Jeremiah said to all the people and all the women, “Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who are in the land of Egypt. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: You and your wives have declared with your mouths, and have fulfilled it with your hands, saying, ‘We will surely perform our vows that we have made, to make offerings to the queen of heaven and to pour out drink offerings to her.’ Then confirm your vows and perform your vows! Therefore hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who dwell in the land of Egypt: Behold, I have sworn by my great name, says the Lord, that my name shall no more be invoked by the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, ‘As the Lord God lives.’ Behold, I am watching over them for disaster and not for good. All the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there is an end of them. And those who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah, few in number; and all the remnant of Judah, who came to the land of Egypt to live, shall know whose word will stand, mine or theirs.” Jeremiah 44:24-28 ESV
A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:6-8 ESV
In 1784 a Frenchman named Jacques-Louis David painted a picture called, “The Oath of the Horatii.” This painting is set in ancient Rome, and it shows a father holding up three swords to his three sons. The three sons are raising their right arms to take an oath that they will do their duty to the family and the State, even if they have to die in doing that duty. The three young men are grim and determined, but off to the side of the picture are some women, wives or sisters of the three brothers. They are pictures of tragedy and sadness, because they know how much the men’s oath will cost their family. One of them is a wife who came from the enemy family, the Curatii, and another one is a sister who is engaged to the enemy family. They can see nothing but grief to come.
When Jeremiah warned his people in Egypt of the coming judgment of God, he also talked about solemn oaths. The people had taken a vow that they would serve the queen of heaven and pour out offerings to her, and they were determined to keep that vow, even though it was going to give them only sadness and death and trouble. God gave his word through Jeremiah that he would judge them for their rebellion. The Lord swore by his own great name that they would almost all die in war or in famine, until only a very small number of them would be left. That small group would straggle back to the land of Judah, and they would know that the promises and the word of the Lord would stand, but not their own weak vows.
The word of the Lord will always stand, and that is both bad news and good news for us. It’s bad news because God promises that he will judge sin, and we are all sinners who deserve his anger and judgment. But God also has a word of mercy that he gives us through Jesus. The Lord’s judgment for sin was all poured out on Jesus at the cross, and everyone who believes in Jesus has God’s love and forgiveness. God’s mercy for us is guaranteed by his promise that nothing in all the universe can separate us from his love, and we can count on that word, now and always.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your word of mercy to us. Help us to trust in that word for now and always. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Cumming, Robert Annotated Art London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1995, pp. 70-71.