Apparently Field Marshal Montgomery, leading a Sunday service for his troops, once said, ‘As the Lord Jesus said, and on this occasion he was quite right…’
Jerusalem has fallen at last, as Jeremiah had warned. But while the Babylonians have dealt harshly with the King, Jeremiah is among those left behind in some measure of peace and freedom. There are others left, with authority and wisdom to lead and care for the remnant, the poor and weak of God’s people. Along with Jeremiah, Gedaliah the governor stays put to represent the people to their new rulers, and will do so with Jeremiah’s advice.
There are still many who will not learn, though. They kill Gedaliah, and then in fear flee to the Ammonites. Those who are left are still afraid – as much that they will be blamed for Gedaliah’s death as that the rebels will return. They ask Jeremiah to seek God’s will for them, with promises that they will obey him whatever he says.
Then God says something that they don’t like – that they should stay put, as things are about to turn around – in 42:10, the LORD expresses sorrow for what he has brought upon Israel. The remnant can be the beginning of the renewed Israel. But that wasn’t the right answer. The ‘right’ answer, which God was supposed to give, was that the remnant should flee to Egypt, out of reach (they think) of the Babylonians. So they head for Egypt anyway, and to go the whole hog they begin to worship Egypt’s gods. After all, they reason, worshipping the LORD hasn’t seemed to do them much good recently.
Once again they’ve missed the point – as Jeremiah had reminded them, it’s because they hadn’t lived the worship of the LORD that all this has happened to them. Even if they were offering the right sacrifices in worship, they weren’t offering anything in how they lived. Like all their ancestors, they’d ignored the Jubilee commands (the first time they’ve been mentioned since Leviticus!) and had lived by injustice and exploitation.
I’m reminded of the quote on faith and society which I think comes from Chesterton – ‘It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting. Rather it is that Christianity has been found too hard, and never tried’
The Israelites will not face up to the fact that worshipping the LORD carries a demand on the whole of life, and so they turn to a more comfortable life with less demanding gods – offer the right sacrifices and pay your temple dues and all will be well.
It’s hard to look at our own faith and see what boundaries we have set on our ‘whatever God says, we will obey’. But it’s vital. If we come to God for guidance and command already sure of what he should say, we can’t expect to hear him; but we can expect him to realise that we’re closing our ears.