Connections 09.15.2019: Don’t Be Foolish

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 19-28

Whenever I see a news story about a complicated cybercrime or some other elaborate scheme, I think, “If those people would use their ingenuity and creativity for good, they could help make this a better world.”

Such criminals are smart. They have skills. But they use their intelligence and training to hurt rather than to help. They make people’s lives worse rather than better. Selfishness rather than service motivates them.

We might say the same kinds of things about the people of Jeremiah’s day. God says of them, “My people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good” (v. 22).

The people God addresses through Jeremiah have knowledge and skill, but they use them for evil rather than for good.

They are foolish, stupid, and without understanding when it comes to God’s ways. They don’t know God’s ways because they fail to maintain a sound relationship with God. They don’t know God’s ways because they don’t know God.

The saddest part of the situation is that God is right there, wanting to be known. The people have had every opportunity to be close to God and to grow closer to God. They’ve chosen to go their own ways. They’ve missed a wonderful opportunity. They’ve misused their gifts and abilities.

Because of Jesus, we know even more about how closely God wants to relate to us than Jeremiah’s audience did. We have the Gospels to tell us what we most need to know about what Jesus did and said. We have the death and resurrection of Jesus to show us how much God loves us and wants to relate to us. We have the life of Jesus to show us what it means to live a life that pleases God.

What an opportunity we miss if we fail to learn from Jesus.

Let’s not be foolish and miss it. Let’s be wise and take advantage of it.

Just think of the good we can do if we will follow Jesus’ example of pursuing humility rather than pride, service rather than selfishness, and acceptance rather than rejection.

Discussion

  1. How can we think and talk about what it means to face God’s judgment?
  2. What should we say and do when we see that God’s people are consistently living in ways the violate God’s ways that we see in Jesus? Do Jeremiah’s words provide an example to us? Why or why not?
  3. God has not yet made “a full end” (v. 27). What should we do with the opportunity God is still giving us?
  4. Read 1 Timothy 1:12-17 (one of the other lectionary text’s for this Sunday). What do these words teach us about God’s grace and mercy? What does Paul’s experience teach us about God’s willingness and ability to reverse a seemingly hopeless situation? Does this passage shed any helpful light on the lesson text?
  5. Jeremiah seems to channel God’s anguish over the state of the people. It seems that most of the people are so far gone spiritually and ethically that judgment is inevitable. Would God still be concerned if just a few, or just one, of the people were in such a state? Read Luke 15:1-10 (the Gospel text for this week) and ponder this question. What do you think?

Reference Shelf

The Anguish of Prophet and God

The suffering of prophet and God are so linked that it is difficult to sort out the speaker; no sharp distinction between God and prophet should be made. As if with one voice, prophet and God express their anguish over the suffering of the people. This anguish is felt both physically and emotionally; “anguish” is more literally a reference to a churning stomach. The anguish is both anticipatory of the judgment to come and of a judgment that has already occurred, given the language of vv. 23-26. Note the repeated emphasis upon looking (vv. 21, 23-26) and

hearing (vv. 19, 31). The devastation that fills the prophet’s senses is so thoroughgoing that

modern readers might think of a nuclear holocaust (vv. 20, 23-26). The vision speaks not only of personal tents and their curtains (= tent-flaps), but the whole land of Israel (v. 20); indeed the very cosmos itself is swept away by the whirlwind of God’s judgment. The sounds and sights of war fill the scene—trumpets, alarms, shouts, standards, the noise of horsemen and archers, the cries and anguish of suffering people.

This vision of the effects of war is so filled with terror that God and Jeremiah are wracked with pain over what has happened to people and land. The prophet is an enfleshment of the emotions of God over what has occurred and what may yet occur. It is common to interpret these verses in terms of the prophet’s representative suffering on behalf of Israel. But another approach seems preferable. Texts such as these (see also 8:19–9:3) should be interpreted in terms of the prophet’s embodiment of God’s anguish. The prophet suffers in his role as a servant of God. It is true that Jeremiah’s anguish parallels that of the people (see 4:31), but so does God’s.

Both God and prophet enter into the anguish of the people. In taking this approach to such texts, the prophet’s anguish becomes a word of God to the people (exilic readers) and not a word of the people to God. In hearing Jeremiah, the people should be able to see how God has entered into the anguish of the people’s situation and made it God’s very own.

Terence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), 103-05.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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