Contending For Love
December 07, 2008 | Randy Smith
Contending For LoveJeremiah 2:9-13
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Pastor Randy Smith
Imagine with me a young couple that has fallen in love. They dream of each other throughout the day. Their friends and their sleep and their hobbies all take a backseat to maximize their time together. Over time the relationship deepens. The dating progresses to engagement and eventually to marriage. The storybook wedding becomes the best day of their lives. The honeymoon takes their breath away. They purchase their first house and anticipate a lifetime of joyfully growing old together.
But then something awful happens. It is something neither of them would have ever expected. Within a short time of being married, one of the partners has a change of heart. This individual no longer desires to remain in the relationship. This individual begins to pursue another lover. The union is severed and the deserted spouse is left confused and heartbroken and angered.
What I just described is a personification of God's marriage relationship with Israel as it is presented to us by the prophet Jeremiah. While there is no better spouse than God, Israel forsook the love of her youth and pursued other companions. The Lord is left confused and heartbroken and angered.
Listen to Him reminisce over the former times. I am reading from verse 2 in chapter 2: "I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, your following after Me in the wilderness, through a land not sown." The Lord is recalling their former romance, the intimacy they shared together. Like a wounded lover going through the wedding album grieving over the gone but not forgotten happiness. Wondering why it all came to an end. Wondering if the good times would ever return.
God is caught in the agony of love, the kind of agony Sheldon Vanauken described in his book A Severe Mercy: "To hold her in my arms against the twilight and be her comrade for ever - this was all I wanted so long asmy life should last… And this, I told myself with a kind of wonder, this was what love was: this consecration, this curious uplifting, this sudden inexplicable joy, and this intolerable pain."
Yes, the transcendent God does experience emotional pain. The Lord was the offended party. Israel, the apple of His eye, the one on whom He lavished favored blessings had deserted Him. God was left on a pile of rubbish like yesterday's newspaper.
There was no debating the evidence. Imagine God now on the witness stand in divorce court testifying against His rebellious and unfaithful lover.
The generation who went before them was guilty. Verse 5, "Thus says the LORD, 'What injustice did your fathers find in Me, that they went far from Me and walked after emptiness and became empty?" The generation present and the generation who will come after them were guilty. Verse 9, "'Therefore I will yet contend with you,' declares the LORD, 'and with your sons' sons I will contend.'" The leaders were guilty. Verse 8, "The priests did not say, 'Where is the LORD?' And those who handle the law did not know Me; the rulers also transgressed against Me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal and walked after things that did not profit." The whole nation was guilty. Verse 32, "Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number."
This morning we will observe the heart of God up close. We will see how deeply He is grieved when His people abandon Him through their disobedience. We will see His jealously for their love and His perplexity when they forsake Him for other lovers. Today's sermon is a tragic testimony from the past with the most severe consequences regarding the Israelites. What does the future hold for us? Will our professed marriage relationship be eternal bliss with our heavenly husband or will we only experience the divine judge for our spiritual adultery (cf. Jer. 7:34; 25:10-11)?
Verse 9, "'Therefore I will yet contend with you,' declares the LORD." With logic of a lawyer and the longing of a lover, God is about to summarize His charges against His unfaithful wife.
Verse 10, "For cross to the coastlands of Kittim and see, and send to Kedar and observe closely and see if there has been such a thing as this!" The nation is invited to examine all the lands from the East to the West. They are encouraged to study the exhibit to determine, verse 11, "(If) a nation has changed gods when they were not gods."
Despite the vast geographical span, despite ranges of intelligence, despite the passing of time, Israel is asked if any nation abandoned their gods. Israel is invited to check it out for themselves. Has not Babylon remained loyal to Bel and Merodach? Has not Canaan consistently worshipped Baal and Asherah? They stood with a sense of loyalty in allegiance to their gods. The people persevered with their objects of devotion even when, as verse 11 says, "They were not gods." Despite worshipping wood and stone and stars, consistency, fidelity and dedication marked their attachment.
Yet Israel, unlike any other nation, received revelation from the one true God. They witnessed His love and mighty deeds. They entered into a spiritual marriage. Yet while the other nations remained faithful to their superstitions, Israel unlike any other nation, felt the need for change. While the other nations continued their legacy of cherishing dead gods, Israel found it necessary to abandon the living God. While the other nations retained the false gods to which they had no obligation, Israel abandoned the true God to whom they owed their existence and accountability. Allow me to be clear, God is not praising the other nations. He is only saying that in comparison to the other nations, Israel is without excuse.
It was a foolish exchange. In the second half of verse 11 God cries, "But My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit."
It is like the girl who leaves her kind boyfriend to date one that treats her cruelly. It is like the husband who forsakes his wife for an evening with the call girl. It is like a million other examples that seem so sweet on the outside, only to realize often when it's too late that they are empty on the inside. Like little children we are so prone to chase after anything that Satan dangles before our eyes. How many times will we be burned until we learn that all his temptations glitter yet deliver nothing but heartache and regret? How many times will our hearts turn away, like Israel, from that which is eternally beautiful to that which holds no lasting benefit?
How must God feel when He is the one dumped on the roadside? How must God feel when cheap substitutes are embraced in His place? "But My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit" (Jer. 2:11). From God's perspective it is both foolish and offensive. Paul put it like this in the New Testament: "Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures… Therefore God gave them over" (Rom. 1:22-24).
Verse 12, "'Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate,' declares the LORD."
It is common among the prophetic voices to call creation to testify for the sinful acts of humanity. Since the people refused to listen to the prophet, God seeks to reason with impersonal objects who can testify to the injustice that was being committed. Even heavenly beings not created in the image of God, could they speak, would be wise enough to condemn the actions of Israel. And even these beings without any moral regulations upon them would find evidence themselves to shutter and be desolate at what they were witnessing. For they do as God expects: The sun faithfully gives heat. The stars faithfully shine. And the moon faithfully orbits the earth. Yet the very ones created to love God have found another purpose for their existence.
So clearer than ever, God, while on that witness stand spells out His specific contention with Israel in verse 13: "For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water."
A little historical background will help make this verse more understandable. Since Israel is a very arid climate, water is of the highest premium. For any individual to come across a natural spring would be equivalent to any of us stumbling upon a reservoir of crude oil. Yet those not fortunate to have their own natural spring were forced to dig what are called cisterns to collect the rain water. Cisterns, or wells, were large holes in the ground with plaster around the outside to keep the water contained. Archeology has uncovered thousands of these cisterns. Though much inferior to continuous flowing water due to the effort involved in digging them, maintaining them and the quality of water in them, cisterns were common in Israel to provide the necessary water for survival.
The first evil Israel committed was abandoning God. Verse 13 again, "They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters."
This week I was watching a prominent pastor speak on an evening talk show. When pressed about Christian conversion he encouraged his listeners to "try Jesus for 60-days." In the mind of the average American, I believe his words conveyed a "see if He works for you mentality" ("take the Pepsi challenge"). I believe his words placed Jesus on par with all the other interests that are vying for our attention. I believe his words implied that there are few consequences if we "gave Him a shot" but "He didn't work for me."
Far from "giving Jesus a try," the Bible is clear; all are expected to bow the knee to Jesus ascribing to Him complete authority as Lord. And the Bible is clear that those who refuse to do that now will do that separated from Him in the life to come (Phil. 2:10-11). He is the only Savior of the world. In Acts 4:12 Peter said, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." We have no other option than to trust Him for salvation. And assurance of that salvation can only be claimed if we obey what He has revealed to us in His Word.
There are no other options. The testimony from our Scripture is clear. Buddha is not another option. Mohammed is not another option. The astrologist is not another option. The god of materialism is not another option. Atheism is not another option. Madam Fatima on the Point Pleasant boardwalk is not another option. Today we see the God of the Bible is angered because He was forsaken, because other options were chosen above Him. He even goes so far in verse 13 to call it "evil." He will not stand for rivals in the hearts of human beings that He created for His glory. He will not compete with other gods.
C.H. Spurgeon in a sermon a read a few weeks ago said, "False gods patiently endure the existence of other false gods. Dagon can stand with Bel, and Bel with Ashtaroth; how should stone, and wood, and silver, be moved to indignation; but because God is the only living and true God, Dagon must fall before his ark; Bel must be broken, and Ashtaroth must be consumed with fire. Thus saith the Lord, 'Ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves;' the idols He shall utterly abolish. My brethren, do you marvel at this? I felt in my own soul while meditating upon this matter an intense sympathy with God. Can you put yourselves in God's place for a moment? Suppose that you had made the heavens and the earth, and all the creatures that inhabit this round globe; how would you feel if those creatures should set up an image of wood, or brass, or gold, and cry, 'These are the gods that made us; these things give us life.' What - a dead piece of earth set up in rivalry with real Deity! What must be the Lord's indignation against infatuated rebels when they so far despise Him as to set up a leek, or an onion, or a beetle, or a frog, preferring to worship the fruit of their own gardens, or the vermin of their muddy rivers, rather than acknowledge the God in whose hand their breath is, and whose are all their ways! Oh! it is a marvel that God hath not dashed the world to pieces with thunderbolts, when we recollect that even to this day millions of men have changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things" (A Jealous God, Sermon #502, Delivered March 29, 1863).
It is bad enough that the people turned their back on God. What exasperates the problem is when you consider the One whom they forsook. God calls Himself, in verse 13, "The fountain of living waters." They no longer found Him satisfying. Despite the personal spring, the perpetual flow and the perennial streams of water, the people found reason to abandon Him. Despite drinking from unending mercy and sufficient grace and incomparable love, the people rejected the fountain that pours forth all that our soul desires.
As one author said, "Whom else do you know that is high, yet humble; strong, yet sensitive; righteous, yet gracious; powerful, yet merciful; authoritative, yet tender; holy, yet forgiving; just, yet compassionate; angry, yet gentle; (and) firm, yet friendly?" (Sam Storms, Pleasures Forevermore, p. 201)
How can any of us condemn our own soul by rejecting "The fountain of living waters?" How can any of us throw away our lives, by seeking to go through this world without "The fountain of living waters?"
Listen to God's invitation to come to Him using this language throughout the Scriptures:
Isaiah 55, "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance" (Isa. 55:1-2).
John 4, "Jesus answered and said to her, 'If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.' She said to Him, 'Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?' Jesus answered and said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life'" (John 4:10-14).
John 7, "Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink" (Jn. 7:37).
Revelation 21, "Then He said to me, 'It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son'" (Rev. 21:6-7).
Revelation 22, "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost" (Rev. 22:17).
Well, the first evil Israel committed was the foolishness and offense of abandoning God. The second evil Israel committed, mentioned in verse 13, is choosing a lesser god in exchange. "For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water."
Every person will have a god. Every person is living for something. The moment we forsake one of our gods, we will roam in haste to find a replacement. We were created to worship. Yet apart from being grounded in the true God we search as phantoms (Psm. 39:6). We wander through life aimlessly searching for someone or something to cling to. As the Psalmist said, "For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light" (Psm. 36:9). Apart from worshipping the true God we drift in the dark grasping for any second-rate fountain that can bring us satisfaction.
That is the best explanation I can provide for why someone would foolishly forsake the "The fountain of living waters" and "hew for themselves…(a) broken cistern." The greatness of God is exchanged for a flawed and cracked vessel that can hold no substance. Such people are as Peter said dogs returning to their own vomit and sows after washing returning to the mud (2 Pet. 2:22). The great pains to forsake the spring and dig our own cistern only to be given an empty cesspool filled with mud or at best a small amount of stagnate water. As Jesus said, "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again" (Jn. 4:13). It is a foolish choice.
In his commentary, Matthew Henry said, "If we make an idol of any creature-wealth, or pleasure, or honour,-if we place our happiness in it, and promise ourselves the comfort and satisfaction in it which are to be had in God only,-if we make it our joy and love, our hope and confidence, we shall find it a cistern, which we take a great deal of pains to hew out and fill, and at the best it will hold but a little water, and that dead and flat, and soon corrupting and becoming nauseous" (Jer. 2:13).
Listen to F.B. Meyer, "There is the cistern of Pleasure, engraved with fruits and flowers, wrought at the cost of health and peace; the cistern of Wealth, gilded and inlaid with costly gems; the cistern of Human love, which, however fair and beautiful, can never satisfy the soul that rests in it alone-all these, erected at infinite cost of time and strength, are treacherous and disappointing."
Beloved, the idols we choose are at best like cisterns. They can only hold delight. Often the cisterns are broken and any delight eventually leaks out. Why not continually rely upon the One that can bring true delight? God wants us to be happy, but we will never receive the fullness of joy until we find our happiness in Him. For as Psalm 16:11 says, "In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever."
This applies to finding our joy in life in pursuing God. Let's be specific. Can something like a "building project" give me reason for joy? Should we just desire to get beyond the long hours, divisive discussions, and financial expenses so we can get back to resuming "real ministry"? I don't think so.
The building project is forcing us to unite on the issues that are most important. The building project is causing us to prove to ourselves that our money is not our god. The building project is allowing us to pray more and examine our vision and consider the future generations and refocus our biblical purpose for existence. The building project is testing us to see how excited and delighted we can get in greater ways to pursue God's glory and not our own.
A building doesn't excite me. God excites me. And since God excites me, I get excited about what excites Him - like His church! I get excited to think of a time when we can have multiple ongoing adult Sunday school classes on strategic topics to equip this church. I get excited to think of more space for our youth and children's ministries. I get excited to think of the inreach and outreach possibilities with a large gymnasium/multi-purpose room. I get excited to think how the Lord's money can be put toward a new building rather than one that is presently falling apart. I get excited to think of a location that is more accessible to this church and the unbelieving community of Central Jersey. I get excited to think of our church moving back to one service to be together rather than considering three services in the near future. And I believe that these desires, which bring me much joy, bring God honor because they are ultimately for His glory.
If we learn anything from Jeremiah 2, we see that God has emotions. He is not only offended at the disobedient; He is also offended at the obedient who worship Him out of duty (Dt. 28:47-48). God is most delighted when we are most delighted in Him. In Psalm 37:4 we are commanded, "Delight yourself in the LORD." The hindrance to our honoring God is not that we are a pleasure seeking people, but rather that we seek our pleasure in broken cisterns after tasting His goodness.
Can you now understand God's contention with Israel?
All of us are drinking from some spiritual source. Where do you prefer to do your drinking? Are you drinking from the clear, fresh-flowing spring of living waters or do you choose to dip your bucket into a cracked muddy cistern? I trust that God is your source of joy and in Him, expressed by doing His will, you find your greatest delight. For my friends, nothing else will satisfy, and nothing else is worth living for.