Desperately Wicked
Tim Temple

Introduction

There was a trial here in town of a woman who was accused and found guilty of ignoring the cries of her children while they were being abducted. Later her daughter was killed and her son was beaten and left for dead. We hear this kind of thing all the time, and it seems as if we hear it more and more often as our nation drifts farther and farther away from God's standards. When those things happen, we wonder, whether we say anything about it or not, how somebody could get in that condition. How could somebody ignore the cries of their children who are being abducted by a person whom they know to be a wicked person? If we are honest with ourselves, sometimes we wonder how we could do some of the evil things that we can be guilty of, even if it is maybe only mental, don't we? We wonder how those kinds of things can happen.

When we find ourselves thinking that way, it is time for a reality check because the Bible tells us clearly that under the right circumstances, the right provocation, any of us, every one of us, is capable of the worst kinds of crime. You may be tempted in some area that I am not tempted. I may be tempted in some area that somebody else isn't tempted, but all of us are capable of terrible sin and wickedness. In fact, probably the best known statement of that fact is right here in the book of Jeremiah, chapter 17:

Jeremiah 17:

9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

We can't even know the depths of the depravity of our own heart and of all of us that statement is true. “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.”

In many places the New Testament warns us about that evil within us. Usually, it refers to it as the flesh , or the old man , or the man of sin —terms like that—but the New Testament also tells us, and the Old Testament hints at it, that that evil tendency is offset in believers by the presence of the Holy Spirit. We do have that old sinful nature, that tendency, that ability to sin; but if we trust Jesus Christ as Savior, we receive the Holy Spirit who lives within us and is there to combat that evil that is within us and to give us power over that evil. Galatians, chapter 5, tells us that there is a constant struggle between our old sin nature and God the Holy Spirit Who lives within us. Of course, that doesn't mean that we are automatically good. As I say, there is that struggle that goes on between the power of God and the desires of Satan to stir up that evil in us. At the same time, the Holy Spirit gives us the power to overcome that evil if we will trust Him and if we will rely on Him to give us that victory and to make those right choices as we are tempted.

As we come to the closing chapters of Jeremiah's prophecy, we find a series of incidents that describe just how true this concept is. Today we want to look at chapters 40-45. If you have been with us for this series of studies in Jeremiah and particularly if you have been with us for other series that I have taught, you know that we have handled it a little differently. We have been looking at it kind of by chapters, more so than verse by verse as we usually do. That is because the chapter divisions are just placed here and there to help us keep references, etc., but the stories go for several chapters. That is true of these chapters that we are going to look at today.

Six Characteristics of the Flesh

In chapters 40-45, we have six illustrations of how Satan tries to get us to give in to that evil within us. I am calling them six characteristics of the flesh. In order to understand these chapters and these concepts, let me take a minute just to review with you the setting in which these chapters take place. We saw in our last lesson that the armies of Nebuchadnezzar came back to Jerusalem for the second time. They invaded the city. The first time they just put it under siege and took a few captives, but a few years later they came back and they invaded the city. They burned the palace, they burned the temple, and they took most of the people back to Babylon. The palace and the temple were burned to the ground. The king, Zedekiah, was taken and forced to watch as all of his sons were put to death. After those sons had been literally hacked to death in front of him, his eyes were put out so that the last visual memory he would ever have would be the terrible death of his sons.

We would think, wouldn't we, that these kinds of things would surely bring grief and repentance into the hearts of these people because on top of all that, Jeremiah, for forty years, had been telling them this very thing was going to happen and had been offering them God's promise of averting that terrible disaster if they would simply repent and turn their hearts toward Him again. But as these five chapters that we are going to look at today demonstrate, that is not the way the depraved human heart works. This is another of those historical lessons which God has included in His Word so that we can learn from example if we will, rather than having to learn some of these lessons by experience. God prefers that we learn by example and that is why He has given us the whole Bible, but particularly the Old Testament.

I Corinthians, chapter 10, says that these things written aforetime were written for our learning. God would much rather have us learn these principles that we are going to look at today from what happened to the Israelites than to have to learn by experience. But God loves us enough that if we don't learn these things by example, He will see to it that we learn by experience, maybe not the same experience as these people had, but experience is a much harsher teacher than example. So let's think about what these chapters have to tell us.

Unquestioning Trust

The first illustration of the flesh and the depravity of the flesh is the story of Gedaliah. Gedaliah was a man, a citizen of Judah, who was appointed the governor after the king had been executed and the captives had been taken back and just a few, the poorest of the people it tells us, were left in the land. Gedaliah had been appointed governor and in chapter 40, verses 1-16, we have the illustration of the characteristic of the flesh that I am calling unquestioning trust. Let me just summarize the first part of the chapter for you. In verses 1-5, as the dust settles around Jerusalem, the captain of the guard comes in and frees Jeremiah. He tells Jeremiah that he is free to settle anywhere he wants to in that area or he can join the other captives in Babylon. He assures him that if he decides to go to Babylon they will take good care of him. He won't be punished or harassed in any way. Either way, whether he chooses to stay in Judah or go to Babylon, he will enjoy the full protection of the Babylonian government. In the process of doing that, by the way, the captain recognizes exactly what has taken place here, and I want us to digress here for a minute and look at verses 2-3, where we read:

Jeremiah 40:

2 And the captain of the guard took Jeremiah, and said unto him, The LORD thy God hath pronounced this evil upon this place.
3 Now the LORD hath brought it, and done according as he hath said: because ye have sinned against the LORD, and have not obeyed his voice, therefore this thing is come upon you.

Many times unbelievers see things about our testimony more clearly than we ourselves do. This captain of the guard had heard Jeremiah's messages apparently much more clearly than the Israelites had. That is why we don't need to be worried too much about our image or how we look to unbelievers. If we walk closely and sincerely with the Lord, they will somehow be able to sense, even though they may not fully be able to understand it, that we have a relationship with the Lord. By the same token, if we are not walking closely with the Lord, they will also be able to sense the hypocrisy, just as this captain did. This nonbeliever, this non-Jewish, Babylonian captain of the guard knew exactly what had happened there. Unbelievers have an uncanny sense of what is right and what is wrong in the lives of believers. We need to keep that in mind and not try to put something over, not try to act like a Christian or tell people that we are a believer in Jesus Christ if we are not walking in fellowship with Him, living closely in fellowship with Him. They will be able to see it and mark it down as hypocrisy.

Continuing with our summary, in verse 6, Jeremiah decides to stay in the area that had been Judah rather than going to Babylon, so he goes to the town of Mizpah where this man Gedaliah had been appointed governor by the Babylonians. The next verses tell us about several roving groups of military men. We might call them guerrilla bands , little independent armies that were roving through the ruins of Israel and Judah. They were looting and stealing, and in whatever way they could, fighting against the Babylonian occupation of their land. In verse 13, the captain of one of those guerrilla bands came to Gedaliah the governor and told him that another one of those guerrilla captains, the head of another one of the groups, was going to kill Gedalia the governor. He warns him about that. We pick up the story in verse 13:

Jeremiah 40:

13 Moreover Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were in the fields, came to Gedaliah to Mizpah,
14 And said unto him, Dost thou certainly know that Baalis the king of the Ammonites hath sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to slay thee? But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam believed them not.

Jeremiah 40:

14 [Notice this]…But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam believed them not.

This governor of the area, who himself was an Israelite, did not believe this report that this guerrilla leader brought to him. Here is the first characteristic of the flesh and it's a very subtle one. We have to think carefully about it. The first characteristic when we are operating in the flesh is that we have a tendency to have unquestioning trust. On the one hand, the Scriptures make it clear that we are not to go around being suspicious of people, not to have a negative mind-set about other people. We are to love each other as brothers in Christ and look out for each other's good and all those kinds of things. If you are the kind of Christian who is always doubtful and suspicious of other people, it will really keep you from being able to walk closely with the Lord. On the other hand, just to believe whatever anyone says without thinking it through is also unwise. I John, chapter 4, verse 1, says:

I John 4:

1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Here was Gedaliah, the governor, who just believed that nobody would kill him. Even though he received a warning, he didn't believe the warning. He believed that everything was going to be all right, that he could trust everybody around him. You know, Satan's goal in life, the goal of Satan's ministry, is to keep people from coming to know Jesus Christ as Savior. Everything that he does is geared to keeping Jesus Christ from being King of kings and Lord of lords. He lost that battle at the Cross. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ triumphed over him openly, but at the same time, since Satan wasn't thrown directly into Hell at that point, he is hoping against hope that he can still somehow salvage the battle. Everything that he does is aimed at keeping people from coming to know Jesus Christ. If somehow he blows it, and somebody gets saved, then his goal becomes to keep them from having a close relationship with God. He does everything that he can come up with to try to keep people from getting close to the Lord. “If you are going to be a Christian, at least don't get into close fellowship with the Lord,” Satan says.

Here is an example. If Satan can't get us to be negative and unloving with other folk, he will try to get us to be gullible and just accept what anybody says, no matter what. You know, Satan really doesn't care which direction we go. Jesus said, “Straight is the way and narrow is the gate to eternal life.” We might say that same thing about fellowship with the Lord. If Satan can keep us from going down that narrow, middle aisle of truth and fellowship with the Lord, he will try to get us to go over to these side aisles, the right path or the left path. He doesn't care about that as long as we don't take the center path. So here is this man, Gedaliah, who chooses not to believe the person who is bringing a good report. He chooses to believe the people about whom he is being warned. He doesn't give it any thought. Here is a man who is a member of God's chosen people. He is a man who, for whatever reason, God has allowed to be put in charge of whatever few people that are left there.

You would think that after all he had seen, he would have learned to go to the Lord and ask for wisdom about this kind of thing. But that is the way the flesh operates. Our responsibility as Christians is to be loving and trusting and helpful to each other, but at the same time to be wary and watchful and to remember that Satan goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour and to be very careful to walk between the two extremes to which Satan might lead us.

Unrighteous Retribution

The story continues, and in chapter 41, verses 1-3, we find the second characteristic of the flesh. It is what I am going to call unrighteous retribution . Look at verse 1:

Jeremiah 41:

1 Now it came to pass in the seventh month, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah the son of Elishama, of the seed royal, and the princes of the king, even ten men with him, came unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and there they did eat bread together in Mizpah.
2 Then arose Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and the ten men that were with him, and smote Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan with the sword, and slew him, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.
3 Ishmael also slew all the Jews that were with him, even with Gedaliah, at Mizpah, and the Chaldeans that were found there, and the men of war.

We will stop there with verse 3. It turns out that Johanan's warning in chapter 40 was exactly right. They were going to kill Gedaliah, and they did. But in these verses we find some things about why this murder took place. The first clue is in verse 1. We read that Ishmael, the assassin, was of the royal family. Then in verse 2, we read that Gedaliah, the murdered governor, was the son of Ahikam. Maybe you don't remember who Ahikam was. In fact, this is probably the only place he is mentioned in the Bible. But if we were to trace this back through the lineage, we would find Ahikam was a commoner. So the situation here is—the Scripture doesn't say this specifically, but I think reading between the lines we can realize that probably what happened was—that Ishmael, the assassin, was technically a prince, even though the country had been taken into captivity. He was jealous of this commoner who had been chosen to be the ruler, we might say, of the few people who were left from his nation, so he went out to murder this commoner who had, in his opinion, cooperated with the Babylonians.

That is probably the human aspect of what took place here. But here was another way that Satan uses our sin nature, our flesh, to get us to take matters into our own hands, to get even, to make retribution for the wrongs that we see around us. Think about Jeremiah. Jeremiah, though his nation was vanquished, though most of them were taken into captivity and only the poorest people of the land left behind, was treated honorably by the Babylonians. He was treated justly. He was told he could stay there if he wanted to or go to Babylon if he wanted to; either way he would be protected.

Jeremiah is a picture of a man who was walking with the Lord and who had fellowship with the Lord. We don't know the details, but it may be that Jeremiah prayed for wisdom about how to approach the Babylonians or he had prayed that the Babylonians would treat him fairly. We don't know. On the other hand, this man, Ishmael, who was one of God's chosen people was a member of the nation as much as Jeremiah was, and he took matters into his own hands. He was going to see to it in whatever way he could. He would make things right. He would take care of the wrongs that were done, even if it could only be on a small basis.

Sometimes God does direct us to do specific things, and there are certain things that He guides us into doing. But we need to be very careful that the Lord is the One Who is leading us to do these things, that it is the Lord Who has given us this idea and Who has put that desire into our mind. That can be done by times of prayer with the Lord, searching His Word, maybe talking to other believers about what they might think about what God's will is. It is only then that we are to take some kind of action in some kind of situation.

Keep a marker here in Jeremiah and turn with me to I Peter, chapter 2, verses 2-23, a passage that seems to come up more often than we would like for it to. Just this past week this passage convicted me of something that I was thinking about doing. It wasn't related to Jeremiah at all, but in I Peter, chapter 2, beginning with verse 21, we read:

I Peter 2:

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:
23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

Think carefully about this. He reminds us of how perfect Jesus was. He, in verse 22, committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth, but He was reviled. Let that be a lesson to you, too. If we think that just because we are walking closely with the Lord, just because we fellowship with the Lord, no bad thing is going to happen to us, we are just ignoring Jesus Christ. Nobody could have been more perfect than Jesus Christ. Nobody could have been more closely in touch with God the Father than Jesus Christ. In one sentence we are told that He did no sin; no deceit was found in His mouth, but He was reviled. He did not revile in return. When He suffered, which would be the physical side of it—the reviling would be the emotional side of it; the suffering is the physical suffering—He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him Who judges righteously.

Jesus Christ was the only person in all of history who could have said, “I'm gonna' get you for that,” and could have really gotten them. Think about what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, could have done to those soldiers who were plucking out his beard. Think what Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe, could have done to those guys who crammed the crown of thorns into His head. Had they had an idea Who they were messing with, they wouldn't have thought of all that. But look what He did. He just said, “I'm going to commit this to the Lord.”

From what we know of I Thessalonians, what was probably going through Jesus' mind was, “At the right time, I am going to get you for this,” because I and II Thessalonians tell us that when Jesus Christ returns and when God wraps up the time schedule of the world, He is going to bring righteous retribution to those who have caused us to suffer. He writes that to the Thessalonians and to us as a means of consolation. Listen, if somebody is harassing you because of your Christian testimony, not just because you have been harassing them or some human reason like that, but if you are being harassed for your Christian testimony, just relax. God is going to get them for that. He promises that. Jesus, when He was reviled said, “Lord, Father, You just take care of this. You see what they are doing. I commit it to You.”

That is what Ishmael, the prince, should have done. “Lord, you see what these Babylonians are doing to us. You see what a humiliation and a mockery of the royal family it is, but the line of David, the descendants of David in the royal city are having this commoner placed over us. I, the prince, am having to answer to a commoner. I have to do what he tells me to do. Lord, how unjust that is. God, please take care of that. Please rectify that situation.”

So what did he do? He did on a much bigger scale but exactly what you and I tend to do so often. “I'm gonna' fix this. I'm gonna' get even over this. They will be sorry they did this to me.” That is the flesh, you see. When we take matters into our own hands, and when we set out to make this thing right, we violate the Word of God. We act in the flesh. I don't care what the situation is. It may be a situation within your own home, some reaction to your parents or some reaction to your spouse or some reaction to your children. It may be in your business. It may be in any kind of setting, but when we take matters into our own hands and decide that we are going to make this thing right when we could so easily commit it to the Lord who judges righteously, we are acting in the flesh. Remember what I Peter says: “To Him Who judges righteously.” If you are in conflict, today, if you are in a contentious situation, take note of I Peter, chapter 2, verse 23, and notice the last line. God knows who is right in that situation. You are being mistreated. God knows that. He judges righteously. Imitate the Lord Jesus and commit it to Him Who judges righteously.

He may lead you to do something about it. Remember what Jesus said. You might not like what I am about to say; you might not like what Jesus said, but He probably is going to lead you to do something nice to that person. He is going to lead you to pray for that person for sure. He is going to lead you to heap coals of fire upon their heads by doing something kind and loving to them. Regardless of that, the thing for us to do is to commit it to Him Who judges righteously, like our Lord Jesus did. That is the lesson that we learn from Ishmael who took things into his own hands and did away with this commoner who had taken his rightful place.

Coming back to Jeremiah, the next verses go on to tell how Ishmael continued in this lawless rage, and we read about eighty men who came on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to make offering and Ishmael saw them coming and went out and with his band of soldiers and killed those eighty men and threw their bodies into a cistern. Then he took the rest of those people who were in Mizpah captive and started heading for the country of Ammon, where he had decided to defect and where he had probably gotten some backup for his murderous plan.

Unnecessary Fear

What happens next in this saga is what forms the basis of a third principle of the works of the flesh, and that is unnecessary fear. That is described in the rest of chapter 41, verses 11-18. As Ishmael was leading the captives along the way to Ammon, Johanan, who was the guerrilla leader who had warned Gedaliah about Ishmael's murder plans, intercepted these people, this little remnant of people which included Jeremiah. When they saw Johanan coming, they probably remembered that he was the one who had warned Gedaliah, and they broke from Ishamel and ran over and joined Johanan's forces. Johanan then turned around and headed for Egypt.

If you haven't followed me in all of those little ins and outs, the basic thing we need to keep in mind at this point in the story is that here are God's people, the very last few people of the nation of Judah, Israelites, sons of Abraham, sons of David, God's chosen people, heading for Egypt. That is the main thing we need to keep in mind. Here were God's people heading for Egypt.

Verses 17-18 give us the conclusion:

Jeremiah 41:

17 And they departed, and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham, which is by Bethlehem, to go to enter into Egypt,
18 Because of the Chaldeans: for they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had slain Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon made governor in the land.

This is a strange situation. They were afraid of the Chaldeans, and that is another name for the Babylonians. The Old Testament sometimes refers to them as one and then sometimes as the other. In fact, in verse 18, they are referred to in both ways—the Chaldeans, the king of Babylon, the same people. They were afraid of the Babylonians verse 18 tells us; and yet, Johanan, the man whom they were now with, was the one who had warned Gadaliah, whom the Babylonians had appointed. There would have been no reason for them to be afraid. They were with a person who had tried to do good to the Babylonian's appointed governor. But here they are, running from the very people who in the first place had promised to keep them from harm, the very people whom the man who is now their leader had done good for or tried to do good for. Here is a picture of what our evil heart will do to us if we allow it to. If we operate in the flesh rather than at the direction of the Holy Spirit, we will be afraid when there is nothing really to fear. Proverbs, chapter 28, verse 1, says, “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing.”

If you are trying to put things together and work things out and make things go the way you want them to go, chances are by now, you have already done something that is wrong, something that is sinful. You may rationalize it away, but when we operate on our own steam, when we operate in the flesh instead of at the direction of the Holy Spirit, we are going to do something wrong pretty quickly. Every time there is some hint that somebody may have found out about it or some hint that somebody is about to find out about it, we get fearful. Fear is a characteristic of people who are out of fellowship with the Lord, people who are operating in the flesh.

When your heart is right, nothing looks threatening, or if it does look threatening, you don't have to worry about it because you know that you are right with the Lord and He is going to be able to take care of you. When you are not right with the Lord, everything can look wrong. The slightest little thing can make you think that you are about to get caught or that something is about to go wrong. Anxiety can get a grip on you and everything will look suspicious and scary. That is the product of walking at the direction of the flesh instead of at the direction of the Spirit.

Unreal Religion

That is the setting as we come to chapter 41. In verses 1-6, here these people were fearful, and that is the third characteristic of the flesh; but in chapter 42, we find a fourth characteristic of the flesh—that is, unreal religion . Look at verse 1:

Jeremiah 42:

1 Then all the captains of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least even unto the greatest, came near,
2 And said unto Jeremiah the prophet, Let, we beseech thee, our supplication be accepted before thee, and pray for us unto the LORD thy God, even for all this remnant; (for we are left but a few of many, as thine eyes do behold us:)
3 That the LORD thy God may shew us the way wherein we may walk, and the thing that we may do.
4 Then Jeremiah the prophet said unto them, I have heard you; behold, I will pray unto the LORD your God according to your words; and it shall come to pass, that whatsoever thing the LORD shall answer you, I will declare it unto you; I will keep nothing back from you.
5 Then they said to Jeremiah, The LORD be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not even according to all things for the which the LORD thy God shall send thee to us.
6 Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God, to whom we send thee; that it may be well with us, when we obey the voice of the LORD our God.

That sounds good, doesn't it? Maybe they have finally gotten the point. “Jeremiah, we want you to pray for us and ask God what He wants us to do, and whatever you tell us that He says for us to do, that is what we are going to do.” But there are a couple of problems with that. They were asking Jeremiah whether or not they should go to Egypt. The first problem was that God had told them never to go to Egypt again. He had told them over and over again never to make any kind of alliance with Egypt, and He had warned them. One of the primary messages of the book of Isaiah is warnings against going to Egypt, and some of the previous chapters of Jeremiah had made those same warnings. Here they are praying about whether or not they should do something that God has already told them not to do.

Throughout the Old Testament, Egypt was a picture of the world, the flesh, and the devil and everything that goes along with that. Abraham and Isaac, his son, had both gone to Egypt at separate times, years apart, without asking God's permission, and they both got in trouble in doing that. The third generation after that, Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt and eventually the result of that was that the rest of the family came there later on. They wound up spending four-hundred years as slaves to the Egyptians. Various kings down through the years tried to make alliances with Egypt. God kept telling them not to do it and kept letting them lose when they did do it, so these people really didn't need to ask whether they should go to Egypt or not.

The second problem was that they were already on their way to Egypt when they asked Jeremiah to pray about it. That reminds me of a pastor, one of those stories that we tell in seminary alumni groups, who was called to go to a certain large, prestigious church, which he always hoped he might get to pastor. He got the telephone call and he said, “Honey, you go upstairs and pack while I pray about this.”

There are some things that we are going to do no matter what God says. These people were on their way to Egypt, for whatever protection it would offer, and they were saying, “Jeremiah, ask the Lord if we should go to Egypt or not.” Do you see how foolish that is? One commentator on this passage said, “What they wanted was to find a scriptural way to disobey God.”

I don't know how many times over the years people have come to me to try to get God's permission to get a divorce. They will come and tell me their whole sad story and all the problems that were involved in that. What they wanted me to do was to say, “In your case, it will be okay to get a divorce.” Without going into all the details of those stories, I can tell you that it was obvious that in most cases, that is what they wanted. They wanted to be able to tell people, “Well, even Tim said it would be all right. Even the pastor said it would be okay, that in this situation, it would be all right.” There are people who come to me for counsel, and they are sincere when they ask that kind of question. I don't mean to say that you might not ever be in a situation where you might need that kind of advice. I am not trying to say you shouldn't come to me if you need advice at any time. I am happy to prayerfully work with you about those kinds of things. I am saying that there are those situations where people, when it is all said and done, are asking advice not to know what to do, but to justify what they want to do. As this other commentator said, “…finding a scriptural way to disobey God.”

The flesh can sound very religious. People can sing in the choir and be completely in the flesh. They can take the offering; they can usher; they can do all kinds of things where they are up in front of people and be completely out of fellowship with the Lord, be operating in the flesh. I know this is going to astound you, but it is even possible to preach from the pulpit in the flesh. I know somebody who has done that. I know somebody very well who has done it. It is possible to do anything of those things that look very religious, but they are really the product of the flesh. God sometimes, in His grace, uses those things to bless other people, particularly if His Word and His principles are involved. God blesses His Word, regardless of the messenger. He will deal with the messenger separately, but He will bless His Word. It is a very difficult thing to decipher.

In Matthew, chapter 15, verses 8-9, Jesus was talking about the forefathers of these people that we are reading about here in Jeremiah. He said something that has been true of people ever since that time. He was looking back on the history of Israel and He was quoting from Isaiah, and He said, “This people draws near to me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”

Hasn't that been true in your life? I will tell you today, it has been true in my life. It is easy to talk a good game, but God sees that. Jesus understands that. “These people draw near to me with their lips but their heart is far from me.” Don't kid yourself. Just because you are active in church doesn't necessarily mean that everything is right spiritually. It may or may not be, and only you and the Lord know that. Let me also add a correlater to that—don't go around trying to figure out who is right with the Lord and who is not as they stand before you or as they lead you in some other area of the worship. It is between them and God. But it is for you yourself, and as for us personally, let us learn and let us remember if we know it already, that it is possible to go through the motions. It is possible to honor Him with our lips, even when our heart is far from Him. That is another characteristic of the flesh. That is another thing that Satan will get you into if you don't walk closely to the Lord.

Unrealistic Memories

The reply that they got from God begins in verse 7. It shows the fourth characteristic of the flesh. That is unrealistic memories . Look at verse 7:

Jeremiah 42:

7 And it came to pass after ten days, that the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah.

God made these people wait in the waiting room for ten days while He got the message to Jeremiah. In verse 8, we read:

Jeremiah 42:

8 Then called he Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces which were with him, and all the people from the least even to the greatest,
9 And said unto them, Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, unto whom ye sent me to present your supplication before him;
10 If ye will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up: for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you.
11 Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom ye are afraid; be not afraid of him, saith the LORD: for I am with you to save you, and to deliver you from his hand.
12 And I will shew mercies unto you, that he may have mercy upon you, and cause you to return to your own land.
13 But if ye say, We will not dwell in this land, neither obey the voice of the LORD your God,
14 Saying, No; but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread; and there will we dwell:
15 And now therefore hear the word of the LORD, ye remnant of Judah; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; If ye wholly set your faces to enter into Egypt, and go to sojourn there;
16 Then it shall come to pass, that the sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt; and there ye shall die.

Look at verse 14 again. Verse 14 shows how well God knew what they really were thinking. He said, “If you say no, but we will go to the land of Egypt where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor be hungry for bread.”

You see, these people themselves had never been to Egypt, but their forefathers had, and they had heard the stories handed down from year to year and from generation to generation. It was true. Their forefathers who had been in Egypt had not seen war, nor heard the sound of the trumpet, nor felt hunger when they were in Egypt. But do you know why that was? Because they were slaves. They didn't have to fight battles because they were back there making the bullets for the guys who were fighting the battles. Sure, if you are a slave, there are a lot of things that you don't have to do, but there are a lot worse things that you have to do. Listen, that is what the flesh does to us. It is amazing how much better the past seems to us when it is in the past. It is amazing how our memories gloss over the tough things and the wrong things. That is what the flesh does to us.

The next chapters tells us that they went through with their plan and they went on to Egypt, and almost all of them died there just as God had warned them. In times of temptation, from that standpoint, we need to remember what Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 25, tells us. It says, “There is pleasure in sin for a season.” That pleasure that we think that we remember from the past may still be there, but it is only temporary pleasure. It is not the lasting joy and peace and serenity that God gives us.

That same thing continues on down through chapter 43-44, so we re going to skip over those chapters because they just elaborate on this point that we have been making.

Unsuitable Ambition

In chapter 45, we find the sixth characteristic of the flesh. It is what I am calling unsuitable ambition. Chronologically, chapter 45, which is the shortest chapter in the book, should come right after chapter 36, but as Jeremiah put these things together, I think he placed it here because this little chapter seems to summarize all of these various characteristics of the flesh. The story is about Baruch. You remember, Baruch was Jeremiah's secretary. We talked about how God told Jeremiah to dictate all of his spoken prophecies to Baruch and had Baruch write them down in a scroll, and then had Baruch go, because Jeremiah was in jail at that time, down to the temple square and read those messages. This passage tells us how Baruch felt about that. Look at chapter 45, verse 1:

Jeremiah 45:

1 The word that Jeremiah the prophet spake unto Baruch the son of Neriah, when he had written these words in a book at the mouth of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying,
2 Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, unto thee, O Baruch:
3 Thou didst say, Woe is me now! for the LORD hath added grief to my sorrow; I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest.

Let us stop there with verse 3, for a minute. Evidently Baruch had thought that this reading of the scroll would have a great impact on people, and when they understood the messages that he was reading to them, that Jeremiah and Baruch, himself, would be recognized as true spokesmen for God. But as we saw a couple of weeks ago, they rejected his message entirely. And he turned to the Lord with this cry (which is exactly what he should have done), ”I fainted in my crying and I find no rest.”

So God sent Jeremiah to him with this message, in verse 4:

Jeremiah 45:

4 Thus shalt thou say unto him, The LORD saith thus; Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up, even this whole land.
5 And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.

Here is the root cause for all of our troubles with the flesh—seeking things for ourselves! In fact, if you think it through thoroughly enough, you will realize that all of the evil in the world today is a result of this—wanting the best for oneself, regardless of what others, including God, may think.

God said to Baruch, and He would say to you and me, ”Don't do that. I am going to spare your life in the midst of all of the carnage that is going to go on around you, and what more could you ask?” And what more could we ask? Christ has died for us and ”given us our life back,” literally. He may choose to make us great or He may choose to make us small, but He gets to make that choice.

Conclusion

Jesus spoke to this very issue with some words that form a good conclusion to our study today. In Matthew, chapter 10, He was sending out His disciples to announce to Israel that the Messiah had come. He gave them a number of instructions and then a number of assurances. But down in verse 39, in one of those reassurances, he said, ”He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”

So many people are trying to ”find themselves.” Sometimes they give up family and friends and jobs in that effort. But all of that boils down to seeking great things for themselves. Jesus said, “You may find yourself, but you will lose everything that life is really all about in the process. But if you will lose yourself in doing my will, it is then that you will really find all that you are seeking in life.”

Later on, Paul, writing to the Galatians, said the same thing in a little different way. He said, “Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” That power comes from knowing Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. He is the One Who enables to have victory over the flesh within us.


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