When I was in my early 20's, I knew a couple that had been dating for several years. From all outside appearances, it seemed that their relationship was healthy and strong. They spent time together. They enjoyed each others personalities. Their spiritual beliefs seemed to mesh. Everything looked fine. Then, seemingly out of the blue, the woman left her boyfriend for another man. On top of that, she abruptly married the other man which puzzled us all.
At the time this was taking place, my wife and I were dating and getting near to the day when we were planning on marrying. I couldn't help but wonder how I would react if something so unexpected and painful happened to me.
Fast forward a few months, and we learned that the woman ended her abruptly established marriage. We were told that the man she married was abusive and engaged in additional forms of sin. Not long after that, we learned that her previous boyfriend had accepted her repentance, and taken her back. Again, I couldn't help but wonder what I would have done in a situation like that. I also found it difficult not to feel slightly judgmental at how flighty and foolish that woman was starting to seem to me.
Multiple times in Scripture, the Lord refers to his children as being his bride. The people of Israel and Judah are spoken of this way. Likewise, those who trust in Jesus Christ and are part of His church are spoken of as His bride. Historically, the people the Lord has called His own have struggled to remain faithful to Him. We've wandered from Him like a faithless spouse. We've been flighty and foolish. Yet amazingly, God still wants us back. This portion of Scripture illustrates some very interesting things about God's loving heart toward His bride.
1. Spiritual unfaithfulness is genuinely tempting
When I was younger, I used to think grief might be the greatest form of pain. In time, however, I have come to appreciate the painful nature of betrayal as well. There are few things in this world that hurt as much as being left or abandoned by someone you once trusted.
The Lord is not an emotionless robot. Because His love for His family is genuine, He has also opened Himself up to be hurt by the betrayal or unfaithfulness of His bride. This portion of Scripture describes what that looks like in vivid language. We're told here that Israel and Judah were faithless, adulterous, and practiced whoredom. The passage states that they committed adultery on every high hill, under every green tree. We're told they committed their sin with both stone and tree. What do these verses mean?
In both the historical and prophetic portions of the Old Testament, we're told about some of the spiritual struggles of Israel and Judah. They felt inferior to the nations that surrounded them, and even though they were warned not to, they adopted many of the pagan practices of their unbelieving neighbors. One of those practices was the worship of idols. That's what the Lord is speaking of here when He states that they committed adultery with stone and tree. He's speaking of spiritual adultery or spiritual unfaithfulness. He's talking about cheating on him with idols made of stone and wood.
Throughout the land, the people would set up shrines for idol worship that were often referred to as "high places." They exchanged the worship of the true and living God, for the worship of objects made by craftsmen. They also adopted the pagan practice of sacrificing their children to these idols, in the hopes that false gods would bless them materially.
The image we're given of the nature of the spiritual unfaithfulness that was practiced by these people can sometimes seem irrelevant to us because most of us can't imagine worshipping an object fashioned by a craftsman or sacrificing our children, but the truth is, we are tempted every single day to do the same exact thing, just with a new twist to it.
What are you currently convinced has the capacity to make your life the best it can be? Is there something in the material world that you're willing to sacrifice the majority of your time, health, and resources to obtain more of because you crave it like oxygen? How does our craving for the things of this world impact our children? Do we sacrifice time with them, or their well being, in order to obtain the idols we're convinced will satisfy us? How often do we hear of children being abandoned in hot cars while their parents gamble in casinos? How many abortions are performed in this country because of the fear that raising a child might negatively impact someone's lifestyle?
Spiritual unfaithfulness is genuinely tempting, not only for people living in ancient times, but for every single person living on the face of this earth today.
2. The Lord mercifully invites us to return to Him
Reconciliation is a biblical concept that's beautiful when it's practiced, but often, pride or a lack of repentance, gets in the way of it being facilitated. In my extended family, I know of two siblings who stopped talking to each other years ago, and as of yet, they show no signs of mending their relationship. When I was a child, I knew of three adult siblings that grew up on our street, who stopped talking to each other for years over some very trivial matters.
To reconcile means to take something that's far away and bring it near. We sometimes use that term when we're talking about things like financial statements in the sense of "reconciling the books", but the deepest form of reconciliation that's spoken of in the Word of God is the reconciliation that takes place between God and man.
This passage displays the Lord's deep desire to reconcile. He looks at faithless Israel and invites them to return to Him. He invites them to acknowledge their guilt, embrace His mercy, and exchange their heart of rebellion for a heart of faith.
The merciful, reconciling heart of God has been extended to us as well.
Through Christ, we're reconciled to God and we're entrusted with the privilege to share the message of reconciliation to God through faith in Christ, with anyone who is willing to listen. Our sin was placed upon Christ. He bore it at the cross, cleansed us of it, made us righteous in His sight, and restored our relationship with God. This is the work He accomplishes in every person who repents of their rebellious unbelief, and trusts in Him.
3. His children won't be stubborn forever
Last week, my daughter asked me if I had any pictures of myself from when I was in Kindergarten. I looked through some photo albums and came across a picture of me standing with my teacher. I noticed something in that picture that I pointed out to her. I was wearing a plaid suit coat. According to my mother, when it was time for me to get a suit, she took me to Sears to pick one out. Once I saw that plaid suit coat, I was sold. She tried to convince me to choose something else, but I was stubborn and wouldn't leave without it. I told her that it had to be that coat or nothing because I wanted to look like one of the Oak Ridge Boys (a popular country music group at the time).
By nature, we can all be stubborn people, but God's children won't be stubborn forever. Your kids might be stubborn now, your spouse might be stubborn now, and your parents might be stubborn now, but if we know Christ, we won't remain that way forever.
This Scripture gives us a glimpse of the future that's also spoken of in other sections of the Bible. It speaks of the time when Christ will return to this earth and visibly reign from Jerusalem. The family of God will be continually fed well and led well during that time. During the time when this Scripture was being written, the ark of the covenant was the symbol of God's presence with His people, but during the time of Christ's earthly reign, it won't be necessary because Jesus, the Son of God that the symbol of the ark was pointing toward, will be visibly present.
When Christ reigns, this earth will finally be at peace and His family will no longer stubbornly follow the inclinations of their evil hearts. The Lord's law will be written on our hearts and we will trust Him and follow Him joyfully. For those who are in Christ, this is the kind of glorious future that awaits us.
But at the time Jeremiah was writing these things, this all seemed distant and remote to many of the people who heard his message. The people Jeremiah preached to rejected his teaching and rejected God's offer. But even when people are faithless, God remains faithful, and amazingly, He still wants us back. As men and women who have been reconciled to Him through Jesus, He invites us to live out and proclaim the joys of reconciliation.
When I was in my late teens, I made a mistake that has continued to bother me ever since. I was a camp counselor at the time and was playing a game of softball with the other staff members as well as the campers. It was a hot day and a part of the Summer where we were all starting to grow particularly tired. Unfortunately, in that context, I snapped and said something I regret to a younger staff member.
There was a brand new guy on the kitchen staff who was much younger than the rest of us. He was also exhausted and was standing in the outfield near me. While we stood there, he started to complain. I remember him saying something like, "I don't even want to play this game. I just want to go home."
I wasn't feeling very compassionate at the moment and didn't want to hear him complain, so I snapped at him and said, "You should do that. Just go home!" He looked at me surprised, then the next day that's exactly what he did. He went home. I never saw him at the camp ever again.
A few years ago I told that story when I was speaking at Cairn University. After I spoke, a fellow professor stopped to chat with me and he encouraged me to try to reach out to that guy. The Internet has made it rather easy to locate people, so I tried to find the guy online later that day. I found him and took the time to type out my apology to him. Then I waited for him to respond, and I didn't hear anything.
That was a couple years ago, and just the other night I got a reply from him. He finally saw the message I sent and told me that he remembered the event as well, but he didn't hold any blame against me for what I said. In his mind, everything that took place came back to the fact that he was being immature and overly competitive in the game. He forgave me and insisted that the blame for the event was all his. I disagree because I don't think I handled things the right way during that game, but I will tell you this..... after nearly 25 years of feeling guilty about what I said, it feels good to experience genuine reconciliation with this man.
And yet, that's nothing compared to the reconciliation God has offered us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Don't spend however many decades He grants you living in stubbornness toward Him. Be reconciled to Him through Christ, and share the joys of reconciliation with as many people as He blesses you with the opportunity to do so.
© John Stange, 2018