In Jeremiah 2 we start to get the picture of the spiritual condition of the nation. It’s not a pretty picture at all. Themes that will be traced and developed throughout the book are introduced here: Israel’s infidelity to the LORD, Israel’s trust in foreign powers (Egypt, Assyria) and foreign gods, Israel’s barrenness and brokenness (politically, economically), Israel’s self-righteousness (questioning God’s indictment of their spiritual apostasy and claiming innocence) and Israel’s future judgment.
Jeremiah speaks God’s message to the nation in a way that highlights, repeats and explains God’s amazement and anger at what has been happening. The nation (starting with its leaders—2:8, 26) has forsaken its early devotion to Him (2:1), exchanged their Glory for worthless idols (2:11), proclaimed their innocence in spite of their overt, obvious defection (2:35).
The chapter brims with emotion and provocative, colourful imagery: Israel as a devoted bride (2:1), Israel as a rebellious servant (2:20), Israel as stained and dirty by their sin (2:22), Israel as a wild donkey in heat (2:24), Israel as a disgraced thief caught red-handed (2:26), Israel as a seasoned prostitute (2:33).
The basic message of chapter 2 is the indictment that Judah (all Israel)—without any cause and in spite of God’s faithful goodness—has committed spiritual adultery. They have forsaken their devotion to Him and run into the arms of others (other nations and other gods). They have done what no other nation has done—switched their spiritual loyalties (2:10-11). The folly of this suicidal switch is that Israel has traded the “spring of living waters” for “broken cisterns” (2:13) and foreign rivers (2:18).
Twice, the Lord rebukes them for failing to ask, “Where is the Lord?” The fathers did not ask this question (2:6), nor did the priests (2:8). The question (“Where is the Lord?”) in this context is not meant to convey a sense of doubt and disbelief about God’s presence or reality. Rather, in both verses, it is meant to express a desire to seek the Lord and find His will and ways. The parallel line in verse 8 reads, “Those who deal with the law did not know me.” The connotation of the question would thus be, “Where does the Lord stand on this matter?” Faithful believers should always be thinking and asking, “Where is God on this matter? What’s His will? What’s His word to us?”
There are two ways to ask the question, “Where is the Lord?” It can be asked as an expression of doubt (Micah 7:10) or as an expression of faith (Jeremiah 2:6, 8). It can be a taunt, a statement of ridicule and disbelief. Or it can be a call to seek God, to discover where He stands on an issue or situation. God wants us to be seeking His presence and will, asking “Where is the Lord?” on every issue we face. As Psalm 105:4 says, “Look to the Lord and His strength. Seek His face always.”
Why has Judah made such a foolish and devastating spiritual choice? A root cause of their rebellion is that they “have no awe of me, declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty” (2:19). The Hebrew word for “awe” speaks of terror or dread. This response of holy fear is fitting for those who encounter “the LORD Almighty” (the God of armies). As we seek and see God in His awesome majesty and power, we should be moved to “awe” by His authority and greatness.
The story line of chapter 2 is that of the nation’s descent from devotion to desertion. Their initial devotion—pictured as a bride’s love for her groom (2:1-2; 32)—dies away. This tragic shift of affection and allegiance happens in spite of God’s goodness to His people; He led them through deserts and darkness (2:6) and gave them a fertile land rich with produce (2:7). He protected them from their adversaries (2:3). They had it so good. Yet, against all logic, contrary to all cultural patterns (2:10), they exchanged their Glory for worthless idols (2:11). God summarizes their twin evils: “My people have committed two sins; they have forsaken me, the spring of living water and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (2:13).
This stunning defection was not simply a grassroots movement; the top leaders of the nation (kings, officials, priests and prophets—2:8, 26) led the way into darkness. They became enamored with other gods and engaged in alliances with other nations (Egypt and Assyria—2:18, 36). They went from being a devoted bride to becoming a spiritual prostitute (2:33).
To make matters worse, they claim innocence. Caught red handed and disgraced as a thief (2:26), they deny their guilty actions. They protest, saying, “I am not defiled; I have not run after the Baals” (2:23); “I am innocent; he is not angry with me” (2:35). They also continue to call on God to get them out of trouble: “Come and save us!” (2:27).
The tone of the chapter is one of shocked, stunned disbelief. How could God’s people be so foolish and fickle? How could they turn their backs (2:27) on the One who loved them? How could they run after such poor substitutes? How could they become spiritually disloyal when the nations around them remained loyal to their false gods? How could this defection have been so widespread—kings, priests, prophets and people?
There is a tale here of something tragically wrong in the hearts of God’s people. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” There is something twisted, sick and suicidal in us as humans. Something that can only be changed by a change of heart—exactly what is promised in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34).