Reading Jeremiah

I don’t know about you, but I am thoroughly enjoying our reading of Jeremiah. I believe this is my best reading of this book yet. I never understood this book or saw as much in it as I have during this reading.

And there was one passage in Jeremiah that really stood out to me. It couldn’t help but stand out to me because it is repeated in the early chapters of the book. We find it first in Jeremiah 6:13-15 and once again in 8:10b-12. In both these passages, God Himself says this:

From the least to the greatest,
     all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike,
     all practice deceit.
They dress the wound of my people
     as though it were not serious.
“Peace, peace,” they say,
     when there is no peace. 

In both chapters, this passage is part of a condemnation God levels against the people of Israel. That is not unique. We find a lot of such condemnation in the prophets; it is part of “God strange work” that we talked about a couple blog posts ago, the work God had to do to purge sinfulness from His people.

Spiritual Malpractice

What is unique about this particular passage is that it is directed specifically at “prophets and priests”. That is, it is directed at the spiritual leaders of Israel, the ones who delivered the word of God (prophets) and led the worship of God (priests). God says that these spiritual leaders have not been leading well. Actually what He says is that they are guilty of spiritual malpractice. They misconducted themselves as spiritual leaders.

What is further unique is the way God describes these spiritual leaders’ misconduct. He says, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious (carelessly, NRSV, a translation I really like).” And then, as an example of this, He adds, “‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” In other words, God accuses the spiritual leaders of not telling the people what the people needed to hear. Nor did they do for the people what they needed done. He quite literally says that the people have a “wound” which the spiritual leaders are not dressing.

Spiritual Injury

Now the references to the prophets and priests here immediately grabbed my attention. After all, I am a spiritual leader myself. I am in a very real sense in the same line as these priests and prophets. So I consider any word for them to be a word for me as well. But the idea that God’s people were “wounded” also grabbed my attention. It grabbed my attention because a wound is typically not something we do but something we suffer from.

And that’s not what I thought the problem in the people of Israel was. I didn’t think their problem was a wound problem but a will problem. I thought the people were sinning because they simply willed to or wanted to sin. And to be sure, that was the case to some degree. It was the case then and it is still the case today that people sin because they will to. But that was not (and is not) the case entirely. It was also the case then and is still the case today that people sin also because they are wounded in a way that leads them into sin. Sin is at least in part a symptom of a spiritual illness or injury.

Careless Leadership

That’s what I realized as I read this passage both times it appears in Jeremiah, and I was fascinated by it. I was so fascinated that I did some examination of it. I did a study of that Hebrew word wound. That word is seber (I think; my Hebrew is not great). It literally means “fracture” and can be translated as “broken”. In fact, the Christian Standard version has this verse as They have treated my people’s brokenness superficially. So that is the idea. The people of Israel had a spiritual brokenness.

And the spiritual leaders didn’t treat that brokenness well. Apparently, they didn’t treat it at all. They ignored it. They told the people they were okay even though they knew the people were not okay. Now that is undeniably one way to be “careless” with a spiritual wound, one that we still see spiritual leaders doing today.

Yelling at the Problem

Another way to be careless with a spiritual wound, though, is to just yell at it. God doesn’t mention this way of being careless with a wound here, but we know it is a possibility. We know there are spiritual leaders who simply yell at people for their sin. My mentor told me about an encounter he had with a spiritual leader who was doing this. This spiritual leader was preaching on a street in California, telling everyone they were going to Hell for their sins. My mentor was angered by this. He approached the man as he was yelling and asking him, “Don’t you have any good news for these people?”

I saw the error of both these approaches as I read these verses in Jeremiah 6 & 8. I saw that I have not correctly diagnosed the situation we are facing today, that I had misdiagnosed it as being solely a will problem when it is also a wound problem. And I realized that the two ways of being careless with this problem were ignoring it and yelling at it. And I even further saw that I have been as careless with this problem today as the spiritual leaders were in their day. I,  too, ignore people’s spiritual wound at some times and yell at them for their spiritual wound at other times.

We Are All Spiritual Leaders

And seeing that, I was convicted. I was convicted to stop being so careless with the wounds of the people around me. It is not enough to just speak up when there is a need to speak up (that is, not ignore) but to also speak up in a way that is conducive to healing (that is, not just yell). And I hope you will share that conviction with me. You are, after all, a spiritual leader as much as I am. You certainly are a spiritual leader to the people around you. You encounter these wounds just as I do. So I encourage us all to be more cognizant and careful with them. Jeremiah is telling us here that we are dealing not just with will but with wounds. Let’s be aware of that and go do some healing.

Pastor Doug McCoy
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