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Drought, Famine, Sword March 31, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 14-15.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, declaring that He will bring the following calamities on the people of Jerusalem and Judah:

  • a severe drought
  • a famine that will kill many of them
  • foreign invaders who will kill many of them
  • forced exile for the survivors.

Jeremiah attempts to intercede with God on their behalf – yet He has resolved to punish them and the false prophets who condone their sins. Jeremiah then brings the following grievances before Him:

  • the people of Jerusalem and Judah consistently reject him and his message
  • He has failed to vindicate him.

God then rebukes him for his doubts concerning His faithfulness, assuring him that He will vindicate him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jeremiah wrestles with God regarding the extent of His punishment of His people. Based on previous passages, we know that Jeremiah was convinced that the actions of the people of God did merit His punishment. Yet we also know that he recoiled at the extent of that punishment – as it entailed the decimation of the populace via disease, famine and sword. Jeremiah’s mental anguish in this regard caused me to consider those who commit egregious sins today. As a believer, I know that their actions merit His punishment. Yet I also hope that they will repent of their sins and turn to Him for forgiveness. If His punishment would entail their deaths, should I conclude that His punishment is excessive? I suppose that He wants me to place such matters in His hands – yet I still wrestle with the finality of that form of punishment.

We also see that Jeremiah wrestles with God regarding His prophetic calling, as he struggles to reconcile it with his love for his compatriots. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 18 of chapter 15:

Jeremiah had previously shown that he courageously despised all the splendor of the world and had no regard for proud men who boasted they were rulers of the church. But he now confesses his frailty. When we think of the apostles and the prophets we must always distinguish between the pure truth they spoke and their own personal anxieties and fears. Jeremiah’s worries stemmed from this human weakness. That is the meaning of this verse.

It is evident that Jeremiah was overcome by at least two harsh realities:

  • his compatriots despised him, since he consistently preached against their sins
  • God had revealed to him that his compatriots would experience His terrible judgment.

Clearly “weeping prophet” is an apt description of Jeremiah. Now I conjecture that God wanted to use his predicament to show him that he could not trust in anything pertaining to this life – he could only trust in Him and His final deliverance in the next life. As modern-day believers, we should ask ourselves: do we cling to the things of this life? How can suffering help us place our trust in God alone?

This passage is replete with harsh imagery, including bodies being “thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem”, a deer who “deserts her newborn fawn” and God’s plan to “make their widows more numerous than the sand of the sea.” On a related note, I conjecture that modern-day believers who reside in First World countries often grow spiritually complacent – forgetting His holiness and allowing those around us to shape our thoughts. If that is the case, then these harsh images should jolt us out of our complacency and spur us to assess the degree of holiness that we exhibit on a daily basis. While I do not believe that He has called us to cloister ourselves, I do believe that we must strive to avoid being “of the world” – lest He punish us as severely as He punished the people of Jerusalem and Judah. We certainly need His guidance as we strike this fine balance on a daily basis.

Threat of Captivity March 26, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 13:15-27.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, declaring that He will send the people of Jerusalem and Judah – including the king and the queen mother – into exile for their sins. This stems from the fact that they are spiritual adulterers – they have worshiped idols and consorted with other nations. They have aggrieved God, who is their husband; thus, He must bring shame on them.

Thoughts: In verse 18, God instructs Jeremiah to rebuke the king of Judah and the queen mother. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The prophet is now told to address his discourse directly to King Jehoiakim and his mother. By showing that he would not spare even the king and queen mother, God hoped to arouse the community in general.

Now the sidebar note in my NIV Study Bible for this verse states:

Who were the king and the queen mother? Jehoiachin and his mother, Nehushta…Jehoiachin, who began and ended his reign as an 18-year-old, likely looked to his mother for advice.

I was confused by these conflicting explanations, and so I was spurred to peruse the notes for this verse in Bible Hub. Those notes reveal some disagreement among commentators as to whether this verse references Jehoiakim or Jehoiachin. When I meet Jeremiah in the next life, I hope to query him on this point and settle the matter.

In verses 26 and 27, we see that God plans to bring shame on His people for their acts of spiritual adultery. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

God assumed the character of a husband to his people. As he had been so shamefully despised, he now says he was ready to punish them by throwing the skirts of his people over their faces, that their reproach or baseness might appear by exposing their private parts.

While I cannot bring any personal experience to bear regarding this passage, I assume that if a lover’s significant other were unfaithful to them, they would feel a deep sense of shame. Moreover, I assume that the aggrieved lover could be filled with a desire for retribution. In these instances, though, could their sinful nature distort that desire for justice? In contrast, we see that God displays a holy jealousy and a righteous desire that sin be punished appropriately. Indeed, I believe that He is the only “lover” who can properly respond to an adulterous “significant other” and properly punish them.

Wineskins March 21, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 13:12-14.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, asserting that wineskins are a metaphor for the people of Jerusalem and Judah. They know that wineskins will be filled with wine; similarly, He will fill all of them with the consequences of their sins. He will not be merciful to them.

Thoughts: The Bible contains several passages where God makes an obvious statement to His audience – yet that assertion is used to reinforce a larger point regarding how they should live as His people. In this case, the people of Jerusalem and Judah fail to comprehend the connection between wineskins and their sinfulness; God will respond to the depth of their depravity by giving them over to it. As modern-day believers, we would do well to heed the teaching points in such passages; we must not allow the initial, apparently obvious, statements to dull the incisiveness of His core arguments.

A Linen Belt March 18, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 13:1-11.

Summary: In this passage, God conducts the following object lesson with Jeremiah:

  • He instructs him to purchase a linen belt – and maintain its purity
  • He then instructs him to bring that belt to Perath and conceal it in a crevice in the rocks
  • After some time has passed, He instructs him to retrieve that belt – which is now ruined and useless.

Indeed, that belt is a metaphor for the people of Jerusalem and Judah. Initially, God set them apart, binding them to Himself with a holy covenant. Yet their idolatry has ruined them in His eyes.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God provided Jeremiah with various instructions concerning a linen belt. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 1-9:

Doubtless a vision is being narrated here, and not a real transaction, as some people think.

When I meet Jeremiah in the next life, I will query him on this point. Did this passage involve “a real transaction,” or did it consist of “a vision?” On one hand, if it consisted of a vision, what were his thoughts and emotions after that vision? Was he overwhelmed by grief at the fallen state of his compatriots? On the other hand, if it involved a real transaction, what were his thoughts and emotions during that sequence of events? Was he baffled by God’s instructions?

In verse 11, we see that God brought the people of Jerusalem and Judah into a covenant relationship with Him “for my renown and praise and honor.” This is a valuable reminder of our ultimate purpose in life – to glorify God. Thus, I was spurred to assess my own life and consider how I am glorifying God on a daily basis. Now I do wonder: am I truly giving God my best on a daily basis? Having strolled through all of Paul’s epistles, I see that he drove himself to exhaustion for God’s glory on a daily basis. As a resident of a First World country, am I called to emulate Paul’s lifestyle? This is a difficult question to answer…so at this point, my prayer is that God would continue to mold me and shape me so that He would be pleased with me at each stage of my life.

God’s Answer March 16, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 12:5-17.

Summary: In this passage, God begins by warning Jeremiah about his relatives – as even they have rejected his prophecies. He then addresses his complaint from the previous passage, asserting that He will punish His people for their sins and smite their land. He concludes by addressing the pagan neighbors of Judah who have appropriated her land; in particular, He will not punish them forever based on that sin – but only if they promise to worship Him.

Thoughts: In verse 7, we see that God will punish His beloved people. Now although I am not a parent, I do have a hazy notion of the thoughts and emotions that a parent experiences when they discipline their misbehaving child. In particular, recently I volunteered as a teacher for a K-2 Sunday School class at my church; that experience reinforced the importance of setting boundaries for the students and communicating the consequences of misbehavior. While I did not enjoy rebuking the students for their actions, I found it helpful to adopt a long-term perspective on this point; basically, I want to inculcate them with habits that they can employ as adults.

In verses 14-17, we see that God extends an offer of salvation to the pagan neighbors of Judah. This is a valuable reminder that God’s love is not confined to Jews; indeed, He desires that all people enter a covenant relationship with Him. As a Gentile, I am especially thankful for this fact. Of course, my recent stroll through the book of Acts reveals that preaching the Gospel to Gentiles has its attendant challenges, including the importance of overcoming roadblocks that are unique to the target’s culture, religion, etc. For example, believers should consider how to properly engage with those who adhere to polytheism.

Jeremiah’s Complaint March 12, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 12:1-4.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah wrestles with God – wondering why He has blessed the wicked. He beseeches God to punish them for their sins – as their actions have even cursed the land.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jeremiah recoils at the external prosperity of the wicked; he cannot fathom how a righteous, sovereign God could shower blessings on them. Modern-day believers can empathize with Jeremiah in this regard, as history is replete with tyrants who have exploited their nation-states, slaking their thirst for rape, pillage and murder. Many of these tyrants died peacefully of natural causes after committing countless sins. In light of these historical facts, we may wonder, “O Lord, why did you refrain from punishing these tyrants?” Perhaps their lives compel us to meditate on the next life, trusting that God will exercise His justice at that time. That is our only recourse as we continue to recoil at sin in this world.

Plot Against Jeremiah March 10, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 11:18-23.

Summary: In this passage, God reveals a plot by the men of Anathoth against Jeremiah. They intend to kill him for preaching in the name of the Lord, as they view him as a false prophet. Jeremiah finds refuge in the Lord, though; moreover, He promises to punish his murderous compatriots.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God will rescue Jeremiah from those who seek his life. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 18-20:

This passage teaches us that even if the whole world unites to suppress the light of truth, prophets and teachers should not be despondent but rather persevere in their work. We also see that there is no point in the ungodly trying to elude the authority of the prophets, for they eventually have to come before God’s tribunal.

This passage should encourage all believers, as it demonstrates that as long as God has a task from us to complete in this life, He will enable us to complete it – even if we are confronted by a host of obstacles. Perhaps this passage should also cause us to consider whether we are allowing the opposition of others to hinder our fulfillment of God’s plans for us. If so, we need to rest on the Holy Spirit, as He is more powerful than flesh and blood.

The Covenant is Broken March 7, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 11:1-17.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, reminding the people of Judah of the covenant that He made with their forefathers when He brought them out of Egypt. Since their forefathers broke that covenant, though, He cursed them according to its stipulations. The current generation has also broken that covenant by engaging in idolatry; thus, He promises to curse them according to its stipulations.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the Israelites’ response to the covenant that God made with them – including its plethora of curses. My hunch is that at least some of them complained to God regarding those curses; perhaps they asked, “O Lord, how could you bind us to a covenant that you know we cannot fulfill? One must be perfect in order to keep your decrees and commandments – yet you know that we are not perfect. Thus, these curses will fall on our heads!” If my hunch is correct, then I wonder how those Israelites lived. Did they curse God for laying an unbearable burden on their backs – and lead a life of sin? Or did they trust in His goodness and assume that He would be merciful to them? The New Testament indicates that those who adopted the latter approach – before the earthly ministry of Jesus – would have been saved. I wonder how the Holy Spirit moved in their hearts to seek His mercy…

In verse 15, we see that God rejected the insincere worship of His people, as they offered sacrifices to Him without confessing their idolatry to Him. Perhaps their idolatry had become habitual, as they went through the motions of outward worship while ignoring their inward depravity. As modern-day believers, we should consider whether we have major sins that have become habitual. Minor sins cannot be avoided, yet we must be careful lest we allow minor problems to morph into major issues. Vigilance in this regard is a lifelong process.

Jeremiah’s Prayer March 3, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 10:23-25.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah prays that God would:

  • discipline him – yet not in anger, lest he be destroyed
  • punish Babylon for its war crimes against the people of Judah.

Thoughts: This passage spurred me to ponder this question: when is it proper for believers to pray that God would punish others? Perhaps we should consider those actions that are clearly sinful, e.g. rape, pillage and murder. Those of us who follow the news know that these sinful deeds still occur today; we immediately recoil from their inherent wickedness. Yet our desire for God to punish those who commit these sins is, in some sense, mitigated by our desire that they repent of them and seek mercy from Him. How can we know that they will never repent of their sins? Perhaps we should place these evildoers into God’s hands and ask that He would deal with them as He sees fit, as we lack His wisdom and foresight. He knows their hearts and can determine if they have hardened beyond the point of no return.

Coming Destruction March 1, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 10:17-22.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah employs several metaphors to illustrate the depths of Judah’s despair after God punishes her:

  • a fallen tent
  • childlessness
  • scattered sheep
  • jackals roaming through rubble.

Thoughts: The metaphors that Jeremiah employed here would have been readily grasped by his original audience. This reinforces the importance of understanding context when reading through Scripture: metaphors that we gloss over would have resonated deeply with the people of Israel. Clearly God endowed His prophets with wisdom and insight when they crafted His message for His people; instead of writing haphazardly, they ensured that each word was “carefully adapted for maximum understanding and usefulness” (a phrase that appears on the back cover of each Crossway Classic Commentary). Of course, Jeremiah’s original audience rejected his precisely worded message. The challenge for us, as modern-day believers, is to comprehend these metaphors and respond appropriately.