[This is part of my continuing series in the book of Jeremiah. You can find all the posts from it here.]
Though I said last time I would cover three chapters of Jeremiah all in one post, the truth is I have a bit more to say on Jeremiah 5-8.
In my most recent post, I hope that you picked up that Jeremiah 6, 7 and 8 hang together pretty well. Chapters 6 and 8 both contain verses in which the leaders are reprimanded for saying “peace, peace, peace” when there is no peace for Judah (Jer. 6:14 and 8:11). Chapter 7 also has a threefold repetition in “the temple, the temple, the temple” (Jer. 7:4). Both of these phrases give the people false assurance of their safety because of their supposed special status before God.
But there is another idea that I see beginning even a bit earlier in chapter 5 and being picked up again here in chapters 7 and 8. The people’s obedience to the law (or lack thereof) is contrasted with creation. This may seem like a funny thing to us. We joke about disobeying the law of gravity but really we do not see such things as being the same as moral laws, whether they come from our nation or our God. Even when we are just looking at the Old Testament, we like to distinguish between moral, ceremonial and civil laws. These are not distinctions which the Bible itself makes. The prophet Jeremiah here goes beyond just putting all laws for humans on one plane, he actually equates what we would call natural laws with God’s moral law.
In chapter 7, the people are once again chastised for their many sins. When we read them catalogued, it is hard not to think of the Ten Commandments:
“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?” (Jer. 7:8-10; ESV)
It almost sounds like they have gone through the commandments trying to break each one.
As I trued to show in my post on Jeremiah 5, God contrasts the obedience of the sea which, though it always crashes against the bounds He has set, never breaks them with the disobedience of His people. We find this idea again in Jeremiah 8 when the prophet says:
“‘Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?
They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return.
I have paid attention and listened, but they have not spoken rightly;
no man relents of his evil, saying, ‘What have I done?’
Everyone turns to his own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle.
Even the stork in the heavens knows her times,
and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming,
but my people know not the rules of the Lord.” (Jer. 8:5-7; ESV)
The comparison here is between the people who are like a horse given its head, plunging forward according to its will and the birds who know their place and obey the rules their Creator has set for them.
What is the significance of all this for us? God tells us in Romans that we can know His character through His creation:
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20)
In this section of Jeremiah, we get a taste of what that means, at least in part. The laws of nature, things like gravity and th seasons changing in their time, show us that our God is one of laws and regularity and they even give us an example of how to obey Him. So too the birds mentioned in Jeremiah 8 are examples to us, perhaps in their regular migratory patterns, of what it means to adhere to the law. In our very modern mindset we like to separate things out; we don’t like to mix religion with science or politics or much else. But God’s creation is a unity and He made it so that it not only functions as it should but also so that it teaches us if we would only perceive it rightly.