1 Samuel 4; Romans 4; Jeremiah 42; Psalm 18
THERE IS AN OLD JOKE about a reprobate who absorbs just enough religion to think he should try to get his life in order. He goes to a minister, who tells him that the best thing he can do is turn away from his whiskey, his women, and his gambling. The old boy looks thoughtful for a few moments and then says, “You know, I don’t think I deserve the best. What’s second best?”
One might have thought that in the wake of the disastrous destruction of Jerusalem, long predicted by Jeremiah, the prophet would have enormous credibility among the survivors. The sad reality is that he has enough credibility for them to consult him, but no more (Jer. 42). What they want is divine approval for the plan they themselves have already concocted. They do not want God’s best, or God’s will, but God’s approval of their will. Jeremiah carefully seeks God, and ten days later (Jer. 42:7) the word of the Lord comes to him. The substance of the message is this: stay in Judah, and God will protect you; fly to Egypt, and God will take this as a further sign of rebellion, and God’s wrath will pursue you and destroy you there, just as it recently destroyed so many in and around Jerusalem. Even as he is delivering this message, Jeremiah sees that it is not going down very well, and that the hostility against it—and against him—is deep. The next chapter (Jer. 43) records the sneering skepticism and the resolve of the leaders to disregard Jeremiah and his messages, to dismiss his words as outright lies, and to collect the remnant of the people and travel to Egypt. That is what they do, bringing Jeremiah with them.
Most movements that spring up from the fertile soils of Christendom appeal, in one way or another, to the will of God. Few probe the will of God very deeply. God is for evangelism; therefore he is for the way we are proposing to do evangelism, and we invoke his will to sanction our methods. God is love; therefore he is against church discipline except in the most egregious cases (which either never arise, or, if they do, by the time they do they too are covered by the love of God), and we invoke God’s will to sanction our determined niceness. God wants his people to be separate and holy; therefore we must withdraw into huddled isolationism and lob hateful barbs against all who disagree with us, and we invoke God’s will to authorize our tearless harshness and ruthless condescension. These wretched pits are terribly easy to fall into. All it takes is resolution, and no more real interest in the will of God than what we need to sanction our preferences.