We’ve been talking about sin in the last post and I would like to add a little more to what I was saying and then move along. The charges God had against Israel was that even though He had revealed Himself to the people they had refused to listen and to think clearly about the situation they found themselves in.
The people had come to the Promised Land after forty years in the wilderness. This wilderness experience was their own doing since they refused to enter the land when they first arrived at the borders of their new home. They looked at the problems of taking the land and lost their nerve. God had laid down ten plagues upon Egypt finally forcing the Pharaoh to take action and let the people go.
Their families had experienced the crossing of the Red Sea, Manna in the wilderness, the Pillar of Fire by night and the cloud by day, and the bad waters being turned sweet. I know, this had happened generations before but it was still the glue that kept the tribes united. They may have turned to the idols of the local nations but their heritage was steeped in the stories of their forefathers.
In the time of Jeremiah God was reminding the nation of Judah (the last two and a half tribes) that, just like Israel, they were going into captivity as they were putting themselves outside the covenant of promise. Remember, God had promised Abram that he would inherit the land, his descendants would be as the stars of the sky, and through his “seed” (singular) there would come one that would bless the nations.
The typical Suzerain treaty of Abram’s time was based upon each side of the agreement making oaths to each other with the blessings and consequences of breaking the covenant spelled out. The written agreement would then be taken to the temple of each power and stored in the most holy part of the temple as a reminder, sworn before the gods, that they would be loyal.
That’s why the Commandments of Mount Sinai (the Sinai Covenant) ended up in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle Sanctuary. Anyway, the curses for breaking the covenant as outlined in Deuteronomy 28-30 end up with exile as the final destination of throwing the covenant away and breaking the stipulations attached to it.
So, all I’m saying is that when Jeremiah began to preach to the people he was simply calling them back to their covenant relationship with God. And as we saw last week the charge against Judah was that they wouldn’t listen or think about their relationship with God because of their idol worship. The reason was they were infatuated with these new and strange gods.
Israel’s worship was very different from that of the Phoenicians, Canaanites, and other nations that surrounded them. Israel’s worship had a ritualistic aspect to it (the sacrifice of animals), but it was also a personal religion that was not based upon appeasement.
For instance, the sacrifice of animals was never done upon the altar for the Israelites. The animals were burned there but not slaughtered there. In the cultures around them animal sacrifice was quite different with the animals actually sacrificed upon the altar as blood sacrifices to the gods. Israel didn’t see the animal as having sin but representing substitution. They were an example of innocence dying for sin at a cost to the person who provided the best from their flock. Sin cost.
The point, however, is that the sacrifice had a point to it and that was the person who brought the sacrifice for sin in their lives needed to know why they were doing it and what it meant to them to have forgiveness. Without the personal component it was just a meaningless obligation.
That famous passage in Isaiah where God says, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? Says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or of he-goats.” Isaiah 1:11
Just like their brothers Israel in the Northern kingdom, Judah refused to listen to God call them back to a heart religion where God reigned supreme in their lives. Instead of worshipping the creator they worshipped the creatures. This is the charge of Paul in Romans 1-2 and his writing’s in 1 Corinthians 1:18-32 about the wisdom of men seeing it as foolish to trust in God.
Anyway, I did not mean to lead us down a rabbit hole. The point was Judah had turned their back upon worship of God and when they did think to bring sacrifices it was only out of obligation and duty and had no spiritual connection attached to the sacrifice. So when God called them back to true worship through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel they didn’t listen.
And the reason they didn’t listen was because they had become addicted to the local gods. Because of the sexual aspects involved in the worship of these gods it became addictive to the people of Judah. Jeremiah refers to Judah’s infatuation as wild asses in heat (Jeremiah 2:24) or the unfaithful wife crying out, “It is hopeless, for I have loved strangers and after them I will go.” (2:25)
Kidner writes, “This perverse love is the despair of Israel’s would-be rescuer. If there are false teachers, ‘my people love to have it so, (5:31); if there is a straight path, ‘they have loved to wander (15:10)—not merely like sheep gone astray, but, ‘like a horse plunging headlong into battle’ (8:6). To invitations and warnings alike their response is ‘we will not…we will not.’ ” (6:16-17) The Message of Jeremiah p. 165
Again let me make it clear that sin in a real sense is a refusal to allow the image of God live through us in love. To define sin totally as actions is to shovel the ocean dry with a spoon. Sin springs from the heart. It leads from a desire to rule our lives without the love, compassion, and mercy that God longs to give us in our daily lives.
What sin isn’t is a list of do’s and don’ts. For many people, when they think of Christianity, they are really thinking of it as a morality religion and they, unfortunately, would be right much of the time. But Christianity isn’t about obedience to rules, or in the case of Judah, sacrifices. It is simply a refusal to allow God to love us and hold us close. It is a pushing away of the greatest friend you could ever have. And the reason we do that is so that we do not have to put trust in Him.
In Jeremiah 17:9 is the crux of his argument. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” Also in 13:23 he states, “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil?”
Sin springs from a heart that is out of tune with love. It is a desperate attempt to put self where God should reign and the result is a heart that searches for meaning while abandoning the amazing love of God that gives meaning to life.
There is so much more we could say about sin but I think these two posts make it clear, at least from my understanding, that sin runs much deeper in the veins of humanity than we suspect and actions are just outward signs of the intent of the heart. Sin is really about a lack of connection and acceptance of allowing the love of God to penetrate our hearts and minds. It is simply not allowing ourselves to be as human as we were meant to be, and that hurts us. The whole point of the gospel is there is a solution to sin and that is a good thing.