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This sermon (as you'll see) includes a large amount of read scripture, with my exposition on the scripture sandwiched between.  Because I wanted to make clear the difference, I usually read the scriptures from my bible - with a reasonable degree of dynamism in the reading - I wasn't just doing the monotone or sing-song scripture reading thing; something more like reading the dialogue in an adventure story to the kids.  The flip-side of that was that I was able to give more time in my preparation to the expositions - my comments and expansions on the scriptures.  It wasn't too hard, since all I was trying to do was to let the scriptures tell themselves, and my comments were designed really as sign-posts and as a means of emphasising what I took to tbe the main themes in the scriptures.  The result was that when it came to the preaching, I was relatively free of my notes - I could speak the words I'd prepared directly to the congregation without having to prompt myself too much.  And because I was less focused on my notes, I was more engaged with the congregation, and also freer to sink into the story.  I found it to be a much more moving experience than usual. 

 

11...18 It was the Lord who made it known to me,

and I knew;

then you showed me their evil deeds.

19 But I was like a gentle lamb

led to the slaughter.

And I did not know it was against me

that they devised schemes, saying,

“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,

let us cut him off from the land of the living,

so that his name will no longer be remembered!”

20 But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously,

who try the heart and the mind,

let me see your retribution upon them,

for to you I have committed my cause.

21 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the people of Anathoth, who seek your life, and say, “You shall not prophesy in the name of the Lord, or you will die by our hand”— 22 therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: I am going to punish them; the young men shall die by the sword; their sons and their daughters shall die by famine; 23 and not even a remnant shall be left of them. For I will bring disaster upon the people of Anathoth, the year of their punishment.

12 You will be in the right, O Lord,

when I lay charges against you;

but let me put my case to you.

Why does the way of the guilty prosper?

Why do all who are treacherous thrive?

2 You plant them, and they take root;

they grow and bring forth fruit;

you are near in their mouths

yet far from their hearts.

3 But you, O Lord, know me;

You see me and test me—my heart is with you.

Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter,

and set them apart for the day of slaughter.

4 How long will the land mourn,

and the grass of every field wither?

For the wickedness of those who live in it

the animals and the birds are swept away,

and because people said, “He is blind to our ways.”

5 If you have raced with foot-runners and they have wearied you,

how will you compete with horses?

And if in a safe land you fall down,

how will you fare in the thickets of the Jordan?

6 For even your kinsfolk and your own family,

even they have dealt treacherously with you;

they are in full cry after you;

do not believe them,

though they speak friendly words to you.

7 I have forsaken my house,

I have abandoned my heritage;

I have given the beloved of my heart

into the hands of her enemies.

8 My heritage has become to me

like a lion in the forest;

she has lifted up her voice against me—

therefore I hate her.

9 Is the hyena greedy for my heritage at my command?

Are the birds of prey all around her?

Go, assemble all the wild animals;

bring them to devour her.

10 Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard,

they have trampled down my portion,

they have made my pleasant portion

a desolate wilderness.

11 They have made it a desolation;

desolate, it mourns to me.

The whole land is made desolate,

but no one lays it to heart.

12 Upon all the bare heights in the desert

spoilers have come;

for the sword of the Lord devours

from one end of the land to the other;

no one shall be safe.

13 They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns,

they have tired themselves out but profit nothing.

They shall be ashamed of their harvests

because of the fierce anger of the Lord.

14 Thus says the Lord concerning all my evil neighbours who touch the heritage that I have given my people Israel to inherit: I am about to pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. 15 And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again to their heritage and to their land, everyone of them. 16 And then, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, “As the Lord lives,” as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people. 17 But if any nation will not listen, then I will completely uproot it and destroy it, says the Lord.[1]

Jeremiah the prophet uses a whole range of ways to get the message across.

Sometimes he smashes pots.

Sometimes he quotes poetry.

In this passage

he acts out a court-room drama;

what we have here is the language of an ancient court,

with a wronged man

pleading his case before the righteous judge

and seeking justice.

 

It’s sort of like Perry Mason or John Grisham, BC.

 

First we hear from the plaintiff, Jeremiah himself:

He tells us where his information comes from – the Lord –

and then he tells us of his trouble;

his neighbours are plotting against him:

18 It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew;

then you showed me their evil deeds.

19 But I was like a gentle lamb

led to the slaughter.

And I did not know it was against me

that they devised schemes, saying,

“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,

let us cut him off from the land of the living,

so that his name will no longer be remembered!”

 

Jeremiah himself, is as innocent as a lamb,

and so he has no problem in appealing to God

who he trusts to be a righteous judge;

to do the right thing,

to protect the innocent from evil:

20 But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously,

who try the heart and the mind,

let me see your retribution upon them,

for to you I have committed my cause.

 

And then we hear from the judge himself;

21 Therefore thus says the Lord

concerning the people of Anathoth, who seek your life,

and say, “You shall not prophesy in the name of the Lord,

or you will die by our hand”—

22 therefore thus says the Lord of hosts:

I am going to punish them…”

 

It’s not just that Jeremiah’s neighbours have threatened him

but they are trying to shut up a prophet –

one who speaks in God’s name! 

That is a terrible evil,

and (vs.22) the people that try to silence God shall perish:

“…the young men shall die by the sword;

their sons and their daughters shall die by famine;

23 and not even a remnant shall be left of them.

For I will bring disaster upon the people of Anathoth,

the year of their punishment.”

 

Sentence pronounced,

Jeremiah vindicated,

Justice done.

 

But Jeremiah is feeling like this is his day in court,

so he brings a second case.

This time against the judge himself.

And he feels sure he can do this

because he himself is perfectly innocent

and the judge is righteous!

Surely God can see where he’s going wrong here?

12 You will be in the right, O Lord,

when I lay charges against you;

but let me put my case to you.

Why does the way of the guilty prosper?

Why do all who are treacherous thrive?

2 You plant them, and they take root;

they grow and bring forth fruit;

you are near in their mouths

yet far from their hearts.

3 But you, O Lord, know me;

You see me and test me—my heart is with you.

Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter,

and set them apart for the day of slaughter.

4 How long will the land mourn,

and the grass of every field wither?

For the wickedness of those who live in it

the animals and the birds are swept away,

and because people said, “He is blind to our ways.”

Not only is Jeremiah innocent,

and therefore suffering at the hands of the evil unjustly,

but, as he points out to God,

the land itself is suffering for the sins of the wicked.

So what is God going to do about it?

Why is the righteous Judge not getting all righteous on evil?

Huh?

What about it God?

 

God does not defend himself.

Instead, just as when Job asked these same questions of God,

God asks questions of Jeremiah:

 

5 If you have raced with men and they have wearied you,

how will you compete with horses?

And if in a safe land you fall down,

how will you go in the jungle of the Jordan?

 

Are you sure you’ve got what it takes, Jeremiah?

You’ve got a hard road to run;

you’ve just come to me to complain about how your neighbours are trying to kill you,

well listen: 6 … even your kinsfolk and your own family,

even they have dealt treacherously with you;

they are in full cry after you;

do not believe them,

though they speak friendly words to you.

You’ve got a hard road, Jeremiah, and it’s going to get harder.

Are you going to keep going?

 

And then the conversation breaks off,

God doesn’t speak directly to Jeremiah any more,

God steps out of the judges seat

and walks instead to the witness stand.

We’ve heard what Jeremiah has to say about the situation;

But what is it that God has seen?

What is God’s side of the story?

 

7 I have forsaken my house,

I have abandoned my heritage;

I have given the beloved of my heart

into the hands of her enemies.

 

Why has God done this?

 

8 My heritage has become to me

like a lion in the forest;

she has lifted up her voice against me—

therefore I hate her.

9 Is the hyena greedy for my heritage at my command?

Are the birds of prey all around her?

Go, assemble all the wild animals;

bring them to devour her.

 

God paints for us a vivid picture of the gathering nations

ready to devour his beloved people –

at his command.

Because

 

10 Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard,

they have trampled down my portion,

they have made my pleasant portion

a desolate wilderness.

 

The shepherds are the kings and priests and prophets of Israel.

And they have not cared for the land,

but have trampled it.

They have turned the garden of God into a wilderness.

(vs. 11) Listen to the grief of God as he cries out…

 

11 They have made it a desolation;

desolate, it mourns to me.

The whole land is made desolate,

but no one lays it to heart.

12 Upon all the bare heights in the desert

destroyers have come;

for the sword of the Lord devours

from one end of the land to the other;

no one shall be safe.

13 They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns,

they have tired themselves out but profit nothing.

They shall be ashamed of their harvests

because of the fierce anger of the Lord.

The tragedy is that “The whole land is made desolate,

but no one lays it to heart.”

Jeremiah is proclaiming this judgement,

but the word of God is not believed by the people

and so he is persecuted,

but God, who can see the end of Judah

is the one who is really suffering here.

And no one cares.

Israel, his beloved bride,

the son of his pride,

the foundling child he clothed and cared for through infancy,

has rejected him,

again,

and again,

and again.

And can no longer be called his own.

So God lets her go.

He leaves her to the hyenas and vultures

to whom she has given herself. 

 

And this is the grief of God.

 

and what we hear in this ancient court-room drama of Israel

isn’t confined only to Israel.

Jesus too was put in the dock

and Jesus too had to be silent before his accusers

and once again,

God had to suffer the grief of handing over his beloved son

to the vultures and hyenas

because the world had gone mad

and the shepherds had trampled down the gardens,

and the destroyers have come on the bare heights

to build their crosses and to dig the tombs of better men.

 

We might point the finger at God

and accuse him of injustice,

accuse him of unrighteousness,

of sitting by and fiddling on his heavenly throne

while the world around us burns

and the evil get fat on the blood of the children,

but if we are going to take our pain

at seeing the world given over to evil

and fling it in the face of God

be ready for God to share with us

something of what he feels

as his own precious son

as the human race he loves,

as his chosen people

and the land that should have been milk and honey

are burned with fire,

slaughtered in the streets,

nailed to the cross

and buried in the earth!

 

If you have raced with men and they have wearied you,

how will you compete with horses?

If you have seen evil in the world

and cannot stand the sight of it,

how will you bear the grief of God?

If I was a TV producer

or a novel writer,

that would be a great ending to the episode;

The judge was put in the dock

and so we get to hear the Judge’s story;

all the passion and conviction

that drives the justice handed down from the top desk

is revealed.

Tragedy makes great drama.

This is why the Jesus Christ Superstar movie

ends with the crucifixion.

 

But it doesn’t end there.

There’s a post-script;

a simple, sober prophetic word,

for Israel, the runaway bride,

and for the nations;

the hyenas and the vultures;

for us.

 

14 Thus says the Lord concerning all my evil neighbours

 who touch the heritage

that I have given my people Israel to inherit:

I am about to pluck them up from their land,

and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them.

15 And after I have plucked them up,

I will again have compassion on them,

and I will bring them again to their heritage and to their land,

everyone of them.

16 And then, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people,

to swear by my name, “As the Lord lives,”

as they taught my people to swear by Baal,

then they shall be built up in the midst of my people.

17 But if any nation will not listen,

then I will completely uproot it and destroy it, says the Lord.

 

A word of warning;

A word of destruction and uprooting,

But also a word of promise

A hope of being transplanted in the future,

not just for the people of Judah

but also for the surrounding nations,

transplanted back into the centre of the inheritance of God.

 

This is the strangest part of the whole episode.

We’re well away from the courtroom now.

Justice is no longer the main event –

Justice is overtaken by mercy – but Justice comes first…

 

14 Thus says the Lord concerning all my evil neighbours

 who touch the heritage

that I have given my people Israel to inherit:

I am about to pluck them up from their land,

and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them.

 

This word of prophecy is addressed first of all to the neighbours of Israel,

the vultures and hyenas gathered to devour her.

Jeremiah is mostly focused on Israel,

on the sins of the people of Judah and Jerusalem,

and so here,

even as he says that the neighbours are going to be plucked up

he includes Judah in that plucking up. 

But then God’s word turns from pronouncing doom, to promising a future:

15 And after I have plucked them up,

I will again have compassion on them,

and I will bring them again to their heritage and to their land,

everyone of them.

16 And then, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people,

to swear by my name, “As the Lord lives,”

as they taught my people to swear by Baal,

then they shall be built up in the midst of my people.

 

From the midst of his pain God sees hope for us.

As overwhelming as sorrow and grief are,

and terrible as the consequences of Israel’s apostasy are,

yet there is hope.

Hope for Israel

in this promise to the nations.

God promises the nations

that they will be able to find in Israel

an inheritance.

That they will learn from Israel to swear by the living Lord;

a reversal of the way in which the nations made Israel

to swear by Baal.

Then, after being plucked up

the nations shall be built up

in the midst of God’s people. 

 

There is that final word of warning:

17 But if any nation will not listen,

then I will completely uproot it and destroy it, says the Lord.

 

God’s word is provisional:

It is an “if – then” warning:

if any nation will not listen,

then I will completely uproot it and destroy it, says the Lord.

 

And the same for the promise:

“if they will diligently learn the ways of my people,

to swear by my name,

then they shall be built up in the midst of my people.”

So what happened to this promise?

God kept his word.

 

He did pluck up Judah

and his people were exiled to Babylon

and then,

within the century

Babylon was plucked up by Assyria;

those who ploughed up the inheritance of God

themselves felt the sharp edge of the plough. 

 

The judgement was fulfilled,

But what about the promise?

 

500 years later, 2000 years ago in Israel,

the nations began to praise God in all the languages of the world in Jerusalem

as God poured out his Holy Spirit as an inheritance on all flesh.

God is building a temple in Zion

and that temple is his church

and the cornerstone is Jesus Christ.

All can have access to that temple

and none are kept out.

God’s word to us is mercy and promise.

All judgement has been executed

on the body of God on the cross.

All God’s pain and sorrow

has been taken up in the joyful resurrection of Jesus

and the beginning of the renewed kingdom of God.

 

The sentence has been passed and we are guilty of our sins

but God has taken us beyond judgement

and into his mighty mercy in Jesus Christ. 

If you want his mercy for today,

if you want God’s yes and Amen

then call out to the Lord for your healing.

There is an “If” before the “Then”

Do you want to be built into the new temple of the Lord?

Then learn his ways

and live by his name

and let him pluck you from destruction

and plant you anew in the midst of his people,

to grow and bear fruit for him

in eternity, in Christ Jesus. 



[1]The New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.