“What are you going to do with a God like that?”


Ray Stedman takes us on a tour of Jeremiah 14-15, the reading for today:

The word of the Lord which came to Jeremiah concerning the drought: {Jer 14:2 RSV}

He goes on to describe the land, how the cisterns have no water, the ground is dismayed, there is no rain on the land, the crops are dried up, and wild asses stand and pant, and there is no water in all of the land. This is part of the judging hand of God. Once again this arouses questions in Jeremiah’s heart. He asks, Verse 7,

  “Though our iniquities testify against us,
act, O Lord, for thy name’s sake;”
{Jer14:7 RSV}

Do you see what he is saying? “I understand that you have to judge this people because of their wickedness, Lord, but what about you? You’re the healer, you’re the God who can restore wicked people. For your name’s sake, do this.”

  “for our backslidings are many,
we have sinned against thee.
O thou hope of Israel,
its savior in time of trouble,
Why shouldst thou be like a stranger in the land,
like a wayfarer who turns aside to tarry for a night?
Why shouldst thou be like a man confused,
like a mighty man who cannot save?
Yet thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us,
and we are
called by thy name;
leave us not.” {Jer 14:6b-9 RSV}

Have you ever come to that place? Many a man of God, in the record of the Scriptures, has turned away the judging hand of God by pleading the glory of God himself. Moses had, Samuel had, and others had stood before God and said, “Regardless of what we’re like, God, remember what you’re like. Surely, for your own name’s sake you won’t let this thing happen, lest your name be defiled among the nations.” And this is Jeremiah’s cry. Now, that is great praying. Jeremiah is reaching out to God on the highest level of prayer possible. He calls to God in these terms, and he closes the chapter with an eloquent plea to God. Consider these words, beginning with Verse 19:

  Hast thou utterly rejected Judah?
Dost thy soul loathe Zion?
Why hast thou smitten us
so that there is no healing for us?
We looked for peace, but no good came;
for a time of healing, but behold, terror.
We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord,
and the iniquity of our fathers,
for we have sinned against thee.
Do not spurn us, for thy name’s sake;
do not dishonor thy glorious throne;
remember and do not break thy covenant with us.
Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain?
Or can the heavens give showers?
Art thou not he, O Lord our God?
We set our hope on thee,
for thou doest all these things.
{Jer 14:19-22 RSV}

That is great praying, is it not? But look at God’s answer:

Then the Lord said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord:
“Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence,
and those who are for the sword, to the sword;
those who are for famine, to famine,
and those who are for captivity, to captivity.”
‘” {Jer 15:1-2 RSV}

God does not budge an inch. Now, When God gets that immovable, it is a great threat to faith. What do you do? Well, God is not yet through with Jeremiah. Though he seems to be adamant and harsh and unyielding, and goes on to repeat his threats to the nation and refuses to be moved, he has something yet to say. Chapter 15 closes with Jeremiah finally praying for himself. He has been forbidden to pray for the people, and so he cries out for himself, beginning in Verse 15:

  O Lord, thou knowest;
remember me and visit me,
and take vengeance for me on my persecutors.
In thy forbearance take me not away;
know that for thy sake I bear reproach.
{Jer 15:15 RSV}

Then he thinks back to Josiah’s day, when the word of God was found in the temple and he says,

  Thy words were found, and I ate them,
and thy words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart;
for I am called by thy name,
O Lord, God of hosts
. {Jer 15:16 RSV}

But he is wretched, hurt, and despairing, and he cries out in Verse 18,

  Why is my pain unceasing,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?
Wilt thou be to me like a deceitful brook,
like waters that fail?
{Jer 15:18 RSV}

Those are the words of a man about to lose his faith entirely. He says that God just seems to pay no attention, to give no heed, to turn a deaf ear. “I cry out to him, and I’m on the very verge of wondering if God himself is a liar, and that he will prove false in the end.” Have you been to that stage yet? Have you ever done that? That is a great test of faith. One of these days, if you have not yet done so, you may be standing where Jeremiah stood. But now notice how tenderly and gently God deals with him:

Therefore thus says the Lord:
“If you return, I will restore you,
and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall be as my mouth.
They shall turn to you,
but you shall not turn to them.
And I shall make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
to save you and deliver you, says the Lord.
I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.
” {Jer 15:19-21 RSV}

God answers his own questions here. He had asked Jeremiah, “What will you do, if you’ve been wearied by running with the men on foot, when you contend with horses? And if in a safe land you fall down, what will you do in the jungle of the Jordan?” Now his answer is, “Jeremiah, even in those hours when everything else seems to be collapsing, and nothing seems to be dependable, if in that hour you will rest on me, you will find that I will strengthen you and see you through. I am the only adequate source of strength in any time of trouble. Any other source will fail you. The arm of flesh will fail. But [as we sing in the old hymn],

When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow…
When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace all sufficient shall be your supply…

“I’ll never, never leave you,” is God’s promise. And the promise is to us in this day, as well. So God pours on the pressure sometimes, as you see with Jeremiah, not to destroy us, but to toughen us, to make us ready for what is coming. And I think that this is just such an hour in America today. Trials such as this nation has never faced lie before us — shortages, famines, burdens — problems we have never known as a people lie ahead of us. And surely nothing is adequate to meet them but the strength of a living God.

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