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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.

Warning to Zedekiah June 11, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 34:1-7.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, pronouncing His judgment on King Zedekiah. In particular, He asserts that King Nebuchadnezzar will:

  • capture and raze Jerusalem
  • capture him and transport him to Babylon – where he will die.

Yet God declares that Zedekiah will die in peace; moreover, his subjects will mourn his passing.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God addresses King Zedekiah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 4 and 5:

And yet if we look at all the circumstances, it would have been a lesser evil to be put to death at once than to prolong life on the condition of being doomed to pine away in constant misery. When the eyes are put out….we know that a major part of life is lost. When, therefore, this punishment was inflicted on Zedekiah, would not death be considered desirable?

Calvin makes a compelling point in this instance, as I could not imagine life without my eyesight. Yet I wonder if, in some sense, God displayed His grace to Zedekiah in sparing him a violent death. In particular, my thought is that instead of putting him to death, God granted Zedekiah an opportunity to return to a proper relationship with Him. Given that Zedekiah would be blind – and helpless – during his exile in Babylon, he would have time to contemplate his sinfulness and arrive at a state of brokenness – where he could confess his sins before God. Now that raises the following question: did he confess his sins before God in Babylon?

Promise of Restoration June 9, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 33.

Summary: In this passage, God reiterates the main point of the previous passage: He will bring His people out of exile in Babylon; moreover, He will restore them to their homeland.

In particular, He will:

  • allow His people to get married in their homeland
  • allow shepherds to tend their flocks in their homeland
  • re-establish the priesthood – so that He can be worshiped forever.

To lend further weight to these assertions, He appeals to His sovereignty over all celestial bodies.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God continues to assert the boundless nature of His love for His people. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 19-21:

He shows that God’s covenant with the people of Israel will be no less strong than the settled order of nature. The sun, moon, and stars are constant in their progress. This settled state of things is so fixed that in a great variety of circumstances there is no change. We have rain and then fair weather, and we have the various seasons, but the sun continues its daily course.

One thought is that this section of Jeremiah constitutes a lengthy love letter from God to His people; the language that He employs displays His ardor for them. Just as a soldier would be encouraged by a photo of a loved one during an extended tour of duty, God would want His people to be encouraged by this letter during their lengthy exile in Babylon. I hope to meet at least some of the exiles in the next life and learn how they responded to this love letter.

We also see that God will re-establish the priesthood in perpetuity. The meaning of this assertion is not entirely clear, given that the Levitical priesthood has been inactive for quite some time. In contrast, the meaning of His assertion concerning the Davidic dynasty is more clear, given that Jesus Christ is a descendant of David in His human form; moreover, we believe that the reign of Christ over all creation will never end. One thought is that while the Levitical priesthood will never be re-established, God has installed Christ as His perpetual High Priest (note that Christ is a member of the tribe of Judah in His human form). Christ always stands before His Father, having offered Himself once for all time as a sacrifice for sins; now He regularly intercedes for us with His Father. Thus, in that sense, Christ is our King and our High Priest. Now I am merely speculating here; alternate interpretations are welcome.

Jeremiah Buys a Field June 6, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 32.

Summary: In this passage, we see that Jeremiah’s prophecies of judgment have compelled King Zedekiah to confine him to the royal palace in Jerusalem.

God then instructs Jeremiah to purchase the field that belongs to his cousin, Hanamel son of Shallum. This ostensibly mundane act is designed to convey an important message to the people of Judah: God will allow them to dwell in peace in their homeland – after their exile in Babylon.

Indeed, He wants to encourage His people in the midst of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. He reinforces this point by reiterating His message from the previous passage.

Thoughts: In verse 17, Jeremiah asserts the omnipotence of God based on His act of creation; God affirms this fact in verse 27. This assertion reminds me of a praise song that was a staple of the worship sets at my old church during the early 1990s. Indeed, I never thought that one could write a praise song using material from a book about a “weeping prophet,” but this verse has disabused me of that notion. I should note that I have not heard this song in a worship setting in many years; if any readers have been more fortunate in that regard, that would be neat.

The key event in this passage involves Jeremiah purchasing the field that belongs to his cousin, Hanamel. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

This seemed strange, for the enemies had possessed that part of the country, and no Jews could venture out into their fields. The prophet must have seemed insane to buy a field that was then in the possession of the enemy. But this was the way God intended to show that after the Jews had been deprived of the possession of the land for a time, they would go back to it, so that everyone would return to his own property; and thus everything would be totally their own, after God had shown them mercy.

I am curious as to how God compelled Hanamel to make an offer of his field to Jeremiah. Did Hanamel sense that God was working through him in this regard? Did Jeremiah understand the point that God was making in verse 15? Did Baruch son of Neriah and the other witnesses in the royal palace understand the significance of this transaction? What were the thoughts and emotions of the guards in the royal palace at that time? Did the guards make an effort to prevent Hanamel and Jeremiah from carrying out this transaction?

Here, we see that Jeremiah uses seventeen shekels of silver to purchase the field that belonged to Hanamel. Perhaps these seventeen shekels of silver are analogous to the acts of worship and service that we perform as believers. In particular, one could say that Jeremiah was effectively making a deposit on this field; since it was occupied by the Babylonians, it was unclear as to whether he would ever acquire it. Similarly, we perform acts of worship and service in anticipation of an eternal reward – yet we cannot see that reward at this time. Instead of losing hope, though, I sense that God calls us to emulate the faith that Jeremiah displays here. He calls us to make a (spiritual) deposit on eternal treasures – on a daily basis – and trust that He will give them to us in His timing.

Restoration of Israel June 3, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 30-31.

Summary: In this passage, God instructs Jeremiah to declare this message to His people: He will bring them out of exile in Babylon and restore them to their homeland.

Moreover, He will:

  • not inflict a lasting punishment on them for their sins
  • inflict a lasting punishment on the Babylonians for the war crimes that they will commit against them
  • rebuild Jerusalem
  • heal their land
  • place a new king – from the house of David – over them
  • establish a new covenant with them
  • permanently remove their sinfulness
  • enable them to respond to these actions with praise and thanksgiving
  • never leave them nor forsake them.

Thoughts: This passage contains a brief description of the work of God the Son and God the Spirit in restoring His people to a proper relationship with Himself. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 9 of chapter 30:

It was the office and work of God to raise up Christ. We must always come to the fountain of God’s mercy if we want to enjoy the blessings of Christ. We will find in Christ whatever is necessary for our salvation.

Also, verses 33 and 34 of chapter 31 describe the work of God the Spirit in this regard. The truths that are contained in these verses should spur us to reflect on the nature of the Trinity – and rejoice in the fact that we worship God in Three Persons. Each member of the Trinity is invaluable in God’s great plan of salvation. In contrast, only God the Father plays a role in the old covenant – and that covenant was not effective in maintaining His relationship with His people. When He introduced that covenant, though, He already knew its primary purpose – to point to a new covenant that would also glorify the other (two) Persons who share His nature.

Here, we see that God’s love of His people is boundless. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 37 of chapter 31:

But God brings before us these strange and impossible things so that we may know that he will at length be reconciled to his people after having justly punished them…The prophet reassures them that God cares for them and would gather his scattered seed.

The beauty of these verses is evident, as they are replete with phrases including

‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight…will Israel ever cease being a nation before me’

and

‘Only if the heavens above can be measured…will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done.’

The extent of God’s love of His people is amazing – especially as there is nothing in them that would merit His favor. As modern-day believers, we should ponder this point. Why has God chosen us? Why does He love us so much that He sent His own Son to die for our sins? It is difficult to even begin to formulate answers to these questions – yet we can still rejoice in His love for us and rest in His loving arms on a daily basis.

Given that this passage was written to the people of Judah, I am curious: how – and when – did they first hear it? Was it read to them before they were transported to Babylon? Or was it read to them during – or even after – their time in Babylon? How did they respond to the abundant promises in this passage? Did they interpret this passage as a long prophecy concerning a political Messiah who would restore the glory that Israel had enjoyed during the reign of David? What was their understanding of the new covenant that is described in this passage? Did they merely assume that God wanted them to recommit to the old covenant that He had established with Abraham?