HERE I SHALL BRIEFLY REFLECT ON a number of elements of the depravity to which the citizens of Judah had succumbed (Jer. 5):
(1) God challenges Jeremiah to find a single honest man on the streets of Jerusalem (Jer. 5:1), anticipating the search of Diogenes in the Greek world. Even one such person would have been enough, according to God, to forestall judgment on the city. But of course that is another way of saying how slippery the moral life of the city had become, how extensive the sin was, how insincerity and moral corrosion had damaged the city's children.
(2) Initially Jeremiah thinks that perhaps the negative results of his search could be laid at the door of the disadvantages of the lower classes. Of course, even the poor were supposed to know and keep the Law of God, but it is compassionate to make allowances. So Jeremiah goes off to examine the sophisticated, the privileged, the articulate---and finds no less moral rot there than elsewhere (Jer. 5:4-5). Intelligent sinners use their intelligence to sin; sophisticated sinners concoct sophisticated reasons for thinking sin is not sin; upper-crust sinners indulge in upper-crust sin. "But with one accord they too had broken off the yoke and torn off the bonds" (Jer. 5:5).
(3) The common stance toward God is that he is absent or ineffective (Jer. 5:12); the common stance toward genuine prophets is that they are windbags (Jer. 5:13). So God will bring about catastrophic judgment to show his power, and he will speak to the people in the words of a foreign language (Jer. 5:14-17). They so much love to serve foreign gods in their own land; they will henceforth serve foreigners in a land not their own (Jer. 5:19).
(4) By and large, the people have learned nothing from God's wise and generous providential care (Jer. 5:24). Equally they have learned nothing from the times when God has chastened them by depriving them of harvest (Jer. 5:25). Whether he is gentle or firm, whether he is generously forbearing or promptly just, they ignore him or rebel against him. What is he to do? Sooner or later he must respond to the violence, deceit, and corruption in the coinage of punishment (Jer. 5:26-29).
(5) There may be hope for the people of God when their leaders call them back to faithfulness and integrity, or when the people try to check and remove errant leaders. But what do we have here? "A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way [cf. 2 Tim. 3:1-7]. But what will you do in the end?" (Jer. 5:31).
How many of these elements are playing out today?