For the past several days I’ve been reading through the book of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah lived in a day much like our own. It was a day when the nation of Israel was turning from the Lord and was beginning to experience more and more problems as God’s discipline rose in its intensity. I hope that you realize that for the past several decades (actually more like the past 50-60 years) we’ve been turning from the Lord as a nation. The result of that has been a steady diet of God’s discipline as He seeks to bring us back to Himself. I could go into detail on what that discipline looks like – but instead want to give a perspective from Jeremiah on what the religious world looks like in a time of decline. That is what chapter 23 of Jeremiah details for us. If you want to stop at this point in the article and read Jeremiah 23 feel free to do so – it might help in giving you a better context for this article.
One of the things that happens in a nation in decline is that the men of God meant to preach and declare God’s Word – stop doing that task. It is not a pleasant task to be those who help act as the conscience of a nation – yet without them, that nation will find itself plunging into ruin as sin abounds. What had happened in Judah was that their prophets and priests had decided to turn to a “more positive message” than that of declaring that the nation had sinned and needed to repent. Look at these passages from Jeremiah 23.
"Moreover, among the prophets of Samaria I saw an offensive thing: They prophesied by Baal and led My people Israel astray. Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: The committing of adultery and walking in falsehood; and they strengthen the hands of evildoers, So that no one has turned back from his wickedness. All of them have become to Me like Sodom, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah.” Jeremiah 23:13-14 (NASB)
Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the LORD. They keep saying to those who despise Me, 'The LORD has said, "You will have peace"'; and as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, they say, 'Calamity will not come upon you. But who has stood in the council of the LORD, that he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? Jeremiah 23:16-18 (NASB)
"I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds. Jeremiah 23:21-22 (NASB)
"I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name, saying, 'I had a dream, I had a dream!’ How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart, who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal? The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has a My word speak My word in truth. Jeremiah 23:25-28 (NASB)
"Behold, I am against the prophets," declares the LORD, "who use their tongues and declare, 'The Lord declares.' Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams," declares the LORD, "and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit," declares the LORD. Jeremiah 23:31-32 (NASB)
To summarize – the spiritual leaders of God’s people had first let their own morals and character decline. As a result of their own sin – they were less likely to speak on sin – and therefore strengthened people in the same sins that were rampant in their own lives. The second passage related how, having grieved the Holy Spirit, they no longer had the Spirit leading them. What is a prophet to do when he has no prophecy from God’s Spirit? Why that’s easy – he prophesies from his own spirit instead. That is what they were doing – prophesying on their own – telling people what they wanted to hear – preaching peace where there was no peace – and helping people sin and think God was going to do anything about it. God even asks if any of them had stood in His counsel and received His Word. The answer to that was a resounding – NO! They spoke dreams and visions of their own making – or they stole stuff from other prophets who were popular among the people. God said that these “so-called” prophetic words, dreams, and declarations were not helping people at all. God’s Word would have declared to them their sin – and presented God’s remedy for it. They didn’t want that because that meant speaking of sin and repentance to the people. What is truly dangerous about all this is that in the end – the people love the new prophets! They are not “negative” and don’t speak of things like sin and repentance. They have a God who never judges – except against those who are judgmental!
There is a haunting end to all this according to God – who speaks to Jeremiah.
"Thus will each of you say to his neighbor and to his brother, 'What has the LORD answered?' or, 'What has the LORD spoken?' For you will no longer remember the oracle of the LORD, because every man's own word will become the oracle, and you have perverted the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God. Jeremiah 23:35-36 (NASB)
The end of all this is a complete loss of the Word of God among a nation – or at least a perverting of it. The men of God, who should be waiting on God for His Word, are no longer doing so. Instead they prophesy from their own inspiration and share their own “more positive” message. Before long – everyone can “learn” to prophesy – and they start to do so, which results in just about everyone thinking that they have, “a word from the Lord.” But what has actually happened is that the “Word from the Lord” has actually been lost. This is because as God says here through Jeremiah, “every man’s own word will become the oracle.” What happens is that everyone’s word is considered the Word of the Lord – because to say otherwise is to be judgmental and sectarian. The religious world looks very similar to the time of Judges when “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” The only difference is that in this situation – every prophet’s word becomes God’s message in his own life.
God sent Jeremiah into the midst of this mess to declare His Word in the midst of it. It was a word of righteousness calling the people to repentance and return to God and the Word He gave in Scripture. It was a word that sounded harsh to that generation – because they no longer thought God to be a righteous God – who had absolute moral truth – and a godliness to be followed. It was also a word that warned that God WAS about to bring judgment to the world – and severe discipline to His people for their abandonment of Him. When they asked Jeremiah what the Word of the Lord was – he simply answered, “I will abandon you.” That is a difficult word to hear – especially for any generation like ours. But an even more terrifying word was coming to those men who were posing as prophets, priests, and men of God. To the ones who prophesied out of their own spirit – who turned from being God’s prophet – to being one who only seeks profit from being a prophet – God had an even harsher (yet perfectly righteous and just word).
"Therefore behold, I will surely forget you and cast you away from My presence, along with the city which I gave you and your fathers. I will put an everlasting reproach on you and an everlasting humiliation which will not be forgotten." Jeremiah 23:39-40 (NASB)
In the end – these posers faced not only their own demise – but also the demise of the entire nation whom they had led astray. They would be cast from God’s presence – along with the city (or maybe in our generation we can read “audience”) where they prophesied. They would receive an everlasting reproach and humiliation from God Himself for their wickedness.
Saints of God – I don’t particularly enjoy having to write such things. But the fact of the matter is that we are living in Jeremiah’s day again in our nation. As we plunge head first into whole new depths of wickedness, sin, and depravity – the false prophets and dreamers are continuing to tell people that what they lack is health, wealth, and prosperity. You can turn on the religious TV stations and hear it again and again – with an appeal at the end for more of your money to help fund their wicked empires (and to get them a new jet which they say is a necessity for their ministry). Their preaching draws huge crowds and their “self-styled” and “self-inspired” words from God are providing absolutely no profit to the people – even as they do provide plenty of profit for the false prophet. In the end – both they and their hearers will be abandoned and given over to judgment. Oh that there were men of God who would wait in the presence of the Lord to declare the Word of the Lord to His people. Oh that God would raise up true prophets who would declare the sin of this nation to its people – so that there would be a benefit from their words. Oh dear God – where are the Jeremiah’s of God for this current generation!?
May God give us wisdom to see calamity and disaster as a call to Himself. May we not give in to a world defined only by what is visible - explaining the problems of our world only in humanistic terms. May God give us grace to grasp His transcendent hand behind all that is allowed on the earth.
Recent events have had us reeling in our minds when it comes to grasping what is happening in our world. One of the reasons for this is because our news reporting agencies and our governing officials have a humanistic world view. When they see the Paris attacks, the Colorado Springs and San Bernardino shooting rampages - they only see things from human perspective. They have rejected even the thought of God - and some even shame anyone who says that they are praying for those whose lives have been devastated by these events. "God is not fixing this," is their rallying cry. Therefore WE have to fix it. The inference in this is that there is no God - only human understanding and human action.
Things were not always like this. There were those in our past who saw God's providential hand and dealings in all that He allowed in this world. When calamity broke loose upon a people our leaders turned to God - especially if such things came in a time of spiritual decline in the hearts of those throughout the nation. Abraham Lincoln called for a day of fasting, prayer and public humiliation (meaning humbling of oneself before God and confession of sin) in the midst of the Civil War. He spoke of things like our national pride and arrogance - and urged humbling ourselves before Him. This happened often in the early days of our nation because our leaders - and especially our pulpits were filled with men of God who did not shrink from declaring the Word of God to our nation. Today I read one of the passages that they would turn to in times of distress - and it spoke like a thundering from heaven to me. I hope it will prove helpful to you as I share it this week.
“You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment? Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey? Does a young lion growl from his den unless he has captured something? Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground when there is no bait in it? Does a trap spring up from the earth when it captures nothing at all? If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it? Surely the Lord God does nothing Unless He reveals His secret counsel To His servants the prophets. A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy? Amos 3:2-8 | NASB
Amos prophesied in Israel in a time of horrific sin and decline in the nation. The early chapters of his prophetic word from the Lord were filled with what God was going to do because of the gross sins of the nations. The pagan nations were being punished because of terrible sins that are shocking to our senses as we read of them. But when the Lord speaks of Israel and Judah - their worst sins were departing from Him and turning to other gods who led them into godless and sexually immoral living. To read of the disaster that was to come is to read of far more than shootings - it is to read of entire armies destroyed and cities demolished. Just as in our day - those in their day asked the question, "Why?"
Amos starts with a statement: "I chose you among all the families of the earth - and therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." Whether we get it or not - that is a very loving promise, because the Lord disciplines those He loves. After Amos makes this statement from God - he goes into a series of easily understood analogies. All of these statements are those that no one would question until he reaches his last question. "If a calamity happens in a city has not the Lord done it?" We find ourselves nodding in agreement without question until we read over this last and most important statement. Well - we do in our day. But that is because we've bought into the lie that we are the masters of our own fate. God, through Amos, presents a different view of things.
First of all - calamity - is from the Lord. This is especially the case when it is calamity in a nation that has rejected Him and run after wickedness. God brings calamity to turn us from our godlessness. That is the kindest thing He can do considering the facts of eternity and His final judgment that is coming. But Amos gives us more to think about here. God also does nothing unless He first reveals His secret counsel to His prophets. You see a loving God also warns us when He is about to do something. He does so through His prophets as He reveals Himself to them. It is their responsibility to announce His Word to the people. The way that Amos refers to this is by saying the following, "A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord has spoken but who can but prophesy?" Maybe we should take a look at this.
When God speaks in this situation, it is as a lion roaring. That is a figure of speech that is meant to incite a sense of fear and trembling. God acts in allowing calamity in a nation to bring it to a point where it fears God and turns to Him. But this is only known when God's prophets speak - and do so boldly. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks America seemed to turn to God - at least the churches were much more full than they were before the attacks. But for the majority there was no prophetic message coming from the men of God. After our current string of attacks we find rather than a turning to God that there is a mocking of Him. Prayer is considered by many as a useless platitude that changes nothing. Those who would pray are shamed for doing so. But in all honesty - who can blame them when what passes for prophecy lately is the words of the false prophets who say that all is well. When prophets steal their words from one another saying that God is going to bless you with health, wealth, and prosperity even as you act wickedly and spend your faith-obtained riches on yourself and your pleasures, there is not a true prophet in the whole lot of them. They are blind guides leading the blind - and both will fall into a pit as things continue to turn worse in our nation.
We need a true prophet of God who will speak boldly against sin - first his own in broken repentance before God in his personal times with Him - and then that of a church and nation that has turned far from God. He needs to speak without reservation about what IS happening in our nation - and where God is acting to bring us back to Himself. He must speak as the roaring of a lion publicly - and yet have the heart of a Jeremiah who weeps over the wound of his people. We desperately need such men in this hour.
Dear saints of God - here is the truth. What has happened in San Bernardino - and in many other places is only indicative of what IS going to be happening in the days ahead. The shootings and rampages will get worse - and no law passed by government will be able to stop them. What is happening with the growing unrest and discontent over race relations is only going to increase to the point of riots that cause smoke to rise from our cities as they burn in the throes of raging protests. What happened in 2008 where we saw the stock market plunge with trillions being lost and fortunes being lost - is only a drop in the bucket of what is on our horizon. In addition to this we are going to begin watching as our military is decimated in future encounters as they no longer have the blessing of God upon their endeavors. I fear worst of all is the specter of a mushroom cloud billowing over one or more of our cities as the discipline of God reaches its peak. Fear and trembling will grip our nation as it reacts in horror to these things. And yet - as long as there is the possibility of repentance and return to God - there is hope. Recently a young man asked me whether there is any hope for America. My answer to him was that Nineveh was 3 days from being destroyed - and when the people repented - God showed them mercy and relented from the evil that was coming. Therefore there is hope - but not a hope in government (on either side of the aisle). There is hope - but not in manmade solutions of no guns or more guns. There is hope - but not in our bank accounts - fancy new cars - massive homes - or even new jets for a television false prophet. Our hope is in the mercies of God. Our hope is in people turning to Him in prayer - in repentance - and in humbling themselves and turning from wicked ways. I do not say this lightly saints - but outside of this - there is no hope nor is there any future for our nation.
God is disciplining and punishing our cities. God is speaking through His prophets. He is roaring in our land. Are we listening? Have we heard? Will we respond?
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