Christian Living

When We Say We’ll Do What God Says, Do We Really Mean It?

The People Ask Jeremiah to Seek God’s Will, But They Don’t Like the Answer

Those few of God’s chosen people left in the promised land have it bad. Babylon has conquered them. Insurgents have just killed their captor’s appointed ruler, and the people fear they’ll face retribution.

They Seek God

They do what they should’ve done all along. They turn to God. They want to know God’s will. But they can’t, or don’t know how to, hear directly from the Almighty. Instead they want an intermediary. They go to Jeremiah for help.

“Pray to the Lord,” they ask the prophet, “and inquire of him where we should go and what we should do.”

Jeremiah Agrees but with a Caveat

The prophet listens to the people’s request and commits to seek God as they asked. Then he adds a warning. He pledges to tell the people everything that God says whether encouraging or discouraging, whether positive or negative. And for his part, Jeremiah promises to not hold anything back.

“We’ll do whatever God says,” the people promise. “Whether good or bad we will obey him.” They sound sincere. We assume they are. But let’s see what happens.

Jeremiah Waits to Hear from God

God and Jeremiah have a tight connection. He hears regularly from God and writes it down for the people—and for us—to read. It seems reasonable that as soon as Jeremiah seeks God’s instructions that he’ll get a quick response. It should only take a few minutes.

But God’s timing is different than ours. God doesn’t speak to Jeremiah right away. For the rest of the day nothing happens. For the rest of the week there’s no word from God. Then ten days later the word of God comes to Jeremiah.

An Unexpected Message

The people are afraid and want to flee the promised land. They wonder if Egypt is the ideal place to go. There they’ll be out of the grasp of Babylon’s reach. They expect God will confirm their logical decision to scurry off to Egypt.

But God doesn’t do what they expect. He tells them that if they stay put, he will bless them. The Lord says they shouldn’t fear the military might of Babylon. They should place their trust in him instead.

“However,” God says, “if you disobey me and don’t stay where I put you and instead scoot off to Egypt, then don’t expect any favors.” Though they reason that Egypt will afford them food and safety, instead they’ll die there from starvation and war.

Jeremiah did is the people asked. He sought God’s will and then, as promised, told the people everything God said. There’s a blessing for obedience and a warning for disobedience.

The People’s Response

The people promised they would do what God said. They heard Jeremiah’s message of what to do, along with the accompanying promise of provision. They also heard Jeremiah’s message of what not to do, along with the associated warning of death.

What do the people do? They accuse Jeremiah of lying. Following the adage, “they shoot the messenger”—at least metaphorically.

They don’t like Jeremiah’s message, so they decide to dismiss it. But by ignoring Jeremiah, they’re ignoring God. They decide to do what they wanted to do all along. They hightail it to Egypt, disobeying God’s command in the process.

And to Jeremiah’s dismay, they drag him off with them as they flee to Egypt.

What About Us?

When we say we’ll obey what God says, do we really mean it? Too often our obedience is selective. We do what’s easy and ignore the difficult parts of God’s commands that don’t make sense or that we don’t like. In short, we don’t believe God’s message—at least, not fully.

God’s people did it long ago, and God’s people still do it today. May we break this pattern of selective obedience.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Jeremiah 41-45, and today’s post is on Jeremiah 42:1-3.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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