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“Who’s Got Your Back?”

Sept.15/13 Jer.11:18-23; Rom.12:17-21


During an air traffic controllers strike, author Terry Paulson watched a hostile executive bully a baggage handler who was moving as fast as he could. When Paulson tried to share his empathy for having to put up with such abuse, the baggage handler replied, "Don't worry, I've already gotten even." Paulson asked, "What do you mean?" The baggage handler replied, "He's going to Chicago, but his bags are going to Milwaukee." (!)

    He “got even”. Getting back at somebody can seem somewhat satisfying: we resort to our own devices to see justice done – though often people err on the side of OVERdoing it. Revenge (for that’s what we’re talking about here) seldom results in peace; for instance, the next time that executive happens to see that same baggage handler, will he be happy? Not if he suspects the handler is responsible for waylaying the luggage! He’ll be even more angry and abusive.

    Global peace was threatened this past week by American President Obama’s talk of a military strike against Syria as a result of that regime’s purported use of chemical weapons in its civil war. They had crossed a “red line” and somebody would have to pay. The international community has agreed to prohibit chemical weapons, so the U.S.was prepared to inflict punishment singlehandedly vigilante-style.

    Paying Syria back would threaten peace and security. Chemical weapons are a threat to security; war is a huge threat to security, especially if it were to become a “Third World War” as some on Facebook speculated. We value security; we want to feel safe. Obama talked of the USA being an “anchor of global security” for over 7 decades.

    Wherein lies our security, really? What can truly keep us safe? American missiles and warships? A well-supplied home with locks on the doors and windows? An ample bank account and retirement savings plan? I meet people in the hospital all the time that have those things, but that’s not providing personal “security”.

    In today’s reading, the prophet Jeremiah found security in another source which assured him he didn’t need to rely on taking his own revenge.


Jeremiah prophesied in the southern kingdom of Judea about 626-585 BC, leading up to the fall of the southern kingdom and its exile to Babylon. Jehoiakim was king during over a decade of that time. During Jehoiakim’s reign, Jeremiah would have been considered a “subversive”: he predicted Jerusalem’s doom on account of her idolatry and wickedness; he advised people to surrender to the Babylonians whom God was sending to discipline Judea. Now, if you’re a king or military commander, such talk is bad for morale. You don’t want the troops to be told that God’s on the side of the enemy! Jehoiakim showed contempt for Jeremiah by cutting up the scroll of his prophecies. He tried to do away with the prophet or at least to silence him.

    Jeremiah’s prophecies made him unpopular with his own relatives. They figured they’d do the nation a favour by disposing of him.

    Jeremiah was oblivious to the plans against him. 11:19 “I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter...” Perhaps like a little pet lamb that trusts the children but doesn’t realize it’s being led to the chopping-block for tonight’s supper? He adds, “I did not realize they had plotted against me...” NLT “I had no idea that they were planning to kill me!” He should have been easy to ‘do in’ because he was totally clueless about any deadly plans. Was Jeremiah naive? Or did he just try to see the best in people? Maybe the plotters were just plain sneaky, like Judas plotting with the priests and other religious leaders to betray Jesus. Yet Jesus still somehow knew what was going on (Mt 26:15,25; Jn 13:27).

    So how did Jeremiah find out? V18 “Because the LORD revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time he showed me what they were doing.” God tipped him off as to what the plotters were up to. God had his back; the Lord was looking out for him! WHO exactly was behind the plot? V21 “the men of Anathoth” - Jeremiah’s hometown (Jer 1:1). Recall how Jesus was not popular amongst his hometown at Nazareth? (Lk 4:28f) They would have chucked Him over a cliff, had not God spared Him!

    WHAT exactly were the plotters planning? V21 they were making deadly threats – “Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD or you will die by our hands...” Stop it - OR ELSE! V18 they’d made a “plot”, they were seeking his life (11:21). V19 “...they had plotted against me, saying, "Let us destroy the tree and its fruit...” Jeremiah was a bachelor – God told him not to marry on account of the coming exile – so “fruit” here may mean his prophecies; “destroy the tree and its fruit” may mean “if we want to muzzle what he says we’re going to have to do him in.” They added, “let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” With no children to survive him, killing him would end his line, his posterity, in effect annihilating him. How sinister! “That’s all for you, sucker!”


But in v18 God shows He’s “got Jeremiah’s back” because (a) He reveals the hidden plot and (b) He pronounces judgment on the enemies who would attack His spokesperson. “The Lord told me about the plots my enemies were making against me.” V22 “therefore this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish them. Their young men will die by the sword, their sons and daughters by famine.” 23 “Not even a remnant will be left to the, because I will bring DISASTER on the men of Anathoth...”

    Note the link word “therefore” at the beginning of vv21 and 22: what’s the therefore there for? These things will happen WHY? The ‘therefore’ points back to v20; look at it carefully. “But, O LORD Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.”

    (A) It highlights God’s excellence – He is YHWH Almighty, all-powerful; He judges righteously, absolutely fairly, only He knows the whole story - because He “tests” or examines the heart and mind. You can’t hide any secrets from God! He knows you inside-out, your motives, your deepest desires, your plans.

    (B) In the last phrase of v20, Jeremiah entrusts himself to such a great God’s care – “for to You I have committed my cause.” He has handed his life over for God’s protection and sustaining. THEN comes the “therefore” of vv21f: BECAUSE Jeremiah has committed his cause to the Lord, this great and good an perfectly just God, THEREFORE God’s going to deal with the enemies who are scheming to kill Jeremiah. “Let me see Your vengeance upon them”: leave it to God to pay them back and defend you; He is your Advocate, your Helper (like the words Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament).

    What’s our security in? The safest One to entrust ourselves to is God, the Lord Almighty. Prov 18:10 “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” Ps 27:1 “The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?” Ps 56:3-4 “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.What can mortal man do to me?” One more - Ps 144:2 “He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge...” Take your pick: great verses to memorize for when you’re feeling attacked or afraid or your safety is threatened! Trust in the NAME of the Lord – who He is, the attributes by which He has revealed Himself in history.


Let God be in control, even of paying back your enemies. The Biblical principle is expressed back in Deut 32(35), “It is mine to avenge, I will repay.” The apostle Paul in the New Testament extracts this in Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written...” (Then he goes on to quote that it is God’s to avenge and repay.) And Rom 12:17 “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” That’s what’s at stake here, isn’t it? PAYBACK! “Do not repay...evil for evil.” Instead - what?

    Instead, v20 “On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."” Here Paul’s quoting Proverbs 25(21f). Now THIS is revolutionary! Feed your hungry enemy, give them something to drink if they’re thirsty – so counter-intuitive. Go against the grain of natural tendencies to pay-back. That’s gotta be a God-thing, requiring the Holy Spirit’s inner help. Be perceptive – what’s my enemy’s true (perhaps hidden) deeper need? How is Christ gifting me to meet that deeper need? For this to happen, we must dare to get to KNOW our enemy, to even love them, care for them – that’s starting to sound not like an ‘enemy’ any longer...

    This sounds a whole lot like Jesus’ approach. In the Sermon on the Mount He commanded us NOT to follow the “eye for an eye” pay-back tit-for-tat principle; instead, Mt 5:39f “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Peace is ABSORPTIVE, paying the cost to cover the wrong from one’s own resources rather than making the other person pay. Lk 6(28) “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” BLESS not curse back! That’s a tall order – need the Holy Spirit’s help.

    Paul in Romans 12(20) quotes Proverbs 25:22 – how does it end? “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.”

    “You will heap BURNING COALS on his head...” John MacArthur explains, “This refers to an ancient Egyptian custom in which a person who wanted to show public contrition carried a pan of burning coals on his head.The coals represented the burning pain of his shame and guilt.When believers lovingly help their enemies, it should bring shame to such people for their hate and animosity.” How come this happens, that doing good in return for evil makes a person feel ashamed? Because God has hard-wired each human with a conscience, an innate sense of justice, of evening-up and making things fair; so when we do evil to another person, we expect them to retaliate, to pay us back evil in turn – but if they do something KIND for us instead, that’s surprising! We know deep-down it’s undeserved, and the Holy Spirit through conscience prompts a feeling of shame.

    So, if the person wronged ISN’T ‘paying back’ the perpetrator, how’s the evening-up to occur if they’re returning kindness instead of injury? The verse concludes, “the Lord will reward you” – HE’S in charge of paying back and rewarding in the long run. When we turn the other cheek, when we absorb the injustice, we’re entrusting payback of the shortfall of what we’re owed to God, instead of forcing or coercing the other person to pay it back ourselves in a grabby way.


Let God “settle the score” – don’t try to do it yourself. Jesus bore YOUR insults so we could be transformed, changed into new beings empowered to BLESS instead of curse back. 1Peter 3:9 “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” Inherit - be paid back a blessing by God in eternity.

    Revenge can be crazy and very inappropriate when we try to ‘dish it out’ ourselves. An HIV-positive woman in Tennessee told police that she was intimate with about fifty men after learning that she had the AIDS virus. Pamela Wiser, 29, said that she had a series of one-night stands with men she met in bars. Wiser said that she contracted the virus from a former boyfriend and stated, "I was just getting revenge for what he did to me."

    (!) “Getting revenge”? But how would infecting other people with a deadly virus get ‘revenge’ on the guy who gave it to her? That doesn’t make sense! It’s nutty. But she thought she was getting payback. So our attempts at revenge may be distorted by anger, totally unreasonable. Instead, let God handle it! He alone is the absolutely fair, almighty just Judge. Our part is to bless instead of curse. We owe Jesus that much! Let’s pray.