The year was about 586 B. C. Jerusalem had been taken, the walls torn down, the temple destroyed, the people taken captive and deported. Because of Judah’s unfaithfulness to the covenant, Yahweh had given them into the hands of the Babylonians.
Jeremiah, the prophet of Yahweh, had been allowed to stay in the land. Johanan and those remaining wanted a word from the LORD. An encouraging sign after the apostasy of the people. So they approach Jeremiah and request that he pray for them and ask Yahweh for direction, that He may “show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do” (Jer. 42:3).
Jeremiah agreed to seek a word from the LORD, to which they gave this pledge:
Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the LORD your God sends you to us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God” (Jeremiah 42:5–6).
So far, so good. They promised unflinching obedience to Yahweh, whether they liked what He said or not.
Ten days passed. The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah. God was straightforward: stay in the land; do not seek refuge in Egypt; He would take care of them.
Jeremiah took this word to Johanan and the others. Their response? They called Jeremiah a liar and adamantly refused to obey God. They had their heart set on their own design.
We shake our heads at such insolence—until we look in the mirror. We resolve to obey God. Maybe even with full conviction and heartfelt intention at the time. We promise to follow Jesus, much like Peter’s pledge that he would never desert Jesus.
But then comes crunch time, where the rubber meets the road. A way of our own desire diverges from the way laid out by our Lord. A decision stands before us.
As a pastor, I see a tendency in my flock and myself. We are happy to submit—until we don’t want to.
I’ve seen people justify divorce, cohabitation, homosexuality, and all sorts of deviations from God’s revealed will. The way of the departure follows a common pattern. They start from a posture of submission to God’s Word, and defend their position/actions from that ground. They search the Scripture, often resorting to decontextualized proof texts. That failing, they try to make the text say something it does not, appealing to some authority that supports their position. When backed against the wall by sound hermeneutics, they will assert, “That’s your interpretation.”
When all is lost for a biblical defense of their position, the inevitable happens. Either they will not submit, as in the case of Johanan, or they will no longer accept the authority of Scripture. Two routes to the same result—their will over God’s revealed will.
Submitting to the authority of God’s Word means to set aside our own will and way in deference to the One we claim as our God. Usually there is a price to pay, something we sacrifice. We don’t get what we want or would prefer. But God is honored and trusted.
Our model is the Son of Man Himself, Jesus Christ. His food was to do the will of Him who sent Him. In the shadow of the cross, He pleaded with the Father for another way. His governing principle, “not My will but Your will be done.”
Most of us are willing to submit, until we don’t want to. May God give us grace to hear His Word and put it into practice, doing what He wants us to do. In the model of our Lord, may that principle govern our will, our walk and our prayer.