As I read these words, it is with an emotion which is entirely human. No human being, poet or prophet, has been spiritual enough to fully understand these divine emotions. But I THINK I hear an anguish – a tear if you like – in the voice of God as He reasons with His chosen nation. Although Jehovah doesn’t possess the same passions we have, there is something here which can only be illustrated by the longing of a father rejected by his son. We have a hint here of the prodigal and the loving father awaiting and praying for his return. “Be astonished, O ye heavens: My people, my children have forsaken me.” The Son of God “came unto His own and His own received him not.” Incredible, astounding, flabbergasting, heart-breaking!
There is a tendency, when the human interpreter looks at a passage so clearly pulled from antiquity, to think that he is pointing his finger at people other than the one’s to whom he is preaching. But I’ve been in the ministry too long to think that WE are any different from Israel. I know my own heart well enough to know that there lurks in it the shadow of the blackest of sins. And it doesn’t take a special pastoral gift to know that others are following the same pig trail through the same swamp. Think back over the last twenty-five years, and you too can name people who walked this path. Even some former members of this church. “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world and is departed unto Thessalonica.” “But all this was done, that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.” “They went out from us, because they were not all of us.” “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” The odds are great – the likelihood is considerable – that some of us will someday be just like the Judean’s of Jeremiah’s day or Demas in Paul’s day.
And for that reason, once again, I would like to warn you of the Path of Sin. Wickedness follows some very predicable and time-worn trails. Eve and Achan followed the same path as Demas and Israel. Maybe you, personally, will walk it only once, but there have been millions before you. And what is particularly tragic is there could be others watching you who might follow your example. Let’s make note of the Paths of Sin.
First of all, the road to ruin LEADS AWAY from Someone Special.
Verse 5 – “Thus saith the LORD, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?”
When there is a will to do so, there are usually a number of ways to rationalize any sin. One of the common varieties is to give that sin a name which lifts it to something other than sin. A well known example is to call the sin of drunkenness “the disease of alcoholism.” Similarly, people sometimes call murder – “insanity” or even the more mild variety – “temporary insanity.” Someone suffers from an “addiction,” like pornography, but it is not called “lust.” Another person is said to be “socially uneducated,” but he is not necessarily a moral rebel. In these days of permissiveness, examples of this sort are disgustingly common.
Another tool of the wilful sinner is the de-personalization of his sin, claiming it is a natural phenomenon. The homosexual says that he was born that way – thus it is God’s fault or at least his parents’ fault. “It wasn’t really ME that committed this sin. This was just a product of the society in which I grew up.” “It was the alcohol in me, the anger in me, the hormones in me, etc. etc. etc.” “I was abused by my father, and this explains my violent behavior.” People have been saying this so often and for so long that even the “wise” men repeat it – our judges.
And then there is the attempt to depersonalize sin from the other direction. It is not the fallen nature of the sinner, and it is not a “sin” in the sight of the eternal judge of such things. There is no God, so sin can be defined by whatever the majority of society decides. “No, my transgression is not an attack upon God. It is a mis-step in the sight of my neighbors.” The testimony of David argues against this. He violated Bathsheba, murdered her husband, made others complicit and defiled his royal trust. But when the Holy Spirit convicted him of his sins he confessed it correctly. O God, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” A lie uttered to your neighbor, is a sin against God, for “God is Truth.” Theft is a sin against God, because all things belong to the Creator. Every sin can be traced back to an offense against the Lord in some fashion. Only for sake of illustration should we say that sin is transgression of God’s law. Even above that, it is a sin against the Lawgiver.
And again, WHO IS IT that the sinner has transgressed and forsaken? How does the Lord describe Himself here in this text? He is the source of life – “My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Our God, Jehovah, is more essential to life than water. God is the sustainer of the water that sustains us. If the Lord should so choose, he could miraculously sustain us without water. Or He could ordain that our bodies reject the purest water on earth. God is the creator of the molecular principles which make oxygen and hydrogen unite into water. It is He who created natural laws of evaporation and condensation which bring us rain and snow. What an apt illustration of His crucial importance to our existence. And the Lord is an unending stream of that water; He is the living water. Don’t picture Him as a fickle rain-cloud; supplying periodic showers. Our Lord is an eternal spring of water, gushing up out of a mysterious reservoir. And this fountain is filled with the purest, most delectable water known to man. Jesus said, “I am water of life; If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” He said to the woman at the well, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” The fountain that is our Lord, is an unending supply of the very purest of waters. There is no need for chlorine in this fountain; nor is there any reason to boil this water before drinking. There is nothing more precious, nor as valuable as the Lord.
And what of character has the sinner forsaken? Absolute purity first of all. Verse 5 – “Thus saith the LORD, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?” “There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.” “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee glorious in holiness?” We could and should spend much time studying the holiness of Jehovah. That holiness puts a wall between us and Himself which we cannot climb or tunnel through. But at the same time that infinitely holy God is likewise filled with love and compassion towards His elect. Read, reread, meditate upon and pray over the words of verse 9 – “Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the LORD, and with your children’s children will I plead.” Sin is a departure down the path AWAY from the Lord of love. But there is not the slightest reason in the universe to turn one’s back upon God.
In contrast to this, to WHERE does that pathway of sin lead? Towards vanity.
“Thus saith the LORD, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?” Contrary to all the glitter and demonic glory in a life of sin, in the end its reward is vanity, emptiness and worse. There is pleasure in sin, but only for a very short season. “He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity and the rod of (God’s) anger shall fail.” “The wise shall inherit glory, but shame shall be the promotion of fools.” “The lips of a strange woman drop as an honey-comb, and her mouth is smoother than oil, but her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two edged sword.” “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.”
You may think it trite and over-spoken, but “the wages of sin is eternal death.” There is nothing that can make worthy the vanity of that kind of life and death. No amount of pleasure, glory, or circumstantial happiness in sin can justify a microsecond in hell. Yet the world still flocks down that path. Even if they were casting away the pearl of great price for a pearl of little price it might make some sense. But they are trading diamonds for dust and the smile of Lord for His wrath. They are swapping water of life for what’s contained in the cesspool and septic tank.
And that is in spite of the fact that this road has even more obvious disadvantages.
What the Lord is telling Judah is that to travel that road, they have had to forsake Him. And they have turned their backs and even denied God’s previous abundant blessings. Perhaps for Israel those blessing were a little more apparent than for you. Things like water out of the rock, and manna from heaven nearly every morning. There were the gifts of quail and the defeat of veteran armies. And there was that gift of the promised land, complete with pre-built cities and cultivated farms. These were obvious even to those who were sitting on their tri-focals. Jeremiah was astounded that Israel could turn her back on the God of such blessings. They were even at that very day, feasting on the riches of His grace. They were despising “the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering.” They were “treasuring up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”
People today sometimes can’t see such direct blessings and gifts from the Lord. “Lord, if you tossed manna onto my yard every morning, then I would serve you.” Liar! The people of the 21st century are forgetting the greatest gift of them all. A gift that the people of Judah had not yet seen, and had not learned even to imagine. I refer to the gift of God’s Son. For anyone today to choose a path of sin away from God the Father, is also spit upon Christ. WE have been enlightened by the Word of God, and we have inhaled a whiff of the heavenly gift. For us to choose sin over righteous is to dance a two-step across Christ’s shed blood. “Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD.” How can sinners be so unthinking?
What is the vehicle that carries peoples along this path?
I am forced to mix metaphors: they have exchanged the fountain of living waters for cisterns. There is an interesting article in the International; Standard Bible Encyclopedia about Palestinian cisterns. The average rainfall in the Jerusalem area is about 23 inches. That is not terrible; it is not necessarily a desert sort of number. But as a rule most of that rain falls during only a two month period of time. By end of summer there is little or no water in the creeks and ponds of Judea. In the days before modern technology, Israelites used cisterns to collect and retain that water. Cisterns were merely low places, or sometimes holes dug into the ground. They weren’t wells, and very, very few cisterns were fed by way of springs or streams. Here is a quote from that article: “Cisterns are fed from surface and roof drainage. The cisterns, belonging to the common natives, are rarely cleansed, and the inevitable scum which collects is dispersed by plunging the pitcher several times before drawing water. When the water is considered to be BAD, a somewhat primitive cure is applied by dropping earth into the cistern, so as to sink all impurities w it to the bottom.” By way of illustration, for this the sinner is forsaking the fountain of living water. He is turning from the pure, spring fed water to that which is collected from the sewer and down-spouts from roof. Sinfulness displays insanity.
But why is this cistern described as being broken? That is simply the nature of the device; it cannot hold water very well or very long. Broken cisterns speak of the hopelessness to supply the things that the sinner really wants or needs. First, he must push away the scum of shame at the committal such sins. And then after repeatedly dipping ladle in, the pleasure of pool grows less and less. The sinner usually can never be satisfied with his early sins, they always grow and grow. Their stench reeks worse and worse, like the smell of a rotten dead thing. A broken cistern speaks of labor and hopelessness for something worthless and appalling.
And once again, what is found at the end of the path of sin?
“Vanity” is the word used in this text, but let’s elaborate, just a bit. It is often used as a synonym for idolatry, but it can be considered more simply and practically. What lies at end of path of sin is precisely what the traveler wanted in the first place. Godlessness is the final destination of this road. “We will not have this man to rule over us.” But let me use Jesus’ interpretation of that vanity and godlessness. The Saviour said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction.” At the end of this path is found an eternal and utter godlessness called “Hell.”
But, at the very heart of Jeremiah’s message there is a hope of detour. Jeremiah’s theme is not one of despair, but of concern. The Lord says, “I will yet plead with you.” Verse 9 – “Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the LORD, and with your children’s children will I plead.” “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
No one, speeding down the path of sin, need complete that journey. Coming off mountain passes, there are truck turn-outs for those eighteen-wheelers whose breaks are gone. Even if their natural ability to stop is gone, there is hope. Perhaps you can’t say,”No” to your sin, but Christ the Saviour can. Zechariah promised “there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.” John added, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.”