Forbidden by God
Jeremiah 7:16; 8:18-9:2; 11:14; 14:11-12
God’s will is mysterious. What he desires for and expects from us is clouded by this mystery. When Jeremiah was called, he found himself confronted by a challenge to his perception of God and his work in this world. God demanded from him a dedication to a service that frustrated him. Jeremiah constantly struggled with this and made no pretense to God about his dissatisfaction. He prayed numerous times to God on behalf of the people of Judah, who were not just his fellow countrymen, but some of them were his relatives. God’s plans were to destroy them but Jeremiah wanted them to be spared. There would be no relenting on God’s part. God would proclaim loudly to Jeremiah “No!” His prayers would not just go unanswered by God, but unwanted. Babylon would enter Jerusalem and reduce the town to rubble and humiliate the people. This was God's will. So his message to Jeremiah was this: stop asking me to save them. To make matters worse, to better facilitate his ministry, God would not only forbid Jeremiah to pray for the salvation of his people, but would also forbid him to marry. God knew Jeremiah’s sensitivities would never be able to handle a wife and child in light of the oncoming devastation and persecution. If his loyalty to own people was such a tremendous burden on his delicate heart, how deeper would the agony go for his own wife and children. God could not allow Jeremiah to suffer this much.
To not marry would be a serious blow to an Israelite. Nearly every promise to Abraham and his children was entrenched in the promise of a seed and in passing down God-given inheritances to children. Jeremiah would have no one to carry on his name and to inherit the part of the promised land he owned. The misery of his ministry would be compounded by loneliness. This was the will of God.
Questions for Study and Discussion
1. Read Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14; 14:11-12. God commanded Jeremiah to no longer pray on behalf of Judah’s salvation. Despite Jeremiah’s plea for God to act graciously toward his people, God refused. Why would God demand Jeremiah to stop praying for Judah?
The people of Judah were beyond hope. They claimed innocence yet lived lives of unquestionable perversion. They were hard-hearted and unrepentant despite outward expressions of religious devotion. Their sacrifices were meaningless and their cries for help were empty words of desperation. They had yet learned that repentance must be accompanied by a broken heart and humbled spirit. They just wanted God to get them out of their mess. However, these unrepentant sinners were Jeremiah’s own people. People he grew up with. A few were his relatives, others his childhood friends. How could he not want them to be delivered from what he knew was coming? Their persistent idolatrous practices and immoral/ unethical lifestyles had alienated them from God. They were so blinded to their own sins, they would never repent. Jeremiah could pray and pray, but it would do no good. There was nothing left but divine judgment. Jeremiah knew this, but still begged God to extend his grace to them. This insistence was wrong.
2. Compare these requests to Genesis 18:16-33 and Exodus 32:7-14. Why would God concede to Abraham’s and Moses’ requests but refuse Jeremiah’s? What differences are there in these stories that give us insight into prayer?
There are in actuality three different responses to intercessory prayer here. In Genesis 18:16-33, Abraham prayed that God would spare Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham bartered with God. He asked first that the city be spared if fifty righteous people were found living within the city. God agreed. Perhaps understanding the reality of the sinfulness of the cities’ people, Abraham eventually reduced that number to ten. God agreed to every number Abraham requested. God certainly knew that there would not be ten righteous people found in the cities, so why would he have agreed to Abraham’s request? In the end, the principle is not the power of prayer and its ability to change God’s course of action, but the justification of God’s actions. God conceded to Abraham’s conditions because he knew they were useless. Corruption had permeated the hearts of nearly every inhabitant of Sodom and Gomorrah, with the exception of Lot (his family is questionable). God was demonstrating to Abraham that his actions were justifiable. Abraham would see this when he could not find even ten righteous people. The answer to Abraham’s prayers did not come in the form of salvation for Sodom and Gomorrah, but a deeper understanding of the work and nature of God. This is why he was tolerant of Abraham’s persistence.
Moses’ request to spare the Israelites after the golden calf incidence in 32:7-14 ended with God “changing his mind”. God’s anger had led him to decide to kill every Israelite except Moses and start over with a new people descended from him. He was so offended by the people he called them Moses’ people, not his people (v. 7). They were stiff-necked people (v. 9), much like the ox or horse who refused to bend his neck when prodded to change its course. One has to wonder if God’s anger and his desire to destroy Israel was not to test Moses’ ability to lead them as an intercessor as well as a leader. Would he risk all to intervene on their behalf in light of God’s fury? Moses reminded God that they were his people, the ones he brought out of Egypt. He had chosen them to love them. If he destroyed them, he would lose credibility in the eyes of Egypt. All that he proved in the ten plagues would be in vain. He asked God to remember his covenant with Israel’s forefathers. In other words, Moses reminded God that he promised to bring this people into Canaan. Faith had not completely left Israel, the Levites and many others would eventually stand up and put an end to the unfaithfulness that plagued the camp (Exodus 32:26). Sin had not permeated the people so much that they were incapable of change, but very few would stand for the truth in Jeremiah’s days and repentance was beyond the capability of the people.
The people of Jeremiah’s day were hard-hearted and blinded to their own faults. God made it clear over and over again to Jeremiah that they were going to be destroyed. Their was no other option. Jeremiah apparently refused to acknowledge that, he refused to obey God and prayed for their salvation.
The interesting thing about all these prayers is that they were about God. Even when Moses was able to “change” God’s mind, he did so by appealing to his character and person, not to the people’s desire to be delivered. It was the love and grace of God that Moses knew he could plead for to save God’s people. Abraham’s request was granted to prove God justified. Jeremiah failed to see the will of God in his prayer life. His prayers were based on his own desires rather than the incomprehensible will of God.
3. Are there things which we are commanded not to pray for as Christians (1 John 5:16)? What kind of prayers are improper (James 4:1-3)?
John claimed that prayer for those who commit the sin that leads to death was useless. He indicated that this prayer would fall helpless before the throne of God: “I am not saying that he should pray about that” he claimed. This stands in contrast to his admonishing believers to prayer for those whose sins do not lead to death. What does this mean? This phrase is used in John 11:4 about Lazarus’ sickness which “leads to death”, but there it is physical death. It seems that John meant spiritual death here. Spiritual life has been the theme that has pervaded the epistle, not physical life (1 John 1:1-4; 2: 24-25; 5:12-13). Why would death not be the same? This passage is not an easy passage to deal with. To claim that prayer is ineffective in some cases is almost inconsistent with everything else we know of scripture. But here it is. It is also difficult because of the many who have loved ones that have outright rejected the truth. Should we not continue to pray for them even though they have adamantly rejected the truth? When do you stop praying, if that is what this is saying? And if you continue to do so, do you fall under the same judgment Jeremiah faced with his persistent but unwanted prayer? Here are some of the more popular interpretations:
1. Old Testament distinction. Sins that were forgivable were unintentional (Lev. 4:2; 5:15; Num. 15:22-25, 30-13). Defiant sins had no sacrifice to atonefor them. Some see the unforgiveable sin as such (eg Leviticus 20:10; Numbers 35:30-34)But does this mean certain sins are unforgiveable. What of David (Psalms 51) and the adulterous woman (John 8)?
2. Blasphemy against the Spirit (Mark 3:28-30), but there it is defined as attributing Jesus’ work to the devil. Is it the same here? Possibly, but see #5.
3. Heinous sins, such as adultery, murder, apostasy. But John never distinguishes sin by these types anywhere in the book.
4. Deliberate and persistent rejection of the truth. Perhaps, but see #5. It is more specific to context.
5. Note the distinction between the “brother” whose sin does not lead to death, one that can be prayed for, and the one whose sin leads to death. The latter is never defined as a brother. Perhaps John intended this lost person to be his opponents who rejected Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, even though they claimed to be believers. They rejected obedience to God’s commandments. They loved the world’s system of beliefs and hated their brothers. They lived a life that dwelt in darkness not light. It is the rejection of Jesus as the Christ. .
It must also be said that sin which leads to death does not necessarily mean that it always leads to death. Repentance is not excluded as a possibility, only praying for a person who does not desire forgiveness. Our efforts need to go elsewhere when praying for forgiveness. Forgiveness can not be given to those who reject the work of God in Christ.
The James passage makes it clear that prayer can not be selfish. Prayer should be the most selfless place that we enter. It should be the place where we encounter the will of God and lose our own will. It is where we lose ourselves in the presence of God. It is not a magical lamp that we rub to get what we want, but an intimate conversation where we learn what we need. Failure to acknowledge this is a failure to acknowledge the real power of God and his work in our lives. We can not ask God with a motivation that is self-seeking and expect that to be in line with his will. Those James wrote to asked “with wrong motives” (3), seeking to use what they received for their own “pleasures”. We should not pray so that we get what we want and then do what we want with it. That is a perversion of prayer’s intent..
4. Why would Jeremiah continue to pray for Judah despite God’s insistence for him not to pray (Jeremiah 8:18-9:2)? What does this say about our perspective and God’s perspective?
The anguish of Jeremiah can readily seen in the text provided. Deep were his wounds. He knew that doom would come to his people, but he desperately sought the grace of God on their behalf. His grief was beyond healing (8:18). His devotion to God and his people was tearing him in half. The term of endearment “the daughter of my people” (8: 19, 22; 9:1) reflected the intimate connection still lingering in his heart. Why had they rejected God and why has God abandoned his people? The apparent saying in verse 20 indicates his acknowledgement that hope was lost, but verse 22 reflects a deep sorrow that flowed from his inability to comprehend why they would not be saved. Tears and despair were his only response to his calling. “Why?” was his constant question. God’s will is perfect, but many times beyond comprehension. Whatever God chooses to do must be submitted to as perfect and good, no matter what our human nature may lead us to conclude.
5. We often speak about God knowing our hearts and minds when we pray. Some have suggested that because of this, we should feel free to say or ask God whatever we want and however we want. One person even stated he or she uses profanity in prayer. How appropriate is this attitude toward prayer? If we are expected to be disciplined in life, honor God’s holiness and show proper respect to him, should that not guide our thoughts and language in prayer? Why or why not?
This one is discussion.
6. God stated that when the disaster came on the people of Judah, he would refuse to hear their prayers and reject their sacrifices made to petition his aid (Jeremiah 11:14; 14:11-12). What does this say about the nature of repentance and prayer?
Until Judah acknowledged their guilt (compare this to 2:35 where they claimed innocence), their prayers would fall on deaf ears. God can not be manipulated by prayers, especially insincere ones.
7. Did Judah believe that they were sinful? How can we avoid becoming so blinded to our faults that we cannot achieve true repentance or see the errors of our way?
Judah believed they were not wrong. “We are innocent” was their claim (2:35). Brokenness, acknowledgment of sin, and humility are the answers (Psalms 51; Matthew 11:28-30; Luke 4:18-19; 1 John 1:9-10). Failure to see ourselves in our lowly state leads to arrogance and pride. These qualities can only blind us to the reality of our sins, forcing us to justify certain actions in our lives that really can not be justified in light of God’s desires for us.
8. What does God forbid Jeremiah in 16:1-4? How would this affect Jeremiah and his ministry? Why would God forbid this? What advantage would it give Jeremiah’s ministry? What does the New Testament say about the advantage of this status for some within the church today and why do we have such a difficult time encouraging being single over being married (Matthew 19:12;1 Corinthians 7:7)?
Churches tend to focus on, as a community, building marriages. They announce publically, to all the congregation, when events are being planned in this area of church life. Events that focus on being single are typically left out the public arena of the church. We do not really see it as a community responsibility to help single be committed to singleness. Even on a personal level, singleness is often viewed as an incomplete status. People tend to want to set up singles in hopes that they find someone to be with for the rest of their life. No one should be alone, we think. But is that proper? Should we not encourage singleness as much as we encourage marriage, even publically. God’s plans did not include marriage for Jeremiah. His ministry demanded that he be single. See the introduction. Jesus claimed that God himself has chosen some to be single (Matthew 19:12). Paul speaks of it as a superior status for those who are gifted (1 Corinthians 7:7). This is gift is for the benefit of the community. Thus the community should be active in encouraging it. Failure to do so results in a failure to accept God’s gifts.
Matthew 19:11-12 runs as a response to the discussion of divorce and marriage and the disciples’ response of disbelief (10). It seemed better to them to not marry than to marry without have the option of divorce. Jesus’ answers maintained a high view of marriage, but also insisted on a high view of being single. God has prepared many, like Jeremiah, to serve him in a capacity that would be best if they remained single. Jesus used the word for “mankind” and not male, so both men and women are in mind here.
1 Corinthians 7:10-12 suggested that marriage should not be elevated as a superior position over being single. Marriage is a better option contextually if they can not “control themselves”. This word is used to refer to “overindulgence” or “unrestrained” habits. The Corinthians were not without their temptations sexually (see 1 Cor. 5:1-5; 6:12-20). Some have suggested it be understood as an inability to control one’s passions, obscuring true priorities. In this case, they should marry, Paul says. Alternatively, the “burn with passion” in the NIV could very well be a figurative expression for “burn in hell”, a meaning the Greek word could carry. It can be used with a punitive meaning in mind. The meaning would be a warning to those who could lose their faith in pursuing worldly lusts. Marriage is an answer to those who have a problem in this case.
The Greco-Roman world had a lot of pressures culturally to push single people into marriage, those of a higher rank especially. Need for many children, enhancement of status, acquisition of property, financial security, and low life expectancy of woman (many average it at 20 to 30 years of age). All of these would contribute to the pressure to marry.
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