You might be a skeptic if...

Are there people you have to interact with regularly that you don't really trust? I have an acquaintance that I have to interact with periodically throughout the year, and the longer I have known him, the less I feel I can believe what he says. I'll think he's speaking plainly with me, then discover that what he said is the opposite of what is true. It's hard to function or work with someone like that. In fact, I consider it nearly impossible.

Generally speaking, do you tend to believe others when they tell you something or do you take what they say under consideration until you have the opportunity to do a little research yourself? What about the Lord? When He speaks, are you primarily skeptical or are you trusting of what He says? To what degree do you value what He has made known in His word?

In the portion of Scripture we're looking at today, we'll be shown various signs of unhealthy skepticism and how God chooses to ultimately address the fruit of this form of unbelief.


I. Truth is treated like a lie

When Jeremiah finished speaking to all the people all these words of the Lord their God, with which the Lord their God had sent him to them, Azariah the son of Hoshaiah and Johanan the son of Kareah and all the insolent men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.”
— Jeremiah 43:1-3, ESV

During the era in which the events of this passage were taking place, the nation of Babylon was in the process of invading Judah and taking the people captive. The people were trying to figure out what to do, and the Lord revealed through Jeremiah that they were to cooperate with this captivity. A remnant of the people remained in Judah and they were scared. They wondered what they were supposed to do next. Should they stay where they were, or should they try to flee to Egypt where, hopefully, the king of Babylon wouldn't find them or pursue them? Jeremiah was asked by these people to pray to the Lord and seek direction in this matter.

Jeremiah prayed on behalf of this group of people for ten days and then gave them the answer that the Lord revealed. The Lord's instruction was for them to remain in Judah and not flee to Egypt. He promised to protect them and even indicated that He would cause the king of Babylon to be favorably disposed toward them and show them mercy. But how did this remnant of people respond? Even though they had initially promised that they would follow whatever counsel the Lord revealed through Jeremiah, they did the opposite. They didn't like what Jeremiah said because it conflicted with what they already wanted to do. So they called him a liar and rejected the message the Lord revealed through him.

Is this anything new among humanity? Isn't this something we've seen at times in our own lives and in the lives of those around us? When the Lord makes His truth known to us, particularly through His word, what is our natural response to that truth? Naturally speaking, we're inclined to treat it like its true when it meshes with what we wanted to do anyway, and treat it like its a lie when the Lord's words conflict with what we wanted to hear.

Anecdotally, I have seen this take place in many respects. I remember a conversation I had with a friend several decades ago. He was dating a woman that he intended to marry and he told me that even though he knew he should wait to be intimate with her after they married, he felt like it was no big deal to take their relationship in that direction early because they were going to get married anyway. Not surprisingly, they didn't get married, and there were multiple unfortunate consequences that came from his decision to treat the truth of the standard God has set like it was a lie.

But lest I point the finger at others, I have to confess that there are plenty of examples in my own life where I have also treated God's revealed truth like it was a lie, in the sense that I went and did my own thing in the face of what He had clearly revealed. It's one of our greatest struggles as people. It's one of our greatest struggles as believers in Jesus Christ.

Thankfully, our Lord is patient and merciful toward us. His kindness toward His rebellious children invites us to repent.

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
— Romans 2:4, ESV

And as our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ develops and grows, He causes us to mature and begin responding to what He has revealed more seriously because we begin to see His truth as a reflection of His heart.


II. The voice of God is ignored

So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces and all the people did not obey the voice of the Lord, to remain in the land of Judah. But Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces took all the remnant of Judah who had returned to live in the land of Judah from all the nations to which they had been driven— the men, the women, the children, the princesses, and every person whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan; also Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch the son of Neriah. And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord. And they arrived at Tahpanhes.
— Jeremiah 43:4-7, ESV

One of the elders in our church took a drive with me recently to visit and advise another congregation. On the way, we were talking about how we felt about the experience of teaching our children to drive. I mentioned to him that one of the ground rules I set up for my kids was to respond immediately if I yelled something. I cautioned them not to get upset if I raised my voice because it wasn't an indication that I was mad. It was an attempt to quickly get their attention, invite them to listen, and caution them about an area of danger that I may be noticing before they did.

In multiple ways throughout Scripture, God illustrates the fact that He relates to us like a loving Father. Because He loves us, and because He knows that we can't see the kind of things He can see, He makes a point to warn us of what's coming. In the context of this passage, the Lord gave sufficient caution to the people and leaders of Judah of what they could expect to happen if they elevated their own ideas over His wisdom, but they didn't listen to His voice. God told them not to go to Egypt, but that's precisely where they went. Johanan and the commanders of the forces led the people to Egypt, and they kidnapped Jeremiah and Baruch - forcing them to come as well. Baruch, by the way, was Jeremiah's friend and scribe, and one of only a couple people that the book of Jeremiah describes as listening to Jeremiah's teaching.

It's a dangerous thing to ignore the voice of God, and we've all done it. We've all played the part of the skeptic. We've all tried to drown out the voice of God so that it falls into the background and gets replaced with our own voice or the voices of our heroes that we sometimes prefer to listen to.

But God wants us to listen to His voice, and not harden our hearts against Him.

For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
— Hebrews 3:14-15, ESV


How then does God often speak to us? The Lord speaks to us through the Bible which He revealed to us as the Holy Spirit gave the biblical writers the words to write down.

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
— 2 Peter 1:21, ESV

He has spoken to us through various prophets, and the words of a biblical prophet will never contradict the teaching of Scripture. He has spoken to us through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 
— Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV

He also speaks to us through various people He places in our lives, through circumstances He orchestrates on our behalf, and through the Holy Spirit who convicts our conscience.

We, as children of God, are presented with the same options that our children are presented with. Just as our children can choose to receive or reject our counsel, we can choose to receive or reject the counsel of God. We can respond when He gets our attention, or we can pretend we didn't hear Him. We can make the extra effort to read the words He has revealed in Scripture through His prophets, or we can waste more time watching TV and surfing the Internet. We can say "yes" to Him or we can say "no" to Him, but just imagine all the needless sorrow we'll experience if our default response to the voice of God remains a hard-hearted "No!"


III. God has to prove the accuracy of His word to you the hard way

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes: “Take in your hands large stones and hide them in the mortar in the pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. He shall come and strike the land of Egypt, giving over to the pestilence those who are doomed to the pestilence, to captivity those who are doomed to captivity, and to the sword those who are doomed to the sword. I shall kindle a fire in the temples of the gods of Egypt, and he shall burn them and carry them away captive. And he shall clean the land of Egypt as a shepherd cleans his cloak of vermin, and he shall go away from there in peace. He shall break the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt, and the temples of the gods of Egypt he shall burn with fire.’”
— Jeremiah 43:8-13, ESV

There is no lasting joy in approaching life as a continual skeptic toward the Lord. And if that's the posture we select, we'll eventually experience the day when He proves the accuracy of His word to us the hard way. When Jeremiah and the others arrived in Egypt, the Lord told him to do something visible and symbolic for the skeptics to observe. He was told to hide large stones in the mortar of the pavement at the entrance of Pharaoh's palace while the men of Judah were looking. Then the Lord instructed Jeremiah to tell them that the day would come when Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon whom they were attempting to flee, would strike the land of Egypt and set his throne above these very stones. In other words, these skeptics were about to learn not to ignore the word of the Lord the hard way.

I am guilty of choosing the hard way over the easy way of trusting what God has said, more times than I wish to count. And I realize I'm not alone in that battle. Ignoring God's voice and rejecting the truth of His word feeds our struggle with the presence of persistent sin in our lives. If you're currently wrestling with an area of temptation in your life or rebellion against God that seems to be an ongoing struggle, I want to share something that I read recently that I consider to be particularly insightful and helpful as we seek to grow mature in our walk with Christ, and learn to practice the grace of biblical repentance from our unbelief.

“We can be in the habit of going through the motions when it comes to repenting, but...the most important thing is the condition of our heart. Does your repentance look like a heart that has been rent like a garment, broken and contrite as it beats before God? This attitude is missing from most repentance, and it’s the very thing God is trying to teach us!

”We must also be aware of one of the biggest hindrances to obtaining a broken heart: our neglect of the relational aspect of sinning. By this, I mean that we can view sin as a failure of performance rather than a failure of intimacy.”
— Matt Erbaugh

The Lord has created us to experience the joy of a genuine relationship with Him. Through faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, that becomes possible. By nature, I'm a skeptic and you're a skeptic, but what more could God show us or do for us to convince us that there's greater joy in walking with Him than walking away from Him?

Right now, can you identify anything that might be getting in the way of you experiencing a deeper walk with the Lord? Is it possible that our major struggle is our hesitance to listen for and respond to His voice just like the skeptics we see in this portion of Scripture?

© John Stange, 2018