When God Doesn't Do What You Expect
Jeremiah 15:1-21 teaches us to trust God even when He does the unexpected.
When God doesn’t do what you expect him to it’s easy to get discouraged and depressed, even hopeless. In chapter 15 Jeremiah is about as discouraged as a person can be because God doesn’t act in the way he expects. As a result, his world is starting to crumble and he regrets ever being born. Jeremiah 15:10 says,
Woe is me, my mother, that you gave birth to me, a man who incites dispute and conflict in all the land.
Woe is me! And my poor mother for having to give birth to such a troublemaker! He’s feeling sorry for himself because there just doesn’t seem to be any point to his life. All he does is cause trouble for others.
Indirectly, he’s really saying his problems are all God’s fault since it was God himself who chose him to be a prophet even before his mother gave birth. God, in Jeremiah 1:5, says,
I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
Since God destined Jeremiah to the life of a prophet all of the suffering related to his profession, logically, must be God’s fault. But why would God call someone to a life of suffering? That’s not what we would expect Him to do.
So Jeremiah feels discouraged. Specifically, Jeremiah feels discouraged because God doesn’t answer his prayers (15:1-14). Instead, God sends him sufferings he did not deserve (10b, 15) and fails to reward him for his obedience (16-18).
In the last chapter (Jeremiah 14) Jeremiah gave an amazing prayer. He humbly confessed his own sins and the sins of his nation. He pled for God’s mercy and then recommitted himself to trust in God. He prayed from the heart with sincerity and it would be hard for any of us to improve upon his prayer either in content or attitude.
Yet, God reused to answer and in verse 1 God says unexpectedly,
Even if Moses and Samuel should stand before me, my compassions would not reach out to these people. Send them from my presence, and let them go.
Roughly paraphrased, God says, “Great prayer Jeremiah, but no. Even if Moses or Samuel pray I won’t listen.”
Usually, when we ask others to pray for us it’s because we expect God will listen to them when he hasn’t listened to us. We hope that He will respond and give us the healing or help we need in a tough situation as the direct result of a fellow Christian interceding on our behalf.
And often He does, but God doesn’t always act according to our expectations. And in Jeremiah’s case, instead of blessing His people God surprisingly sends even more judgment. Jeremiah 15:2 says,
If they ask you, ‘Where will we go?’ tell them: This is what the Lord says: Those destined for death, to death; those destined for the sword, to the sword. Those destined for famine, to famine; those destined for captivity, to captivity.
God says, send them from my presence. Where to? To death, to the sword, to famine and captivity. Send them essentially to hell, which is what it’s like to be completely away from God’s presence.
So even if great prayer warriors like Moses or Samuel themselves pray, God’s judgment upon the wicked will still happen. Jeremiah 15:3 declares that nothing will prevent God from using “the sword to kill, the dogs to drag away, and the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the land to devour and destroy.”
In verse 7 God looks back at His treatment of His people and describes it as throwing them up in the air like a bunch of grain and letting them crash back down to the ground. Jeremiah 15:7–8 says,
I scattered them with a winnowing fork at the city gates of the land. I made them childless; I destroyed my people... I made their widows more numerous than the sand of the seas...
Can you imagine? So many men killed that the widows are more numerous than the sand of the seas. This doesn’t sound like a loving and merciful God at all. Jeremiah 15:9 describes a scene we don’t expect…
“…the rest of them I will give over to the sword in the presence of their enemies.” This is the Lord’s declaration.
It’s no use resisting God’s will (see Jer. 15:12) because sin must be punished. Sin is the reason God is so adamant…
I will give up your wealth and your treasures as plunder, without cost, for all your sins in all your borders.
Their sin has resulted in a lack of God’s blessing. Their wealth, their land, even their lives are lost all because of sin.
But the penalty for sinning against our eternal Creator is more than just ceasing to exist. The false idea of getting to live a life in rebellion to God and then dying without any further consequences makes a mockery of the holiness and righteousness of God.
Hell is an awful reality much worse than the physical suffering experienced by the Israelites or anyone else in this life. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus said this...
Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Why fear the one who can destroy both soul and body if “ceasing to exist” is the only consequence? If there is no punishment beyond physical death then sinners really don’t have that much to worry about. But, instead, Jesus says to fear hell and the punishment that awaits those who go there because it’s going to be far worse than any suffering experienced in this life.
So, as a warning for all people, and every nation, God is letting us know through Jeremiah that judgment is coming and that not even the best prayer warriors can keep that from happening.
We may not like it. We may think it’s unfair. We may not understand God’s judgment but the fact is, God works in mysterious ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).
This is a hard lesson to learn and it’s a lesson Job had to learn. Job’s three friends spent days trying to convince him that it was his own fault for all of his sufferings. They reasoned since God punishes the unrighteous, Job must be unrighteous. And in response, Job spent a nearly equal amount of time defending his own righteousness.
Now, even though Job was righteous and hadn’t done anything to deserve the suffering given to him, he went to far when he started to imply God that God wasn’t just for allowing him to suffer.
So God took him to task and essentially told him that His ways are not Jobs' ways. God says, “Who is this who obscures my counsel with ignorant words? Get ready to answer me like a man” (Job 38:2-3).
Of course, Job couldn’t answer God in any meaningful way. Job wasn’t around when God created everything and he had no power to keep his own life from falling apart let alone the rest of the universe. So Job learned his lesson, repented and continued to trust God.
Now back to Jeremiah and...
Like Job, Jeremiah suffered even though he didn’t deserve it. And also like Job, Jeremiah didn’t always trust God perfectly. Sometimes he did but other times he complained that life didn’t make sense. For example, in verse 10 Jeremiah said,
I did not lend or borrow, yet everyone curses me.
Here, Jeremiah is essentially telling God that his suffering would make sense to him if he owed people money, or even if people owed him a lot of money, but Jeremiah didn’t owe anyone anything so none of it makes any sense.
And if we read between the lines there’s a little whining in Jeremiah’s tone in verse 15,
You know, Lord; remember me and take note of me. Avenge me against my persecutors. In your patience, don’t take me away. Know that I suffer disgrace for your honor.
In other words, since Jeremiah was suffering for God’s sake, he felt like God owed him a favor. He felt like he deserved to be treated better and that God should help him out since his suffering was ultimately all God’s fault.
Maybe we’ve felt like blaming God before, too. Perhaps there’s nothing we’ve done to deserve being mistreated but, like Job, our friends keep telling us to repent when we can’t think of anything to repent of. We’ve prayed. Our friends have prayed and yet nothing changes so we start to question God’s goodness.
Maybe, like Jeremiah, we also start to complain to God about...
In verses, 16-18 Jeremiah reminds God of how obedient he’s been—as if God doesn’t know. Jeremiah 15:16 says,
Your words were found, and I ate them. Your words became a delight to me and the joy of my heart, for I bear your name, Lord God of Armies.
Jeremiah rightly understands that God’s word is meant to be delighted in. It’s not supposed to be just a tasty snack but a full meal to be thoroughly enjoyed.
So he “reminds” God, not to forget about how much he loves his word. He thinks he should be rewarded for his obedience, not cursed. In Jeremiah 15:17 Jeremiah argues further,
I never sat with the band of revelers, and I did not celebrate with them. Because your hand was on me, I sat alone, for you filled me with indignation.
Where’s the reward for good behavior? Jeremiah set a great example of how to be in the world but not of it. He had a passion for God’s word and he put it into practice even when it resulted in loneliness. Jeremiah understood what was most important and was even willing to be isolated from others to be obedient. So where’s the reward?
Maybe you feel like Jeremiah sometimes. What have you given up? Drunkenness? Sexual immorality? Wasting time? Jeremiah gave up all these things too and expected to be rewarded for his obedience, which is a reasonable expectation considering all the Bible says about how God curses the wicked and blesses the righteous.
But Jeremiah isn’t blessed so in verse 18 he asks God,
Why has my pain become unending, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? You truly have become like a mirage to me— water that is not reliable.
It seems to Jeremiah that God can’t be trusted anymore. He wants to believe His word and that He’s good, but his personal experiences seem to say otherwise.
Did God let Jeremiah down?
The truth is God never fails his people. When we come to God with our unanswered prayers, undeserved sufferings, and unrewarded obedience we might be doing so righteously but we also might be indirectly implying that God has let us down. But the truth is, God will never let us down.
Like we discussed a couple of weeks ago, when God feels far away it isn’t God who needs to move, it’s us (James 4:8). Perhaps you’ve heard the illustration of the battleship at sea. In the darkness, the captain of the battleship can see some lights off in the distance so he radios “Heading for collision. Turn 15 degrees north.”
The reply comes back almost immediately: “Heading for collision. Turn 15 degrees south.”
But the captain is proud and doesn’t want to have his orders countermanded, so he radios a stronger message: “No, you turn 15 degrees north!”
Again comes the reply: “No, you turn 15 degrees south!”
The captain becomes so angry that he decides to throw his weight around: “This is a battleship. Turn 15 degrees north.”
The last message is brief but to the point: “This is a lighthouse.”
God is like the lighthouse. He isn’t the one who needs to move, we are. Jeremiah was headed for a certain shipwreck unless he changed course. God wasn’t letting him down. He was letting God down.
Jeremiah needed to repent and in Jeremiah 15:19 God told him,
If you return, I will take you back; you will stand in my presence. And if you speak noble words, rather than worthless ones, you will be my spokesman.
Jeremiah was the one in the wrong for implying that it was God who needed to change. When he went to God telling him about all the good things he’d done, God replied that his words were worthless and that he needed to repent!
Repent of what? Of not trusting in God. Jeremiah’s righteousness had turned into self-righteousness. Instead of accusing God of being unjust, he needed to repent and return to his calling of being God’s spokesman. And if he did, God said He would restore him and keep every single one of his unfailing promises.
Jeremiah 15:20 says,
Then I will make you a fortified wall of bronze to this people. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to save you and rescue you. This is the Lord’s declaration.
In God’s declaration are the very same promises He made to Jeremiah when he first called him (Jer 1:18-19). In chapter 1 God also promised to make Jeremiah a fortified city and to save him and rescue him. So these aren’t new promises but the same old ones, which should teach us a lesson.
When we feel discouraged or far from God, it isn’t a new revelation or dramatic experience that we need. What we need is a reminder of God’s unfailing promises made long ago and how He is still determined to keep them. God is still God and He will rescue us. He will save and redeem us. So trust Him.
And at the same time, remember that we need an intercessor. Jeremiah prayed a prayer of intercession for his people and God didn’t intercede (Jeremiah 15:1). But that doesn’t mean we don’t need an intercessor. It means we need a more perfect one.
James 5:16 says “The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” This verse is sometimes, but not absolutely true of us. But is absolutely true of Jesus Christ.
No one is righteous enough to save people from their sins, except for Jesus. Even if the greatest prayer warriors among us beg for mercy they can’t demand it based on their own righteousness. Only Christ can fully intercede for us as it says in Hebrews 7:25-26,
Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them. For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.
Moses, Samuel, and Jeremiah can’t intercede for us in a way to save people from their sins, but Jesus can. When Jesus prays that God will forgive us, based on His own righteousness, then God will answer and grace will always be given.
So, repent and turn to God. Keep trusting in Him. We may not understand what he’s doing or the reasons He’s doing it, but what he’s accomplishing will always be for our good and His glory in the end.
Trust in Jesus and He’ll never let you down.