Jeremiah 2:1–13: God is better
This chapter works through something I’ve struggled with my whole life: Is God Enough? I used to compartmentalize my life, thinking well my school life is good, and my academics are good, and I’m doing well with the ladies, and I’m still going to church… So obviously God is blessing my life! But this chapter really begs the question: is God enough in your life? When everything is striped from us can we stand in front of our loss and say like Job: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised (Job 1:21). Can we still praise the Lord without everything else in our life going right? And when everything is going right, do we thank Him?
God gives us three reasons to remember Him even when we desire to leave Him. (1) To remember the reason we came to God initially, when we were baptized or when we renewed our vows in front of Him and decided to follow Him wholeheartedly. (2) To remember God’s grace and be thankful for all that He has given you. Each day and milestone is a gift from God. (3) To realize that God is truly the living God, and everything else we could chase in life, whether it be success, money or material wealth, is truly in vain. Try to remember all the things you once knew.
Remember your First Love?
The word of the Lord came to me, saying: Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord:
“I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruits of his harvest. All who ate of it were held guilty; disaster came upon them, says the Lord.” – Jeremiah 2:1–3
The first three verses are incredibly tender. God is seeking to win Israel back, to woe her, by reminding her of her earlier faith. You have abandoned the love you had at first (Revelations 2:4). What a heart felt appeal. Imagine a bad relationship, very much like Hosea and Gomer, where the wife is unfaithful, and the husband pleads: “Remember when we loved each other?” And imagine how shameful Gomer or any wife would feel, when her husband who has done only right by her, pleads with her. Doesn’t that just trouble your heart? How someone so good and so righteous, like God, can plead with a sinner, like me? God, you are the creator of everything, you could just leave us or abandon us. But instead He stays by our side and quietly reminds us: Remember that honeymoon stage.
God also wishes to remind Israel of everything He’s done for them! Israel do you remember when I brought you out of Egypt? When I killed the Egyptian army in the Red Sea? When I sent you manna from the sky, and water out of rocks, and I guided you by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night? And when our relationship was so close, anyone who messed with you had to go through your God first. And we showed them. This was a great contrast to the judgment by the hand of Babylon that would eventually come upon an unfaithful Jerusalem. But it wasn’t always like that. When Israel was a child, I loved him... I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them (Hosea 11:1–4).
More so, look at God’s grace! Israel complained the whole way! The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness (Exodus 16:2). Israel was quite perverse. Take a moment to look at a couple of verses: Exodus 14:11–12; Exodus 15:24; Exodus 32:1–7, and yet God sees this as kindness in their youth. God sees devotion. Israel complains about water and food, and about dying, and about being bored and even end up making a golden calf. But God sees a Holy Israel just for following Him. What a wonderful God.
When you initially came to the faith, i’m sure you struggled with aspects of your life. I have a close friend who literally gave up his family to become a Christian. His family was so opposed to the idea, and couldn’t bear to even speak with him. God sees incredible faith in those who follow Him. He says to His disciples: You are those who have stood by me in my trials (Luke 22:28). We are commended simply for enduring tribulations and following God anyways, even though we are imperfect. God’s grace takes your small faith in following Him and multiplies it in His eyes. It’s quite remarkable. God simply requires our love and trust in Him, that was sorely lacking in Jeremiah’s time.
Remember when God was good to you?
It is the next verses that God addresses the ingratitude of Israel despite everything He’s done for them.
Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:
What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? They did not say, “Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit. — Jeremiah 1:4–8
When you go far from God, when you turn back from Him, why do you do it? What was the reason? God is left saying: Are you serious? You left me to chase success? to chase material wealth? to chase an earthly vocation? In effect, God asks, “What did I do?” This is an astonishing question on the lips of the sovereign God. O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! (Micah 6:3). And the answer is always that God has done nothing. We stray from Him although He is The Rock, his work is perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God, without deceit, just and upright is he; (Deuteronomy 32:4). Instead we chase what is worthless, and when we finally reach the idol we were chasing on earth, we can only find emptiness.
Furthermore, God reminds the people that the land of Canaan that they live on was a gift to them. The events of Exodus happened 800 years before, and it seems understandable that Israel would take the land for granted. Take a moment to reflect on this: How many of God’s gifts do I take for granted, often times a few days after He gives them to me. How often do I get up and think to thank God for rising in the morning.
Israel was in such a state of ingratitude that even it’s leaders left Him. The priests whose job is to bring people to God did not remember God’s history with them. Those who handle the law, who literally read the laws set out by God daily, did not know Him. The rulers were against Him. The prophets put their trust in images rather than God. What use is an idol once its maker has shaped it — a cast image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in what has been made, though the product is only an idol that cannot speak! (Habakkuk 2:18). Although there is no profit, the people ran towards things that are worthless and don’t profit, being led by their own leaders.
Remember that He is the real God?
Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord, and I accuse your children’s children. Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord — Jeremiah 1:9–12
God then asks the people to look around at the surrounding nations, even to distant places, Cyprus to the west and and Kedar a desert tribe to the east. Strangely enough, the surrounding nations were more faithful to their pagan gods than Israel was to the living God. The heathen nations held on to God’s who did nothing for them. The Canaanites are pretty faithful to Baal! The Egyptians are pretty faithful to their plethora of animal like gods. The Assyrians are faithful to their god, Ashur.
Israel in contrast, who had glory and promise from their God, and had been blessed, had turned away from Him. Isn’t it funny that the only nation that wants to change their faith is the one with the true living God? Be astonished God says. Be appalled that men could be so foolish. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles (Romans 1:22–23).
Why do we do this? Why do we ditch the eternal and living God for such trivial things? C.S Lewis in the Weight of Glory writes “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Every degree, dollar and friendship we make is temporal. Nothing we possess will ever come with us. Yet, thousands of people spend their entire lives chasing these things. When am I going to wake up and realize the promise I have been given?
It’s your choice: Broken Cisterns or Living Water?
For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water. — Jeremiah 2:13
In the ancient world, to have an artesian aquifer that brought you sweet water without any hard work was truly the greatest luxury. These aquifer’s were geological phenomena requiring a layer of porous material, like limestone which was prevalent in Israel. Rain water would be naturally collected, stored and released under natural pressure.
On the other hand, a cistern is a reservoir for personal use and storage. The people would dig a hole in the limestone to capture rain water to use it later. The water from the cistern never tasted as good as the living spring, and required incredible effort. Inevitably, the cisterns got cracked and all your hard work availed to nothing.
God says you forsake this Lord, this living spring, even though it is so good and so wonderful, and hewn broken cisterns. Cisterns that don’t even hold water. You gave your heart and your soul to something else and found out it was a broken cistern. This isn’t a God who is judging us or is hard on us: He is just genuinely upset that we would be given this wonderful gift and willingly choose to despise it. Willingly choose to forget it and go spend our lives searching for something else to satisfy us. The fact of the matter is that God is enough. He has always been enough, and when the people of Israel realize it, they enjoy dwelling in His love. When they forget it, they toil and work hard just for broken cisterns.
The Samaritan woman, during her encounter with Jesus, was taken aback that He would speak to her. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10). If you only knew, He says, if you only knew how great living with me was, you would ask for the living water. Let’s ask Him. Today. Right now. Because God is enough.