“Do not pray for this people… for I will not hear you.” What an incredibly hard, harsh-sounding decree! Yet this was God’s explicit instruction to Jeremiah, in chapter 7:16. The bible critic, and the skeptic would respond, “See; the God of the bible is a mean, cruel despot!” Some background information is in order, however, so as to understand the context of the Lord’s words here; He first instructed Jeremiah to go to the main entrance of the temple and plead with the people of Judah to “Amend your ways…, Amend your ways…, Then I will cause you to dwell in this place…” (verses 3 & 5). The prophet was then to warn them that, if they did not cease from their idolatry and unfaithfulness to God, He would expel them from the Promised Land (verse 15). At this point the Lord speaks directly to Jeremiah about his own personal conduct in this situation (verse 16), emphasizing that the time for intercessory prayer was long past; what the nation needed was repentance, obedience, and faithfulness (verses 2128). The lesson for us to note is that we are foolish indeed, if we try to substitute prayers or “religiosity” for genuine repentance and reformation of character!
Chapter 8 (verses 9-12) brings us an image of many religious leaders in our own day, who focus their efforts on making sure that people “feel good about” their sinful conditions, rather than tell them plainly what needs to be done to correct the problem! Rather than admit that some behaviors are sinful, they persuade themselves and all who follow them that there is nothing shameful about sin (verse 12). Even as they succeed in persuading their followers to cast off guilt instead of sin, they condemn themselves (and those who follow them) to eternal separation from everything holy and hopeful.
What may be the most succinct biblical definition of true wisdom comes to us in Jeremiah 9:23-24. Here the prophet, speaking for God, contrasts the wisdom, might, and riches of this world with the steadfast love, justice, and righteousness of God. The “definition” comes at the beginning of verse 24, where the Lord declares that understanding and knowledge of Him is the true measure of whether or not one has any reason to “boast” in this world! The apostle Paul echoes this same contrast between human and heavenly wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:2029 and 3:18-23
One of the most familiar (and least-heeded) lessons in Jeremiah comes in chapter 10:23– “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (ESV). The prophet’s words here complement those of Solomon the wise, who noted in Proverbs 14:12 that, “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (NKJV). These passages emphasize the fact that while our lives in this world are not “preprogrammed” by instinct or “destiny” (i.e., our “fate” is not fixed), neither are we fully equipped to navigate this vale of tears by ourselves. God created us with both the need for and the ability to accept His guidance and aid; whether or not we have the wisdom to accept His blessings is up to us!
Solomon counseled “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23), and in Jeremiah 17:10 the man of God reminds us that the Lord “searches” our hearts and “tests” (NASB) our minds in order to deal with each of us according to our own behavior. The words “search” and “test” represent the ideas of close examination or minute inspection, and scrutinizing or assaying. Not only are our actions subject to the judgement of the Most High, but our thoughts and motives must also “pass muster” with Him as well, which is precisely the point made in Hebrews 4:12, concerning the action of His word within us.