As we went around the room and answered the question, “What do you know about Jeremiah?” there were snickers and knowing smiles. At last a brave woman answered, “Well, I know Jeremiah was a bullfrog.”
The setting for this icebreaker was a Bible study – not a 1970s Top Forty Countdown (for all you Millennials, there was a popular song from the early ‘70s about a bullfrog named Jeremiah.) Nonetheless, the laughter came in earnest…it is, after all, what so many of us were thinking.
The Jeremiah we were really supposed to be identifying was the prophet in the Old Testament. The one often labeled “the weeping prophet” because he so often wept for the people of Judah. The one whose words fill the most pages of all books of the Bible.
His role as prophet was NOT an easy one – the messages God had him deliver were filled with truth and were God’s means for re-establishing the broken relationship between Him and His people. BUT those messages were not well-received. Jeremiah was God’s messenger, but the people to whom he was delivering the message…well, they wanted to, as they say, “shoot the messenger.”
You may be thinking, “Sure, Shelley, I see who Jeremiah was. But what does that have to do with me, today, in the 21st Century?”
And I’d respond, “I’m so glad you asked.”
I’ve entered, as you may have guessed, a short study on the person and book of Jeremiah, and I’m quickly realizing just how much we have in common with Jeremiah AND the people he lived among, despite the 1000s of years difference between us.
In Jeremiah’s day, the Isrealites from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were all that remained of God’s chosen people. After King Solomon’s reign, the kingdom of Israel had split – north and south. Ten tribes to the north. Two to the south. Several kings and lots of sin later, the Northern Kingdom had become so vile and had turned against God so completely that God cast them into captivity…never to be heard from again. That’s ten of the twelve tribes. Gone. Forever.
It took longer to happen, but eventually the Southern Kingdom followed suit – they worshipped other gods and absolutely turned their backs on God.
Enter Jeremiah (among other prophets). God spoke into His prophet, and the prophet very obediently spoke God’s words to the people. And, of course, the people didn’t like what they heard.
So they didn’t change.
Jeremiah’s world was filled with child sacrifices, prostitution in the name of religion, and numerous “sacrifices” in an attempt to please the multitude of gods that surrounded them.
Now, before we judge Judah (the Southern Kingdom) too harshly, let’s turn on the news and see what the headlines are. Parents selling babies into prostitution (sex trade) to pay off debts. Civil wars. Terrorism. Mass shootings. Car bombings. And the world-wide list goes on.
How about personally? What in your “world” compares with Jeremiah’s? Loss of all kinds keeps us off-balance and full of grief – job, relationship, life… Betrayal tears us apart. Disease and illness leave us in pain and at a loss. And our list goes on.
Our world is “unstable” at best.
Author, Melissa Spoelstra, recognizes the similarities between Jeremiah’s world and ours. In her study, Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World, she helps us see that our world is a lot like Jeremiah’s. There’s more to relate to than we might have assumed. Both worlds are unstable. They might even seem hopeless.
So, where to find our hope in such instability?
To the one place the people of God in Jeremiah’s day refused to look: God.
He is the one true God. He is Creator and Maker of all Things. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is constant and unchanging. God is good and wants only good for us. Nothing is too difficult for Him.
And when we believe these truths about God, we have a solid place to put our hope.
Not in people.
Not in wealth.
Not in status.
Not in success.
All of these are ever-changing and imperfect, yet they are exactly what the world would have us sink our hope (and energy and resources) into. And we go along with it.
Want an example? Too often we pour into our kids to such a degree that they become elevated above God – we make them our unhealthy obsessions. We shape our identities around them and put all our expectations (ah – hopes) into them.
Then what happens when they fail? (And they will! We all do at some point!)
Everything we’ve put our heart and souls into feels like it’s been leveled. I know. I’ve been there.
There was this long season in my parenting life that a child of mine failed. He made poor decisions. He got into trouble. His life was NOT going as I had planned.
I crumbled. Absolutely panicked. Fell apart.
Over time God started to show me why I felt so shaken, so desperate. I had put my hope in my son. Not God.
There’s this tension we live in, whether this thing we put our hope into is our children or our career or our financial security. On one hand, we want to be good stewards of what God has given us – we feel responsible (and we should!). But the other end of the continuum of “responsibility” is “obsessiveness or greed.”
That THING (or person) becomes elevated above God.
It takes our time, our energy, our resources…our very being.
The people of Jeremiah’s world had given their time, energy, and their very souls to other gods. Sure, they were wooden idols or golden statues who had strange rites and rituals. But their “gods” and the “idols” we bow down to result in the same: Separation from God.
He’s no longer who we look to first.
He’s no longer our refuge.
He’s no longer the One who reigns in our hearts and minds.
He’s no longer where we place our hope.
It’s a lot to take-in if you’ve never looked at idolatry this way. But I hope you’ll join me in asking God to reveal what idols we hide in our hearts and mind, to show us where we have misplaced our hope.
God is still God. And like any good parent, He wants what is best for us. We have to trust that about Him if we’re ever going to put our hope in Him.
So maybe that’s where we start.
Lord, help us believe You are good, that You are holy and righteous and just. You are good. You are our Father and You want what is good for us. Help us believe that truth. Then teach us what it looks like to put our hope in You instead of the things of this world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.