READ: Jeremiah 41-43
THINK: On the morning of June 25, 1876 George Armstrong Custer led his regiment, the United States 7th Cavalry, in an attack on a large encampment of Lakota and Northern Cheyenne American Indians at Little Bighorn in Southern Montana. The battle has become immortalized in American folklore as Custer’s Last Stand. Custer’s troops were not only vastly outnumbered, but also they were up against some of the most skilled warriors under the command of the most brilliant chiefs in the history of the war against the Plains Indians. Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Lame White Man were all there.
The dumbest part about Custer’s decision to attack was that he had all of this information beforehand! He knew just who was camped down by the river. And he knew he was outnumbered. In fact, after gathering the information about the Lakota-Cheyenne force, Custer reported back to the commander of his brigade, Brigadier General Alfred Terry, asking for advice and indicating that he wished to attack. Orders returned from Terry telling Custer not to stand pat and wait for the rest of the army to catch up before engaging the enemy. Custer ignored the order and attacked.
No one can with certainty why he ignored the order because he died, and every single one of the men who was under his command died with him. There are various theories about believing he might lose the element of surprise, thinking Lakota scouts had discovered his trail, and more. But most historians agree that Custer was looking for an excuse to attack. That’s what he wanted to do. And his mind was made up to do just that even before he asked for Terry’s advice. His stubborn refusal to obey the order cost him his life. It cost hundreds of men their lives.
In this section of Jeremiah we find a pretty similar situation. The people come to Jeremiah and they’re afraid – and rightly so because there are some incredibly powerful military forces all around them whom they don’t have the capacity to fight. So they ask Jeremiah to pray and seek God’s direction. But it becomes clear really quickly that they’ve already made up their minds to flee to Egypt. They only ask for God’s direction to get confirmation for the plans they already have. So, when Jeremiah reports God’s words back to them – this amazing and incredible promise to protect them against the powerful armies if they only remain in the Promised Land – they promptly call him a liar and head to Egypt even though God told them explicitly not to do that. Why? Cause that’s what they were already determined to do.
It’s easy to read this story and think, “They were so stupid!” And they were! But I think we do the same thing to God all the time. I’m convicted of this in my own life. Too often I ask God for wisdom the same way my wife asks me which pair of shoes looks better with her outfit. I already know the answer and I’m just quizzing him to see if he gets it right so I can feel really good about the decision I’ve already made.
All of us do this. We pray for his guidance, and we ask other Christians what they think we should do, and we listen to our Pastors preach sermons that help us understand what the Bible has to say. And then…we go do what we want. We just pray and act and listen to get confirmation for what we want to do so we can feel better about it. But if we hear anything that conflicts with our plans and the desires of our heart, well, we effectively call it a “lie” and go our way. We ignore God, assume our friends in the church must be less spiritual than us because they gave us an answer we didn’t want, and convince ourselves that the words of our spiritual leaders – and even the words of the Bible itself – just don’t apply in our particular situation.
Then we go our own way and what happens? Bad stuff. We suffer. We encounter trials and frustration and brokenness and hurt. And then what do we do? We blame God. We wonder how in the world a loving God could allow such calamity. And the thing is, blaming God for the consequences of our actions after we’ve been disobedient is like Custer blaming Terry for what happened at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Every bit of pain and suffering we encounter in this life is not a direct result of our sin – please don’t think that. But a lot of it is. More than we’re willing to admit sometimes. We would do well to learn from this story in Jeremiah that there is blessing in obedience, even when we don’t want to obey. God’s commands and instructions are always for our good!
PRAY: Confess that you’ve acted like the Custer and the people in Jeremiah, that you’ve ignored God and gone your own way. Ask him for the wisdom to know the right thing to do and the strength to choose it even when it isn’t what you want to do.