God scored again today and He’s got my full attention. He rebuked me via an obscure story very early in the morning (suffice it to say, it gave me enough energy for a 5km run).
Today’s reading covered Jeremiah 42 – 46, the first part of which tells the story of Johanan and his group of army friends. The kingdom of Judah had been defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and many have been taken into exile. The king installed a governor in Judah, who was assassinated by Ishmael, one of King David’s descendants. Ishmael went on to massacre other remnants of Judah (those who were not taken into exile). Those who survived the killings went over to seek refuge with Johanan.
Religious as he was, Johanan and his best bud, Jezaniah, went to Jeremiah the prophet (wow, they do love names starting with J”!). Now let me proceed in the words of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 42:2 – 6, NIV, emphasis added):
Then all the army officers, including Johanan son of Kareah and Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest approached Jeremiah the prophet and said to him, “Please hear our petition and pray to the LORD your God for this entire remnant. For as you now see, though we were once many, now only a few are left. Pray that the LORD your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.”
“I have heard you,” replied Jeremiah the prophet. “I will certainly pray to the LORD your God as you have requested; I will tell you everything the LORD says and will keep nothing back from you.”
Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the LORD your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the LORD our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the LORD our God.“
Ten days later, Jeremiah gives them an answer. God has commanded them to surrender to the Babylonians and not escape to Egypt (hah, proof that God knows our hearts, since Johanan NEVER previously mentioned that they were planning to go to Egypt). He also emphasized that there will be dire consequences if this command were disobeyed.
After having the gall to say that they were going to obey God NO MATTER WHAT HE ASKS, Johanan replied (Jeremiah 43:2 – 3, NIV):
Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are lying! The LORD our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to settle there.’ But Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Babylonians, so they may kill us or carry us into exile to Babylon.”
I know… If it were not too close to home, it would have been funny in its irony. But I had to check myself, “LORD, how many times have I sworn to obey you no matter what you ask, and yet falter when You answer in a way I never expect nor want? How many times have I tried to delay my obedience, in the hope that You would change Your mind? Oh, that my life may worship You in that I would jump in as soon as you say ‘Go!'” Sigh. I thank God for His infinite patience and grace. I am reminded, no matter how much I want something or no matter how much I don’t want to do something, if God tells me “NO” or “GO” I can never twist His arm.