from him and sought protection from Egypt. Now in Egypt they are worshiping false gods. What the remnant needs to do is point their humility, reverence and obedience to the source that can provide real protection, to God himself. Sadly, in verses 11-14, God concludes that the people will not humble themselves, revere and obey him. He says that the remnant will die in Egypt. Only a few fugitives will escape.
How will the people respond? Probably no surprise here, as we read in verses 15-19 that the people respond by digging in their heels, “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord.” It seems they believe Jeremiah is the one who is not right. Their perspective is that when they were burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and worshiping her, things went well for them. They tell Jeremiah that when they stopped worshiping the Queen of Heaven, things went poorly.
What are they talking about? Who is the Queen of Heaven? Scan back to Jeremiah 7:18, and there we heard the people of Judah talking about how they baked cakes for the Queen of Heaven. They are referring to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Goddess worship was happening in Judah decades earlier. Then the godly King Josiah led the revival movement and discontinued that pagan worship. We support Josiah for that, but the Jewish remnant now in Egypt believes Josiah was wrong. They say that once Josiah put a stop to goddess worship, the people of Judah suffered. In a way, they are right. They did face numerous disasters, including invasion and earthquakes.
But they are also very wrong. Ishtar was not protecting them. Ishtar was not blessing them. Instead, though they might have stopped pagan worship for a time under the reign of Josiah, what they are not admitting to is that after his death they went back to it. It was their rebellion that led to their devastation. That is precisely Jeremiah’s response in verses 20-23. The people brought this onto themselves. Therefore, in verses 24-30, God promises that Babylon will invade Egypt and destroy all but a very few of the remnant. All because they would not humble themselves, revere God and choose his way. It’s incredibly sad. Yet, the people do not see it that way at all. The people are so jaded, so fixated on their way of seeing things, they cannot fathom that Jeremiah might be right.
Then we come to a very brief transitional chapter 45. Chronologically, chapter 45 is a short prophetic word from decades earlier. Though out of chronology, its theme is a perfect match for what we just learned about the stubborn disobedient remnant in chapter 44. God speaks a prophetic word to Jeremiah’s trusted scribe Baruch. Apparently Baruch had expressed exasperation, perhaps about the rebellion of the people. God responds to Baruch saying, “I am going allow the people to go through disaster, but I will protect you, Baruch.” This message was very similar to what God had previously said to Jeremiah.
Fast-forward back to the present day, when Jeremiah and remnant of Jews have traveled to Egypt. Though God will allow Babylon to invade and defeat Egypt, it seems that the message of chapter 45 is a reminder that those who trust in the Lord, though they might face great difficulty and pain in life, they have the Lord’s promise of salvation. It is this theme that is aligned with chapter 44. God calls us to be people who nurture humble minds, reverent hearts and faithful actions. Ask God to give you a check-up, to evaluate your mind, heart and actions.
But maybe you don’t want a check-up. If so, I hear you. I can definitely drag my feet on my annual physical. It’s a hassle. The poking, prodding, and worst of all the possibility of bad news. No doubt, that discomfort can happen when God gives you an annual spiritual. You might be thinking, “I don’t really want to hear what God has to say because I think it will be critical.” Know this…God deeply, deeply loves you, and no matter what he says, it will be drenched in his love for you.
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash