Idolatry is an old sin –
Let’s focus on Jeremiah’s definition of Israel’s national sin and apply it to the church. That sin was idolatry. Yes, other prophets focused on the sin of social injustice, but idolatry was at the root of that sin. Idolatry is an old sin, one might say an old-fashioned sin, a sin with which we might not be able to identify. God speaks of idolatry in terms that should immediately capture our attention.
God begins to identify that sin in the verses just prior to our text (verses 1-3), where God reminds Israel of their past relationship with Yahweh. It was a love affair, a newly formed marriage in which God was devoted to Israel and his bride loved him completely. Both would have done anything for the other, and, in fact, did. Yahweh led his bride through that wilderness and delivered them from all opposition, while Israel followed God willingly and faithfully. The early years of that covenantal marriage were a non-stop honeymoon, suggests God in these early verses.
They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.
But as soon as Israel entered the Promised Land, that all changed. Even in those early years there was trouble, as evidenced by God’ reference to “your fathers” in verse 5. What happened back then and what continued to happen up to Jeremiah’s day was that Israel, instead of following Yahweh as they had done, “followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”
In that same verse, God asks the question, “What fault did your fathers find in me that they strayed so far from me?” That is the question of a heartbroken husband, a jilted lover. “What did I do wrong? Where did I fail?” Except God knows he did not fail; it was Israel who had found fault where there was none.
For many years, for centuries God had patiently born with his faithless wife. Now God is going to take legal action against her. That’s what God is doing in this text, presenting his case against Israel. “Therefore, I will bring charges against you again, says the Lord. And I will bring charges against your children’s children.” So deep seeded was this idolatry of Israel that it would take God three generations to root it out, which is why the divorce/exile would last 70 years.
Why do we wander from God?
There are two points that are very important to us. First, the question God asks of his unfaithful people is the question we ought to ask ourselves. Why do we wander from God? It makes no sense whatsoever, given what he has done for us. In verses 6 and 7 God reminds Israel of all he had done for them: “brought you out of Egypt, lead you through the wilderness, and brought you into a fertile land.” After all I did, how could you forsake me for worthless idols? Why do God’s redeemed people stray from a God whose love has provided all we need? That’s a question we need to press on ourselves.
The second point, answers that question. God explains it in historical terms that we might miss if we read too quickly. “But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance worthless.” When Israel left the wilderness and inherited the Promised Land, their love affair with God cooled and they sought other lovers.
Apparently, God was good for the Exodus and the wilderness and the conquest of the land, but once they were in the land, they needed something else, something more. Now that they had the land, they needed someone to guarantee fertility. So, they turned to the gods of Canaan, gods of fertility. Yahweh worked in Egypt and in the wilderness and in war, but now they needed someone who would work in agriculture. And that meant Baal and friends.
The problem was that these new gods were worthless, a word used three times in the NIV translation (verses 5, 8, 11). The Israelites forsook God because they thought these new gods would work better in their new situation. These idols are “what does not profit.” They didn’t work at all. They did nothing whatsoever, except make Israel worthless. They only bring loss.
There is another important image in our text that shows the folly of forsaking the true God. In the climate of the Promised Land, there was the dry season (summer) and the rainy season (winter). When it was summer, Israel needed a source of water, or they and their crops would perish. The best thing was a spring, a constantly flowing spring. The next best thing was a cistern, a hollowed-out piece of ground, preferably rock, that could store the water that fell in the rainy season. But if the cistern had cracks in it, all the water would seep out and folks would die of thirst.
You had me, a never failing, always flowing spring of life.
God uses this feature of ancient Israelite culture to convict his wayward people. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” You had me, a never failing, always flowing spring of life. But you forsook me, because you thought that you could do it better. You had to do it yourself, dig your own cistern. Your do-it- yourself gods always crack and break and in the end are as worthless as a broken cistern.
We must remember our “spring of living water” who alone gives life. We must repent, and remember that repentance has two movements—away from the sin and back to their God.
In John 4, we find the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. She could think about was her thirst, but Jesus offered her much more. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13,14)
THANKS BE TO GOD!
Join us Sunday as we explore the Prophet Jeremiah’s warning to the Israelites and the choice they must make.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Nelda Barrett Murraine is pastor at First United Methodist Church – PO Box 146 – 229 W 4th St. – Kennedale, TX 76060
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