“Exploiter’s Destiny” – Jeremiah 5:26-31

June 9th, 2019

Pentecost & High School Graduation Sunday

Jeremiah 5:26-31

“Exploiter’s Destiny”

Aux. Texts: Romans 12:14-21

Call to Worship: Psalm 10

 

Service Orientation: God loves to help those who cannot help themselves and know it.  Trust God to right all wrongs: both those done to you and what you do to others.

 

Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. —  Micah 6:8

 

Background Information:

  • (v. 28) The first line of verse 28 describes their outward appearance as fat and sleek. The first word suggests fertility and prosperity.  The second word means to be made smooth, bright, polished, hence to shine.  This contains the idea of shallow, superficial, even phony.  Today we might describe these people as “slick.”  (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 63)
  • (vss. 30-31) The last two verses in this chapter summarize the depravity of that day.  Jeremiah used two words to characterize the conditions.  The first one, a noun, translated horrible, comes from a verb meaning “to be desolate, laid waste, astonished, perishing.”  (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 63)
  • (v. 30) The word translated shocking comes from a verb not used in the OT. It probably means “to shudder.”  An adjective, horrid or bad, comes from this verb root.  (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 63)
  • (v. 31) Verse 31 places the blame exactly where it belongs–at the feet of the religious leaders–the prophets and priests. They had formed a coalition to promote wrongdoing in the land.  (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 64)
  • (v. 31) The “end” is the end of the process, not some arbitrary closure. There is a straight line from apostasy to disaster, from sin to death.  (Derek Kidner, The Bible Speaks Today:  Jeremiah, 45)

 

God is using Jeremiah to take the scales off my eyes.  And when I look in the mirror I am becoming more and more uncomfortable with what I am seeing.  — Pastor Keith

 

The question to be answered is . . . What does God have to tell us through Jeremiah about the destiny of those who choose to exploit the helpless?

 

Answer: We can rest and take heart that God will avenge Himself on them.  Also, we must always be alert to our sinful inclination to exploit others through manipulation, domination, deception, or abuse.

 

The Word for the Day is . . . Prey

 

What does God say about wicked exploiters?:

I-  They prey on the vulnerable. (Jer 5:28b-29; see also: Ex 22:22-27; 23:6; Dt 10:17-18; 15:11; 24:17-21; 27:19; Psa 37:14; 68:5; 72:4; Prov 14:31; 17:5; 22:16; 29:7; Isa 1:17; Zech 7:10; Jam 1:26-27)

 

The law can be manipulated to the detriment of those at risk in society, the poor, the orphans.  The “haves” get richer and the “have nots” go from bad to worse.  For most of us in the western world the illustration Jeremiah uses of the bird catcher is not part of our experience, but do we need to look far to find uncomfortable parallels to the point he is making?  (Robert Davidson, Daily Study Bible Series: Jeremiah, 59)

 

The realignment of power is fundamental to the cause of justice because much of the twisted soul of injustice is the abuse of power.  Whether the injustice is poverty, bonded slavery, land grabbing, forced prostitution, hunger, rape or racism, we find the abuse of power.  Likewise, an abuse of power is at play even in more mundane examples of injustice: gossip, manipulation, coercion, lying, deception or libel.  At the core of it all lies an abuse of power.  Nothing thwarts God’s purposes more than twisted power; nothing renews God’s purposes more than redeeming power.  (Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, 109)

 

Wicked men exist among God’s people who catch people in their traps as a fowler traps birds.  They use deceit, just as bird traps, hidden in the environment, catch birds unaware.  Those caught are killed and used for the profit of the fowler.  These wicked men have become very rich and powerful through their evil behavior. In particular, sins against the fatherless and the poor are listed as especially egregious.  These two classes of people were powerless in the society and were dependent on those who possessed power to protect them.  God’s law insisted that Israel protect the rights of orphans (Ex 22:22-24; Dt 10:18; 24:17, 19, 20, 21; 27:19).  It also required assistance for the poor (Ex 22:25-27; 23:6, 11; Dt 15:11).  These are offenses against God himself, and they justify his judgment.  (Tremper Longman III, Understanding the Bible: Jeremiah, Lamentations, 60)

 

It is not enough to not exploit the poor, although the Bible does command us not to “oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor” (Zech 7:10).  But God cares as much about sins of omission as he does about sins of commission.  He commands his people to be advocates for the poor.  It is not even enough to fight on behalf of the needy–we must fight to win.

     The reason for this is that God himself is a Father to the fatherless and a Defender of the poor:  “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords. . . He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing” (Dt 10:17-18).  All true sons and true daughters of God show their love for their heavenly Father by being champions for the cause of the poor.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 102)

 

Darwinists falsely believe they can reduce life to its nonliving chemical components.  That’s the ideology of reductionism.  For Darwinists like Dawkins or Crick who must believe that only the material (and not the immaterial) exists, then life can be nothing more than chemicals.  But life is clearly more than chemicals.  Life contains a message–DNA–that is expressed in chemicals, but those chemicals cannot cause the message any more than the chemicals in ink and paper can cause the sentences on this page.  A message points to something beyond chemicals.  The message in life, just like the one on this page, points to an intelligence beyond its chemical elements.  (We realize that life is certainly more than chemicals with a message, but the key point here is that it’s certainly not less.)  (Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 122)

 

I have heard some people with particular pluck claim that the unborn being is a part of the woman’s body.  They claim that an abortion is similar to clipping a woman’s toenails.  This claim runs counter to common sense and counter to scientific consensus.  Think about it.  Every part of a woman’s body–including her toenail clippings–contains her unique DNA.  But the unborn being has its own unique DNA.   Therefore, the unborn being cannot be a part of the woman’s body.  (Bruce Riley Ashford, Letters to an American Christian, 75-6)

 

Jeremiah’s preaching about fat cats condemns us all.  Political liberals and political conservatives alike have a false compassion for the poor.  Most liberals give the poor money to care for their immediate needs, but lack the compassion to get to the spiritual causes at the root of poverty.  Most conservatives recognize that some kinds of so-called aid do more harm than good, but what they really want is for the poor to go away and solve their own problems.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 102)

 

II-  They love going their own way. (Jer 5:30-31; see also: Psa 73:7; Prov 14:12; 16:25; Isa 1:23-24; Jer 6:13-15; 23:9-15; Amos 2:6-10; Micah 7:2-3; Jn 3:19-21; Rom 3:9-21; 2 Tim 4:2-3; 3:1-7)  

 

False teachings remove the restraints of divine law and encourage human self-interest and the love of pleasure.  This was characteristic of Judah’s last days, and is promised also for the end of the Christian era (cf. 2 Tm 3:1-7, etc.).  (R.K. Harrison, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Jeremiah, 79)

 

The rampant evil did not trouble the people, who had come to accept it and favor it.  They preferred indulgent leaders who made few, if any, moral demands.  The people had lost all sense of moral values and did not realize they were being duped.  They cherished their false security.  But the final question is, In the time of retribution, when the calamity would strike, then what would they do?  Then where would their hope and confidence be?  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 418)

 

The dangers which threaten the life of the people are imminent and apparent from where he stands.  And the dangers are more appalling because they come from the folly of the people who look at evil and love to have it so.  (George Arthur Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, 856)

 

In verses 30-31 Jeremiah reacts in horrified amazement to the fact that the prophets speak a false, misleading word, and that the priests, who ought to have exercised an all-important teaching ministry, are hand in glove with them in an unholy alliance.  Not that the people complain; they are getting the kind of reassuring, undemanding religious leadership that they want.  Why go to church to be made to feel uncomfortable?  (Robert Davidson, Daily Study Bible Series: Jeremiah, 60)

 

As subsequent references by Jeremiah to the prophets and the priests will indicate, the position of the priests could not have been very subordinate to that of the prophets.  Nonetheless Jeremiah is pointing out the appalling and horrible thing which has happened in the land, namely that the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction.

But what is appalling and horrible beyond words is the fact that the people love to have it so!  This is the disconcerting mystery of human behavior.  The rebellion against God distorts all the orders, perverts all the values, and the astonishing thing is that people not only persist in these ways but seem to prefer them.  Jean Cocteau has put this with almost prophetic irony in his remark that “If it is necessary to choose one to be crucified the crowd always saves Barabbas.”  No doubt this is a part of that “Mystery of Iniquity” which T. S. Elliot calls “a pit too deep for mortal eyes to plumb.”  Luther put it bluntly: “the world wills to belong to the devil.”  (George Arthur Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, 854-5)

 

For Jeremiah the world was suffering from a lack of constancy and faithfulness to the divine word.  The truth of the covenant was a relational truth.  Once the relation was broken the negative evils of manifold disorder and perversion would inevitably set in.  (George Arthur Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, 855)

 

A minister who ceases to believe in the authority of Scripture, who denies the certainty of the Last Judgment, or who sees the pastorate as a prosperous career rather than a sacrificial calling ought to drop out of the ministry.  One can sense Jeremiah’s outrage about what the lying prophets were doing: “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land” (5:30).  But here is another shock: “And my people love it this way” (v. 31b).  Despite the false teaching and deplorable behavior of the clergy, the people of Jerusalem were delighted with their ministry.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 104)

 

The chapter ends with a special focus on the religious leaders, the prophets and the priests, and their horrible sages that come from the Lord, but they prophesy lies.  According to the Mosaic law, they deserve death (Dt 18:14-22).  The priests are the “servants” of Yahweh.  They have no authority in and of themselves.  However, Jeremiah tells us that these priests rule by their own authority.  They are guilty because prophets and priests were responsible to lead the people of God.  (Tremper Longman III, Understanding the Bible: Jeremiah, Lamentations, 60)

 

III-  God will right all wrongs.  (Jer 5:29; see also: Ps 10:14; 14:6; 35:10; 72:4; 82:3; 94:1; 113:7; 140:12; 146:9; Prv 22:16; Isa 19:20; Amos 7:8; 8:2; Gal 6:7-8; 1 Thess 4:6)  

 

These wicked persons have known no restraint to their activities (cf. Mi 7:18; Am 7:8; 8:2), making it evident that the social corruption of the preceding century had by no means been eradicated.  The rich still oppress the poor in Judah, and it is impossible for a man to obtain justice in the courts.  This was serious, since the Mosaic law had strong humanitarian overtones which required the Israelites to look to the welfare of the needy and underprivileged.  Because the wicked had violated these principles they would be punished.  (R.K. Harrison, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Jeremiah, 78-9)

 

The Bible teaches that God is holy and righteous and will judge every person according to what he or she has done.  Only those who trust in Jesus Christ will be saved, while everyone else will be cast into an eternal “lake of fire” (Rv 20:14-15).  To preach anything less is to be a lying prophet.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 103)

 

Here you may say, “I don’t like the idea of the wrath of God.  I want a God of love.”

The problem is that if you want a loving God, you have to have an angry God.  Please think about it.  Loving people can get angry, not in spite of their love but because of it.  In fact, the more closely and deeply you love people in your life, the angrier you can get.  Have you noticed that?  When you see people who are harmed or abused, you get mad.  If you see people abusing themselves, you get mad at them, out of love.  Your senses of love and justice are activated together, not in opposition to each other.  If you see people destroying themselves or destroying other people and you don’t get mad, it’s because you don’t care.  You’re too absorbed in yourself, too cynical, too hard.  The more loving you are, the more ferociously angry you will be at whatever harms your beloved.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 176-77)

 

Widespread social injustices cry out for God’s judgment.  The wicked rich have acquired their wealth by deceit and heartless oppression of the poor and helpless.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 418)

 

We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible, not least in the Psalms, God’s coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over.  It causes people to shout for joy and the trees of the field to clap their hands.  In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be.  Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment.  (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 137)

 

 

Preaching that entertains more than it instructs, soothes more than it convicts, and appeases more than it confronts has become the rule rather than the exception in the evangelical church.  What H. Richard Niebuhr (1894-1963) said about the liberals a generation ago can now be applied to the preaching of the evangelical church: “A God without wrath brings men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 105)

 

This is the “Big Lie” of liberal theology–that God does not punish sin.  Liberal theology tries to reassure people that everything is okay, even if everything isn’t okay.  It does what Neville Chamberlain did in 1940 when he was Prime Minister of Great Britain.  After his negations with the Nazis, he announced, “We have achieved peace in our time.”  He said, “Peace, peace,” but there was no peace, and shortly afterwards the world was plunged into war.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 103)

 

Worship Point: Before God all of us are weak, orphaned, vulnerable and helpless.  Worship the God Who takes delight in helping, rather than exploiting, those who cannot help themselves.

 

Gospel Application:  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.  (2 Cor 8:9)  He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil 2:6-8)

 

The Christian faith flies in the face of social Darwinism and its principles of perfection.  Ours is not the “survival of the fittest” but the “survival of the weakest.”  That is, those alone who come to terms with their spiritual impotence are granted the grace of God to persevere in his strength.  You will fall.  Stop trying to live the “victorious Christian life” and simply live, as you feed on God’s Word and grow by his Spirit.  (Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace, 213)

 

Any spiritually healthy congregation of believers in Jesus will more or less look like these “brands plucked from the burning.”  If the group is totally nice, that is a sure sign something has gone wrong.  For here are the foolish, weak, lowly, and despised of this world, whom God has chosen to cancel out the humanly great (1 Cor 1:26-31).  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 125)

 

Only when you’re down do you tend to look up.  —Noni Ramundo

 

There is a direct correlation between God’s work, in and through His people, and the acknowledged helplessness of His people.  To wit: The greater the acknowledged helplessness,  the greater God’s power.

 

The ancillary to this proposition; “When the helplessness of God’s people is met with the help of God, God’s people properly do not get the credit.” (Steve Brown; Beloved Pagan: Keeping the Church Honest; Pt 3, “The Gift of Powerlessness” 2 Chr 20)

 

A person who wields power cannot see truth; that is the privilege of the powerless.  (Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks, 125)

 

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them.  He creates the universe, already foreseeing–or should we say “seeing”?  there are no tenses in God–the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up.  If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him.  Herein is love.  This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.  (C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 127)

 

Spiritual Challenge: Consider the implications that God loves to help those who cannot help themselves and know it.  Consider also, what it means to trust God to right all wrongs.  What END do you project?

 

There was a time (Moral Majority – Religious Right) when the church had money, power and prestige and we could use those things for the benefit of the Kingdom.  But, now, more and more we are having, less and less.  And that is bad.  NO, that is good.  Cause now, the only thing we’ve got is to become like Jesus. (Steve Brown; Beloved Pagan: Keeping the Church Honest; Pt 3, “The Gift of Powerlessness” 2 Chronicles 20)

 

Whenever the church has a choice between spiritual power and political power, the church will inevitably chose political power. —Fred Smith (Steve Brown; Beloved Pagan: Keeping the Church Honest; Pt 3, “The Gift of Powerlessness” 2 Chronicles 20)

 

God allows you to go through hard times so that God might bring you to the end of yourself.   (Steve Brown; Beloved Pagan: Keeping the Church Honest; Pt 3, “The Gift of Powerlessness” 2 Chronicles 20)

 

There is growing awareness that the moral ecology of the country has suffered something like an environmental disaster, and that we are faced with a very complicated cleanup operation.”  Indeed, abortion license has eroded the moral foundations of our civic community and numbed our collective consciences by normalizing lethal violence against innocent humans.  Instead of reinforcing our intuitive desire to protect those persons among us who are weakest and most vulnerable, it demands that we adjust our consciences to the termination of those persons.  To use biblical language, we are slowly searing our own consciences.  —Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon  (Bruce Riley Ashford, Letters to an American Christian, 82)

 

Love is handing your heart to someone and taking the risk that they will hand it back because they don’t want it. That’s why it’s such a crushing ache on the inside. We gave away a part of ourselves and it wasn’t wanted.

Love is a giving away of power. When we love, we give the other person the power in the relationship. They can do what they choose. They can do what they like with our love. They can reject it, they can accept it, they can step toward us in gratitude and appreciation.

Love is a giving away. When we love, we put ourselves out there, we expose ourselves, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

Love is giving up control. It’s surrendering the desire to control the other person. The two–love and controlling power over the other person–are mutually exclusive. If we are serious about loving someone, we have to surrender all of the desires within us to manipulate the relationship.  (Rob Bell; Sex God, 98)

 

As the terms of the covenant with God are ignored, so are the relations of man to man perverted.  Wicked men, rogues, employ their talents in wiles and stratagems in order to deceive their fellows.  (George Arthur Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, 853)

 

Human gene editing is not just a scientific tool to help treat diseases.  It carries many implications—people might want to filter through embryos and take out ones that they think are better than others and manipulate embryos to produce children to their liking, and that changes the whole relationship with having children.  It turns what should be procreation and love into production.   And that production will never be perfect. They are going to end up with mistakes and disappointments.  If your attitude to having children is one of production, then it changes the way you see the child.   This has so many dimensions to it—it’s not just a simple matter of treating a disease.  (Sophie Lee interview with bioethicist William Hurlbut; WORLD Magazine; Jan 19, 2019, 53)

 

Koestler found all this blamelessness progressively disturbing.  “Before long it began to become clear that those whom we do not blame we do not regard as responsible.  Those whom we do not regard as responsible we do not see as fully human.  And those whom we do not see as fully human we are willing to twist and manipulate to suit our own convenience.”  (Muehl, Why Preach?  Why Listen?, 65)  (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 67)

 

The more single-minded we become, the more thoroughly committed to God all our efforts will be, the more his purposes can be accomplished in them, and the greater Hilarity we will experience.  Our tendency to slip so easily into manipulation of others for our own ends is one of the greatest destroyers of genuine community, but to recognize our constant battle for purity of motive enables us to keep growing toward maturity in our faith and in the Body.  (Marva J. Dawn, Truly the Community:  Romans 12, 133)

 

Spiritual Challenge Questions:

  1. Who are the vulnerable today in 21st Century America? Are they being exploited by those more powerful than themselves?  If so, how?
  2. I believe it is part of our sinful nature to exploit others. What is there about the creation mandate (Man was given dominion to rule over creation, and the power and creativity as one created in God’s likeness and image – Gen 1&2) that promotes exploitation within the unredeemed heart and mind?
  3. I believe Jeremiah’s message in this passage is both a warning to those who are guilty of exploitation as well as hope to those who suffer under exploitation. I also believe we can constantly find ourselves in both situations at once. What do you think?
  4. God’s Laws and God’s way is liberty, freedom and life (Dt 30:15, 19; 32:47; Lk 4:18; Jn 8:32-36; 2 Cor 3:17; Gal 2:4; 5:1, 13; Jam 1:25; 2:12). Whenever mankind deviates from God’s agenda for human existence, it breeds death and bondage (Prv 14:12; 16:25; Rom 6:23; 8:21; 2 Pt 2:19).  How is this truth playing out in 21st Century America?

 

There is no time in the history of our county when God’s people thought they had more power and had less.  I don’t think there has ever been a time in our county when Christians railed as much against a pagan culture and could do less about it.  I don’t think there has ever been a time in our country when Christians shouted as loud and said as little with as little effect.   (Steve Brown; Beloved Pagan: Keeping the Church Honest; Pt 3, “The Gift of Powerlessness” 2 Chronicles 20)

 

So What?:  Everyone finds themselves helpless to defend themselves from those more powerful who choose to exploit.  We need to trust God in those circumstances and make sure we are never guilty of manipulation or the same offense.

 

Why do you think Jesus would look at the crowds around him, with all their deep needs, and then turn to his disciples and tell them to pray for themselves?  The answer is humbling.  When Jesus looked at the harassed and helpless multitudes, apparently his concern was not that the lost would not come to the Father.  Instead his concern was that his followers would not go to the lost.  (David Platt, Radical, 187)

 

“King of the Mountain” comes in many forms.

It’s the boss who won’t compliment her employees.  After all, workers need to be kept in their place.

It’s the husband who refuses to be kind to his wife.  He knows if he does he will lose his most powerful weapon–her fear of his rejection.

It’s the employee who places personal ambition over personal integrity.

It’s the wife who withholds sex both to punish and persuade.

It might be the taking of someone’s life, or it might be the taking of someone’s turn.  It might be manipulation with a pistol, or it might be manipulation with a pout.  It might be the takeover of a nation by a politician, or the takeover of a church by a preacher.

But they are all spelled the same: P-O-W-E-R.

All have the same goal: “I will get what I want at your expense.”

All have the same game plan: push, shove, take, and lie.

All have listened to the same snake, the same lying Lucifer who whispers into the ears of anyone who will listen, “You will be like God.”

And all have the same end: futility.  Please note carefully what I am about to say.  Absolute power is unreachable.  The pole to the top is greasy, and the ladder rungs are made of cardboard.  When you stand at the top–if there is a top–the only way to go is down.  And the descent is often painful.  (Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, 138-9)

 

The moral measure of a society, the Torah constantly implies, can be gauged by how it treats its weakest members.  (Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, 503)

 

May God bless you with discomfort

At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,

So that you may live deep within your heart.

 

May God bless you with anger

At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,

So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

 

May God bless you with tears

To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,

So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and

To turn their pain into joy.

 

And may God bless you with enough foolishness

To believe that you can make a difference in this world,

So that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

(Franciscan Prayer)

 

JESUS:

CHAMPION OF THE

OPPRESSED

 

Leave a Reply