Posted by: stpowen | May 22, 2010

The Wine of God’s Wrath

Jeremiah 13:1-7

The Rejection and the Judgement of God

Taken from a sermon first preached at Scott Drive Church, Exmouth

This is going to be a hard word.  Readers of this blog will be aware that I am much pre-occupied with revival and our Nation’s desperate need of it.  The Psalmist declares, ‘Rivers of waters run from my eyes, because men do not keep Your law’ (Psalm 119:136).  Clearly the nation is in a dreadful state in all sorts of ways, morally even more than politically or economically.  My concern here, however, is not so much for the country but for what people are wont to call the ‘visible Church ’ (1).  I am thinking in particular of the world-wide Anglican Communion, where the wicked carry on in defiance of the Lambeth Conference, and the others tolerate it.  ‘Everyone is given to covetousness;  from the priest even to the prophet, everyone deals falsely.  For they have healed the wound of My people slightly, saying, “Peace, peace!”  When there is no peace.  Were they ashamed when they had had committed abomination?  No!  They were not at all ashamed .  Nor did they know how to blush.’  

As an itinerant preacher I visit a number of the little Reformed churches in the West Country.  In several of them there is a certain air of defeatism.  Their sole aim seems to be to keep the stated services going, and every service the same few elderly people come through the doors- every week a little older, every year a little fewer in number, and it’s clear that, humanly speaking, in a short time that church will be gone.  There is an unspoken acceptance of the fact among the leadership of the church.

So, on the one hand we see the wicked breaking all restraint, and on the other a tiny remnant who just seem to tolerate the situation- too old, too weak, and too feeble to do anything about it.  There is, of course, another part of the remnant, represented by Affirmation 2010 (2) who fulminate against all change and draw their theological wagons into an ever tighter and more exclusive circle.  I cannot see that there is any hope in them either.

I came across Jeremiah 17 a short while ago and it seems to sum up what is wrong with the nation and the Church today.  I hope no one will say, “Oh! But the Old Testament is only talking about Israel, not about Britain or the Church.  I contend that the primary application of the O.T. is for us.  ‘For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope’ (Rom 15:4).  ‘To them [the prophets] it was revealed that not to themselves, but to us, they were ministering…..’ (1Peter 1:12).

What we have in Jeremiah 13:1-17 is two prophetic signs, and the second is the consequence of the reality of the first (cf. v12. ‘Therefore’).  The first was a sign for Jeremiah; the second for Judah and for us.

In verse 1, Jeremiah is told to acquire a linen garment.  This garment is variously described in the different translations as a ‘sash,’ a ‘waistband,’ a ‘loin cloth’ and a ‘girdle.’  I think there is no doubt that this item of clothing was what we might delicately call a gentleman’s undergarment- it was to be worn next to the skin.  It was to be made of linen because that’s what the priests of Israel wore (Exod 28:42-43; Lev 16:4), and Israel was supposed to be a nation of priests (Exod 19:6).  Jeremiah was to wear this linen undergarment without washing it for a period of time.   Then (v6), when it was sweaty and dirty, he was to take it out of the land to the Euphrates River and hide it under a stone by the river.  I’m guessing that as the water level rose and fell, the garment was alternatively soaked and baked.

  Then, after many days, Jeremiah is sent to retrieve the clothing and of course it is ruined; it has rotted and perished and is ‘good for nothing’ (v7). 

So what is the meaning of this?  We are told in vs 10-11.  Just as this undergarment was designed to fit snugly next to a man’s skin, so Israel should have had an intimate relationship to God.  ‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people’ (Exod 19:5).  But just as Jeremiah did not wash the garment, but took it out of the land for it to be washed by the Euphrates, so Israel, instead of coming to the Lord for forgiveness and cleansing from sin, departed from Him, departed from Him and went after other gods, the gods of the nations and became worthless in His eyes.  ‘They had loosed themselves from Him, thrown themselves at a distance;  robbed Him of the honour which is due to Him and buried themselves in the earth, and foreign earth at that, becoming mingled with the nations’ (Matthew Henry). The root problem, as usual, is pride (v9).  The Israelites, despite all the advantages that they had received from God, would not humble themselves to keep His commandments, but followed the dictates of their own hearts and did whatever seemed right in their own eyes, abandoning the true God for deities of their own imagination (v10. cf. Judges 21:25).

‘Therefore…..’ (v12).  Because Israel has deserted God, judgement is inevitable.  The second prophecy is not an enactment, but a pronouncement.  ‘Every bottle shall be filled with wine’ (v13).  Possibly this was a well-known proverb in Israel, meaning that everything has its use.  So when Jeremiah utters it as a prophecy, the people say, “We know that, Jeremiah!  Why don’t you tell us something we don’t know?”  Perhaps they were touchy with him because they thought he was going to rebuke them for their drunkenness.  If he had it would have been perfectly fair because they loved ‘flagons of wine’  (Hosea 3:1, A.V.); their watchmen were more interested in wine than in keeping watch (Isaiah 56:12), and they loved the false prophets who prophesied to them of wine (Micah 2:11), telling them that they should never lack a bottle or two with which to make merry.

“Very well,” says the Lord through Jeremiah, “You shall have your bottles of wine but not the kind that you want, for you yourselves shall be the bottles and you shall be filled- with spiritual drunkenness!”  So what does this mean? It means that those who have revealed themselves by their sins and impenitence to be vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction, shall be filled with the wrath of God just as the vessels of mercy shall be filled with mercy, glory and love.  It is not dissimilar to God ‘giving over’ the wicked in Romans 1.  They give themselves over to wickedness; God gives them over some more- they become more and more stupid and stupefied.  ‘Professing to be wise, they became fools’ (Rom 1:22).  Here in Jeremiah, the people will not listen to God’s servant so God gives them over to drunkenness so that they cannot hear. 

This spiritual drunkenness is a judgement of the Lord.  ‘For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red.  It is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain down and drink (Psalm 75:8).  Elsewhere we read of the ‘wine of confusion’ that the Lord gives to His errant people. A glance at a concordance will reveal several more instances of wine being administered as judgement.  What does it mean?  It means just this:  that just as when a man is drunk, he loses all his finer faculties- wisdom, virtue, common sense, reserve and modesty- so the Israelites should lurch and stagger about, unable to understand what is going on or to anticipate danger, to spout nonsense, be prone to quarrel and fight with those around them, to be sick of all their pleasures, to fall into a drunken stupor just when they needed to be alert, and to be mocked by all who see them.  God says to Judah, “You have walked in the way of your sister (3); therefore I will put her cup in your hand………You shall drink of your sister’s cup, the deep and wide one; you shall be laughed to scorn and held in derision; it contains much.  You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, the cup of horror and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria.  You shall drink and drain it.  You shall drain its shards, and tear at your own breasts:  for I have spoken.”  (Ezek 23:31-33).  So Israel, that should have had that close, intimate relationship with the Lord- as close as a garment is to the skin- instead was given over because of her sins to spiritual drunkenness and judgement.

I can’t think that it’s too difficult to draw lessons from all this.  It is dangerous to draw direct comparisons between Old Testament Israel and nations or churches today, and I don’t want to look at the past through rose-coloured glasses, but is it not true that our nation at one time had a close and intimate relationship with the Lord?  That we experienced tremendous revivals, had wonderful preachers raised up for us, and were able to send missionaries all around the world?

Now, because of our backsliding, we have come under the judgement of God, and is it not clear that He has given the churches of Britain the cup of drunkenness- the cup of His wrath?  My mind is drawn to the Lambeth Conference of a few years back.  There was lots of staggering about, lots of talking over one another, but no real understanding of the problem, let alone a determination to confront it.  Indeed, there was rather a determination not to confront it with the word of God.  But the problem is not only with the Anglicans.  Another group of churches is so desperate to grow at all costs that it has done away with all talk of sin or repentance, and just tell people whatever they want to hear.  A third group takes on board whatever whacky nonsense comes out of America, while a fourth seems to worry more about whether a preacher is wearing a collar and tie, and which Bible version he is using than about whether he is actually preaching the Gospel.  I need not continue; you know all this.

So what can we do about it?  ‘Hear and give ear:  do not be proud, for the LORD has spoken.  Give glory to the LORD your God before He causes darkness, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains’ (v15).  We need above all to humble ourselves.  ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (James 4:6).  Pride is a root cause of our problems, leading us to imagine that we know better than God how to run His churches.  I might add that it is a particular danger in Reformed churches.  We pride ourselves that we have our theology right, and it is so easy for us to end up in the position of the Laodicean church (Rev 3:17), thinking we’ve got it all together and that God must be so pleased with us, when in reality we under His displeasure.  We are to give glory to God, not to ourselves.  And if we humble ourselves then we shall know that we cannot possibly get out of the state we’re in by our own efforts.  Therefore in private and public prayer, with true repentance, we should be beseeching God to revive us.  ‘“Now therefore,” says the LORD, turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning.”  So rend your heart and not your garments;  return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.  Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him……’ (Joel 2:12-14).  There is a real sense of urgency as Joel continues;  ‘Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly;  gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders….’ (vs 15-16).  We are called to be importunate in our prayers (v12) and genuine in our repentance (v13a).  If we are so, why would God not hear us?  He does not lightly bring judgement (v13b).  Nor did Christ shed His blood for just a few people.  Corinth was a city that was a byword in ancient times for its wickedness and depravity, yet God told Paul, “I have many people in this city’ (Acts 18:10).  May He not have many people in your city and mine?  May He not still revive us and bless us if we will only turn to Him as Joel suggests, with all our heart?

Let us therefore commit ourselves to three things:  firstly, let us stand apart from the madness that is afflicting so many churches;  let us be sober and steady.  Secondly, let us humble ourselves and acknowledge that we are by nature and practice sinners and rebels against God.  And thirdly, let us commit ourselves to pray, privately and publicly, day and night that the Lord will move again on this land in power.  Let us say like Jacob, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”

‘For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until her righteousness shines forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns……..You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth’ (Isaiah 62:1, 6-7).  

Notes

  1. I dislike the term ‘Visible Church’ which is not found in the Bible, but it is hard to find a better expression.  What I mean here is all those congregations and denominations that claim to be Christian.
  2. See my article:  Affirmation 2010- a Reluctant Critique elsewhere on this blog.
  3. ‘Sister’ refers to the Northern kingdom of Israel which had been destroyed a century or so earlier (2Kings :17).
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