Jeremiah was appointed to investigate the characteristics and makeup of a substance so as to determine its current condition against an objective standard. What did the prophet discover concerning spirituality in Judah? He discovered that “all are stubborn rebels spreading slander. They are bronze and iron; all of them are corrupt” (Jer 6:28). There was no true spirituality among the people.
Jeremiah proclaimed that Judah had chosen wood and stone over the One who had delivered them from Egypt and given them an inheritance in Canaan (Jer 2:4-13; Deut 4:1-8; Isa 5:1-7). If God did not react in wrath, He would forsake the glory of His goodness—which Judah could have enjoyed if they had turned from their evil ways. The prophet thus announced, “‘If you return Israel,’ this is the LORD’s declaration, ‘if you return to Me, if you remove your detestable idols from My presence and do not waver, if you swear, as the LORD lives, in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then the nations will be blessed by Him and will pride themselves in Him’” (Jer 4:1-2). Instead of turning and repenting, Judah chose the path of Israel (Jer 3:6-11) and was promised that she would receive the same reward. In Jeremiah 4, the prophet warned the people of Judah that they would be invaded from the north. The Lord promised to take revenge against Judah because of her idolatry (Jeremiah 5-6).
The people of Judah thought themselves spiritual. After all, they had the covenant and the law and lived in the Promised Land. The superficial security Judah enjoyed made Jeremiah’s task all the more difficult. He was commissioned to confront Judah’s hard heartedness, “to uproot and tear down, to destroy and demolish, to build and to plant” (Jer 1:10). Jeremiah’s messages regarding spiritual sensitivity are informative for the storyline of Scripture.
(1) True spirituality begins in the heart and is wrought by the Holy Spirit. In Jer 4:4, Jeremiah preached, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, men of Judah and residents of Jerusalem. Otherwise, My wrath will break out like a fire and burn with no one to extinguish it because of your evil deeds.” Since the days of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 17), circumcision of the male foreskin had been a marker of those who wished to live by faith in the Lord. But generations later Israel was yet uncircumcised of heart, as Moses had said (Deut 10:16; 30:6). God sent His Spirit to effect an inner change in Jews and Gentiles alike. When Peter returned to Jerusalem following his time in Joppa and at the home of Cornelius, he reported that the Holy Spirit had come upon Gentiles just as Jews (Acts 11:17). Paul argued that the people of God are not marked by circumcision but by the presence of the Spirit (Rom 2:28-29; Gal 3:1-5; 5:1-12; Col 2:11). According to Paul, since circumcision of the flesh was to mark descendants of Abraham but not followers of Christ, it was no longer required for the people of God. “For we are the circumcision,” Paul wrote to the Philippians, “the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3).
(2) True spirituality is evidenced by understanding spiritual truth. In Jer 5:21, the prophet condemned Judah as a foolish and senseless people: “They have eyes, but they don’t see. They have ears, but they don’t hear,” he said. Jesus denounced the same spiritual dullness of the crowds that followed Him. When Jesus’ disciples asked the Lord why He so often spoke in parables, He replied that figurative teaching ensured success. The precious kingdom truths He was scattering would be received only by those fit to understand the scope of what was taking place in His entrance into the world (Matt 13:10-17//Mark 4:10-12//Luke 8:9-10). The disciples at times lacked understanding and Jesus confronted them as well. After Jesus fed the 4,000 (Matt 15:32-39//Mark 8:1-10), the Pharisees asked Jesus to show them a sign from heaven (Matt 16:1-4//Mark 8:11-13). Departing, Jesus instructed His disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod (Matt 16:5-12//Mark 8:14-21). Jesus figuratively compared the here-and-now paradigm of the Pharisees and Herod with leaven that can pervade and affect a whole lump of dough. The disciples, dull to Jesus’ point, began to be concerned that they had forgotten to bring bread with them on the journey. Jesus had just fed more than 4,000 people; He wanted His followers to be more concerned about ideas than food.