Famine, Sword and Plague: Is it too late for prayer?
Scripture Reading: Jeremiah chapter 14 verses 1 to 22
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Famine, Sword and Plague: Is it too late for prayer
Our Father, thank you for your precious word. As we continue to worship you by listening to what you have to say, please open our spiritual faculties so that we may embrace and hide your words in our hearts to walk pleasingly in your sight.
Grant that we cast aside every distraction and be captured totally by God the Holy Spirit.
In Jesus Name.
How quickly we seem to put things behind us, especially if they’re unpleasant. Perhaps one can say this of the Covid-19 Virus. For some twenty-two months, the world at large experienced lockdowns, restrictions of movement, curtailment of trade and industry, resulting in bankruptcies and business closures on an unparalleled scale. Not to mention the five million-odd deaths experienced worldwide.
This phenomenon also gave rise to unprecedented levels of peacetime unemployment. The last two years continued to see the migration of millions of people from poorer nations to countries where they perceive better opportunities for themselves and their children.
After the Syrian Civil War, we saw the emigration of millions of displaced Syrians into Europe. Libyans and African peoples compounded this movement. The USA faces the same problem with illegal immigrants from South and Central America and different parts of the world. These nations’ traditional economic, political, social, and religious values will forever change! So the trend continues unabated.
When we thought light loomed at the end of the tunnel, nemesis slapped us with the trauma of a “fourth wave”, Omicron. Where does it stop! Famine, drought, plagues, pestilence and natural disasters! Strange, isn’t it how these phenomena keep coming at us seemingly unstoppable!
I began researching these keywords in the Bible, and not surprisingly, I came up with the same answer every time. In this article, I will probe and draw attention to what God had to say through the prophet Jeremiah to the remnant in Judah, but more importantly, highlight what all this means for the current-day true Church of Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah’s message to Judah takes place some 100 years after the ten northern tribes of Israel were conquered and taken captive by Assyria. Their stubborn apostasy and idolatry, the Prophet Amos had warned against some hundred years ago, had culminated in their disastrous obliteration.
The human race never learns! History keeps on repeating itself! The southern tribe, Judah, including Benjamin and some escapees from the northern tribes, now repeat the same outrage. Moses was careful to document this issue for posterity, warning of the consequences of any infringement:
3 “You must not have any other god but me.
4 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. (Exodus 20:3-5a)
“Anyone who sacrifices to any god other than the Lord must be destroyed.” (Exodus 22:20)
Notwithstanding repeated warnings by the prophets and the frightening destruction of Israel in 722 BC, Judah now follows the same destructive trajectory. Early in Israel’s history, Moses impressed upon the Israelites that they were now a covenant people, sacred and treasured by God, and as such, should worship him only!
2 “When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you, and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. 3 You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, 4 for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. 5 This is what you must do. You must break down their pagan altars and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols. 6 For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” (Deuteronomy 7:2 – 6)
And so we find such warnings as these reverberating throughout the Old Testament. From Moses to Jeremiah, from Ezekiel to Malachi.
In recent times, there is emerging a dangerous tendency for preachers to fixate on the love aspect of God to the extent they teach that only “good” comes from God and that anything detrimental or damaging is self-inflicted or comes from the devil. Scripture is at variance with this teaching:
“My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
12 For the Lord corrects those he loves,
just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:11-12) (NLT)
We may not like retributive justice, for it is slow and protracted, often extremely painful. However, the discerning person will comprehend God’s purpose in the meted discipline. Just to set the tone for this lesson, I would like to take you back in time to the very beginning of Scripture, where God corrects Cain:
6 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” (Genesis 4:6-7)
We gather that Cain would not restrain his rebellious spirit; in arrogant defiance, he ignored the Lord’s sound advice, conceived a plan and killed his brother Abel. God was furious! Hear what God had to say:
“What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! 11 Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. 12 No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on, you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.” (Genesis 4:10-12)
God had to let Cain go! My dear friends, when Scripture tells us,
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31); we had better pay attention! Sin always has consequences! Note the added curses God placed upon him! some
Some Tips On Bible Reading
Before we discuss Jeremiah’s message, I would like to highlight two critical points we often overlook:
- Always read your Bible as an act of worship, and
- Make a habit of reading: [a] What’s before the text; [b] then read what’s in the selected text; [c] and finally read what comes after the text.
In so doing, you will be able to give context to what you are reading, broaden your understanding of what you read, and be guided on its application to your life.
Signs of Judgement!
I am sure you have observed whilst reading your Bible that God not only gave his prophets “words” to speak but also, on occasion, would ask them to use visual aids to give more effectiveness to the message, just like we would do in modern-day presentations.
In chapter 13, God asks Jeremiah to convey five signs to Judah. I will deal with just one. Jeremiah was to buy a linen sash or girdle, tie it around his waist and make it noticeable to the people. People would quickly recognise this inconsistency as sashes signified nobility. God instructs Jeremiah to take this fine new girdle, go to the River Euphrates, and bury it in a hole amongst the damp rocks. Now this fine new girdle was to represent what Judah ought to be; a pure, clean, unblemished dedicated people who belonged to their Holy God. A Covenant people, clinging to their God. Remember the covenant at the very outset that God made with their ancestor Abraham:
“I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:7)
God still holds himself consistently faithful to this promise:
“I will be your God, and you shall be My people” (Jeremiah 7:23b)
God made this promise to a people he once called “the apple of His eye.” He delivered them from four hundred years of slavery in Egypt and made a covenant with them at Sinai, reiterating:
“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.
3 “You must not have any other god but me.
4 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. 6 But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.” (Exodus 20:2-6)
Every Christian should take careful note of the conditional promise in verse 6: God will lavish unfailing love on those who love him and obey what he has to say! (See also Deuteronomy 7:9)
Now back to the girdle. Sometime later, God instructs Jeremiah to return to the Euphrates and retrieve the girdle. You can imagine by now what a useless mess this girdle was, and Jeremiah wears this for all to notice. When asked and ridiculed on its use, Jeremiah would equate Judah with the rotten girdle; it was now useless, rotted by dirt and moisture, it stank. Judah, in Gods sight, is incapable of change. Notwithstanding, Jeremiah still hoped the people would somehow find it in their hearts to repent.
Drought, Famine, Sword and Plague
We now move into Chapter 14, when Judah is experiencing an awful drought. The opening verse is clear: “This message came to Jeremiah from the Lord, explaining why he was holding back the rain.”
This message impresses upon every Christian to reconsider their position regarding their approach to God’s nature. How very much like Judah is the Church today? Is God only love, compassion, and mercy continuously showering blessings and favours upon his Church, notwithstanding how it has compromised itself with the world? But more of this later. It is crucial at this early stage to note that it was God who had brought this awful drought upon Judah. Note also how the consequences of the sin of God’s prime creation trickles down onto every lower level of the created order. Let’s read further:
2 “Judah wilts;
commerce at the city gates grinds to a halt.
All the people sit on the ground in mourning,
and a great cry rises from Jerusalem.
3 The nobles send servants to get water,
but all the wells are dry.
The servants return with empty pitchers,
confused and desperate,
covering their heads in grief.
4 The ground is parched
and cracked for lack of rain.
The farmers are deeply troubled;
they, too, cover their heads.
5 Even the doe abandons her newborn fawn
because there is no grass in the field.
6 The wild donkeys stand on the bare hills
panting like thirsty jackals.
They strain their eyes looking for grass,
but there is none to be found.”
We must not forget that when the Lord rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, He promised blessings to them “a land flowing with milk and honey”, not to mention its vines, pomegranates, olives, figs and dates. Now they suffer the lack of a fundamental life-giving commodity – Water!
Water was supposed to be an essential covenant blessing:
“The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do. (Deuteronomy 28:12a) Conversely, if you are disobedient, “The Lord will change the rain that falls on your land into powder, and dust will pour down from the sky until you are destroyed.” (Deuteronomy 28:24)
I said in previous articles that God relentlessly pursued his people, always wishing to gather them to himself. “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4), but now God alienates himself from his people.
Do you feel this way sometimes? Does God seem distant? Have you considered that God may withhold his blessing through adversity, drought, famine, plague and other natural disasters? I often quietly ponder these adversities and am fearfully alarmed at their increasing intensity and frequency. It is enough to scare the toughest of men, yet the Church and the world seem to adopt a blasé attitude.
I am not oblivious that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13) but are we who ought to know better continue provoking the Lord our God? Christ is clear in his message to the early churches (Revelation 2 and 3); he will turn on us as he did with Israel and Judah. Judah had now digressed to listening to false prophets and not to God’s voice; to calling on pagan gods to break the drought. In this context, God warns:
“The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, scurvy, and the itch, from which you cannot be cured. 28 The Lord will strike you with madness, blindness, and panic. 29 You will grope around in broad daylight like a blind person groping in the darkness, but you will not find your way. You will be oppressed and robbed continually, and no one will come to save you.” (Deuteronomy 28:27-29)
Are you beginning to recognise the congruency? Is this not what our nation and the world are experiencing? Have you noticed how the leaders of once-prosperous countries grope about as though blinded for simple solutions but fail miserably? Have we become like Judah? Insincere in our repentance, confession and worship?
Is It Too Late For Prayer?
11 Then the Lord said to me, “Do not pray for these people anymore. 12 When they fast, I will pay no attention. When they present their burnt offerings and grain offerings to me, I will not accept them. Instead, I will devour them with war, famine, and disease.”
13 Then I said, “O Sovereign Lord, their prophets are telling them, ‘All is well—no war or famine will come. The Lord will surely send you peace.'”
14 Then the Lord said, “These prophets are telling lies in my name. I did not send them or tell them to speak. I did not give them any messages. They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts. 15 Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I will punish these lying prophets, for they have spoken in my name even though I never sent them. They say that no war or famine will come, but they themselves will die by war and famine! 16 As for the people to whom they prophesy—their bodies will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and war. There will be no one left to bury them. Husbands, wives, sons, and daughters—all will be gone. For I will pour out their own wickedness on them.”
We note with great sadness that the Lord no longer refers to Judah as his covenant people and further prohibits Jeremiah from interceding for Judah, whom he now refers to as “these people.” God extends the landscape of their suffering to include not only drought but war, famine and disease, a broad spectrum of misery reminiscent of the curses outlined in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. A horrifying prospect indeed!
False Prophets Accelerate the Downward Trajectory of Judah and, Of Course, the Church
Jeremiah now demonstrates his genuine love for Judah, blaming their waywardness on the teaching of false prophets. These false prophets opposed Jeremiah, misled Judah by reassuring the people that there would be no war or famine but peace and plenty. God sees this as an honest attempt by Jeremiah but rejects it notwithstanding. God requires genuine remorse and repentance from the prophets, priests and kings and, of course, the rank and file.
To be an official prophet does not guarantee the truth, and there are many examples in the Old Testament of true prophets. An example of a true prophet would be Amos, a farmer called and ordained by God to warn Israel of approaching Judgment, and what Amos prophesied came to pass, albeit some hundred years later. Then there were the four hundred lying paid prophets who regularly ate at Ahab’s table; they militated against “Micaiah son of Imlah“, a true prophet. Micaiah predicted the death of Ahab at the hands of Aram contrary to four-hundred false prophets.
False prophets commit unusually heinous sins, preaching and predicting lies that often brought down churches and nations. A trend very prevalent in our time!
Christians should take careful note of devious leaders who lie to their congregations and often to nations of the world. Jeremiah tells us: God will hold the people who give ear to such devious liars personally accountable. In other words, it is a sin to listen to apostates, peddlers of the Gospel, lying prosperity preachers and false teachers. The Gospel is not for sale! Many false teachers and preachers publish false ideologies raking in large fortunes. On the other hand, many gullible Christians spend vast amounts of scarce cash buying their books and other merchandise in the hope of finding some “secret truth”. These Christians ignore the doctrine of “the sufficiency of Scripture” to their peril.
“The prophets and priests continue with their work, but they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Jeremiah 14:18c)
The Apostle Paul comments in this regard to Timothy, his protégé:
3 “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will reject the truth and chase after myths. 5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.” (2 Timothy 4:3-5)some
A Prayer for Healing
Finally, Jeremiah appeals to the Lord based on His faithfulness to His covenant with Judah and His honour, reputation and righteousness:
19 “Lord, have you completely rejected Judah?
Do you really hate Jerusalem?
Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing?
We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
We hoped for a time of healing but found only terror.”
20 Lord, we confess our wickedness and that of our ancestors, too. We all have sinned against you.
21 For the sake of your reputation, Lord, do not abandon us.
Do not disgrace your own glorious throne.
Please remember us, and do not break your covenant with us.”
God rejects this appeal as well. It is not a prayer of sincere remorse and repentance from the people’s hearts. Little wonder Jeremiah was later to say:
9 “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
and desperately wicked.
Who really knows how bad it is?
10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts
and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
according to what their actions deserve.”
Not only is it too late for prayer, but time for any compassion from the throne of grace had passed.
If we peek into chapter fifteen, we see yet another declaration that prayer will not invoke God’s mercy.
The Lord makes a chilling statement:
“Then the Lord said to me, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before me pleading for these people, I wouldn’t help them. Away with them! Get them out of my sight!” (Jeremiah 15:1)
What is evident here is that Judah’s people had tested God’s patience once too often. They had become too familiar and contemptuous, raising God’s anger to a dangerous level. Had they perhaps reached the point of no return?
It should now be clear that God is in total control! He bestows special favour upon those who love and serve him only, those who constantly endeavour to place him first in all things (Exodus 20:6). Conversely, he sends adversity upon those who set Him up as an idol to serve their selfish whims and fancies. We must grasp this all-important point: We ought to serve God; God is not there to serve us!
Jeremiah wept for his people, warning them repeatedly that God was indeed annoyed by their idolatry and apostasy. They mocked, abused and belittled him. Yet his very soul sobbed when interceding for them. They refuted the truth but chose falsehood instead. How symptomatic of the Church today!
The people whom God once loved to such lengths that God dared to call them His treasure; ‘the apple of his eye’ must now suffer the pain and the indignity of being attacked, plundered and taken captive into a pagan, foreign land.
But wait, there is hope! God’s heart also aches for his people, and he later promises to bring them back to their land and their God. But his commitment is again conditional on them serving Him only.
Can you see, dear friends, the nature and character of Jeremiah? Is he not a type or shadow of Christ Jesus?
You see, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ left his regal splendour to come down as a human being to seek and save anyone who believed in him, no matter how grievous the sin. Yes, he was mocked, insulted, abused, rejected and finally brutally beaten and killed. Yet he still loved us with love so great the human mind cannot comprehend.
In composing the hymn below, Philip Paul Bliss aptly portrays the love of God, presenting the Gospel in a nutshell.
Man of sorrows what a name
for the Son of God, who came
ruined sinners to reclaim:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Guilty, helpless, lost were we;
blameless Lamb of God was he,
sacrificed to set us free:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
He was lifted up to die;
“It is finished” was his cry;
now in heaven exalted high:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
When he comes, our glorious King,
all his ransomed home to bring,
then anew this song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Bliss, P. P. (Philip Paul), 1838-1876
Psalter Hymnal, (Gray), 1987
The Coming Article
The following article will discuss how God formulates a “New Way” in compassion and grace. Whereas previously the law was written on clay tablets, God now promises to write them in his people’s minds and hearts.” We will discuss how God proposes to achieve this incredible provision.
All Scripture quoted is from the New Living Translation Bible unless otherwise stated. See Acknowledgements.
1. Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
2. “Man of Sorrows,” What a Name | Hymnary.org. https://hymnary.org/text/man_of_sorrows_what_a_name