Jeremiah 6:16-18. “stand – look – ask – walk – find rest – listen.” “We will not.” “Therefore hear, O nations; observe, O witnesses, what will happen to them.”
Exegesis and Application
This brief passage is stunning in its recitation of the sinfulness of God’s people. The center of the Old Testament Church, Jerusalem, is under attack with the great Jeremiah telling Israelites to “Flee for safety…for disaster looms out of the north,” and on and on (vss. 1ff). And then the LORD comes to the Church and says:
“I gave you two chances to avert the catastrophes about to come. First, I urged you to consider the traditions of your Fathers in the faith and return to their way of living. But you said, “We will not follow or honor the godly traditions of our ancestors.” Then I said if you will not honor the old ways of living I will appoint a watchman to give you warnings about how you should live. Again you rejected my advice by responding, “We will not listen to your watchman concerning the dangers of our lifestyle.” Therefore, there is nothing left for me to do but to make you an example of the wages of disobedience before the watching world. Prepare for disaster and death.
In the text itself the order of the action verbs from God are “stand – look – ask – walk – find rest – listen.” But the Church said, “We will not walk in the good way” and we will not “pay attention to the trumpet blasts of warning” because we don’t believe that you can provide “rest and peace” from life’s problems.
At first the Lord commands His people to make some value judgments, i.e., judge for yourselves what are the “ancient” and the “good” ways of living. Having His command rejected, Yahweh tells the Church to forget the value judgments; just listen to the objective visual warnings of danger (cf, Is. 21:6-8). The terms “crossroads” (derek = mode of life or course of action), “paths” (netheev = beaten or trod foot path), “way” (dherekh = actions/behavior of men), “trumpet” – all take a decreasing amount of discernment. It is harder to understand the “narrow way” from the “broad way” (Matt. 7:13-14). It is not too hard to hear the blast of the horn.
For a culture like ours which is obsessed with the new, the trendy, the young and the healthy this is a bracing warning from God. Western society in the 21st century is disintegrating and lacks direction just like Israel in the 7th century before Christ. In Jer. 10:2-3, the great prophet uses the word “path” or “way” (derek) to describe the false lifestyle and customs and laws (huqqa) of the heathens: “Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. For the customs of the peoples are worthless” (“worthless” is the Hebrew hevel = vain, vaporous, insignificant) (cf, Lev. 18:3). Francis Schaeffer, in describing the life consequences of those who reject the moral absolutes of God’s good law find themselves “riding their tiger” in that it is too dangerous to get off their false way of living and staying on the tiger is too unpredictable.
The Church is commanded to stand at the crossroads and consider which lifestyle they want to emulate. Will it be the values of their ancestors or will it be the current lifestyle of rebellion and willful sin? They must choose between the “good way” of life and the “wicked way” of life (cf, Ps. 1). The Lord is appealing to their sanctified moral and intellectual reasoning powers to choose to return to Him. There is freewill at play here for the children of God. This choice is a recurrent theme of Jeremiah’s (7:22-23 and 11:7-8).
John Thompson comments, “Jeremiah here makes an appeal to his audience to study the traditions of the nation to discover what conduct was pleasing to Yahweh. Israel had reached a point in its spiritual history when it did not need a new revelation from God so much as the will to respond to the revelation already given.”
Christian journalists, you may be called to be an observing witness (vs. 18) to the apostasy of the Church. Don’t flinch from reporting the sins of the Church for it may very well be your truthful and courageous trumpeting (vs. 17) of the disobedience of the many that may save the faithful few. These are strange days in which we live and the call for the Christian journalist is to be a watchman (vs. 17) over the Church’s faithfulness. No one else knows the Church like her heralds.