I Wanted Words But All I Heard Was Nothing

As anyone remotely familiar with my writing knows, I am by no means unfamiliar with that unhappy feeling one gets when one sends messages and communications into a black hole of silence with no reply at all [1].  As someone who is at least somewhat aware of the laments of other people regarding communication, I know I am not alone in this problem.  The title of this blog entry, for example, comes from a song by the Script called “Nothing,” where the narrator (possibly the singer/songwriter?) laments that he said the words expecting a reply that would indicate reconciliation but all he got was nothing.  Others, like the band Genesis, lament that they can speak or even shout with “no reply at all.”  And so it goes.  Yet it might comfort us to know that a desire for communication with a response of silence is not the problem of mankind alone, but also the problem of God.

Some people might think it blasphemous to regard God’s attempts at communication as anything less than successful.  After all, to state or imply that there is a failure to communicate by God would seem to be an imperfection, when people of faith rightly regard God as perfect.  Yet the Bible is unmistakably clear that God has consistently had communication problems with His people.  But rather than simply state this and rely upon the reader to accept my own authority, I will cite His words so that you may hear it from Him more or less directly.  2 Chronicles 36:15-16 tells us:  “And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place.   But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy.”  Here we see that when Judah and Israel were caught in sin, God sent them prophets to warn them with the hope of receiving a reply of repentance and contrition, but as with Genesis there was no reply at all.

Yet it was with Jeremiah that God lamented the lack of reply from Judah the most often, and likely from Jeremiah that the writer of 2 Chronicles got the characteristic expression for both God’s earnest desires to communicate with His people and the lack of interest that His people had in communicating with Him as he wished.  I will first provide the quotes and then some commentary on the texts so that you can read how often God states His failures in communication with His people in the book of Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 7:13-15:  “ And now, because you have done all these works,” says the Lord, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to this place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh.  And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren—the whole posterity of Ephraim.”

Jeremiah 7:25-27:  “Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have even sent to you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them.  Yet they did not obey Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.  Therefore you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not obey you. You shall also call to them, but they will not answer you.”

Jeremiah 11:6-8:  “Then the Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying: ‘Hear the words of this covenant and do them.  For I earnestly exhorted your fathers in the day I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, until this day, rising early and exhorting, saying, “Obey My voice.”  Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone followed the dictates of his evil heart; therefore I will bring upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but which they have not done.’””

Jeremiah 25:3-7:  “ “From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even to this day, this is the twenty-third year in which the word of the Lord has come to me; and I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, but you have not listened.  And the Lord has sent to you all His servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear.  They said, ‘Repent now everyone of his evil way and his evil doings, and dwell in the land that the Lord has given to you and your fathers forever and ever.  Do not go after other gods to serve them and worship them, and do not provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands; and I will not harm you.’  Yet you have not listened to Me,” says the Lord, “that you might provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands to your own hurt.”

Jeremiah 26:1-6:  “In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came from the Lord, saying,  “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord’s house, all the words that I command you to speak to them. Do not diminish a word.  Perhaps everyone will listen and turn from his evil way, that I may relent concerning the calamity which I purpose to bring on them because of the evil of their doings.’  And you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: “If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you, to heed the words of My servants the prophets whom I sent to you, both rising up early and sending them (but you have not heeded), then I will make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.”’””

Jeremiah 29:15-20:  “Because you have said, “The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon”— therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, concerning all the people who dwell in this city, and concerning your brethren who have not gone out with you into captivity— thus says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will send on them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like rotten figs that cannot be eaten, they are so bad.  And I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence; and I will deliver them to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth—to be a curse, an astonishment, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they have not heeded My words, says the Lord, which I sent to them by My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them; neither would you heed, says the Lord Therefore hear the word of the Lord, all you of the captivity, whom I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon.”

Jeremiah 32:26-35:  “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?  Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall take it.  And the Chaldeans who fight against this city shall come and set fire to this city and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs they have offered incense to Baal and poured out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke Me to anger; because the children of Israel and the children of Judah have done only evil before Me from their youth. For the children of Israel have provoked Me only to anger with the work of their hands,’ says the Lord ‘For this city has been to Me a provocation of My anger and My fury from the day that they built it, even to this day; so I will remove it from before My face because of all the evil of the children of Israel and the children of Judah, which they have done to provoke Me to anger—they, their kings, their princes, their priests, their prophets, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  And they have turned to Me the back, and not the face; though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not listened to receive instruction.  But they set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to defile it.  And they built the high places of Baal which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.’”

Jeremiah 35:12-17:  “Then came the word of the Lord to Jeremiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Go and tell the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “Will you not receive instruction to obey My words?” says the Lord “The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, which he commanded his sons, not to drink wine, are performed; for to this day they drink none, and obey their father’s commandment. But although I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, you did not obey Me.  I have also sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, ‘Turn now everyone from his evil way, amend your doings, and do not go after other gods to serve them; then you will dwell in the land which I have given you and your fathers.’ But you have not inclined your ear, nor obeyed Me.  Surely the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them, but this people has not obeyed Me.”’  “Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the doom that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken to them but they have not heard, and I have called to them but they have not answered.’””

Jeremiah 44:1-6:  “The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the Jews who dwell in the land of Egypt, who dwell at Migdol, at Tahpanhes, at Noph, and in the country of Pathros, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘You have seen all the calamity that I have brought on Jerusalem and on all the cities of Judah; and behold, this day they are a desolation, and no one dwells in them, because of their wickedness which they have committed to provoke Me to anger, in that they went to burn incense and to serve other gods whom they did not know, they nor you nor your fathers.  However I have sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, “Oh, do not do this abominable thing that I hate!”  But they did not listen or incline their ear to turn from their wickedness, to burn no incense to other gods.  So My fury and My anger were poured out and kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; and they are wasted and desolate, as it is this day.’”

It should be noted that sometimes the people of God call out to Him without any apparent answer, as it is written in Psalm 88:13-18:  “But to You I have cried out, O Lord, and in the morning my prayer comes before You.  Lord, why do You cast off my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me?  I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth; I suffer Your terrors; I am distraught.  Your fierce wrath has gone over me; Your terrors have cut me off.  They came around me all day long like water; they engulfed me altogether.  Loved one and friend You have put far from me, and my acquaintances into darkness.”  We can note, therefore, that the Bible is full of evidence that communication with God has never been a very straightforward affair.  People have poured their suffering to God in anguished prayer, sometimes for long periods of time, without receiving anything that they viewed as a reply.  Likewise, God sent prophet after prophet to His people, telling them to repent, and they did not give any reply that indicated they were willing to communicate with God as He wished or worship Him as He commanded.

Those who are students of communication are aware of the fact that communication can fail for a variety of reasons.  We can send a message that never reaches the recipient, where there is no recognition that communication was attempted, even if we can think that we sent the message loud and clear.  We can send a message and the signal that we send is misinterpreted, so that people are mistaken as to what we mean.  We can send a message that is understood in part but the recipient of the message may not know what they are to do about the message, if anything, and so they fail to respond as one might wish.  There are, of course, also cases where the recipient gets the message loud and clear and knows exactly how they are supposed to reply but they have no interest whatsoever in replying as the sender of the message wishes.  In all of these cases there is a communication failure, because for there to be genuine communication there must be a mutually understood two-way channel of messages and replies between two (or more) parties, and no amount of perfection on the part of one of these parties can ensure that communication will take place.  And if God cannot ensure that communication takes place when He wishes for it to happen, the rest of us can have no guarantees that communication will go as He wishes.

There are many things that we may want as people that do not depend on ourselves alone but on other people whose consent is required for our longings to be fulfilled.  Sometimes it pays for us to remember that anything that includes relational wants, ranging from friendship to esteem or respect from others to love and intimacy of various kinds to even simple and straightforward communication all fall under these qualities that require the consent of all parties involved.  Where there is the consent of the parties involved, there can be reconciliation and forgiveness on the one hand, or awkward silences, bitter feelings, and estrangement on the other.  We all have some say in obtaining these social goods based on who we wish to enjoy them with or who we deny them to, but none of us, no matter how righteous or powerful we are, can compel others to have the sort of relationship with others that we wish unless they wish for the same.  We are all in this boat together, all wishing for the same things, all get our signals and wires crossed the same.  Perhaps that recognition will make us more kind to those with whom we wish to communicate with, or to those who wish to communicate with us.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/02/26/into-a-black-hole-of-silence/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/01/11/seeking-refuge-in-silence/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/09/14/hmmm/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/02/01/we-dont-talk-anymore/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/04/01/do-you-want-to-know/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/02/14/im-not-alone-because-i-brought-the-wind/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/06/out-of-the-loop/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/06/02/waiting-for-the-train/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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