Jeremiah 45 contains one of the single greatest denunciations of prosperity teaching that one could imagine:
The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a book at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: You said, ‘Woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.’ Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.”
Baruch, the faithful scribe of Jeremiah, thought that he would be spared the terrible consequences of national sin. The Lord had split his punishment between the sword for those who would not submit to his discipline, and captivity for those who would. Baruch had thought that he would be spared both because of his faithful duty to the Word of God and to God’s faithful prophet. Alas, what the Lord determined was that Baruch, despite his patience and “upright” heart would suffer right along with the rest of Israel. This tells us two things, there is collateral damage when the Lord carries out his vengeance. And that, it is not really undeserved, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Accordingly though, God’s promises cannot be thwarted, even by our grievous sins.
“Now therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence’: Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.
“For thus says the LORD: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them.(Jeremiah 32:36-42 ESV)
Jer 17:9-10 tells us we don’t have an upright heart to be able to follow him and offers a foreboding declaration. We do not deserve whatever grace he might bestow, but only his indignation.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
On the other hand Jeremiah 24:7 says,
I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
Before we can ever get to 29:11 we have to go through chapters one through twenty-eight. Of course 29:11 isn’t about a person, nor is Jeremiah at large about individuals. It is about Israel, her turning to international might for protection from God’s wrath, and the Babylonian captivity. Still, it holds out a hope of the future Kingdom and the Church glorified, prophetically. There are numerous messianic overtones in Jeremiah. Those overtones of a future glory, should not, as was Baruch mistake, become the expectation of one’s best life now.
Jeremiah must have read the same books Ezekiel and Isaiah were reading, for both tell us that God causes his children to walk in his statutes. Not only that, but if evil comes upon a city, is it not the Lord who has done it? Do we not read that it was God who sent Satan to tempt David? It is God who builds up and tears down. He doesn’t wait for us to do what we will, grounding his blessing in our patience, then he chimes in. We, like Israel are alway turning away from the Lord. Prone to wander, yes I feel it.
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.
Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.
Instead, he takes the initiative, turns our heart towards him, washes and sanctifies, puts his Spirit in us, writes his statutes upon our hearts and causes us to walk in them. How I will sing of his sovereign grace. The temptations and trials of life are God’s work, and that for the future glorification of his church, not necessarily evident in the life of the believer, today.
Thank God, he doesn’t leave it up to us, for when he searches our hearts he finds nothing but dead men’s bones, corruption, evil, a constant proness to wander. Jeremiah knew that, and that is why the inferred question that since God knows man’s heart is evil, how will he bless man? “I will do it for my own name’s sake,” has always been God’s response. Jeremiah has this confirmation throughout it, he puts to death his sons for his name’s sake and for his glory. He was following the Lord, and yet God didn’t make all things beautiful in his time. He went into slavery and died there. It wouldn’t be until the future kingdom that a Daniel’s generation would be set free. It would be a new generation, a new man was to be set free. In other words, in the future, after Jeremiah was dead, in the resurrection, when old things have passed away, all things will be renewed, then he would have life, in realms of endless day.
In some cases, like David, life starts out pretty cushy- lands, servants- and ends up ugly. From his entry in to the service of the king, until the day he died he had nothing but trouble. A man after God’s own heart, he was fully following God, then bad Sheba happened. He died still married to a past that haunted even his bed in old age. Yet, his lips did not cease to sing God’s praise.
True enough, God knows the plans he has for us. It is not always the best life now. In fact, if in this life is our hope we are the most miserable of people. Never the less, God works all things for good for those who are called according to his grace. In the end, that is in the resurrection, we know we shall be like him, when the true heart of the Father, the Son, comes again into his possession to bless it for his glory.
I would like to say that I follow God with an upright heart, but that would be a lie. I would like to say I know some who do, but that would be a lie, also. If the heart has to be upright for God to act on its behalf, it would not be written that God shows his love as that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. It is a strange thing to say, “I am a repentant sinner.” But, then, Christ did not come to call the righteous to repentance.
We are not like a butterfly struggling to get out of our cocoon and by that struggle prepared for life and made beautiful in it. To the contrary, we are made vessels for his use such that having been fashioned as vessels of mercy, he casts us upon the heap of this life among all the other refuse, that broken we might be for him a testimony to his death, his burial, and his resurrection. For now, we count it all loss that in hope, by his good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
It may seem that we have come along way since the days of our conversion. The reality is, that what we are is hidden in Christ and we are still who we are when he found us, how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be.
And a good thing that. As Isaiah says:
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people. Your holy cities have become a wilderness; Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins. Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord? Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly
The crushing and reforming of the children of God is not one that is accomplished in this life. But he binds our hearts to him through it all. Sorrowing I shall be in spirit, till released from flesh and sin. Though now we are left in the middle of enemies, we are grace by a feast, settled and at peace, even though the shadow of death is over us.
Truly, there are some who do not ever in this life become butterflies. For most, their trials begin and do not ever cease. The Teacher knew this very well. The righteous perish and none take it to heart. In many cases troubles only increase with time. That there are blessings manifold in the Christian life, they should never supplant the reality that as vessels, we are God’s work not our own. It is not our faithfulness, not our patience, not anything in us, but the work of Christ on our behalf. For all that is in us is only worthy of condemnation. All the riches are found in him. The real blessing comes in the ever-growing awareness of our depravity and the ever-growing awareness of his holiness, Isaiah 6. Like Baruch, we should not seek good things for ourselves, but as a first priority, we should seek his righteousness, not our own, his kingdom, and not our own, for we are all men of unclean lips, completely undone.
For many, coming through trials may be much like struggling as a butterfly to emerge, I suppose. Even at that, the understanding should be, that having once emerged, we are fodder for the birds, or targets for the pins of a collector, or we fall prey to a neighbor’s bug zapper. We need to remember, that Israel was in the Potters hand to do with him as God would before the captivity in Egypt, and after. Jacob and Joseph died in Egypt, never again seeing the promised land. Moses was taken from the waters a wonderful child, a chosen one, lived like a prince as a freeman among captives, despised Egypt’s sins, yet he too, died in the wilderness, the chosen of God prone in his heart to wander. Abraham came from Babylon, and went down to Egypt, and when he returned, spiritually speaking, in the persons of his great grand-children, it was only to return Babylon, again. All the wanderings of the children of God are God’s doing. Such is the walk of faith, such are the children of Abraham. It is for his name’s sake and nothing in us that he does it.
O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage.
We fear, then, and work out our salvation with trembling, knowing it is not we, but God, who works in us the will and the power to do whatever he pleases with us. If he should leave us to the whim of our own sin, we have this promise, that he will let us escape with our life as a prize of war where ever we may go. For he will not abandon his own, he will not lose any, for we are his people, the sheep of his pastor, instruments of his use, whether we will to be, or not.