I want to share what God put on my heart during my quiet time this morning, as I read Jeremiah 5. It’s really easy to gloss over the Old Testament (OT – the writings before Jesus’ time on Earth) and see an angry, violent God, and to feel totally at a loss for how to reconcile this with our doe-eyed image of Jesus of the New Testament (NT – the writings covering the period during and after Jesus’ time on Earth). The truth is, God is neither impetuous nor pasty. And likewise, Christianity is not the bipolar rancid-saccharine, micromanaging thing we’ve made it. It will take me some time to talk through this, but I hope you will hear me out.
In Jeremiah 5, God is in the midst of describing a nation as an unfaithful wife who has rejected perfect love in exchange for cruelty, usury, violence, gluttony, and deceit. But let’s get the backstory. If we back up to the book of Isaiah, we see in Chapter 5 a beautiful picture of a Beloved attentive gardener:
Now let me sing to my Well-beloved
A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard:
My Well-beloved has a vineyard
On a very fruitful hill.
This is starting off very lovely. I like this guy.
He dug it up and cleared out its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
He built a tower in its midst,
And also made a winepress in it;
What an attentive gardener! This garden has everything it needs to thrive. This guy knows what he’s doing.
So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,
But it brought forth wild grapes.
Oh, dear. That was unexpected.
“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
What more could have been done to My vineyard
That I have not done in it?
Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,
Did it bring forth wild grapes?
Excellent point. “What more could have been done?” Generally, one would expect that a garden (or vineyard), started with high quality seed, in the perfect soil, in an ideal location, in the hands of an attentive Master Gardener, and guarded from a watchtower, would grow what was planted, and in good quality. Silly grapes.
And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard:
Yes, do. This should be interesting.
I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned;
And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will lay it waste;
It shall not be pruned or dug,
But there shall come up briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds
That they rain no rain on it.”
Oh, snap. That sounds like a professional tantrum right there. Where’s the love? What happened to “Beloved”? Who hired this gardener? Where are his references? Anyway, proceed:
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.
The Garden Analogy
I see what he did there. The garden is the nation of Israel. God gave Israel everything it needed to succeed and thrive, and as I mentioned above, the people did everything except be good grapes.
But, this harsh reaction still raises a lot of questions and discomfort. If we’re supposed to draw some meaning from this for our spiritual growth today, it could cause some fear and/or resentment if not carefully considered. Who wants to associate with “obey or else”?
I’m going to hop back to Jeremiah 5:10 now, where God still seems to be in the midst of thundering on about his wonky garden, his wayward bride:
“Go up on her walls and destroy,
But do not make a complete end.
Take away her branches,
For they are not the Lord’s
For the house of Israel and the house of Judah
Have dealt very treacherously with Me,” says the Lord.
What stood out to me was the phrase, “But do not make a complete end.” As I have been reading throughout the OT, I have encountered this concept a lot. There is always a remnant. But what is left, and how bad is it trembling? What’s with the decimation? The only answers I can come up with are:
1) God wants someone left to torture
2) God wants someone left to love
I have to zoom out and look at the whole story, the whole Bible, and figure out which one it is. This is something, by the way, that I can’t discover for you. But, I will dare to say that you probably have a fear about which one it might be, and a deep wish for which one you want it to be, and that the answer is not too good to be true.
Before I delve more into what might be happening in this OT drama, I want to include another concept that I noticed in this passage. The next thing that stood out to me was the phrase, “For they are not the Lord’s”. God is removing what is not His, and thus keeping what is His. This is makes sense, so far. We see a claim check; What will we find in God’s coat closet? I’ll make a representative list based on what God has communicated in the Bible, and please do check my work.
What is God’s.
- “Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it.” (Deuteronomy 10:14)
- The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. (Psalm 24:1)
- But that day belongs to the Lord, the Lord Almighty—a day of vengeance, for vengeance on his foes. (Jeremiah 46:10)
- Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. (Daniel 2:20)
- The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. (Psalm 89:11)
- If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. (Psalm 50:12)
- Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)
So, basically, everything. The heavens. The earth. Everything on Earth. Everyone on Earth. Wisdom. Power. Revenge (justice). *Everything. He made it. He made it perfectly, and called it VERY GOOD. It’s His. But He’s not a control freak. He’s not a senseless hoarder. There is no GOOD in that. However, looking around, I do believe He is unnecessarily extravagant. He didn’t have to make flowers smell amazing, or birds sing beautifully, or the universe so astonishingly expansive, or the tiny things so complex, or everything so orderly and intricate. He didn’t have to make us. But, He made us, made an amazing world for us, and gave us dominion over it.
What is not God’s.
*”Everything” excludes all that God did not create. We can have philosophical arguments about God creating evil, or at least the capacity for evil, but that is for another time. I am basing this discussion on the foundation of God’s Word, that He created all things and called them “very good”. Freedom of thought and choice was also “very good” and is an important hallmark of a healthy, loving relationship. Control is not love. Long story short, sin was born on Earth from the choice to listen to self and deception and not trust God. God’s “very good” became corrupted, and God hates corruption. By the way, we hate it too. We’re made in God’s image, and He put His nature in our hearts. God, knowing the beginning from the end, understands how his Very Good creation will suffer in it’s self-absorption. This is not what He wanted for us. We were supposed to have VERY GOOD.
There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
God hates the thing that has caused us to struggle and fail to love each other and to mistrust His perfect love.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)
God will do anything and has given everything to get us back to where we were with Him. He needs us to trust Him for a little while. Like the hero in a movie who, at the height of an intense scene, turns to his beloved and asks, “Do you trust me?” just before an amazing and dangerous rescue.
Listen to the otherness, the longing, the stop-at-nothing devotion in this next passage.
This is what Jesus prayed for the people He created,
before He willingly faced terrifying and torturous death,
for the purpose of buying us back from our permanent death in Sin,
because of Satan, the Father of Lies, who kidnapped our hearts.
Through all the slander, God aches for us to see the truth about Himself, if only through His own sacrifice.
“My prayer is not for them alone.
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
that all of them may be one, Father,
just as you are in me
and I am in you.
May they also be in us
so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
I have given them the glory that you gave me,
that they may be one as we are one—
I in them and you in me—
so that they may be brought to complete unity.
Then the world will know that you sent me
and have loved them
even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
How amazing does that unity sound? Aren’t you tired of conflict? Wouldn’t you rather picture a God that you can trust and know deeply?
Patience and Perspective
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Jesus is the hero in our story. “Not wishing that any should perish.” “But do not make a complete end.” Can you see here the awful surgery? He wants every one of us to be the beloved sidekick that says, “Yes, I trust you.” But, at some point, the leap of rescue must be made. To God’s anguish, too many people have their own, insufficient, rescue plan. The God of the OT knows this.
The God of the OT, of the NT, of now, and of the future, is a daring, jealous, lover, and a consuming, refining wildfire. He will burn away the underbrush that chokes us, that mimics what is good, but depletes our soul, so we can grow and thrive and produce the “good grapes” of love,
When our “gardens” rage out of control, He will cut off our noses to save our faces. He will prune away the branches in us that He didn’t grow.
I don’t want to get distracted and tangled in the notion that God causes bad or painful things to happen. Remember, God made what is VERY GOOD, but He now must contend with the invasive species of Sin. He can and will use all things to his glory and to our success in trusting Him.
We need a perspective shift. We tend to see pain as punishment and we tend to minimize sin as we consider God’s grace. If all I’ve claimed of God’s love and intentions toward us is the truth, then we have been severely abusing God. We’ve been having a terrible, adulterous affair with sin. Anything less than our utter rejection or destruction, would hardly be just. Yet, He remains steady, unchanging. He wants us back. We NEED a jealous God.
We are in a spiritual war – within ourselves and all around us – and there are very real, very tangible results. Ask any athlete – growth hurts. Ask any human – life hurts. But we are not the pale, submissive victims of power depicted in renaissance art. We are also not the recipients of a shiny new easy life, or of a commission to micromanage others. But, we are “more than conquerors” when we trust Jesus, when we open ourselves up to being stretched, and to loosening our grip on control and certainty. We experience solid trust, acceptance, empowerment, growth, belonging, and joy. Hearts soften. Appetites change.
Gluttony becomes nourishment.
Devouring becomes delight.
Lust becomes honor.
Control becomes God’s provision.
Insecurity becomes God’s identity.
Fear becomes courage.
Scarcity becomes “enough to share.”
I am full of “wild grapes,” but I know an overwhelmingly good God who has been growing me in ways I could never have imagined. I hope I have helped you understand my thoughts about Him, and perhaps have given you a clearer picture of His love. It’s VERY GOOD.