Jeremiah 7-8 - "Is There No Balm in Gilead?"
“Is There No Balm in Gilead?” — Jeremiah 7-8 — August 25, 2019
What we learned last week is that the Lord is concerned about our interior life as much as our actions. But that doesn’t mean our actions don’t matter. We have to hold both the proper affections for God and the proper actions for God. That is, God has made us as physical and spiritual people. What we do with our hands is in direct relation to what we really believe about God.
As we’ll see in our text, we can even speak a lot of true things about God, but our actions prove otherwise. What we do says more than our words.
Illustration: “What Would You Do?”
Don’t Deceive, But Believe and Receive
For the last six chapters, God has been confronting Israel with their sin. It’s very easy when confronted with our sin to get defensive and to divert the heat that is being leveled at our sin. It’s so easy that when a friend or our significant other points out a discrepancy in our life, shines a light on our sin, we bristle. We start to defend why we were justified in saying something that hurt the person.
Very seldom do we readily admit our fault. UNLESS we have started the day affirming that. What do I mean? If I start each day with an acknowledgement that I don’t have it all together. That I am in the middle of the process of sanctification. Then I will readily admit when I mess up. I will count it as grace when someone points out what I say I believe and how I really act.
And this is the case with Israel. When confronted with their sin, they were incredulous. What is worse, they doubled down on their religious language.
Jeremiah is told to go to the gates of the Temple and declare disaster. Why do you think God had him go there? Why not on a hillside? Well, Israel had put their trust in their religion. They looked at Solomon’s Temple and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place! Surely he is blessing us! Look at all this wealth and security we have.”
But Jeremiah knew they were just full of hot air. They heard the Torah every week. They sang songs. They prayed. They gave their offerings. But they had neglected the heart of true religion.
All of their religion had deceived them. They were blind to the essentials of what it meant to love and serve God. You see this in v.3 and 4: “Amend your ways and your deeds…Do not trust in these deceptive words.” We are all in danger of talking a good game, but then when the actual opportunity to put our faith into action comes, we balk. “I don’t know what to say.” “I’m tired.” “I don’t know where to start.”
And this is the kind of language Israel succumbed to. They falsely believed that if the Temple stood, then people would come. They had neglected the harder work of blood, sweat, and tears. Look at v.5-7.
Note the link between going after other gods and executing justice. Again, Jeremiah mentions Israel’s deceptive words. Why are they deceptive? Because they really don’t follow God. V.9 tells us they speak religious words but still steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods. They have made God’s house a den of robbers.
These aren’t two separate things. Hear this: Doing justice is an essential component of what it means to be a holy people.
So why such an emphasis on executing justice for the vulnerable of society. First, because the human heart is naturally inclined to favor those who have material wealth. Jesus’ brother James talks about how our faith ought to show no partiality. // Second, how we treat the most vulnerable among us is a key indicator of whether we have understood the mercy of God we have received. Lev 19.33: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
Third, our pursuit of justice for the outcasts and vulnerable is a way to demonstrate the goal of restoration for God’s creation. Too often, we equate “justice” with retribution. That is, issuing a fine. Sending to jail. Justice stems from a proper view of people. Each of these three people were the weakest in society. If you didn’t have a parent to care for you or a husband or you had no family you were as good as dead. But God wants to make sure these vulnerable are taken care of. So what is justice? The proactive pursuit of people’s flourishing. Justice is not abstract. It is always personal.
Of course it is not the abstract entity justice as such that God loves. What God loves is the presence of justice in society. And God loves the presence of justice in society not because it makes for a society whose excellence God admires, but because God loves the members of society—loves them, too, not with the love of admiration but with the love of benevolent desire. God desires that each and every human being shall flourish, that each and every shall experience what the Old Testament writers call shalom . Injustice is [then] the impairment of shalom. That is why God loves justice. God desires the flourishing of each and every one of God’s human creatures; justice is indispensable to that. Love and justice are not pitted against each other but intertwined (Wolterstorff, Justice, 82).
Jeremiah then mentions Shiloh in vv.12-14. Shiloh is the city in the north where the Tabernacle of God was when Israel first entered the Promised Land. It’s the place where Eli served and we read about his wicked sons who would take more than they were supposed to from people who were worshiping. They were robbing the people. And what did God do? So Psa. 78:60: The Lord forsook his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt among mankind.
God was not chained to a place. Solomon himself said that heaven could not contain God, how much less the Temple he had made! But Israel slowly began to think that they had God in the palm of their hands. That they could do whatever they wanted because the Temple, in all its magnificence, stood in the middle of their everyday lives.
So God tells us to receive the vulnerable. To extend mercy to those who need it, because we have already seen our need. Failure to do so means we don’t believe.
2) Don’t Lie, But Cry and Try
When we see hypocrisy in the Church. We ought to grieve. It’s so easy to become cynical. Instead, we must cry for the sin that seeks to isolate us as believers. We ought to mourn the fact that we still give into self-righteousness. We ought to wail and confess our unbelief.
It is good to cry. It is good to mourn the world as it is.
But we have to take action. THE LIGHT MUST MOVE INTO THE DARKNESS. Not only do we want to receive and cry. We need to execute justice (LXX: “do justice”). This is a proactive faith that seeks the righteousness of others. That they would live by the narrow path of Christ. We see them struggling and pull them up on the path with us as we journey up the mountain together.
This is what the question in 8.22 is about: No Balm in Gilead? Gilead was known for its healing balm. It’s as if they had it in their hands. Were walking around wounded people and just looked.
One of our Core Values at Redeemer is Mercy+Mission. This means that alleviation of physical concerns is vital to the spiritual welfare of people. We don’t alleviate concerns without also addressing the emotional and spiritual concerns. We don’t give clothes four sized too big and don’t also help people grow into those clothes.
I am thankful we are full of people who want to make a difference. I am thankful for people like Roshena who has sacrificed her time to go and serve the wonderful ladies at Step By Step. I am thankful for Lacy who has a heart for international college students (the sojourners!) and wants to help them through the iFace ministry. I am thankful for Ashley working to get us involved with Pendleton Place. I am thankful for Evan who has a burden for those struggling with addictions and wants to start a Celebrate Recovery. What gifts!
SO what can you do? 1) Walk around our neighborhood; 2) Pray as you walk for eyes to see and cry over brokenness; 3) Pray for God to give you a vision for serving others. 4) Smile, wave, and talk. // It will take sacrifice of time, comfort, resources. But what a beautiful vision! We could see poor and broken people come to be healed. We could see wealthy and struggling people find purpose. If we really got a hold of what could happen in our midst by crying, receiving, and executing justice. Yes, there are social programs, but that’s not what the world needs. It needs Jesus-followers who take risks and sacrifice and point toward a world that will one day be restored.
I would be remiss if I stopped there. Wouldn’t I? How did the religious leaders react to Jeremiah when he preached judgment and God leaving the Temple so that it would be destroyed? Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” (Jer 26.11)
3) The Lord Himself will Cleanse and Restore
This restoration and cleansing and healing doesn’t rest on our shoulders alone. It is Christ’s yoke of mercy and mission. He is the one guiding our paths in the fields. He, himself, sought freedom and healing for people without deceptive words. He received the vulnerable. The outcast. The unsavory. At great cost to himself.
Is this not also what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day said of him? When he cleansed the Second Temple, calling it a den of robbers. Prophesying its destruction. But pointing to himself as the True Temple! “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it again.”
Religious folk don’t like it when the way they’ve always done it is destroyed. Caring more about the carpet and paint than they do about the eternal state of their neighbors. Jesus is the one who guides us. He’s the one who weeped over Jerusalem. He received. He executed justice by taking our sin upon his own head. Relish this one. And follow him into a world of righteousness.