Many people enjoy following the men’s college basketball tournament that continues this weekend. Amazingly approximately $6 billion dollars is wagered on March Madness. If you watch the players closely, many of them talk a lot on the court. There is a lot of trash talking and boasting that goes on. This type of behavior is nothing new, in fact, there are dozens and dozens of verses in the Bible about boasting, David and Goliath’s exchange perhaps setting the standard for biblical boasting and trash talking but it’s hardly the only one.
March 25, 2012
Jeremiah 9:23-24, Delighting God
Doug Scalise, Brewster Baptist Church
Delighting God from BBC Staff on Vimeo.
In 1 Kings 20, King Ben-hadad of Aram was threatening Israel and making all kinds of demands for plunder and treasure including the fairest wives and children belonging to King Ahab of Israel. As many people still do today, Ben-hadad really began to boast and get himself in trouble when he was drunk. Ahab’s reply is a classic (1 Kings 20:11), “Tell him: One who puts on armor should not brag like one who takes it off.” In other words, don’t boast about what you’re going to do, wait until you’ve actually done it.
The prophet Jeremiah is not known for his boasting – a brief look at his background helps us understand why. Jeremiah was born 645 years before Christ and became involved in public life at the age of twenty-two. His ministry and teaching reflect the influence of the prophets Hosea, Isaiah, and Amos. Forbidden by God to marry or have children, his truth-telling made him enemies and he had only a few loyal friends. He spent more than a decade of his life in prison, and he died in exile in Egypt at the age of sixty. In just the first three verses of the Book of Jeremiah we learn a lot about him. Jeremiah was the “son of Hilkiiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin.” Elie Wiesel explains what is revealed in these brief words about Jeremiah’s family background. “Poverty and sadness dominate the homes of Benjamin, whose tribe fared the worst of all the twelve tribes during the partitioning of the land under Joshua. Their territory was narrow and long and dry; no fields, no trees, no fruit. Nothing but desert winds and heat waves. Even worse was the lot of those who dwelt in the village of Anathoth, some four miles outside of Jerusalem. Its inhabitants were priests of a special kind, notorious for the curse that lay upon them for some four hundred years: they were not allowed to officiate in the Temple. Without knowing why, they were forbidden to discharge their hereditary duties. Thus Jeremiah was a victim of injustice by virtue of his origin. He remained a victim. In fact, he became everybody’s favorite victim: God’s, Israel’s, Babylon’s – and Egypt’s as well. There was no joy in his life, ever. No pleasant surprises, no warmth, no smiles, nothing but sorrow, anguish, and tears. Words of woe and anger – words he was made to speak against his will.”
Jeremiah was better known for his crying than boasting. At one point he said, “Oh, that my head were water, my eyes a fountain of tears, then I would weep day and night for the slain of my poor people.” Jeremiah was called and compelled to speak God’s truth in a time of falsehood and that is a difficult job. The word “falsehood” appears 72 times in the Bible, half of them in the Book of Jeremiah. The Book of Jeremiah begins with the prophet in Jerusalem proclaiming God’s unwavering faithfulness and the people’s unfaithfulness. From the least to the greatest, everyone was greedy for unjust gain, seeking to climb the economic ladder even if it meant lying, cheating, being unjust and taking advantage of the poor. All of those things are still issues today. Religious and political leaders declared it was a time of peace and prosperity, when the nation was in fact, in grave danger. Jeremiah said that the unwillingness of the leaders to face the truth of their nation’s situation would be devastating. Sadly, their failure led to a destructive invasion that saw the city of Jerusalem and the temple left a pile of smoky ruins. God’s description of the unrepentant people uninterested in a relationship with their Creator is summed up in Jeremiah 4:22,
“For my people are foolish, they do not know me;
they are stupid children, they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.”
I doubt any of us would want God to describe us as foolish, not knowing the Lord, stupid, without understanding, skilled at evil, but ignorant of how to do good. Actually, we wouldn’t want anyone describing us that way! Sadly, though, that is how a lot of people today would be described, just as in Jeremiah’s day. God provides people with a different option, an option that is desperately needed, an option described in today’s scripture,
“Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth for in these things I delight.”
The Lord contrasts boasting in wisdom, might, or riches with boasting in understanding and knowing the Lord and the love, justice, and righteousness that delight God. The roar of wisdom, might, and riches can easily drown out the softer tones of love, justice, and righteousness. This is especially true when wars are raging or violence is spreading.
If ever there was a time to remember that our ultimate security lies not in wisdom, might, or wealth, but in knowing the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, it is now. In the news this week there has been one tragedy after another. On Monday in Toulouse, France a gunmen killed a young rabbi and three children outside a school. In Syria there is continued bloodshed in the fighting between the government and their own people. On Friday, a U.S. Army sergeant was formally charged with 17 counts of murder for killing eight adults and nine children in a pre-dawn shooting rampage in Afghanistan. In situations like these we need to ask what is going on that causes people to do things that are so incomprehensible. Each week brings more stories of violence, heartache, and death because human beings are not acting with the steadfast love, justice, and righteousness that delight God.
In the Gospel of Matthew at two of the saddest and most anguished moments at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ life (see Matthew 27:3-4), the Gospel writer turns to the words of Jeremiah, the prophet who was so well acquainted with heartache and tragedy. In Matthew 2:17, after King Herod ordered the death of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, the execution of that terrible order left many families in the depths of grief that only those who have lost a young child can understand. Matthew wrote, “Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).
I have to confess that I have been disturbed not only by the tragedies I mentioned a moment ago, but also by the story of the death of 17-year-old Travon Martin in Sanford, Florida that has come into the national spotlight this week. I try to imagine how I would feel if my teenage son, walking in one of his hooded sweatshirts, minding his own business, had been followed and shot dead and his killer was known and not even arrested or charged. I would probably be weeping like Jeremiah and Rachel. It must be excruciating for Travon’s family. I also try to imagine how the family of the man who killed Trayvon, George Zimmerman, is coping with what has happened. I think about the seminar we had just two weeks ago about being peacemakers and drying the tears of Jesus. I’ve thought about what our response would be if either family was a part of our church or our community.
In times like these, we need to humbly seek the Lord. Sadly, the people of Jeremiah’s time would not follow his advice and they paid dearly for taking the wrong path. A week from today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. There is more than a little resemblance between the life of Jeremiah and the life of Jesus. Matthew reports that some people even thought Jesus was Jeremiah come to life again (Matthew 16:14). God’s grace is so great that even when we are disobedient, God keeps trying to speak to us and direct us on the right path. As I shared last week, when God’s people failed to listen, God ultimately sent Jesus to make the way plain. Jesus called people who didn’t follow God’s good path “lost.” Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He came to help us find and stay on God’s path – the way of understanding and knowing the Lord who delights in steadfast love, justice, and righteousness. The challenge for Christians and the church in these days is significant. There is a great need for women and men who are dedicated to delighting God by living lives marked by steadfast love, justice, and righteousness. Such lives are not easy as Jeremiah and Jesus and so many other people have experienced, but the witness, power, and difference that such lives can make is immeasurable.
I pray that we can be people like that. While like Jeremiah and Jesus we hurt and weep with the grief and pain we witness in the world, let us also like them be committed to the Lord and being children of God who strive for steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in our lives.
Blessing: Psalm 44:8, “In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name forever.”
 Elie Wiesel, Five Biblical Portraits (University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 1981), pages 102-103.