Sunday, December 10, 2017

Devotional on Jeremiah 2: Divine grief and God's desire for relationship

The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD:
I remember the devotion of your youth,
   your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
   in a land not sewn. (Jeremiah 2:1-2)

Jeremiah chapter 2 has a lot to say about remembering. The people of Judah had failed to remember and this failure got them into trouble (Jeremiah 2:32). The priests and prophets failed to teach the people about God (Jeremiah 2:8, 26). They are at fault for failing to bring the knowledge of God to the memory of the people; so they knew no better than to go after the worship of the idol Baal. They had either forgotten Yahweh completely (Jeremiah 2:5-6, 11), improperly understood Yahweh as a god who expects too much in exchange for protection (Jeremiah 2:20, 29, 36-37) or they believed it was alright with Yahweh for the people to divide their worship time between Yahweh and Baal (Jeremiah 2:26-27).

The people confused covenant with contract. They believed Yahweh needed to be obeyed in exchange for what Yahweh is skilled at giving, namely, protection from military threat. They approached Yahweh the same way they approached Baal. They gave what Baal wanted in exchange for what he is skilled at giving, namely, a good agricultural harvest, a growing herd of cattle and lots of healthy children.

The reason they approached Yahweh as a god that wants appeasement is because they really did not know Yahweh. Oh, they would go through the motions of worship the way they were taught; but they did not know God. If they did, they would not have appealed to Baal on the side.

Proper worship begins with knowledge of God. On the outside, proper and unacceptable worship both look the same; but on the inside, true worshipers relate to God in relationship rather than in appeasement.

Jeremiah chapter 2 explains the difference.

Yahweh comes near to his people as a husband does to his bride. Like a married couple, they remember the past and they fondly remember their wedding day.

A marriage is not a contract. It is a covenant. A wife does not behave towards her husband in such-and-such a way in exchange for something. She behaves towards him faithfully out of love and covenant. The same goes for the husband. He behaves towards his wife because of the relationship and not in order to take advantage of her.

Why the confusion? The priests and prophets did too much teaching about doctrine and not enough teaching about God! In the churches today, we have much the same problem. A steady diet of doctrine is equally out of balance as a steady diet of theology. Too much doctrine and people will not know why they worship or behave the way they do. Too much theology and people will think God has no covenantal expectations.

Jeremiah 2 is a really good study on the use of a metaphorical term called anthropomorphism. An anthropomorphism is a kind of metaphor in which something that is not human is described in human terms. Here are some anthropomorphisms from the chapter:
  • Yahweh is a husband
  • Israel/Judah is a faithless wife
These anthropomorphisms teach something. What do they teach?

They communicate to the reader that Yahweh is grief-stricken and wounded over his unfaithful wife (cf, Jeremiah 2:18). They help the reader to appreciate the sheer power of Yahweh's grief.

The following concepts are described in Jeremiah 2 but they are not anthropomorphisms:
  • God grieves
  • God is emotionally wounded
There are many sincere people today who do not believe it is possible for God to have those emotions. They will tell us that God's grief is also an anthropomorphism. The critical question we should ask is, "If divine grief is an anthropomorphism, what does the metaphor communicate about God or about his people? Does divine grief communicate anything other than that God grieves?"

In every case I have seen, those who hold God's emotions to be metaphorical cannot explain the meaning that should be derived from the metaphors. The reason is because God's grief is the meaning behind the metaphor of the husband of the unfaithful wife! God's grief is the teaching, not the metaphor!

It is the duty of the teachers in today's churches to teach about God properly.

Yes, we should draw near to God because there is something in it for us; just as God reaches out to us for relationship because there is something in it for him (see also Hosea 2:14-15).

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