Main Idea: When we mentally replace God’s prominence, we will practically doubt God’s dominance.
- The Warning: Don’t Challenge God’s Prominence (16:1-13).
- The Promise: God Will Restore His People (16:14-18).
- The Warning: Don’t Question God’s Prominence (16:19-21).
Introduction: The Waiting
As I was a single man for a long time, someone once gave me this piece of advice: “Don’t worry about getting married because the only thing worse than being single is wishing you were.” Many people have entered a relationship with someone only to later regret the decision. They wanted the spouse they didn’t have, and now they don’t want the spouse they do have. Patience is necessary if we are going to have God’s best in marriage. The issue is not marriage but the wisdom to wait on the Lord and receive what he has as the best for us. As someone said, God’s delays are not always his denials. Sometimes God, always wanting the best for us, forces us to wait for that best until a later time.
Has God ever told you to wait for something? Waiting on God is rarely easy. My father often says, “God is never late, but he is rarely early.” That phrase expresses the sentiment that it is difficult to understand God’s timing, much less sync with it. God is gracious to us, and his mercies are new every morning. This means we have mercy for each morning. It does not mean we will have the clarity we want every morning. I’ve noticed that I have grace for each thing I face, but rarely do I have the grace before I need it. This is the walk of faith. This is what it means to wait on God. Waiting on God is not passive; it’s aggressive. Here is a good definition of waiting on God: Doing everything I can do until God comes and does what I can’t do. Meaning, I am acting as a good steward of the current situation in which God has me, until he provides clarity for what is next. I am doing what I already know to do until he intervenes. The point is that stewardship of current situations precedes further revelation. What’s now, then what’s next.
Waiting is not idleness. Waiting is the difficult work of quietly and doggedly positioning ourselves for what God will bring later.
The beautiful prayer of Psalm 5:3 encourages us. David writes,
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you and watch expectantly.
What a remarkable position! This prayer expresses trust. All the pressure is on God to come though in this situation. This prayer expresses confidence in God’s ability to act: God, I am waiting on your reply because I can’t fix this myself. A person who is forced to trust in God is not in a bad position. This is why pressure is often positive. Pressure is the splint that protects broken thinking from becoming “set.” It allows us to know the joy of dependence on God.
This was God’s call to Jeremiah: Do not get married and start a family with the people in this land. God was not trying to punish Jeremiah; he was trying to protect him. The people of the land were about to be punished. Why would it make sense for Jeremiah to begin a relationship with these people and, by extension, bring wrath on himself? So God keeps from him something he might want in order to protect him from something he knows he does not want. When God does this, it might seem like God is being difficult. Why doesn’t God just give us what we want? However, this warning is not the hardest part of Jeremiah 16. This chapter calls for Jeremiah to create a strong distance between himself and the people in profound ways.
The Warning: Don’t Challenge God’s Prominence
God was calling Jeremiah not to get involved in order to protect him from the wrath that was coming. God gives him several commands.
Don’t Marry into the Families (16:2)
Again, the reason for the warning is that God is protecting him from penalty by association. He would be hurt with his proximity to the punished people. Yet the next warning is stronger than personal protection.
Don’t Mourn for Them (16:5-9)
Jeremiah was not even to participate in the mourning process when they were killed and punished by God.
Why was he to create this actual physical and seemingly emotional distance from them? The answer is that God was protecting Jeremiah. Why fall in love with someone and entangle yourself with a family that will soon be destroyed? Why give your passions to something that will be so short-lived? God is not trying to punish Jeremiah; he is trying to parent Jeremiah. He is trying to protect him from the coming disaster.
Imagine a father who denied his daughter a trip on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. The daughter would have been heartbroken at first but grateful later. Aren’t we all glad we don’t get what we ask for when we ask for it? God is too loving to give us what we think we need. He is too kind to play those games. Something much bigger is going on.
The Promise: God Will Restore His People
Consistent with so much of Jeremiah, here is another desert rose, a beautifully refreshing breath of fresh air in the godforsaken smog of sin and judgment. God promises that he will return them to the promised land (vv. 14-15). What a promise! He will restore them. But he will do it after severe discipline (vv. 16-18).
So that is what is going to happen. How it plays out in the future has an interesting connection back to Jeremiah 16. God again will promise a time of restoration, a time of a future, and a hope. This comes to pass after verses 16-18 are fulfilled. Under the ugly reign of Zedekiah, the last vestiges of Judah’s pride are torn down, and the nation is officially decimated and demolished. This is itself a warning to us. God is not unwilling to tear down what he has built if those who built it commit these two egregious sins: they have idolatry in their hearts (vv. 11-13), and they do not acknowledge God’s strength (v. 21). These twin sins will ultimately bring Judah low, and apparently they are the sins motivating this verdict.
After the nation had been in captivity for a long time, Ezra the scribe realizes that the seventy years of exile are complete, and he senses that he is seeing the fulfillment of the promise given to Jeremiah. In Ezra 1:1-4 he writes,
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord roused the spirit of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing:
This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of the heavens, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah.
Any of his people among you, may his God be with him, and may he go to Jerusalem in Judah and build the house of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.
Let every survivor, wherever he resides, be assisted by the men of that region with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, along with a freewill offering for the house of God in Jerusalem.”
So now it’s on. The judgment is lifted, and the people begin the return. Except that this attempt, and another one under Zerubbabel, are both ineffectual. Enter Nehemiah. When Nehemiah comes on the scene, we find that he is brokenhearted, presumably because he does not see God fulfilling his promise to Jeremiah.
God uses Nehemiah to bring the people back, and almost as if in a direct reaction to Jeremiah 16, Nehemiah repents of the sins of the past (Neh 1:6-7) and attributes his success to the good hand of God that was on him (Neh 2:8, 18). While Jeremiah pictures God as a God who is bringing judgment along with his faithful love, Nehemiah paints God as a God of strength.
In a sense Nehemiah is blessed because he is repenting of idolatry and attributing all the strength to God. In his humble obedience he fulfills Jeremiah 16. After seventy-plus years God’s people know he is a God of strength. They know, they really know, he is the Lord.
The Warning: Don’t Question God’s Prominence
The last two verses of the chapter are powerful. In these verses we have the great twin sins of Judah.
The first great sin is idolatry. They illustrated that they forsook God by going after false gods and serving them (vv. 11-13). This is tragic. Jeremiah describes them as gods that are “not gods” (v. 20). The logic of Jeremiah is simple: “If gods are really gods, can they be created?” However, this logic is lost on the nation, as they are hell-bent on following after the gods and chasing them. The result is that they will be cast into the land of the false gods that they embraced (v. 13).
God is so frustratedly angry with them because they fail to recognize God’s power in the calamities they are experiencing. This is the second great sin that is always tied to the first: not recognizing God’s power. It is an insult to his name. Thus, God says he will “make them know” (v. 21). In other words, what seems to have been forgotten he will put right in front of them in a way so undeniable that they will have to relent and acknowledge his power.
The first sin is believing there was something to the false gods and worshiping them. The second great sin is either the result of or a consequence of the first: It is attributing a power to the god that it does not really have and thus not recognizing God’s supreme power. This is the situation in which they find themselves. First, they had displaced God as their object of worship, and second, they had failed to recognize his power.
One always follows the other. When we replace God’s prominence, we will doubt God’s dominance. If we doubt that he is worthy of the centrality of our worship, our affection, our emotion, our love, and our devotion, then ultimately we must question whether he is strong enough to be Lord. This is the main idea of the passage. It comes as a warning: when we replace God’s prominence, we will doubt God’s dominance.
God drives home the point by referring to himself as “Lord.” This is Yahweh. He cannot be displaced, and he cannot be replaced. He will not be marginalized, sidelined, shelved, demoted, excluded, downgraded, or dismissed. He can’t be. His name is “the Lord.” Nothing is so big it can eclipse him, and nothing is so powerful it can threaten him. People who think otherwise are lying to themselves. They, for whatever reason, are believing what they want to believe, not the truth.
And this is the truth: when we mentally replace God’s prominence, we will practically doubt God’s dominance. God’s response in Jeremiah’s day is simple. He wants them to know this so that he can prove that he is dominant over all things. Therefore he says that he will show them that he is the Lord.
So here’s the question: Have you begun to mentally make God less prominent? We know that we could never make God less prominent (he will always be the center of all things). We also know we cannot change his dominance (he will always be all-powerful). Yet this is the problem with idolatry: it always plays in the realm of fantasy. Idolatry is always posing. Idolatry pretends it is reality when in fact it is fantasy.
This is why God makes so clear that Christ is supreme over all things. Four New Testament passages stand like giant beacons pointing to Christ: John 1; Philippians 2; Colossians 1; and Hebrews 1. These are often called the four major Christological passages in the New Testament. The whole New Testament points to Christ, but these are monoliths. They clarify for us who Christ is and what he has done. One thing they are clear about is the superiority of Christ. And the word superior requires no adjectives such as “great” or “ultimate.” It is singular, needing no superlative ending. Christ is superior. Full stop.
Therefore, all idols are inferior.
So, what are the idols in my life? Have we made an idol of our bodies—worshiping and pampering them? Have we made an idol of our time—guarding it from one thing, even a kingdom thing, that would threaten it? Have we made an idol of our reputations—keeping people at arm’s length so as not to make ourselves vulnerable? Have we made an idol of our egos—where people are unable to navigate around us socially without offending us? Have we made an idol of our money—hoarding it instead of unleashing it for kingdom advance? The list is endless. The point is to remember this remarkable truth: When we mentally replace God’s prominence, we will practically doubt God’s dominance. These are twin sins. Wherever one is, the other is right there along with it. If there is something in my life that wants my attention, affection, or emotion, and I relent and allow it to have that place in my life, then I concede affection that should belong only to God. This is a sad reality, but it is a reality nonetheless.
When we mentally replace God’s prominence, we will practically doubt God’s dominance.
Reflect and Discuss
- Why was Jeremiah told not to marry?
- What were considered challenges to God’s prominence (vv. 2-9)?
- What does this chapter have to do with Ezra 1:1-4?
- How does this chapter relate to the work of Nehemiah?
- What does Colossians 1:15-18 say about the prominence and centrality of Christ?
- What are the two great sins of Judah (vv. 20-21)?
- What is the significance of the name of “the Lord” in verse 21?
- How is that both a comfort and a challenge?
- What are idols we might be holding on to?
- Why are those idols inferior to Christ?