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WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR US TO LISTEN TO GOD IN THE FIRST PLACE?

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
American Baptist - United Methodist

By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

15 OCTOBER 1995

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

Genesis 5:24, 6:9
Leviticus 25:1-7, 18-22
            26:34-35
2 Chronicles 36:20-23
Psalm 66:5
Isaiah 44:28
Jeremiah 29:1-14

Today, we are going to look at some promises of God:

The first carried with it the greatest of blessings.

The second told of what would happen if they failed to receive the first.

The third was what would take place afterwards.

But how much greater the blessing if the people had listened in the first place.

The psalmist says (Psalm 66:5),

5. Come and see the works of God,

Who is awesome in His deeds toward the sons of men.

If we are simply willing to wait upon the Lord, we will indeed see His wonderful deeds.

But we are a very impatient and stubborn people, and as a result we lose many of His blessings.

In the wilderness, when the people had come out of Egypt, God told them of the blessings of the promised land and how they were to live in it.

Let's look at Leviticus 25:1-7.

1. The Lord then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying,

2. "Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them, 'When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the Lord.

In other words, the people were not to overwork the land in order to get more and more out of it.

We might say that this was first specific conservation and environmental law.

Today, it's a known fact that overworked land produces fewer crops; God was telling the people the same thing.

3. 'Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop,

4. but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard.

5. 'Your harvest's aftergrowth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall not gather; the land shall have a sabbatical year.

6. 'And all of you shall have the sabbath products of the land for food; yourself, and your male and female slaves, and your hired man and your foreign resident, those who live as aliens with you.

Nothing was to be harvested and sold.

Everything was to be free for the taking by anyone who desired to eat it at the time they picked it.

7. 'Even your cattle and the animals that are in your land shall have all its crops to eat.

Not only would the land have a year’s rest, but also the people and the cattle.

And, nowhere in this commandment is there any mention of eating the animals.  The thought never entered God's mind.

Wouldn't it be nice to work hard for six years, and then have the seventh year as a vacation?

But God knew of the people's stubbornness, thus He reminded them a second time, beginning at verse 18:

18. 'You shall thus observe My statutes, and keep My judgments, so as to carry them out, that you may live securely on the land.

19. 'Then the land will yield its produce, so that you can eat your fill and live securely on it.

God is reminding them of the blessing, and at the same time letting them know that He knows what is on their heart.

20. 'But if you say, "What are we going to eat on the seventh year if we do not sow or gather in our crops?"

21. then I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year that it will bring forth the crop for three years.

22. 'When you are sowing the eighth year, you can still eat old things from the crop, eating the old until the ninth year when its crop comes in.

God is telling them that even if they doubt, but still have enough faith to listen to Him just once, He would show them the blessing of this abundant crop in the sixth year, so that their faith would grow.

But if they turned away from God and tried to do everything on their own, the blessings would cease, and as the blessings ceased, the faith of the people would dwindle, as it has to this very day.

It is curious that even though the people would complain about not having enough food during the sabbatical year, they make no mention of eating the animals during that year or at any other time.

The human lust for flesh eating is a more modern Western cultural trend.  Relatively little flesh was eaten in Biblical times.

God also knew that if the people rejected His blessing, they would also begin to follow other gods, and thus they would suffer the consequences of being led into captivity.

So God tells them that when that happens, then the land will have the rest it deserved in the first place.

Note Leviticus 26:34-35:

34. 'Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies' land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths.

35. 'All the days of its desolation it will observe the rest which it did not observe on your sabbaths, while you were living on it.

When God tells us to do something, we should listen, for He has a purpose, even if we don't fully understand.

Additionally, whatever He has ordained to happen will come to pass, whether or not it is in accordance with our own desires.

Now let's turn to Jeremiah 29:1-14 and listen to what he told them for the Lord after they had been led into captivity in Babylon.

1. Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exile, the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

2. (This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the court officials, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem.)

3. The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, saying,

4. "Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon,

5. 'Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens, and eat their produce.

6. 'Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease.

God wants the people to know that even though they have been led away into captivity because they would not listen to Him, He has not forsaken them.

They are still to have hope and look to the future, for one day things will get better.

It’s as though God is saying to them, “In the meantime, make the best of what you have, for I, the Lord, have given it to you.”

The people may not like the change, but neither did God like the way they acted before.

Thus Jeremiah continues:

7. 'And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.'

The believers suffered with the non-believers in Jerusalem.

Now, the Jews are living in a heathen land whose people are less apt to follow the ways of God.

The only way they will is if the Jewish people, through their Godly life-style, show them a better way and the way God answers their prayers.

8. "For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream.

9. 'For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,' declares the Lord.

We, too, have many false prophets living among us.

They don't call themselves prophets, but through their subtleties they try to lead others away from God and to their own way of thinking.

Again, so that the people won't give up, God even sets a date for the restoration.

10. "For thus says the Lord, 'When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.

That is, back to Israel and to Jerusalem.

11. 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.

12. 'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.

13. 'And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

14. 'And I will be found by you,' declares the Lord, 'and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,' declares the Lord, 'and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.'

What do we seek?

Do we seek to walk with God, as the Lord tells us that Enoch and Noah did? (Genesis 5:24 and 6:9)

Perhaps one of the reasons that most people don't even consider walking with God is because they don't believe what God has done in the past.

God told the people that he would restore them to Jerusalem in 70 years.

Did it happen?

Yes, it did.

Note what we are told in 2 Chronicles 36:20-23:

20. And those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia,

21. to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete.

This is what happened, and this confirms the 70 years of captivity that Jeremiah foretold would take place.

But what about the return?

22. Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia--in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah--the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,

23. “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up!’ ”

Cyrus sent the people back to Jerusalem, just as God said would happen.

But there is another thing: Isaiah, who lived approximately 100 years before Jeremiah, even called this Persian leader by name (Isaiah 44:28), and foretold of this same restoration.

We have all of God's word laid out before us.

Why is it that so many people find it so hard to listen to it until they are punished for not listening, as are little stubborn children?

How much better everything would be if we just learned to listen in the first place.

Amen.

Your Comments are welcome

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