Faith in God’s Provision (Jeremiah 8-16)
We see in Jeremiah 5 that the people did not acknowledge God’s provision. If the people did not acknowledge God as the ultimate source of the good things they already had, how much less would they have faith to depend on God to provide for them in the future? John Cotton, the Puritan theologian, says that faith needs to underlie everything we do in life, including our work or vocation:
A true believing Christian…lives in his vocation by his faith. Not only my spiritual life but even my civil life in this world, and all the life I live, is by the faith of the Son of God: He exempts no life from the agency of his faith.
Here again lay the fundamental failure of the people of Judah in Jeremiah’s day, their lack of faith. Sometimes Jeremiah expressed it as not “knowing” the Lord, a term of fidelity. At other times he put it in the terms of failing to “hear” — to listen, obey, even care about what God has said. At still other times, he termed it a lack of “fear.” But all of these are simply a lack of faith — a living, working faith in who God is and what he does or says. This lack bled into the people’s view of work, leading to them blatantly violating the law of God and exploiting others for their own gain.
The great irony is that by depending on their own actions in place of faithfulness to the Lord in their work, the people ultimately failed to find enjoyment, fulfillment and the good of life. Jeremiah writes that God will eventually deal with their faithlessness, and “then death shall be preferred to life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family” (Jer. 8:3). The laws of God are aimed at our own good and are given to keep us focused on our proper purpose. When we set God’s laws aside because they hinder us from taking care of ourselves in our own way, we depart from God’s design for us becoming our true selves. When we work in such a way that we are dependent only on ourselves — and especially when we break God’s laws in order to do so — work fails to achieve its proper end. We deny God’s presence in the world. We think we know better than God how to get the things we want. So we work according to our ways, not his. But our ways do not yield us the good things God intends to give us. As we experience this lack, we engage in increasingly desperate acts of self-interest. We cut corners, we oppress others and we hoard what little we have. Now we are not only failing to receive what God wants to give us, we are also failing to produce anything of value for ourselves or others. If others in the community or the nation act the same, we are soon fighting one another in pursuit of less-and-less satisfying products of our labor. We have become the opposite of who we are designed to be as the people of God. Now we “know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God; the fear of me is not in you, says the Lord God of hosts” (Jer. 2:19).
The theme of the people abandoning God, losing faith in his provision, and oppressing each other in consequence is repeated at intervals through chapters 8 to 16. “They refuse to know me, says the Lord” (Jer. 9:6). Therefore their prosperity fades away, “the lowing of cattle is not heard; both the birds of the air and the animals have fled and are gone” (Jer. 9:10). As a consequence, they try to make up the loss by cheating one another. “They all deceive their neighbors and no one speaks the truth….Oppression upon oppression, deceit upon deceit!” (Jer. 9:5-6).
Quoted in Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 26.
E.g., Jer. 2:8; 4:22; 5:4-5; 8:7, 9; 3:6; 22:16. “When Jeremiah talks…about the knowledge of Yahweh, he is talking about compliance with covenantal stipulations,” in Jack R. Lundbom, “Jeremiah, Book of,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. D. N. Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 718b. See Herbert B. Huffmon, “The Treaty Background of Yada’,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 181 (1966), 31-37.
E.g., Jer. 7:23-28; 11:7-8; 32:23; 40:3; 43:3, 7; 44:23.
Thomas Aquinas noted: “Now the extrinsic principle inclining to evil is the devil….But the extrinsic principle moving to good is God, who both instructs us by means of His law, and assists us by His grace….Now the first principle in practical matters…is the last end: and the last end of human life is bliss or happiness….Consequently the law must regard principally the relationship to happiness” (Summa Theologica Ia IIae, q.90, pro. and a.2.co.