September 2, 2007
“Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”
In just two days, we have the 50th anniversary of one of the most spectacular events of American cultural history. It was on September 4, 1957, after months and months of media hype, that Ford Motor Company introduced the Edsel. The day was known as E-Day.
American pop culture is littered with the ruins of products that failed to live up to the hype. Do you remember the release of “New Coke” in 1985, which took only two months to completely bomb as consumers clamored for the classic flavor. Or, how about Betamax, the videotape format that Sony developed that provided clean images but only an hour of recording time? Then VHS came along and sent Betamax the way of the dodo. But the Edsel was the Mother of All Product Failures.
The Edsel was supposed to be Ford’s entry into the competitive market for upscale-but-not-luxury cars. While Ford made Lincolns as their top-of-the-line cars to compete with Cadillac, another car was needed to challenge GM’s Oldsmobile. As a result, Ford began development of a near top of the line vehicle which they named the “Edsel” after Edsel Ford, Henry Ford’s son and former president of the company.
Ford designated September 4, 1957, as “E-Day” and launched a massive marketing campaign. Ads touting that “The Edsel Is Coming” were everywhere. The ads implied that here was a vehicle that was new, innovative, and exciting. When E-Day rolled around Ford dealerships were packed with people wanting to take a look at the Edsel. The campaign worked. People were talking about the Edsel, but they did not actually buy very many. All those people kicking the tires on E-Day quickly realized that the Edsel was not really anything new. The bodywork was the same as the other Ford models. There were some interesting differences in style, like the trademark “horse-collar” grill but that evoked more sarcasm than sales. A popular crack at the time was that the Edsel looked like “a Mercury sucking on a lemon.”
And that wasn’t the only goofy thing about the Edsel. In an effort to be new and different, engineers put the car’s automatic “Teletouch” pushbutton transmission in the center of the steering wheel — right where the horn usually was (and still is on most cars). Drivers would instinctively go to honk the horn and accidentally slam the car into reverse.
Many of the Edsels also arrived at dealerships with a note taped to the steering wheel listing parts that were missing. There was no Edsel plant, so workers at the Ford and Mercury factories often got parts confused, or left them out altogether.
But that was a minor annoyance. The biggest factor in the Edsel’s failure was a matter of simple economics. The American economy in 1957 was slipping into a recession. Sales among all carmakers were down, and the cars that were selling were generally small and fuel efficient, not massive boats like the Edsel. Furthermore, the Edsel required pricey premium gas. Folks looked at the sticker price on E-Day, and walked away.
The Edsel lasted for two more model years and then vanished into the scrap heap of automotive history. It became a symbol for the wrong thing at the wrong time.
But bad timing and failure to know the market are not just problems for business. Human history is full of other kinds of “Edsels” — times when people did not see that their hopes, ambitions, and actions were completely misplaced and times when human hype outstripped the reality of the circumstances. Biblically speaking, Israel’s chasing after other gods is a classic example of an Edsel-ized view of the world. Wanting something new, exciting and different, the people and their leaders got giddy at the prospect of other religions.
The Prophet Jeremiah had a word from God about this situation. Jeremiah was God’s prophet for a long time—from the time of King Josiah (640 to 609 B.C.) through the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and beyond. Despite tremendous opposition, including plots against his life, he persisted in speaking God’s word to Israel.
By the way, the language and style we find in "Jeremiah" and "Lamentations" is quite similar to that in Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, the Books of Samuel, and the Books of Kings. This leads many scholars to think that Jeremiah and his scribe Baruch wrote or edited much of the Old Testament, as we have it today. If those scholars are right, then Jeremiah is one of the most influential people in history.
In Jeremiah chapter 2, the prophet is speaking to a specific situation. God had a problem with his people. God had a bone to pick, a controversy.
The primary accusation was this: God had guided and guarded the people of Israel, whom he regards as his own covenant people. Their response was not to dwell in God’s loving embrace, but to turn from trusting the Lord and to go after other gods.
There is an old saying: When you go to the dance, “you dance with them what brung you.” Israel had forgotten who “brung” her. God had created Israel out of a mob of escaped Egyptian slaves. Jeremiah lays out the indictment in scathing terms. In 2:2, we read, "I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” Bridal imagery is used frequently in Scripture for the relationship between God and God’s people. Jeremiah says that Israel was once the Lord’s devoted bride. But now the Bride Israel has abandoned her husband to cavort with strangers. Idolatry in the OT is often described as adultery. Israel has become a harlot. Israel’s action is so disgusting and so obscene that it is astonishing that they could descend to such levels.
In v10, the Lord says, “cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see, or send to Kedar and examine with care;” [that is go through out the world] see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?.” God said look at all these pagan nations. Have they changed their Gods, even though they are only worshipping false idols? No they have not. But then God adds the painful truth: “But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.”
How could they do such a thing? Vs12-13 summarize the case: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
Notice that God’s people are greater sinners than pagans. The pagans were only guilty of one sin--Idolatry. God’s people are guilty of two sins: They abandoned God, the fountain of living water, and they dug cracked cisterns that can hold no water. A cistern was a common water-storage structure, carved out of the soft limestone of Palestine. If the rock structure were improperly chosen or the cistern improperly lined, then the cistern was useless, as it could retain no water. God’s people inexplicably turned from the fresh water of their God to no water at all. They abandoned God, that was their first sin. They turned to idolatry that was their second sin, and the sad thing about the second sin is that it was of no value to them.
Now we might look at this scripture in several ways. We might say, “Those wicked people, how could they possibly have abandoned God? We might know that in that generation Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians, and we might say, “They got what they deserved.” And that is probably true, but we need to move beyond history here, and apply this scripture to ourselves.
The people of God in the Old Testament made up a nation. Now Judah by the time of Jeremiah was a vassal state. They were first subject to the Assyrians, and then later on to the Babylonians. So Judah in the 6th century B.C. was in most ways not like modern America. But there is one similarity.
We could say about America: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate.” Why? Because the USA, as a nation, was founded by Christians. Our forefathers produced a Christian culture which in turn produced the greatest nation the world has ever seen. But we have now abandoned all that.
Now we say any religion, any philosophy any cult, any sect, any fad is ok. We say, One religion is just as good as another, and you can pick and chose whatever you like. I encounter this kind of stuff all the time. People say, “All religions are just paths to the same goal. So you can believe any religion, and God will accept that.” God does not say that. God says just the opposite. God says that it is his way or the highway.
But our culture says that we should tolerate anything and everything. This is the broken cistern that we have hewn out for ourselves in this generation that does not contain the water of life.
Scholars today speak of our time as a Post-Christian age. They say that Christianity has been abandoned by Western Civilization. I think that they are probably right. We blame Hollywood for this, but in fact Hollywood just produces what we, as a culture, want to see, and we, as a culture, do not approve of Christianity. It is not longer a popular thing to be a Christian.
What will be the result of this change of attitude? We have abandoned our roots. Where are we going? Well, we don’t know. We know where Israel went. They were destroyed as a nation. Maybe we need to learn a lesson here.
And now we come to the function of the church in our society. Its not a Christian nation anymore. It once was, it was founded on Christianity. That was a long time ago. So the question is what is the function of the church in our society now.
We are Jeremiah to our society. Jeremiah spoke the word of God to a people who pretty much did not listen. They thought Jeremiah was old fashioned. They had new Gods now. They did not need the old God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
We are in much the same situation. Our society seems to have a god of the month or a sect of the week. The old God of our forefathers is out of date, so they say. But our call is to proclaim the old God of the Bible. Whether they believe us or not, that is still our call.
Now we need to ask another hard question. Is the church capable of carrying out God’s call? Back in 2003, Francis Shaeffer published a book called Broken Cisterns. I confess that I have not read the book. I read a summary. Shaeffer’s theme seems to be that the church itself is a broken cistern. The divisions in the church prevent the church from speaking with a prophetic voice to our society.
Not only that, the witness of the church has been smeared with immorality. Even now, our local newspapers are carrying stories of yet another minister found guilty of misuse of funds. A recent study in Ireland suggests that perhaps half of all altar boys in the country have been sexually molested. This combined with the spectacular cases in the USA have put the Roman Catholic church on the defensive like never before in recent history. Our society says to us, “You Christians are no better than we are. Why should we listen to you?”
Not only that, as we look at the church today, we see Churches compromising on essential doctrine. We see immorality accepted in the church in the name of political correctness.
The church is called to speak God’s word to our time, but before we can speak that word, we need to be renewed and renovated. We need to return to what we were. We need to return to the first church in the first century, and remember that was an outlaw church, a tiny island in a pagan society. We read in Acts 2:1 “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” God’s people gathered together in truth and love. That is the kind of church we need. Such a people can speak the truth of God even to our post-Christian age.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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