“Am I a God at hand,” saith the Lord, “and not a God afar off?” “Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him?” saith the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:23-24)
In Jeremiah 23 God condemns the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day for leading His people astray, for misrepresenting Him, for telling lies instead of seeking the truth. In the middle of His condemnation God asks the questions presented in our text (above). The questions distill for us a crucial step that everyone must make when deciding to sin. Explicitly, before deciding to sin we must make God disappear.
No one cheats on a test while the teacher is looking over their shoulder; no driver breaks the speed limit if he knows a policeman is driving right behind him/her. Generally, except for protests, we only commit crimes when no one in authority is ‘looking’. Therefore, when deciding to sin we must take God out of the picture, we must assume even just for that moment that God is not “at hand”, that God is “afar off”. We make ourselves believe that somehow, while sinning we are hidden from Him, that He cannot see us.
When Adam and Eve sinned they tried to hide themselves from God (Genesis 3:8). Why? They knew God knew about their sin, but they felt compelled to continue the pretense. If somehow they could hide themselves from God, they would be ‘safe’.
However, these questions do more than expose the mental and spiritual contortions we participate in when deciding to sin. They also reveal to us a powerful strategy in resisting the temptation to sin. Specifically, rather than pretending God is not present, we are challenged to consider that we are ALWAYS in God’s presence: that God does “fill heaven and earth”. By always reminding ourselves of God’s continual presence, by recognizing that we walk before Him, we possess a powerful deterrent to sin. As David wrote:
“I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” ~ Psalm 16:8
David consciously “set the Lord always before” himself: he was deliberately constantly aware of God’s presence and David knew that while he did so he would “not be moved”, he would not sin.
Let us do likewise: let us constantly remind ourselves that every breath is breathed before God, in His presence; that every move is made in His sight. God is near, right beside us, He is not far away, there is nowhere to hide, and there is nothing that He does not see. As long as we are aware of this, then indeed, like David, we “shall not be moved”.
O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.