I don’t think any group of people illustrates better how those rejecting God simply refuse to hear God speak than the people of Judah who Jeremiah prophesied to. Amazingly, God warned Jeremiah, who was apparently a young man when he started prophesying, that the people would not do what he was telling them to do. But still, God wanted him to keep on warning them.
So Jeremiah did. For decades.
He warned that if the people didn’t repent, God would bring an end to the nation just as He had sent Israel into exile. God had him give a number of object lessons to illustrate the things He wanted Judah to understand.
One was a potter and the clay he was using to make his pots. Another was a cloth belt he was to take and bury near the river. Of course, when God sent him back to reclaim it, it was ruined. God’s pronouncement followed:
‘This wicked people, who refuse to listen to My words, who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts and have gone after other gods to serve them and to bow down to them, let them be just like this waistband which is totally worthless. For as the waistband clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole household of Israel and the whole household of Judah cling to Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘that they might be for Me a people, for renown, for praise and for glory; but they did not listen.’ (Jer. 13:10-11; emphasis mine)
Still, no one believed him.
Even when the Babylonians came up against them and defeated them, carrying the leaders into exile, even when they removed the rightful king and set his uncle on the throne, even when they stripped the gold from the temple and pillaged everything of value, Judah still held fast to the idea that they’d prevail.
God had Jeremiah put before them two baskets of figs, one filled with good figs and the other with over ripe ones that were worthless. Then he prophesied:
“Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. 6 For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart. (Jer. 24:5-7)
But those who remained in the land—Jeremiah, under God’s direction, said they were like the basket of bad figs and as such were worthless, fit only to be destroyed:
I will send the sword, the famine and the pestilence upon them until they are destroyed from the land which I gave to them and their forefathers. (Jer. 24:10)
At another time, Jeremiah put a wooden yoke on his neck and prophesied:
“It will be, that the nation or the kingdom which will not serve him, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and which will not put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine and with pestilence,” declares the LORD, “until I have destroyed it by his hand. (Jer. 27:8)
But he was up against some false prophets and “your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers or your sorcerers” who were telling the people just the opposite. One of them took the yoke from Jeremiah and broke it in two. He falsely prophesied that in two years God would break the yoke of Babylon, that the exiles would be returned to Judah, that the temple vessels would be restored to them.
No, Jeremiah countered. He’d just ensured that the yoke Judah was under was made of iron, and then this:
“Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD.’”
So Hananiah the prophet died in the same year in the seventh month. (Jer. 28:15b-17)
Yep, two months after breaking the wooden yoke, Hananiah died.
You’d think that would be convincing evidence that Jeremiah was the real deal, a prophet who spoke the words of the Lord. But no.
Jeremiah was arrested, an attempt was made to kill him, and he was accused repeatedly of treason. You see, he was begging the people to surrender. It was the only way they could be saved, he said, as God’s spokesman. If they would turn themselves over to the Babylonians, they’d come away with their lives.
As the days drew closer to the final exile, Jeremiah wrote to the first group of exiles and told them to make themselves at home because the exile would last for seventy years, but after that, they’d be restored to their land.
Judah ignored even this word of hope. In fact, when word came to Jerusalem about Jeremiah’s message, it was one of the bits of evidence against him that he was counseling treason.
God had him perform another object lesson. He bought a piece of land from his cousin, then had the deeds sealed up in a clay jar. The message was that when God restored the people to the land, they would once again thrive.
No matter. The people didn’t want to hear it. They’d closed their ears to the warning that they needed to repent or face destruction. Now they closed their ears to the promise of restoration.
The last we know of Jeremiah, after Jerusalem was destroyed and only the poorest of the poor remained, a group of people wanted to leave for Egypt. They asked Jeremiah whether that’s what they should do. He said he’d ask God. When he returned and told them that no, they should not go to Egypt, again they refused to listen. No matter that they’d given their word that whatever Jeremiah told them, that would be their decision. Instead they did just the opposite.
The people of Judah during this period are a real study of what it means to have hard hearts. They listened to those who said the things they wanted to hear, not to God’s word delivered in an unambiguous way by His prophet who had the credentials of one whose word came true.
But they didn’t want to hear THAT message—the one from God that told of the consequences for their sin, that talked about exile and repentance, about putting away their idols and ignoring the false prophets and the sorcerers. So they stopped their ears and went with the beautiful message of peace—the one that was completely NOT TRUE.
How like today.