Sorting Spiritual Voices

The bold progressives were venting their spleen at the old man. In their view Jerry, the target, was a peddler of the past. He had resisted their vision for a secure future: a vision that included moving to a new setting—to a lush and gated suburb of Cairo—and building a strong new faith.

As we pick up the story they had already made that trip and were ready to celebrate the arrival. The progressives were running the Dedication Day ceremony, but some of their husbands were still lagging in the past.

Even before the move one of the husbands, John, had insisted on inviting Jerry—“the prophet”—to weigh in on the emigration question. But Jerry didn’t grab the chance when he had it. Instead he dallied for ten days before he came back with his retro-answer: “Don’t make the trip. If you go you’ll face disaster!”

Jerry’s inexplicable ten-day delay allowed time for stronger minds to firm up John’s soft thinking and the “Emigrationists” won the day. They packed up, moved, and the arrival celebration was just under way. Some of the more prominent wives were even waving their Ishtar statuettes as success symbols.

The only thing that dampened the day was another retro-decision by John, the token leader, to let Jerry attend the ceremony. Jerry had moved with the others to Cairo even though he opposed the shift … apparently in another effort to maintain his fading status as “the prophet.”

Jerry, of course, soon insisted on making noise at the ceremony. At least until one of the real leaders—probably the wife of John “the leader”—was angry enough at the old prophet to give him a dose of her own prophetic vision.

Here’s the debate as it’s come down to us.

It started with Jerry shouting out another warning—“Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will set my face against you for harm, to cut off all Judah. I will take the remnant of Judah who have set their faces to come to the land of Egypt to live, and they shall all be consumed.”

For John’s wife this was the last straw. She stepped up and planted herself squarely in Jerry’s face: “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you.”

She didn’t stop there. The real issue was his stubborn opposition to change: “But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem.”

Jerry claimed to be speaking for God, but John’s wife set out her own view of successful living. And Jerry’s male divinity represented oppressive old news: “For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.”

Her courage opened the floodgate! Other women stood up to Jerry and let him have it: “When we made offerings to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands’ approval that we made cakes for her bearing her image and poured out drink offerings to her?” No one, in other words, took Jerry or his beliefs seriously.

This lively exchange still feels familiar even though it’s centuries old. And, if we notice the historical context, Jerry’s actual point of view was much wider than John’s wife seemed to notice.

Jerry—or Jeremiah as we find him in the Bible—promised that God would restore their nation after a seventy-year exile: “I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jer. 24:6-7—see Jer. 44 for the prior dialog).

God was, in fact, imposing the exile on these Hebrew people because of the views and behaviors the “Queen of heaven” ladies were promoting—they had dismissed God in favor of new choices—and Jeremiah’s God finally said, “Enough!”

So Jerry’s answer to the angry wives in Egypt was simple: “Okay, let’s wait and see who’s right.”

Now, with about 3,000 years of hindsight, we know Jeremiah’s predictions were sound: disaster followed. And after seventy years God restored his wandering people to their homeland—although the remnant group that went to Egypt didn’t fare so well—and the restored Jews threw away all their statuette versions of alternative gods. They had other struggles but tangible idols weren’t among them.

The question for today is this: are voices still shouting protests against God? If they are, let’s be careful about which spiritual voices we follow. Many will call, but only one can be trusted.

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About R N Frost

R N (Ron) Frost is a student of history, especially the history of Christian spirituality. Ron served for more than 20 years at a Portland, OR, college and seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was a professor of historical theology and ethics. Ron is now a pastoral care consultant with Barnabas International. In this role he provides care, coaching, encouragement, and educational services to those in overseas cross-cultural ministries. This involves a number of trips to worldwide destinations each year, each by invitation. All his services are gratis, so ministry partners are needed and welcomed. Go to Barnabas International for more information about this unique ministry and for a link that offers support options.