24 March 2011

Jeremiah 17:5-10

"They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit." (v. 8)


One of the best known protest songs "We shall overcome" comes from verse 8. Trees by the water don't have to fear the drought. The song used the image to affirm that even if the task of confronting what they thought to be wrong was to be long and hard, the strength of the protesters came from an inner source that affirmed that in the end they would win.

In this passage Jeremiah is saying that the inner strength comes from God, and the Christian can read this passage as an encouragement to stay the course. The evil person in the end doesn't have the strength that God's people have - for they can only draw upon their own strength and in hard times that will fail. In trusting in God, we cannot expect that God will give us an easy time (often it will be hard) but the hard times will be matched by the nourishment and strength that God gives. The prophet says "Trust in the Lord" (verse 7).

Jeremiah uses lots of different images in his prophecies, and this chapter is typical. Each of them illustrates his general message that there is a choice for the people - they can follow God's way or their own, but if they decide that it's their own they'll follow then there are consequences. Verse 10 prevents the reader from thinking that they 'can get away with it', and that God won't really notice. Jeremiah says in effect - don't fool yourself, God knows even the inner most thoughts.

It's a message that every generation needs to hear, and we no less than others. Christian faith is not primarily about 'pie in the sky when you die' - the way we chose to live our lives effects what we experience in life. If we only care for ourselves our relationships will be quite different than if we learn to care for others. Do you choose God's way or your own?

To Ponder

This passage can be understood either as addressed to individuals or to society as a whole. How do we affect the choices our society make? How can Christians effectively influence society?

When you feel overwhelmed by the struggle to live out a Christian life, how do you draw upon the strength of God?

Bible notes author

The Revd John Howard

John Howard is a minister in the Methodist Church, at present serving as the chair of the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District. He is married to Mary with three adult children, and has just become a grandfather for the first time.