People at all times in all walks of life seem to have one characteristic in common: they all want what they want. We may at times talk about putting others first or being willing to listen to what God says but, more often than not, when a decision has to be made, we ignore others, ignore God’s word, and simply do what we want to do. Self-interest seems to always win over doing what is best or even what is right.
This is seen time and again in the pages of scripture. After the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon those who were left, which included the prophet Jeremiah, were placed under a governor appointed by the king of Babylon. Soon after he was appointed, a man named Ishmael, who was of the Jewish royal family, assassinated him (see Jeremiah 41).
He took many of the people and intended to go to the Ammonites, but was overtaken by the army officers who rescued most of the people. But what were the people to now do? They were confident that Babylon would be upset with the assassination of the governor and they feared he would take it out on them. They thought it best to flee to Egypt but they stopped near Bethlehem. They went to Jeremiah to ask him to pray to God to see what they should do.
“They said to him, ‘Please grant our request and pray to the Lord your God for those of us who are still left alive here. For, as you can see, there are only a few of us left out of the many there were before. Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do. …We will obey what the Lord our God to whom we are sending you tells us to do. It does not matter whether we like what he tells us or not. We will obey what he tells us to do so the things will go well for us.” (Jeremiah 42:2-6 NET)
This sounds very good. They wanted to know what to do so they consulted God. Whatever God said to do they would do, whether it was what they wanted to do or not. What a wonderful sentiment for God’s people! But the story wasn’t over yet …
It took ten days for God to respond to Jeremiah’s prayer. Jeremiah then called the Jewish leaders to give them God’s word on the matter.
“Here is what he says to you: ‘If you will only stay in this land, I will build you up. I will not tear you down. I will firmly plant you. I will not uproot you. For I am filled with sorrow because of the disaster that I have brought on you.” (Jeremiah 42:10)
God also told them not to be afraid of the King of Babylon — he would rescue them from him by causing the king to have mercy on them and allow them to remain in the land. But if they decided to leave and go to Egypt to escape conflict, “the wars you fear will catch up with you there in the land of Egypt. The starvation you are worried about will follow you there to Egypt. You will die there” (Jeremiah 42:16).
The choice seemed simple: stay and God would bless them, leave and the troubles they were trying to avoid would catch up with them.
The Jews did not respond well to this message. It wasn’t what they wanted to hear (despite saying they would obey no matter what). They accused Jeremiah of lying to them (Jeremiah 43:2) and decided to go to Egypt anyway. They forced Jeremiah to go with them.
And the rest of the story? Nebuchadnezzar attacked and conquered Egypt, including the Jews who had settled there.
What do we learn? Obeying God is more than just saying we will do what he says. We really must do it. It doesn’t matter whether we like it or not – obedience is what God is looking for. He doesn’t try to please us by letting us do what we want. We please him by making his will our will.
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Readings for next week: Jeremiah 41-49