“Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem; see now and know; and seek in her open places if you can find a man, if there is anyone who executes judgment, who seeks the truth” (Jeremiah 5:1 NKJV).
For much of my lifetime American culture has sought to define, or redefine, what it means to be a man. Not only what it means to be human, but more specifically what it means to be an adult male human. What are the defining characteristics of that particular form of life?
Several decades ago the ideal man was, to many, something like a TV western hero (Matt Dillon or Wyatt Earp for us old timers), the actors who portrayed them (John Wayne or Clint Eastwood for example) or possibly the “Marlboro Man” of the old tobacco commercials. Muscles, an inscrutable attitude, and lots of fortitude were basic ingredients.
After a century of the feminist movement (among other cultural pressures) that image has faded to one more similar to Seinfeld or Andy Griffith, with sensitivity, gentleness, and a definite aura of fallibility and humility included. Real men now do say “I am sorry” in modern America. Interestingly, real women in this modern era do not say that – can we say “role reversal?”
Jeremiah offers other ingredients to the makeup of man – real men, that is. God sent him into the city of Jerusalem to find just one man who was truly a man from God’s perspective. What were those essential defining characteristics? Who was it for whom Jeremiah searched? There were two elements on God’s list.
First, “If there is one who does justice” (NASB; James Moffatt’s translation has it, “A man of honest mind”). Justice and righteousness are often translated from the same Hebrew and Greek roots. The idea is that of equity and balance. God is a just God (Deuteronomy 32:4) in that he always does the exactly right thing, no matter who it affects or what the circumstances might be. In the Laws of ancient Israel, justice was a legal concept which demanded that leaders refuse bribes and took no account of persons or status. Real men treat everyone alike; they do what is right and good. Was there even one man like that in the city?
Second, “. . . who seeks the truth” (Moffatt: “and true integrity”). Allegiance to truth is another rare commodity among humans. The first recorded sin (Genesis 3) involved choosing to believe a lie rather than the truth revealed by God. The inspired apostle Paul explains the effectiveness of Satan:
“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).
Again, real men don’t lie, and do not readily accept the lies of others. They love truth, seek truth, and follow truth. Jesus prayed for the apostles, “Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). He promised all who would accept him, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
Biblically speaking, manhood is at least partially defined by the characteristics of justice and truth. Jeremiah was sent on a mission to find just one man who possessed those essential traits, with the implicit idea that his search would be futile. Like the messengers of God who failed to find 10 righteous men in Sodom (Genesis 18 & 19), Jeremiah would search in vain.
I recognize that Jeremiah 5:1 in its original context is not particularly about gender. I am reading into the verse something from our own cultural and historic context. But I do not consider that to be an illegitimate use of the text. God had given the city of “Jebus” (an older Canaanite name for the town, 1 Chronicles 11:4) to Israel, to his people. Some 500 years later Jeremiah confirmed that those who lived in the city were no longer God’s people – that is, no longer the kind of people (men) whom God demanded that they be.
As Christians, our concept of what it means to be a man (or woman) should be in accord with God’s purpose. Among other things, it means that we are to do justice and seek truth. By that standard, how many “Real Men” are there among us?