TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 47-48
“Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with slackness, and cursed is he who keeps back his sword from bloodshed.” – Jeremiah 48:10
“See! Right there! God says he is going to use the sword. He doesn’t keep it back from bloodshed. And, those who do are cursed. When Jesus comes back, he is going to wield God’s sword to shed blood, otherwise he will be cursed.”
This may have been what the Jews believed since they were looking for a messiah that would be a great warrior to reestablish the kingdom and the throne of David through military victory.
And, this seems to be what many Christians (at least American Christians) believe. Jesus may have died on the cross, but he’s coming with a sword to kill all those who don’t believe in him.
Granted, in Jeremiah 47 and 48, God seems to be depicted as destroying the Philistines and Moab. God seems to be bringing his sword to destroy these people and shed their blood everywhere.
But, is that what God really does?
Does God curse people?
Is Jesus coming back with a sword to shed the blood of those who don’t believe in him?
No. No. And, no.
Let’s look at Jeremiah 48:10 and see what it is really saying in the light of Jesus.
THE WORK OF THE LORD
The “work of the Lord” is perhaps the key phrase in the verse.
The first time we read about “the work of the Lord” is Exodus 34:10. God says to Moses that Israel will see his work in regard to the covenant he is making with them. “The work of the Lord” here is related to the establishing of a people. And, God does this first by bringing them out, delivering them from their bondage.
The second time we read about “the work of the Lord” is in Deuteronomy 11:7. This is clearly a reference to the exodus of Israel from Egypt as the previous verses recount all the ways God worked to bring Israel out of Egypt.
In Psalm 28, “the work of the Lord” is contrasted with the work of the evil and the wicked. The wicked and evil oppress, enslave, destroy, and war. So, clearly “the work of the Lord” is the opposite of these things.
Psalm 46:8-11 says, “Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
The psalmist tells us to look at the work of the Lord and see how it brings desolation on the earth. Now, notice what the work of the Lord does. It makes wars cease. It breaks and burns the instruments of war. The desolation the work of the Lord brings comes not from war but from ending war.
How does God end war?
Jesus Christ crucified. God ends war not by killing but by dying. For, we are told to be still and know who God is. God says he will be exalted among the nations and in the earth. This is a clear reference to Jesus being obedient to death, even death on the cross, at which point God exalted him (Philippians 2).
Psalm 111:2 says, “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” The rest of the psalm goes on to say that the work of the Lord is righteousness enduring forever, gracious and merciful, providing food for those who fear him, giving the inheritance of the nations, faithful and just, established forever and ever, and performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
Jeremiah 51:10 associates the work of the Lord with the vindication, the victory, God has brought about for us.
So, in the Old Testament, the work is Lord brings an end to our slavery to sin through an exodus, brings an end to death through Jesus’ death on the cross, and brings a victory over Satan that ends war.
The New Testament records Jesus doing exactly those three things.
1 John 3:8 says, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
Revelation 20:10 says, “And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Interestingly, even though different Hebrew words for work are used, the phrase “the work of the Lord” is found eight times in the Old Testament. Eight is the number of new creation. So, the work of the Lord brings about a new creation. As the gospel of John starts “In the beginning,” John is telling us the story of Jesus, the son of God, who brings about a new creation.
We find “the work of the Lord” twice in the New Testament, both in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul tells us that we should be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” In the previous verse, Paul ties our “work of the Lord” to the victory we received from God through Jesus; defeat of death and sin. Then, in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says that Timothy is doing the work of the Lord, which we know is Timothy preaching the gospel.
Therefore, in total the phrase “the work of the Lord” is found 10 times in the Bible. Ten is the number of orderly perfection. Orderly perfection is nothing other than righteousness. The work of the Lord is nothing other than bringing righteousness to creation, or making creation right according to its very good status when God first created it.
The work of the Lord is not to be done with slackness. The Hebrew word translated slackness means treacherous; slack, loose; slackly, negligently; slackness, indolence; fraud, deception. Slackness means lacking in completeness, finish, or perfection.
So, the one who goes about doing the work of the Lord in this manner is cursed. Galatians 3:7, 10 says, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham…For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.” To do the work of the properly requires that it be done by faith. If one relies on the works of the law, then he is cursed because he has gone about completing the work of the Lord in the wrong way.
Of course, all man knows to do is attempt to complete the work of the Lord by relying on the law.
But, Jesus completed the work of the Lord the way that God wanted it completed.
First, Jesus only does what he sees God doing. In John 5:19, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” Second, Jesus only did the will of the Father. In Luke 22:42, the night before Jesus was crucified, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”
Jesus knew there was only one way to do the work of the Lord and that was the cross. He did not back down from that work. To do so would have been to do the work of the Lord with slackness. Jesus would not have complete the work of the Lord.
But, Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to complete at the day of Jesus Christ.” Jesus is faithful to complete the work of new creation he started in us. This idea is all over the New Testament, particular in Romans 8, 2 Corinthians 5, and Hebrews 12.
In Jeremiah 48:10, it seems that God is cursing the one who does the work of the Lord with slackness.
But, does God curse anyone?
Not if we listen to what Jesus says.
In Luke 6:27-28, 35-36, Jesus said, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Jesus tells us to bless and not curse in order that we can be sons of the Most High. We are to bless and not curse because this is this nature and character of the Father. He blesses and does not curse.
James 3:8-10 says, “But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”
From our mouths come blessing and cursing. But, this shouldn’t be the case. It shouldn’t be the case because only blessing comes out of God’s mouth and we are to be like him.
So, why does Jeremiah say that the one who does the work of the Lord with slackness is cursed?
Recall that Galatians 3:10 says that all who rely on the works of the Lord for salvation are under a curse. All mankind has relied on the works of some sort of law, whether the law of Moses or those who by nature do what the law requires, for salvation. Therefore, all mankind is cursed, not by God, but by his own slavery to sin, death, and Satan that prevents from them from coming to God.
But, Galatians 3:11-13 says, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather, “the one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
God did not curse us. He became a curse for us to free us from the curse we were under.
How did this happen?
Jesus, who knew no sin, was made sin for us. Jesus bore our sin in his body while he hung on the cross. As we beat him and crucified him, Jesus bore our sin. He became a curse as we cursed him with our evil and wickedness, with our attempt to reach God through our own work.
So, in the first half of Jeremiah 45:10 it looks like God is doing the cursing, Jesus reveals that is just the opposite. God is not cursing anyone. Rather we cursed Jesus. But, through his willingness to be cursed by us, he redeemed us from the curse of the law.
And, we something very similar happening in the second half of Jeremiah 48:10.
“Cursed is he who keeps his sword from bloodshed.”
It seems that God is saying that we should use our swords, literal, physical swords, to shed blood and bring about his kingdom. Otherwise, we are cursed. There are many that read this passage just that way.
But, we just saw how Jesus transforms the first half of Jeremiah 48:10. And, in the light of Jesus, the second half of Jeremiah 48:10 is transformed as well.
Ephesians 6:17 tells us that “the sword of the Spirit…is the word of God.” And, the word of God is Jesus. We see that in John 1:1-2, which says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”
So, in the second half of Jeremiah 48:10, we should see the sword as Jesus.
The sword is not to be kept from bloodshed. But, this does not mean that God is going to wield Jesus to shed the blood of his enemies. Instead, God’s sword, Jesus, has his own blood shed.
We never see Jesus in the gospels shedding blood. But, we do see Jesus’ blood shed by our evil and wicked ways.
God not keep Jesus, his sword, from having his own blood shed because it would have gone against his very nature.
God is love. And, we know what his love is like because Jesus laid down his life on the cross. We know what God’s love is like because Jesus shed his blood to redeem us. This is God’s very nature, his very being.
And that brings us back to the one who is cursed again.
If God had kept Jesus, his sword, from having his own blood shed, then God would have gone against his very nature. But, to go against God’s nature is to be cursed.
If Jesus, the sword of God, had refused to drink the cup before him, if he had refused to go the cross and have his own blood shed, then he would have gone against the will, the very nature and being, of God. Jesus would have been cursed by keeping back from the cross instead of becoming a curse for us by bearing our sin, our curse, on the cross.
This one scripture shows that we should never apply the Old Testament to understand God’s character. Instead, we need to apply God’s character to discern the truth of the Old Testament.
This can only be done through the crucified Christ who tears the veil over the Old Testament and shines his light upon it.