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Jeremiah 9:23-24

23 This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
    justice and righteousness on earth,
    for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.
(Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV)

Today’s passage, while only two verses long, seems like an oasis of hope in a barren desert of lament.  Did Jeremiah get his notes mixed up and accidentally drop these two verses in here?  Or was there divine inspiration in their placement?

In these two verses, the Lord contrasts the achievements of humanity with the accomplishments of God.  The Lord shows His people that their wisdom was foolishness, their strength would soon be gone, and their riches carried off to a foreign land by their captors.

So what did the Lord desire instead?  For His people to understand and know Him.  The word “understand” embodies the concept of learning about someone or something.  The word “know” means to experience something or someone first-hand.  For example, I may understand sailing – the nautical terms, the parts of the boat, the roles of the crew, etc.  However, I won’t know about sailing until I get in the boat, untie from the dock, sail beyond the marina and the breakers and feel the spray of the water on my face.

The same truth applies to human and divine relationships.  The difference between understanding facts about someone and knowing them – meeting them face-to-face, shaking their hand, looking them in the eye – is vastly different.  And God says that He reveals Himself to us so that we may understand who He is as well as know Him personally.

So what does God want His people to understand and know about Him?  Three things:  His kindness, justice, and righteousness.  These are three attributes of God’s character that have the power to transform our relationship with Him completely as well as with others around us.

Let’s take a look at each of God’s character qualities called out in verse 24:

  • Kindness (Hebrew “hesed”) is the idea that one being demonstrates care for another being without any demand or forced requirement.  This kindness is the reality of unconditional love.  The context is that of God’s love toward humanity, but the Hebrew term could also be applied to human beings.  In Jeremiah’s day, this is the covenant relationship that God made with Himself concerning the Israelites, and to which the Israelites submitted themselves.
  • Justice (Hebrew “mishpat“) carries the idea of court proceedings where both the wrongdoers are punished, and the righteous are protected.  The Lord identifies Himself as the One who both sets the standards of conduct as well as executes judgment when there is a breach in those standards.
  • Righteousness (Hebrew “tsĕdaqah“)  is the idea of relational harmony, where there is mutual respect, honor, and duty toward one another.  The Lord demonstrates this character quality toward Himself in the Trinity as well as toward humanity in the Garden of Eden and on the cross.

One commentator summed up these two verses so eloquently:

“There is also a contrast between the three fading glories of verse 23 and the three unfading ones of verse 24:  the faithful love, justice, and righteousness which are God’s gifts to us before ever they are His expectations from us.”
(Derek Kidner, “Jeremiah”, InterVarsity Press, 1987, p. 55)

May we make our home in God’s kindness, justice, and righteousness, and live out the same toward the Lord and our neighbors around us.

Blessings,
~kevin

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