responsibility

Judges 14, Jeremiah 27

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 14 and Jeremiah 27.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 27.

God commanded his prophets do some strange things at times. These strange things had a point to them which was to deliver truth in vivid, memorable ways. Here in Jeremiah 27, the prophet is commanded to take the yoke that oxen would wear and put it on his own neck. (v. 2). People used these yokes to get animals to submit to them and plow their fields. The yoke, then, is a symbol of submission. God told the prophet to use this visual aid to teach people that they should just go ahead and submit to Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. It would be easier for everyone and cost many fewer human lives (v. 8) than trying to defeat Nebuchadnezzar outside the will of God (vv. 5-7).

This visual aid is unusual but so was the audience for Jeremiah’s prophecy. God told him to spread this message to “the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah” (v. 3). Most of the time God’s prophets were sent to his people, Israel and Judah. This time God sent his word from the prophet to several nations. That wasn’t unheard of but it was unusual.

The kings of these pagan lands had their own gods so I wonder if they would think it strange that the God of Israel would try to tell them what to do. God anticipated that objection and affirmed his Sovereign right because he is the Creator: “With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please” (v. 5).

Other nations have their gods but their gods are fake. Only Israel’s God--our God--is the true God and because he created everything, he has the right to rule everyone and require everyone’s obedience. Keep this in mind when unbelievers tell you that they have their own religion or that they don’t believe the Bible so it is not important what the Bible says. These are attempts to evade their accountability to God but because God is Creator, they are accountable to him. Indeed, everyone on earth will stand before God and answer to him whether they submitted to his word or not.

Every person who ever lived is responsible to obey God’s word. Unbelievers are not off the hook because of their unbelief; to the contrary, their unbelief is one of many ways in which they live in rebellion to the true God. Unbelievers are responsible to obey God but they are not capable of obeying him. Neither are we. This is why we needed Christ to come into the world. He obeyed God for us (we call this his “active obedience”) and to die for our sins (this is his “passive obedience”). Unbelievers don’t get out of accountability by denying God or his word; they avoid God’s judgment by receiving his grace.

Leviticus 4, Psalm 1–2, Proverbs 19, Colossians 2

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 4, Psalm 1–2, Proverbs 19, Colossians 2. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Proverbs 19.

From the first sin of Adam and Eve onward people have looked to evade full responsibility for our sins. Even when we take some of the blame or “full responsibility” as people so often say these days, we usually have some kind of excuse or point to some mitigating circumstance or reference some other person who was involved. From the person who says “I fell in with the wrong crowd” to the person who says, “If you wouldn’t have done what you did  I wouldn’t have done what I did,” we all have an instinct to explain away our behavior or justify our sin. 

It is true that the wrong crowd is dangerous to hang out with (see today’s reading in Psalm 1:1-3) and that there are often other circumstances that lead us into temptation or make us susceptible to temptation. Our error is not that we are aware of these; our error is that we think they justify what we did or reduce our responsibility for what we did in some way. 

There are even times when we blame God for our sins. That’s what the writer of Proverbs is getting at when he wrote, “A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord” (v. 3). We sometimes blame God for our sins or our weakness for certain sins. Or, when the consequences of sin finally lead to a person’s “ruin,” we blame God for not stepping in to keep the worst from happening.

This is the polar opposite of true repentance. Remember that repentance is a change of mind. We are truly repentant when we understand and acknowledge that our sin IS sin and that we are fully responsible for the sins we commit. Yes, God could have prevented us from sinning or being tempted but the fact that he did not does not relieve us of responsibility. Yes, others may have led us into temptation. A desire to please our friends may have caused us to cave in and sin when we really didn’t want to, but these other factors do not change how offensive our sins are in the sight of God. One of God’s gracious gifts to us in salvation is the ability to see how offensive sin is against his holiness. As we grow in our knowledge of God, we should become more and more aware of how treacherous our hearts are and how dangerous sin is—both in its seductive power to tempt us and in its destructive power when it is fully mature (see James 1:15). Today’s proverb reminds us that the Lord is righteous and just; instead of blaming him for our sins or being angry at him when our sins cause destruction, we should turn to the Lord for mercy when we sin and for grace to avoid sin in the future.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.