1 Samuel 7-8; Romans 6; Jeremiah 44; Psalms 20-21
SO FAR AS WE KNOW, JEREMIAH 44 contains Jeremiah’s last prophecy. The prophecy of the next chapter is explicitly dated to an earlier period, and probably the miscellaneous prophecies against the nations, found in chapters 46-51, all stem from an earlier period as well. So far as the record goes, the words before us are Jeremiah’s last public utterance.
One cannot say that Jeremiah’s ministry ended on a high note. We are all called to be faithful; some are called to be faithful in troubled and declining times. One dare not measure Jeremiah’s ministry by how many people he convinced, how many disasters he averted, or how many revivals he experienced. One must measure his ministry by whether or not he was faithful to God, by whether or not God was pleased with him. And so, finally, it is with each of us. I doubt that many of us living in the West have fully come to grips with how much the success syndrome shapes our views of ourselves and others—sometimes to make us hunger at all costs for success, and sometimes, in a kind of inverted pseudospirituality, to make us suspicious at all costs of success. But success is not the issue; faithfulness is.
What we find in this chapter is irretrievable rebellion. The Jews in Egypt—both those who have just descended there, and those who apparently had settled there earlier in an attempt to escape the troubled times back home—have merely replaced the Canaanite gods they used to worship at home with the Egyptian gods all around them. Their reading of their own history is entirely different from Jeremiah’s. They hark back to the time when they “stopped” their pagan worship (Jer. 44:17-18): probably they are thinking of the reform under King Josiah. All the disasters that have befallen them have taken place since then. So what they must do, they reason, is serve the Queen of Heaven and the other pagan deities, and they resolve on this course.
There are two important lessons to be learned. First, you can always read history to make it prove almost anything you want. This does not mean that we are not to learn anything from history, for God himself tells the people what they should have learned. It means that what the people of God should learn from history must be shaped by the lens of God’s written revelation, by his prophetic word, by our covenantal vows. We cannot expect pagans always to agree with our reading of history. Second, this chapter demonstrates, in the harshest terms, that there is no hope for the covenant race, none at all, apart from the intervention of grace.