Acknowledgement of God’s Provision (Jeremiah 5)Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
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.
Does God withhold material success from those who do evil in his sight? Jeremiah says what few modern Christians would dare to say: the lack of God’s provision might be a sign that your work is not approved by God. God withheld the rains from Judah because of the sin of its inhabitants. “Your iniquities have turned these [the rains] away, and your sins have deprived you of good” (Jer. 5:25). The prophet did not say that all cases of lack of provision or success are signs of God’s judgment. This is one of the open issues Jesus addressed almost 600 years later when he said that the man born blind was not blind as a sign of God’s judgment (John 9:2-3). Moreover, God even provides material good for those who are evil. God “causes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous,” according to Jesus (Matthew 5:45). From the book of Jeremiah we can say only that material success depends on God’s provision, and that God may — at least at times — withhold material success from those who practice injustice and oppression. The real question is, “Would it be a good thing for me or not, if God were to take away the incomes of the unjust and oppressors?”