Tuesday, August 21, 2012
THE DEAD END
“All who resolve to go to Egypt to live there for a while will die by the sword, famine, and plague. They will have no one escape or survive from the disaster I will bring on them.” (Jeremiah 42:17 HCSB)
It is so disappointing to be travelling, and turn down a road which seems to go in the direction you think you need to go, and then see the sign, “No Exit.” It is a dead end road. But, what can cause a delay on a trip, can bring disaster on our spiritual pilgrimage.
Many are heading into a spiritual cul-de-sac. They are ignoring the warning signs, “No Thru Street” and speeding right on, convinced they are going the right direction, and that the one who designed the highway and posted the sign is the one mistaken.
Scripture warns, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12 HCSB). That verse is given twice in Proverbs—perhaps repeated to stress its importance, but, even more, underscoring our stubborn resistance.
The story that unfolds in chapters forty one through forty four of Jeremiah illustrates this dead end road. God has placed it there to warn us to turn around while we can.
How do people come to such a dead end?
FIGHTING WHEN YOU SHOULD BE SUBMITTING (Jeremiah 41)
“In the seventh month, Ishmael son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family and one of the king's chief officers, came with 10 men to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah. They ate a meal together there in Mizpah, but then Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the 10 men who were with him got up and struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, with the sword; he killed the one the king of Babylon had appointed in the land.” (Jer.41:1-2)
There was a reason why Jerusalem had fallen and a Babylonian puppet had been installed to rule over the remnant of Jews that remained. It was the discipline of God for His children who had persistently rebelled against His will, refusing to submit to Him.
Ishmael and his band of thugs thought they knew better. Whether their motives were “patriotic” intending to stick a finger in the King of Babylon’s eye, or just selfish, seeking to advance his own cause, is really beside the point. The man was a mercenary, hired by the Ammonite king, Baalis, to assassinate Gedaliah. Gedaliah had been warned (Jer.40:13-16), but he thought he knew better. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
It was a dead end for Gedaliah—and many others. The pitiful few left in Jerusalem were now in peril because of this slaughter. It amounted to an attack on Babylon’s authority since they had placed Gedaliah there as their surrogate.
A remnant of Jews understood the threat.
“Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the armies with him then took from Mizpah all the remnant of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael son of Nethaniah after Ishmael had killed Gedaliah son of Ahikam-men, soldiers, women, children, and court officials whom he brought back from Gibeon. They left, stopping in Geruth Chimham, which is near Bethlehem, in order to make their way into Egypt, away from the Chaldeans. For they feared them because Ishmael son of Nethaniah had struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had appointed in the land.” (Jer.41:16-18)
This is the danger of resisting God’s authority. Although the Jews will not literally take up a sword as Ishmael had done, they will continue to fight against God’s purposes in their rush down the dead end road. Fighting against God’s will is never a winning strategy. Submitting to His Word is the path to His blessing. But, we just don’t like to surrender. It’s not in our nature—the fallen nature of Adam. That didn’t work for him, and it won’t work for us, either.
FLEEING WHEN YOU SHOULD BE STAYING (Jeremiah 42)
“The Lord has spoken concerning you, remnant of Judah: 'Don't go to Egypt.' Know for certain that I have warned you today! You have led your own selves astray because you are the ones who sent me to the Lord your God, saying, 'Pray to the Lord our God on our behalf, and as for all that the Lord our God says, tell it to us, and we'll act accordingly.' For I have told you today, but you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God in everything He has sent me to [tell] you.
Now therefore, know for certain that by the sword, famine, and plague you will die in the place where you desired to go to live for a while." (Jer.42:19-22)
Wisely, they sought the man of God for guidance on which way to go.
“Then all the commanders of the armies, along with Johanan son of Kareah, Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, approached Jeremiah the prophet and said, ‘May our petition come before you; pray to the Lord your God on our behalf, on behalf of this entire remnant (for few of us remain out of the many, as you can see with your own eyes), that the Lord your God may tell us the way we should walk and the thing we should do.’" (Jer.42:1-3)
They let off the throttle momentarily. They read the sign, “No Exit.” The GPS (God’s Prophetic Servant) told them a different direction. But, they would decide to go anyway. What did an old preacher know? “Make a U-Turn; make a U-Turn,” the GPS shouted. They put their fingers in their ears and hit the gas.
I have found that sometimes people come to me for counsel, not because they want you to tell them what they need to hear, but what they want to hear. They don’t want direction on the path they should take, but seek validation of the path they have taken. My experience is they often say, “I know what the Bible says, but…” and go on to elaborate all the reasons why their case is the exception to the rule. Some will nod their heads in agreement with what I have to say, and then walk out of my office and do the exact opposite. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
FITTING WHEN YOU SHOULD BE SEPARATING (Jeremiah 43)
“Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah at Tahpanhes: ‘Pick up some large stones and set them in the mortar of the brick pavement that is at the opening of Pharaoh's palace at Tahpanhes. [Do this] in the sight of the Judean men and tell them: This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: I will send for My servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and I will place his throne on these stones that I have embedded, and he will pitch his pavilion over them. He will come and strike down the land of Egypt-those [destined] for death, to death; those [destined] for captivity, to captivity; and those [destined] for the sword, to the sword. I will kindle a fire in the temples of Egypt's gods, and he will burn them and take them prisoner. He will clean the land of Egypt as a shepherd picks lice off his garment, and he will leave there unscathed. He will smash the sacred pillars of the sun temple in the land of Egypt and burn down the temples of the Egyptian gods.’" (Jer.43:8-13)
The connection between God’s judgment on the Jews who fled and the judgment of Egypt’s gods is significant. This was at the heart of God forbidding them to go down to that heathen land. He knew they would be sucked back into idolatry. They were.
“You are provoking Me to anger by the work of your hands. You are burning incense to other gods in the land of Egypt where you have gone to live for a while. As a result, you will be cut off and become an object of cursing and insult among all the nations of earth. Have you forgotten the evils of your fathers, the evils of Judah's kings, the evils of their wives, your own evils, and the evils of your wives that were committed in the land of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?” (Jer.44:8-9)
We have heard the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Fit in. Conform. That is the way of the world. Go along to get along. It seems so right. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
God has called us to separation—to be in the world, but not of the world. Satan’s strategy is assimilation. That is what happened to the Jews who journeyed to Egypt. It was a dead end—literally.
“And I will take away the remnant of Judah, those who have resolved to go to the land of Egypt to live there for a while; they will meet their end. All of them in the land of Egypt will fall by the sword; they will meet their end by famine. From the least to the greatest, they will die by the sword and by famine. Then they will become an object of cursing, scorn, execration, and disgrace. I will punish those living in the land of Egypt just as I punished Jerusalem by sword, famine, and plague.” (Jer.44:12-13)
How stubborn we are! What fools to run from the arms of God and into the arms of temptation! You have heard the definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing and expecting different results.” Prophet after prophet had warned them not to seek after false gods, but they wouldn’t listen. Neither would they listen to Jeremiah.
“When Jeremiah had finished speaking to all the people all the words of the Lord their God-all these words the Lord their God had sent him to give them—then Azariah son of Hoshaiah, Johanan son of Kareah, and all the other arrogant men responded to Jeremiah, ‘You are speaking a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, “You must not go to Egypt to live there for a while!”
Rather, Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Chaldeans to put us to death or to deport us to Babylon!’ So Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the armies did not obey the voice of the Lord to stay in the land of Judah. Instead, Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the armies took the whole remnant of Judah, those who had returned from all the nations where they had been banished to live in the land of Judah for a while—the men, women, children, king's daughters, and everyone whom Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, had allowed to remain with Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan, along with Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah—and they went to the land of Egypt because they did not obey the voice of the Lord. They went as far as Tahpanhes.” (Jer.43:1-7)
We’ll just go this far, they thought. We’ll just stay this long, they said. But, as has been said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”
Remember Lot? Choosing the rich pastures near Sodom to graze his flocks and herds, then pitching his tent in close proximity to Sodom, and at last living in that wicked city—that was the road to ruin, for him and his family. What a price he paid! But, at first, it seemed the smart choice. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” The remnant of Jews found that out.
FAILING WHEN YOU SHOULD BE SUCCEEDING (Jeremiah 44)
“Therefore, hear the word of the Lord, all you Judeans who live in the land of Egypt: 'I have sworn by My great name, says Yahweh, that My name will never again be invoked by anyone of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, "As the Lord God lives." I am watching over them for disaster and not for good, and every man of Judah who is in the land of Egypt will meet his end by sword or famine until they are finished off. Those who escape the sword will return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah only few in number, and the whole remnant of Judah, the ones going to the land of Egypt to live there for a while, will know whose word stands, Mine or theirs!’” (Jer.44:26-28)
God would have prospered them had they remained in His will. Would it be a smooth road—with never a pothole? No—in fact that is why they rejected the Lord’s way. It was a narrow road. It was steep and rugged. Nobody else was travelling it. But, the other road was downhill. It was smooth and wide—an interstate highway. The majority said, “Let’s go!” But, it was a dead end. The important thing about a road is where it takes you. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
Though the remnant that remained had begun to sample some peace and measure of prosperity in Jerusalem, they were still surrounded by rubble. The smell of smoke from the ashes left from the temple’s destruction, the piles of broken blocks that had to be negotiated at every turn, and the struggle of living in such a state had its challenges. Yet, this was the right way, the good way—and after a season of plowing hard ground, pulling many weeds and waiting tenaciously, a better harvest would have replaced the bitter one. But, they were impatient and intransigent. They sought the path of least resistance. But, it was a dead end.
When God marks a road as a dead end, believe it. Turn around—now!