Billy Graham: God’s Warning

Billy Graham: God’s Warning

Recently I have been studying the Book of Jeremiah. My heart has been stirred as I sense the burden of this devout, young, sensitive prophet, and read again his fearless warning to a faithless, idolatrous and wayward nation. My tears were mingled with the weeping prophet’s as he pleaded with an apathetic people. My heart ached because I saw a striking parallel between the erring nation of Judah and our own beloved country. 

Jeremiah prophesied to a people with a glorious heritage. Their history was the wonder of the world. Under God they had broken the bonds of Pharaoh. They had risen to be one of the major world powers, and the nations of the earth had honored them for their skills and their prowess. They boasted such names as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David and Solomon. They produced great poets, kings, judges and musicians. Their architects, their masons and their silversmiths were among the greatest in the world. They had given the existing nations codes of living and statutes of law that have never been excelled to this day. 

And when Jeremiah preached in the streets of Jerusalem, the nation was experiencing a great era of prosperity. Gold flowed freely in the marketplace. Tributes swelled the governmental coffers. Silver was brought from Tarshish and gold from Uphaz. 

God does not judge people by a monetary standard. He weighs them upon the scales of justice and integrity. He looks deep into their hearts for underlying motives, for proper attitudes and inner purity. Judah’s outward prosperity was merely a thin, gilded coat hiding her inner depravity and poverty. Her outward show of strength was a mask that camouflaged her spirit of weakness and shame. Religiously she had become apostate; militarily she was vulnerable; morally she was destroying herself with her lust and her greed. Yet this nation felt smug, complacent, self-satisfied. 

Do you see the parallel between Judah then and our country now? We have a glorious heritage in America—the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock; Washington at Valley Forge on his knees; our Founding Fathers on their knees at the first Continental Congress; the gaunt Lincoln praying in an hour of crisis; the great historical awakenings that marked the spiritual life of our nation. All these are part and parcel of our great American heritage. 

We have grown to a first-rate power among the world’s family of nations. Our skills, our prowess and our know-how are the envy of the world. We are drunk with prosperity. Did ever so many in the history of the world have so much? 

Yet our prosperity has not brought the things we need most. Man needs security, but in spite of our money we are more insecure than ever. Man needs inner peace, but our money has not brought peace of heart and mind. Man longs for freedom from fear, but in spite of our prosperity fear stalks the earth. Man longs for accord with God, but to millions God is far away. The words of James are appropriate for these times, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!” (James 5:1). 

Jeremiah’s message to Judah befits these times in which we live. The truth that he uttered goes straight to the core of our needs today. When God called him, He said, “Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). And this weeping, compassionate prophet, crushed by the godlessness of a renegade world, is still pleading through the pages of Holy Scripture for repentance and a return to a merciful and forgiving God. 

History is recorded so that we may avoid the errors of the past. Judah fell and was led into Babylonian captivity because she ignored the voice of history as well as the voice of Jeremiah the prophet who was speaking, “Thus saith the Lord.” Today we are in the precise position of Judah in Jeremiah’s day. If we turn a deaf ear to Almighty God and shut our eyes to the truths of history, disaster is in store for us as it was for them. 

The only alternative to destruction is repentance. That was true then, and it is true now. God spoke through the lips of Jeremiah saying, “But if they do not obey, I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation” (Jeremiah 12:17). 

What would Jeremiah say to us? First, he would say something about our idolatry. The Word of God thunders forth as it did through the lips of Jeremiah, “According to the number of your cities are your gods, O Judah” (Jeremiah 2:28). 

What a picture of America today—worshiping other gods while giving lip service to the true and the living God! I tell you, God is sick of it! I tell you that our false pretenses and our hypocrisy is a stench in the nostrils of God. 

Of course, most people are not conscious idolaters, but they are bowed down to the god of pleasure. Others, whose “Bible” is the stock market report, are bowed down to the god of gold. Still others engage in what may be called self-worship— they are all wrapped up in themselves. 

Jeremiah had a word for these idolaters. He said, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes” (Jeremiah 17:5-6); Wherever your chief interest is, that is where your god is. Whatever you love most, be it sports, pleasure, business or God, that is your god! 

Second, I think Jeremiah would say something about entangling alliances. Jeremiah scourged his nation for making entangling alliances with godless nations. “Now why take the road to Egypt … or why take the road to Assyria, to drink the waters of the River? Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will rebuke you” (Jeremiah 2:18-19). 

Egypt and Assyria were enemies of Judah, and yet her leaders sought to buy favor with gold and tribute. Instead of Israel strengthening her spiritual fortification, she sought to buy friendship with enemy nations with gold. Today we are in danger of doing the same thing. We’ve gone all over the world trying to buy friendships, but our policy has failed. 

Third, I think Jeremiah would say something about our moral degeneration. Jeremiah minced no words about his nation’s moral corruption. He knew that God abhorred lust and moral filth. He said, “‘When I had fed them to the full, then they committed adultery and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots’ houses. They were like well-fed lusty stallions; every one neighed after his neighbor’s wife. Shall I not punish them for these things?’ says the Lord. ‘And shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?’” (Jeremiah 5:7-9). 

Today our literature, films and our everyday lives are riddled with sexual filth. Obscenity and profanity are everywhere. We have fallen down before the god Aphrodite, and the seventh commandment has been shattered into a thousand pieces—immorality among rich and poor, perversion upon the educated and the illiterate, divorce rates climbing annually, homes collapsing because of the unfaithfulness of husband or wife, children running the streets as sheep with no shepherd. 

These are the products of moral declination. And above the din can be heard the voice of God’s judgment, “‘Shall I not punish them for these things?’ says the Lord. ‘Shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?’” (Jeremiah 5:29). 

Fourth, I think Jeremiah would speak about our spiritual apostasy. There were priests in Jeremiah’s day—plenty of them. But Jeremiah stood at the temple entrance and cried, “An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?” (Jeremiah 5:30- 31). The error that Judah’s false prophets made was in telling the people that all was well, and that God would not judge them for their evils. “They have lied about the Lord, and said, ‘It is not He. Neither will evil come upon us, nor shall we see sword or famine’” (Jeremiah 5:12). They said, “Peace, peace! When there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). 

The preaching of judgment has never been popular. For Jeremiah’s boldness they threw him in prison, but when they released him he continued with renewed vigor and passion. He didn’t do it just to be antagonistic. God’s Word was like a fire in his bones, he said. He could see the hand of God’s judgment, and he warned the people to flee from the wrath to come. 

I believe that unless America repents, God will judge her. I believe that judgment is near. Judah was judged by the unholy, ungodly nation of Assyria. God used the wrath of men to work out His purpose with His people. There is no reason to believe that He will not let the ax of judgment fall on our heads if we, like Judah, refuse to repent of our sins and turn to His Son, Jesus Christ. 

Fifth, if Jeremiah were here today, I believe he would talk about the lost sense of sin in America. The people of Judah had forgotten what sin was. The word sin was seldom mentioned in the temple. The priests spoke soft phrases to the people, but they were never challenged to face up to the evil of their hearts and repent. 

Hasn’t the word sin become almost taboo in America? And as a result, haven’t we all but forgotten the meaning of it? Many burdened ministers have told me with tears that their people seem to have forgotten what sin is, and that many of their members have become embroiled in the most grievous sins imaginable. They are distressed and concerned that their people have ignored the fact of sin and its consequences. 

The Bible says, “Behold, I will bring you to judgment for saying, ‘I have not sinned.’ How lightly you gad about, changing your way! You shall be put to shame” (Jeremiah 2:35-36, RSV). My friends, the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). That is just as true today as it was in Jeremiah’s day. You cannot break God’s laws and get away with it. “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). 

God is saying today to individuals and nations, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15). “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3). 

I ask you today to give your life to Jesus Christ. If you have never come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, repent of your sins right now. Receive Him, and the same Christ who changed lives 2,000 years ago can change your life at this moment, and you can start in a new direction. ©1957 BGEA

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version. The quotation marked RSV is taken from The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, ©1946, 1952, 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Photo: ©1968 BGEA

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