Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work;
That saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is cieled with cedar, and painted with vermilion.
Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him?
He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD.
I have not been able to get away from the impact of this passage. For some reason, the idea of thinking that we are safe and sound in our house of cedar seems to pierce my heart. Today, I think I realized why this already impactful passage touches me on a deeper and more personal level. Allow me to share some bittersweet memories...
Somewhere in a crowded and lonely attic or perhaps in a corner booth of a busy antique mall sits a dusty cedar hope chest, handmade by some high school students from a small town in Indiana. Though the tradition has faded now, in decades past a young girl would collect keepsakes from her school days as well as items to be used in her future home in some type of chest or trunk, appropriately called a "hope chest." Along with items that marked special events of her passing girlhood; gifts from grandparents, parents, and other relatives would be lovingly tucked away for use in the young woman's own future household.
My mom, growing up in the 40's and 50's had one such hope chest. Her dad, my Grandpa Lloyd, was an industrial arts teacher at a local high school. One year he gave his class a special project. They were to build a beautiful cedar chest which would be given to my mom to use as her hope chest. As a young girl, I often admired the huge trunk with its smooth red wood and its contents from a generation before mine. As I would carefully unfold the enclosed memories, I would imagine my mom as a beautiful teen twirling around in her poodle skirt complemented by a soft wool sweater and of course completed with black and white saddle shoes. I can still smell the pungent cedar scent that guarded the precious memories for decades.
Through an unfortunate series of events, the trunk was eventually lost, sold in a storage sale. My imaginings are now extended to where the beautiful chest and its precious contents could be today. While they may be appreciated for their vintage value, the personal essence can never be realized in the hands of the unknown owners. Although Grandpa Lloyd, my mother, and I thought that the momentos of days past were well guarded by sturdy cedar walls, they were carried away by strangers.
Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar?
Jeremiah's message was directed at King Jehoiakim and his son Jehoiachin (or Coniah). The king thought he was untouchable in his majestic palace made with rich cedar from the famous cedar trees in Lebanon, and painted with brilliant vermilion to bring out the red hues of the cedar. (See the above verses.) It must have been like an ancient florescent light, signaling to all around that the king and his kingdom were prestigiously protected by their riches and finery.
This is where most of the world today lives. Everyone has his own "cedar," the material with which he is building his house that makes him think he is invincible. Good works, rules, reputation, education, talent, charitable service, appearance, health, career, family, religion, material possessions... Are you, am I, sitting enclosed in our walls of cedar, thinking we are content and well-protected? Have we painted our houses with impressive colors so that anyone who looks will think we are a little better than they are?
Although, the above list contains real life building blocks, they are all temporary. No matter how strong the walls my seem, they can be destroyed in a moment and carried away by strangers.
Then where should we find our security? True security and contentment can never be found in the temporary. Secure and temporal are opposing terms. Most of us make our choices like Lot did in Genesis 13:10-11. He looked around him and chose what looked best. Today, we look around at various career paths and what others have accomplished as they have gone down those paths. We count the money and the hours and compute the best life. But God's question in Jeremiah 22:15 peels away all the layers of impressiveness, and exposes the heart. If true security cannot be found in the temporary, then it must be found in the eternal. In verses 15 and 16, we see 3 things that are eternal: judgment, justice and knowing God. These three can be summed up in one word, Truth. We must choose between right and wrong based on the righteous judgments of God, not on comparisons of man. We must get to know Him through His word and allow His desires to become our desires as we choose the building materials for our lives. Perhaps he will allow us to choose cedar, but the building is simply that, a building. When all is lost, the foundation must be sure in our relationship with the Way the Truth , and the Life. (John 14:6)
My "stuff" might look impressive to some. I might have talent, career, education, possessions, etc. But they are things I seek only as God gives me liberty to do so, and all is done to bring Him glory, not to build my own castle from which to reign.
It was not easy for me or for my mom to let go of the regrets of the past. There has been a mourning process for the lost items that tell some of the story of our lives. But though the walls of cedar may have protected a few temporary treasures, the memories they represent will last many lifetimes as they are passed down to my children and grandchildren. Similarly, though the things I have collected may one day be carried away by strangers, the foundation of faith will remain secure. Though my children may mourn my passing, they can choose to stand firm and secure on their own foundation of faith, trusting in an eternal Truth that will remain even if the cedars of Lebanon are broken. (Psalm 29:5)