We were sitting in church after a Sunday morning service, lazily engaging in conversation, when we noticed a young boy, Drew (not his real name) up on the stage. There’d been a skit during the service about Paul and Silas’ time in the Philippian jail complete with working, theatrical stocks. Drew was having a great time lifting the upper half of the stocks, then letting it drop, pleased with himself and the noise.
Next, he kneels on stage looking at the holes where arms and legs are meant to go. Lifting and dropping the upper half of the stocks has now turned to investigating the holes themselves. He sees that his arms and legs could actually fit in those holes, just like the actors during the skit. The top half of the stock is open and now he’s sitting on the stage with legs sticking over the lower half of the stocks, kicking legs back and forth, up and down, like being on a swing. He’s fully engaged, delight beaming from his face like a child at Christmas.
Then, there’s a sudden thudding sound. Looking up again I see the top half of the stock has fallen closed, locking Drew’s legs in place. The look of absolute satisfaction and pleasure from a moment earlier is replaced with one of absolute terror. Like an animal caught in a snare, Drew is now jerking legs and pushing with arms against the stage floor, grunting and groaning, wild eyed, turning his head one way and another looking for a way out.
A moment of joy has turned into a nightmare in an instant. His delight is now fright. And me? I’m laughing. Politely of course, quietly sniggering and turning away. I’m not cruel, and I’m not a sadist; I’m a hardheaded realist (at least I try to be). And truth is, I knew what was going to happen. It was absolutely predictable. I knew Drew would find himself in exactly the situation he did as soon as I saw him head for the prop- no clairvoyance needed.
Drew was mercifully released from his temporary but terrifying confinement in short order. He gave the stocks one backward glance and got off the stage.
The truth was Drew didn’t belong on stage, and he knew it. But the temptation was great and he went where better sense, and obedience, would have prevented him. Drew’s experience with the stocks was for me a cautionary tale: a person goes where better sense would have told them not to until the unavoidable happens and they’re trapped. Their sudden surprise and protests ring a little hollow given the step-by-step, absolutely predictable path they’ve chosen.
In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, not long before Jerusalem was destroyed and the people were carried off captive in 586 B.C., the prophet spoke for God to a people bent on rejecting Him and therefore His blessings. Listen to some of God’s indictments on the nation:
- Jeremiah 6:13 For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is making profit dishonestly. From prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. (Think of both high rolling Wall Streeters to predatory priests in our own day.)
- Jeremiah 6:14 They have treated My people’s brokenness superficially, claiming, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. (Think of those assuring us with calm voices and straight faces that this nation is not facing a financial crisis through our unconscionable use of debt.)
- Jeremiah 6:15 Were they ashamed when they acted so abhorrently? They weren’t at all ashamed. They can no longer feel humiliation. (Think of our nation’s reveling in all things banal and dishonorable, displayed on television sitcoms, reality shows and dramas everyday and every night.)
- Jeremiah 14:14 And the LORD said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. (Think of clerics and religious leaders proclaiming the sanctity of “same sex marriage” and of health and wealth gospeleers lining their own pockets.)
Jeremiah wasn’t taken in by the smooth talking false prophets of his day who prophesied peace and prosperity. And he wasn’t fooled by the wishful thinking of kings and priests who pursued the worship of foreign gods. Jeremiah knew where one thing and another would lead, and so should we.
Jeremiah 5:30 “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: 31 The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?
The end for Judah was destruction, captivity, and death, just as God warned the nation it would be in their step-by-step disobedience and infidelity.
Jeremiah’s query, “But what will you do at the end of it?” reflects his knowledge that all of the things he articulated to the recalcitrant nation would lead to it’s undoing. Judah might get away with social injustice, robbery, and idolatry for a time, but not indefinitely, not finally. The nation was laying the groundwork for it’s own destruction and should have known it.
Though God spoke to them repeatedly through His true prophets, like Jeremiah, the nation was set on a course of it’s own choosing, arrogantly ignoring every call to repentance and faithfulness. Like the United States today, Judah’s relative financial prosperity and material abundance was their primary concern, as opposed to what they owed to God and each other. The fruit of their choices was predictable and God warned them of their end in stark clarity.
Given our current course, our not too distant future, if not our end, is predictable as well.
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