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Gedaliah Assassinated July 19, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 40:7-41:15.

Summary: In this passage, the remnant of the army of Judah travels to Mizpah to meet with Gedaliah son of Ahikam. He assures them that the Babylonians will not punish them if they lay down their arms; moreover, he encourages them to join their compatriots who have returned to their homeland from the surrounding nations in living off the land.

Later, Johanan son of Kareah and several army officers inform Gedaliah of a plot against his life; in particular, Ishmael son of Nethaniah has been sent by Baalis, the king of the Ammonites, to kill him. Yet Gedaliah does not heed their warning; he even rebuffs an offer on the part of Johanan to dispose of Ishmael.

Ishmael then carries out his plan, assassinating Gedaliah during a feast and murdering his Babylonian guards. He also slaughters seventy men who have come to the site of the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices.

He then captures those who have survived his rampage in Mizpah and prepares to bring them to Baalis. Yet Johanan launches a successful rescue attempt; when Ishmael realizes that he cannot defeat him, he flees to Baalis.

Thoughts: Here, we see the wanton deeds of Ishmael son of Nethaniah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 1-3 of chapter 41:

It was particularly cruel of Ishmael to kill Gedaliah, for Gedaliah had shown Ishmael kindness and entertained him. Even ungodly nations have always deemed hospitality as something sacred. To violate it has always been thought of as committing a great atrocity.

I must admit that when I read through this passage, I was shocked by its violent imagery, especially the account of the massacre of seventy men who wanted to offer sacrifices at the site of the temple in Jerusalem. In particular, the thought of seventy bodies being hurled into a cistern evoked several historical massacres. Now I am curious: did Ishmael view these seventy men – and Gedaliah and his companions – as traitors to Judah who deserved to be executed? Did he believe that if he murdered them, he could hamper a Babylonian investigation concerning the death of Gedaliah?

We also see that Baalis, king of the Ammonites, conspired with Ishmael against Gedaliah. Now I am curious: why did Baalis conspire with Ishmael? Was he in need of many slaves – and did Ishmael assert that Mizpah contained many potential slaves? Was Baalis in need of several concubines? Was he seeking to fill the power vacuum in Judah after the death of Gedaliah? Did he have any qualms about the outcome of a Babylonian investigation concerning the death of Gedaliah? What happened to him after the events of this passage?

On one level, this passage displays the ramifications of the sins of the (relatively wealthy) people of Judah. In particular, after the Babylonians had been defeated, the (relatively poor) people who remained in Judah abruptly lost their well-meaning governor; in some sense, the sins of their (relatively wealthy) compatriots were so great that their ramifications extended beyond the fall of Jerusalem. On another level, though, modern-day believers can be encouraged that these sins pale in comparison to the righteousness of Christ. Even though the sins of the people of Judah – and their ramifications – make for difficult reading, we know that Christ has defeated all sins throughout history by His person and work. While we cannot comprehend the extent of His person and work, we can gain some appreciation for Him and what He has done by contemplating the extent of human sinfulness.

Jeremiah Freed July 15, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 40:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, Nebuzaradan discovers that Jeremiah is among the group of captives who are about to be exiled to Babylon. He acknowledges that the God of Israel has enabled his army to destroy Jerusalem, and he allows Jeremiah to decide whether he should travel with him to Babylon or remain with Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah.

Jeremiah selects the latter option; before they part, Nebuzaradan grants him provisions and a present.

Thoughts: In verses 2 and 3, Nebuzaradan acknowledges that God effected the downfall of Judah. This implies that the Babylonians were aware of the God of Israel and Judah and that they acknowledged His sovereignty over His nation. Did Nebuzaradan realize, though, that the God of Israel and Judah also asserted His sovereignty over the entire world – including Babylon? If so, did he immediately dismiss the God of Israel and Judah as a minor, local deity and trust in the power of the Babylonian gods? One must wonder if Nebuzaradan witnessed the defeat of Babylon at the hands of the Persians during the reign of Belshazzar; if so, did he comprehend the true nature of the God of Israel and Judah at that point?

The Fall of Jerusalem July 13, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 39.

Summary: In this passage, King Nebuchadnezzar and his entire army return to Jerusalem and resume their siege of it.

During Jeremiah’s confinement in the courtyard of the guard, God speaks to him, commanding him to reassure Ebed-Melech of His concern for him. In particular, God asserts that although He will destroy Jerusalem – in fulfillment of His prophecies – He will spare Ebed-Melech in response to his faith.

After eighteen months, the Babylonians successfully breach the city wall. They then destroy it and torch the entire city – including the royal palace. They also capture King Zedekiah and, after executing his sons and all of the nobles of Judah, they put out his eyes.

Later, they carry most of the people of Judah into exile in Babylon – except for those who are destitute.

Nebuchadnezzar orders the commander of the imperial guard, Nebuzaradan, to spare Jeremiah. Nebuzaradan allows Jeremiah to stay with Gedaliah son of Ahikam.

Thoughts: In verses 5-7, Nebuchadnezzar inflicts a stomach-churning punishment on Zedekiah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 6:

The prophet now tells us how cruelly Nebuchadnezzar treated Zedekiah. It was surely a sad spectacle to see a king, who came from a noble family and who was a type of Christ, lying prostrate at the feet of a proud conqueror. But much worse than this was to see his own sons killed before his eyes. Nebuchadnezzar wanted to remove all hope by killing the royal family and the nobles.

While the brutality of this passage shocks modern-day readers, it illustrates God’s holiness. We should remember that Zedekiah repeatedly disobeyed God’s explicit instructions – through Jeremiah – to surrender to the Babylonians. At some point, God had to punish him – lest His holiness be cast in doubt. As modern-day believers, we must not forget that we worship a holy God who will not allow His name to be besmirched.

In verses 15-18, God reassures Ebed-Melech – through Jeremiah – of His care and concern for him. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The prophet says that God remembered Ebed-Melech the Cushite, by whom he was preserved, although he was a foreigner from an uncivilized nation. The prophet says that man will be rewarded for his exceptional courage and service. In his very danger he experienced God’s favor and was protected and delivered from peril.

The grim imagery of the bulk of this passage might lead the reader to assume that the fall of Jerusalem occurred outside the sovereignty of God. Of course, we know that the Babylonians were actually fulfilling the dire prophecies that He had repeatedly delivered through Jeremiah. Now these four verses drive home the reality of God’s sovereignty in this passage. Indeed, He was mindful of the faithfulness of Ebed-Melech – especially in rescuing Jeremiah from the cistern in the courtyard of the guard; thus, He promised to reward him – even in the midst of the greatest calamity in the history of Judah. As modern-day believers, we should be encouraged by the permanence of God’s sovereignty and respond to Him with the faithfulness that Ebed-Melech displayed.

Zedekiah Questions Jeremiah Again July 8, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 38:14-28.

Summary: In this passage, King Zedekiah arranges a clandestine meeting with Jeremiah. After reassuring Jeremiah of his willingness to heed his advice, Jeremiah declares that he – and Jerusalem – will be spared if he surrenders to Nebuchadnezzar.

Otherwise, Jerusalem will be destroyed and he – along with his wives and children – will be captured by Nebuchadnezzar.

Zedekiah responds by ordering Jeremiah to not divulge the contents of their conversation. Several royal officials question Jeremiah on this point, yet he obeys the king’s command in this regard.

Jeremiah remains in the courtyard of the guard until Nebuchadnezzar destroys Jerusalem.

Thoughts: In verse 19, Zedekiah expresses his fears regarding surrendering to Nebuchadnezzar, as he does not want to fall into the hands of “the Jews who have gone over to the Babylonians”. Now I am curious: who were these Jews? Did they surrender to the Babylonians in response to Jeremiah’s prior instructions in this regard? Why would they have sought to harm Zedekiah if Nebuchadnezzar had delivered him to them? Would they have blamed him for the capture of Jerusalem?

In verses 24-26, Zedekiah instructs Jeremiah to conceal the substance of their conversation concerning his impending defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. I am also curious: did Zedekiah wield any power in his administration? Did Nebuchadnezzar select Zedekiah as a puppet ruler, knowing that he lacked the ability to govern effectively? Who were the royal officials who struck fear into his heart? Did these royal officials consider the possibility of a coup – given their dire circumstances?

49ers Museum July 6, 2017

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I recently visited the 49ers Museum in Santa Clara. The museum showcases the history of the San Francisco 49ers.

Here are six nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. The 49ers competed in the All-America Football Conference for four seasons from 1946 to 1949. After the 1949 season, the AAFC disbanded; the 49ers’ owner, Tony Morabito, then successfully petitioned the NFL to accept his team. The Baltimore Colts and the Cleveland Browns also made successful bids to join the NFL at that time.

2. The 49ers played their home games in Kezar Stadium until 1971. Interestingly, several high school and college teams also claimed that venue as their home stadium. A dirt path led from the locker rooms to the field; 49er Bob St. Clair instructed his teammates to kick up dust as they walked to the field before a home game, creating a nuisance for their opponents who had to take the field after them. A cage was also constructed to shield the 49ers from the abuse of their fans after home losses.

3. The 49ers featured the Million Dollar Backfield from 1954 to 1956. This four-man unit included:

Tittle notably modified his helmet for safety reasons. Also, Perry happened to be a classmate of Pete Rozelle at Compton Community College. All four of these men are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

4. John Brodie led the 49ers to three consecutive division titles between 1970 and 1972. During the 1970 season, he was – arguably – the top quarterback in the NFL, throwing 24 touchdown passes, including 12 to his top receiver, Gene Washington. He delivered an epic performance in the 1971 division-clinching win over the Lions, throwing three touchdown passes and running for another score.

5. Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss, Jr. captured the iconic photo of The Catch. Iooss had been assigned to follow the Dallas Cowboys during the 1981 NFL season on their presumed march to another Lombardi Trophy. During the 49ers’ game-winning drive in the 1981 NFC title game, he had two cameras slung around his neck. On the game-winning play, he prepared to take an end-zone photo with one camera; at the last moment, he switched cameras and snapped three end-zone photos in rapid succession, including the now-famous image of Dwight Clark and Everson Walls.

6. Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr. was a successful businessman in Youngstown, Ohio. He made his fortune in real estate; his empire included shopping malls, race tracks and the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL franchise. The DeBartolos would later purchase the 49ers from the Morabito family.

The museum is relatively small, and it took me slightly under two hours to browse all of the exhibits; since I usually attempt to absorb as much information as possible during my museum visits, more casual visitors would probably need about an hour to complete that task. The staff members at the museum were also friendly and helpful; one of them took the time to explain how various life-sized statues of members of the 49ers Hall of Fame were created. He also shared various nuggets regarding The Catch.

I do not have any quibbles with the museum at this time.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to sports buffs who happen to visit the Bay Area.

Jeremiah Thrown Into a Cistern July 6, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 38:1-13.

Summary: In this passage, several royal officials hear Jeremiah’s declaration that the people of Jerusalem should surrender to the Babylonians, as they will die if they continue to resist them. These officials view Jeremiah as a traitor to Judah, and so they advise King Zedekiah to have him executed.

The king gives them carte blanche in this matter, and so they place Jeremiah in a cistern in the courtyard of the guard, leaving him to die.

Another royal official, Ebed-Melech, learns of Jeremiah’s predicament. He informs the king of Jeremiah’s desperate circumstances.

The king orders him to rescue Jeremiah from the cistern in the courtyard of the guard, and he responds accordingly.

Thoughts: One could argue that Ebed-Melech is the hero of this passage. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 7-9:

But God rescued him in a wonderful way through the help of Ebed-Melech, a Cushite. He was a foreigner, and this is stated so that we might know that none of the king’s counselors resisted this great wickedness. Only a Cushite was found to come to the help of God’s prophet.

I anticipate meeting Ebed-Melech in the next life and learning more about him. How did he come to believe in the God of Israel? When did he come to Jerusalem? What was his role in the administration of Zedekiah? How did God spur him to appeal to the king on Jeremiah’s behalf? Did he take a significant risk by apprising the king of the actions of the other royal officials? Did he – and the thirty men with him – encounter any opposition when they lifted Jeremiah out of the cistern? What happened to him after the fall of Jerusalem?

Here, we see that King Zedekiah initially consents to his officials’ demands, allowing them to place Jeremiah in a cistern – before reversing his decision after meeting with Ebed-Melech. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 10:

The king, full of fear, had recently given over the holy prophet to the cruelty of the princes. Since the king had not dared to stand up to his princes, how was it that he now ventured to extricate Jeremiah from the pit? We see that the king’s mind had been changed. Previously he had been in the grip of fear and did not dare to plead the cause of the holy man…It is clear that divine power had overruled.

One thought is that the king himself was in a desperate situation – given the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem – and he needed a solution to his predicament. Perhaps he initially assumed that Jeremiah could not guarantee the military victory over the Babylonians that he desired – before changing his mind on this point. In any event, Zedekiah appears to be a weak king who is unable to make the best of a bad situation by making difficult decisions. One can only wonder how a more God-fearing king would have acted in this situation.

Jeremiah in Prison June 24, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 37.

Summary: In this passage, King Zedekiah requests that Jeremiah intercede with God on his behalf – as the Babylonians are besieging Jerusalem. At some point, the forces of Pharaoh advance on the Babylonians, leading to their (temporary) withdrawal from Jerusalem.

King Zedekiah and the people of Jerusalem grow complacent. God then speaks through Jeremiah, declaring that the Babylonians will return to Jerusalem and destroy it.

Later, Jeremiah is arrested and accused of attempting to desert to the Babylonians. He proclaims his innocence – yet he is imprisoned.

At some point, he informs Zedekiah that he will be captured by the Babylonians. Despite this ominous prophecy, Zedekiah grants his request to be placed in the relatively pleasant confines of the courtyard of the guard.

Thoughts: In verses 9 and 10, God asserts that the Babylonians will destroy Jerusalem. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Jeremiah took it for granted that the destruction of the city of Jerusalem would not be effected by the forces of King Nebuchadnezzar or by his power or the number of his soldiers, but by God’s judgment…Jeremiah intimates that even if the contest were only with shadows, they would not escape the extreme vengeance that God had threatened.

Verse 10 is jarring; it is difficult to contemplate a wounded soldier staggering out of their tent and mustering the strength to torch the chief city of their foes. If that impossible event had occurred, the people of Judah would have been compelled to acknowledge that God was opposing them through the Babylonians. They would have admitted that God was giving the wounded Babylonians supernatural strength. Now I assume that the siege of Jerusalem ended in a more conventional manner, with (relatively) unscathed Babylonian soldiers overrunning the city; thus, I am curious as to whether an analogous event has occurred in the history of warfare…

In verse 18, Jeremiah decries his imprisonment before King Zedekiah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Although the prophet’s words had displeased the king, Jeremiah also complains that wrong had been done to him since he had been thrown into prison. In this way he shows that he had been unjustly condemned for having threatened ruin to the city and destruction to the kingdom, for he was constrained to do this by the obligations of his office. So the prophet shows that he had not sinned in this but had proclaimed God’s commands, however bitter they were to the king and to the people.

I found this verse to be somewhat amusing, as it immediately follows verse 17 – where Jeremiah declares that Zedekiah would be captured by King Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah would have found that turn of events to be incredibly humiliating; thus, he would have been angry with Jeremiah. How did Jeremiah have the temerity to proclaim his innocence before Zedekiah? Perhaps the best explanation is that Jeremiah knew that God was actually speaking through him; thus, he implicitly appealed to God to vindicate him. As modern-day believers, perhaps we can be inspired by Jeremiah’s actions in this passage; if we know that God is working through us, then we do not need to be ashamed.

In verse 21, we see that King Zedekiah ordered the transfer of Jeremiah from the house of Jonathan the secretary to the courtyard of the guard. Now I am curious: why did the king make this decision? Did he believe that by treating Jeremiah with more respect, God would respond by showing favor to him – and Jerusalem? Did God somehow work in his heart, enabling him to determine that Jeremiah should not be mistreated? Also, did Jeremiah alter his opinion of the king after he was transferred to the courtyard of the guard? Did Jeremiah harbor the belief that he should have been pardoned?

Jehoiakim Burns Jeremiah’s Scroll June 21, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 36.

Summary: In this passage, God commands Jeremiah to record the entirety of their prior communication regarding Israel, Judah and the surrounding nations. To this end, Jeremiah enlists the help of Baruch son of Neriah, who transcribes his prophecies on a scroll.

Jeremiah then instructs Baruch to take this scroll and proclaim these prophecies in the temple. Baruch heeds this instruction; later, he proclaims the prophecies to a group of royal officials.

These officials deliver this scroll to King Jehoiakim. When he hears the prophecies of Jeremiah, he responds by burning the scroll – instead of repenting of his sins.

God then commands Jeremiah to record all of his prophecies on another scroll. He also condemns Jehoiakim for his blatant disregard of His words.

Baruch and Jeremiah prepare this second scroll.

Thoughts: Here, we see the obedience of Jeremiah and Baruch to God’s commands – in the face of persecution. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 8:

Here Baruch’s prompt action is commended; he did not disobey God’s prophet but willingly undertook the office delegated to him. His office was not without danger, for his message was not at all popular; but he knew he had to carry out this work.

When I meet Jeremiah and Baruch in the next life, I anticipate plying them with questions about the events in this passage. Did Jeremiah recall the entirety of his prior communication with God concerning Israel, Judah and the surrounding nations? How long did it take for Baruch to transcribe those prophecies? Which sections of this book contain those prophecies? What were their thoughts and emotions when they heard that King Jehoiakim had burned the scroll that they had prepared? How long did it take for Baruch to transcribe another scroll? Which sections of this book were included in that second scroll?

We also see that when Baruch proclaimed the prophecies of Jeremiah to a group of royal officials, they responded by reporting them to King Jehoiakim. Did these officials view Jeremiah and Baruch as traitors to their nation? Also, in verse 16, we see that these officials were fearful; were they actually fearful of God and His condemnation of their actions? What were the thoughts and emotions of Jehudi son of Nethaniah as Jehoiakim continued to burn sections of the scroll that Baruch had prepared? Did Jehudi even consider the possibility of intervening and compelling Jehoiakim to consider the consequences of his actions?

In verses 27-31, we see that God condemns Jehoiakim for burning the scroll that Baruch had prepared. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 27-28:

The prophet shows what the ungodly gain by contending against God. No matter how hard-hearted they are, they will be broken down by God’s power. This happened to King Jehoiakim.

This passage is a powerful reminder that God is sovereign over His creation – especially over those political leaders who oppose Him. Thus, modern-day believers who suffer from state-sanctioned persecution can be encouraged by the following reality: no matter how their political leaders actively – or passively – harm them, God will enable them to emerge victorious over their political leaders. As a secondary point, modern-day believers who do not suffer from state-sanctioned persecution should not lose heart in the face of stomach-churning current events. We can draw strength from the unchanging nature of His sovereignty and continue to serve Him faithfully as we anticipate His – and our – ultimate victory over those who would oppose Him.

The Recabites June 17, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 35.

Summary: In this passage, God instructs Jeremiah to summon the Recabites to the temple and offer them wine. He brings them to the temple – yet they refuse to drink the wine that he sets before them, asserting that their forefather, Jonadab son of Recab, had commanded them to abstain from wine. Moreover, they continue to heed his command to live as nomads.

God then speaks to Jeremiah, stating that He has ordained these events as an object lesson for the people of Judah. In particular, he contrasts the obedience of the Recabites to the instructions of Jonadab with the disobedience of His people to His instructions concerning idolatry.

Thus, He will punish His people – while blessing the Recabites and their descendants.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God condemns the people of Judah for their idolatry. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 12-16:

Jeremiah now applies the example he had related. God’s complaint is linked to it – his people took less notice of him than the descendants of Jonadab did of Jonadab.

It may be natural for us, as modern-day believers, to criticize the people of Judah for their disobedience to God’s commands – yet I believe that we must guard against spiritual complacency. Indeed, it is difficult for us to apply the self-denial that the Recabites displayed in this passage to our modern context. As we attempt to lead simpler lives that reflect an increasing devotion to God, we may crave the pleasures that those around us enjoy. We must continue to ask God to supply what we need for this life while withholding those things that would cause us to lose our focus on Him.

I anticipate meeting at least some of the Recabites in the next life and learning more about them. Was it difficult for them to maintain their nomadic lifestyle? Were they ever tempted to discard the commands of Jonadab? Did they have any opinions concerning the idolatry and wickedness of the people of Judah? What were their thoughts and emotions as Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonians into Judah? What were their thoughts and emotions as Jeremiah summoned them to the temple in Jerusalem? Did any of them go into exile in Babylon after Jerusalem was captured by Nebuchadnezzar? Did any of their descendants survive to witness the return of the exiles from Babylon?

Freedom for Slaves June 15, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 34:8-22.

Summary: In this passage, God pronounces judgment on His people. This stems from the following sequence of events:

  • the Babylonians had been besieging Jerusalem
  • the people of Jerusalem – along with King Zedekiah – made a covenant before Him that they would free their Hebrew slaves
  • the people of Jerusalem freed their Hebrew slaves
  • the Babylonians withdrew from Jerusalem – leading to a (temporary) cessation of their siege
  • the people of Jerusalem re-enslaved those whom they had freed.

In particular, by re-enslaving those whom they had freed, they have violated His command in Deuteronomy 15:12.

Thus, He declares that He will cause the Babylonians to resume their siege of Jerusalem. The city will fall, and many of His people will be slain.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the people of Jerusalem reneged on their promise to free their slaves after the Babylonians (temporarily) withdrew from their city. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Since King Zedekiah had been warned about this, he called the people together and, with everybody’s consent, proclaimed freedom to the slaves as God had commanded. But this was done in bad faith, for soon afterwards the slaves were taken back into slavery, and so treachery was added to cruelty. From this we see that they not only wronged their own brethren by imposing on them perpetual slavery, but they also wickedly profaned the sacred name of God, for they were violating a solemn oath.

This disappointing turn of events caused me to ponder the vows that we often make to God during trials – where we declare that if He will rescue us from our troubles, then we will honor Him for the rest of our lives. Yet we swiftly break our promises after He rescues us from our troubles. Clearly God knows that we cannot honor our vows – so why does He choose to rescue us from our troubles? Perhaps He has decided to adopt a long-term perspective when dealing with us. He knows that sanctification is a process, and He is willing to accept some amount of backsliding on our part. What He desires is that we also adopt a long-term perspective when dealing with Him; instead of making rash vows, we should maintain our confidence in Him and His sovereignty.

This passage also furnishes another example of God’s concern for those who are less fortunate. Indeed, His zeal for those who are less fortunate is displayed throughout this book, as He repeatedly charges His people with mistreatment of the poor, the fatherless, the widow and the foreigner. Perhaps this passage should remind us that, as modern-day believers, we must continue to serve as His conduits of blessing to those who are less fortunate today – lest He level the same charges at us that He presents in this book.