Jeremiah the prophet preached a message of repentance for 40 years without seeing any real change. He predicted that Judah would be punished because of its sin and disobedience. Finally, in 586 B.C., Jerusalem was destroyed and its leading citizens were deported to Babylon. Their exile would last for 70 years.
He accused the people of being “stiff-necked.” God told them, “From the time your forefathers left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their forefathers” (Jer. 7:25-26). Later Jeremiah stood in the temple, declaring, “Listen! I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words” (Jer. 19:15)
The phrase “stiff-necked” may well apply to not only our culture’s response to the gospel, but also to many in the Church today. When I think of stiff-necked, I can still picture myself resisting the discipline of my mother, who would often accuse me of being stiff-necked. Is it possible that some of us may also be considered stiff-necked by the Lord? Hebrews 12:10 reminds us, “Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever.” We need to beware of resisting God’s discipline by being stiff-necked.
In Jeremiah 14:7-9, the people plead for God’s help during a drought. “Although our sins testify against us, do something, Lord, for the sake of your name. For we have often rebelled; we have sinned against you” (Jer. 14:7). God is addressed directly and asked to act for the sake of his own reputation. There is a presumption that God would show favor. It seems they were almost demanding that God act. The Message says, “…But do something, God. Do it for your sake.” Beware of becoming too familiar (or cozy) with the Lord.
The Israelites were aware of their wayward spiritual condition, confessing, “For our backsliding is great” (v. 7). To backslide is “to revert to sin or wrongdoing; to lapse morally or in the practice of religion. It refers to the lapse of …Israel into paganism and idolatry” (Nelson Bible Dictionary). Evidently the people expected God to show them favor even though they continually rebelled against him. Beware of excusing your sinfulness.
In the next verses the people accuse God of being like a tourist not available to help, or like a helpless warrior who is unable to intervene. “O Hope of Israel, its Savior in times of distress, why are you like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who stays only a night? Why are you like a man taken by surprise, like a warrior powerless to save?” (14:8-9). Beware of making presumptions about how God expresses his will.
The people end up declaring to God, “You are among us, Lord, and we bear you name; do not forsake us!” (14:9). This is presumption, pure and simple. They are trying to manipulate God, expecting his favor even while they continue to backslide. They had not payed heed to God’s warnings. Now they expect God’s favor because they were his people. Beware of subtle attempts to manipulate God.
God waits until 15:6 to respond to their insult. “‘You have rejected me’, declares the Lord. You keep on backsliding. So I will lay hands on you and destroy you; I can no longer show compassion.” Could this be happening again today?