Jeremiah 2:1—24

Getting into the “prophetic meat” of this book, we should note that this first major section of prophecies, chapters 2—6, probably came during the reign of King Josiah. Chapter 7 comes from the the first year of Jehoiakim, and chapters 8—10 more than likely were prophecies given under either Josiah or Jehoiakim. These prophecies are grouped together because they seem to have a common theme—an indictment against the house of Israel. They reveal the thing that most lay heavy on the prophet’s heart during those early years. Some of the prophecies are addressed to what was left of Israel, but mostly he was speaking to Judah and the house of Jacob.

In a curious side note, we can be almost certain that the prophecies as they are preserved for us here are not identical with the prophecies as they were first written. Scholars are pretty sure this first section of prophecies was part of the scroll that was destroyed by Jehoiakim in chapter 36. So what we are reading, then, is a kind of “second edition,” dictated by Jeremiah to his faithful secretary, Baruch. This may explain why the book of Jeremiah seems so disjointed; it is, in fact, not in chronological order, which explains why Bible students often get frustrated studying it.

So Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch son of Neriah, and as Jeremiah dictated, Baruch wrote on it all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them. (Jeremiah 36:32)

The key verse of chapter 2 could be said to be verse 14 because it draws attention to a very important fact concerning, not Israel, but rather something else:

Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth? Why then has he become plunder?

In asking this rhetorical question, the Lord through His prophet hits on the destructive power of sin. Is turns everything it touches into “plunder,” or we might say it spoils anything it comes near. How many lives lived for God have been cut short and spoiled because sin touched them? What do you do with food left out on the counter when you notice a fly or two landing on it? Most of us  don’t take any chances—we get rid of it. Sin is the fly on the hotdog.

1. Painful memories, 2:1—3

As the angels around the throne of God responded,“Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments” (Revelation 16:7), we’re about to discover that God was absolutely just in passing judgment on His faithless people. We’re going to learn that there is a just reason for every judgment of God. Before the very first brick of the very first wall came tumbling down, God would tell His people every reason for the coming attack.  God would, through His prophetic Word, force His people to look at the sins they committed before His judgment fell.

Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. (vs. 19)

As if to show Israel how far she had fallen, the Lord begins His message with a haunting contrast: what they used to be versus what they had become.

There was fellowship

I remember the devotion of your youth… (vs. 2)

Using the intimate figure of love and marriage, the Lord brings back to their memory the “good old days” when His people followed after Him in the wilderness. Those where hard days, but as far as the Lord was concerned they were the best days because it was back then that the people trusted and followed Him. During those early years of privation in the desert wilderness, when Israel was little more than a nomadic nation, she was utterly dependent on God and He had no rivals for her love. In those days, Israel could look to no one else for help and she was completely devoted to Him because He was her sustenance.

It wouldn’t be until after she entered the Promised Land that Israel began to trust in her own resources. Instead of God’s blessing bringing His people closer to Him, the people took His blessing and replaced Him with it. Sadly, in time, Israel began more and more to rely on “secondary securities.” Israel had lost her first love.

There was obedience

...[you] followed me through the wilderness… (vs. 2b)

The people of Israel not only had constant fellowship with God during their wilderness wandering, but they followed Him in obedience. It’s interesting that when we read of that experience we see where the people seemed to constantly fall into sin, yet God seems to remember those years with fondness. Perhaps we can learn a minor but encouraging lesson here. We may be prone to be harder on ourselves than we ought when we struggle in living out our faith. He knows what we are capable of and He knows our weaknesses. Job got this absolutely right: God knows our “bent.” He knows us better than we know ourselves.

But they followed God; they went where He told them to go. They obeyed Him.

There was separation

Israel was holy to the Lord… (vs. 3)

It was during those “good old days” under Moses that Israel was “holy.” In other words, she was completely separate from the nations all around her. She belonged to her God completely and unreservedly. But Israel’s holiness—her separation—was for a purpose. She was separated “to the Lord.” In other words, Israel was not some weird stand-offish band of nomads. She belonged to the Lord and she served the Lord; she did what God told her to do, and generally her conduct reflected the relationship she had with God.

2. Painful decision

In due course, Israel had gone astray. In fact, in God’s eyes they had committed to grievous evils:

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.” (vs. 13)

This is a powerful metaphor, all the more so when we stop and consider where they were: the deserts of Palestine, one of the most arid destinations on earth!

The had forsaken God

Imagine the insanity of turning your back on God. Turning one’s back on God would be just as insane as leaving a flowing fountain of cool, pure water was for the stagnant, stinky waster of a dirty well. Why would any believer want to do such a crazy thing? It all goes back to the destructive power of sin. It literally drives a person to do the things they would never, ever do.

In turning their collective back on God, the people of God determined to leave the source of all that was good in their lives. To forsake anyone is to treat them as though they were a stranger. Israel began to act as though God had no claim on them; as if they no longer needed Him.

They dug their own cisterns

In other words, instead of depending on the Lord, they forged ahead and did what they thought was best. There was nothing wrong with digging a well or two, but it displeased God. Why? Because they were supposed to be trusting in Him to provide. That didn’t necessarily mean He never wanted them to dig wells or work to provide for themselves, but clearly they did so against His will.

Of course, the Lord isn’t just talking about wells here. He is also speaking metaphorically. Israel had “outgrown” their God. They preferred copying what other nations were doing to trusting in God. Even if what those other nations were doing proved to be disastrous and harmful to their citizens, Israel seemed bent on emulating them; hence the “broken cisterns.”

Man-made cisterns come in all shapes and sizes. From worldly acclaim to possessions to other man-made philosophies. Anything that takes the place of the true Living Waters in your life is a well you dug, and no matter how carefully you planned and dug it, your well will always be cracked and dirty and polluted. The waters of your own well will never satisfy you, they will never refresh you, and they will never benefit you.

Jeremiah’s words remind us of what another prophet would write:

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. (Isaiah 55:1—2)

3. Terrible result

Because of Israel’s interest in herself instead of in God, she degenerated quickly. That’s the point of verse 14:

Why then has he become plunder?

How did it happen? What was the fly on the hotdog?

Israel became spoiled like a degenerate plant

I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine? (vs. 21)

This whole section is utterly heartbreaking. God sees His people as servants, slaves, and the plunder of other nations. What’s truly sad is that they were never meant to be any of those things! They were once a people living in freedom and liberty, but now they, inexplicably, chose servitude to man by getting involved politically with other nations, like Egypt and Assyria. God’s overriding question is “Why?”

Israel was meant for so much more, yet they threw it all away like so much trash. They had grown into a freakish version of what God had planned for them. Their sins were far deeper than mere surface dirt; her sins had taken root and and forever corrupted the whole plant.

Israel became like a stained garment

Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder, the stain of your guilt is still before me… (vs. 22)

Like grass-stained clothes, the filth of Israel’s accumulated sin forever stained them; they could no longer wash themselves. When you leave God, there is nothing you can do to make up for that.

Israel became like a wild donkey

[Israel became] a wild donkey accustomed to the desert, sniffing the wind in her craving—in her heat who can restrain her? Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves; at mating time they will find her. (vs. 24)

A donkey can be a very useful animal, but a wild donkey is unruly and good for nothing. A donkey running around represents wasted energy, uncontrolled lusts, and useless efforts. This is what those who turn their back on God look like to Him. It’s not a pretty sight, but it is an accurate picture.

Israel had reached the point of no return. As we read the prophecy of Jeremiah, we are reading ancient history. Israel’s fate was sealed a long time ago. But today, we serve a God of “the second chance.”

Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” (Joel 2:12)

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