We can learn a great deal from the prophets' descriptions of conditions in Israel in the years just before God scattered them. Jeremiah 7 contains an especially vivid description, describing attitudes and conduct just before Babylon's invasion of Judah. Anybody who cares and diligently searches for the causes of our present scattered condition can easily find many of them.
Verse 4 reveals a casual, self-righteous, and presumptuous self-confidence that, since they were fellowshipping with the "church," everything would be fine! Nevertheless, the enemy conquered Judah and took the people into captivity, so membership in the church is no guarantee that judgment will not come on us individually or collectively. Jeremiah expresses the Jews' prideful assumption of being above correction, an attitude that has its basis in a confused understanding of God's love and the purity of His holiness.
We must be prepared for God's Kingdom. The attitudes and conduct of these people, expressed here but applied to us now, show that we were not living up to God's expectations. We can learn, though, that fellowshipping with the church without the right attitudes and conduct can easily foster a delusion that all is well, while by God's judgment all clearly is not well! Verses 5-6 illustrate that their judgment of how to apply God's Word in their lives was severely compromised. They definitely did not love their neighbor as themselves; they were unmistakably self-centered. Is there more evidence here that we may have been the same?
Verse 10 expresses the extent this delusion had permeated their lives. By ignoring God's moral and ethical demands, they were in effect telling God that attending services released them from the guilt accrued during the rest of their lives. It was as if God's judgments did not apply to them. They were after all "in the church," right? It reads almost as if they felt they were doing God a favor by showing up! What is more, while there, they heard insipid messages telling them, "Peace, peace. Everything is okay. God's grace covers all."
Though ceremonially going through the motions, they lacked thorough dedication and devotion to God's way in every aspect of life. Beginning in verse 12, God reminds them that they should remember the history of former generations and take warning because they are on track to experience the same calamities. Have we in our time repeated their assumptions that everything is fine when it is not? It seems so, since the Laodicean assumes he is rich and increased with goods and needs nothing. The reality is that he is blind to his true condition and not clothed with God's righteousness.
God has called us into a courtship relationship leading to marriage with Jesus Christ. He makes clear what He expects from us as our part in this relationship. Jesus says to His disciples, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). A love relationship requires each to sacrifice thoughtfully for the other. Keeping of the commandments does not "save" us, but it prepares us to live eternally with Him and shows our attitude of submission to Him.
Jeremiah 7:5-9 plainly portrays precious little concern for fellow man. In fact, most of the sins Jeremiah directly mentions are transgressions of the last five commandments. Only one sin, idolatry, focuses directly on the first four commandments. This suggests that a breakdown in human relationships quickly followed the disintegration of the relationship between God and Israel. Similarly, I John 4:20-21 calls upon those who say they love God and claim to be Christians to love the brethren. John goes so far as to say that, if we do not love the brethren, our claim to love God is a lie! This is another area in which many fell short, and it led to division, which continues to the present.
This indicates that self-absorbed people indulged themselves at others' expense. Self-absorption produces strained marital relationships (and ultimately divorce) and alienated children as they and their parents go in wildly different directions. Within congregations, it yields shallow and casual relationships that show little true concern. Its fruit are intolerance, impatience, strong opinions about trivial things, offense, harsh judging, and division.
It produces busy people who feel as if they are accomplishing a great deal because they seem to get many things done. The church member may even prosper more than at any other time in his life. However, the busy-ness is spent on things of minor spiritual importance. Meanwhile, the relationship with God, while existent, is allowed to be neglected. That is what Laodiceanism is. People bring it in from the world where God is a figurehead but with whom there is no relationship. It is a deceitful fruit of too much time, attention, and energy focused on the wrong things. Laodiceanism is deceitful because the Bible reveals that the person afflicted with it is unaware that he has it. He is blind to it, but God certainly is not because He is being neglected in this relationship. How can He possibly marry someone who will not draw close to Him because of involvement in so many other things?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Seven)
So reliant were king and people on the past that they had forgotten to plug God into their present. They refused to live His way of life. Thus God called for a change in attitude and behavior.
The moral and social depravity of king and people had reached a crucial state that could only become an inevitable tipping point, or to change the metaphor, a decided critical mass that begged God's prompt attention. The iniquity of the Amorites, so to speak, was full. Through a number of prophets, God warned of the consequences of this widespread turpitude. Consider Jeremiah 17:27, only one of many examples:
But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath day, such as not carrying a burden when entering the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.
God meant business. The king and all his men would be unable to douse the fires of Jerusalem. The cultural artifacts they so dearly prized would go up in smoke.
In figurative language, God issued a like warning through His prophet, Isaiah. As recorded in Isaiah 5, God likens His people to a vineyard that He has painstakingly cultivated. The fruit was not what He expected, however:
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
What more could have been done to My vineyard
That I have not done in it?
Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,
Did it bring forth wild grapes?
And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard:
I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned;
And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will lay it waste;
It shall not be pruned or dug,
But there shall come up briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds
That they rain no rain on it.”
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.
The metaphor is informed by the thoroughness implied by the act of digging up a plant. God is not just clipping or trimming or pruning. He is digging up, root and branch, stock and foliage. Everything is gone. A number of other passages convey this idea of uprooting. Consider Psalm 80:8-16, where Asaph asserts that God uprooted Israel from Egypt and planted it in the Promised Land. As another example, consider God's commission to a young Jeremiah, as recorded in Jeremiah 1:10:
See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To root out and to pull down,
To destroy and to throw down,
To build and to plant.
Yet another use of the same metaphor appears in Jeremiah 18:7-10:
The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.
As a final example, consider Jeremiah 31:28, a more positive passage: “And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the LORD.”
There is, as God inspired Solomon to write, “a time to plant and a time to uproot” (Ecclesiastes 3:2, Complete Jewish Bible). The time for planting was past, and the time for “digging and dunging” (see Luke 13:8) was over as well. It was now time for God to do some serious uprooting, and to do so on a vast scale. Indeed, far more than “the house of Israel and the men of Judah” awaited the shovel. God sent Jeremiah to the kings of the earth, giving them a cup, telling them to drink of it. Jeremiah 25:27-29 tells the story:
“Drink, be drunk, and vomit! Fall and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you.” And it shall be, if they refuse to take the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'You shall certainly drink! For behold, I begin to bring calamity on the city which is called by My name, and should you be utterly unpunished? You shall not be unpunished, for I will call for a sword on all the inhabitants of the earth."
In verses 31-32, God emphasizes the depth and the breadth of His imminent digging project:
“A noise will come to the ends of the earth—
For the LORD has a controversy with the nations;
He will plead His case with all flesh.
He will give those who are wicked to the sword,” says the LORD. . . .
“Behold, disaster shall go forth
From nation to nation,
And a great whirlwind shall be raised up
From the farthest parts of the earth.
The historical fact of the matter is this: In the days before Jeremiah, God had uprooted ten-tribed Israel and later, Assyria. Now, He was in the proximate act of uprooting Judah. He would later uproot Babylon, Egypt, Persia. In this general timeframe, what some today call the Axial Period, God also rooted out empires in the Indus Valley and in the Far East. The scope of God's actions, as Jeremiah states, were gigantic, their impact on history—and on people—monumental.
Baruch's Complaint (Part One)
These people had put their trust that they would be safe in the principle that they were "in the church." The Temple was right there; they could look at it. Since God dwelt there, they were close to God, they thought. But why does God mention these sins? Because they were guilty.
In the same manner, many in the church have unwittingly put their trust in the fact that they have God's Spirit—that He dwells in them—therefore no terrible thing could possibly befall them. However, this overlooks the fact that God's Spirit does not force us to make right choices. It leads, it guides, but it does not force. It does not make us obey. That is our choice.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part 2)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Jeremiah 7:5: