April 3, 2015.
Daily Reading: Jeremiah 1-6.
Background: The book of Jeremiah is a compilation of the word of the Lord though the prophet Jeremiah that spans almost the full time of the prophet’s life. Jeremiah is called as a youth to be a prophet of the Lord, delivering a very unappealing message to the people. Jeremiah is often referred to as the weeping prophet, as he is also the speaker of the book of Lamentations. Jeremiah indeed mourns for his people, as the message he has for them he can hardly bear (see chapter 20). Jeremiah is primarily a prophet for Judah, the two southern tribes of the children of Israel during the time of the divided kingdom. His words span the reign of three kings, Josiah (see II Kings 22-23), Jehoiakim (see II Kings 23-24) and Zedekiah (see II Kings 24-25). Within the oracles of the prophet Jeremiah we will find a variety of messages, from judgment and destruction, to pleas for repentance, lamentation and complaint and even to the hope of salvation.
Concepts and Connections.
Jeremiah’s call: Jeremiah’s call is rather unique among the prophets as the Lord specifically chose him before he was formed in the womb to be a prophet to the nations. He is called when he is only a youth, and because of his age, Jeremiah first things he is not competent to be a prophet of the Lord. But the Lord assures him that it is His words that he will speak, and it is not his competence that matters, but rather the power of the Lord. To solidify this concept, the Lord shows two visions to Jeremiah and interprets them for him, first confirming that His word will stand and second, revealing to Jeremiah the destruction that was coming for Judah out of the north (Babylonian captivity). The Lord had set Jeremiah against the kings and leaders of Judah with the message that He had for them, and there is no doubt that Jeremiah will not be popular in Judah. However, though they try to fight against him, the Lord assures Jeremiah that He will be with him throughout his ministry and will not allow Judah to prevail over him. Jeremiah had a job to do, and it was time to start. The prophet can be a role model for us, showing that even when our mission is hard, it is still our job to do and the Lord will carry us through it. We should learn to trust in His power.
1. Lead astray by leaders: The first message that the Lord has for the people begins in history. He is reminiscent of a former time when Israel loved Him, as a wife loves the husband of her youth. However, Israel has gone astray, just as they have in the past, and their leaders are first held responsible for their apostasy. The priest, shepherds and prophets are all called into court at the beginning of this oracle as having turned from the Lord, no longer seeking His counsel. We will see throughout the words of Jeremiah that they leaders of the people often proclaim that everything is fine and that there is nothing to worry about. They give the people false hope that God is still with them, though they are dwelling in sin. Leaders are often held to a higher standard by God than the rest of His people (see James 3:1), for they have the influence to affect many people’s lives and decisions. Let us take this into consideration when we want to take a position of leadership.
2. A change not even pagans would make: The next concept that is conveyed in this oracle is very interesting, as it compares the people of Israel to the pagan nations around them. The treachery that the children of Israel have committed is one that not even the nations around them would commit! For the people of God had forsaken Him, turning themselves to worthless idols (though they seemed to still have worshiped the Lord, at least in lip service, along with these other gods) and forsaking the love of their youth. The oracle calls into witness the nations around them, that even they have not thrown off their gods to worship another, though they be no gods at all! Israel and Judah had been given the privilege of the special revelation of the One True God, creator of all things, and had been chosen as a special people to the Lord. Yet they forsook such a great gift of love and grace! If those who bow down in worship to wood and gold would not forsake what by nature is no god at all, how great wickedness was in the hearts of Israel and Judah to cast off the Almighty! Today, we are given a similar warning in Hebrews 10:26-31 that we may not cast off the mercy and grace that has been given us through Christ Jesus, our Lord.
3. Lying to yourself: Part of the problem that the people had, especially the leaders of the people, was the fact that they were unwilling to recognize that there was a problem. They had become comfortable lying to themselves about where they stood spiritually, and it was the belief in this lie that was keeping them from fixing the problem by returning to the Lord with their whole heart. They are called into court for two evils. They had forsaken God and made for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that could hold no water. Spiritually speaking, they had cast off the Cistern from above that held living water (see John 4), and made broken cisterns that were not divinely given and able to hold no water. Yet they would not admit to their guilt, claiming not to be unclean and even not to have gone after the Baals. They said ‘I am innocent; surely his anger has turned from me.’ Yet their sin was ever before them. They stubbornly refused to see their guilt, and thus they continued in a state of false hope. Let us not be blind to our transgressions as the children of Israel were at this time.
1. Playing the whore: As can be seen already, the main message that the Lord gives against His people is their sin of spiritual adultery. They had cast the Lord off, the husband of their youth, and turned to things that by nature are no gods at all. They were playing the whore with the gods of the nations around them, and their whoredom was a grievous evil to the Lord. Think about all the pain and suffering that comes from an affair, and then imagine the affair to be open, ongoing and public, yet the adulterer asserting that he or she is doing nothing wrong. This is what God’s people had done to Him in a spiritual sense, yet even on a greater level. Thus the judgment of the Lord had come upon them.
2. Faithless Israel and treacherous Judah: The divided kingdom is addressed in the latter section of this chapter, noting that Israel had forsaken the Lord first, but her sister Judah was soon to follow. Judah should have looked at faithless Israel and seen the error of her way and not followed therein; however, the opposite happened as Israel indeed saw what Israel had done and followed therein. What’s more, it seems that treacherous Judah had occurred the greater sin, probably because they were unwilling to acknowledged their folly, whereas Israel seemed to be more apt to openly admit their whoredom, though continuing therein. Even in the midst of great treachery, however, there is a seed of hope as the Lord calls His people to return to Him that He might forgive them of their transgressions and once again be their God, the only one whom they worship. There indeed would come a time, after the Babylonian captivity, that Israel and Judah would return to the Lord, once again uniting the kingdom of God as one people for the Lord. This is the message that was on the lips of John the baptizer and Jesus (see Matthew 3:2 and 4:17). The kingdom of heaven surly was at hand, and it is for this kingdom that we spread the good news today.
1. A call to repentance: Continuing on the message of hope, the Lord assures the people that if they return to them He will deal with them mercifully and kindly, once again becoming their God. He wanted them as His people and we can see the great care He has for those He loves. All they had to do was repent. However, though the solution might seem simply, it was going to be far from easy. Both Israel and Judah were called to repentance, not mere confession of their sins (though this is an important part of the process). They were called to turn from their ways and to throw off their deeds of iniquity. They were to till the ground of their heart and circumcise it, perhaps implying that through pain would come their repentance and deliverance. It would not be easy. However, they are given a chance here, a chance to avoid the ultimate judgment and wrath of the Lord, and they would be wise to heed this opportunity.
2. Disaster from the north: Though the times seemed to be alright in the moment, God’s message through Jeremiah was one of impending doom. Judah had followed in the footsteps of her sister Israel in forsaking the Lord, and for this His judgement was coming. His judgment was coming in the form of the Babylonians, a nation in the north who were rising in power and would eventually form a vast kingdom, occupying most of the known world. Babylon would come against Judah and prevail over her as was the will of the Lord for punishment for her treachery. In that day, the heart of the people would fail against their great oppressor, but the Lord would not deliver them from Babylon’s hand. However, He did send prophets beforehand so that they would know that this captivity was from the Lord, that the people might see their sin and repent of their evil ways, returning to the Lord. Even in punishment, the Lord cared for His people.
3. Lament and the remnant: It is very interesting to see not only the judgment the Lord on His people, but also the anguish He has over the burden of this judgment. It is clear that the Lord does not want His people to suffer through His punishment, just as the parents of a disobedient child do not take pleasure in their kid’s punishment. However, the punishment is warranted and necessary, and it would not cause a full end to the people. Just as Isaiah often refers to, there would be a remnant of the people who would be saved, returning to the Lord their God. The house of Israel and Judah would not be utterly cut off though they would go though a period of great punishment via the oppressive hand of the lands around them. Until the people were no longer wise in the way of doing evil, the hand of the Lord would be upon them. And their cry would be great before the Lord. But He would not make a full end of the people.
1. Looking for a righteous one to pardon: When God told Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham pleaded with Him that if he could find x number of righteous people in the cities that God would not destroy them (see Genesis 18:22-33). God appeased Abraham, even down to 10 righteous people who, if found, would deliver Sodom and Gomorrah from the wrath of God (Abraham was not able to find even 10 righteous people). A similar cry is heard in the beginning of this chapter, as one is sent figuratively into the streets of Jerusalem in search of even one righteous person by whom the Lord could pardon Judah. Just one man who does justice and seeks truth. Likely being a form of hyperbole, it should be noted that the Lord is willing do deliver whole nations for the sake of a few righteous people who are found in the land, showing even more how great of love He has for those who love Him. Unfortunately for Judah, there was none found that the Lord should pardon them, for they had all forsaken Him and turned to the gods of the nations around them. Could those gods save them in the day of their distress? They would soon come to find out the gods that they had turned to held no intrinsic power whatsoever. The punishment of the Lord was coming for a people who had dealt treacherously with Him.
2. The judgement of the Lord: The people had spoken lies and forsaken the Lord, following after the lusts and desires of their own hearts. They had reached the point where they thought that God would do nothing against them, for they said “no disaster will come upon us, nor shall we see sword or famine.” Their prophets had heralded lies and their leaders had sown false hope. For these words, the Lord was binging judgment upon His people, and like a wooded land amid a raging fire, they would be consumed. He was sending punishment from the north, to overtaken their land and lead the people into captivity. The time of their earthly kingdom was quickly coming to an end. Though they had eyes, they saw it not; though they had ears, they heard it not (see also Isaiah 6:9-10 and Matthew 13:14-15).
Impending disaster for Judah: Though their ears were uncircumcised so that they could not listen, the Lord continues His warning of the impending disaster that He is going to bring on Judah via a nation, a merciless nation, from the north. They have all gone astray, each turned to their own way, greedy for unjust gain and lustful for the desires of their heart. They were not ashamed of their abomination, as indeed they would not even recognize it as such, not even knowing how to blush. They said to the people, ‘peace, peace,’ yet there was no peace, only false hope. They had rejected the word of the Lord and not taken pleasure in it. They were called to seek the ancient paths, where once their fathers walked in the way of the Lord, but they now refused to seek out righteousness. For these reasons, the Lord had laid a siege mount against Jerusalem for her punishment, and sent the Babynolionians on Judah to bring her into captivity. They would bring disaster upon the people of God, and this disaster would come straight from the hand of the Lord. Because they had rejected the Lord, He had rejected them. Soon their judgment would come, but at that time it would be too late. Only a remnant would be saved. Let us not today be also deaf to the warnings of the Lord.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Mark 5-6.
Let us heed His warnings.