Journey through Jeremiah: Dung Beetles

I recently had the privilege of seeing a live dung beetle in action for the first time.  Picture a sturdy, one-inch black beetle with its hind-end up in the air, its back legs clinging to a large (twice its size) neatly-packed brown ball.  I watched as it painstakingly pushed its treasure along the road and out to the grassy area beyond.  It clung to the ball when it hit a culvert, taking a quick joy-ride down to the bottom.  It then re-mounted and continued its arduous journey into the vegetation.

Having never seen a dung beetle in real life, I suspected that its little ball of “treasure” was composed of manure (which happened to be in ample supply, thanks to some horses that had passed earlier).  Not being sure, however, my interest was piqued.  When I got home from my hike, I did what any curious person would do: I “Googled” it.  Sure enough, I was right!  In the search process, I came upon a great video—a time-lapse of a pile of “stuff” being inundated by a band of dung beetles.  Each one scurried over the pile, collecting and carefully packing its treasure into a tight ball, rolling it away—out into the brush, leaving only a small amount of the tantalizing matter on the road.

Through my research, I learned that the dung beetle’s goal in all of this is to get the ball home.  There, the beetle digs a big enough hole to fit the ball.  It then lays its eggs beneath the ball, which serves to nourish its young once they hatch.

In Jeremiah 2, we read about Judah’s sin, and our journey through the book takes a very dismal turn.  In verse 5, God’s analysis of the people becomes quite clear: “…they followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”  Even the lowly dung beetle seems to have more going for it, being useful in some respect.  (There is actually a useful purpose in the dung beetle’s laborious exercise: While it carries out its lowly tasks, it is unwittingly both aerating and fertilizing the soil, spreading beneficial nutrients across the terrain in which it lives.)  It is bad enough that the people have chosen to follow after their worthless idols, but even worse when we consider what they gave up for them: the God of Glory. (v. 11)

God sums it up in verse 13: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  They didn’t need God’s fresh, clean, life-giving water.  They could dig their own wells, thank you.  Their cisterns, however, were worthless—just like their aforementioned idols.

The irony of the people’s rebellion is brought out descriptively in verse 24 as well: “They say to wood, ‘You are my father,’ and to stone, ‘You gave me birth.’”  [Why do I hear Darth Vader’s voice when I read this?]  “They have turned their backs to me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say, ‘Come and save us!’”  Isn’t that a common scenario?!

So based on what we read here, Jeremiah comes out swinging—cutting to the chase of a people that has totally lost its view of God and is steeped in…well, let’s just say the people were not unlike the lowly dung beetle.  The pile of temptation was deposited in the town square, and they flocked to it.  They gathered up their worthless treasures and rolled them home.  They raised their children on it.  (Poor little things, it was all they knew!)

Jeremiah’s urgent message: “Wake up, people!  It’s just poop!”

Sin is serious and ugly.  Those of us who live in modern times convince ourselves that we have somehow evolved compared to the people of Jeremiah’s day.  We certainly don’t bow down to wooden idols.  Are we really so different, though?  How ironic is it that we believers hold within our hearts the very presence of Christ—something that the Israelites could only long for—yet we tumble home, unwittingly dragging the treasures of the world into our lives, allowing them to distract us from our devotion to the One who redeemed us?  Does the Lord really come first in our lives or does He have to wait in line for our attention?  What cisterns of self-sufficiency are we building in our lives that keep us from drawing from the well of living water that the Lord provides?

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