God is not a heavenly genie

Ray Stedman on Jeremiah 20-22:

So it is a number of years later, and Zedekiah, weakest of all the kings of Judah and the last of the line, is now on the throne. Nebuchadnezzar is sending up another army against Jerusalem, the city is under siege, and king Zedekiah now sends a hasty word to Jeremiah the prophet, asking him to intercede with God on their behalf:

This is the word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchiah and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying, “Inquire of the Lord for us, for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon [This is merely another spelling of Nebuchadnezzar; both are used in Scripture.] is making war against us; perhaps the Lord will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds, and will make him withdraw from us.” {Jer 21:1-2 RSV}

That sounds very pious, does it not? King Zedekiah is asking the prophet to intercede with God, so that “maybe God will be his old, sweet, kindly self and let us go.” There are many people who pray in that way, who think that God is only for getting you out of trouble. They imagine that you can go on doing as you please, living the way you want, and ignoring all the efforts of God to check your course and correct your folly, and then, when you really get into trouble, all you have to do is pray, and God will come and set you free, and everything will be all right. A lot of people treat God that way. That was what this king was doing — expecting God to come through.

genie-lampOf course, that view of God sees him as only a kind of heavenly genie, ready when you rub the lamp of prayer to appear and say, “Yes, master; what do you want me to do?” But God is not like that. God is sovereign. God moves according to his own purposes, and he does not play games with us. He is not to be mollified and placated by a temporary return to him when we get into difficulty. Zedekiah found this out, for God sent an answer back:

Then Jeremiah said to them: “Thus you shall say to Zedekiah, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war which are in your hands and with which you are fighting against the king of Babylon and against the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside the walls; and I will bring them together into the midst of this city. [Zedekiah, not only am I not going to help you; I’ll hinder you. I will cause the weapons with which you are fighting to be turned against you.] I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath. And I will smite the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast; they shall die of a great pestilence. Afterward, says the Lord, I will give Zedekiah king of Judah, and his servants, and the people in this city who survive the pestilence, sword, and famine, into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of their enemies, into the hand of those who seek their lives. He shall smite them with the edge of the sword; he shall not pity them, or spare them, or have compassion.'” {Jer 21:3-7 RSV}

There is a way this king could have found the mercy and grace of God, of course. Had he knelt before God and confessed his evil deeds, and called upon God out of a heart of contrition and repentance, God would have turned and met him. He promises that it still is not too late. But God is not there simply for the bargaining. He is not someone to whom we can call for help only out of a fervid desire to escape the consequences of our folly, but with no real change of heart.

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