At the very beginning of Jeremiah’s call to ministry we read: ‘And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” 12 Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it’ (1:11-12).
In Hebrew—the language this book was originally written in—the word for almond sounds like the word for watching. Thus, God shows him the vision of the branch to remind him that he will watch over his word—that is to say, he will ensure it comes to pass. This was what God told Jeremiah to give him confidence and encouragement in his ministry to a hardened people.
Later in chapter 31, after God promises a new covenant for his people, he again confirms that he will bring to pass his word: “Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord of hosts is his name: 36‘If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.’ 37Thus says the Lord: ‘If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord.’” (31:35-37).
God is promising that the word of the new covenant that he has proclaimed through is prophet Jeremiah will happen—it is a sure thing. In fact, God says, do you want to know how sure it is? Then look all around. Look around at the stars burning the sky, look at the moon, and think about the way it pulls on the Earth with enough force to guide the tides in and out. Think about the gravity itself. Think about the very order of thing by which God runs the universe. He says in the same way that from the beginning of creation itself I have kept things in perfect motion, so now I will not fail to keep my word. And in the fullness of time, we see that God did indeed keep his word. The new covenant that was promised was ratified through the death and resurrection of Christ. God kept the certain word that was proclaimed through the prophet Jeremiah.
But when we read passages like this, we should stop and ask: do we doubt God’s word? Now, when I say that, some of you will immediately say, ‘No, of course not!’ But don’t be so quick to answer. Think about how you respond to the word when you hear it or read. Do you respond as if you believe it was true; that it was God’s certain word?
In Jeremiah we have a great contrast between two kings. One was the young reformer, Josiah. At the beginning of the book, Jeremiah says that his ministry as a prophet began under the reign of Josiah, who was the last godly king of Judah. We read in 2 Kings that when Josiah is 18, he begins to fix up the temple. And as money is being collected to give to the workers, the book of the Law is found in the temple. Just think about for a minute. That Law—the word of God that was supposed to guide every part of their life—and it had to be found. And when it was found the people read it and were astonished; they had never heard it before! The law proclaims judgment for sin for their not following the word of God, so they bring it to Josiah and read it to him. 2 Kings 22:11 says, “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes.” In the next two chapters, we see the king repenting before God on behalf of the people and reforming the nation according to God’s word.
That’s one response to God’s word. But then you have another prominent response in Jeremiah. It’s actually Josiah’s son, Jehoiakim, who in no way followed in his father’s footsteps. Jeremiah receives God’s word and he tells it to Baruch so that it can be written down and read to the leaders of Judah. As with Josiah, the people who first heard God’s word through Jeremiah bring it to the king. But then, in Jeremiah 36, we read that as the court official would “read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments.” (36:23-24).
Of course, in the context, that story is supposed to make us both cry and laugh. You see the king doesn’t want to hear of God’s judgment. But is God’s word confined to a scroll? No! In fact, in the very next verse, God gives Jeremiah the same word again. We should laugh that the king should think he would so easily defeat God’s word. But at the same time, we have to ask ourselves: How do we respond to the word?
I doubt very few of you actually take out a knife and cut pages out of your Bible, but consider this story from Pastor Joshua Harris. In his book, Dug Down Deep, he talks about counseling a young lady in the church who was in an immoral relationship with a non-Christian boyfriend. She said, “I asked God for a sign. . . . I know that God brought him into my life for a reason” (64-65). Harris shared with her God’s word from 1 Corinthians 6, Ephesians 6, and 1 Thessalonians 4, all showing that her behavior was wrong. And he asked her, “Do you see that God says what you’re doing is wrong?” In response, she said, “Yes, I see that. I know it’s immoral. I’m just asking God to show me what to do.” She thought she should break it off, and prayed, asking God for a sign. Then, on the anniversary of her first date with this guy, he sent her flowers. “Was that a message from God?” she asked.
If that’s how we respond to the word, we might as well take out a knife and start cutting it up and burning it. God has given us clear direction—a certain word—for our lives, and we dare not ignore in favor of some random, vague sign. Whenever we approach the word, we must treat it as God’s word; a certain word for our lives; a word that is true for us. We cannot listen to our sinful hearts which will try to reason its way out of believing it and obeying it. Instead, like Josiah and Jeremiah, we must embrace God’s word, believing it and obeying as if we were hearing it from the very lips of God himself.