Thursday, October 02, 2008

Jeremiah 44

Jeremiah 44 contains an interesting exchange between the prophet and some exiles from the land of Judah. The exchange happened after the hammer had dropped - God had finally brought upon the people of Judah the judgment against which He had warned them for so long. The Babylonians had devastated the land, destroyed the Temple, and killed or taken into slavery almost all of the people. Only a few destitute remained, and they are at a loss what to do. They went to Jeremiah to ask him what the Lord said (Ch 42), and the response was to stay in the land, submit to Babylonian rule, and wait. But this wasn't what they want to hear (Ch 43), so they decide to take shelter under the wing of the other major military and political power of the day. They decamp to Egypt, kidnapping Jeremiah and Baruch in the process.

Once down in Egypt, the rebellious Judahites resume the very practice that got them in such trouble: idolatry. Possibly in honor of the annual festival of the Phoenician goddess Astarte, the exiled women start sacrificing to "The Queen of Heaven". You can imagine Jeremiah pulling his hair out as he runs about in a panic (v.1-14), essentially saying "What do you think you're doing!? These practices are the very things that got you in this fix! How can you possibly resume them?"

The response of the women is instructive. It boils down to, "We used to do this back in Jerusalem, and we had plenty to eat and drink then, and lived in security. It's only been since we stopped sacrificing to Astarte that these catastrophes came upon us, so we're going to do it." (They're very careful to state that "everyone was doing it" (v 17), and anyway, their husbands knew what they were doing and approved (v 19) - one gets the impression that they doth protest too much.)

This is the critical point: they got everything "bass ackwards" (as we used to say in the service). Though the prophets had repeatedly warned them that idolatry would result in destruction, they had their mental earplugs in. They didn't want to hear all that depressing talk of death and destruction! Even after the judgment took place, the habit of not listening was too strong. They attributed Divine instructions to human motives (43:1-4) and drew the entirely wrong conclusion from what had befallen them (44:18). Needless to say, their deliberate deafness and faulty logic did not avail them in the end: the Babylonians eventually conquered Egypt, too.

I was reminded of this incident when reading our local newspaper, which came out today with an editorial supporting a ballot proposal here in Michigan. For 30 years we've had a law forbidding the use of embryos, fetuses, and prematurely born babies for destructive medical experimentation. This ballot proposal which the newspaper supports would lift that law, making it legal to destroy little humans to use their tissue for experimentation.

One of the justifications being offered for this is the economic benefits. Michigan is in dire straits thanks to our economic over dependence on the auto industry, and people are grasping for alternatives. The glittering illusion of advanced biotech has everyone salivating, and to many it seems that the only obstacle is this pesky law.

What's the connection between this and Jeremiah 44? Consider this: since the late 1960s, when people started agitating to overturn laws banning abortion in America, over 50 million children have died under the abortionist's knife. All that time we've had God's name on our money and enjoyed the largest, most prosperous economy on the face of the earth.

But God's wrath cannot sleep forever, and one of the first ways He starts getting people's attention is what I call "lifestyle afflictions". In the Old Testament it might be things like droughts or raiders. These days it might be things like unemployment or shaky financial markets. Point being that when people in their easy, comfortable lives get complacent and sinful, God has ways of removing their ease and comfort in order to get their attention.

People can respond to these methods in many ways. If they're wise and listen to God's word, they'll turn from their sin and come back to God. If they're dense and stubborn, they might not make the connection between what they're doing and what they're suffering. But if they're blind and rebellious, they might do what the wicked Judahites did in Egypt: draw the totally opposite conclusion and decide that what they need to do to solve their problems is sin some more.

This is my concern for my state. I'm not trying to say that our current afflictions are necessarily some kind of message from God (though it wouldn't surprise me if they were). I am trying to say that if we think writing murder into our laws will solve our problems, then we're being as foolish as the rebellious Judahites of Jeremiah 44.

And look what happened to them.

1 comment:

Joseph Ravitts said...

I thought that the Queen of Heaven incident happened BEFORE "the hammer dropped;" but otherwise, I applaud your article unreservedly. Compare King Ahaz, praying to the gods of his own enemies and only making things worse.