What do parents and grandparents mean when they say to a child, “Please listen to me”? Are they merely asking for the child’s attention? No, for the command or request, “listen to me,” includes the expectation of obedience. When I say to my son, “Listen to what I’m saying,” I do not only want him to hear my words. I also want him to do my words. Learning to “listen” in this way takes quite a bit of training for children and quite a bit of patience from parents. But it is not only children who can be poor listeners. In fact, almost all of us are bad listeners when it comes to listening to God. Many of us simply choose to ignore his words. Many others hear what God has to say but don’t do what God says. Still others hear God with the good intention of obeying, but struggle with the follow through. A remarkable example of failing to listen to God comes from the book of Jeremiah.
After the nation of Judah was finally punished by God by means of the invading Babylonian army for their long refusal to obey God’s word and be faithful to him (Jeremiah 39) there were members of the community left in Jerusalem who wanted to know what to do next. Should they stay in Jerusalem and live under Babylonian rule or should they leave for the “greener pastures” of Egypt? To seek an answer to this question the remnant of people came to Jeremiah and said to him, Jeremiah 42:2-3: “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the Lord your God for us, for all this remnant… that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” Jeremiah responded to this request by saying that he would pray for the people and the people made a binding commitment to listen to (obey!) whatever the Lord told Jeremiah: Jeremiah 42:6: “Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord.”
At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah for the remnant of people: through Jeremiah the Lord promised that he would bless the people if they remained in Judah (Jer. 42:9-12) but that he would punish them further if they fled to Egypt for refuge (Jer. 42:13-22). So, the answer of the Lord to the question of the people was clear: “Do not go to Egypt; stay here in Judah and I will bless you.” Remarkably though, after the people came to Jeremiah with their request for prayer, and after Jeremiah agreed to pray for them, and after the people committed themselves to obey God’s word, and after God’s word returned to the people with the instruction that they should stay in the land – after all of this they refused to listen to (obey!) God.
“Azariah the son of Hoshaiah and Johanan the son of Kareah and all the insolent men said to Jeremiah, ‘You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.’ So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces and all the people did not obey the voice of the Lord, to remain in the land of Judah” (Jeremiah 43:2-4). So, the people went to Egypt and they even took Jeremiah prisoner and forced him to go to Egypt with them! Is our failure to listen to (obey) God sometimes this direct and blatant? Do we sometimes hear exactly what his word says, and then choose to do the exact opposite?
Part 2 of this devotion will appear tomorrow.