Deceitful People in a Deceitful Nation

Jeremiah 8:18-9:11 teaches us dishonesty is more common than we realize and the way to healing is to admit the truth about ourselves.

As we’ve seen in other sermons Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet and here in chapter 9 he’s crying once again: “Oh that my head were waters And my eyes a fountain of tears, That I might weep day and night For the slain of the daughter of my people!”

There are many reasons Jeremiah weeps. He weeps for all of the slain children. He weeps because of the idol worship. But in this section there are two more reasons that Jeremiah weeps: he weeps over the deceitfulness of his people and over the inevitable judgment.

Deceitful People

Deceitful people are those that lie to deceive others. They use misleading words, or leave out important information, in order to purposely hide or distort the truth. Sometimes it’s done with good intentions or out of ignorance but it always results in the truth being misrepresented.

In Jeremiah 9:2, Jeremiah wishes that there was a way to get away from it all: “Oh that I had in the desert a wayfarers’ lodging place; that I might leave my people and go from them!” (NASB).

But there isn’t any escape. “For all of them are adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men” (verse 2). The people are thoroughly deceitful committing adultery with one another and breaking their promises.

Treachery rules the land. Treachery is another form of deceit that occurs when people violate an allegiance of faith or confidence. For example, when an elected official willfully violates the law, that’s treachery because they took an oath of office to uphold the law.

A treacherous society is one that has exchanged truth for lies, in fact they have grown accustomed to the lies. So, when they hear things that don’t agree with their version of “the truth” it’s rejected out of hand. This leads to a society becoming more and more immersed in lies. And when a whole society becomes treacherous then that country is in serious trouble.

In chapter 9 verse 3, Jeremiah says the reason “lies and not truth prevail in the land” is because they don’t really know the Lord. “‘For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,’ declares the Lord.” This is getting at the heart of our problem.

They Do Not Know God

What don’t they know about God? Well, they don’t seem to know what God thinks of lying for one thing. Proverbs 6:16–19 says:

There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.

You could say there are six things which God hates, and two of them are lying. God especially hates a lying tongue and a false witness (essentially the same thing) because God is truth and in him there is no falsehood (John 7:18).

Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) and when we speak deceptively, we speak satanically. Deceitful words shouldn’t be coming out of the mouth of God’s people. That’s the point James, the brother of Jesus is making in chapter 3:

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way (James 3:8–10).

Cursing is a form of deceit because it is a spoken untruth that comes from a heart that doesn’t accurately represent what God thinks about those made in his likeness. When we curse someone it represents our version of the truth, but not God’s.

Cursing often takes the form of name calling. It’s a way of dehumanizing someone to make it easier to disregard them or say cruel things about them that we wouldn’t normally say. “My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”

Unfortunately, name calling didn’t stop in elementary school. Adults, Christians even, are still name calling people: snowflakes, libtards, radicals, commies, deplorables, and fascists. Why? Because it’s easier to justify treating people unkindly that we label as inferior.

Is it possible to accurately call someone a name without lying? Sure it is. God does it often in his word. When Christ called the Pharisees “hypocrites” (Matthew 23) that because that’s what they were. When John calls people “antichrist” (1 John 2:18) that’s because God has led him to the conclusion and that’s what they are.

But what about us? Are we 100% sure the person who said something we don’t agree with is lying? Maybe they are just misinformed? When we pass along information that is untrue, are we liars? I don’t think so, so we should be very hesitant to call someone a name.

Name calling or cursing our neighbors is just one example of what happens when a nation becomes deceitful, but I think it’s the most prevalent example and one that many Christians don’t even recognize as a problem.

But it’s a big problem that contributes to the breakdown of society. Jeremiah describes it this way:

Let everyone be on guard against his neighbor, and do not trust any brother; because every brother deals craftily, and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer. Everyone deceives his neighbor and does not speak the truth, they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity (Jeremiah 9:4–5).

“Every brother deals craftily” is literally “every brother is a Jacob.” Jacob deceived his father and tricked his brother out his blessing. And when that kind of attitude is common throughout the whole country it leads to a lot of mistrust. Everyone is suspicious of everyone else.

“A slanderer” is someone who is out to ruin the reputation of another and it seems more common than ever. The example from our politicians is that you get what you want by throwing enough mud at your opponent until enough sticks and no one will listen to what they say.

Christians do this when we exaggerate stories about “liberals, homosexuals, or communists, etc.” to make them look bad. For example, did Kamala Harris take the oath of office on her purse? No, but the falsehood was spread around on Facebook by many Christians more than 400 times.

What will happen to a society where slander becomes the best way to get things done? People will become suspicious of their neighbors. Conspiracies based on partial truths will run rampant. Digging up dirt to be used about people you don’t like (whether true or not) will become the default way of pushing through an agenda.

Sound Familiar?

You’d think Israel had their own version of social media and biased news sites. But they didn’t need those things to bring their country down. All they needed were tongues willing to bend the truth and speak lies. We have the same problem they do, it’s just amplified by technology.

See, if we, personally, think we’re immune to being manipulated and spreading lies we are greatly underestimating our human nature. We need to acknowledge the truth about our nation, but also about ourselves. And if we won’t admit this, we are a part of the problem.

Why is it so hard for us to admit this? It’s because we are inclined to promote ourselves over others. It’s because as Jeremiah says in chapter 17:9, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (NLT).

I think most of us don’t really want to know how bad it is, so we spend a lot of time keeping up appearances. In a recent study it was revealed the reason many people lie is to appear more honest. How ironic, and sad.

And how exhausting. Lying takes more effort than telling the truth and we’re literally wearing ourselves out as Jeremiah says, “They weary themselves committing iniquity” (verse 5).

The world would be a much better place if we would just admit the truth. In the words of singer/songwriter Billy Joel:

“Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you.”

​Honesty is hardly ever heard. That’s true. It’s what we need, and yet very few of us are willing to interact in honest ways. Even Billy Joel knows it. But what he doesn’t address is that honesty is mostly what you need from me.

We live in world that is characterized by deceit. As Jeremiah 9:6 says, “Your dwelling is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know Me.” And by refusing to admit the truth about ourselves we refuse to know God.

No wonder Jeremiah weeps.