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False Oracles and False Prophets April 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 23:33-40.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah – condemning the false prophets and wicked priests in Judah for asserting that He speaks through them. He has repeatedly commanded them to refrain from prophesying in His name, yet they have refused to obey Him. Thus, He resolves to punish them – especially since they have misled His flock in the process.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the tendency of at least some believers – including myself – to put out a fleece in the midst of trials. As human beings, we rely on evidence that we can perceive with our senses; thus, it is natural to look for signs when we are caught in a bind. One thought is that we need to overcome this inherent bias towards the physical world and gravitate towards the words that God has already spoken to us in the Scriptures (albeit in general terms); in fact, we can often glean insights from His (general) Word in our specific circumstances with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Broadly speaking, perhaps we should ask Him to:

  • grant us sufficient evidence – in the midst of a particular trial – based on our current spiritual state
  • enable our faith to grow so that we would need fewer signs during the next trial.

Lying Prophets April 28, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 23:9-32.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah – condemning the false prophets and wicked priests in the southern kingdom of Judah. Indeed, their sinfulness exceeds that of their counterparts in the northern kingdom of Israel – as they actually sanction the sinfulness of their flock. Consequently, He resolves to punish them.

Jeremiah also exhorts the people of Judah to ignore these false prophets and wicked priests. This stems from the fact that God does not speak to them, and so they themselves formulate the prophecies that they proclaim. Indeed, a genuine prophet of God would realize that He wants to communicate a simple message to His people: they must repent of their sins.

Thoughts: In verse 14, we see that the prophets and priests in Judah sanctioned the sinfulness of their flock. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Jeremiah shows how these men surpassed other prophets in impiety by dissimulating when they saw on one hand adulteries and on the other fraud, plundering and perjury…As these prophets banished shame as well as fear from the wicked and ungodly, they strengthened their hands and gave them more confidence, so that they rushed headlong into every evil more freely and with greater liberty.

I assume that these false prophets and wicked priests condoned acts of injustice and oppression. Now I am curious as to whether they attempted to furnish a theological justification for these actions. Did they view the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow as people who were cursed by God? Did they assert that these disadvantaged people were separate from the church of God – and so He had no concern for them? Or did they passively condone these actions while secretly acknowledging their inherent sinfulness?

Here, we see that Jeremiah contends with a plethora of false prophets and wicked priests in communicating his message to his compatriots. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 16:

As Jeremiah forbade the people to listen to such men, they must have been very confused: “What does this mean? Why does God allow these unprincipled men to occupy a place in the temple and to exercise a prophetic office there though they are all cheats, perjurers, and impostors?”

I have blogged about the difficulties that the people of Judah faced in attempting to discern truth from fiction. Since the messages conveyed by Jeremiah and the false prophets were diametrically opposed, one could only assess their veracity by looking for confirmatory evidence. Now the people of Judah knew that the Babylonian forces were pressing their siege of Jerusalem. In light of their predicament, how did the false prophets justify their optimistic messages? Were they convinced that God would never sanction the destruction of His temple? Were they assured that their foreign allies would break the ongoing siege of their capital? How did they respond when the Babylonians overran Jerusalem?

A secondary application of this passage concerns the delicate balance that modern-day pastors must strike when crafting their sermons. On one hand, they must learn from the negative example of the false prophets and wicked priests in Judah: if they neither spur their congregants to live holy lives nor exhort them to regularly assess their walk with God, then they display a lack of concern for their spiritual growth. On the other hand, if they harp on the themes of sin and guilt, then their congregants would probably grow spiritually weary and despondent. Truly it is difficult to know – on an arbitrary Sunday – what God wants to say to an arbitrary congregation. Thus, we must continue to pray for our spiritual leaders – that they would know how to discern God’s voice on a daily basis and respond to Him through their sermons.

The Righteous Branch April 23, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 23:1-8.

Summary: In this passage, God condemns the spiritual and political leaders of Judah – as they have failed to care for His people. In spite of their neglectfulness, He promises to:

  • restore at least some of His exiled people to their native land
  • install the Messiah as their wise, just and righteous King.

Indeed, this act of deliverance will surpass that which He effected for their forefathers when they left Egypt.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the miracles that God performed for His people in leading them out of Egypt are not worth comparing with the miracles that He performs in establishing His earthly kingdom – with Christ as its King. This highlights the sublimity of the spiritual transformation that God continues to work in us; the task of convincing the most powerful man on Earth to free a group of slaves appears enormous, yet even that task is trivial compared to the task of freeing all mankind from the power of sin and death. I must admit that I often struggle to grasp the enormity of what God has done for us through Christ – yet I know that as long as I continue to advance the principles of His earthly reign, I am acknowledging Him as my true King.

Judgment Against Evil Kings April 22, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 22.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, condemning the actions of these kings of Judah:

Indeed, He charges them with a litany of sins, including:

  • withholding the wages of the workers who built the royal palace in Jerusalem
  • flaunting their wealth
  • shedding innocent blood.

Thus, he will punish them by:

  • destroying the royal palace in Jerusalem
  • banishing Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin from their native land
  • bringing shame on Jehoiakim after his death
  • cutting off their royal line.

Thoughts: In verses 13-17, we see that God condemns King Jehoiakim for his actions towards the workers who constructed his palace. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 14:

The prophet reproves the ambition and pride of King Jehoiakim. He was not content with the moderation of his fathers but indulged in extravagant display and built for himself a palace in the clouds, so to speak, as if he did not want to live on the earth. Splendid houses are not in themselves condemned, but since they nearly always proceed from insatiable ambition, the prophets condemn sumptuous houses.

These verses remind me of one of the controversies that swirled around last year’s presidential election in the United States. Perhaps modern-day believers who reside in First World countries should assess our lives in light of this passage. For example, do we leave a proper tip for our server at the local eatery that we frequent? If we happen to own a business, are we properly compensating our employees? Do we – either consciously or unconsciously – flaunt our wealth?

Recently, our small group has been strolling through the Gospel of Luke; some have termed that book “the social concerns Gospel” due to its emphasis on less prominent characters – and God’s desire that they be lifted up. Over the last few years, I have given more thought to the role of Christians in advancing the principles of justice and fairness in this broken world; thus, these simultaneous strolls through Jeremiah and Luke have served to reinforce that point. I am curious as to whether these principles will play a prominent role in the rest of Jeremiah, though.

Here, we see that King Jehoahaz and King Jehoiachin – along with the queen mother, Nehushta – will be banished from their native land; moreover, they will never return to it. This spurred me to consider the possibility of banishment from my native land. I have never lived in another country for an extended period of time, and it is difficult for me to contemplate life as an emigre. If I were ever exiled from my country and barred from returning to it, I wonder how I would respond to that trial. Would I ever grow accustomed to life as a foreigner? Would I actually embrace my new country and completely divorce myself from my native land? Would I retain some attachment to my native land – and harbor a sense of regret concerning life in exile? Indeed, as a citizen of a First World country, I should be more thankful that God has shown His grace to me in determining the time and place of my birth.

God Rejects Zedekiah’s Request April 18, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 21.

Summary: In this passage, Zedekiah, the king of Judah, sends an official delegation to Jeremiah. They request that Jeremiah intercede with God on Zedekiah’s behalf, as the Babylonians are besieging Jerusalem.

Yet Jeremiah responds by asserting that the siege of the Babylonians will be so fierce that famine and plague will decimate the population of Jerusalem. Those who survive these twin calamities – including Zedekiah himself – will be slaughtered by the Babylonians.

God then condemns Zedekiah as an unjust monarch.

Thoughts: It is evident that the people of Israel and Judah were strongly influenced by their rulers. The majority of a ruler’s subjects would follow his lead in terms of piety – or lack thereof. This spurred me to consider the modern-day analogy of this phenomenon. In particular, I would submit that the piety – or lack thereof – of a modern-day political leader does not directly impact the piety – or lack thereof – of many of their compatriots. I can say that I do not depend on my national leader in order to determine how to live piously. This raises the interesting question as to how political leaders can lose their moral sway over their compatriots. Perhaps the legalized separation between church and state plays a role in this regard.

In verse 9, we see that God recommends that the people of Jerusalem surrender to the besieging Babylonian forces – instead of continuing to resist them. Now if a resident of Jerusalem had surrendered to the Babylonians, I suspect that at least some of their compatriots would have viewed them as a traitor. The leaders of Judah likely exhorted their subjects to resist foreign invaders and defend their homeland at all costs. Clearly, though, the sinfulness of those leaders had deprived them of moral authority – leading God to display His disapproval of outwardly patriotic actions. God knew that the moral decay of Jerusalem was so great that it was not worth defending. On a related note, I am curious as to whether the Babylonians actually spared those who surrendered to them at that time. Did they torture their prisoners – and even kill some of them?

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum April 14, 2017

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I recently visited the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum in West Branch, Iowa. The library and museum commemorate the life of our nation’s 31st President, Herbert Hoover.

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

1. Hoover was raised in a Quaker household and regularly attended lengthy Quaker meetings. He was orphaned at the age of 10, and so he moved to Oregon to live with his strict Quaker uncle and aunt.

2. As a newly minted graduate of Stanford, Hoover wore a tweed suit – and grew a mustache – for his first job interview; the minimum age for that position was 35. One of the highlights of his career in the mining industry occurred when he hit a gold mine jackpot in Australia; he eventually earned a yearly income of $30000.

3. As a public servant, Hoover played a critical role in several humanitarian endeavors. For example, he facilitated the evacuation of American tourists in Europe at the outset of World War I. He also organized a major wartime relief effort for Belgium; the rations of extra bread and soup that were prepared for those Belgian refugees were nicknamed “Hoover lunches.”

4. Hoover also served as the Commerce Secretary under Warren Harding. As Commerce Secretary, he strongly advocated the ratification of the Colorado River Compact. He also drafted a uniform highway safety code after his friend in Washington D.C. accumulated 24 driving violations while driving to New York.

5. Hoover warned Calvin Coolidge about rampant speculation in the financial sector. He was a strong advocate for price controls in the real estate market. Interestingly, he also supported various infrastructure projects – including several in the Tennessee Valley.

6. After his presidency, Hoover assisted with various European relief efforts in the aftermath of World War II. He also led two commissions that drafted proposals for reforming the executive branch of the federal government. In addition, he proposed the office of “administrative vice president” who would be tasked with managing the federal budget.

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. I also appreciated the efforts of the exhibit designers in presenting a balanced view of the financial crisis that plagued Hoover’s time in the White House.

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 history buffs who happen to be in Iowa.

Jeremiah’s Complaint April 14, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 20:7-18.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah describes the following quandary:

  • when he proclaims God’s judgment upon His people, they insult him
  • when he attempts to shun his prophetic calling, God compels him to fulfill it.

He then beseeches God to punish those who insult him and reject His message.

He also rues his own existence, despairing of life itself.

Thoughts: I found this passage to be rather odd, as Jeremiah’s attitude toward God oscillates between pessimism and optimism:

  • verses 7-10 reflect his consternation at the inherent quandary of his prophetic calling
  • verses 11-13 reflect his confidence in God – that He will vindicate him in light of the insults of his compatriots
  • verses 14-18 are replete with sorrow and pain.

If this passage had concluded with verse 13, then I would have classified it as a typical Psalm, where the psalmist initially expresses their fears and doubts before concluding with a display of confidence in God. When I meet Jeremiah in the next life, I plan to ask him about this passage; are the three sections that I noted above arranged in chronological order?

Here, we see that Jeremiah is caught in a quandary concerning his prophetic calling. This caused me to ponder the following question: can we truly shun God’s calling for us in this life? At least some people sense that God has designed a difficult and costly path for them – and they attempt to avoid it, pursuing another path that offers relative peace and comfort. If they never end up pursuing that difficult and costly path, then since God is sovereign and omniscient, could it be argued that the path of relative peace and comfort was His actual plan for their lives? Perhaps this is just idle speculation on my part, as one cannot answer that question until the next life.

Jeremiah and Pashhur April 12, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 20:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, the priest Pashhur punishes Jeremiah for his dire prophecies in the temple by having him beaten and (temporarily) imprisoned. Jeremiah responds to his punishment by declaring that God will punish Pashhur for his sins. In particular, Pashhur and his entire family will be sent into exile in Babylon; there, he will die and be buried.

Thoughts: I am curious as to how Pashhur responded to Jeremiah’s pronouncement of God’s judgment upon him. Was he gripped by fear, sensing that God was actually speaking through Jeremiah in this instance? Or did he dismiss Jeremiah’s words – including his declaration that Pashhur’s name had been changed to Magor-Missabib – as the ravings of a lunatic? What were his thoughts and emotions as the Babylonians ravaged Jerusalem and its populace? Did he eventually go into exile in Babylon, and if so, did he repent of his sins at that time?

At the Potter’s House April 8, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 18-19.

Summary: In this passage, God commands Jeremiah to visit the house of a potter. There, He draws the following analogy: just as the potter is sovereign over his clay, so He is sovereign over His people. Thus, He exhorts them to repent of their sins – lest He destroy their nation. He also expresses His amazement at their irrational behavior, as they have forsaken Him – who dwells in their midst – to worship gods of distant lands.

Yet the people of Judah reject Jeremiah’s exhortation, and they plot to discredit him. Jeremiah responds by asking God to thoroughly punish them.

God subsequently commands Jeremiah to purchase a clay jar and bring it – along with some of the elders and priests – to the Valley of Ben Hinnom. There, he proclaims a message of judgment on the people of Judah: since they have committed acts of child sacrifice in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and worshiped idols in Jerusalem, He will fill that valley – and Jerusalem – with their dead bodies. Jeremiah then returns to Jerusalem and proclaims that message of judgment in the temple.

Thoughts: In verses 14 and 15 of chapter 18, God decries the idiocy of His people in their rejection of Him. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

God highlights the sin of the people with the following comparison: When one can draw water in one’s own field, how foolish it would be to travel a long way looking for water. And if water does not spring up nearby but flows from a distant pure and cold stream, who will not be satisfied with such water?

This passage spurred me to ponder modern-day applications of God’s argument. One thought is that this may be related to Paul’s argument in Romans 1:18-32, which highlights the irrationality of mankind in rejecting God. In particular, we have two compelling reasons to believe in His existence:

  • the surrounding creation
  • our inner conscience

yet we still choose to reject Him. This could be construed as an irrational response to God; why would we reject Him when He has revealed Himself so abundantly to us? Yet Satan works powerfully to muddle our comprehension of God by presenting competing explanations for the surrounding creation and devising daily distractions. We must ask the Holy Spirit to guide us as we seek to respond in a rational manner to the Person and work of God.

In verses 19-23 of chapter 18, Jeremiah entreats God to punish those who would discredit him. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 21:

Jeremiah then should not have uttered these curses, although they were fully deserved. But it must be observed that he was moved by the Holy Spirit to become so indignant against his enemies…the prophet does not say anything rashly here but obediently proclaims what the Holy Spirit dictated, as his faithful instrument.

We have seen in Jeremiah 8:4-9:26 that Jeremiah wrestled with the scope of God’s punishment of his compatriots. In light of his struggles, how did Jeremiah inveigh against his compatriots in this passage? Perhaps Jeremiah identified so closely with God – as His prophet – that he viewed any attempts to discredit him as attempts to discredit God Himself; clearly, anyone who dared to discredit God Himself merited His punishment. As modern-day believers, though, we must exercise caution when attempting to apply this passage today; if non-believers attempt to discredit us, we must be confident that we are truly acting on God’s behalf before asking Him to judge them.

In chapter 19, we see that Jeremiah led a group of elders and priests outside Jerusalem to the Valley of Ben Hinnom – where he smashed a clay jar and condemned their acts of idolatry and child sacrifice. Now I wonder: why those elders and priests follow Jeremiah to the Valley of Ben Hinnom? Had Jeremiah not acquired a negative reputation among his compatriots at that point? Did those elders and priests assume that Jeremiah wanted to apologize for all of his dire prophecies? Were they fueled by a sense of curiosity as to what He would say?

Keeping the Sabbath Holy April 6, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 17:19-27.

Summary: In this passage, God commands Jeremiah to preach the following message at the gates of Jerusalem:

  • the people of Judah need to observe the Sabbath
  • if they obey this command, then He will maintain the preeminence of Jerusalem
  • if they disobey this command, then He will destroy Jerusalem.

Thoughts: Calvin offers some intriguing thoughts on this passage in his commentary on verses 19-21:

This discourse should be separated from the preceding one. Whoever divided the chapters was in my judgment deficient here, as well as in many other places.

Calvin’s thoughts led me to the following question: how was the Bible divided into chapters and verses? A quick Google search revealed links such as this one and this one. My conjecture is that many Christians have grown accustomed to the standard chapter-and-verse divisions; thus, removing them would do more harm than good. Yet we must not allow them to hamper our understanding of a given section of Scripture. Once we have used them to locate a particular passage, we must then attempt to ignore them if they might hinder our grasp of what God is saying in that particular case. One thought is that when one is preparing an inductive Bible study, they can omit the verse divisions in the handouts that contain the passage of interest.