Acknowledgement of God’s Provision (Jeremiah 5)
Jeremiah complained that “this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away” (Jer. 5:23). It is God’s land in which they are stewards, called to work it in the “fear” of the Lord. “Fear” (Hebrew yare) of God is often used in the Old Testament as a synonym for “living in response to God.” But Jeremiah pointed out that they had no awareness of God as the source of the rains and the assurance of the harvests. “They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest’” (Jer. 5:24). Thus they are unfaithful, imagining themselves to be the source of their own harvests (cf. Jer. 17:5-6 above). As a result, they no longer experienced good harvests. “Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have deprived you of good” (Jer. 5:25).
This section is one of the many places in chapters 1-25 that speak of the “pollution” of the land: “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule as the prophets direct; my people love to have it so” (Jer. 5:30-31). In ancient times — when agriculture was the vast majority of the economy — the pollution of the land was not only an aesthetic loss, but the loss of productivity and plenty. It was also a rejection of the God who had given the land. Chris Wright has noted that the land — like a sacrament or a visible sign — is a thermometer of our relationship with God. The rape of the land (whether by corporations, armies or individuals) denies God’s ownership and purpose in making us stewards of the Earth.
Robert Laird Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), entry 907.
Christopher Wright, Deuteronomy NIBC (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1996).
We must be very careful not to take the short step of inferring an absolute cause-and-effect relationship between our sin and God’s punishment in all situations of deprivation. Are the poor deprived because they are evil? Jeremiah would say that the poor are deprived because evil people oppress them.