Jeremiah 17:5-8 – “This is what Yahweh says: Cursed is the person who trusts in mankind. He makes human flesh his strength, and his heart turns from Yahweh. He will be like a shrub in the desert; he cannot see when good comes but dwells in the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land where no one lives. The person who trusts in Yahweh, whose confidence indeed is Yahweh, is blessed. He will be like a tree planted by water: it sends its roots out toward a stream, it doesn’t fear when heat comes, and its foliage remains green. It will not worry in a year of drought or cease producing fruit.”
The Bible is all about contrasts: light and dark; summer and winter; good and evil. These contrasts serve to illustrate the characteristics of the created world and the balance of equity in God’s hand.
One of the most famous passages to illustrate this type of literary device is from the book of Ecclesiates:
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 – “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven: a time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to avoid embracing; a time to search and a time to count as lost; a time to keep and a time to throw away; a time to tear and a time to sew; a time to be silent and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.”
In the passage we are reviewing today in Jeremiah 17, the tribe of Judah is being accused by God of having become unfaithful to him and pursuing idolatry as opposed to remaining loyal and faithful to him. To illustrate their sinfulness, the prophet Jeremiah is inspired to provide them a series of contrasts:
- Trust in mankind – trust in Yahweh
- Curse – blessing
- Heart turned from Yahweh – confidence in Yahweh
- Desert shrub – well-watered tree
- Lack of vision – no anxiety
What I find interesting in this imagery is not only the contrasts, but the one constant: the drought or heat. Both the shrub in the wilderness and the tree near the water experience the heat of the drought conditions; however, only the tree planted by the water is described as having rich foliage and producing fruit.
Jeremiah had made his point well in chastising Judah for their idolatry and unfaithfulness. Yet, I think there are also some lessons we can take away from this word picture, as well.
We all experience droughts of adversity in this life, yet there is a real and qualitative difference between the shrub of the desert and the tree planted near the water. While trees can only sprout where the seeds have landed, as people we can choose where we “set down roots” of faith. Where we do so can result in a curse or a blessing; a heart of isolation on our own or a heart of confidence in God; a lack of vision or removal of anxiety. Trusting in our own limited understanding can result in short-sighted consequences, while trusting in the God of the universe can result in lasting confidence through adversity.
Left to our own devices, we may think all trees experience the same conditions; however, trusting in Yahweh helps clarify the contrasts between good and bad.
Yeshua confirms these contrasts are real and truly do exist; and yet, like Jeremiah, he also reassures his hearers of the blessing and provision afforded to the faithful.
Matthew 6:31-34 – “So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat? ‘ or ‘What will we drink? ‘ or ‘What will we wear? ‘ For the nations eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
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