When we think of the Old Testament, we sometimes think of God as a consuming fire who threatens to devour any who disobey him. And you know what. God is and does do that. And yet: God never takes pleasure in harming anyone—even wicked people.
Do not take my word for it. Here is what God says, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?” (Ezek 33:11).
So granting that God does not take pleasure in inflicting death upon wicked people, we should not be surprised that God gives all sorts of motivations for obedience. This might surprise us, but it should not. God is good, and he wants to share his goodness, his life with everyone. Here are three ways God motivates us to obey him in Jeremiah 7.
First, to avoid bringing harm to ourselves
While detailing Israel’s injustice (oppressing the weak, shedding innocent blood), God includes following other gods: “do not go after other gods to your own harm” (Jer 7:6). Interestingly, he adds the phrase “to your own harm.”
In this case, Israelites hurt other Israelites and eventually went into exile. They brought all sorts of harm to themselves.
Second, because believing lies does not bring help to us
Often we sin because we believe lies. But the truth heals, while lies harm. Israel trusted the false promise that Israel would never fall because the temple existed in Jerusalem (Jer 7:4). Yet the temple is only God’s footstool. His true temple sits in heaven.
Israel relied upon the symbols of their religion but the reality behind (God). As God says, “you trust in deceptive words to no avail” (Jer 7:8). Through believing in their religiosity rather than God, they believed lies. But religious lies bring harm. They promise salvation but end in ruin.
Jesus told the woman at the well that we must worship in both spirit and truth. He was right. Any other worship brings ruin.
Third, to live
If Israel repents, God promises to let Israel dwell in the land securely (Jer 7:4, 7). And they may do so “forever” (Jer 7:7). In the Old Testament, the land promise to Israel symbolizes the heavenly city.
Hebrews makes this case. God promised Abraham the land to create a desire in Abraham for something better: “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10).
Despite living in the land, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never received the true promise. The author to Hebrews explains, “For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return” (Heb 11:14–15).
The point here is that the land promised to Israel symbolically pointed to the heavenly city in which the Old Testaments saints now reside (Heb 11:39–40; 12:23).
So when God promised life to Israel, he promised the heavenly reality that the land promise pointed to. He promised eternal life.
In short, we should obey God because obedience leads to life, eternal life.
Thankfully, what we in our flesh could not do (obey perfectly), Christ did. He lived a perfect life that God reckons to our account. And he died an atoning death that atones for all our sins.
We have this life in Christ. And yet we learn that eternal life is not something that lies ahead of us only. We have it now (John 17:3).
So we obey to participate in eternal life—life with God.
And our ongoing obedience means that we avoid harming ourselves, primarily through believing religious lies (our works will save us or we are not good enough for God, etc.). We have the life-giving Spirit that engenders our obedience. We have life because we have God who is life.
And that is the good news for us today.