Unit: Jeremiah (Part 1)
Theme: Warning—Danger Ahead
Lesson text: Jeremiah 2:1-13, 26-28; 4:1-2
Supplemental texts: Exodus 20:1-6; Isaiah 44:9-20; 1 Corinthians 8:1-7; 1 John 5:21
Aim: Turn away from whatever you want more than God.
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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the study by Mark Scott, the Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_June11_2023.
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By Mark Scott
An idol is a substituted and false god. In fact, idols are worthless (Jeremiah 2:5). This word, worthless, is memorably translated “vanity” or “meaninglessness” in Ecclesiastes. The lesson’s supplemental texts help us understand this. We are to have no other gods (Exodus 20:1-6). Idols are literally dumb—i.e., they cannot speak (Isaiah 44:9-20; cf. Psalm 115:2-8). There are so-called “other gods,” but there really are not other gods at all (1 Corinthians 8:1-7). We are to keep ourselves from idols (1 John 5:21). This section of Jeremiah begins 13 oracles of God’s case against Judah that continue through chapter 25. The content can be framed up with the help of questions.
What Happened to You?
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, so he followed instructions and went and “proclaimed” (called) to Judah. The proclamation was a call back to their original faithfulness to the Lord. Their devotion (chesed; i.e., loyal love) was strong in the early days. It was likened to a bride loving her husband. She was faithful in following God’s leading through the wilderness. Israel was holy (set apart) to the Lord in its earliest days. She was likened to the firstfruits of the harvest. She was also victorious at every turn. In fact, disaster (evil) would befall any nation that tried to devour Judah. So, what happened to this earliest devotion?
What Is Wrong with Me?
Jeremiah then asked what fault (iniquity or wickedness) Judah found in God. Was Israel’s waywardness somehow God’s fault? When God’s people follow worthless idols, they become what they follow (cf. Hosea 9:10). God delivered them out of Egyptian slavery. One would have expected the people to ask, “Where is the Lord?” After all, God led them through a barren, dry, and uninhabited desert. Then he planted them in a fertile (karmel; i.e., plentiful) land that provided for their every need. One would have thought they would live in total obedience.
Instead, Israel defiled (polluted) and made God’s inheritance (his people) detestable (abominable or disgusting). Making matters worse, the leaders (shepherds) led the way in this rebellion. Priests, teachers of the law, and prophets stoked the disobedience. Instead of God being the source of their revelation, they turned to Baal (the Canaanite god of fertility). What terrible thing had the Lord done to deserve this response?
Why Not Look Around?
God brought charges (pleadings or chidings) against Judah, and he would also bring them against subsequent generations. While every individual is responsible for their own sin (Ezekiel 18:4), the effects of sin affect multiple generations. So, God called Judah to take a field trip and see if other nations had exchanged their gods. Did the island of Cyprus give up on its god? Did Kedar (the sons of Ishmael) give up on its god? Do nations typically change gods? Jeremiah then added, “Yet they are not gods at all” (which Paul also taught the Corinthians).
Jeremiah sounded like Paul again when he charged Judah with exchanging God for idols (Romans 1:22-23). Even the heavens would be appalled (awestruck) by this. God’s people made two mistakes other nations had not made. They forsook their God and tried to be their own god. They jettisoned the spring of living water and dug their own cisterns.
Who Can Really Save?
Jeremiah 2:14-25 (the intervening verses which are not part of the lesson text) basically affirm that Judah had no one to blame but herself. The people brought trouble on themselves. Jeremiah uses the illustration of a thief who is disgraced (shamed) when he is caught.
Much like Isaiah (his predecessor), Jeremiah mocked idolatry (Isaiah 44:9-20). The kings, officials, priests, and prophets went belly-up by addressing wood and stone as their father and mother. They turned away from God, but then, in a pinch, cried out for God to save them. That was audacious. Idols cannot really save, as evidenced by their inability to help Judah in her time of need. Judah had as many gods as it had towns, but they were of no consequence.
How Can This Work for Good?
After a further call for repentance (in Jeremiah 3), the prophet offered a deal with Judah. If they would return (repent or turn around) and put away their idols, seek truth, justice, and righteousness, and swear by God in their vows to him, then God would work everything for good. Essentially Judah would end up advertising for God. The nations would see God’s care for his people and boast of the God of Israel.