Right after God takes the time to reminisce on how he and Israel started off, in Jeremiah 2:4-5 we hear God ramping up to deliver an important and difficult message.
Israel is Asked a Rhetorical Question
God asks this rhetorical question – is it something I did that led you to your present unfaithfulness to me?? He obviously knows that the answer is “no”.
But the question is to be probing for Israel. Has God done something wrong? Is there some sort of iniquity in him that Israel has gone so from him?
Well, of course not. There’s no iniquity in God.
Then – the question goes – why are you walking after vanity, Israel?
Israel Exchanged God for Worthless Idols
The word vanity is the Hebrew hebel. It’s the Preacher’s favorite word in the book of Ecclesiastes. It means emptiness or worthlessness. And in the context of Jeremiah what’s likely is that this refers to the idols that Israel was seeking. The false gods.
In a way, Israel had acted as if God had some sort of defect that would justify them leaving him for another god. But they were making the exchange of the God who is and who lives with one that is just vain and empty.
Israel Forgot God’s Goodness to Them
Israel forgot God and his goodness to them in Jeremiah 2:6.
It’s no small thing that God led the Israelites through the desert wilderness. It is after all “a land that no man passed through and where no man dwelt”. It’s inhospitable. It’s dangerous. There’s no water. There’s usually no food.
And yet God had them – not just pass through it – but remain in it for 40 years. All the while, he sustained them – even in his anger toward their unbelief.
So, the ancestors of the Israelites left the God who had brought them through the dangerous wilderness. But God’s deliverance had all been forgotten by the ancestors of the Jews whom God was addressing through Jeremiah.
God Led Israel to a Good Land
And of course in the history of Israel, what came after the exodus and wilderness wanderings was actually entering the Promised Land. And God has something to say about that in Jeremiah 2:7.
So, that’s how the people in general responded to God’s goodness to them in bringing them into the Promised Land.
In Jeremiah 2:8 we see God relating how the leaders responded.
Israel’s Leaders Rejected God
Overall, prophets, priests, and kings all rejected and forsook and forgot about the Lord.
And I see a progression of transgression in this verse.
- We start with not asking for the Lord.
- We move to not knowing the Lord.
- Then there’s transgression and sin against the Lord.
- And finally we have a total transfer of allegiance from the Lord to the false god Baal and the idols associated with him.
God Will Content with Israel
So, because Israel responded to God’s goodness and love with rebellion and mutiny, God says in Jeremiah 2:9 that he will contend with Israel.
God speaks of the grandchildren of the people and how he’s going to contend with them – and not only the people at the time. And that’s the way it actually ended up working.
God gave this message to Jeremiah probably in the time of Josiah. Maybe even at the beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry.
If Jeremiah’s ministry started in about 627 BC and lasted past the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, then that’s about 50 years. And in that time, Jeremiah would see these people – and then their children – and then those children’s children. And all of them for the most part are going to rebel against the Lord and earn the Lord’s constant rebuke.
Now, as I said in Jeremiah 2:8 we have this progression of transgression. And really, the terminal point of the sin spoken of there is basically what you could call god-swapping. This was unheard of in ancient times – that a nation would leave its god(s) and adopt others.
And that’s what God focuses on next in Jeremiah 2:10-13 – Israel’s unprecedented God-swapping.