Margin notes: Misreading Providence

Jeremiah 44:15–19 (ESV) — 15 Then all the men who knew that their wives had made offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: 16 “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you. 17 But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. 18 But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.” 19 And the women said, “When we made offerings to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands’ approval that we made cakes for her bearing her image and poured out drink offerings to her?”

Jeremiah prophesied and wrote in troubled times. Judah and Jerusalem had fallen to the military power of the Babylonians. Countless numbers were taken into exile in Babylon, and countless others killed in the battles, staved and left in utter ruin. All because the Jewish nation had persisted in turning to worship idols and false gods, while still claiming to be God’s people. A condition God’s prophets had warned against for many, many years. The warning being that if they did not repent, they would be ruthlessly conquered. And so it happened.

For those left in Judah, it was mayhem. Despite God’s word to them to surrender and endure God’s chastening for their idolatry at the hands of the Babylonians, they continued to rebel and then seek refuge in Egypt – again, contrary to God’s word to the through the prophets. And in the text above, they are arguing yet again with Jeremiah. They look back at how things were in Judah before the Babylonian siege. And it was a prosperous time. The problem is, they attached their prosperity to their idol worship rather than to God’s patience in the face of their idolatry. Hence the very skewed reasoning in the text. Back when we were serving those other gods, things were good! Only since we’ve been prevented from doing that have things gone bad.

The simple but profound lesson is this: Sin so distorts our perceptions, that we cannot discern God’s patience with us in our rebellion – and instead – conclude our rebellion actually brings us gain. This is a classic case of how tenuous it is to try and read providence apart for the word of God. You can make any event mean anything you want. This is so dangerous, and so prevalent in the Church today.

It is a graphic exposition of Romans 2:4 (ESV) — 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Believer, you may be walking in conscious rebellion against God’s Word today, but because life seems good and fruitful, fun and prosperous, that God is therefore necessarily pleased with you. Or, the converse may be so. You are walking in faithfulness and as obediently with the Lord as you know how, but life is in disarray and hard at every turn. Go back to His Word. The only safe place to analyze your situation is through the lens of Scripture. If life is “good”, do not automatically assume all is well. Judgment may be just around the corner. And hardship may not at all be any sign of His disapproval, but rather desert where He reveals Himself as your sustainer against all odds. Trust in the Gospel, not the circumstances. Trust in His promises, not your experience. Rest in His Word, and no place else. That alone is the safe place. And in time, you will see it fully revealed.


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