While doing my daily cover-to-cover reading of the Bible recently, I reached Jeremiah 41-45. [By the way, this is my second round of reading this year, using different Bible versions – something you might try also, if you are not already doing it.] I was deeply struck by the mindless rebelliousness of the Jews who heard the prophet Jeremiah’s God-sent warning message to them.
How could they have not believed the prophet’s warning against them taking refuge in Egypt from the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar’s impending destruction of Jerusalem? Why did they insist on going to Egypt anyway – to their own doom? Why did they refuse to stay put in Jerusalem, and they would have remained untouched by the king there, as Jeremiah had assured?
This got me to thinking about this quirk of the human heart and attitude. Let me unpack it here; hopefully we can learn some lessons to help us chart a brighter course for our lives.
What makes the decision of this group of Jews ironic is that they had told Jeremiah that, yes, they were going to do as he had declared to them. But some rogue ringleaders among them persuaded them from their original decision and led them to disobey Jeremiah’s warning. Thus they all fled to Egypt. But there Nebuchadnezzar caught up with them and devastated them along with Egypt. Only a small remnant survived among the Jews along with Jeremiah.
We see this pattern in the actions of the children of Israel and of Judah.
After Moses had given God’s commandments to the children of Israel, and the people entered into a covenant with their God at Sinai, they said they were going to keep their part of the covenant (Exodus 24:3-8).
But not too long after this, the people of Israel forgot their promise to their God. Exodus 32 chronicles the infamous “golden calf” incident involving no less than their high priest Aaron, Moses’ elder brother. Notice how some rogues also incited the people to commit their blatant idolatry.
All through the history of the nation Israel, we find the people to have been hard-headed and hard-hearted in their disobedience to their God. God called them a “stiff-necked” people (Exodus 32:9;33:3, 5; 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6, 213; 10:16; 2 Chronicles 30:8). The first Christian martyr Stephen echoed this in his condemnation of the Jews who – until then – refused to listen to his God’s Spirit-inspired testimony (Acts 7:51).
For physical stiff-neck woes there are a number of remedies that therapists can apply. But for spiritual stiff-neck, what’s the remedy?
A stiff-necked attitude stems from a hard heart – the inner soul and spirit of man, Jeremiah 17:9 gives this “diagnosis”: “The heart [of man] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” [See: Is There Ever Any Good in Man? and A Law-abiding Universe – But Man!]
One who truly yearns for the remedy for spiritual stiff-neckedness will thus need to seek a change of heart.
But how? Jeremiah 10:23 asserts that “…the way of man is not in himself, it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.”
The “man after God’s own heart” David (1 Samuel 2:23; Acts 13:22) prayed, in deep repentance for his double sin of adultery and murder, to “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
A contemporary praise or prayer song asks:
Change my heart, O God;
Make it ever true.
Change my heart, O God;
Make me more like You!
You are the Potter;
I am the clay.
Mold me and make me,
This is what I pray.
No less than a spiritual heart “transplant” is needed in the case of a stiff or hard heart!
God promised to stiff-necked Israel that one day that “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh [a soft, yielded and submissive heart]. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
God’s Spirit essential
God’s Spirit will help us understand both the “goodness and severity” of God (Romans 11:22). God’s righteousness calls for severe punishment for sin not repented of (Romans 2:5-9). Revelation 21:8 shows how God will vent His wrath on such sinners. This should lead a person who values his life and eternity to a healthy fear of God. And we can ask God to put such fear in our heart (Psalm 86:11; Jeremiah 32:39-40). [See: Can We Fear and Love God at the Same Time?]
Isaiah 66:2 promises, “But on this one I will look [regard]: on him who is poor [lowly, humble] and of a contrite [repentant, sorrowful] heart, and who trembles at My word.”
Such fear should cause one to think twice or more about transgressing any of God’s laws, which is what sinning is. Sin is an affront to God’s very character and purposes as revealed in God’s law and word. If we truly love God we will obey His law (John 14:15, 21; 1 John 5:2).
Like soft clay rid of hard lumps, we should be yielded and pliable to the molding in the hands of our great Master Potter. [See: https:www.herbert-armstrong,org, click ENTER HERE, select “Good News (1951-1989),” click 1980-1989, and scroll down to the issue of Oct-Nov 1980, for the article titled “Lessons From the Master Potter.”]
An old hymn prayerfully asks:
Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way.
Thou art the Potter,
I am the clay.
Mould me and make me after Thy will.
Here I am waiting, yielded and still.
Moses told the people of Israel while the armies of Egypt’s Pharaoh were hotly pursuing them: Do not be afraid. Stand still. And see the salvation of the LORD. Which He will accomplish for you today….The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (Exodus 14:13-14). Amen!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.