When something takes us by surprise we describe our reaction as being “shocked.” Our whole body is affected when we are “shocked”: our eyes open wider, our jaw drops, our muscles tighten. Things that shock us are etched on our brains and remembered for a long time. Some of life’s most important lessons come as a result of being “shocked” by things that happen around us. Such was the case with Jeremiah, the seventh century prophet whose very famous book with timeless lessons occupies a major portion of the Old Testament. Listen to his words:
“A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way” (Jeremiah 5:20-21).
Prophets were supposed to speak for God. They claimed to do so. They said their messages were inspired –– that they came from the very mouth of the Lord. People ought to be able to trust the prophets to tell them the truth; they should be able to look to the prophets to guide them. But if the prophets misstated the facts, if they taught things that God did not tell them to say, if they had their own agenda and for reasons of power and money cared more about protecting their positions than they cared about teaching the word of God accurately, they would mislead the people. That was what had happened. Jeremiah said the prophets of his day “prophesy lies.” Deceptive religious leaders should still shock us. We cannot afford to be naive about such matters. The more we learn from Scripture the more disturbing it is to realize that not everyone who claims to represent God is telling the truth. Is it any wonder that the apostle John warned us: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Do yourself a favor and compare every spiritual message you hear with what you read in the word of God. Unfortunately, there are false prophets today with agendas of their own.
Ancient priests were regarded as holy mediators of worship and teachers of the law. They were more numerous than prophets, more visible, more easily recognized by priestly garments, more in touch with the common people. While not everyone could say: “I know a prophet,” everyone knew the local priests. The priests stood between the people and their God; offered the worship, the incense and prayers on behalf of the people. They had an awesome responsibility! People had high regard for their priests and naturally entrusted their souls to their spiritual guidance. It would be alarming to discover that those who were supposed to be faithful to the Lord, to lead worship the way the Lord wanted it to be led, to teach the commandments of God without adding or taking away from them, were abandoning their sacred duty. Even now it is shocking to see those regarded as holy men of God ignoring the plain teachings of scripture, opting instead to “rule by their own authority.” When sincere seekers for truth approach such leaders with questions concerning right and wrong, sin and holiness, they are sometimes met with ridicule or rebuke for even raising the questions! Is it possible that some leaders don’t want their words or practices to be questioned? It ought to shock us that anyone who stands between the people and God would do anything other than faithfully declare “this is what God says in His holy word,” then back that up with a “book, chapter and verse” of Scripture.
Jeremiah was absolutely baffled that the people would choose to be led by lying prophets and presumptuous priests. He was shocked to see that the “people loved to have it this way.” The people loved freedom from God’s restrictions. They loved to worship in their own way, to believe what made them feel good. Why would people want a religion that was based on deception? Did they not understand that only by staying close to the Lord, walking in His paths and being obedient to His directions could they prepare for what was coming?
THE ULTIMATE QUESTION
Jeremiah asked: “But what will you do in the end?” To ask such a question implies that each hearer, each follower, each individual person is responsible for the destiny of his own soul. It’s a question each of us needs to ask ourselves. When we stand before the Lord for the final judgment we will stand on our own two feet. In the words of the apostle Paul, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). How do you stand with God today? How will you stand before God at the judgment? Where will you spend eternity?