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climbing a mountain July 26 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading: Jeremiah 1, 2, 3, 4

Help for Backsliders

In the summertime many people climb mountains. Perhaps that is not you, but have you ever tried climbing a slippery hill and failed time after time? Down you slide again! You just couldn’t find a right way to get back up that hill! That describes the spiritual life of the nation of Judah when Jeremiah prophesied to them. Does this describe your life right now? If so, pay attention and you can find out how to get back up the hill. If not, this lesson will serve as an admonition.

Today we start the book of Jeremiah. The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah when he was a young man. God says to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations,” (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV). Jeremiah was a humble man somewhat like Moses, but God gave him courage, telling him that he would be with Jeremiah and rescue him when he was in trouble. His job was daunting. He was to preach a message of judgment to the disobedient nation of Judah until she was destroyed and taken into captivity. Jeremiah’s ministry lasted for about thirty-five years, from the time of good King Josiah to a few years past the last king, Zedekiah. Not all assignments by God are easy or glorious. It is difficult to confront people, even when God leads you to do it and the motive is genuine concern for their spiritual lives. We may suffer for it.

Jeremiah started his ministry under King Josiah. Because he saw the idolatry in Judah and the remnants of Israel, in his twelfth year Josiah began to “purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Ashera poles, carved idols and cast images,” (2Chronicles 34:3, NIV). Apparently, however, the people, priests, and his own leaders did not buy into his reforms.

God gave Jeremiah a vision of the true spiritual state of Judah and Israel. In the Middle East the almond tree is one of the first to blossom in the spring (The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the O.T., by Walvoord and Zuck, ©1985, p.1131) The significance of this image was that God would quickly bring judgment to Judah for backsliding. They worshipped God in pretense; they went to the feasts and offered their sacrifices, but secretly they still worshipped their own idols (Jeremiah 3:10). They had slipped back from following the LORD. In reality, they had turned their backs on God. Perhaps some of us have slipped back from following the LORD. Have we forgotten all that God has done for us? Do we hang on to worthless things, sins and habits that God finds offensive?

The reality of Judah’s situation was also shown in a second vision. A vision of a boiling cauldron tilting down from the north symbolized the nation of Babylon and its impending war upon all the nations in her path, including Judah. Through Babylon, God's wrath would soon be poured out upon Judah. She would be judged for her idolatry and wickedness. If you are a backsliding child of God, you, too, can expect God’s judgment (discipline, not condemnation). He does not judge his children because he hates them but because he loves them and does not want them to stray from him and thereby destroy themselves (Hebrews 12:1-11).

How had Judah slipped? Like an ungrateful marriage partner, Israel took her husband, the LORD, for granted and forgot the early days of her relationship with him. The early days were days of joy. God delivered the helpless and oppressed people of Israel. He protected her from Pharaoh and his armies. Israel worshipped God in holiness, and he provided for her in the desert. She was fed and given water. Her clothes did not wear out. God gave her great military victories, esteem and wealth. God gave her a beautiful and bountiful land and his favor. But Israel forgot the care she had been given and became ungrateful. The Israelites thought the grass was greener on the other side of the fence. She forsook the relationship, and like a prostitute she sought other lovers (alliances with other nations). She adopted their sinful lifestyles and exchanged her worship of the true Almighty God for worthless man-made gods of wood and stone. Now Judah was committing even worse sins than her sister nation, Israel.

God says against Judah,

“Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.

Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the LORD.

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water,” (Jeremiah 2:11-13, NIV).

For these sins they brought trouble upon themselves. God continued his words of judgment in Jeremiah 2:19

“Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty. (NIV)

Yet, where did Judah turn to when she was in trouble? To the LORD of course. “Come and save us,” they said.

“Why do they not look to their own gods to save them?” God asks.

God tried to punish them, but they did not and would not respond. Therefore, because her obstinacy was like that of her sister nation, Judah would also go into exile. God tells both Israel and Judah, “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding,” (Jeremiah 3:22, NIV).

How does God cure people of backsliding? To Israel and Judah, who would eventually seek a cure from their backslidden condition (while in exile), God says,

“If you will return, O Israel, return to me,” declares the LORD.

“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As surely as the LORD lives,’ [instead of other gods] then the nations will be blessed by him and in him they will glory.”

This is what the LORD says to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem: “Break up your unplowed ground [i.e., repent because you have hard hearts] and do not sow among thorns [seeds of righteousness can be choked out through bad influences].

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts [cut off the layers of your heart until you get to the tender part], you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done-- burn with no one to quench it.”

So, put on sackcloth, lament and wail, for the fierce anger of the LORD has not turned away from us. (Jeremiah 4:1-4, 8, NIV).

The cure for backsliding is true sorrow and humility over our sins and repentance from the heart. It involves a change of heart, listening to the Word of God, and removing idols from our lives. We must fear the LORD and walk in his ways. We must also protect ourselves from evil influences that will bring us trouble again. Will we listen and heed the words of God or will we bring trouble on ourselves? It is our choice (more...).

Unfortunately, Israel and Judah made wrong choices. God says, “Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!” (Jeremiah 4:8, NIV). Exile was anything but pleasant. After they would suffer for seventy years, God would have mercy on them. Perhaps our own conduct threatens to bring God’s judgment upon us. Why should we want to suffer? Why not make the right choices and serve God exclusively so that our lives will not become devastated like the land of Israel was? They lost everything. Sometimes it takes devastation to wake us up and to make us see our need for God. But why lose everything? Live in the fear of the LORD now and experience his favor.

Lessons to live by: (regarding spiritual backsliding)

  • Not all assignments by God are easy or glorious. It is difficult to confront people, even when God leads you to do it and the motive is genuine concern for their spiritual lives. You may suffer for it.
  • If you are a backsliding child of God, you, too, can expect God’s judgment (discipline). He does not judge his children because he hates them, however, but because he loves them and does not want them to stray from him and thereby destroy themselves.
  • The cure for backsliding is true sorrow and humility over our sins and repentance from the heart (more...).
  • Make the right choices and serve God exclusively so that your life will not become devastated like the land of Israel was. Live in the fear of the LORD now and experience his favor.

Today’s Bible memory verse: 1Samuel 12:24 “But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.” (NIV)

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