1 March • Wednesday of the First Week in Lent
20. Declare this in the house of Jacob; proclaim it in Judah:
21. “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not,
who have ears, but hear not.
22. Do you not fear me? declares the LORD. Do you not tremble before me?
I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass;
though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it.
23. But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away.
24. They do not say in their hearts,
‘Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives the rain in its season,
the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us
the weeks appointed for the harvest.’
25. Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you.
26. For wicked men are found among my people; they lurk like fowlers lying in wait.
They set a trap;
they catch men.
27. Like a cage full of birds,
their houses are full of deceit;
therefore they have become great and rich;
28. they have grown fat and sleek.
They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice
the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.
29. Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD,
and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?”
30. An appalling and horrible thing
has happened in the land:
31. the prophets prophesy falsely,
and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so,
but what will you do when the end comes?
Can you believe that a 15-year-old boy in India was savagely hit and kicked by his teacher for spelling the word ‘social’ wrongly? The boy, who succumbed to his injuries, was a member of the Dalit community which sits at the lowest rung of India’s caste system and has been subjected to prejudice and discrimination for centuries. (Sep 27, 2022, The Straits Times)
Can you imagine living on a meagre wage of $1 per day? It was reported that about 150,000 Bangladeshi tea plantation workers who live in some of the country’s most remote areas have been systematically exploited by the industry for decades. The plantation owners have hijacked the minimum wage authorities and kept the wages among the lowest in the world.
Besides tea plantations, in the past few decades, a handful of agencies and journalists have also exposed the widespread use of child labour, and in some cases slavery, on cocoa farms in Western Africa.
These are but some examples of daily news of exploita-tion of the weak and oppression of the vulnerable we read or hear from the social media.
Our text today gives some very descriptive pictures of how sinful the people of Judah were at the time of Jeremiah (about 600 BC). To use the analogy of onion-peeling, the first layer shows that things were definitely not as they should have been (vv.21–25). What should have been happening was awe, reverence, fear, trembling, gratitude, and worship of God. Just as nature keeps to its divinely set boundaries, people should know how to act toward God. But Judah was acting in ways that were spiritually blind and deaf, arrogant, foolish, stubborn, and rebellious. They did not fear nor revere God as the LORD of every season and harvest. They had turned aside and gone astray (v.23). God had planned to bless them, but their prevailing sins were depriving them of the good He intended (v.25).
The next layer was even worse (vv.26–29)! Simply rebelling wasn’t enough for some wrongdoers. They set traps for others. They became rich and powerful through deceit and exploitation. Contrary to biblical justice, which seeks others’ good (Deut 10:17–19; Jas 1:27), they were only looking after themselves. “They know no bounds in deeds of evil… and they do not defend the rights of the needy” (v.28). They deserved God’s punishment, and God took it personally: “Should I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?” (v.29).
Still another layer—how low could it go (vv.30–31)? “Appalling” and “horrible” are the only appropriate words. Prophets told lies instead of truth, priests ministered by their own authority instead of God’s, and, most regretfully, “My people love to have it so” (v.31).
The world we live in today is no different from Jeremiah’s, if not worse, as illustrated in my introduction. What must we do in order that God’s divine justice and love may flow in and through us? From our text today, there are at least FOUR hard questions that demand our reflection and response:
1. Have we also become spiritually blind and deaf (vv.20-21)?
If so, we must echo the prayer of the psalmist by asking God to, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law” (Ps 119:18) and pray that God will do to us what He did for our Lord Jesus, who said, “The LORD GOD has opened My ear, and I have not been rebellious; I turned not backward” (Is 50:5).
2. Do we fear God and tremble before Him?
Verses 20-22 remind us that if even the pounding waves of the ocean can't overcome the ribbons of sand that God sets, how could feeble creatures like us think we could ever win against God? The Bible teaches us that “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world.” (Rom 1:18-20) Have you been awestruck by the images of distant galaxies and stars that the James Webb Space Telescope has been sending back to earth? The awesome around us tells us why we should fear and tremble before God always.
3. Do we ensure justice for the weak and vulnerable (vv.25-29)?
The “fat and sleek” of Jeremiah’s day did not speak up for the poor or the orphan (v.28). What about us? Where in our lives are we speaking up for biblical justice? Have we been turning a blind eye or a deaf ear to someone in distress or in need of help?
4. What will we do when the end comes (vv.30-31)? Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 reminds us, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Therefore, we need to carefully evaluate our relationship with God. Do we pause in our busy lives to ask, “Where is my life headed?” We must measure our attitudes and actions by God’s Word if we want God’s approval and blessing upon our lives, and especially to hear His affirmative welcome on THAT day, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master” (Mt 25:21,23).
Lord God, from whom all blessings flow, You have taught us by the words of the prophets and the example of Christ how we are to behave. We acknowledge that we live in a world with corrupt authorities who seek to ensnare us and lead us astray. You who control the seas, we ask that You grant us the courage to resist oppression, injustice, and evil with our voices, hands, and feet in whatever forms they present themselves, so that we may not be false prophets but instead a people, called by Your name, rightly proclaiming the Word of Truth and thus enabling others to resist with us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
If God has placed you in a profession/position where you are able to speak up for the voiceless, assist the helpless, and shelter the homeless, do prayerfully consider stepping up and offering your services to them pro bono. If you have already been doing so, praise and glory be to God, and please keep up your great deeds of justice and compassion.
Rev Dr Steven Gan
Amazing Grace Presbyterian Church