Biblical theology indicates that God has progressively revealed himself to his people. God revealed more of himself to Moses than Abraham, and more to Paul than to Moses. That seems reasonable. Certainly, being on this side of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection is much more revealing than being on the other side.
Therefore, we must remember to read Jeremiah with this sort of progressive understanding in view. Jeremiah did not see redemptive history in the same way we do. Yet, Jeremiah was a prophet called by God from before he was born. We have not had such direct revelation. Jeremiah wrote about the new covenant before Jesus was born. He prophesied about the glorious way in which God would—eventually—deal with his people.
The picture in Jeremiah 7:1–8:3 is rather bleak. It is so bad that God tells Jeremiah not to even bother interceding for the people because God will not hear him. Ouch. “Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched” (Jeremiah 7:20). Bleak indeed.
What do we make of this? Obviously, being this side of the cross, we know that God sends Jesus, born of a virgin, as the supreme sacrifice, the new covenant in his blood, to grant mercy and forgiveness to those who believe. This wasn’t so clear in Jeremiah’s world, nor is it always so clear in Jeremiah’s words. Instead, Jeremiah’s continual refrain is “Repent! Turn around!”
Again, Jeremiah quotes God, “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever” (Jeremiah 7:5–7).
This quote seems to be the only positive thing in the passage 7:1–8:3. My immediate question is why the focus is on doing social justice rather than having faith? From the New Testament teaching we understand that the “righteous shall live by faith.” We know that faith is the only way to God. Yet, it is passages like this that cause people to think that good deeds are what saves us. If I only go and take care of the widows and orphans, then God will be happy with me. This type of thinking leads some in Reformed circles to be critical of those who express only a desire to care for the sojourner, fatherless, and widow who do not express the gospel clear enough.
Without the rest of Jeremiah, and indeed, the Bible, we might end up spending all of our time doing in an attempt to be right with God—as if we didn’t already. We need the rest of Scripture, though. We need the rest of the Bible, the teaching of Paul and Peter and Jesus himself to see that what underlies these good deeds is a complete and utter trust in the true God. Verse 8 helps us understand that the problem is ultimately one of misplaced trust, “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.”
I have more questions than answers. I wonder why God didn’t make faith more explicit in passages like this. I wonder why he chose to write it this way when people’s tendencies are towards working out their own salvation. Yet, I am thankful that he did not leave us without the faithful remnant. I am thankful that he did not leave us without Paul and Peter and most importantly, Jesus. I am thankful that he did not leave us without clear passages that help us understand God’s progressive revelation.
What must I do to be saved? Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.