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Message to Shemaiah May 26, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 29:24-32.

Summary: In this passage, God addresses Shemaiah the Nehelamite, who has written a scathing letter to the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah concerning Jeremiah. In particular, Shemaiah denounces Jeremiah as a false prophet in light of his letter to the exiles in Babylon, where he had exhorted them to adjust to life in Babylon. He orders Zephaniah to punish Jeremiah for that act of blasphemy.

Yet Zephaniah informs Jeremiah of Shemaiah’s attacks on his character. God then informs Jeremiah that He has cursed Shemaiah and his descendants.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God punishes Shemaiah the Nehelamite as a false prophet. Now I am curious as to how – and when – God punished Shemaiah. Did Nebuchadnezzar throw him – and his family – into a fiery furnace? Before his death, did Shemaiah grasp the magnitude of his sin and repent of it? Also, what was Shemaiah’s status among the exiles in Babylon? Was he a member of the administration of Jehoiachin? Was he a skilled worker or an artisan? In addition, did God reward Zephaniah for revealing the contents of Shemaiah’s letter to Jeremiah? Did Zephaniah take a great risk by supporting Jeremiah at that time?

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A Letter to the Exiles May 20, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 29:1-23.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah pens a letter to the exiles in Babylon where he makes the following points:

  • they should adjust to life in Babylon – instead of pining for their homeland; moreover, they should pray for Babylon – and its rulers
  • God will restore them to their homeland after seventy years; moreover, He will restore them to a proper relationship with Himself
  • they should not envy their compatriots who remain in Jerusalem – as He will punish them with the sword, famine and the plague for their sinfulness
  • He will punish the false prophets in their midst, including Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, for uttering lies in His name; in particular, King Nebuchadnezzar will burn them to death.

Thoughts: In verses 4-7, we see that God commands the exiles in Babylon to adjust to life in that foreign land. I am curious as to how those exiles responded to this command. Did they view Jeremiah as a false prophet who was essentially exhorting them to commit treason by praying for Babylon? Did they view Ahab and Zedekiah as genuine – and patriotic – prophets who were encouraging them through their promises of a brief confinement in Babylon? Or did God miraculously enable them to respond to Him appropriately? If so, how did they pray for their new masters? Did they intermarry with their new masters?

Verse 11 is a popular memory verse; thus, I was eager to comprehend it in its proper context when I read through this passage. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

But God shows that the right time would not come until their prayers proceeded from a right feeling; this is what he means by with all your heart. Of course, people never turn to God with their whole heart, nor is the whole heart engaged in prayer as much as it should be. But the prophet contrasts the whole heart with the double heart. So we should understand here not perfection (which can never be found in human beings) but integrity and sincerity.

Thus, we see that verse 11 does not constitute an unconditional promise on the part of God – as He will not bless us if we do not make a genuine effort to draw closer to Him. Another thought is that in verse 10, we see that the exile in Babylon would last for seventy years. In that case, most of the exiles would pass away in Babylon – and never return to their homeland. This sobering fact confronts us with this larger point: we will not receive most of the blessings of God until the next life. In light of that fact, perhaps we should view verse 11 as an exhortation for us to anticipate the greater blessings of the next life – which is manifested in a fruitful relationship with God in this life.

In verses 20-23, we see that Jeremiah curses the false prophets, Ahab and Zedekiah, for presuming to speak in God’s name. Their eventual fate reminded me of the trial that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego experienced when they refused to worship the idol that King Nebuchadnezzar had constructed in Babylon. In that case, we know that God intervened to deliver them from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. In this case, God does not intervene, and so Ahab and Zedekiah experienced a painful demise. Indeed, the notion of being burned to death is revolting; perhaps Ahab and Zedekiah perished slowly, screaming as the flames consumed their flesh. Yet this account should spur us to reflect on God and His holiness; His zeal for His name is great, and we must not besmirch it.

The False Prophet Hananiah May 18, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 28.

Summary: In this passage, the false prophet Hananiah son of Azzur attempts to discredit Jeremiah – declaring that God will:

  • deliver Judah from the oppression of Babylon within two years
  • bring all of the exiles in Babylon – and the articles of worship that Nebuchadnezzar looted – back to Judah at that time.

Jeremiah responds by appealing to God, declaring that He will reveal the veracity – or lack thereof – of Hananiah’s proclamations.

Hananiah refuses to retract his statements; moreover, he demonstrates his stubbornness by breaking the wooden yoke on Jeremiah’s neck.

Later, God responds by condemning Hananiah for his false prophecies and asserting that Babylon will oppress Judah for more than two years. After two months have passed, Hananiah receives the ultimate punishment for his blasphemous deeds when God slays him.

Thoughts: I found this passage to be fascinating, as it sharpens our understanding of the opposition that Jeremiah endured throughout his ministry. In particular, we see that Hananiah spoke with authority, utilizing phrases such as “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says,” “declares the Lord,” and “This is what the Lord says.” Jeremiah – and other genuine prophets of God – also utilized these phrases during their ministries; thus, we have a better sense as to why the people of Judah had difficulty discerning God’s voice at that time. They needed to distinguish between genuine and false prophets, and one obvious – in retrospect – approach was to ask: whose prophecies came to pass? In this case, since the exile in Babylon lasted for seventy – and not two – years, we see that Hananiah was a false prophet.

In verses 5-9, Jeremiah responds to Hananiah’s proclamations. The sidebar in my NIV Study Bible includes the following note:

Was Jeremiah being sarcastic? Probably. Some feel Jeremiah genuinely wanted the temple and the nation restored. But it’s more likely there was a sarcastic edge to his reply.

Calvin offers some related thoughts on Jeremiah’s response in his commentary on verses 5 and 6:

It was therefore Jeremiah’s object to turn aside the false suspicion under which he labored, and he testified that he desired nothing more than the well-being of the people…”May it happen in this way. I would willingly retract, and that with shame, all that I have predicted so far, so great is my care and anxiety for the safety of the public. For I would prefer the welfare of all the people to my own reputation.”

Thus, Calvin does not appear to detect any sarcasm in Jeremiah’s response. When I meet Jeremiah in the next life, I hope to query him on this point and learn more about his interactions with Hananiah – and other false prophets. Did he ever pray to God that they would repent of their sins and seek His forgiveness?

Judah to Serve Nebuchadnezzar May 14, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 27.

Summary: In this passage, God commands Jeremiah to place a wooden yoke on his neck; this yoke is an object lesson for Judah and the following nations:

In particular, God will place the yoke of Babylon on them.

If any nation attempts to resist His will in this regard – by heeding the counsel of false prophets, who proclaim peace and prosperity – then He will punish them with the sword, famine and the plague.

Moreover, all of the articles in the temple in Jerusalem that have not been plundered by the Babylonians will eventually be taken to Babylon.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God commands various nations – including Judah – to submit to the rule of Babylon. This spurred me to consider the following principles that are established in Scripture regarding proper submission to the rule of non-believers:

  • being a good citizen brings glory to God
  • God has ordained the authority of all rulers – even non-believing rulers
  • one should only disobey their rulers when they compel them to sin, e.g. ordering them to worship a false deity.

In this case, while God commands Judah to submit to the rule of Babylon, He does not command them to worship the Babylonian gods, as that would be sinful; the account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego reinforces this point, providing an example of proper resistance to non-believing rulers. Yet this causes me to ponder a related issue: as far as I can tell, Scripture does not explicitly advocate the abolition of slavery. If this is correct, then what is God’s viewpoint concerning efforts along these lines, e.g. the 19th-century abolitionists? Our modern sensibilities inform us that slavery is a moral evil, and the laws of First World countries prohibit it – yet slavery was protected by law in those same countries for quite some time. Did the actions of the 19th-century abolitionists constitute proper resistance to their governing authorities?

In verse 22, we see that the items that remain in the temple in Jerusalem will be taken to Babylon. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

He now repeats and confirms that what still stayed in Jerusalem will be taken away by their enemies, the Babylonians, who will attack them. Nebuchadnezzar had spared part of the temple and part of the city. He had taken away the most precious vessels but had not completely denuded the temple of all its decorations. Since some of its splendor still remained, the Jews should have seen that God had been kind to them. He now says that the temple and the city will be totally destroyed.

It is evident that God wanted to bring His people to the nadir of their nation’s history – compelling them to repent of their sins and return to Him. Unfortunately, the post-exilic books describe the persistent sinfulness and rebellion of Judah after God brought them back to their homeland. Moreover, after the incarnation of Jesus Christ, His people failed to grasp the significance of His person and work – merely viewing Him as the One who would deliver them from the Romans. His people could not return to Him on their own – He had to plant His Holy Spirit in them for this to occur. Indeed, we need His Holy Spirit to dwell in us, as we are not naturally inclined toward Him.

Jeremiah Threatened With Death May 12, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 26.

Summary: In this passage, God commands Jeremiah to stand in the courtyard of His temple in Jerusalem and preach the following message of judgment: if His people do not repent of their sins, then He will destroy Jerusalem – including His temple.

The false prophets and wicked priests respond by seizing Jeremiah. They level a charge of blasphemy against him before several royal functionaries. Jeremiah defends himself with the assertion that he is a genuine prophet of God.

The royal functionaries respond by ruling in favor of Jeremiah. The elders of Judah support their decision, citing the related case of Micah; Micah was regarded as a genuine prophet of God, even though He also preached a message of judgment on Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah. The people of Judah responded to Micah’s message by repenting of their sins – and God did not destroy Jerusalem. Thus, the elders of Judah exhort the people to repent of their sins.

It is noted that another prophet, Uriah son of Shemaiah, also preached a message of judgment on Jerusalem at that time. Jehoiakim responded to Uriah by ordering his execution.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God delivered Jeremiah from those who sought to kill him. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 16:

Jeremiah shows here that the sentence passed on him was soon changed. The priests and false prophets, in their blind rage, had condemned the holy prophet to death. He now says that he was acquitted by the rulers and the king’s counselors, and also by the people.

In particular, we see that those who defended Jeremiah made a cogent argument – forming a logical connection between their present circumstances and the plight of King Hezekiah. Thus, I wonder how the Babylonians eventually sacked Jerusalem during the reign of King Jehoiachin (and his successor, Zedekiah). Did those who defended Jeremiah die, leaving those who were unaware of what God had done through Micah? Did the false prophets and wicked priests subsequently deliver a string of eloquent arguments against Jeremiah, causing the people to change their opinion of him? Did the people of Judah lapse into sinfulness soon after they repented of their sins?

In verses 20-23, we see that the prophet Uriah was struck down by the order of Jehoiakim. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Another example is cited, which was similar but different: The king was different, but the prophet was the same. Uriah, who faithfully carried out his office, is mentioned here. But Jehoiakim could not stand his preaching and so killed him.

I anticipate meeting Uriah in the next life – as I assume that God viewed him favorably. Now I wonder: why did God preserve Jeremiah from his enemies – while delivering Uriah into their hands? Did Uriah disobey God by fleeing to Egypt when he learned of Jehoiakim’s plans to execute him? Did God decide that Uriah had completed his assigned task in this life? Was Uriah aware of Jeremiah’s ministry, and if so, what was his opinion of Jeremiah? Did Jeremiah have any contemporaries besides Uriah?

In verse 24, we see that Ahikam son of Shaphan played a key role in defending Jeremiah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

An example of courage and perseverance is set before us. It is not enough to defend a good cause from a position of safety if we are not prepared to be ill-treated and despised and to accept all kinds of danger. We are also taught here how much influence one man wields when he boldly defends a good cause, risking everything for God and his ministers.

I also anticipate meeting Ahikam in the next life and learning more about him. Was he a royal functionary? Why did he command respect in Judah at that time? How did Jehoiakim view him? Was he taking a significant risk by defending Jeremiah in this instance? Did he defend Jeremiah against his enemies on multiple occasions? How did he respond to the moral decay of Judah in subsequent years? Did his influence in Judah wane?

The Cup of God’s Wrath May 10, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 25:15-38.

Summary: In this passage, God commands Jeremiah to preach the following message of judgment to all nations – including Judah:

  • He will punish them for their sinfulness
  • in particular, He will slay many of them; indeed, there will be no room to bury all of the slain
  • He will not spare their political and religious leaders
  • He will devastate their land.

Thoughts: The imagery in this passage is reminiscent of the message of judgment delivered by the third angel in Revelation 14:6-13. In that passage, we see that those who commit idolatry will be overwhelmed by the wrath of God. God utterly detests idolatry, and His immutability is reflected in His attitude toward that sin in the Old and New Testaments; in particular, He either immediately slays idolaters or threatens to slay them if they do not repent of that sin. This is a valuable reminder to modern-day believers that we should be on our guard against idolatry, lest God overwhelm us with His wrath.

This passage also spurred me to ponder a somewhat-related question: how did God view Gentiles who perished before the incarnation of Christ? Most likely they did not know Him as the God of Israel. Instead, many of them worshiped various deities, including creator gods and gods who were believed to control agriculture and fertility. Now did any of these Gentiles avoid the trap that Paul mentions in Romans 1:18-32 by refusing to worship created things? If any of them only worshiped one creator deity, did they sense their inner opposition to that deity – an opposition that they could not overcome through external actions such as the offering of sacrifices? Moreover, did any of them sense that this creator deity viewed them favorably despite their inner opposition to them? If so, did any of them sense that they should respond to this wonderful state of affairs by seeking the best interests of their friends and their enemies? These are challenging questions, and I must admit that I cannot answer them at this time.

When I first read this passage, I assumed that Jeremiah actually traveled to all of the nations that are listed in verses 18-26 and preached God’s message of judgment to their political and spiritual leaders. After giving this some thought, I reasoned that this was infeasible – and so that aspect of this passage is meant to be interpreted figuratively. I must admit that I occasionally struggle to determine when to interpret a given passage literally and when to interpret it figuratively; I have improved in terms of grasping the main point of a given passage, though I can be ensnared by its nuances. This illustrates the value of re-reading a given passage and allowing God to speak through it in His timing.

Seventy Years of Captivity May 6, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 25:1-14.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah – declaring that He has repeatedly:

  • exhorted the people of Judah to repent of their sinfulness
  • warned them that if they do not repent, then He will drive them from their land.

Since they persist in their idolatry, He will punish them by sending them into exile in Babylon for 70 years.

On a hopeful note, He promises to punish the Babylonians for the war crimes that they will commit in their invasion of Judah.

Thoughts: In verse 9, we see that God plans to work through King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to punish His people. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The Scriptures show that all mortals obey God whenever he plans to use them. This does not mean that they intend to serve God, but that he, through a secret influence, so rules them and their tongues, their minds and hearts, their hands and their feet, that they are constrained, willingly or unwillingly, to do his will and pleasure.

This passage serves as a great encouragement to those modern-day believers who face state-sponsored persecution. Here, God declares that He is sovereign over their political leaders – regardless of their hostility towards His church. Moreover, He declares that He works through their political leaders for His glory. Perhaps this passage can be applied more broadly to all who oppose God, including non-state actors who attempt to spread fear and terror through their actions. He does not overlook their sinful deeds; instead, He takes note of them, and He will punish them in His timing.

In verse 11, we see that God decrees that His people will be exiled from their land for 70 years. I believe that this is the first reference to the duration of the Babylonian exile in this book – though I may have overlooked a previous verse along these lines. In any event, I wonder if any of the exiles from Judah recalled this prophecy by Jeremiah during their confinement in Babylon. If so, did they believe that God was speaking through Jeremiah at that time? Did they draw strength and encouragement from this prophecy, trusting that God would eventually allow them – or their descendants – to return to their homeland?

Two Baskets of Figs May 3, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 24.

Summary: In this passage, God shows Jeremiah two baskets of figs that have been placed in front of His temple in Jerusalem. One basket contains good figs, and the other basket contains bad figs. He then makes the following assertions:

  • the good figs represent the people of Judah who have already been exiled to Babylon; indeed, He will restore them to their homeland and renew their relationship with Him
  • the bad figs represent the people of Judah who remain in Jerusalem; indeed, He will destroy them.

Thoughts: In verse 1, we see that King Nebuchadnezzar exiled King Jehoiachin – and all skilled workers – from Jerusalem to Babylon. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

King Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) had been carried away into exile along with leading men and the craftsmen…For everything of any value had been removed by their conquerors, and we know that Nebuchadnezzar was full of avarice and rapacity.

Lately I have been practicing lectio divina; when I apply this approach, I attempt to situate myself in the passage at hand and identify with at least one character. For this passage, I determined that given my educational background and skill set, I could have been an official in the government of King Jehoiachin; in particular, I could have been a tax collector. In that case, I would have rejected Jeremiah’s prophecies and viewed him as a raving lunatic; I would have felt quite secure in my political position. In light of that sobering reality, I am thankful for God’s grace – as He has enabled me – from a young age – to view my skill set as a critical part of my relationship with Him.