It’s not Jonah surviving an encounter with a giant fish.
It’s not God parting the Red Sea.
It’s not Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
|Even St. Jerome can't believe it. (dbking, CC)|
No, the most unbelievable story in the Bible is a less well-known one.
Here's the Unbelievable Part
I’m not sure if you’ve ever read through the book of Jeremiah, but it’s exhausting.
Jeremiah spends breath after precious breath chapter after chapter trying to get Judah to realize that God’s for real, that Jerusalem will be sacked by Babylon, and they will be sacked hard. The presence of the temple will not save them. It will be bloody. It will be ugly.
Of course you know that they don’t listen. False prophets tell the people just what they want to hear: God will cause Babylon to stumble, and Judah will be safe.
The Babylonians come hard and fast slaughtering the people of Judah and carrying off others. Some though remain; Nebuchadnezzar leaves behind the poor and appoints a governor, Gedaliah, over them (2 Kings 25:22). When Gedaliah gets assassinated, the remnant freak out and make plans to flee to Egypt. They ask Jeremiah for God’s blessing to leave.
They don’t get it:
If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down. . . Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. . . If you are determined to go to Egypt and you do go to settle there, then the sword you fear will overtake you there, and the famine you dread will follow you into Egypt, and there you will die.
Jeremiah 42:10a, 11, 15b-16
Now here’s the unbelievable part. These people, this remnant, have just watched every single word of Jeremiah come true. They’ve seen Jerusalem sacked. Yet after witnessing the massacre, after screams of agony curdled their blood, after bitter smoke from the burning city filled their nostrils, still they do not believe the prophet. Listen to how they respond:
You are lying! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to settle there.’ But Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Babylonians, so they may kill us or carry us into exile to Babylon.
I know they were scared out of their sandals. I would have been too. But you would think at this point that they’d be way more scared of God than of men.
Nevertheless they go.
The Only Thing Worse Than Suffering
When times get rough, and they will get rough, you must trust in the LORD. What alternative is there? GK Chesterton said it best:
When belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from Him. But in heaven’s name to what?
When God tells us to do difficult things like stay in Jerusalem when we really want to go to Egypt, or to leave when we really want to stay, our tendency is to respond just like the remnant of Judah did and do whatever we want.
But as bad or as scary as doing what God asks of us seems, disobeying God is far worse. Doing so will only result in bad things, things far worse than we imagined we would avoid by not doing what He asked in the first place.
Think of the irony: the remnant fled because they thought they would be killed like Gedaliah. But in disobeying God and fleeing to Egypt, the very thing they were trying to avoid—destruction—came to pass.
God wants what’s best for you; you gotta believe that.
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