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The Promising Land vs. The Promise Land

Jeremiah  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  25:39
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Like all idols, the personal peace and prosperity that this world offers is an illusion. Like a desert mirage, the things we hope will satisfy the longs of our soul disappear when we arrive. Unlike the promises of this world, God's promises are sure and certain.

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Introduction:

Our scripture lesson this morning is taken from Jeremiah 42:7-17. As you are turning to this text, let me set for you the background and context.
The Babylonians have captured Jerusalem and hauled off into captivity king Zedekiah and the leading citizens of the land. Only the poorest people of the land remain. The Babylonians appoint Gedaliah as governor. However, resistance to the Babylonians has not ended and Gedaliah is murdered, along with the Babylonian garrison. Jeremiah and the other survivors are taken captive by the rebels who flee to the Ammonites. However, Johanan overtakes the rebels and frees Jeremiah and the other captives. In light of the failed coup, Johanan and the other leaders want to flee to Egypt, but first they ask Jeremiah to seek the Lord's will. This brings us to our text:
Jeremiah 42:7–17 ESV

At the end of ten days the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah. Then he summoned Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces who were with him, and all the people from the least to the greatest, and said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before him: If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the LORD, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land. But if you say, ‘We will not remain in this land,’ disobeying the voice of the LORD your God and saying, ‘No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there,’ then hear the word of the LORD, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die. All the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to live there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. They shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I will bring upon them.

In our post-Enlightenment, secular society most Americans would be surprised to learn that they are idolators. They would be surprised because they are not religious in the sense that past generations were. Today, even those who claim to believe in God live as if he hardly exists. Will past generations saw the hand of God (or gods) behind everything that happened, however, our generation sees the impersonal hand of nature or chance. Even professing Christians live their daily lives as if they were practical atheists.
This is why the "Egypt theology" of Jeremiah is so important. In the book of Jeremiah, the land of Egypt serves as a type or symbol of idolatry. Egypt was an idol, not of an unseen god, but of the everyday world we live in. Remember what Francis Schaeffer identified as the god of our age?
The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer Chapter Eleven: Our Society

As the more Christian-dominated consensus weakened, the majority of people adopted two impoverished values: personal peace and affluence.

This of course is what the fertility gods and goddess of Canaan offered, but this is also what the land of Egypt offered. Egypt in the eyes of the average Israelite looked so promising:

Egypt Looks So Promising

While other nations rose and fell--Egypt remained. Egypt was unique in the ancient world, surrounded by either ocean or deserts, Egypt was very difficult to attack. This security alone is enough to explain Egypt's longevity, but there was more--Egypt was an oasis of fertility in a desert of famine. The Nile river made Egypt the bread basket of the world. In the stories of the Patriarchs, when famine struck it was to Egypt that they turned. This fertility in turn created great wealth, which the Pharaohs of Egypt used to create large and powerful armies.
It is not surprising then, that when the tiny band of Jewish survivors in our text felt insecure, it was to Egypt that they turned. God knew what they where thinking and in his prophetic message through Jeremiah includes this observation:
Jeremiah 42:13–14 ESV

But if you say, ‘We will not remain in this land,’ disobeying the voice of the LORD your God and saying, ‘No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there,’

Just like people today, the people in our text were not only looking to religious idols, but secular, materialistic idols as well. Egypt for them was just one more idol they were placing on the fireplace mantle.
But like all idols, the personal peace and prosperity that Egypt offered was an illusion. As they turned their eyes towards Egypt it was not an a desert oasis they saw, it was a desert mirage!

The Promises of Egypt are a Desert Mirage

I remember as a child growing up in West Texas being fascinated by mirages. We would be driving through the arid wastes of the high plains of Texas to see my mother's family and ahead of the car was a large pool of water on the road, but every time we arrived at the place the pool should be it was gone, only to be replaced by another one farther down the road!
This is what idolatry is like. It looks so promising, but when you arrive there it is gone, only to be replaced by new promises farther down the road. All thing things the world is offering you will not satisfy your deepest longings--the promises of wealth, success, and fame will all vanish when we obtain them and be replaces by new false promises farther down the road of life. Saint Augustine famously observed:
"You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you."
God warned the surviving band of Jews that if they went to Egypt, what they would find there was not what they were looking for.
Jeremiah 42:15–17 ESV

then hear the word of the LORD, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die. All the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to live there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. They shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I will bring upon them.

In contrast to the false promises of Egypt, the promises of God are sure.

The Promises of God are Sure

By the standards of human reason the promises of God appear improbable at best. Just hear the message the God gave Jeremiah to give to the survivors:
Jeremiah 42:9–12 ESV

and said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before him: If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the LORD, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land.

"Do not fear the king of Babylon," are you kidding! Jewish rebels have just killed the governor and his Babylonian body guard! After what the king of Babylon had done to the rebellious king Zedekiah, they were to expect mercy from the king of Babylon? Is it any wonder that they accused Jeremiah of being a false prophet:
Jeremiah 43:2–3 ESV

Azariah the son of Hoshaiah and Johanan the son of Kareah and all the insolent men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The LORD our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.”

According to the standards of human reason this was a totally reasonable conclusion, but it is not human reason that produced these promises but divine reason! God knows what is in his heart toward his people--love and mercy! God knows what he can do--anything!
God promises his people the impossible because his love and his power are incomprehensible! This is why Paul when writing about eternal life and the resurrection of the body says:
2 Corinthians 5:6–7 ESV

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.

Conclusion:

There is only one land where we will find the security and abundance our hearts long for the Promise Land of God, not the Promising Land of the Egypts of this world. God himself is the richest treasure. The book of Revelation closes with this beautiful picture:
Revelation 21:1–4 ESV

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Let us sing of our hope in this great and wonderful promise by standing and singing Hymn #552 "On Jordan's Stormy Banks".
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