These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.
Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 34 ~ Aug. 17-23
Jeremiah 35-50, Psalm 74, 79, 2 Kings 24-25, 2 Chronicles 36, Habakkuk
Idolatry: No Turning Back
Israel is gone, carried off into captivity by Assyria. Judah has managed to hang on a little longer, due in part to Hezekiah’s and Josiah’s godliness, but, now, Nebuchadnezzar has beseiged and overthrown the last of Judah’s fortified cities, slaughtered the king and the nobles, and carried nearly all the citizens off to a 70 year exile in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar left a small remnant of the poorest of the poor to continue living in Judah to work the land, and set up Gedaliah as governor over them. Gedaliah was subsequently assasinated by the Ammonites, and the remnant decided -against God’s clear instruction through Jeremiah- to go to Egypt, and to force Jeremiah to go with them. This is where we now find them in chapter 44.
God takes sin seriously.
As usual, Israel’s (here, Judah’s) main sin was idolatry, a clear violation of the first and second Commandments. That’s not something God just sweeps under the rug as an “oopsie”. In verse 3, He calls it evil. Verse 4, “this abomination that I hate.” In verse 6, God reminds them of His wrath and anger poured out becaue of idolatry. And think back over the scope of Israel’s history: the plagues, the pestilence, the snakes, the natural disasters, being conquered by enemies, and so on.
The vehemence with which God responds to idolatry shows us that He doesn’t take it, or any other sin, lightly. If there’s one major takeaway from the Old Testament, it’s that sin has a price tag, and somebody’s got to pay it.
Why does God respond so harshly to sin? (1 John 4:8)
1. Because God is love (1 John). When we read that the penalty for sin is an eternity in Hell, we really have no idea what we’re talking about. We know Hell is bad, but that’s about the extent of it. God can see Hell. He knows precisely what it’s like, and He loves us so much that He doesn’t want a single person to go there. So much, in fact, that He was willing to go to the farthest extreme of sending His Son to provide us the way out of Hell and into Heaven.
2. Believers are God’s walking billboard to the world. When we share the gospel and walk in godliness, we can attract people to a saving relationship with Christ. But when we sin unrepentantly, and/or in what the world would consider to be a “big” way (adultery, embezzlement, drunkenness, etc.) we can turn people off to God. God wants to prevent us from doing that because He loves and wants to save those people just as much as he loves and wanted to save us.
3. Sin hurts people in the here and now. God doesn’t like that. He doesn’t want us to be victimized by other people’s sin and He doesn’t want us to hurt other people.
God pursues His people relentlessly, but not endlessly. (Romans 1:18-32, 2 Corinthians 6:2)
Take a look at verses 4-5:
“Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, ‘Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!’ But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their evil and make no offerings to other gods.”
Again, think back over all the ways and times God has tried to bring His people back to Himself. Hundreds of years, dozens of prophets, painful circumstances. Time after time as Israel rebelled against Him, God mercifully and patiently offered them opportunities to turn back to Him. He didn’t throw them away or give up on them. And here, even though He is about to destroy this remnant, it is not God who has thrown in the towel. It is the people who have relentlessly demanded His wrath. God could not have been more clear to His people in this chapter about what would happen to them if they continued to rebel, and still they said, “we will not listen to you, but we will do everything we have vowed” (16-17). So he gave them what they wanted- the freedom to reject Him forever.
God is the same way today. He pursues people relentlessly, but not endlessly. Romans 1 makes this clear. Three times in this passage, he says, “God gave them up…” culminating in verse 28:
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.”
This is why there is such a danger in people putting off salvation, thinking they can get around to it on their death bed. If people reject God long enough, He will eventually give them what they want and stop pursuing them. The Bible says (2 Cor.) today is the day of salvation.
The goal of God’s pursuit and discipline is restoration. (Jeremiah 42:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:20)
Even here at the end of God’s patience, God’s desire is still to restore His people to a right relationship with Him. Just two chapters ago, He told the people that if they would only obey Him and stay in Judah instead of going to Egypt, He would have mercy on them. The same loving Lord who says in 2 Corinthians, “be reconciled to God,” has always desired that His people walk in right relationship with Him, and He uses whatever means and measures He has to in order to turn His people back to Himself.
Women have the power to influence our families, communities, and nation for evil or for godliness. (1 Peter 3:1-2)
The worship of “the queen of Heaven” (Ishtar, an Assyrian/Babylonian goddess, the wife of Baal or Molech) started with the women of Judah (15,19). They then influenced their husbands to participate in, or at least approve of, this idolatry. The women, and the husbands they had corrupted, stood in Jeremiah’s face and said, “We will not listen to you. We will keep on with our idolatry.”
Why? Because the women had the false notion that the reason they lately “lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine” (18) was becase they had stopped sacrificing to her. (Of course, the truth was that they were experiencing these things at the hand of God because they had been sacrificing to her.(23))
Several months ago, when we studied biblical womanhood, we discussed the line from My Big, Fat Greek Wedding where the mother tells her daughter, “The man may be the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn him any way she wants.” First Peter puts it this way:
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
Every day, we have opportunities to be like the women of Judah and turn our families and our communities away from Christ and towards idolatry. Let’s not be like those women, but, instead, women who, by our godly character, our respectful and pure conduct, and our submission to our husbands, turn the world upside down for Christ.