Friday, June 5, 2015

Broken Tablets, Broken Society

We’re reading through Jeremiah in Wednesday night Bible study (chapter 5 this week). The more I read the Old Testament, the more I see its similarities with the New Testament. The God of both is the same. His requirements of humanity are the same (belief from the heart in His Word resulting in obedience and faithfulness to Him). His perfect attributes are the same.

This week we saw the parallels between the prophet Jeremiah and the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. When the first tablet of the Law (our duty to God, Exodus 20:1-11//Deuteronomy 5:6-15) is destroyed, the second tablet (our duty to each other, Exodus 20:12-17//Deuteronomy 5:16-21) crumbles.

The prophet describes the failure of the people in their duty to God:
“Why should I pardon you?
Your sons have forsaken Me
And sworn by those who are not gods” (5:7).
They violated the first three of the Ten Commandments.

Spiritual adultery results in physical adultery. Marriage collapses in the society. The violation of the seventh commandment becomes commonplace, and the people are driven solely by a continual lusting:
“...they committed adultery
and trooped to the harlot’s house.
They were well-fed lusty horses,
Each one neighing after his neighbor’s wife” (5:7,8).

Then comes the refrain of this chapter (it’ll occur again in verse 29):
“‘Shall I not punish these people,’ declares the LORD,
‘And on a nation such as this
Shall I not avenge Myself?’” (5:9).

Destroy the first tablet of the Law, and the second crumbles. This is exactly as the apostle Paul outlines in Romans 1. With the failure in duty to God (Romans 1:20-23) comes a failure in duty to fellow human (1:24-32). This is why “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18).

Back in Jeremiah 5, we see another example of what Paul teaches in Romans 1. The LORD highlights this same principle using two different examples.
“‘Do you not fear Me?’ declares the LORD.
‘Do you not tremble in My presence?
For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea,
An eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it.
Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail;
Though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it.
But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart;
They have turned aside and departed’” (5:22,23).

One of the inferences that humanity should universally draw from nature is that of law (which requires a Law-Giver). If there are laws of nature instituted by the Creator of nature, then there are logically laws of morality/ethics instituted by the Creator of humanity. The very fact that humans devise systems of morality/ethics and build laws to reflect those systems is proof of this reality: “...when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:14-16).

The second illustration is still from nature, but it is closer to home and little more practical:
“‘They do not say in their heart,
“Let us now fear the LORD our God,
Who gives rain in its season,
Both the autumn rain and the spring rain,
Who keeps for us
The appointed weeks of the harvest.”
Your iniquities have turned these away,
And your sins have withheld good from you’” (Jeremiah 5:24,25).

From gravity’s effect on bodies of water to the seasonal rains for crops, God’s “invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature” should be “clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20). Instead, the people have rebelled against the knowledge of God as it is revealed in creation, and actively and continually “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18). Paul describes this progression exactly as Jeremiah does.

After Jeremiah’s two illustrations from creation (5:22-25), what should we expect to see when people deny the authority of the God of creation? When the first tablet of the Law (our duty to God) is destroyed, the second tablet (our duty to each other) crumbles.

“For wicked men are found among My people,
They watch like fowlers lying in wait;
They set a trap,
They catch men.
Like a cage full of birds,
So their houses are full of deceit;
Therefore they have become great and rich.
They are fat, they are sleek,
They also excel in deeds of wickedness;
They do not plead the cause,
The cause of the orphan, that they may prosper;
And they do not defend the rights of the poor” (5:26-28).

With the denial of the first tablet and the crumbling of the second tablet, the refrain from 5:9 returns:
“‘Shall I not punish these people?’ declares the LORD,
‘On a nation such as this
Shall I not avenge Myself?’” (5:29).

In Jeremiah, this principle is in the context of old covenant Israel. In Romans, this principle is applied to all of humanity. In Athens, Paul had previously described this change: “...having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man Whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30,31).

He is a merciful God. This is seen in the first statement of the Ten Commandments: “I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2//Deuteronomy 5:6). Break the first tablet, and you destroy this statement of grace. The second tablet (societal stability and safety) cannot be maintained without the first. And it’s all built on the saving God of grace.

It is the Gospel of this God that must be preached again and again by the Church. Without faith in the God Who alone can rescue “us from the domain of darkness,” and transfer “us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13), and the two tablets of the Law built on this gracious Gospel, no other attempts to save a society or nation will be fruitful.

The Gospel of God’s grace→our duty to God→our duty to fellow man. This is the only biblical solution. Therefore, do not forget your calling, Church. Do not cease from giving the call, louder and more frequently: “Now all these things are from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him Who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Father, grant the grace of repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25) and bring revival through faith in Your Son alone.

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