On Jeremiah 17:7-8

This week I was asked to share some thoughts on Jeremiah 17:7-8 at the Celebrate Recovery ministry at my home church. They asked me to talk about what that passage teaches, what it means to me, and how it applies to our recovery journey. I thought I’d share my thoughts here on my blog, as well.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

—Jeremiah 17:7-8

When I sat down to read this passage, the first thing that jumped out me was the very first word. “But” is a preposition that tells us that the idea we’re about to read is connected to the idea that came before it. In this case, the prophet Jeremiah is contrasting two different ideas; he’s comparing two different things in which we can put our trust. Let’s go back to verse 5 where Jeremiah’s thought begins and read from there:

5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched place of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
7 “BUT blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord…”

—Jeremiah 17:5-7a (emphasis mine)

This chapter is part of the larger warning that Jeremiah gave to the nation of Israel. He told them that God was going to use the empire of Babylon to bring judgment on Israel for its disobedience. While Jeremiah originally wrote these words to Israel, the point he made is a larger truth that applies to you and me today.

Jeremiah is making a critical contrast in verses 5-8. It is one connected thought that can be summarized as, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, and blessed is the one who trusts in God.” In other words, if our confidence is in other people, or even in ourselves, things will not go well for us. But, if our trust is in God, we will be blessed. This is an essential truth, especially when it comes to recovery.

Verses 5-6 explain what happens when we place our trust in people, rather than God. It paints a bleak picture of dry, arid loneliness. Verse 6 says that those who put their trust in man “will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.” The Hebrew word translated as “parched places”—חֲרֵרִים (ḥᵃrērîm)—carries with it the idea of a hot, lifeless desert place. Doesn’t that just make your mouth feel dry and thirsty? It feels so hopeless and taxing.

In verse 8, Jeremiah contrasts this lifeless desert place with what happens when we place our trust in the Lord. He says that those who put their trust in God “will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (v. 8). Jeremiah likens Believers to thriving trees planted next to the stream of God’s living water. Their roots—which represents their confidence and trust—are sent out to be nourished by the stream, which represents the life found in God. What a beautiful image of flourishing and peace!

Jeremiah used the illustration of heat to refer to pressure or adversity, teaching that when our trust is placed in God, we won’t fear when the heat comes. That’s something that really speaks to me personally. I don’t know about you, but I needed to be reminded of that this week. When our world is turned upside down because, for the first time in human history, the entire globe is quarantined due to a virus, we don’t need to give in to fear when our confidence is in God. Those of us in recovery don’t need to fear the heat of temptation when it tries to get us to act out or to use again. We can trust God and take life one day at a time, or if needed, one moment at a time. When our trust is rooted in God, we don’t need to fear the “heat” of family pressures, or financial pressures, or romantic pressures, or problems at work, or not having a job, or illness. Our leaves are always green.

It’s important to remember that this promise does not mean that if we trust in God, we won’t have trials and temptations in life. Jeremiah said “when heat comes,” not if. And Jesus told us in John 16:33 that in this world, we will have trials and troubles. There’s no getting around that. But the question is this: When those trials come, do we want to be all alone in a hot, lifeless desert? Or do we want to be rooted next to a flowing stream? If our faith and trust and confidence is in God, when those trials come—and they will come—we don’t need to be afraid. That’s the point Jeremiah is making. Our leaves will remain green, and we will never fail to bear fruit.

What does it mean that “our leaves will always be green, and we will bear fruit?” It’s a beautiful picture, but what does that look like in our lives? I believe it means that, despite the “heat” of life, we can maintain our peace and our joy when our trust is in God. Think of the story in Mark 4:35-41 where Jesus was sleeping on the boat without a care in the world as a storm raged all around Him. That’s how I think this looks.

Amid the storms and conflicts in our lives, we can have peace (our leaves will remain green) when our trust is rooted in God. We can have victory in our recovery despite struggles and temptations. And because of that peace and victory, we can reach out to others, even in the midst of our struggles, and bear fruit by loving and helping them find that same peace that comes from trusting our higher power, God.

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