Whoredom and Whole Hearts

Jeremiah 3:6-14 (NRSV)

The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and played the whore there? And I thought, “After she has done all this she will return to me”; but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom so lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but only in pretense, says the Lord.


By John Grimm

The Bible does get our attention.  The title for this devotion comes from this passage.  Yet, as we read the title over and over, we are offended.  We have not acted like Israel or Judah.  We say we have not used stone and tree to make idols to worship other gods. 

Judah (the Southern Kingdom, which included Jerusalem) saw the faithless ways of Israel (the Northern Kingdom).  Israel was carried away by the Assyrians in 726 B.C.  Around 586 B.C., Judah was going to be carried away by the Babylonians.  Why was Judah going to be carried away, deported from the land of Judah?  Because it was only in pretense, in name only, that Judah returned to the Lord.

God has been calling repeatedly to America since Sept. 11, 2001.  We can return to the Lord.  Returning to the Lord cannot be done only with words, in name only.  Our faithfulness to God must overwhelm our lives so our actions show we love God with our whole hearts.  Our faithfulness to God can be seen in how we love our neighbors as ourselves.

Judging from all the evidence in America today, we have not returned to the Lord God with our whole hearts.  We may still be in our whoredom.

Holy Spirit, thank you for being patient with America.  Your patience allows us to return with our whole hearts to the Lord.  We hear about Jesus Christ and believe he is a good teacher.  Yet, when we believe Jesus is the Son of God come in the flesh, we find the beginning of salvation.  Work in us so that we see and live in the faithfulness of God, the salvation God offers us. We ask that our faithfulness to God be demonstrated by our whole hearts.  May the name of Jesus Christ be found in us before it is too late.  Amen.

Idols?

Jeremiah 10:1-16 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

Idols?  Yes, sometimes Christians do have idols.  Maybe our idols are wood with silver and gold on it, like an ornate cross or a home.  Maybe our idols are our electronic devices that we carry constantly.  As we know, our idols cannot do evil or do good.

It is possible that we can learn once again to fear the King of the Nations.  Besides, it is the Lord who made the wood, the metal, and everything else we see and touch.  We can have a healthy respect, an awe, toward the true God.  That prospect is better than continuously turning to unwise idols, of whatever design!  When a people continually turn from God, then the people, the nation, will be punished by God.

Thankfully, we can trust Jesus Christ.  For it is when we turn to Jesus, and not to idols, that we can know and enjoy the living God and the everlasting King.  Knowing that God has come in the flesh, that is Jesus, we gain much wisdom.  Fearing the Lord is better for us than honoring idols.

Almighty God, we have placed things of our own making as higher than you.  We have worshiped things instead of you.  As we place faith in Jesus, repeatedly, we find that you forgive us.  Thank you that our fear, our awe, and our respect for you grow as we continue to follow Jesus.  Help our neighbors and loved ones discover you as the living God, before any nation endures your indignation.  In the name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

A Sprig Held High

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor
Ezekiel 17:22-24 (NRSV)

Thus says the Lord God:

I myself will take a sprig
   from the lofty top of a cedar;
   I will set it out.
I will break off a tender one
   from the topmost of its young twigs;
I myself will plant it
   on a high and lofty mountain.
On the mountain height of Israel
   I will plant it,
in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
   and become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live;
   in the shade of its branches will nest
   winged creatures of every kind.
All the trees of the field shall know
   that I am the Lord.
I bring low the high tree,
   I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
   and make the dry tree flourish.
I the Lord have spoken;
   I will accomplish it.

As you may have noticed reading the Bible, prophets can be strange folk. Ezekiel is one of the strangest, but his story should encourage us when we seek renewal. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would really like to see some renewal in this world.

Born a little over six centuries before the birth of Christ, Ezekiel spent much of his time helping the people of Israel understand why their world had fallen apart. In short, they had turned on God, falling into idolatry, and God had given them up to their enemies. Ezekiel eventually was dragged off to captivity in Babylon, along with most of the brightest of God’s people.

Here are some of the odder things Ezekiel did to communicate God’s wrath to a very stubborn people:

  • He lay on his left side for 390 days, one day for each year the kingdom of Israel had existed in sin. He then lay on his right side for 40 days, one day for each year the kingdom of Judah had sinned.
  • During this time on one side or the other, he ate bread cooked over cow dung, to show how the people of Israel would be forced to eat in an unclean way as captives. He also ate very sparingly, to show how the people of Jerusalem would suffer from famine during the occupation.
  • Later, whenever he ate he had to tremble and shake with fear to show the people what they would feel when their towns were attacked and stripped of possessions.
  • He was not allowed by God to publicly mourn the death of his wife, as a sign of how the people would lose all they treasured with no recourse or way to complain.

It’s depressing stuff. But again, there is this powerful message of hope in the midst of so much suffering. We see that hope in our Scripture today, the prophecy of the sprig.

For the people of Israel, the prophecy is about the restoration of the line of David, the great king of their history. A cedar tree was the sign of royalty.

Clearly, the tree had become twisted and corrupt, having moved its roots away from God as the source of life, but God was promising the people through Ezekiel that he still planned to fulfill the great promises he had made. God was in control; God is in control.

We have this image of a tiny sprig at the top of the tree, new life being plucked from the old and being moved to a high and lofty place. A new king would come, one who would fulfill the promise from God that all the world would be blessed by the people of Israel, the line descended from Abraham.

This fulfillment has already happened. As Christians, we live to celebrate the great event. Jesus Christ is the sprig broken off Israel, establishing a new kingdom as he was held high on the cross.

And if God is transforming the world through Christ—if he is making all things new, as we know he is—then we can find new life, too.

Perhaps our habits are not what God would have them be; like the ancient Israelites, we can find ourselves living in defiance of God. Perhaps our families or others important to us are corrupted in some way, suffering under the influence of the world rather than seeking God’s will, and we find ourselves pulled down with them.

Know this: Through belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, we allow God to pluck off what is fresh and good in us and replant our lives in fertile soil. I’m talking about a life rooted in God’s holy word and refreshed daily by God’s Holy Spirit.

The first step is to offer ourselves, branches held high.

Lord, take from within us what still has the potential for holiness and eternal life, and use that to grow us into what you would have us be. Amen.