Pray not thou for this People
Prayer is one of the more intriguing and wonderful Bible subjects. Prayer is man's avenue of approaching God with petitions and thanksgivings (Phili. 4: 6). Many are especially concerned about America and are advocating national prayer. However, there are a number of truths taught in the Bible relative to prayer concerning which many are not familiar. For instance, acceptable prayer is conditional (I Jn. 3: 22; Prov. 28: 9). There are circumstances in which God will not hear the prayers of some. There are also certain instances in which man is instructed not to pray for others. Consider God's instruction to Jeremiah:
"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," and, "Therefore thus saith the Lord, behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them" (Jere. 7: 16, 11: 11, see also 14: 11, 12).
The prophet Jeremiah has been called the "evening star of the declining day of prophecy" and "the herald of the dissolution of the Jewish commonwealth." While Isaiah had supported King Hezekiah, Jeremiah prophesied during the reign of King Josiah (Jere. 1: 2). Jeremiah had an especially difficult task in working with contemporary Israel. The Pulpit Commentary provides the following description of Israel at the time of Jeremiah:
"In Jeremiah's time there seems to have been a great revival of purely external religion. Men went to the temple and performed all the ceremonial laws which concerned them, but neglected those practical duties which make up so large a portion of true religion" (Vol. 11, pg. 2, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah).
Jeremiah warned God's people of their impending fate of 70 years in Babylonian captivity if they failed to repent (Jere. 29: 10-14). Notwithstanding the gloom of their rejection of Jeremiah's call to repentance, the book of Jeremiah contains one of the clearest prophecies of the new covenant God would make with his people, spiritual Israel (Jere. 31: 31-34, cp. Heb. 8: 8-12, Rom. 2: 29). What else can we learn about these people whose prayers God refused to answer and concerning whom even prohibited the prophet Jeremiah from interceding?
The people were characterized by lack of knowledge. "For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge," God said (Jere. 4: 22). Lack of knowledge has always been a major factor in apostasy (Hos. 4: 6). God's people often become silly and simple minded, wise to the world but ignorant in matters religious. Such a condition can prevent God from hearing and answering prayer.
America today often possesses, at best, a shallow familiarity with God's word. Some in the Lord's church today are characterized by this same lack of knowledge (Heb. 5: 11-14).
They refused God's word. God's people at the time of Jeremiah had God's word; hence, they should have been conversant with God's will and requirements. However, they refused to do what God had taught them. "This evil people," stated God, "which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing" (Jere. 13: 10).
Alas, many refuse God's word today and make the faithful heralds their enemy (Gal. 4: 16).
We are living in a time today where God's word is plentiful and available. Nonetheless, ignorance is rampant. People in America and across the world worship many different gods, refusing the God of the Bible.
The people placed their trust in the lying words of false prophets. It is evident from a study of Jeremiah that there were many false prophets. We read: "Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit" (Jere. 7: 8).
There are also many false teachers today. They influence not a few and spread their religious lies (2 Pet. 2: 1, 2). However, these "lying words" are useless and "cannot profit."
The people whose prayers God refused to hear had bad shepherds and pastors. As a rule, when you have deterioration among people, there is bad leadership. Such was the prevailing condition during the time of Jeremiah. Notice the description of the contemporary leadership: "The priest said not, Where is the Lord? And they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit" (Jere. 2: 8, cp. 23: 1, 10: 21, 12: 10).
Sinful leaders in the Lord's church served as the means of the first great spiritual apostasy of the church (Acts 20: 17, 28-31).
They esteemed the false teachers. Not only did they listen to false prophets, but also they actually esteemed them. We read, "A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?" (Jere. 5: 30, 31).
There is not a shortage of false teachers today and many hold them in honor (cp. I Jn. 4: 1). Notice the warning Paul provided Timothy regarding professing Christians and their fondness of false teachers: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears" (2 Tim. 4: 3). There would be so many false teachers in the church that Paul said those who desired these men would "heap" or pile up these teachers.
God's people of old were backsliders. Some denominational theologies will not allow the term and concept of backsliders. However, the word and concept are scriptural. One reason some object to the term is because of the tenet of once saved, always saved. "Return, ye backsliding children, " said God, "and I will heal your backslidings" and "Thou hast forsaken me, saith the Lord, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting" (Jere. 3: 22, 15: 6).
The New Testament teaches the following: "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Lk. 9: 62). The child of God today can so sin as to be without God's saving grace (Gal. 5: 2-4, 2 Pet. 2: 20-22).
They were a selfish and covetous people. The following language is plain and unmistakable: "For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness: and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely" (Jere. 6: 13). They were a people who trusted in materialism (Jere. 48: 7). They were also shameless and impenitent in all these matters (Jere. 6: 15, 16). They looked to their own works for salvation and were not interested in really pleasing God (Jere. 48: 7, cp. I Tim. 6: 5, Tit. 3: 5, Lk. 17: 10).
Beloved, the foregoing conditions that were characteristic of these people concerning whom God would not answer prayer are what kept their prayers from being answered by God. The essential thing absent was repentance on their part. God promised them that when they repented, he would hear and answer their prayers and deliver them from their bondage (Jere. 29: 10-14).
"How does 'pray not thou for this people' pertain to people today," some might ask. Since God's refusal to hear his people was under the Law of Moses, some might think the principle is inapplicable. In this vein, please consider the following New Testament teaching regarding prayer: "And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it" (I Jn. 5: 16, 17). John had previously taught that all confessed sin would be forgiven, providing one was walking in the light (I Jn. 1: 7-10). Hence, the sin unto death regarding which the Christian is not instructed to pray, must be the unconfessed sin characteristic of the one walking in darkness. Thus, the same essential plight of Israel of old concerning whom prayer was forgiven.
Answered prayer is a blessing belonging to the faithful Christian that must not be taken for granted. God has promised to hear when man meets the requisite conditions. John confidently penned, "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" (I Jn. 3: 22). While pristine Christianity is not designed to be a national religion, America would do well to take heed to the truths found in the book of Jeremiah.