Jeremiah 22:21 reads, “I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear. This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice.”
As I read this, it appeared to present an almost perfect commentary concerning the character of our United States’ society. Yet this commentary is not simply appropriate concerning our ungodly society, but also concerning the worldly character of so many churches in the United States. In its immediate context, Jeremiah 22:21 is included within a divine pronouncement of judgment against two kings of Judah. Jeremiah 22:13-19 presents our Lord’s judgment against Jehoiakim king of Judah. Then Jeremiah 22:14-30 presents our Lord’s judgment against Coniah (Jehoiachin), the son of Jehoiakim. Since our Lord’s judgment is pronounced against both men for the same basic reason, let us consider the issue as a single context in relation to its application upon our present-day society and our present-day churches.
The Case of Prosperity
In the opening line of Jeremiah 22:21, our Lord presented the case, saying, “I spake unto thee in thy prosperity.” For generations the United States has experienced an extended period of material prosperity. Certainly, there have been recession periods since the Great Depression. Yet the United States has materially recovered each time and has returned to a position of material prosperity. Even in the present economic struggles, the poor class of the United States on average in materially more prosperous than the middle class in most of the other countries throughout the world. Yea, even many of the welfare recipients in the United States today have an abundance of recreational possessions. Indeed, the churches of the United States have also entered into the experience and enjoyment of this material prosperity. Certainly then, for generations the Lord God of heaven and earth has spoken unto us in our prosperity.
The Call of the Lord
Again in the opening line of Jeremiah 22:21, our Lord presented His call, saying, “I spake unto thee in thy prosperity.” For generations the truth of God’s Holy Word has been dispersed throughout the society and churches of the United States. Certainly, there has been no shortage of opportunity for the members of our society and our churches to hear the call of the Lord our God. Certainly, our society and our churches are without any excuse in this matter. Yet material prosperity is a very distracting force to turn our hearts away from spiritual principles. Thus in Matthew 6:24 our Lord Jesus Christ gave the warning, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
The Characteristic of Rebellion
In fact, in their material prosperity both Jehoiakim and Coniah his son rebelled against the Lord’s Word and refused to obey it. In the closing portion of Jeremiah 22:21, our Lord gave the report and rebuke, saying, “But thou saidst, I will not hear. This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice.” Yea, in Coniah’s case he had been raised through his father’s example to love material prosperity and therein rebel against the Lord’s Word, so that he walked in that rebellion from the time of his youth. Even so, both the society of the United States and even the churches of the United States have been enjoying their material prosperity and therein rebelling against our Lord’s Word for generations. Point after point after point could be brought forward in order to demonstrate that rebellion by both our society and our churches.
The Cause of Rebellion
So then, what is the foundational cause of this rebellion? It is the spirit of covetousness that is corrupting and consuming us. In Jeremiah 22:17 our Lord revealed this foundational cause through His rebuke of Jehoiakim, saying, “But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it.” Herein our Lord even indicated that Jehoiakim was willing to engage in the shedding of innocent blood, and in oppression, and in violence, all in order “to do” (that is – to fulfill) the desires of his covetousness.
Indeed, Jehoiakim has observed a more righteous way in the character and conduct of his father. In fact, in Jeremiah 22:15-16 our Lord had confronted Jehoiakim with the more righteous ways of his father, saying, “Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him? He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD.” Yet Jehoiakim had rebelled against this righteous way. Rather, he had given over his eyes and his heart to only one focus and objective – “But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness.” He lived for this one thing – covetousness, the driving love for personal and material advancement. Indeed, is this not the very character of our society and even of our churches in the United States?
The Curse of the Lord
Therefore, in Jeremiah 22:13-14 the Lord our God pronounced His curse upon such, saying, “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work; that saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is cieled with cedar, and painted with vermilion.” Shall we continue to prosper simply because we have accumulated and do continue to accumulate great material wealth. “Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar?”
Psalm 37:16-17 – “A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the LORD upholdeth the righteous.”
Psalm 49:6-9 – “They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:) that he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.”
Psalm 52:5-7 – “God shall likewise destroy thee for ever, he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling place, and root thee out of the land of the living. Selah. The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him: Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness.”