Summary: A comparison of the effects of trusting in man and trusting in God based on Jeremiah 17:5-8.
In academic circles a favourite type of question to ask in an exam or an essay starts with the words ‘compare and contrast’. The task is to discuss the differences and similarities between two different ideas or situations, to show where they are the same and where they are different. Here, in Jeremiah 17:5-8, two different types of people are considered, they are seen in stark contrast, they have very few similarities, apart from the fact that they both trust in some being.
We all have to put our trust, our final reliance, in someone or something. It might be God, or it might be another person. Of course, we are all constantly putting some degree of trust in others, for example trusting that the driver of the bus we are in will not suddenly veer off the road and crash. What is meant here is not that kind of trust, but the kind of trust in which there is a deep hope and reliance, the thing we expect to hold firm when everything else fails. For many people that trust is in themselves. But the choices in who to trust can be reduced to just two. Is it a human being, or is it God? That is the stark choice, and Jeremiah describes these two choices to us and explains the consequences of each. Let’s have a look at what the Bible has to say here.
Trust in man
The fashion today is to look towards the self as being the only source of trust. Self-help groups and manuals abound and there is a basic distrust of others, particularly of people in authority or leadership of any kind. This is a reaction to the failure of leaders of the past, who have led their people into dreadful wars and times of trouble, who have promised much but have delivered little. Who have been placed in positions of responsibility, but have betrayed the trust placed in them and have served only themselves.
The human race has been shown time and time again, both corporately and individually, to be both feeble and sinful. The reading here talks of the arm of flesh, just flesh, no bone, no support to it. People might not mean to fail, but they often do not have the power to not to. We are all overwhelmed at times by forces and circumstances over which we have no strength. There is a song that has had words slightly changed for the current edition of the songbook. It used to say:-
God is with us, God is with us,
So our great forefathers sang,
Far across the field of battle,
Lo their Holy war cry rang
Never once they feared or faltered
Never once they ceased to sing,
God is with is, God is with us!
Christ our Lord shall reign as king!
The change occurred in the fifth line – ‘never once they feared or faltered’ has been changed to the more accurate – ‘though at times they feared and faltered’. All men and women, even the strongest and the bravest fear and falter at times, and fail to deliver. Trusting in humanity, other people or ourselves has dire consequences.
Results of trust in man
The person who trusts in man is here likened to a desert plant, a piece of desert scrub. These plants are small and spindly. They are dry, they have no fruit. All their effort must be put into getting the tiny bit of moisture that they are able to reach. They live on salty, barren, uninhabited land, where, even if they did grow in beauty, nobody would see them or enjoy them. They were made for a hard existence on the margins. There is nobody to tend them, few insects to pollinate them, or birds and animals to carry their seeds. They rely for survival solely on their own resources, and have become adapted to just relying on themselves.
In Britain we are fortunate to live in a land where, on the whole, we get sufficient rainfall for all our needs, and do not experience serious shortages of water. However do sometimes have hot, dry summers. We had one a few years ago when, in order to conserve supplies, the use of hosepipes was banned. People were unable to water their gardens and many plants died. The next year draught-proof plants were all the rage, these types of desert plants were being bought for gardens and some people were not growing the normal types of plants at all. Then, you’ve guessed it, the summer was wet. It was constantly pouring with rain. These drought-proof plants were, unfortunately, not flood-proof. Many of them died and gardens were ruined. They just could not take advantage of the times of plenty.
If we trust in man, rather than God, we can end up like that. We put all our energy into survival, so we cannot spare any to give fruit. We cannot have those qualities in our lives that bless others. We become dry, with nothing to give. Our interactions with other people do not leave them blessed or strengthened or encouraged. We do not display the beauty and the holiness of Christ in our lives.