In the next two posts, I want to raise and answer the following questions: How should your knowledge of who God is and the way that He works reflect itself in the way you preach and minister the Gospel? [In addition, I’m hoping my comments will contribute to the ongoing discussion here and elsewhere about the use of the OT in the New, especially in part 2.]
Before answering that explicitly, I want to show you a negative example in the leadership of Jeremiah’s day. Throughout the book of Jeremiah, a picture is painted of a stubborn and rebellious nation made up of unfaithful and deceitful individuals. This poor spiritual condition extended from the least of them to the greatest. However, from the text we find that Jeremiah’s primary message was against those who were supposed to lead the people. From prophet to priest to king, the nation was corrupted:
“For both prophet and priest are polluted;
Even in My house I have found their wickedness,”
declares the Lord.
Thus says the Lord of hosts,
“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you.
They are leading you into futility;
They speak a vision of their own imagination,
Not from the mouth of the Lord.”
But your [i.e., the king’s] eyes and your heart
Are intent only upon your own dishonest gain,
And on shedding innocent blood
And on practicing oppression and extortion.
These types of quotes could continue, but suffice it to say, as a result of sorry leadership, the people continued in their sinful practices. Unfaithful leadership led to unfaithful people. This is particularly evident in chapters 7–9. There is something here for each one among the nation. Jeremiah paints a picture of the people of the nation as ignorant, presumptuous, and greedy … faithful to what they had been taught. These chapters lead up to these well-known verses in chapter 9:
23 Thus says, the Lord,
“Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and
let not the mighty man boast of his might,
let not a rich man boast of his riches;
24 but let him who boasts boast of this,
that he understands and knows Me,
that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth;
for I delight in these things,”
declares the Lord.
First, according to v. 23, the Lord warns the people that they have no reason for boasting in themselves.
Each of the warnings here parallel a significant problem within the nation, be it a problem with knowledge, presumed strength, or pursuit of riches.
1. They were ignorant of their God.
They failed to listen to true prophets (7:25–26) and therefore provoked the Lord with their idolatry (7:30–31; 8:19). They refused to know the Lord (8:7–9; 9:3, 6) and therefore forsook His instruction (9:12–14).
The people of Jeremiah’s day assumed they were wise, i.e. that they had and understood the truth. Yet, those among them who were supposed to be keepers and purveyors of the truth of God had distorted it, making it into a lie.
At the root of their problem lay this issue of wisdom. They had distorted the words of the Lord to such an extent that they had become wise in their own eyes and were relying upon the wisdom of a leadership that was not teaching the Lord’s Torah, His instruction, correctly. The issue in Jeremiah’s day was an issue with the spiritual leadership of the people. Thus, those who were to be shepherds of the people came under judgment from the Lord. Consider these words in Jer 23:1–2:
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: “You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds,” declares the Lord.
It comes as no surprise that a majority of the people gladly listened to the dainty words of the false prophets. After all, with those words came a sense of security and blessing and rest. Those were the things that the entire nation desired…rest and blessing in the land. And these were the very things that the false teachers promised.
Naturally, then, the people and the nation began to trust in their knowledge and power and wealth, things that they believed would bring them protection and security. Yet, the message of the false prophets was merely superficial.
2. They presumed upon the covenant.
The people of Jeremiah’s day assumed they were able in and of themselves to rule selfishly over others. Moreover, they wrongfully assumed that the temple automatically brought strength against their enemies.
They willingly trusted in the deceptive words of the false prophets (7:4, 8; 8:8–11) and therefore presumed upon the covenant (7:4, 8).
Moreover, the people of the nation had the audacity to assume that God would protect them no matter what they did. Since they were part of the covenant and since they were in the temple, they presumed upon that fact and lived their life inconsistently with Torah. That is, they oppressed others; they shed innocent blood; they went after other gods. And all of this occurred before the eyes of those who were supposed to know better. Even the priests and the prophets practiced deceit.
Ultimately, then, Jeremiah’s words to the “strong” were an open rebuke of their pseudo-strength and the pseudo-confidence it bred in the leadership and the people.
3. They greedily sought after dishonest gain.
Several verses in Jer 7–9 refer to the rich man (cf. 7:6, 11; 8:10). The people of Jeremiah’s day assumed that their riches would sustain them and that the acquisition of wealth could be done by any means. They wrongfully assumed that even in the temple they could seek wealth without consequence. As a result, they were consumed with worldly pursuits.
As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.
These three pictures of the people are the complete antithesis of those who truly know their God. As it was, Jeremiah never convinced them. Why? Because those who are wise in their own eyes, confident in their own strength (or in a false strength, an illusion of security), and consumed with worldly pursuits will never understand and know their God. For this reason, then, Jeremiah spoke the words of v. 24.
Lest they think that their status as the nation called by God would bring protection and security, Jeremiah warns them that there was no reason for them to find peace in their wisdom, might, or wealth. What is more, this principle applies on both a personal and national level.
Second, according to v. 24, the Lord instructs the people that the only basis for their boasting is in a proper understanding of their God.
Rather than finding glory in a presumptuous view of their own wisdom, strength, and wealth, the people were to find glory in one place—Yahweh. True boasting, the Lord says through Jeremiah, should only be found in one’s true knowledge of Him, for He is the one who acts with loyal love, who acts as a just judge, and who provides the standard of righteousness.
Moreover, true wisdom on the people’s part would demonstrate itself through the exercising of these things. But here’s the problem…
Mankind, left to his own devices, will never be able to face his Judge faithfully because mankind is not righteous. Mankind will never meet that standard. So what is man to do? Well, Jeremiah had the answer in Jeremiah 31. If man is to exercise lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness, he will need a new heart and a new mind.
Each of the three things in v. 23 is a barrier to true faith. Those who are wise according to the standards of the world refuse to hear the simplicity of God’s Word, for their wisdom has blinded them to the things of God. Those who presume to be wise based upon the teaching of liars also refuse to hear the truth of God, for their minds have been deceived. Those who are confident in their own strength refuse to abandon their own efforts to save themselves, for their earthly strength has made them calloused to the things of God. Those who are rich and consumed with worldly pursuits refuse to leave the security of this world, for their acquisition of wealth has consumed their life.
Each of the three things in v. 24 is a characteristic of God that men should pursue. Yet, each of these is only obtainable through the work of God on man’s behalf. This is one of the overarching messages of the prophets: Man needs God to intervene and provide him with a new heart.
It is no surprise, then, that the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1–2 turns to this passage in Jeremiah when comparing the wisdom of the world with the foolishness of the Gospel preached. This connection and the implications that Paul makes from it for the ministry are important, but they are also for tomorrow…