How many people do you know who have been warned by their doctor to change their habits? How many of them took the admonition seriously?
“Stop smoking, it causes lung disease.”
“Reduce your cholesterol intake because you are at risk of clogged arteries.”
“Exercise more . . . .”
“Drink less . . . .”
Human nature often blatantly disregards warnings until it is too late. A few people prefer quackish folklore that questions medical science. “My grandfather smoked forty a day and he lived to be ninety seven.” So, did God make a mistake when He decided that forbearing with human sin for a while was better than immediate judgment? I for one am glad of His patient forbearance. But there are times when the delay causes confusion. Jeremiah 44 tells a sad story.
Jeremiah had been whisked off to Egypt by a group of Jewish survivors of Nebuchadnezzar’s ravages. Despite Jeremiah’s warnings following ten days of seeking God, they were convinced that Egypt was their best refuge from war, famine, and disease.
Once the people had settled, God gave a three-part message to Jeremiah for them:
- Judah is in ruins because the kings and their people burned sacrifices to other gods. The Jews did not heed My warnings through the prophets (Jer. 44:1-6).
- What on earth are you doing the same things for in Egypt? You are harming yourselves (Jer. 44:7-10).
- Watch out! I am about to punish you all with the very things that you thought you had escaped from in Judah (Jer. 44:11-14).
The runaway survivors answered in a flash. They were convinced that Jeremiah was a quack. In their experience, making sacrifices to the queen of heaven had resulted in years of prosperity; Nebuchadnezzar had attacked when they stopped (Jer. 44:15-18).
However, a careful X-ray of their spiritual condition shows that God’s judgment through Nebuchadnezzar came after much forbearing with their sin. Whatever the reason they stopped their evil sacrifices, their changed behavior came too late. Judgment was already upon them. Self-deception had led them to the wrong conclusion because they had not factored in the patient forbearance of God.
How then should we live? Only a constant desire to live according to the will and ways of God can ensure spiritual growth and health. And when we do sin, John left us a clear prescription:
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
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