Jeremiah & Judgment

For the last 15 years, there has been growing talk about the judgment coming to America and what should be done to stop it. Last year, the CEO of Chick-fil-a (a restaurant I love) said this regarding gay marriage and God’s judgment on America:

I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, “We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.” … I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

Obviously these remarks were taken quite offensively and led to protests and counter-protests and many chicken sandwiches.

During this time last year, I read through Jeremiah to see what the Bible says about this subject. In my opinion, there is no better book to read about God’s judgment than Jeremiah, since that is its sole focus. Many think Jeremiah is discouraging or depressing; but Jeremiah isn’t a depressing book because of the prophecies. It’s depressing because people outright ignored God’s warnings.

I wanted to post some of my thoughts about the book of Jeremiah and also my thoughts about our “God is sending national judgment” thinking.

Judgment is God-centered

One of the scariest and most solemn verses in Jeremiah is where God lays out his charge against Israel and why He’s sending judgment:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:12-13 ESV)

God doesn’t judge nations because they do bad things. All nations are made up of sinful people who will make (and sometimes even serious) mistakes. God remembers this. God doesn’t judge a nation based on how many laws are good for Christianity and how many are bad for it. No, God judges nations for two main reasons: they forsake Him and replace Him.

This point is stated over and over again throughout Jeremiah. Even though God does talk about the evil things they are doing, He tells them they are doing these things because they are not seeking Him. The root of national judgment is God. He is (99% of the time) the only determining factor.

A revival of moralism doesn’t prevent judgment.

This point killed me. It came when I realized when God called Jeremiah.

The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month. (Jeremiah 1:1-3 ESV)

Many times we skip over these introductions in Scripture, but this one is quite important. Why? Let’s read what King Josiah was doing before God called Jeremiah to prophecy judgment.

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images. And they chopped down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and he cut down the incense altars that stood above them. And he broke in pieces the Asherim and the carved and the metal images, and he made dust of them and scattered it over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, and as far as Naphtali, in their ruins all around, he broke down the altars and beat the Asherim and the images into powder and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 34:1-7 ESV)

Let’s stop and think about that.

King Josiah begins a moral revolution in the land. He starts tearing down every altar of idolatry in the land. It would be the equivalent if the President of the United States (with the support of the government) shut down the pornography industry, put prayer back in schools, outlawed gambling and prostitution, and created Christian laws to start enacting a theocracy. It was a huge win for morality. But a year into this revival of morality, God calls Jeremiah to prophecy judgment on the land.

The implication couldn’t be clearer: a revival of morality has little to do with stopping judgment. The reason is because, like I mentioned in the point above, morality (or the lack thereof) isn’t the main reason for judgment. People forsaking God is the real and main reason for judgment. The sad truth of the matter is that people can act righteous and be even more worthy of judgment.

In America, there is strong talk about the need for a revival of morality. Many think that if we outlaw gay marriage, put prayer back in schools, have a Christian president, or stop vile things from being on TV, that this would stop the coming judgment from God and make us a “Christian nation” again. This thinking couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I believe it would be worse for us. It would sear our consciences and let us believe that we are good and righteous while hearts and minds are still forsaking God. When people stop forsaking God and start seeking Him, morality is fixed. To fix morality without turning the heart back to God is deadly. That’s why God tells Israel:

Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3:10)

“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. (Jeremiah 4:1)

All judgment is from God, regardless of the servant.

From the beginning, God promised he would raise up the Babylonians to destroy Judah. Daniel said around this same time to the king of Babylon:

He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings. (Daniel 2:27)

When a nation is overthrown or attacked, the Bible is clear: God’s will was involved. It isn’t a game of free-will Russian roulette. God controls the hearts of kings/leaders and moves them to accomplish His will. They are His servants.

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1)

“It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. (Jeremiah 27:5)

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. (Jeremiah 43:10)

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. (Habakkuk 1:5-6)

In America, we often think that we can control which leaders govern which nations. We live in endless fear of dictators and nations with nuclear ambitions, acting that if we don’t worry and don’t try to do something preventative that one of these dictators will attack our country. While I believe it’s in the heart of all men to do terrible evil, the Bible shows us that national attacks are stirred in the hearts of leaders by the Lord. Whether Pharaoh (multiple ones), Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius, or other kings in the Bible, God predestined them to conquer. The prophecies and scriptures show this to be true.

Sometimes, God won’t change his mind.

There has been an uprising of mass gatherings of prayer, fasting, and repentance in the last twenty years. Groups like Promise Keepers and The Call have rallied people to join them and to pray for two things: to stop (or delay) judgment upon our nation and to turn the nation’s heart back to God. I have no problem with the faith of these two statements. I believe that only prayer and fasting can help do the impossible — turn hateful hearts to Jesus.

The problem comes when we think that if we cultivate enough prayer, that God will change His mind. This absolute is nowhere in scripture. That’s why the Bible says:

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? (Joel 2:13-15)

Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (Jonah 3:9)

“For this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above be dark; for I have spoken; I have purposed; I have not relented, nor will I turn back.” (Jeremiah 4:28)

I have no problem praying in hope that God may change His mind, but it is never an absolute thing. He only answers prayers that line up to His will. If His will is to judge a nation, ten million hours of prayer won’t change a thing. Sometimes the most that will happen is that the judgment will be temporarily delayed.

Judgment cannot be delayed forever.

Even though judgment is delayed, it does not mean it’s deleted. There will come a time where it cannot be delayed any longer. This is the reason why God says in Jeremiah:

Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord; and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this? (Jeremiah 5:9 & 29; 9:9)

You have rejected me, declares the Lord; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—I am weary of relenting. (Jeremiah 15:6)

The things we do and evils we commit are done, ultimately, against Him. Therefore, He has every right to respond accordingly. Sometimes the reason judgment falls is that God is tired (figuratively speaking) of delaying it and postponing it, especially when nothing is truly changing in the hearts of the people. When judgment finally happens, it’s because it is the will of God. When the Lord finally decided to judge and destroy Israel, He told Jeremiah:

As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. (Jeremiah 7:16)

When God’s mind is made up, it’s a sure thing. No prayer or plan of man can change it. Yet, even in His decision to judge, there is mercy and patience. It would be another twenty years before God would move Babylon to destroy Jerusalem.

God will eventually judge everyone.

Even though God may use ungodly people and nations to accomplish His purposes in judgment, it does not mean that He winks at their sin and hatred of Him. Jeremiah complained to the Lord in Jeremiah 12. Jeremiah was mad that God would judge His own people for their evil while the heathen nations around them were living prosperous. The Lord then responds by talking about the judgment He’s bringing upon those nations:

But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 12:17)

Later, God would speak directly against Babylon, His servant, and judge them for what they did.

For this is the vengeance of the Lord: take vengeance on her; do to her as she has done. (Jeremiah 50:15)

Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer against Babylon, against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai, and I will send to Babylon winnowers, and they shall winnow her, and they shall empty her land, when they come against her from every side on the day of trouble. (Jeremiah 51:1-2)

The Lord has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, because his purpose concerning Babylon is to destroy it, for that is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance for his temple. (Jeremiah 51:11)

This should show us that no nation, no matter how great and powerful they are, no matter if they are God’s chosen nation to judge the earth, all nations will be judged and many times the judgment they reap is the judgment that God helped them sow.

Our hearts deceive us and make us think we won’t be judged.

One of the most quoted verses in the Bible has to be Jeremiah 17:9, but let’s read it in context:

“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars,while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, on the mountains in the open country. Your wealth and all your treasures I will give for spoil as the price of your high places for sin throughout all your territory. You shall loosen your hand from your heritage that I gave to you, and I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.” (Jeremiah 17:1-4)

So this chapter’s context is about Judah’s sin and the certainty of God’s judgment and wrath against them.

Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. (Jeremiah 17:5-6)

God tells them that they turned their heart away from God and decided to trust in themselves instead. But whose fault is this? God answers the question.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind,to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

God is saying that their (and our) hearts were deceiving them into believing that God wouldn’t see and wouldn’t judge them for their evil deeds.

Prophecy may be treasonous.

When your nation/government rejects God and avidly seeks evil, any prophecy against them will eventually be seen as treasonous. Name calling was only the start. Speaking the truth and the word of God landed Jeremiah in jail. Jeremiah was beaten by the chief priest, Pashhur (in Jeremiah 20), for the things that he was prophesying. But when the word of the Lord is in you, you can’t be beaten into silence.

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FAQ

I’m posting my personal thoughts as questions and answers in summary of this post.

So, is judgment coming to America?

Yes.

Why is judgment coming to America?

I would say because of Jeremiah 2:11-13 and 22:8. In truth, God judges all nations who do not seek Him wholeheartily. So judgment is not just coming to America, but to most (if not all) nations. The final judgment will culminate in the Great Tribulation.

Can we delay it or cancel it?

There is no way to cancel the judgment coming to this land. God has planned the exact day it will happen. I’m not even sure we can delay it anymore, though we can still pray to that end.

Yet, what is the purpose of that end (that He would delay judgment)? My personal feelings on the matter of praying to delay judgment is this: it’s incredibly selfish. I feel like this has been happening for the last 40 years. I find it to be the equivalent of saying “God, don’t judge me. Judge my children.” It shirks responsibility and accountability. Is it not more honorable to accept the judgment for your (and previous) generations so that your children may be spared? It irks me that American Christians want spiritual authority but not spiritual responsibility.

Is there any hope then?

Of course. Judgment and mercy always flow together. A.W. Tozer states:

He has always dealt in mercy with mankind and will always deal in justice when His mercy is despised.

The doctrine of the divine unity means not only that there is but one God; it means also that God is simple, uncomplex, one with Himself. The harmony of His being is the result not of a perfect balance of parts but of the absence of parts. Between His attributes no contradiction can exist. He need not suspend one to exercise another, for in Him all His attributes are one. All of God does all that God does; He does not divide himself to perform a work, but works in the total unity of His being. (link)

This means that God does stop being merciful in order to judge. Rather, it is a natural response for God to judge evil and it is a natural response to give mercy to those who cry out for it, before, during, and after. This is why one event like 9/11 can occur and it can spiritually destroy someone’s life and save someone else’s.

How should the church respond in light of the coming judgment?

In repentance and in humility. Peter states:

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)

While great judgment will come to this nation one day, it will come to the church first. In many ways we, Christians living in America, have the same issues that Israel did in Jeremiah. Although we have an ultimate sacrifice in Jesus and don’t have to worry about being judged without hope, the Lord does chastise His children, and sometimes the chastising can be a little tough, but it is always loving.

When we start seeing our sins, we will start responding humbly to our nation regarding their sins. We will start praying like Habakkuk:

O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)

What is the scriptural way to prepare for coming judgment?

Pray, fast, obey, worship, and memorize the Bible. There’s no need to start storing food or making underground bunkers. God speaks harshly many times throughout Jeremiah to those who would try to seek shelter and comfort by their own hands and strength. Don’t be anxious and trust God (Matthew 6).

How bad will the judgment be?

I don’t know, but it won’t be nearly as bad as when Jesus returns. Ponder that.

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