Following the word “turn” (שוב) through Jeremiah’s prophecy.
“You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Do men fall and not get up again? Does one turn away [שוב] and not repent [שוב]? Why then has this people,
turned away [שוב] in continual
apostasy? They hold fast to deceit, they refuse to return [שוב]. I have listened and heard, they have
spoken what is not right; no man repented [נחם]
of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned [שוב] to his course, like a horse charging
into the battle”’” (Jeremiah 8:4-6). Jerusalem
In these verses we English-speakers get an idea just how versatile Hebrew is as a language, and how important context is phrase-to-phrase. The same word, שוב, is used to mean both apostasy (turning away from God) and repentance (turning to God) in verses 4 and 5 – same word, opposite meanings!
Today we’ll focus on verse 6, where the people go boldly forth into wherever they feel like going. The refrain of Judges connects this to a lack of a king: “In those days there was no king in
every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Israel
The inadequacy is not governmental. Don’t read it this way.
Even without a human king, they had what they needed for a rule of life as God’s covenant people: “He said, ‘The LORD came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, and He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones; at His right hand there was flashing lightning for them. Indeed, He loves the people; all Your holy ones are in Your hand, and they followed in Your steps; everyone receives of Your words. Moses charged us with a law, a possession for the assembly of Jacob. And He was king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people were gathered, the tribes of
33:2-5). We are not to understand Judges 17:6; 21:25 to mean that the people
had no light, no guidance. They had the royal Word of the Law. The problem
isn’t that they were king-less. The problem was that they were sinners. This is
the purpose of the Law – to show forth the sinfulness of the people and their
need for Christ the King (Romans 7:7; Galatians 3:22-24). Israel
The people’s complaint that they wanted a human king is traced back to a heart that rejected God as Savior and King. Their rejection of God led to the rejection of the prophet-judge appointed by God to mediate the royal Word of the Law to them: “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day - in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods - so they are doing to you also’” (1 Samuel 8:7,8).
Their lack of a king is a surface problem. The heart problem is a people who have the royal Word of the Law, and have a Spirit-gifted leader to lead them in that Word, but would rather do their own thing while a human king preserves their safety and prosperity. The covenant people of God are not following the Word, but are living by the creed of the world, following their hearts. “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26). They go forward boldly, as a horse charging into battle, following their hearts further and further away from the rule of their Savior-God and King.
Woe to a people who want a pastor who merely preserves the status quo of institutionalized tradition and closed social cliques.
Woe to a people who ignore the Word as the rule of life and yet seek blessing from God.
Christ is the conquering King (Matthew 28:18; Revelation 1:5), and He has given the Church the gift of those who will lead His people in the Word: “Therefore it says, ‘WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN [a quote from Psalm 68:18].’ (Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He Who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:8-13).
“The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17).
God has given men to His Church to proclaim His royal Word as rule of life to save us from the tendency to charge forth after our hearts away from Him. Turn away from the charge into self and turn to the royal Word of the King. “And in the sentence of Scripture we are to rest, for it is in Scripture, delivered by the Spirit, that our faith is finally resolved” (1689 Baptist Confession, 1.10).