A Shocking Lack of Appreciation
ALL too often persons fail to show gratitude for kindnesses rendered to them. Children, for example, may take for granted the care and attention given to them by loving parents. They may get involved with unwholesome companions and start to smoke, to take drugs or to drink. Yet they give little thought to the hurt their actions are causing to their father and mother. They truly lack appreciation for the efforts their parents put forth in raising them.
The situation was similar with the nation of Israel. As a loving Husband, Jehovah cared for his people. Through his prophet Jeremiah, he reminded them of what the relationship was at first, saying: “‘I well remember, on your part, the loving-kindness of your youth, the love during your being engaged to marry [like a virgin], your walking after me in the wilderness, in a land not sown with seed. Israel was something holy to Jehovah, the first yield [or, firstfruits] to Him.’ ‘Any persons devouring him would make themselves guilty. Calamity itself would come upon them,’ was the utterance of Jehovah.”—Jer. 2:2, 3.
When Jehovah delivered the Israelites from Egyptian enslavement and led them through the wilderness, the nation was in its youth. By reason of the covenant concluded with the people at Mount Sinai in the Arabian wilderness, Israel became a wife to the Most High. Jehovah God viewed the whole nation as holy. Israel was as sacred as the “first yield” of the harvest that was presented at the sanctuary of worship. (Ex. 22:29; 23:19) Israel showed an initial trust in Jehovah God, responding to the opportunity of leaving Egypt and then undertaking a hard journey through an inhospitable wilderness. That love was not misdirected, as the Almighty protected his people. When, for example, the Amalekites launched an unprovoked attack against Israel, Jehovah delivered them. He enabled an inexperienced Israelite army, under the command of Joshua, to administer a crushing defeat to the Amalekites. (Ex. 17:8-13; compare Exodus 13:17.) But as Jeremiah shows, the nation lost its first love like that of a virgin engaged to marry, which marriage took place at Mt. Sinai in 1513 B.C.E.
In view of what He had done for the nation in its youth, Jehovah directed these questions to the Israelites living centuries later: “What have your fathers found in me that was unjust, so that they have become far off from me, and they kept walking after the vain idol and becoming vain themselves? And they have not said, ‘Where is Jehovah, the One bringing us up out of the land of Egypt, the One walking us through the wilderness, through a land of desert plain and pit, through a land of no water and of deep shadow, through a land through which no man passed and in which no earthling man dwelt?’”—Jer. 2:5, 6.
These words of Jehovah should have moved the Israelites to think seriously. What reason did their forefathers have for abandoning the Most High, starting to worship false gods, empty nonexistent deities, and becoming vain or empty themselves, persons having no spirituality? Why did they not search for Jehovah as their God? He was the One who delivered their forefathers from Egyptian bondage. They benefited from his providing for and protecting them in the wilderness—a dry, parched region filled with pits that could be injurious to humans and animals stumbling into them. Had it not been for Jehovah’s miraculous provisions of water, the Israelites and their animals would have perished from thirst. The region was one of “deep shadow,” confusing and bewildering like the darkness. There were no well-marked paths to follow, for the route by which the Israelites traveled was not one over which others had passed. There were no settlements along the way.
Besides caring for the Israelites in the wilderness, Jehovah eventually brought them into the fruitful land of Canaan. But, instead of responding appreciatively, the Israelites, according to Jehovah’s word through Jeremiah, “came in and defiled my land; and my own inheritance you made something detestable.” (Jer. 2:7) In becoming unfaithful to Jehovah and taking up idol worship, the Israelites polluted their God-given land. Those who should have been recalling the people to their senses failed completely. Jehovah’s word through Jeremiah continues: “The priests themselves did not say, ‘Where is Jehovah?’ And the very ones handling the law did not know me; and the shepherds themselves transgressed against me, and even the prophets prophesied by Baal, and after those [false gods] who could bring no benefit they walked.”—Jer. 2:8.
The priests should certainly have been searching for Jehovah with a view to doing his will. But they failed. They had the responsibility of teaching the law but did not know the One who gave it. Their not knowing Jehovah was revealed in their acting contrary to his personality, ways and dealings. The shepherds or rulers of the nation set a bad example for their subjects, for they disregarded Jehovah’s law. Prophets who should have been directing the people back to Jehovah prophesied by the false god Baal and looked to other powerless gods, mere idols, for protection and blessing.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Jehovah made known his purpose to contend with the unfaithful Israelites in the kingdom of Judah. He had a legal case against them. We read: “I shall contend further with you people . . . and with the sons of your sons I shall contend.”—Jer. 2:9.
The kind of thing that unfaithful Israelites did was then simply unheard of. It was shocking. Jehovah’s word through Jeremiah states: “But pass over to the coastlands of the Kittim and see. Yes, send even to Kedar and give your special consideration, and see whether anything like this has happened. Has a nation exchanged gods, even for those that are no gods?” In other words, go westward to Kittim and eastward to Kedar and see whether any nation has exchanged its gods for others. Nations might bring the deities of other peoples into their own pantheons. However, for them to replace totally their own gods with those of other nations was something absolutely unheard of. “But my own people,” Jehovah’s word continues, “have exchanged my glory for what can bring no benefit.” (Jer. 2:10, 11) Yes, the Israelites exchanged the glory of the invisible God for valueless idols.
What a shocking thing that was! It was something that would be grave enough to cause even the heavens to ‘bristle up in horror.’ The prophecy of Jeremiah says this very thing: “‘Stare in amazement, O you heavens, at this; and bristle up in very great horror,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘because there are two bad things that my people have done: They have left even me, the source of living water, in order to hew out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that cannot contain the water.’”—Jer. 2:12, 13.
Truly, Israel’s course was the height of unappreciativeness. Jehovah had dealt marvelously with his people as a faithful Husband. But the people were worse than the idol-worshiping nations. While the nations were guilty of idolatry, the Israelites had abandoned Jehovah and looked to valueless deities for favor. In their God, they had an unfailing source of protection, guidance and blessing. He was as a fountain, “the source of living water.” But the Israelites hewed out their own cisterns, searching for aid by making military alliances with pagan world powers, Egypt or Assyria.—Jer. 2:18.
A LESSON FOR US
The experience of the Israelites provides vital lessons for God’s servants today. Just as Israel experienced a marvelous deliverance from Egyptian slavery, so Christians have been liberated from the Satanic powers of darkness. They have been cleansed with the precious blood of Jesus Christ and are on the way to everlasting life in a righteous new order of new heavens and a new earth. (Col. 1:13, 14; 1 Pet. 1:17-19; 2 Pet. 3:13) A superlative expression of God’s love, his giving his Son as a ransom sacrifice, has made this possible.—Rom. 5:6-8.
In view of what Jehovah has done for his servants, it would indeed be a shocking lack of appreciation for any Christian to forsake true worship and to start pursuing a way of life contrary to the divine will. Any Christian who unrepentantly persisted in this wrong course would come under condemnation. The Bible tells us: “If we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment and there is a fiery jealousy that is going to consume those in opposition.” (Heb. 10:26, 27) We surely have good reason, then, to strive hard to be among those who truly appreciate everything that Jehovah God has done by means of Jesus Christ. Just as willful practicers of sin will not escape punishment, so just as certainly will those who stick loyally to their Creator receive their reward.