A Pattern of Departure from God
by Clem Thurman
via Gospel Minutes, Vol. 58, No. 51, Dec. 18, 2009.
Jeremiah the "weeping prophet," was sent to warn God's people to return to the Lord. His pleas to them, his tears for their rebellion, fill the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. He writes that Israel had forgotten the Lord (Jeremiah 2:32), they had forsaken God (Jeremiah 2:13), they had corrupted His teaching and worship (Jeremiah 5:30). Then he adds, "My people love to have it so" (Jeremiah 5:31).
The entire pattern of their departure, and their continued rebellion, is found in Jeremiah 6:10-16. In these verses of Scripture, Jeremiah describes the departure of Israel in five steps. But he could as well been describing today's society! Conditions that were prevalent then are with us now. The spiritual attitudes that led to the downfall of Israel, are found today in the religious world. And the five steps that led them astray still plague mankind today.
They Refused to Listen to the Word of God
"To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken, the Word of the Lord is unto them a reproach, and they have no delight in it" (Jeremiah 6:10).
God spoke, but the people refused to hear! They would not listen to the truth. Jesus spoke in Matthew 13:15 of His generation: He said: "This people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed." When people refuse to hear God, He cannot guide their lives: for His guidance is through the Word He gave.
Throughout history, man has often refused to heed the message of God. Peter spoke of some who "willfully forget" (II Peter 3:5), what God has taught. And the moral depravity of Israel is further described by Isaiah: "This is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the Law of the Lord" (Isaiah 30:9). There are still many who seem to think they know more than God does about life! But God made man (Genesis 1:26,27), and He has given man the purpose He has for him (Ecclesiastes 12:13). No one can better chart the course for man than his Maker! As the prophet Jeremiah wrote later: "The way of man is not in himself, it is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). When Jesus sent out the apostles, after His resurrection, He told them: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:15,16).
As that message was preached, some considered it foolishness (I Corinthians 1:18). And notice what the result was: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness ... Knowing God, they glorified Him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools ... Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness ... Even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind" (Romans 1:18-28). When people refuse to be guided by the Word of God, moral depravity is always the result.
They Were Obsessed with Material Things
"For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them everyone is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest everyone dealeth falsely" (Jeremiah 6:13).
Avid desire for material gain often leads to immoral means of obtaining it. When people become obsessed with desire for things, they will justify in their own minds almost any action necessary to fulfill their desires. The folly of seeking for earthly things is evident to all who will open their eyes. Rich man die, and leave their fortunes behind for others to fight over. The spend all their lives seeking material gain, and their lives remain empty because man has a higher calling and purpose than to gather all the material things that he might hoard together here upon this earth.
Jesus said, "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth." He then tells of the rich man, bountifully blessed, who left God out of his life; at his death, God asked, "The things thou hast prepared, whose shall they now be?" (Luke 12:15-20). For a man to spend all of his life (and soul) to gain only material things that must be left behind at death is the height of folly. Yet that seems to be the pattern of the society in which we now live.
When the apostle Paul declared that "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil," he also pointed out, "We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out" (I Timothy 6:7-10). Israel, in Jeremiah's day, greedily sought for material wealth. But wisdom decrees, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but rather lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (Matthew 6:19-20). For those who would look to God for guidance, their eye is not on this world or this life: "We look not at the things seen, but at the things that are not seen, For the things seen are temporal, but the things not seen are eternal. For we know if the earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (II Corinthians 4:18-5:1). If all we get out of this life is a grave, life is not worth it! But we can "lay up treasures in heaven" and then go home to heaven to enjoy them there (I Peter 1:3-4).
They Deluded Themselves with Falsehoods
"They have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying Peace, peace; when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14).
When people are walking the wrong path, the devil makes it easy for them to believe, "Everything is fine." But saying it doesn't make it so! That is Jeremiah's message from God. And that still rings true! Paul writes of those who have no love for the truth (II Thessalonians 2:10-11) and are deluded by error. That is usually the case; when truth is not accepted, error will be! But Jesus still declares, "The truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).
There are still many religious people who have "itching ears" (II Timothy 4:3-4), and they demand preachers who will preach what they want to hear -- whether it is true or not! Israel had folk like that: "This is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophecy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits" (Isaiah 30:9-10). But if a man has cancer, telling him it is only indigestion will not cure the illness. Lies, whether in medicine or religion will not cure the sick patient.
The Lord tells us, "You have purified your souls in your obedience of the truth" (I Peter 1:22). Trusting, and following, false teaching will never save anyone. Many today teach that "salvation is by faith only" because that is what people want to hear. But God says, "Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). People want to be able to "choose churches" today; so preachers are encouraged to teach, "Join the church of your choice." As though God gave a choice!? In fact, Jesus built only one church, He purchased it with His own blood (Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28). And He continues to add the saved to that one church (Acts 2:47). He is the Husband of the one bride, which is the church (Ephesians 5:23-32). People today cry out, "One church is as good as another," in the same way that Israel said, "Peace, peace" when there was no peace. There was no peace among them as they continued in their sins; they were simply deluding themselves. Just as people today cry out "One church is as good as another" are deluding themselves in that way, thinking that the churches built and maintained by men are just as good as the one built by the Lord Jesus Christ.
They Were Not Ashamed, Nor Could They Blush
"Were they ashamed when they had committed abominations? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush" (Jeremiah 6:15).
Israel rejected God, refused to hear Him, stole and cheated for personal gain, and "were not ashamed." But they should have been! They morality of a society can usually be determined by what causes people to blush, what shames them. For allowing a sinful man to remain in the fellowship of the church, the Corinthians were told, "I speak this to move you to shame" (I Corinthians 6:5). Why did Adam try to hide from God (Genesis 3)? He had done wrong, he knew it: therefore, he was ashamed.
We live in a permissive society. The immoral deeds of movie stars and politicians can be emblazoned across newspapers coast to coast with little effect on their popularity. Hardly anyone is ashamed for the misdeeds of public figures. We have forgotten how to blush. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:12, "For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret." But many "leaders" seem to take pride in how immoral they can be, flaunting their immoralities on TV talk-shows and gossip column interviews. Again God says, "They are enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame" (Philippians 3:19). And this permissiveness creeps into the church. With vulgar speech, multiple divorces, social drinking and indecent dress being the rule in the world. Christians are effected. Now there are some in the church of the Lord, with pasts that should shame even Sodom, making demands for places of leadership in the body of Christ. And they don't even blush!
They Rejected the Only Possible Cure
"Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein" (Jeremiah 6:16).
Here is revealed the only way back to God: the old paths. When the Ephesian church departed from Christ, He told them, "Thou hast left thy first love ... Repent, and do the first works" (Revelation 2:4-5). That is what Israel was told by Jeremiah. And that is what God is telling us today when we depart from Him.
In the midst of all the "modern" things that surround us, we need to be constantly reminded of the need to go back to the old paths, wherein is the good way. Those values of yesteryear are still to be valued; when a man's word was his bond, when nobody had to put locks on doors and life and possessions were safe, and honesty and purity were traits to be praised. These are things based on God's Word, and the morality He reveals. And we need to go back to the old paths in religion, too. With conflicting doctrines abounding, we need the old guide, the Word of God: "Contend earnestly for the faith, once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
With 300 or more denominations vying for members, we still need only one church, the one Jesus purchased and built with His own blood, He died upon the cross to purchase this church, (Acts 20:28). He prophesied while He still lived on the earth that He would build His church (Matthew 16:18). It is referred to as His body, His bride, (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 5:23-32). The old paths call for us to go all the way back to the Bible for all authority. That old guide will reveal the old salvation (Mark 16:16), the old name, (Acts 11:26) for those who walk in the old paths.
The plea of God through Jeremiah was, "Ask for the old paths, and walk therein." God pleads with all to follow that principle today. But the sad words of Israel's reply were: "We will not walk therein." Our plea today is that all go back to the "old paths" as revealed in the gospel of Christ: follow His teaching, have the faith that comes from a study of His Word, be obedient to His commands, serve in His church and wear His name.
Remember that Israel said, "We will not walk therein." What is your own answer to be with regard to walking in the old paths and following the good ways?