Reader: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,”
Response: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.”
Scripture: Jeremiah 17:5-10
This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land.
“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
and desperately wicked.
Who really knows how bad it is?
But I, the Lord, search all hearts
and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
according to what their actions deserve.”
Today we jump back in history to around 600 BC in the days of Jeremiah, one of the major prophets in the First Testament. (He is considered “major” because of the length of the book!) He also came at a crucial time in Israel’s history. Prophets of God didn’t decide on their own that they would be a prophet, something today’s “prophets” might remember. Prophets are called by God. Biblical prophets spoke only what the Lord told them to speak which meant that they were right 100% of the time, a tough standard for today’s “prophets.” (Deut. 18:21-22) In fact, God spoke to Jeremiah in these powerful and insightful words, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” (Yes, human life certainly and clearly begins at conception. Here is yet another example from Scripture of this truth. Jer.1:5)
Today’s pericope is divided into two sections as you noticed. The first part describes a curse and the second a blessing. Sadly, the “curse” section describes our world to a “T.”
Our trust is in human’s wisdom, skill, insight, intelligence, and power. The thought expressed so often is: “If we work together we can accomplish anything. Given enough time, we can solve the problem.” So how are we doing in overcoming the health situation? But notice the second part of the “curse.” Not only do these people rely on themselves, of greater significance, they turn away from the Lord. Today’s cultural hostility toward Christianity in the USA and elsewhere in the world is ample evidence of a cultural and societal heart turned against the Lord.
The truth of Jeremiah’s words concerning the curse are ubiquitous. Have you noticed the rise in hopelessness among our society as evidenced by increased drug use, depression, suicide, and brazen violence? Those rejecting the Lord are truly living in a barren wilderness as shrubs dying in the desert, desperate for water. And it was Jesus talking with the woman at the well that said, “I will give you living water and you will never thirst again.” (Jn.4:14)
The second half of Jeremiah’s prophecy concerns God’s blessing. One can’t help but read it and think of Psalm 1 written some 300 years earlier. Here, Jeremiah uses some of the same wording. Trusting in the Lord brings hope, the opposite of losing hope with a curse. Rather than a stunted, dying shrub in the desert, blessing is like a healthy tree planted by a river, providing a continual source of water. Rather than dry shriveled roots, these roots go down deep into well-watered soil enabling the tree to withstand difficult times.
(I wonder if Jeremiah was influenced by both Psalm 1 and 2? Notice Psalm 1 concerns the joys of the blessing and the difficulties of those who reject God’s law. Psalm 2 describes the path of the wicked, those who have rejected God. In this pericope, it almost seems as if Jeremiah has condensed Psalm 1 which focuses on blessing and on Psalm 2 which focuses on what happens in rejecting God. Just a thought.)
In concluding this passage, Jeremiah goes to the “heart of the problem” as it were―the human heart. How often we have heard the expression, “I just followed my heart” . . . and some disastrous things have happened as a result. God tells me here that my heart is “the most deceitful of all things!” Those are frightening words. Nothing is more deceptive, delusive than your own heart. That is not good news. And you and I are thinking right about now, “Wow, that is overstated!” Jeremiah must be reading our minds anticipating what we would be thinking because his next sentence nails us. “Who really knows how bad it is?” There is only one being who knows the depth of our bent heart, the Lord. He truly knows us better than we know ourselves. When we ask, “Now, why did I do that?” The Lord knows the answer every time! He rewards us as our actions deserve.
What I have noticed is that the closer my communion with the Lord, the more aware I am of my deceitful heart and bent motives in my actions. I find I have much more difficulty in explaining away my thoughts or conduct. What happened may have looked one way to everyone else, but the real motivation lay elsewhere in a dark spot in my heart. Thank you Jeremiah for shining a penetrating light in the corners of the heart.
Music: “Change My Heart, O God” Maranatha Music (an “oldie” that sings truth)
Give us, O Lord, steadfast hearts, which no unworthy thought can drag downwards; unconquered hearts which no tribulation can wear out; upright hearts, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. Bestow upon us also O Lord God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. ―Thomas à Kempis, 1380-1471, from The Worshiping Church Hymnal, 528