And the Lord said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord? Genesis 18:14, NIV
On God’s sixth visitation to Abraham, he asked a question that was not fully understood for centuries. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
God had introduced the idea of Abraham’s barren wife having a son shortly after Abraham arrived in Canaan. If God promises something, it’s common for him to repeat that promise more than once. God had already told Abraham less than a year earlier that he’d have a son by Sarah. Abraham laughed, not from joy, but in unbelief. This time Sarah laughed in her heart, just as Abraham did earlier — and with the same thoughts about the possibility of having a baby – it’s impossible.
Even though God didn’t confront Abraham about his unbelief a year earlier, he did call Abraham into account for Sarah’s unbelief. God didn’t address Sarah about her lack of faith until Sarah called him a liar. Then God looked her square in the eye and said, “You did laugh,” and that was the end of that; God had the last word and the subject changed.
Now let’s examine two verses for a revelation of God’s heart:
“And the Lord said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:13-14, NKJ).
Abraham and Sarah both wrestled with the same problem: Is it too hard for God to produce life in a barren place? God answered Sarah’s laughter with a question: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Many years later, another prophet wrestled with the same doubts. Instead of a barren wife, Jeremiah had a barren city. He was a prophet to the nations just as Abraham was, and God asked him the same question he asked Abraham.
Jeremiah’s message was anything but a happy one for Israel. They were in the middle of an intense war. King Zedekiah, who ruled Israel at the time, thought the last thing he needed was Jeremiah running around telling the people, “Give up! Fighting is useless! The city will fall. Zedekiah will be taken captive to Babylon.” It’s not surprising that in the eyes of many Jeremiah was a traitor who’d sold out to the enemy. So Zedekiah had Jeremiah arrested and thrown in prison. While Jeremiah was in prison, the Lord told him that his uncle’s son would ask him to buy his field in Anathoth. When the young man arrived to sell the field, Jeremiah already knew that the Lord wanted him to buy the field for some reason, so he did.
The legal transaction was completed; the deed deposited in a safe place. Then, after everyone departed, Jeremiah had second thoughts. “Why did I buy this land? Don’t my actions contradict my warning that Babylon will take over, and nothing we own will be ours anymore? Surely, this was a bad investment.” Since buying the field was God’s idea, Jeremiah took issue with God.
“Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17, NKJ).
Jeremiah refused to show a lack of faith as Abraham and Sarah did. He had already pondered God’s question, “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?”, and come to the conclusion that there’s nothing too hard for the Lord. But Jeremiah kept praying, and he soon revealed that he didn’t know God as well as he thought he did.
“You show loving kindness to thousands and repay the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them – the Great, the Mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts. You are great in counsel and mighty in work, for your eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings” (32:18-19).
Jeremiah had high praise for God, but he saw God’s greatness rather narrowly — because to Jeremiah God sees every iniquity and nobody escapes God’s wrath.
“You have set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, to this day and in Israel and among other men; and You have made Yourself a name, as it is this day. You have brought Your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders and with a strong hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror” (32:20-21).
The Hebrew word for “terror” used in this passage is defined by Vine’s Expository Dictionary as the reaction of men to God’s mighty works of destruction. Jeremiah’s image of God is that of a destroyer who strikes terror in the hearts of men.
“You have given them this land, of which You swore to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey. And they came in and took possession of it, but they have not obeyed Your voice or walked in Your law. They have done nothing of all that You commanded them to do; therefore You have caused all this calamity to come upon them. Look the siege mounds! They have come to the city to take it and the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans who fight against it because of the sword and famine and pestilence. What You have spoken has happened; there You see it!” (32:22-24)
Jeremiah recalled how God delivered them from Egypt, and then reasoned that just as Egypt was destroyed for failing to obey, Israel would also be destroyed with calamity, war, famine and pestilence. To Jeremiah, God displays his greatness by destroying nations. “There is nothing too hard for you to do!” Crowed Jeremiah. But interestingly, after all this high praise for God’s ability to destroy, Jeremiah still had the nerve to question God’s intelligence:
“And yet you say to buy the field — paying good money for it before these witnesses even though the city will belong to our enemies” (32:25, The Living Bible).
In summary, and in my own words, Jeremiah said to God, “You are all muscle and no brain. This was a stupid transaction.”
God had a lot to say in answer to Jeremiah’s misguided prayer:
“Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for me?” (32:26).
The same question God had asked Abraham hundreds of years ago he now asked Jeremiah. But wait – hadn’t Jeremiah already answered this question? At the very beginning of his prayer, hadn’t Jeremiah declared, “There is nothing too hard for God”? So why did God ask this question again, as though Jeremiah had never answered it?
Sure, Jeremiah, there’s nothing too hard for God — but you’ve missed his heart. You may be a Prophet to the nations, but you don’t really know him yet; you just think you do. Do you think God glories in the death and destruction he can produce? Do you think he delights in his ability to make a land barren? Does God want us to understand that it’s not too hard for him to destroy — or does God want us to understand that it’s not too hard for him to produce life in a barren place?
After asking Jeremiah the same question that he asked Abraham, God acknowledge that the city would be made barren. Jeremiah was right — God would make the sinful city pay for its sins. God has never promised we would escape the consequences of our sins. He only promised that we can survive them.
The Chaldeans were his “servants” to burn down houses on whose rooftops God’s people had offered incense to Baal and poured out drink offerings to foreign gods. Yes, they’d made God angry when they’d offered their love to others for the whole world to see. God’s people hadn’t even had the decency to commit spiritual adultery in secret; they’d done it on the rooftop without shame. Nor was this the act of a few men in places of power; everyone was guilty of lusting for strange gods, loving lies they had been taught more than the truth proclaimed by God’s prophets (Jeremiah 32:32-33, NKJ). The nation had strayed so far from God they were all guilty. Guilty of what you say? They were guilty of refusing to worship the God who loved them that they might embrace barbaric gods who demanded the sacrifice of innocent babies.
Why did Israel desire to worship gods that demanded them to murder their own children by burning them alive in sacrificial worship? Why did Israel forsake the worship of a God who would never even think of asking such a thing of them? Why would they — unless they were thoroughly corrupt and beyond hope? God’s actions in destroying his people were completely and thoroughly justified. The real “crime” would have been for God never to intervene by putting an end to the atrocities the Israelites were committing against one another and the innocent.
In summary, God told Jeremiah, “When I destroy, it’s justifiable, but Jeremiah, you’ve missed the point. In your mind, it’s not too hard for me to destroy and make barren. But in my mind, it’s not too hard to produce life in a barren place.” God goes on to say “I will” 12 times to Jeremiah. “I will” meaning these things are not too hard for God to do.
I have replaced the 12 “I will’s” with “Is it too hard for God”.
- Is it too hard for God to gather his erring children from all the countries where He has driven them in his anger?
- Is it too hard for God to bring us home again?
- Is it too hard for God to cause us to dwell safely free from persecution and abuse?
- Is it too hard for God to make us his people and to be our God?
- Is it too hard for God to give us one heart and one way that we may fear him forever for our good and for the good of our children after us?
- Is it too hard for God to make an everlasting covenant with us?
- Is it too hard for God to never turn away from doing good to us and for us?
- Is it too hard for God to put his fear in our hearts so we will not depart from him?
- Is it too hard for God to rejoice over us to do us good?
- Is it too hard for God to plant us in a land he loves with all His heart and with all His soul?
- Is it too hard for God to bring on us all the good that he has promised us?
- Is it too hard for God to cause the captives to return? Is it too hard for God to release those (like Israel and like us) who’ve been held captive by their own sin?
Anyone can kill, destroy and make barren. How many of us can heal and give life and prosperity? No, Jeremiah, it’s not a question of whether it’s too hard for God to punish us for our sins. That’s not hard for God to do. We’ve given him more than ample justification to raise his hand to destroy us. I’ll tell you what’s hard. Saving us is “hard.” Scripture says we are “scarcely” saved.
God had a lot on his mind when he answered Jeremiah’s question: “Why am I buying land in this barren place?” He concluded his reply with a rebuke: “And fields will be bought in this land of which you say, it is desolate, without man or beast… (Jeremiah 32:43, NKJ).
God never intended the destruction of Jerusalem to be forever. He is establishing and will establish Jerusalem in righteousness. Israel needed (and still needs) to know that all of us are sinners, unworthy of God and his blessings. In his mercy and love, God let Israel fail, in order that every mouth might be silent when he opened the door for the Gentiles to have equal rights in his kingdom. It would not have been righteous to leave the Gentiles out since God created all of us. How can the Jews complain about God including the Gentiles when they know (or surely should know) from experience that they’re no better than we are? God instructed Jeremiah to buy land in a barren place because God never intended for sin to make us barren forever.
I don’t know whether or not Jeremiah’s question and his attitude toward God’s greatness and what it’s “not too hard for God to do” hurt God, upset God, frustrated God, made God angry or just downright bothered him. Before Jeremiah was released from prison, God spoke to him a second time about the same matter. It was almost as though God responded one time, and then decided he hadn’t yet said quite enough. And sure enough he did have much more to say about what it’s “not too hard” for him to do.
“Moreover the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah a second time, while he was still shut up in the court of the prison, saying, Thus says the Lord who made it, the Lord who formed it to establish it (the Lord is His name) Call to Me, and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:1-3, NKJ)
“Jeremiah” the Lord was saying, “there are things you don’t know about me. Here’s one: If you call to me, I will answer you and show you what I consider great and mighty things.” God again acknowledged that he will slay those who’ve sinned against him. But death isn’t God’s whole agenda. Therefore in Chapter 33, God tells Jeremiah five more times, “I will.” Here are five more things it’s not “too hard” for God to do. Again, I have changed the “I wills” to “It’s not too hard for God”.
- It’s not too hard for God to bring health and healing.
- It’s not too hard for God to heal and reveal the abundance of peace and truth.”
- It’s not too hard for God to cause the captives to return and rebuild the places destroyed by their sin.
- It’s not too hard for God to cleanse iniquity by which we have sinned against God.
- It’s not too hard for God to pardon all our iniquities by which we have sinned and by which we have transgressed against God.
It doesn’t take faith to believe God will destroy us for sin — it takes faith to believe God will forgive our sins against him.
And after he has healed us, given us revelation, released us from captivity, cleansed and pardoned us, Jerusalem shall be to God a name of joy, a praise and an honor before all the nations of the earth. Then all the nations shall hear about all the good that he has done for his people. Then all nations will fear and tremble before God’s people, not because he is a God mighty to destroy but a God who disciplines and then restores.
If you believe the New Testament, there will be a New Jerusalem that does not belong to the Jews alone. They had their opportunity to make it theirs by keeping the law and failed. The New Jerusalem belongs to one Jew named Jesus, and to anyone, Jew or Gentile, who will allow God to circumcise his or her heart that they may do things God’s way.
To drive his point home, after listing five things it’s not too hard for God to do, God gently rebuked Jeremiah, saying,
“Again there shall be heard in this place of which you say It is desolate, without man and without beast – in the cities of Judah, in the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who will say; Praise the Lord of Hosts, For the Lord is good, For his mercy endures forever – and of those who will bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord. For I will cause the captives of the land to return as at the first says the Lord” (Jeremiah 33:10-11, NKJ)
Where Jeremiah saw desolation, God saw his wedding day. Notice that God doesn’t talk about “bridegrooms” or “brides”…plural. He talks about one bridegroom and one bride. God himself is the bridegroom, and his bride is the New Jerusalem. In the New Jerusalem, we won’t bring animals to sacrifice. We will praise God for the one sacrifice who enabled everyone to be included in his kingdom of true justice and equality.
But God had more to say. In the place Jeremiah thought desolate, without man and without beast, shepherds would again count their flocks because God will perform every good thing He has promised. A branch of righteousness will make it all possible:
“In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called; THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jeremiah 33:15-16, NKJ)
The ten nations of the Northern Kingdom of Israel never returned from captivity. The Southern Kingdom returned long enough for Jesus to be born, rejected, and resurrected thus making it righteous for him to give all men the same opportunity to receive the good things God will give to Israel. But a long period of time will separate the fulfillment of verses 15 and 16 while the Gentiles come in.
We now know that verse 15 has been fulfilled. Jesus is the “branch of righteousness” who grew up to execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. Verse 16 has not yet been fulfilled because “Judah” has not yet been saved, nor does Jerusalem yet dwell safely. When Jesus was born, she was a territory of Rome, and destroyed within 70 years after Jesus’ death, just as he predicted.
God told Jeremiah he would no more break the covenant he made with David than he would break his covenant with the day and night to never cease. God promised King David that David would never lack a man of his lineage to sit on the throne of the house of Israel. If you don’t understand what was on God’s mind, it may appear from history that God broke his covenant with David. When Israel ceased to be a nation, they ceased to have a king ruling from David’s house. In fact, the king of Jesus’ day was a hated Gentile appointed by Rome. And in our day Israel has an elected Prime Minister, not a king.
Does this mean God failed to keep his word? No, God always keeps his word; but he doesn’t necessarily keep it either when or how it pleases us. He keeps his word whenever and however he chooses. It’s his sovereign right to do what he has promised whenever and however he wishes. When God made a covenant with David, he had on his mind the only man with whom he could make an everlasting covenant it not fail.
After telling Jeremiah how strong his commitment is to establish his promise to King David, he repeated the promise he made to Abraham.
“As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured, so will I multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me” (Jeremiah 33:22, NKJ).
Jesus is the one seed who died to produce many seeds that he might make both Jews and Gentiles kings and priests to God. We are a family of priests just like the Levites, and we will “be without number like the sand of the sea,” just as God promised Abraham.
Then God addressed, for the third time, Jeremiah’s notion that God’s greatness lies merely in his ability to make a place barren:
“Moreover the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, Have you not considered what these people have spoken, saying, The two families which the Lord has chosen, He has also cast them off? Thus they have despised My people, as if they should no more be a nation before them” (Jeremiah 33:23-24, NKJ)
Do people really believe that God can destroy, but it is too hard for God to save? To that false idea God replied,
“This is what the Lord says; If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them” (Jeremiah 33:25, NIV).
As sure as the sun comes up every day and the moon comes out every night, God will choose one man descended from David to rule over all the seed of Abraham. The New Testament identifies the seed of Abraham as anyone who is in Christ (Galatians 3:29, NIV).
God had quite a lot to say to Jeremiah about what it’s “not too hard for God to do.” And he didn’t stop talking until he got to Jesus.
Many years later Gabriel appeared to Mary and picked up these themes right where God left off! Read his words carefully:
“Then the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God and behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33, NKJ).
Gabriel announced God would give Jesus the throne of his father David — that’s the last thing God said to Jeremiah. Notice Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s announcement:
“Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (1:34)
Mary didn’t laugh at the impossibility of her bearing this child, as her grandpa Abraham and grandma Sarah had. She merely asked a fair and honest question: “How?”
“And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore also that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (1:35).
“Jesus will not have an earthly father,” Gabriel said, just as Adam didn’t have an earthly father. If God can breathe life into a lump of dirt, why can’t he breathe life into an egg from a woman’s ovaries? If God didn’t need a man or woman to give us life in the beginning, what makes us think he needs us now?
Abraham dealt with the issue of barrenness. Jeremiah dealt with the issue of barrenness. Then Mary dealt with the issue of barrenness, too. How could her womb be fruitful when she wasn’t married? But since Mary, unlike her predecessors, didn’t deny God’s ability to do whatever he said he would do, God didn’t give Mary “the question” (“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”) to ponder. Instead, God encouraged Mary’s faith by letting her know about her cousin, Elizabeth:
“Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible” (1:36).
Notice that Zachariah and Elizabeth are similar to Abraham and Sarah. Despite the barrenness of their old age, Abraham and Sarah produced a nation that would declare to the world, “This is God’s law.” Zachariah and Elizabeth in the barrenness of their old age produced a son who would declare to the world, “This is God’s grace” — FOR WITH GOD NOTHING WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE. When Jesus was born, the question, “Is anything too hard for God?” ceased to be a question and became a fact, “With God nothing will be impossible.”