Who Are We Listening To? (Jeremiah 23:9-22)

My head is reeling,
    my limbs are limp,
I’m staggering like a drunk,
    seeing double from too much wine—
And all because of God,
    because of his holy words.

Now for what God says regarding the lying prophets:

“Can you believe it? A country teeming with adulterers!
    faithless, promiscuous idolater-adulterers!
They’re a curse on the land.
    The land’s a wasteland.
Their unfaithfulness
    is turning the country into a cesspool,
Prophets and priests devoted to desecration.
    They have nothing to do with me as their God.
My very own Temple, mind you—
    mud-spattered with their crimes.” God’s Decree.
“But they won’t get by with it.
    They’ll find themselves on a slippery slope,
Careening into the darkness,
    somersaulting into the pitch-black dark.
I’ll make them pay for their crimes.
    It will be the Year of Doom.” God’s Decree.

“Over in Samaria I saw prophets
    acting like silly fools—shocking!
They preached using that no-god Baal for a text,
    messing with the minds of my people.
And the Jerusalem prophets are even worse—horrible!—
    sex-driven, living a lie,
Subsidizing a culture of wickedness,
    and never giving it a second thought.
They’re as bad as those wretches in old Sodom,
    the degenerates of old Gomorrah.”

So, here’s the Message to the prophets from God-of-the-Angel-Armies:

“I’ll cook them a supper of maggoty meat
    with after-dinner drinks of strychnine.
The Jerusalem prophets are behind all this.
    They’re the cause of the godlessness polluting this country.”

A Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies:

“Don’t listen to the sermons of the prophets.
    It’s all hot air. Lies, lies, and more lies.
They make it all up.
    Not a word they speak comes from me.
They preach their ‘Everything Will Turn Out Fine’ sermon
    to congregations with no taste for God,
Their ‘Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen to You’ sermon
    to people who are set in their own ways.

“Have any of these prophets bothered to meet with me, the true God?
    bothered to take in what I have to say?
    listened to and then lived out my Word?
Look out! God’s hurricane will be let loose—
    my hurricane blast,
Spinning the heads of the wicked like tops!
    God’s raging anger won’t let up
Until I’ve made a clean sweep,
    completing the job I began.
When the job’s done,
    you’ll see that it’s been well done.

“I never sent these prophets,
    but they ran anyway.
I never spoke to them,
    but they preached away.
If they’d have bothered to sit down and meet with me,
    they’d have preached my Message to my people.
They’d have gotten them back on the right track,
    gotten them out of their evil ruts. (The Message)

Jeremiah had a hard gig as a prophet of the Lord. And what made it especially difficult was the continual stream of false prophets, preaching their “everything will turn out just fine” sermons in the face of economic injustice, social unrighteousness, emotional denial, and spiritual adultery.

Methinks that Martin Luther King, Jr. must have felt a kinship with the prophet Jeremiah. After all, he was much like a modern-day prophet. In word and deed, he kept asking people to close the distance between the values they espoused and their actual behavior. 

The terrible treatment King and his allies received during the civil rights movement through non-violent marches and demonstrations, brought-out the awful gap between espoused American values of freedom, fairness, and tolerance, and the reality that Blacks really did not possess these in any manner close to the white population. 

Every prophetic ministry compels people to come face-to-face with the disparity between beliefs and behaviors.

Jeremiah knew all about the gulf between expressed values and actual conduct. And he faced a very large chasm between the two. 

Like Reverend King, Jeremiah was imprisoned, had rocks thrown at him, and was jeered for his message of calling people to live up to God’s agenda for humanity. 

White supremacy, or at least white privilege, was taken for granted in much of America before King. In the same way, Israelite privilege was taken for granted in Jerusalem, in Jeremiah’s day. Unfaithful prophets kept proclaiming Jewish supremacy and insisted that the Lord would be on their side of things. 

But the Lord insisted that these supposed prophets have neither attended a meeting of any divine council in heaven nor ever heard God speak to them.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who create dissensions and hindrances, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. (Romans 16:17-18, NRSV)

The spirit of the age simply accepted power, privilege, and pedigree as the norm that ought to always endure. But God thinks differently about it. And so, the Lord sends prophets to call people back to justice, righteousness, and peace for the benefit of all persons.  

The zeitgeist of our own age is one of turmoil, uncertainty – and even chaos, violence, and death. We have our own contemporary self-appointed prophets who proclaim peace where there is no peace; safety, at the expense of others’ protection; militant forms of xenophobia; and an American exceptionalism which places a thin veneer of respectability over the graves of dead people’s bones.

The Lord will not contend with this forever.

An exercise in healthy introspection would be to consider these questions:

  • What are our most cherished values?
  • Where did we get them? Who are we listening to?
  • Are they God’s values? 
  • Who is really in control as the arbiter of values?
  • How might godly values of justice, righteousness, and peace be expressed in our everyday actions and behaviors?
  • Will we seek to engraft such values into our organizations, systems, faith communities, neighborhoods, and governments?
  • Can we work together in humility?
  • Do we have the courage to change, to share power, and to seek the common good of all persons?

Lord, have mercy, and grant us your peace.

All-Seeing God, you know the true state of every heart and every people group. Do your work of making me holy in all I do and say so that your values, and the words and ways of Jesus, might be expressed through me in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Proverbs 4:1-9 – Pay Attention to Wisdom

Listen, children, to a father’s instruction,
and pay attention so that you may gain discernment.
Because I hereby give you good instruction,
do not forsake my teaching.

When I was a son to my father,
a tender, only child before my mother,
he taught me, and he said to me:
“Let your heart lay hold of my words;
keep my commands so that you will live.
Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding;
do not forget and do not turn aside from the words I speak.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
love her, and she will guard you.
Wisdom is supreme—so acquire wisdom,
and whatever you acquire, acquire understanding!
Esteem her highly and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place a fair garland on your head;
she will bestow a beautiful crown on you.” (New English Translation)

Pay Attention to Instruction

Once, when I was a kid growing up on the farm, I was playing hide-and-seek with my brother and got lost in a cornfield. The stalks were taller than me, and I couldn’t jump up and try to see over them. I started to panic.

Then, I got my wits about me and looked straight up into the sky. Even though I was only seven or eight years old, I had looked up at the sky a bajillion times in my short lifetime. My dad had taught me how to read the sky and the weather above us. Fortunately, I had listened well and paid attention to all those times we looked up together.

I knew that the position of the sun in the bright blue sky would give me a fixed point of direction. Once I did that, I walked in the direction I was certain would take me out of the cornfield, trying not to let fear take hold of me. In no time at all, I was out. I lost the game of hide-and-seek. But I didn’t care.

Wisdom is personified in the book of Proverbs as a sage woman and a discerning counselor for whom we must hear and heed her advice. 

In the Old Testament, wisdom is the practical daily application of knowledge and understanding. It’s the ability to take the knowledge of God and use it in everyday life in a way that leads to human peace, contentment, and flourishing. There are two important aspects to wisdom. 

Pay Attention to Knowledge

First, the individual must possess some body of knowledge. If we are ignorant (without knowledge) then we have no ability to exercise wisdom. More than once, I rescued cousins and friends from the cornfield while playing hide-and-seek, because they didn’t have the same understanding of the sky that I did.

So, it’s absolutely imperative for us to actively seek understanding. It’s not going to simply drop into our lap. We must purposely strive to look up and see the Son, to view life from God’s perspective, and to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. 

To gain wisdom, we must become readers, listeners, and devoted learners. Why? Because without books to read, without spiritual directors to consult and listen to, and without adopting the humble posture of learning from others, we will never realize wisdom.

The telltale sign of one who fails to read, listen, and learn, is that they continually opine on everything with no evidence to back up their opinions, no insight into the human condition, and no grace in their language. In the book of Proverbs, such as a person is labeled the “fool.”

Pay Attention to Behavior

The second aspect to wisdom is that the individual must use the acquired knowledge to have good behavior and to live well. 

Knowledge by itself, apart from actual practical use, only produces puffed-up pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). The reason for accumulating understanding is to use it for the welfare of others, for the benefit of the common good. 

We have quite enough preening peacocks in this world who have answers for every earthly problem under the sun. This world needs much less of them, and more of those who seek the humility that comes from biblical wisdom. As the Apostle James in the New Testament once put it, we must be doers of the Word and not hearers only (James 1:22).

Wisdom is realized whenever there is learning that has come through both the head and the hands. Proverbs is a very good place to begin constructing a life of wisdom. Reading one chapter a day, for one month, will get you through the entire book. 

Make a wise plan to carefully go through Proverbs sometime this spring or summer. You’ll be glad you did. And so will those around you.

Pay Attention to Prayer

God of all wisdom, save me from pride and arrogance, and take me to the place where Christ’s humility is center stage, where I’m lifting up clean hands and a pure heart to you.

Spirit of discernment, take me to the place where I’m no longer looking with panic or anxiety at the cornfields and situations I face, but look up to you, where I can see clearly, and my decisions are flooded with your bright light, truth, and justice.

Jesus, teacher of all that is right and good, I submit to your instruction and humbly seek to live into your words and ways. I keep my ears open to receive your counsel, my heart open to receive your eternal wisdom, and my eyes open to see your risen and ascended glory.

Just, right, and wise God – Father, Son, and Spirit, the God whom I serve – know that I love wisdom. I desire it more than money, fame, or power. Help me to use biblical common sense, spiritual savvy, and Scriptural discernment so that I might learn the good and the beautiful. Amen.