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“But let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me” (Jeremiah 9:24)
This is my sixth message on the book of Jeremiah. In my previous sermon, the theme was from Jeremiah 7:4, “Do not trust in deceptive words”. Those deceptive words, said by false prophets, was that Israel will surely be safe from foreign invaders, just because they have the Lord’s temple. This is similar to Japanese beliefs about supernatural blessing or protection. For the Christian, we have to know what we believe and consciously decide how to live. A person who believes in the true God will be changed in the way they talk and behave. True faith leads to a sincere or faithful journey with God. When we receive the love of Jesus, who hung on the Cross for us, we will practice love for other people too. We aim to hold on to Christ and have a life that produces abundant fruit.
Now, today’s theme is taken from Jeremiah 9:24. But since chapter 9 is a continuation of chapter 8, let’s look at chapter 8 first.
Chapter 8 is a message of repentance, spoken to Jeremiah’s people. Unfortunately, his people are unwilling to listen. In chapter 8 verses 4-5: “This is what the Lord says: ‘When people fall down, do they not get up? . . .Why then have these people turned away? . . . They cling to deceit; they refuse to return.” Here, we see that the southern kingdom of Judah clings to false idols and refuses to change. Because of that, God judges them. Chapter 8 prophesies that Jerusalem will be destroyed and its people taken away as captives. It is a great tragedy for Jeremiah, the prophet who must deliver this message of judgment. In verse 18, Jeremiah laments to God, “You who are my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me.”
And so, in chapter 9, we see a picture of Jeremiah as the weeping prophet. Verse 1 says, “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.” He weeps for the people of Judah who would not repent. Then verses 4 to 6 show us how deception and unbelief has spread among the people. Because the people have cut off their relationship with God, deception and lying infest the land.
Because of that, the Lord of hosts declares, in verse 7: “See, I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because of the sin of my people?” The word “refine” or “melt” implies that what was previously built will now be put to fire. The people of Judah would lose their wealth, prestige, social status, as well as the whole order of society. This is of course a terrible thing, but as a trial from God, it was an opportunity for Judah’s people to re-examine their identity and what they trust in. It was an opportunity to recover their identity and believe in God’s word again.
Verse 11 says, “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; and I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there.” The people of Judah would lose their land. Through that suffering, they would have to think about why this happened. But precisely because it was painful, they could learn. Verse 12 says, “Who is wise enough to understand this? . . . Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross?” The answer is simple. Verses 13 to 16 say it is because they had forsaken God’s law, chosen not to listen or obey God’s voice, remained stubborn in heart, and served idols. In chapter 9 we see that weeping expresses sadness, but weeping is also a time to reflect on the condition of our hearts.
Tragedies are taking place all over the world. We have seen dictators who control people and the military through one-sided information. I feel this a sign of the end times. This is the kind of tragedy that surrounds us. And this will go on for some time, I believe. In such times, we may be able to do little but weep. I think each of us, great and small, goes through such times.
Jeremiah wept for the Israelites scattered among the nations. But, as verse 7 says, “See, I will refine and test them”. A time to weep is also a time to reconsider what we really need, what we believe, and how we should live. Previously when we read chapter 6, God said to Jeremiah in 6:27, “I have made you a tester of metals and my people the ore, that you may observe and test their ways.” We must test our ways and re-examine our life by God’s word. Are you receptive to God’s love? Do you love your neighbor as Christ loves you? Do you treat other people with care, as Moses commanded? Do you avoid lies and deception? A time of weeping can be a time to think about these kinds of questions.
In verse 23, the Lord declares: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches.” Surely, if we test ourselves by God’s word, we will find ourselves unable to boast of our own wisdom, strength, or wealth. Wisdom, strength, and wealth—these are all temporary things. That is why verse 24 goes on to say, “but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.” The joyful life is a life of knowing God and living with Him. The Lord watches our lives. The Lord will judge evil one day. He will bring justice to earth. And forgive those who repent. He will surely help those who try to live a life of trust in Him. Let us hold firmly to such faith.