Lord, you are my strength and fortress, my refuge in the day of trouble! Nations from around the world will come to you and say, “Our ancestors left us a foolish heritage, for they worshiped worthless idols. Can people make their own gods? These are not real gods at all!”
The sixteenth chapter of Jeremiah can be a pretty difficult chapter to read. In the verses that precede these, God talks about removing His mercy from unfaithful Israel (v. 5). It can be unsettling to read that God took away His unfailing love (v. 5). It is a representation that seems to argue that God is not in fact great or who He claims to be. I mean, He is supposed to be God of love, a faithful father, and yet we can find verses where we see that God can take away “unfailing love.” Is that not a contradiction? How can love be unfailing if God simply take it back without a second thought?
One thing that we cannot forget, however, is that God is a person. He does not work like a logical syllogism that we try to find contradictions in order to demonstrate fallacies in His character. He is a person who does not operate like a computer. There is emotion, feeling, and true character.
When I say that God is a person, I don’t mean to imply that He is fallible. Oftentimes we look at God and read about this unfailing love as well as this teeming wrath, and we try to rationalize how the two could possibly work together rather than try to understand and get to know the personality behind such characteristics.
We also tend to read verses like Jeremiah 16:5 and disregard context and not just the context of the few verses or even the chapter that we find such verses. We could read chapter sixteen as evidence for a contradiction in God’s nature, but doing so would be disregarding what Israel had been up to over the last several years (if not decades).
When we get down to verse 13, we get a representation of God as a father – a father who must implement a kind of tough love. The Lord basically tells Israel that if they will continue to refuse to listen to His instruction, He will allow them to do so, but He will not allow it to go on under His roof. He says that He will cast them out of Israel where they can “worship idols day and night — and I will grant you no favors!” In reality, He is simply giving Israel what they want; they receive exactly what they are asking for by their actions. If it’s idols they want, then it is idols they are going to get.
Of course, for an idol to be an idol, then it follows that that idol cannot actually perform miracles or engage in a personal relationship. They cannot, in fact, save like the true God. So, God’s hope is that when He releases His people to do these things that the people will eventually come to the conclusion that Jeremiah comes to at the end of the chapter that the Lord is the only true God. He is the only One strong enough to save. He is the only One worthy of praise and trust.