Chapter Nine Appendix: Always pray?

Instructed Not to Pray

Is it possible for a person or a people to cross a line beyond which their fate is sealed, and they will no longer be helped by the prayers of the righteous? The simple answer to this question is: Yes. However, the question deserves a complex answer, or one that brings many passages of Scripture to bear.

Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet,” was commanded by God on three occasions not to pray for God’s people, the descendants of David:

  1. Jer 7:16- Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee.
  2. Jer 11:14- Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them: for I will not hear them in the time that they cry unto me for their trouble.
  3. Jer 14:11, 12- Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence.

John Calvin’s commentary on Jeremiah may be the Book’s very best exposition. Calvin’s thoroughness in handling the Scripture is spellbinding— awesome! He explores every jot and tittle for its meaning in the context, and brings his wealth of knowledge of the entire Bible to bear on each word and phrase. The result is edification. His commentaries are available for anyone to enjoy through websites like www.ccel.org.

Jeremiah proclaimed the sins of Judah, the Southern kingdom, for which it would be routed out of the Promised Land. The people of God had become idolators without repentance. They not only worshipped false gods, even burning their own children in the fire, but also refused to repent though God has entreated them and shown much restraint. The people were, Calvin states, “despisers of God, who, with a stiff neck and a hardened heart, were not moved by any apprehension of punishment.” They loved “delusive flatteries” — his term for the false prophecies of their bad shepherds.

The Jews observed no limits to sinning but gave themselves to unbridled licentiousness. They had seen the Northern kingdom severely chastised, but were not moved to reform and avoid the same fate. They had become torpid, a word often used by Calvin, meaning “sluggish in functioning or acting; numb.”

In their religious life, Calvin states, “sacrificing had been severed from repentance. Whole families were involved in idol worship and they were merely doing what their fathers had done. In performing the Jewish sacrifices they only did so perfunctorily and without worshipping God nor even having any concept of who he was.” They were merely killing animals for no reason, and this was loathed by God.

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Another word Calvin frequently uses to describe the Jews’ hearts is “perfidy.” They were treacherous and disloyal, hardened and hypocritical. They would state they wanted to be holy but never acted so. All this gave (and gives) heathens reason to profane God’s name.

The Jews were, from the least to the greatest, given up to avarice. There was no justice for the common people, but fraud, violence, plunder and injustice abounded, and the prophets and priests were just as deceitful. Every one was addicted to his own gain, so that they practiced mutual wrongs without any regard to what was right and just. They ignored the natural disasters that should have caught their attention, and God permitted their prosperity as cattle are fattened for the slaughter.

Calvin writes of Jeremiah 8:12, “The Prophet in these words shews still more clearly that they were wholly irreclaimable; for they had divested themselves of every shame. It is no doubt a proof of a wickedness past all remedy, when no shame remains… the wickedness of the people was unhealable, and for this reason, because they had an iron front…” Later he says, “It is right that judgment should begin at the house of God, as it is elsewhere said. (I Peter 4:17) God indeed will not pass by anything without punishing it: hence the heathens must at last stand before his tribunal. But as he is nearer to his Church, their impiety, who profess themselves to be as it were his domestics, is less tolerable…”

God therefore forbids Jeremiah to pray for the people, but Calvin states that this prohibition is to be understood in relation to their exile; the people would be banished from the promised land, and that decree was immutable. Jeremiah could, though, ask God’s forgiveness in behalf of the whole people, or at least in behalf of the godly who still remained.

“The Prophet might indeed pray in a certain way for the whole people, that is, that God, being satisfied with their temporal punishment, would at length spare the miserable with regard to eternal life: he might have also prayed for the remnant; for he knew that there was some seed remaining, though hidden; nay, he was himself one of the people, and he not only knew that some true servants of God were still remaining, but he had also some friends of his own, whose piety was sufficiently known to him. God, therefore, did not strictly exclude all his prayers, but every prayer with regard to the exile which was soon to be undergone by the people...
“Except we bear in mind this circumstance, the prohibition might seem strange; for we know that it is one of the first duties of love to be solicitous for one another before God, and thus to pray for the wellbeing of our brethren. (James 5:16) It is not then the purpose of God to deprive the Prophet of this holy and praiseworthy feeling, which is necessarily connected with true religion; but his design was to shew, that it was now in vain to implore him for the remission of that punishment which had been determined.”

So there we have it. A time may come for us in our own country when we are forbidden to pray for its deliverance and success. Nevertheless, it would be right to pray for our countrymen who are hardened, blind, torpid and perfidious, that they might be guided to salvation.

KEY VERSE: Genesis 19:29 "So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived."

Introduction

About

Chapter One

What About Lot?
Further Study

Chapter Two

A Type of Christian
Further Study

Chapter Three

Westward Ho!
Further Study

Chapter Four

Time for Worship
Further Study

Chapter Five

Severing Ties
Further Study

Chapter Six

The Rescue
Further Study

Chapter Seven

The Promise Sealed
Further Study

Chapter Eight

Nearer to God
Further Study

Chapter Nine

The Covenant
Further Study

Chapter Ten

To Whom Much Is Given
Further Study

Chapter Eleven

God Remembered Abraham
Further Study

Chapter Twelve

A Good Ending
Further Study

Afterword

He Draws the Unwilling