Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD” (Jer 9:23-24)
Perhaps even the knowledge of many facts about God can sometimes be described as a thing to be boasted of in wisdom and might in the scriptures and we still fall short of understanding and knowing God. We probably grasp “justice” and “righteousness” pretty well, but the word translated “steadfast love” can be a bit more difficult. In the ASV it is “lovingkindness.” In the KJV it is variously “mercy” (137), “kindness” (40), “lovingkindness” (26) and “goodness”, “mercies”, kind” and variations a few times each. A biography of Jeremiah I recently read translates it “constancy.” This aspect leads to the “steadfast” of most recent translations.
Though the love of men varies from hot to cold, God is constant. We can count on him to be on our side. It is not insignificant that this trait is listed first: His justice and righteousness cannot be denied or ignored in his actions, but the constancy of His love sent Christ and the gospel.
Right after God judges that the animals follow the rules of the Creator, He laments, “But my people know not the rules of the Lord,” and then adds the reason, ““How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie” (Jer 8:8). In other words, the commentaries and preachers have explained the law away until it no longer reflects the reality of God.
So, then, when can one honestly declare that he knows God?
“Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the LORD” (Jer 22:15-16).
Josiah was the righteous father. It is not bad to enjoy life--he did “eat and drink”--but more significantly, he did “justice and righteousness.”
Maybe our focus is career, or house or recreation instead of cedar. We may go to the same temple (church) our father did and practice the same religion and compete with recited knowledge and still be far from God. God declares that knowing him consists of judging the cause of the poor and needy. Our religion is meaningless unless we walk the streets with the steadfast love that God lists first in his character. Yes, the poor and needy often bring it on themselves – just as we did with our sins. Lovingkindness reflects the love of God in Christ. We know God when we actively help the worthless in a way that is truer than Sunday worship. Jeremiah’s people did the equivalent of our worship and still did not know God.
Sort of puts a new perspective on “They shall all know the Lord from the least to the greatest” does it not?
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”
(Heb 8:8-12 quoting Jer 31:31-34)