GOD’S COMPLAINT AGAINST HIS PEOPLE

by Dr. Don Kistler

For us to understand God, He must speak to us in anthropomorphic terms. God does not have a body, so He does not have body parts. But when He speaks to us of anguish, He must explain it in a way that we can understand. So we have God crying out as if he were a human being: “O my soul. I am pained in my very heart.”

This could not have been the prophet Jeremiah speaking, for in verse 22 the text says: “For MY people have not known ME.” Jeremiah was not crying out that his people did not know him. Rather, God was crying out that His people were foolish, and the essence of their foolishness was that they did not know HIM!

It is also strongly stated in this passage that the source of their problems was just that: their ignorance of their God. It is much more graphic, and far less complimentary, in Isaiah 1:2–3: “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know; My people do not consider.”

In the Septuagint rendering of this passage, the word “Me” is added after the words “know” and “consider.” “Israel does not know Me. My people do not consider Me.”

Much is made of what happens in Acts, when Paul says that he saw the shrine to “the unknown God,” but it is to be feared that this passage describes many so-called Christian churches in our day, not just the heathen temple in Paul’s day!

In a recent “World” magazine article on the top 100 selling Christian books, only 4 of them were remotely about God, Christ, or salvation—and that is being extremely charitable in my assessment of them. You can hear God rephrasing His statement in Isaiah to evaluate the state of affairs today:

“My people know financial concepts; they know love languages; they know pop-psychology; they know how to express their ‘needs’ to each other; they know how to give hugs to women; they know how to deliver themselves from demons, how to loose themselves from oppression, how to take weight off, how to make decisions, how to bind Satan, how to claim this and that, how to cast out demons, and they know a thousand peripheral things… but they don’t know Me!”

We seem interested in the benefits, but not the Benefactor. We seem more interested in what God can do for us than what who He is in Himself. Jonathan Edwards once said, and quite accurately, “If we only love God for what He can do for us, we really only love ourselves.”

The amazing thing is that God has revealed so much of Himself to us, not only in His Word, but in His very creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” says the psalmist. But we study astronomy w/o seeing the wonder of the God who makes it all so amazing! God has revealed Himself in His Word over and over again. But we use it as a self-help manual rather than as a God-revealing book.

Don’t get me wrong. There is much in the Scripture that can help us, but the focus of Scripture is not us and our problems, but God and His glory! God revealed Himself in the OT in a myriad of ways. Now He reveals Himself in His Word. As the Puritans were wont to say, “The law of God is simply the character of God in transcript form.”

God reveals Himself and His character in His names. Each of His names reveals something of His character. His activity reveals something of His character. We are told: “He made known His ways to Moses, and His acts to the sons of Israel” (Psalm 103:7).

The narratives of Scripture tell us how God does things, and from that we can deduce much of His character. But we do not seem to be very interested in the character of God, just the “goodies” of God. And we ought not to be surprised that God notices this, as we saw in Isaiah and Jeremiah. After all, we are commanded to “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are commanded to love God with all of our mind.

The knowledge of God is so much as issue that God summarizes all of eternal life with these words: “For this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life is knowing God and Christ. It is knowing about them as much as it is knowing them. You wouldn’t give two cents for anyone who said they wanted a relationship with you, but weren’t interested in who you were! And neither does God, my friends.

Now compare the attitude of most of us today with that of the Apostle Paul, who declared, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” What a contrast, isn’t it? And yet it isn’t enough just to say that we want to know Jesus, for Jesus Himself stated that to know Him was to know the Father. The Spirit points us to God.

The prophet Hosea connects some of the dots for us when he says this on God’s behalf: “Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land” (Hosea 4:1)

There is no truth, and there is no mercy in the land. Why not? Because there is no knowledge of God in the land. These are inseparable items. Only to the degree that there is knowledge of God in the land will there be truth or mercy. In 6:6 God states that He is more interested in the knowledge of Himself than He is in burnt offerings.

The Apostle Peter said that grace and peace would be multiplied to us through the knowledge of God (2 Peter 1:2). In fact, he says that “everything that pertains to life and godliness comes through the true knowledge of Him who has called us” (2 Peter 1:3). That is quite an all-inclusive statement, wouldn’t you say?

Through the true knowledge of God, which presupposes that there is a false knowledge, comes “everything” that has anything to do with life (zoe, from which we get zoology) or godliness. Physical life and spiritual life all have the true knowledge of God as their source, and everything that has anything to do with either of those two things!

Is it any wonder then that God says in Jeremiah that His people are foolish for not knowing Him? And the Hebrew carries with it the idea that the people are not just silly, but that they are morally deficient; and then He adds that they have no understanding.

Calvin says that the word suggests that they were so foolish, so senseless and stupid, that they were destitute of all knowledge, like stones or brute animals, without a particle of a sound mind or rational knowledge remaining in them.

Does that mean they can’t tell black from white? No, but that they are totally ignorant of doing good, of doing that which is pleasing to God. He admits that they are wise to do evil, but to do good they do not know. The idea of foolish or stupid here also carries with it an obvious arrogance; they are not only foolish, they are not only ignorant, they are not only stupid, but they are arrogant in their ignorance, which calls to mind the words of Paul: “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools!”

My friends, look at all that God has done to reveal Himself, and how aggressively man has rejected that knowledge. In Romans, Paul tells us that God has put the knowledge of Himself within every man, so that all men are without excuse (1:20).

Paul says that God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen. He then explains that ignorance of God is a conscious choice that men have made. He says, “Though they knew God…”

And then Paul goes on to say, “They would not have God in their thoughts.” Now, before you can NOT have God in your thoughts, you must HAVE God in your thoughts, right? So atheism is a conscious choice on the part of wicked men to eliminate the knowledge of God from their consciousness. Atheism is not an intellectual thing, it’s a moral thing! Repeatedly God says, “They have rejected knowledge.”

We don’t know God because it’s not important to us to do so. It is far more important to us to know ourselves than to know God. But it is a conscious choice, and we all, every last one of us, is without excuse.

In Ephesians 4:17–18, Paul explains that sinners walk in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart, because they have given themselves to sin.

We are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. That is the indictment under which we all stand; that is our problem, and it is self-induced.

So what are we to do? We are to “press on to know the Lord.” We must confess the sin of self-imposed ignorance and turn from it. And we must now give ourselves to know not just facts about God, but the God of the facts. How does He think? How does He act? Why does He act that way? What does that tell me about His nature and character?

Teens, I dare say you know more about Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears than you do about God. Adults, I dare say you know more about your favorite sports hero, movie favorite, or singing group than you do about God.

“The ox knows his owner and the donkey knows his master, but My people do not know Me.” From this moment on, we must purposely and aggressively strive to rise above the status of oxen and donkeys in our knowledge. Let us be determined to know our God, for this is eternal life.

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