Following on in Jeremiah 42, as the story continues after the fall of Jerusalem, those who were still in Jerusalem (called as the remnant), sought out Jeremiah.
They sought Jeremiah, not the other way around, the very same prophet of God whose words of warning they ignored – why did they do so?
They were desperate, for what you may ask. They were desperate for God’s favour.
Why were they seeking God’s favour – they were afraid. All that Jeremiah prophesied came about. Their home was taken over by the Babylonians. The very foundation of their security as they perceived it, was eroded and so they turn in desperation to Jeremiah with a request.
What was their request – prayer. Not a prayer for forgiveness or safety, but a prayer with an inquiry to know God’s will for their next steps.
“Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.” (Jeremiah 42:3)
Did they have any remorse to their neglect of God’s word earlier, it does not say in these chapters but as the story unfolds it gives us insight to their hearts condition. And their reference to God as ‘your God’ when speaking to Jeremiah is quite telling of their relationship with God.
Jeremiah says that he will certainly pray and tell all that the Lord instructs him to (Jeremiah 42:4).
The people do not end their request there but continue to declare in verse 5-6 “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favourable or unfavourable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.”
Thought they twice declare here their desire to do God’s will, they soon demonstrate that they have already decided to follow their own inclinations (Jeremiah 43:2)
Romans 8:31b says “If God is for you, who can be against you.”
This verse alludes that God is most powerful, no opposition can successfully stand against, when God is with you. The people with confidence declare that God can be a witness against them if they do not obey – in light of their failure to follow through with obedience in this instance, it implies a callousness in their understanding and regard for God.
We see a similar callousness exhibited in people’s behaviour when God’s grace, love and forgiveness are taken for granted. And along with an excuse that after all I am human and will falter, comes a justification to give into sinful desires, with no intentional steps towards changing sinful patterns, and thereby eclipsing the reality of a God who is also Holy and Just.
The Remnant of Judah further emphasise that God’s will might be favourable or unfavourable, but they will obey. And why would they do that, the verse itself gives us the answer, so that it may go well with them. Assumption that God may direct them contrary to what their heart desires, is good and wise and to that they reiterate that they will obey. And knowledge that their obedience matters for God’s hand and favour to be upon them is evident. With their words they claim a surety of obedience from their end, but it does not eventuate into action.
For us: How would we react when our heart is set upon something and God’s will for us is the exact opposite? Would our claims of faith and obedience ring hollow in light of our own desires?
God’s will for them was to stay in Jerusalem, He promises to build them up, to keep them safe and to show compassion towards them and God specifies not only His will but the consequences of what would happen if they disobeyed and chose to go to Egypt.
Jeremiah 42:21-22 says “I(Jeremiah) have told you today, but you still have not obeyed the Lord your God in all he sent me to tell you. So now, be sure of this: You will die by the sword, famine and plague in the place where you want to go to settle.”
These words by Jeremiah were said at the end of speaking God’s word to them. They have already not obeyed, when they were yet to respond to Jeremiah. We see their verbal response a few verses later at the start of the next chapter.
Why would Jeremiah say this then, that they already disobeyed?
In verse 7, we read that this word Jeremiah received ten days after the request from the people. What did they do in those ten days? Did they act in manner that reflects a desire to honour and obey the word of God?
From Jeremiah 43:2 we see that when they hear that the word of God did not align with what they wanted, they immediately say, Jeremiah is lying. Reflecting on their response, it implies that their mind was set on going to Egypt and we can probably assume that their actions in the ten days of waiting reflected that.
What good is waiting without obedience to God. While we wait, we are to keep the way of God. Psalm 37:34 says “Hope in the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.”
The remnant of Judah placed their desires above God’s, they wanted God’s favour on their plan instead of heeding to God’s plan for them. While they had to wait, they did not do so in obedience and submission to God, pressing into scriptures to keep their hope and trust firm without wavering.
John 5:19 says “Jesus said to them, truly I say to you, the son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the son does likewise.”
Jesus demonstrated obedience far beyond just words, his time as man evidenced a life of obedience to the Father that we strive to follow. We are to be obedient while we wait on God and even if in the moment to us, God’s will seems favourable or unfavourable, our obedience should not depend on it.