The end has come. Jerusalem is about to go down in flames. Babylon has already deported or killed thousands of Israelites. Israel, the nation of David and Solomon, is now a laughingstock. Jeremiah is the preacher of God’s word during this time of terror and fear. Gedaliah, the governor the Babylonians installed, has been assassinated by Ishmael the son Nethaniah (II Kings 25:22-26). The people in Israel are afraid that Babylon will now bring more vengeance upon them because of the killing of Gedaliah.
At this point in Israel’s history a group, led by Johanan the son of Kareah, approach Jeremiah the prophet. They wanted Jeremiah to ask the Lord if they should stay in Israel or go down to Egypt (Jeremiah 41:17, 42:1-6). They swear in Jeremiah 42:6 that whatever the answer is they will obey. So Jeremiah prays for ten days (Jer. 42:7) and comes back with the answer. They should stay in Israel. If they leave the Lord will follow them and bring with Him the sword, famine and pestilence (Jeremiah 42:17).
They reject Jeremiah’s answer. They hoped Jeremiah would sign off on what they had already decided to do, but he didn’t. God sent back the wrong answer. In Jeremiah 43:2-3 they accuse Jeremiah of wanting them to stay in Israel so they might be captured by the Babylonians. They wanted to look holy. They went to the prophet with sincerity. “Please let us know the will of God. We will go wherever He commands and do whatever he asks.” Yet, they were lying. They went down to Egypt anyway. They made the choice to go to Egypt because in Egypt “we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there.” In other words, they went to Egypt because they thought things would be easier there. God swore he would destroy them for this choice (Jeremiah 44 & 46) and he did.
First, you must enter corporate worship ready to hear God’s word to you.
Our desire to look holy, but not actually be holy is stronger than we imagine. We often attend worship and preaching not so God will rebuke us, drive us to repentance, and change us but so he will sign off on our lifestyle. We sit in the pews hoping God will confirm all of our beliefs and justify all our actions. We don’t want the pastor to rebuke us. We want him to stroke us. Ask yourself, “Do I appreciate a pastor who gets under my skin?” Or “Do I appreciate a pastor who rebukes others, but lets me alone?” If it is the latter, then repentance is in order.
Second, you should privately read God’s Word with an eye to how the Lord wants to change you. Often we read God’s Word in order to change others. Are you reading it for your neighbor, for your child, for your spouse, for your community? If so, then your attitude is the same as the Israelites who came to Jeremiah. God’s Word is there first for your sanctification. It is there to tell you go this way. Don’t go that way. If you view God’s Word as a tool to change others instead of God’s scalpel in your own life then repentance is in order.
Third, are you ready for God’s answers to your prayers? Some prayers we know he answers a certain way. When we confess our sins, he will forgive us. When we pray for sanctification, he will answer. But many of our prayers, we do not know how he will answer them. When we pray for a spouse or for a job or for healing or for the salvation of friend, we are not sure how God will answer. Do we pray, “Not my will, but your will be done?” Or do we pray as these people did, “My will be done or else?”
Finally, we refuse to hear God’s Word because often obedience is hard. Johanan and his people wanted the ease and comfort of Egypt. And so do we. Like Israel in her desire to return to Egypt instead of press on to the Promise Land (Exodus 17:3), like the soil with roots that cannot endure persecution (Matthew 13:21), and like Demas who loved this world (II Timothy 4:10), we often choose the comfort of disobedience over the hardship of obedience. But as this story suggests that is an illusion. Disobeying the Lord always ends in destruction.