The Fourth Petition: Trusting in the LORD, Not in Man, for Our Needs

 

Jeremiah 17:5-8; Matthew 6:11; Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 50

March 24, 2013 • Pasig Covenant Reformed Church

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Of all stores in a mall, market, or neighborhood, restaurants outnumber everything else. People like eating, and they like eating out. Before the age of malls, there were not too many places to eat. I remember that the only hamburger place I knew when I was working at Meralco was a Tropical Hut restaurant at the corner of EDSA and Ortigas Ave.

"The Prophet Elijah Finds Bread" by Daniele da Volterra (1509–1566) (from 1 Kings 17:1-7)

"The Prophet Elijah Finds Bread" by Daniele da Volterra (1509–1566) (click to enlarge)

Prosperity seems to abound if you go to malls or business places in the cities. Still, hidden behind happy office workers having lunch in Ayala, or families having dinner at Eastwood is the grinding poverty of more than 30 percent of Filipinos. They hardly have any rice, bread or fish on the table even once a day.

The fourth petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” highlights our need to trust God for our daily food, and other provisions for our bodily needs. We may be prosperous now, but an economic disaster, a job loss, or a catastrophic illness, may strike anytime and render us in want. So we are to pray daily that God will have mercy on us to give us this day’s or the next day’s provisions. (The meaning of “daily” is not clear.) In Proverbs 30:8, there is a prayer that all of us will almost never pray, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me.” In the NIV, it says, “give me only my daily bread.” It is very difficult for us to pray for just this day’s or next day’s provisions, but God can surely test us with unexpected circumstances at any moment in our lives.

Since God is the fountain of all good things, he is able to provide all that we ask for, according to his will. The Holy Scripture tells us that we are to pray that God will bless us with the fruits of our labors. The Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 125 tells us that we are to “withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it alone” in our heavenly Father.

This is what our text in Jeremiah 17:5-8 teaches us. The one who places his trust in other people are not blessed by the Lord, and are unfruitful. In contrast, the one who trusts in the Lord are blessed and bears fruits. So our theme this Lord’s Day is: Trusting in the Lord, Not in Man, for Our Needs. We will meditate on this theme under two headings: (1) “Cursed is the Man Who Trusts in Man”; and (2) ”Blessed is the Man Who Trusts in the Lord.”

“Cursed is the Man Who Trusts in Man”
The background of our text, found in Jeremiah 17:1-4, is the rebellion of Israel’s southern kingdom of Judah against God’s covenant with them. This rebellion is coming to a disastrous climax in the 6th century B.C. when Babylon invaded the nation, destroyed the temple, and exiled the people into various foreign lands.

What was Judah’s sin? It was all kinds, including sexual immorality, corruption and injustice, but the most heinous is the worship of idols on the altars in their high places and under every green tree. Their sin is indelible and unremovable, because they are like writings etched by diamond points in stone tablets, and the stone tablets are their hearts. Because of their unceasing idolatry, God vowed to take away their wealth, treasures and heritage—the Promised Land—from them, and drive them out to foreign lands as slaves. The LORD will be so angry that his judgment against his people is like eternal hell itself, “a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.”

Jeremiah then turns his thoughts on the plight of God’s idolatrous people. He calls them “cursed,” a word that means “beset with negative consequences.” 1 Being “cursed” includes “loss of everything significant and a lowering to the most menial of positions.” 2 Yahweh is the only authority who can pronounce and execute curses. God’s warning against his people Israel in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 is the most powerful illustration of what happens to a person—in this case, a whole nation—when God curses him for disobedience:

But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.

The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me (Deut 28:15-20).

The curse will follow Israel everywhere, and it includes all aspects of their lives, including their descendants and livelihood. These include pestilence, drought, defeat by enemies, and exile to foreign lands as slaves.

But not all wicked unbelievers suffer continually; in fact, we see many of them who are prosperous and seemingly never having to deal with poverty or problems. Like the psalmist, we look at wicked unbelievers and say, “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psa 73:3). Why do wicked politicians and celebrities have an overflowing abundance of food, clothes, cars, houses and other possessions? Why do wicked criminals continue to freely roam the streets murdering, robbing, stealing, lying, and deceiving people, and freely enjoy the fruits of their heinous crimes?

And the reverse is true: we see all around us brothers and sisters in Christ whose sufferings do not seem to end. The psalmist rue the fact that the righteous who have “clean” hearts and “innocent” hands are “stricken all day long” (Psa 73:13-14). Christian brethren in Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, and many other countries are martyred, their villages, homes and churches burned to the ground.

How does Jeremiah describe the wicked man who is cursed? “He is like a shrub in the desert” (verse 6), never growing big and tall and green and leafy. Alone in the desert, it does not have any help of a gardener, or the nourishment of rain and fertile land. The wicked are like this shrub. He might have all kinds of riches, but when life’s problems come, he is alone, without any counselors to point him to the right path. He does not have spiritual nourishment and counsel from the preaching of God’s Word, and from the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. He cannot even pray! He might always have an abundance of food, but never have the bread of life and the living water that only Christ our Savior can give. He never hungers or thirsts for righteousness that leads to eternal life. Since he is not rooted, when the storms of life, temptations, and false teachers come, the cursed man is like chaff that is blown by the wind in every direction (Psa 1:4).

All of these earthly things are temporal, lasting only for a moment. And even if they last for a lifetime, they are not carried to his grave. This is why Jeremiah says the cursed man “shall not see any good come,” because all of his treasures on this earth will be eaten by moths and worms and rust when he is gone.

The wicked man who is cursed might live in many mansions worth tens of millions of pesos. But in reality, he lives in a worthless shack, because when the end comes, all his mansions will be destroyed, and all that will remain are our treasures in heaven. Jeremiah describes the destination of the cursed man as “the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land” (verse 6). Although there are no deserts in the Philippines, we have seen pictures of deserts in Africa and even in America. No one can survive in the desert because there is no water, plants or trees, or people. And without air-conditioning, it is almost impossible to survive the extreme heat.

The Dead Sea in Israel is so salty that almost no fish or any other sea creatures survive there. The same is true for the Great Salt Lake in Utah, except for the brine shrimp, which serve as food for migratory birds. There is another place in Utah called the Bonneville Salt Flats which well-qualifies as Jeremiah’s “uninhabited salt land”: no people, no creatures, no vegetation, no rains.

Living in a place like the Dead Sea or the Bonneville Salt Flats is a picture of living in hell: absolutely dry, nothing to eat or drink, no shelter from the heat, no help from other people, no relationships with others, and worse of all, no God who blesses, only a God who curses. Imagine these conditions that the wicked will live in for eternity!

Why is this man cursed? Because he “trusts in man and makes flesh his strength” (verse 5). He is like King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian emperor who, after looking at the grandeur of his kingdom, proudly declared, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” All he trusted was himself and his own power. So God took his kingdom away from him and made him a madman, “driven from among men,” dwelling [in the wilderness] “with the beasts of the field … eat[ing] grass like an ox” (Dan 4:30-32). God cursed him, just as Jeremiah described the man who is cursed by God.

It is very easy for us to trust in ourselves, our own knowledge, abilities, and resources. Today, we trust technology more than anything else to help us with our lives and our troubles. Most churches trust in their own innovations and entertainment to attract hordes of people to their so-called “celebration” worship. This Good Friday and Easter Sunday, like every year, megachurches will once again be full of pageantry, dramatic reenactments of Christ’s crucifixion, cantatas, and spectacular high-tech presentations, even a Jesus look-alike riding on a donkey. Jeremiah has a word for them: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength.”

Jesus taught us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” because he does not want us to be cursed by God. If we do not pray this prayer, trusting in ourselves and other people, turning away from the Lord, we are cursed by God. Because we trust in others, not in God. The Catechism says that even our care and labor, even God’s good gifts, will be of no profit to us if we do not pray this prayer to acknowledge that God is the only fountain of all good.

Instead of trusting in man, we are to trust in the Lord. Then God’s blessing will then be upon us.

“Blessed is the Man Who Trusts in the Lord”
In contrast to the man who is cursed by God is the one who is blessed by God. Who is this blessed man? Jeremiah says in verse 7, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD.” The one who is blessed is showered by God with his benefits and special favor, as he did to our forefathers Noah, Abraham, Joseph and Moses. The result is joy and prosperity in the blessed person’s life.

In the New Testament, to be blessed is not so much to be materially blessed, but to be spiritually blessed (Eph 1:3). To be blessed is more than just a temporary feeling of happiness, but to have “a state of well-being in relationship to God that belongs to those who respond to Jesus’ ministry.” 3 As one who found special favor with God, Mary was chosen to bear the incarnate Son of God. Jesus himself found favor with God (Luke 2:52). Jesus blessed and laid his hands on the children who were brought to him (Mark 10:16). The citizens of the kingdom of heaven are blessed when they exhibit the qualities that Jesus explains in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:2-13). He blessed his disciples before he ascended into heaven (Luke 24:50-51). Jesus said to the doubting Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Those who persevere in the faith until the end are blessed with the crown of life (James 1:12), and blessed with the right to the tree of life and to enter the heavenly city (Rev 22:14).

Today, we remember the final entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in the final week of his ministry on earth. When the Jews hailed him as their King, they shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10 )

As in the curses that will befall Israel for disobedience, God promised blessings for obedience:

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out” (Deut 28:1-6).

Israel will enjoy victory over enemies, abundant livestock, plentiful produce of the land, abundant rain in season, and multitudes of children. The result is so much prosperity that they will be the envy of all other nations (Deut 28:1-14).

Jeremiah 17:5-8 is almost an exact copy of Psalm 1, so that some commentators believe that Jeremiah must have used it in these verses. Like Psalm 1, Jeremiah contrasts the righteous and the wicked. While Jeremiah describes the wicked first, Psalm 1 describes the righteous first.

While the wicked turns away from the LORD, the blessed man trusts in the LORD. How can Jeremiah say the righteous man who trusts in the LORD is “blessed”? And how does he describe him? “He is like a tree planted by water” (verse 8), big and tall and green and leafy, unlike the empty little shrub. He is like a tree that “sends out its roots by the stream.” He is rooted and grounded by a refreshing stream, from where all good things come. Because it has big roots by the stream, it is firm and standing strong, steady and secure even among the fiercest winds. It is nourished by the water and the nutrients in the fertile soil.

Psalm 1 says the righteous man is blessed because he does not have the wicked, sinners and scoffers for his counselors and friends. He has God as his counselor because he meditates on God’s Word day and night. He might not have all kinds of riches, but when life’s problems come, he is secure because God is his refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. God’s Word is the Light to his path and the Lamp to his feet, always pointing him to the paths of righteousness.

The water of his spiritual nourishment come from the preaching of God’s Word, from the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, and from unceasing and earnest prayer daily. He might not always have an abundance of food, but he has the bread of life and the living water that only Christ our Savior gives. The blessed man who trusts in the Lord always hungers and thirsts for righteousness that leads to eternal life. All of these things are treasures in heaven, lasting for eternity, never to be destroyed by moths and worms and rust.

The blessed man might live in a worthless shack, but in reality, Christ has already seated him in the heavenly places because he has saved up treasures in heaven (Eph 2:6-7). In contrast to a little shrub dwelling in the driest deserts, the blessed man is “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Psa 1:3). So when extreme heat comes and there is no rain because of drought, the blessed man does not fear or become anxious. He is as a tree by the water, always refreshed even in the heat. This is why Jesus tells us not to be anxious about what we will eat or wear for tomorrow, because God is able to care for his children more than the birds of the air or the lilies of the field (Matt 6:25-34).

Jeremiah says that the blessed man “does not cease to bear fruit,” just as Psalm 1:3 says, “In all that he does, he prospers.” This is in stark contrast to the cursed man, who “shall not see any good come.” Elijah is one such righteous man who is prospered by God in all that he does, even when he is suffering. When he fled into the wilderness from the wicked king and queen, Ahab and Jezebel, God sent ravens to feed him with bread and meat, and water from a brook (1 Kings 17:6).

Later, the LORD told Elijah to go to a place called Zarepath where a widow would feed her. The widow had a son, and because of the drought, she had only a handful of flour and a little oil left, enough for one last bread for them. But Elijah asked her to bake bread for him. The widow obeyed, knowing that there would be nothing left for her and her son to eat after that. And Elijah assured her, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth” (1 Kings 17:14). True enough, the widow and her son ate for many days, “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah”(1 Kings 17:16).

This reminds us of many places in Scripture where God fed his people from out of nothing. The Israelites were fed by the LORD with manna and quail from heaven, and water from the rock. Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 people from five loaves of bread and two fish. How was he able to do so? Because he himself is God, and as God, he is able to create anything from nothing. He can create wine from water. Indeed, Paul says, “all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:16).

This is why Jesus told the Pharisees that God is able to raise children of Abraham from stones! (Matt 3:9) And when Jesus was fasting and hungry for 40 days in the desert, Satan challenged him to make bread from stones, because Satan knew that Jesus is the Son of God. But Jesus rebuked Satan, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt 4:3-4).

God does not say that prosperity and abundance is a sin. In fact, the psalmist says that God provides “wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psa 104:15). He promises to provide for his people, “I will abundantly bless her provisions; I will satisfy her poor with bread” (Psa 132:15).

As well, God promises to bless those who diligently work with prosperity, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense” (Prov 12:11). Prosperity through hard work, as well as poverty because of laziness is Biblical, “Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread” (Prov 20:13). Paul even warns, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess 3:10).

But is food, clothing, shelter and possessions all that we are to strive for in this life? The Bible says that we have physical needs for our body, but we also need to nourish our soul, by the Word of God, and by partaking of his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. By these, we are united to his perfect obedience, his death, and his resurrection. This is why he says he is the Bread from Heaven, the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 51), and the Living Water (John 4:14; 7:37).

Jesus invites all of you—both of you who are blessed because of your faith in Christ alone as your Savior, and you who are cursed because your heart is turned away from him:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isa 55:1-2).

The food and drink that Jesus offers as he offered himself as a sacrifice for sin is free! No hard work required! O taste and see that the Lord is good!

So when you pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” today, tomorrow, and until our Lord returns, remember: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man” (Psa 118:8). “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psa 146:3). And what Jeremiah said would be true of you, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.”

 


Notes:

  1. ESV Study Bible.
  2. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.
  3. ESV Study Bible.
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