Chapter 17 – Trading Provision for Poison

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Chapter 17

Have you ever gone on a trip and didn’t pack enough food? Perhaps it was a vacation with five kids in a minivan, or a honeymoon where you forgot the cooler with your lunches in it. I remember a trip in Chad where we had a problem. No, it wasn’t that we didn’t pack enough food, but the food had a problem. If you think we’ve been having some warmer days in the last little bit, the heat here is nothing compared to that in Chad. So, on any long trip, the food went in a cooler full of ice. Who wants to drink warm pop?
So, there we were with a cooler full of ice and stomachs ready to be filled. We pull over to get the homemade pizza that mom packed in the cooler. There was the container filled to the brim with delicious pizza, and all around was a pool of water any desert wanderer would be envious of. In case you didn’t know this, ice turns into water when it gets hot, and pizza turns into mush when it gets wet.

What were we to do but pull the treasured meal from the water and crack open the lid to the container, praying that there was something salvageable inside. Luckily much of the pizza was edible, but there were a number of pieces that had become one with the lake in which they swam.

Now, imagine how different the story would be if there were some golden arches rising above the tree tops sharing promises of Big Macs and over-salted fries. What if there was a Pizza Hut behind the rump of that near-by elephant? Then we could cash out on the soggy supper and put our cash in the pocket of this incredible miracle that God put before us.

The southern nation of Judah was in a similar situation. No, it wasn’t soggy pizza that they were forced to eat, but broken cisterns from which they drank. At least that’s the metaphor that Jeremiah sets before them in his prophecies. And the craziest part about it is that there is a spring of fresh water running right by them. This is like pizza hut in the desert when you’re holding soggy pizza.

What was that soggy pizza to which they held? Idols. And God is the spring of fresh water rushing into their midst. Yet, for some reason, they would rather drink dirty water from a broken cistern than the fresh spring water of the LORD. Jeremiah is sent as a final word to the only remaining tribe of Israel, “repent and turn back to God. Throw out the soggy pizza and go enjoy the Pizza Hut buffet! Turn from those idol cisterns and drink from the Living Water of God!”

No matter how many prophets plead with them, they will not turn back to God, are still holding onto their soggy pizza. God says to Jeremiah, “speak to the people whether they will listen or not,” but then he says, “and they won’t listen. They are too far gone.”

You may think, “finally! Now is the time for God to judge his people! They keep turning away from him, and he is mad! Here comes fire and brimstone!” But, before we go too far down that theological path, let’s remind ourselves of the Upper Story: God will go to any length to redeem his people, and it is through faith in this God that we find hope. He goes to a length here by sending Jeremiah. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. He doesn’t come to cast fire from heaven on a sinful nation, but plead with them. His heart breaks for these people. He expresses the devastating sorrow of a holy God to his people who have walked away time and time again.

Jeremiah 2:11
11 Has a nation ever changed its gods?
(Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their glorious God
for worthless idols.

None of the other nations change their gods. There are the gods of the Assyrians, the gods of the Chaldeans, the gods of the Egyptians, the gods of the Philistines. Every nation had their own gods that they worshipped, and they didn’t pick new gods on a whim. They stuck with the god of their ancestors. And the craziest part of this it that they weren’t even real gods! Future generations just perpetuated the lies that their grandparents and parents passed down. But Israel exchanges a glorious God for worthless idols. They exchange the truth for a lie.

Have you heard of these people who up-sell stuff and use the profit to buy something better? There was a famous case of this called “One Red Paperclip.” Kyle MacDonald started with one red paperclip, and over the course of 14 different transactions ended up with a house out of the deal. Here’s how he did it.

  • Traded the paperclip for a fish-shaped pen.
  • He then traded the pen the same day for a hand-sculpted doorknob
  • He travelled to Amherst, Massachusetts, with a friend to trade the doorknob for a Coleman camp stove (with fuel).
  • He went to California, and traded the camp stove for a Honda generator.
  • He traded the generator for an “instant party”: an empty keg, an IOU for filling the keg with the beer of the bearer’s choice, and a neon Budweiser sign.
  • He traded the “instant party” to Quebec comedian and radio personality Michel Barrette for a Ski-doo snowmobile.
  • Within a week of that, he traded the snowmobile for a two-person trip to Yahk, British Columbia.
  • He traded the second spot on the Yahk trip for a box truck.
  • He traded the box truck for a recording contract with Metalworks in Mississauga, Ontario.
  • He traded the recording contract for a year’s rent in Phoenix, Arizona.
  • He traded the one year’s rent for one afternoon with Alice Cooper.
  • He traded the one afternoon with Alice Cooper for a KISS motorized snow globe.
  • He traded the snow globe to Corbin Bernsen for a role in the film Donna on Demand.
  • He traded the movie role for a two-story farmhouse in Kipling, Saskatchewan.

Imagine for a moment that he started with this beautiful home and worked backwards. Imagine that Kyle traded his house down the list for one red paperclip. What a waste! How foolish!

The question is, do we think it foolish when we do this with God? Not just the Israelites, but how often do we again and again turn away from God? We trade the peace of God that passes all understanding for anxiety that everyone can relate with. We trade the joy of the LORD found in a life dedicated to him for the devastation of a self-centred lifestyle that leaves us alone and depressed. We trade in the truth for a lie, trade God for our idols. How often to we work our way down the list until we have lost our house, our job, our family, our money, and are stuck staring at one red paperclip wondering where everything went? How does Jeremiah react to such foolishness.

Jeremiah 2:12-13
12 Be appalled at this, you heavens,
and shudder with great horror,”
declares the Lord.
13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water

What a trade! What a deal! It’s such a deal that everyone who witnesses it should be horrified. Not only those on earth, but even the heavens are appalled at such foolishness! O the foolishness of forsaking God in pursuit of personal comfort and desire. The most ironic thing about this is, who ever said that we have to go outside of God to find these things? What is the message of the gospel? What is the truth, the reason that we are all sitting here today? In John 10:10, Jesus tells us the reason for his coming down to earth. “I came that you might have life, and life abundantly (or life in all its fullness).” We are not only partially filled by God, but constantly supplied by a spring of living water welling up inside of us spilling unspeakable peace, unquenchable joy, and unmeasurable grace. This life is a gift from God.


A video was shown here during the service

How did the sister feel when her brother threw the food in the river? Appalled! Angry! What her brother did was so ridiculous… but it is much the same as what the Israelites were doing in the days of Jeremiah. They didn’t throw out their good food in favour of poisoned berries. The analogy used in the text is that they were digging cisterns right beside a beautiful spring of fresh water.

Cisterns are pits that the people dug to hold water. When the rain came, they would fill up to provide for the people’s needs. However, the water was stagnant, often dirty, left a bitter taste in your mouth… but for some cities, this was the best water they could get. Imagine what a spring of fresh-flowing water would mean to them? What a blessing! But, they would rather continue to drink the stagnant water that continually dries up and leaves them wanting.

I love the ending of that video. The little boy says, “they’re not poisonous! I just ate too many!” He was so proud that he threw away the food and it was his effort that brought a sack full of berries back to the camp site. They couldn’t possibly be bad! Even while he is being sick, he is too proud to admit his mistake.

The Israelites, even while drinking dirty water from a cistern, getting sick off of the poison of idols among them, were too proud to admit that what they were doing was wrong. That sack of food I threw in the river couldn’t possibly be better than these berries because I didn’t do anything for it!

Imagine how the mother who packed all the food for her children must have felt? Imagine how God feels when we reject his free gift of abundant life in favour of the poison that surrounds us in the world… Appalled, offended, angry… but also hurt. Jeremiah feels the weight of the LORD’s burden and cries for the people. God’s judgement is coming. Soon the blessings of God will be taken away from Judah. They will follow their brothers of the North into slavery, not to Assyria but to Babylon… all because they put God in a sack and threw him into the river—favouring poison over provision.

God desperately pleaded with them to return to him, again and again through his messengers, the prophets, but they were too proud to give up their poison. So the warning period ended. The people had gone too far from the LORD to return with a word. God’s words of warning became action.

2 Chronicles 36:15-17
15 The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. 17 He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.

Sometimes we have to get sick before we can get better. This was certainly true for the Israelites. Again and again they turn away from God, and it isn’t until they are suffering because of the error of their ways that they fall on their knees before God and say, “LORD save us! Look where we have gotten ourselves! Forgive us for our foolishness.” Imagine how much pain they would have avoided if they had just returned to God after the first warning, or the second, of the hundredth…

It may seem that now, finally, God has given up. True, God has given them over to the consequences of their sin, but he had never given us. He never will. That’s not in his character. In this moment of devastation, darkness, and despair God send Ezekiel a vision. Ezekiel was another messenger of God who prophesied around this same time period, and while Jeremiah is weeping for and with the people, Ezekiel receives a vision of hope.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

The people thought that god was finished with them. I mean, after all, who would think otherwise? God had taken everything away from them. But, he sweeps in like a rushing wind and said, “I will never be done with you. I love you. I want you. I live for you, and one day my Son will come and die for you.”

Conclusion

Do you feel like a pile of dry bones this morning? Do you feel like God has forgotten about you? Perhaps he has taken everything away and all you have is empty hands and a bitter heart. Let God turn that bitter heart around into a repentant spirit. If we just believe, have faith in his redemptive character, he will come back to us. No bones are too dry that he can’t bring them back to life. No one is too lifeless that God cannot move in by his spirit.

God wants to rush in like a mighty spring of living water into every area of your life. We can put ourselves into seemingly hopeless situations by relying on ourselves instead of him. When things are going well, it seem like a good idea. When the bank account is full, when the marriage is going well, when your kids are still talking to you… but what about when everything we have is gone? Can we still praise God for his faithfulness? Do we truly believe that he is with us and for us in all things?

He is crying for us. Sometimes he is appalled at how we continually turn away from him and to the idols of our choice (those things that give us temporary joy, and partial peace). But never will he cease to seek us out when we are down. And he will find us, and lift us up again. Breathe life into our valley of dry bones if we just turn back. Drink from the spring of living water today. Turn away from those leaky cisterns. God, smash the pots in which we carry that poisoned water that we might have no choice but to run into your loving arms.

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