The Expository Files

Hypocrites in Your Hearts

Jeremiah 42:20

"Hypocrites in your hearts" is how the NKJV translates Jeremiah's charge against the people in Jer. 42:20. The KJV says that they were "dissembling in your hearts." NASB says that they had "deceived yourselves," and the ASV says that they were acting "deceitfully against your own souls" Finally the NIV calls it a "fatal mistake." All of these carry the idea of a people who are lying hypocrites - not just in their dealings with others and God - but even with themselves. What occasion brought such a charge?

With the serious nature of Jeremiah's accusation you might think that this indictment was against the most irreligous and vile assemblage of persons ever to gather before a prophet of God - but it was not. It was aimed at the remnant of God's people who had come to ask Jeremiah to pray for them in a time of great difficulty. How could they be judged so harshly? Let us examine the text of Jeremiah 42 to see how we get from a request for prayer to such a damning summation.

The history of this event begins in Jeremiah chapter 41. After the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar, the local administration of the remaining people is left to a Jewish noble named Gedaliah. But a hyper-rebellious band led by a member of the Jewish royalty killed him, his Babylonian guards (41:1-3), and even a number of Jews headed to offer lamentations and sacrifices and for the fall of Jerusalem (41:4-7). This action did not have popular support, but the people feared that the Babylonians would blame them for the atrocities (41:18). They thought it would be best for them all to flee to the safety of Egypt.

This occasioned the people approaching Jeremiah to ask him to pray for them. They had a perfectly worded expression of devotion to do whatever God revealed. "...Please let our petition come before you, and pray for us to the LORD your God, that is for all this remnant; because we are left but a few out of many, as your own eyes now see us, that the LORD your God may tell us the way in which we should walk and the thing that we should do." (Jer. 42:2,3) Should they stay or should they go? They submissively replied, "We'll do what God says!" What would the God and his servants more like to hear than this? But the people's heart was not in it.

The problem that causes all of their words to be "hypocritical," "deceptive," "dissembling," or "fatal" is that they had already made up their mind as not only what they wanted to do, but had actually begun to do it. Before they ever thought to seek the Lord's counsel they had already started heading to Egypt! "And they went and stayed in Geruth Chimham, which is beside Bethlehem, in order to proceed into Egypt." (Jer. 41:17)

With such an attitude (of doing first and asking God later), how do we think that these people will respond to God's instruction that they should not go to Egypt but stay put and submit to the king of Babylon? Of course we know that they will rebel. First they are angry and deny this directive is God's word, replying, "You are telling a lie! The LORD our God has not sent you to say, 'You are not to enter Egypt to reside there.'" (Jer. 43:2) Secondly they assign evil motives to the ones who instructed them in the way of God, saying, "But Baruch the son of Neriah is inciting you against us to give us over into the hand of the Chaldeans, so they may put us to death or exile us to Babylon." (Jer. 43:3). And then finally, they did what they wanted to do to begin with - go to Egypt. They "did not obey the voice of the LORD, so as to stay in the land of Judah...and they entered the land of Egypt (for they did not obey the voice of the LORD) and went in as far as Tahpanhes." (Jer. 43:4,7)

How wicked. Here is open, knowledgeable, purposeful, even tenacious rebellion to God. How fitting that God lifted his protection from them, sent Nebuchadnezzar down to Egypt to pursue them, and caused them to cease being His people. "Nevertheless hear the word of the LORD, all Judah who are living in the land of Egypt, 'Behold, I have sworn by My great name,' says the LORD, 'never shall My name be invoked again by the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, "As the Lord GOD lives." Behold, I am watching over them for harm and not for good, and all the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt will meet their end by the sword and by famine until they are completely gone.'" (Jer. 44:26,27)

How did these people become so wicked at heart so as to go into complete apostasy? 1.) Habit - they had been serving God and idols, deity and themselves, for a long time. 2.) They were deceiving themselves - were hypocrites even to their own hearts - liars to their own soul. They wanted to do what they wanted - and would do what they wanted - even as they proclaimed that they serve God and pretended to follow His will. How sad. How fatal.

What do you do when you want to go to Egypt? How do you handle the struggle against your own self imagined solutions to life's problems and your lust to fulfill your own desires? Do you only pretend to consider God's will? Do you pray after you've already decided? Do you get mad at those who stand in your way by standing with God? If your will and God's conflict do you go ahead anyway? Do you "dissemble," "deceive," and play the "hypocrite" inside and pretend you can serve God while fulfilling your own desires? Its a lying and fatal practice.

By Jay Horsley
From Expository Files 7.9; September 2000