I’ve been reading through Jeremiah, alternating with Hebrews, as part of my Bible-in-a-year reading schedule. I’m up to chapter 23 of Jeremiah, but I kept thinking about chapter 17. So I went back and re-read chapter 17 the other night. As I read through it, I realized that this passage encompasses the Gospel and that is why I was drawn back to it.
I love when I find the essence of the Gospel of Christ in the Old Testament (it’s all over the place, you know), but I didn’t really expect to find it in Jeremiah. This is a book by a prophet that the Israelites did not like. His gloom and doom predictions for Israel resulted in the priests and “prophets” plotting against him, and he was arrested, whipped, and put in stocks. He spoke on behalf of the Lord to warn the Israelites of God’s anger because they had turned away from Him, and he predicted that many of the Israelites would die at the hand of the Babylonians or from famine, and that others would be exiled to Babylon, if they did not change their ways.
But in the middle of all of the warnings and predictions is this passage that I believe encompasses the Gospel in a nutshell:
Wisdom from the Lord
5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
6 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land.
7 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.
Jeremiah 17:5-8 (NLT).
Verses 5-6 speak of those who trust in their own ability to be righteous and believe they can earn their own way to heaven. When their judgment day comes, they will be cursed because they have trusted in human strength. Even in this life, their spiritual lives are barren and they have no real hope or strength in the face of the trials of this life.
Verses 7-8 speak of those who trust in the Lord Jesus for their salvation and know that they have no hope of righteousness on their own. They are not bothered by the trials of this world because they have the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain their spiritual life. They have the hope of eternity with God.
I love the imagery of this passage of Jeremiah. When trouble comes, and it will come for all of us, the one who trusts in human strength is “like stunted shrubs in the desert.” But the one who trusts in the Lord “like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.” The stunted shrub is the perfect picture of worry and hopelessness. How can such a shrub ever survive? But the tree by the riverbank is the perfect picture of peace and hope. Such a tree will survive the worst drought because it has tapped into the source of life.
In this passage, water is life for the plant. In the New Testament, Jesus promises living water to all who believe in Him.
Jesus Promises Living Water
On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.) John 7:37-39 (NLT).
The question that faces every human being is whether they will trust in human strength or will put all their trust in their Creator. How about you? Do you seek to earn your own salvation through the strength of your own righteousness? Or have you chosen to trust in Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for your sins, recognizing that your strength and righteousness are nothing compared to His? When the drought comes, will you die of thirst because you have no power to create living water? Or will you thrive because you trust in the One who offers an endless supply of living water for all who believe?