Robert Wurtz II
Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to be Jeremiah? Just about the time you think you can share what some might call “a positive word” you are moved to speak prophetically to the immediate and pressing condition of the people with a word so radical that it makes everyone’s ears tingle. Like a Trauma Surgeon working on a gunshot victim, there are a series of priorities that have to be dealt with before addressing the patient’s minor aches and pains. Such was the case with Jeremiah. He was dealing with people who seemed to have one foot already in hell.
I have to ask that if you knew that your neighbors, family, and friends were only 40 years from death and judgment, what kind of message would you expect God to lead you to preach to them? Common sense says that the message would need to match the situation and the people. The illustrations and messages of Jeremiah were extreme because his situation was extreme. He compares the peoples’ adultery to that of wild horses assembling themselves by troops in harlots houses. In modern times we might say they were hitting the club scene, getting drunk, and hitting on each other’s wives and possibly hooking up with them. Talk about an invitation for judgment. Adultery was a capital offense under the Old Covenant.
Understand that “neighing after each others’ wives” was how the men expressed their rebellion against God. We learn this from King David’s confession when he had sinned with Bathsheba (Psalm 51:4). Going after your neighbor’s wife is a frontal assault against God himself and profanes His holy name (Amos 2:7). It makes a mockery of His word and has the potential to destroy churches, marriages, and everything that God is doing in His peoples’ lives. Nothing could be more dangerous to God’s people than having this going on among leaders.
Sin Among the Leaders
The prophet is speaking to the “great men” according to Jeremiah 5:5 and may be addressing similar issues Ezekiel dealt with among the seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel (Ezekiel 8:7-11). The seventy elders behavior caused God to forsake His Holy Temple and city. In modern times we would call these men leaders. In both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we have Idolatry and harlotry being challenged.
Contextually, Judah, as a nation, was closing in on a horrible judgment. After centuries of sending prophets to call the people back to the covenant, God was preparing to follow through with the warning He gave in Leviticus 26:14-35. He had done everything He could to effect repentance and nothing had worked. One of the most fearful verses in all the Bible was about to come to pass. The people hardened themselves and rebelled against God until they were about to be cut off until there was no remedy (2 Chron. 36:16).
In modern times, there is a false view that God no longer judges sin as He did under the Old Covenant. Yet we have Paul’s own words regarding these type of historical events, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV) This leaves a question, what type of behaviors did God point out was the cause of Israel being destroyed and the people forced into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar? Do these type of behaviors go on today?
Stricken But Not Grieved
The people were guilty of two primary things: entertaining the demonic through idolatry and giving themselves to unbridled lust. No matter how strongly God dealt with them, they would not repent. Can you imagine the confusion that existed in their lives? The demonic oppression? They had entertained so much rebellion that their homes must have felt like insane asylums. Their lives were spinning out of control and yet they still refused to repent and turn to God. The problem exists today as it did then. The first step some people need to take in ending the Satanic grip dominating their homes is to utterly renounce their fascination with darkness and the demonic (false gods).
Old time preachers used to refer to people who reject God as either “living in rebellion” or “running from God.” God cannot and will not forgive people who are in full rebellion against Him. In fact, the people of Judah didn’t seem to want to be forgiven, they just wanted God to overlook their sin and not bring judgment — which is different from forgiveness. Forgiveness implies the restoration of their relationship with Him. They didn’t want that. People living in sin usually just want to be left alone. They had no intention of repenting and God knew this.
How Shall I Pardon?
Does God pardon every sin? That depends. Certainly, God will forgive every sin that we are willing to confess and turn from. But what happens when people refuse to acknowledge that what they are doing is, in fact, a sin? What happens when people have normalized the sin of idolatry and adultery? These were the two primary sins God was confronting in Israel and is still confronting today. What happens when God describes the leaders’ behavior as “They were like well-fed lusty stallions; Every one neighed after his neighbor’s wife”? Could people actually believe that it’s OK to “neigh” after their neighbor’s wife? They did then and they do today.