Jeremiah 22 – 1 Thus says the Lord: Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak there this word, 2 and say: Hear the word of the Lord, O King of Judah sitting on the throne of David—you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. 3 Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place. 4 For if you will indeed obey this word, then through the gates of this house shall enter kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their servants, and their people. 5 But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation. 6 For thus says the Lord concerning the house of the king of Judah:You are like Gilead to me,
like the summit of Lebanon;
but I swear that I will make you a desert,
an uninhabited city.
7 I will prepare destroyers against you,
all with their weapons;
they shall cut down your choicest cedars
and cast them into the fire.
8 And many nations will pass by this city, and all of them will say one to another, “Why has the Lord dealt in this way with that great city?” 9 And they will answer, “Because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord their God, and worshiped other gods and served them.”
Jeremiah is sent to the King of Judah with a message from God. The message that Jeremiah is to deliver begins with a note of hope. If the King will lead the nation into true compassion for the poor, the abused, the alien; if he will lead with righteousness and justice, and deliver the innocent, then the nation will prosper. But if he will not, then God will send a calamity upon them that will be worse than they could ever imagine. And when people travel past the city of Jerusalem they will question why such disaster struck the city. And the answer will be that they were idolatrous (verse 9). Nowhere in the message that Jeremiah is to take to the King is idolatry referred to. The message is that the King must lead with justice and righteousness. The justice and righteousness that God is calling for from the king is the righteousness of concern for the helpless, the abused, the poor, the orphan and the foreigner. And if the king will not introduce programmes to benefit these people then the world will know that they were idolatrous.
How is neglect of the needy idolatry? Several ways:
1) Disobedience to the commands of God is idolatrous no matter what the command is. It is a statement that I know best. I do not need to do as God says. I have a better idea, I can do as I please, I know better than that. It is to place oneself on the throne where only God belongs, and that is idolatry.
2) Greed is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). To live in comfort while others, who you were able to assist, lived in poverty, is greed of the worst sort. Quite often the reason we do not give to the needy is because we want the money, or time, or expertise that we could share, to be used only for me. That is to say that I am number 1 and I don’t care how much people suffer due to my refusal to give. Idolatry.
3)An idol is anything that comes ahead of God and the reason the needy do not get good treatment is because what is ahead of God is money and material possessions. If people were not so attached to those things then they would have less difficulty parting with them. And God is not pleased.
4) True worship of God will lead to true compassion for others. It will lead to a compassion for their souls so that we pray for their conversion and tell them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It will result in a compassion for their minds and emotions so that we are broken over the way that some people’s minds and hearts tell them things that prevent them from ever coming to know the Lord. It will lead to a compassion for their bodies so that we seek to alleviate the suffering of others in some manner that will truly help.
All these things start with being God centered. The movements that abound today which are aimed at helping others and which call themselves Christian but do not have a vibrant faith in Jesus Christ and are not fuelled by gratitude for His grace, have a false Gospel. And churches that preach to the heart and souls but never get involved in the alleviation of suffering are preaching a false Gospel as well. We can, by God’s grace do better than both of those opposite extremes. And we must. Not to do so is to give evidence of the worst of all sins – the worship of something other than God.