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climbing a mountain July 26 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Jeremiah 1, 2, 3, 4

Help for Backsliders

In the summertime, many people climb mountains. Perhaps that is not you, but have you ever tried climbing a slippery hill and fallen back time after time? Down you slid again and again and again! You just couldn’t find a right way to get back up that hill! The nation of Judah was like that when Jeremiah prophesied to her—a backsliding nation. Are any of us experiencing a backsliding in our spiritual life? In today's Bible study there is some help for us.

Today we begin the book of Jeremiah. The Word of the LORD came to Jeremiah when he was a young man. God said to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV). Jeremiah is a humble man somewhat like Moses. God gives Jeremiah courage, telling him that He will be with him and rescue him when he is in trouble. His job assignment is difficult—He is to preach a message of judgment to the disobedient nation of Judah until she is destroyed and taken into captivity. Jeremiah’s ministry lasts for about thirty-five years, from the time of good King Josiah to a few years past the last king, Zedekiah.

God-given assignments are not always easy or glorious. It is difficult to confront people, even when LORD leads us to do it and the motive is a genuine concern for their spiritual lives. We may suffer for it.

Jeremiah begins his ministry under King Josiah. Because the king observes idolatry in Judah and the remnants of Israel, in the twelfth year of his reign he begins to “purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Ashera poles, carved idols and cast images,” (2Chronicles 34:3, NIV). However, the people, priests, and his own leaders do not buy into his reforms. They conform outwardly but inwardly they are unchanged.

God gives Jeremiah a vision of the true spiritual state of Judah and Israel. He first sees a blooming almond tree. In the Middle East, the almond tree is one of the first to blossom in the spring (The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the O.T., edited by Walvoord and Zuck, ©1985, p.1131) The significance of this image is that God will quickly bring judgment to Judah for backsliding.

The Israelites in Judah worship the LORD in pretense; they travel to the feasts and offer their sacrifices, but secretly they still worship their own idols (Jeremiah 3:10). They have slipped back from following Him. They have turned their backs on God.

Perhaps some of us have done the same thing. Have we forgotten all that God has done for us? Do we hang on to worthless things, sins, and habits which God finds offensive? Do we nurture our relationship with the LORD, or are we just making a good religious show?

The reality of Judah’s situation is also shown in a second vision. A vision of a boiling cauldron tilting down from the north symbolizes the nation of Babylon and its coming war upon all the nations in her path, including Judah. Through Babylon, God's wrath will soon be poured out upon Judah. She will be judged for her idolatry and wickedness.

If any of us are backsliding children of God, we, too, can expect His judgment (discipline, not condemnation). He does not judge His children because He hates them but because He loves them and does not want them to stray from Him and destroy themselves (Hebrews 12:1-11).

How has Judah slipped? Like an ungrateful marriage partner, Israel takes her husband, the LORD, for granted and forgets the early days of her relationship with Him. The early days were days of joy. God delivered the helpless and oppressed people of Israel. He protected them from Pharaoh and his armies. Israel worshipped God in holiness, and He provided for her in the desert. She was fed and given water, and her clothes did not wear out, although they were in the wilderness for forty years. The LORD gave her great military victories, esteem and wealth. God gave her a beautiful and bountiful land with His favor.

But Israel forgot the care she was given and became ungrateful. The Israelites thought the grass was greener on the other side of the fence. She forsook the relationship, and like a prostitute, she sought other lovers (alliances with other nations). She adopted their sinful lifestyles and exchanged her worship of the true Almighty God for worthless man-made gods of wood and stone.

Now Judah is committing even worse sins than her sister nation, Israel. God charges Judah,

“Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the LORD.

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water,” (Jeremiah 2:11-13, NIV).

For these sins they bring trouble upon themselves. God continues His words of judgment in Jeremiah 2:19

“Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty. (NIV)

Yet, where does Judah turn to when she is in trouble? To the LORD of course. “Come and save us!” they say.

“Why do they not look to their own gods to save them?” God asks.

God punishes them, but they do not and will not respond. Therefore, because her stubbornness is like that of her sister nation, Judah will also go into exile. The LORD tells both Israel and Judah, “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding” (Jeremiah 3:22, NIV).

How does God cure people of backsliding? To Israel and Judah, who eventually, while in exile, seek a cure from their backslidden condition, God promises,

“If you will return, O Israel, return to me,” declares the LORD.

“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As surely as the LORD lives,’ [instead of other gods] then the nations will be blessed by him and in him they will glory.”

This is what the LORD says to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem: “Break up your unplowed ground [i.e., repent because you have hard hearts] and do not sow among thorns [seeds of righteousness can be choked out through bad influences].

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts [cut off the layers of your heart until you get to the tender part], you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done-- burn with no one to quench it.”

So, put on sackcloth, lament and wail, for the fierce anger of the LORD has not turned away from us. (Jeremiah 4:1-4, 8, NIV).

The cure for backsliding is true sorrow and humility over our sins and a change of mind. It involves a change of heart, listening to the Word of God, and removing idols from our lives. We must fear the LORD and walk in His ways. We must also protect ourselves from evil influences which will bring us trouble again. Will we listen and heed the words of God or will we bring trouble on ourselves? It is our choice (more...).

Unfortunately, Israel and Judah made the wrong choices. God says, “Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!” (Jeremiah 4:8, NIV). Exile is anything but pleasant. After they suffer for seventy years, however, God will have mercy on them.

Perhaps our own conduct threatens to bring God’s judgment upon us. Why suffer? Why not make the right choices and serve God exclusively so our lives will not become devastated like the land of Israel? They will lose everything. Sometimes it takes devastation to wake us up and to make us see our need for God. But why lose everything? If we live in the fear of the LORD now, we can experience His favor.

Lessons to Live By

regarding spiritual backsliding

  • God-given assignments are not always easy or glorious. It is difficult to confront people, even when God leads us to do it and the motive is a genuine concern for their spiritual lives. We may suffer for it.
  • If any of us are a backsliding children of God, we, too, can expect God’s judgment (discipline). He does not judge His children because He hates them, however, but because He loves them and does not want them to stray from Him and destroy themselves.
  • The cure for backsliding is true sorrow and humility over our sins and repentance from the heart (more...).
  • Let's make the right choices and serve God exclusively so our lives will not become devastated like the land of Israel. If we live in the fear of the LORD now, we can experience His favor.

Focus Verse

1Samuel 12:24 (NIV) “But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.”

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A Look Ahead: Obstinacy and Its Results

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