Jeremiah 2:20-31 Forsaking God: Sex, Money, the Gospel, and moving Toward Gospel Subtraction

20 “For long ago I broke your yoke And tore off your bonds; But you said, ‘I will not serve!’ For on every high hill And under every green tree You have lain down as a harlot.

21 “Yet I planted you a choice vine, A completely faithful seed. How then have you turned yourself before Me Into the degenerate shoots of a foreign vine?

22 “Although you wash yourself with lye And use much soap, The stain of your iniquity is before Me,” declares the Lord GOD.

23 “How can you say, ‘I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Baals’? Look at your way in the valley! Know what you have done! You are a swift young camel entangling her ways,

24 A wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness, That sniffs the wind in her passion. In the time of her heat who can turn her away? All who seek her will not become weary; In her month they will find her.

25 “Keep your feet from being unshod And your throat from thirst; But you said, ‘It is hopeless! No! For I have loved strangers, And after them I will walk.’

26 “As the thief is shamed when he is discovered, So the house of Israel is shamed; They, their kings, their princes And their priests and their prophets,

27 Who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’ And to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’ For they have turned their back to Me, And not their face; But in the time of their trouble they will say, ‘Arise and save us.’

28 “But where are your gods Which you made for yourself? Let them arise, if they can save you In the time of your trouble; For according to the number of your cities Are your gods, O Judah.

29 “Why do you contend with Me? You have all transgressed against Me,” declares the LORD.

30 “In vain I have struck your sons; They accepted no chastening. Your sword has devoured your prophets Like a destroying lion.

31 “O generation, heed the word of the LORD. Have I been a wilderness to Israel, Or a land of thick darkness? Why do My people say, ‘We are free to roam; We will no longer come to You’?

32 “Can a virgin forget her ornaments, Or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me Days without number.


The national and cultural context of Judah during Jeremiah’s ministry has grown dim.  Israel, the sister state to Judah, had been taken captive by the Assyrians.  Assyria was a constant threat from that point on to Judah.  Judah, in order to feel safe, had made a covenant with Egypt to protect them in exchange for a little cash.  Meanwhile, they had been involved in paying off the Assyrians as well to get a little insurance.


During Manasseh’s reign, Josiah’s grandfather, the sitting king during Jeremiah’s initial prophetic ministry, wars and skirmishes had been fought at almost every border of Judah.  Though the Assyrians did not directly engage Judah in warfare during that time period, all the tribes and people around them were ruled and therefore under the protection of the Assyrian empire and felt no fear of retaliation from Judah, knowing there weakened position in respect to Assyrian dominance.  Many sons were lost, soldiers and farmers, so that the people of Judah not only paid higher taxes to keep foreign powers at bay, but they had fewer men to work the fields, shepherd the animals, and protect the women and children.  Judah had ceased to be free, ceased to be fruitful, and ceased to be safe.


Earlier in chapter 2 of Jeremiah God will say that they had forsaken Him, “the Fountain of Living Waters”, and went and dug cisterns that could not hold water.  He would ask them why did your fathers and priests not ask, “where is the Lord?”  “What are you doing on the road to Egypt?  To drink the waters of the Nile?  What are you doing on the road to Assyria?  To drink the waters of the Euphrates?  God’s chosen people had ceased to choose Him.  When their freedom, fruitfulness, and safety vanished they did not recognize that it was God that had withdrawn from their midst.  Instead of wondering where the source of their life had gone to, instead of asking,”what happened to “the Fountain of Living Waters”, they went about making their own way in the world, new cisterns, new ways to live, and new gods to worship.  We find that references to idolatry in verse 20


20 “For long ago I broke your yoke And tore off your bonds; But you said, ‘I will not serve!’ For on every high hill And under every green tree You have lain down as a harlot.


And then again in verse 23, 24


23 “How can you say, ‘I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Baals’? Look at your way in the valley! Know what you have done! You are a swift young camel entangling her ways,

24 A wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness, That sniffs the wind in her passion. In the time of her heat who can turn her away? All who seek her will not become weary; In her month they will find her.


Now there is one god named here, Baal, but there is also a goddess that is not named, but referenced here.  When God points out in verse 20 that they had lain on every high hill And under every green tree as a harlot that gives us a clue.  The “high hills” or “high places” as they are referred to else where, were places where sacrifices were offered to Baal, the god of the sun.  The idea being, the closer to the sun you were, the better your worship was accepted by the sun god.  Many ancient people actually engineered hills where there were none.  But under every green tree is a reference to the goddess Ashterah, the god of fertility.  Evergreen trees, and non-deciduous trees were often used as places to build her altars.  In fact, in other places in Scripture you will see references to groves, this was the ancient practice of planting a small “grove” of evergreen trees around her altars.  Now the question I want to ask is, “why did the people of Judah choose these two gods, of all the gods to choose from, to turn and worship as their chief gods?

Well, if you needed your national sovereignty, your fruitfulness, and your safety back in the ancient world, you basically need two things, more money and more men.  Keep in mind that these people lived in an agrarian culture.  They need the right amount of sunlight for their crops to grow.  Too much sun the earth is scorched, to little and it turns to mud.  The sun was very important to their livelihood and if they were going to have more than enough cash to pay the foreign powers to stay off their back while they simultaneously built an army that would be able to keep them off their back permanently, they needed very successful farming seasons.  So the worship of Baal, god of the sun is a logical choice.


In like manner, fertility was a big deal too!  If your herds are diminishing you’re not going to be making very much money either.  If your wives are not having sons and daughters then you have to pay hired hands to work the fields, and you can forget about raising an army for defense as well.  So the age-old idols of mankind come to the surface here long before the American culture gave way to them.  They are sex (fertility) and money.  Instead of recognizing from their past history that it was God alone that had kept them free, fruitful, and safe they turned to the natural world, and poured themselves into farming (work), family, the pursuit of money, and the exaltation of sex as a vehicle for population and entertainment.  Instead of faith in God they began to trust in their own ways and their own wisdom.  Covenants with Egypt and Assyia, pursuit of money, armies, and sex are all easily identified as things the Law of God prohibits, violations of His covenant with them. These were the “broken cisterns” that did not hold any water.  They had forsaken God himself first, with the forsaking of the ways of God following in the wake.


God very clearly articulated in the Law of God what would happen to His people if they turned to the idols of the land God had given them.  Leviticus 26 is a very clear articulation of what was coming to bear upon the nation of Judah at the time of Jeremiah’s writing


1 ‘You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God.

2 ‘You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the LORD.

3 ‘If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out,

4 then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit.

5 ‘Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land.

6 ‘I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble. I shall also eliminate harmful beasts from the land, and no sword will pass through your land.

7 ‘But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword;

8 five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.

9 ‘So I will turn toward you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will confirm My covenant with you.

10 ‘You will eat the old supply and clear out the old because of the new.

11 ‘Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you.

12 ‘I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.

13 ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so that you would not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

14 ‘But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments,

15 if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant,

16 I, in turn, will do this to you: I will appoint over you a sudden terror, consumption and fever that will waste away the eyes and cause the soul to pine away; also, you will sow your seed uselessly, for your enemies will eat it up.

17 ‘I will set My face against you so that you will be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee when no one is pursuing you.

18 ‘If also after these things you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.

19 ‘I will also break down your pride of power; I will also make your sky like iron and your earth like bronze.

20 ‘Your strength will be spent uselessly, for your land will not yield its produce and the trees of the land will not yield their fruit.

21 ‘If then, you act with hostility against Me and are unwilling to obey Me, I will increase the plague on you seven times according to your sins.

22 ‘I will let loose among you the beasts of the field, which will bereave you of your children and destroy your cattle and reduce your number so that your roads lie deserted.

23 ‘And if by these things you are not turned to Me, but act with hostility against Me,

24 then I will act with hostility against you; and I, even I, will strike you seven times for your sins.

25 ‘I will also bring upon you a sword which will execute vengeance for the covenant; and when you gather together into your cities, I will send pestilence among you, so that you shall be delivered into enemy hands.

26 ‘When I break your staff of bread, ten women will bake your bread in one oven, and they will bring back your bread in rationed amounts, so that you will eat and not be satisfied.

27 ‘Yet if in spite of this you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me,

28 then I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins.

29 ‘Further, you will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters you will eat.

30 ‘I then will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and heap your remains on the remains of your idols, for My soul shall abhor you.

31 ‘I will lay waste your cities as well and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your soothing aromas.

32 ‘I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled over it.

33 ‘You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste.

34 ‘Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths.

35 ‘All the days of its desolation it will observe the rest which it did not observe on your sabbaths, while you were living on it.

36 ‘As for those of you who may be left, I will also bring weakness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. And the sound of a driven leaf will chase them, and even when no one is pursuing they will flee as though from the sword, and they will fall.

37 ‘They will therefore stumble over each other as if running from the sword, although no one is pursuing; and you will have no strength to stand up before your enemies.

38 ‘But you will perish among the nations, and your enemies’ land will consume you.


The natural results of a people forsaking God and His ways are the loss of freedom (personal and national), fruitfulness (health, productivity, wealth), and safety (crime, war, fear).  The more we run after the idols of the World, the more control we try and take of our lives, the more we try and be a god to ourselves, the more bondage we enter into, the more life feels like water running through our fingers, the less like God we actually become.  Cultural drift sets in and we lose our sacred memory as a people.  Memories of God’s providence and intervention become wiped away from our social and political conscience.  Our families, with a sort of quaint fondness, sort of remember the authentic life changing faith of a grandparent or an uncle, but for the most part generations go by with entire families seeking sex and money as a means to personal satisfaction, intimacy, and safety. Like a wife with amnesia, the people of God collectively forget their wedding day.


32 “Can a virgin forget her ornaments, Or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me Days without number.


Times of family celebration, like Christmas become a time when we display who can buy the biggest gift for whom? or Whose house is large enough and grand enough to host our family Christmas events.  For some times like Christmas become a time for depression and emptiness, a grand reminder of the failures in our life.  The sons and daughters we lost to the world because we led them to pursue it.  A time that reminds us of our first marriage that went down in flames because we couldn’t control our lust, or our greed.  Either scenario, one filled with pride, or one filled with shame (most frankly are mixed with both), is evidence of the bondage and loss of control that idolatry brings into our lives.  We become in God’s eyes like


24 A wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness, That sniffs the wind in her passion. In the time of her heat who can turn her away? All who seek her will not become weary; In her month they will find her.

25 “Keep your feet from being unshod And your throat from thirst; But you said, ‘It is hopeless! No! For I have loved strangers, And after them I will walk.’


Life becomes a frantic pursuit of pleasure, fulfillment, and love of any kind because the idols of the world ring so hollow and bring so much destruction.  This generational drift only occurs in people who were once followers of God.  I wish I were writing about another group of people but I’m not.  The judgments of Leviticus 26 were what would happen to God’s people if they pursued the idols of the land.  Jeremiah’s ministry comes in a time when the church (ie. The Temple) had been cleansed and set right by Josiah, and in Josiah’s heart it was all very real repentance.  But Judah was a white-washed tomb, attending church on Sunday and watching porn in the evening through the week, after a 16 hour day on the trading floor pursuing freedom, fruitfulness, and safety.  In short the people of God became a people that talked a lot about Him but didn’t know Him at all.  So what is the course we need to set for ourselves according to God in Jeremiah 2?


First things first go back to the beginning and ask the question, “Where is the Lord?”, “What happened to our Fountain of Living Waters?”  For them it meant looking back on their salvation and deliverance from Egypt and remembering what the Lord had done for them, and promised to do for them in their Law, in simple terms, to trust and obey the Lord.  For us, it is to look back to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ and to remember how He through His death delivered us from idols to serve the living God.  How Jesus set us free, ending the Law of sin and death for us, severing the bonds that tied us to the ways of the world, a world we are by faith now dead to, one that no longer exists as a tyrant over our hearts and minds.  Jesus and the grace that He has brought to us is” training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12).  Jesus through His example in life, His self-less death, His overcoming resurrection, and His heavenly ascension, trains us to live not by sight, and not according to this worlds passions, but according to a heavenly vision and a passion for holiness.  His promised return after having made a way and a place for us to be with the father gives us our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:13,14)


         Jeremiah’s begging of us to ask “where is the Lord?” is tantamount to a call to return to the Gospel.  The cross of Christ is for us is our cloud by day and fire by night.  Through it we made the heavenly journey leaving this world while still walking in it.  It is the cross of Christ that parts our Jordan so that we can go through to God untouched by the rushing flood waters of the world and sin.  And it is the way of the cross we are called to live.  In Jeremiah’s day they had left God and His ways, in our day we hope to call on Christ for salvation but live by the rules of the world in every other area.  It is to the cross we must fly, as the puritans used to say, and it is at the cross we must stay.  Like Paul we must die daily. Die to a desire for money and possessions.  Die to a desire for sexual immorality and experiences of pleasure.  We must die to the world and all it’s idols and all it’s ways.

Where ever the Gospel finds a place of acceptance, there is and must always be death to the world and the world’s habits and ways in our hearts and lives.  This is what we will call, Gospel-Subtraction.  The Gospel calls us to examine our hearts and our lives and begin to lay things on the cross to be executed.  To live the life that Jesus calls us to, that Jesus died to make available to us, that Jesus sent His Spirit into our hearts to give us the power to live, we must pursue with a rigorous intentionality the laying aside of every weight that hinders us.


Where is the Lord?  Where would Jesus be?


Would Jesus watch 6 hours of college football on Saturday and 4 hours on Sunday?


Would Jesus have a 2- 500.00 car payments, 10,000 in credit card debt, and a secret email account to a porn site?


Would Jesus live in a house with 3 times more space than is needed for His family?


Would Jesus know His neighbors?


Would Jesus be engaged with the poor, broken, and destitute?


Would Jesus choose His worship community for the rock band and all the cool trendy art over 30 minutes from His house?


Would Jesus play 3 rounds of golf every week and then complain how He never had time to pray?


Would Jesus know His children’s friends?


Would Jesus know His wife’s struggles and pain?


Would Jesus read the scriptures with His wife and children?


Would Jesus pray with His wife and children?


What do you need to subtract to obey the Gospel?  What do you need to subtract from your life in order to stop giving an intellectual head nod and start believing and imitating the Lord Jesus Christ.


Where is the Lord?  Where is the Fountain of Living Waters?  If we are to become the disciples that we are called to become, we must stop our pursuit of freedom, fruitfulness, and safety just as Judah was called to do.  The world’s idols and ways cannot be ours.  We must return to the Gospel, for it is there we are sure to find God and His ways.  God and the Gospel of His Son are all we need.  There we will find everything for life and godliness.

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