16 This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
17 I appointed watchmen over you and said,
‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’
But you said, ‘We will not listen.’
18 Therefore hear, you nations;
you who are witnesses,
observe what will happen to them.
19 Hear, you earth:
I am bringing disaster on this people,
the fruit of their schemes,
because they have not listened to my words
and have rejected my law.
20 What do I care about incense from Sheba
or sweet calamus from a distant land?
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable;
your sacrifices do not please me.”
21 Therefore this is what the Lord says:
“I will put obstacles before this people.
Parents and children alike will stumble over them;
neighbors and friends will perish.”
(Jeremiah 6:16-21 NIV)
In the previous passage, the Lord and Jeremiah have a dialogue about the Hebrews’ hard-heartedness and unwillingness to hear the Lord’s message. In today’s text, the Lord reviews His offer to His people, and their reply. At this point, the Lord was appealing to their common sense, as nothing else had worked.
The Lord starts this section by asking the nation to stop and consider the direction they are taking. Which of the paths available to them pleased God in the past? The people did not need a new revelation from God; they had all the information they needed. Their problem was that they needed a renewed desire to connect and commune with God Himself.
The nation was wandering aimlessly, like the camel crisscrossing her paths across the desert (chapter 2, verse 23). Israel was lost, but too proud to stop and ask for directions. For them, the term “ancient” equated to obsolete. There had to be something new to do or follow that would lead to a higher state of righteousness in their eyes. The Lord saw the nation wearing themselves out in this chasing after the wind. His way, however, offered rest for their weary souls (v. 16). But they would not follow Him.
Jesus reiterated this same thought during His ministry, referring to the offer of rest:
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)
In verse 17, the Lord notes that He even set up watchmen (guides) to point the nation back to Himself. These guides were the prophets, including Jeremiah, who were hand-picked by the Lord to carry His message to His people. The prophets warned the nation of the consequences of not following the Lord, to select the right path that honored God. But again, the people would not listen.
The Lord then calls the rest of the world to witness the judgment that would fall upon His stubborn and wayward people (vv. 18-19).
In between verses 19 and 20, there appears to be a counter argument from God’s people, asking why their form of worship was not acceptable to the Lord. After all, they had gone to great effort and expense to provide the “best of the best” in their sacrifices, importing sacrifices from far-away lands.
But the Lord was not interested in rituals without relationship, in observances without obedience. The prophet Micah summarized it well as he captured the dialogue between the Israelites (vv. 6-7) and the Lord (v. 8):
6 With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah 6:6-8 NIV)
Verse 21 is the Lord’s response to His wayward children. They are charging headlong into their pursuit of religion when God is quietly calling them to a relationship with Himself. To that end, the Lord will set up obstacles to their practices, roadblocks that will hopefully cause them to return to Him.
Brennan Manning’s benediction / prayer seems an appropriate thought with today’s passage:
“May all your expectations be frustrated, may all your plans be thwarted, may all your desires be withered into nothingness, that you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and sing and dance in the love of God who is the Father, Son, and Spirit.”
May our minds never be disconnected from our hearts, and may our hearts be ever connected to our Beloved Savior, the True Vine.