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This is my fourth message on the book of Jeremiah. The theme of the previous message was “Return, faithless people” (Jeremiah 3:22). In that passage, God desired his people to repent and return to him. In Jeremiah 3:14-18, God said he would forgive his people and bring them back to Zion. He will restore both the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. This restoration will involve a small remnant of exiles from Israel who had lost their country. The stubborn hearts of his people will change; and the two kingdoms, Judah and Israel, will reunite. Those verses say that, to restore the people, God will provide new shepherds and healing. Jeremiah 3:22 says, “Return, faithless people. I will cure you of backsliding.” It is in repentance and returning that we find forgiveness and healing. As believers, we want to keep trusting in God’s great love and always return to him.
Today, we enter Jeremiah chapter 6. “Take warning, Jerusalem” is the theme, taken from 6:8. God is speaking to Israel, who has formally repented and returned to him. The verse goes on to say, “Take warning, Jerusalem, or I will turn away from you and make your land desolate so no one can live in it.” Let us also take warning from the history of Israel. Let’s now read Jeremiah 6.
Verses 1 to 5 show that great destruction will come from the north onto the people living in beautiful pastures. A time of judgment is coming when the army of Babylon will attack Jerusalem day and night, destroying even the temple. Verse 6 shows that this destruction is the work of the Lord of hosts.
Previously the northern kingdom of Israel had been destroyed by Assyria, and many of its people were taken captive to Assyria. Judah should have learned from Israel’s mistakes. In 5:1, God says, “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.” Chapter 5 is about God making his decision like a judge in court. God points out that there is virtually no one who has learned from Israel’s mistakes and returned to him.
In chapter 6, it becomes clear how serious God’s judgment is. For Jeremiah, it must have been very difficult to speak these words of judgment on God’s behalf. 6:11 shows how Jeremiah faced difficulty in speaking God’s Word.
In 6:11, Jeremiah says, “But I am full of the wrath of the Lord, and I cannot hold it in.” It must have been exhausting for him to speak God’s Word and yet see no change in people’s hearts. But even in the midst of it, God gave him hope.
Let’s look more closely at this part of the passage. God urges Jeremiah to pour out the painful contents of his heart. The second half of verse 11 says, “Pour it out on the children in the street and on the young men gathered together.” God has made his decision to bring judgment on Jerusalem, through an invasion by Babylon. As God’s prophet, Jeremiah had to make his people face this reality.
Verse 13 describes what kind of people they were: “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.” Jeremiah’s job was simply to carry God’s message of judgment. Whether the people listened or not was up to their responsibility. Unfortunately, they did not heed God’s warning.
Moving on, in verse 16 God says, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” The image here is a meeting place of roads. Standing there, you can see roads going in different directions. No doubt, God’s judgment on Jerusalem is coming. But looking back at the road Israel came from, they should see that there were good times in the past. For us too, no matter how difficult the road ahead, we need to look back and see where we came from. “Take warning, Jerusalem.” We must take warning from past mistakes. No trial or difficulty is meaningless, by God’s grace.
Though God reveals a severe judgment in this passage, further down in verse 27 he says to Jeremiah, “I have made you a tester of metals and my people the ore, that you may observe and test their ways.” This is a new challenge to Jeremiah. The tester is someone who can see the reality of people’s lives from God’s perspective (or from the Bible’s perspective). When we look from God’s perspective, we may come to realize many things. People who have accepted God’s commands can see from a higher perspective.
For example, that Jerusalem’s destruction is because of sin, not just the invasion of Assyria. They lost the temple, which used to be their center of worship. But today, those who are in Christ have the presence of God with them. Looking at Jerusalem this way, we can see that God was freeing Israel from old ways and beginning something new. This new era, or what we call New Testament era, would be brought by Christ. Jeremiah chapter 31 talks about this: that God would establish a new covenant with his people.
When we look at events in the world today, we can’t help but feel that it’s very depressing. Across the world, there are egoistic dictators and so many people who suffer under them. That’s the reality we face now. We see a world full of wrong, where even fundamental laws like Moses’ 10 commandments are violated—murder, stealing, lying, and so on. Like Jeremiah in his time, we live surrounded by this reality.
But God will bring righteous justice. God will put an end to evil some day. Let’s hold onto this hope as we stand at the crossroads, looking at our world. My hope is that our leaders and people will ask where “the good way” is, as God says in today’s passage (Jeremiah 6:16). Surely there must be a place where we can find the waters of life and restoration. God knows “the good way,” so let us learn from his warnings and from the past.