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Strolling Through the Book of Lamentations September 29, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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I recently strolled through the Book of Lamentations with the aid of a commentary by Calvin.

This post includes a summary of Lamentations and my thoughts on that challenging – yet important – book.

Summary: In this book, the author presents a plethora of laments concerning:

  • the decline and fall of Jerusalem and Judah
  • the desecration – and destruction – of the temple by the Babylonian soldiers
  • the executions of nobles
  • random killings by the Babylonian soldiers
  • widespread famine
  • the suffering of infants – and their deaths at the hands of their mothers
  • widespread rapes
  • child slavery
  • the exile of his compatriots
  • the glee of the enemies of Judah in response to her downfall
  • the insults of those who oppose his ministry.

Yet he asserts that these calamities are the natural result of the sinfulness of his compatriots, as God cannot ignore their evil deeds.

Thus, he exhorts his compatriots to:

  • reflect on their evil deeds
  • repent of them
  • beseech God to forgive them of their sins.

It should be noted that he wrestles with God throughout this book. On the one hand, he:

  • struggles with the fact that God has brought these calamities on His people
  • wonders if these calamities constitute an overreaction on His part
  • wonders if He has permanently abandoned His people.

On the other hand, he:

  • declares his confidence in God – given His permanence
  • entreats Him to punish the enemies of His people – especially the Edomites
  • entreats Him to punish those who oppose his ministry
  • entreats Him to restore His people to His favor.

Thoughts: This book contains many haunting phrases, including, “The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed festivals” and “He made ramparts and walls lament; together they wasted away.” Perhaps one could argue that anthropomorphisms are a valuable tool in the hands of a poet. On a related note, I wish that I could read Hebrew – as that would have given me an even greater appreciation of this book. For example, each of the first four chapters constitutes an acrostic poem in Hebrew; the beauty of that structure is lost in translation, though. Clearly, it is praiseworthy when the Holy Spirit works through His servants to leverage the power of language for His glory.

In verse 10 of chapter 3, the author compares God to a bear and a lion. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Harsh is the complaint when Jeremiah compares God to a bear and to a lion. I have already said that the apprehension of God’s wrath terrified the faithful of that day so much that they could not sufficiently express the depth of their calamity. We must also bear in mind that they were expressing themselves in a human way. They did not always curb their feelings but said some things that they deserved to be rebuked for.

Calvin’s thoughts raise the following question: when we, as believers, wrestle with God in our prayers, what constitutes appropriate dialogue in that context? Clearly God has given us the ability to think and reason; how much latitude, then, does He allow us in terms of questioning His will? He knows that we are not omniscient and that we lack His ability to see the future; does He account for those limitations when evaluating our difficulties in comprehending His will? How can we properly struggle with God in our prayers while maintaining our confidence and trust in Him? One must wonder if God disapproved of at least some parts of this book…

This book is replete with jarring images of the pain and suffering that pervaded Judah after the Babylonian invasion. While these images make for unpleasant reading, one thought is that they provide us with a better understanding of the infinite holiness of God. While we cannot measure the extent of His holiness, we can learn more about it in light of His response to sin. Indeed, it is evident that the people of Judah had committed a plethora of sins before the Babylonian invasion. Each of these sins had offended His infinite holiness – compelling Him to respond in a manner that defended His holiness. As modern-day readers, this book should spur us to ponder the extent of His holiness; moreover, in light of His permanence, we should consider whether our words and deeds properly reflect His holiness.

Overall I found this book to be a challenging read, as it contains seemingly contradictory messages. On the one hand, the author expresses his confidence in God in verses 21-24 of chapter 3:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.

On the other hand, the author seems to express doubts concerning God and His faithfulness in verses 19-22 of chapter 5:

You, Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.

Perhaps these seemingly contradictory messages are included to highlight the emotional turmoil within the author as he wrote this book. While the power of the Holy Spirit was upon him at that time, he was not immune to human weaknesses and frailties. As modern-day readers, we cannot ignore the extent of his pain concerning the downfall of his nation. On a related note, those of us who live in First World countries may have difficulty feeling empathy with the author. We often hear of calamities in less prosperous nations, yet since we often do not know those who have been directly affected by these events, it is relatively easy for us to gloss over them.

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Jehoiachin Released September 9, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 52:31-34.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah notes that after a lengthy prison term, Jehoiachin is pardoned by the new king of Babylon, Amel-Marduk. Moreover, Amel-Marduk grants him a daily allowance until his death.

Thoughts: I should note that I was not particularly impressed with the Crossway Classic Commentary on this book. In particular, the commentary essentially consisted of a series of trite observations; I do not recall any in-depth discussions of a particular passage or larger theme. My experience with this commentary stands in sharp contrast to that of other Crossway Classic commentaries, especially the masterpieces originally written by Charles Hodge. Perhaps the original commentary was a sprawling text, constraining the editors, Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer. In that case, I would have preferred that the editors not attempt to include Calvin’s thoughts on most of the verses; instead, they should have focused on his in-depth discussions of certain overarching themes, including:

  • the relationship between God and His people
  • Jeremiah’s thoughts and actions
  • the depravity of Babylon.

In fairness, I have not read the original commentary, so I do not know if Calvin actually provided in-depth discussions of these larger themes in that text.

Now that I have completed my stroll through Jeremiah, I have a – potentially – better idea regarding the position of this passage in the text. On one level, this passage is a fairly mundane account of the last days of an exiled monarch. On another level, though, perhaps God used this passage to remind His people of His promise concerning their eventual deliverance from exile in Babylon. Just as Jehoiachin was released from prison, so He would eventually release them from captivity; moreover, He would enable them to return to their homeland – surpassing Jehoiachin in that regard. If my hunch is correct, then this book concludes on a positive note. While God justly punished His people for their sinfulness, He never forsook them; indeed, He blessed them and restored them to a right relationship with Himself – through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Fall of Jerusalem September 7, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 52:1-30.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah repeats – and expands on – his account of the downfall of Jerusalem in Jeremiah 39. He reiterates that God was the impetus for this calamity.

He also states that the Babylonians:

  • plundered the temple – seizing all of its artifacts composed of precious metals
  • executed two leading priests and three doorkeepers of the temple.

In addition, he records the number of his compatriots who were exiled to Babylon.

Thoughts: While I was perusing my NIV Study Bible, I found that 2 Kings 24:18-25:26 is quite similar to this passage. Now the introduction to 2 Kings in my NIV Study Bible notes that at least some scholars believe that Jeremiah also wrote that book. Thus, I am curious: was Jeremiah – or Baruch – the actual author of 2 Kings? If so, why are these passages not identical? If not, was the author of the succeeding text aware of – and inspired by – the preceding text? Or did a third author compile an account of the downfall of Jerusalem that inspired both of these authors? I hope to probe Jeremiah on this point in the next life.

This passage may seem redundant in light of the above paragraph, yet after some thought, I believe that its inclusion – and placement – in this book is apropos. In particular, the discussion of the Babylonian desecration of the temple in Jerusalem provides the rationale for God’s anger towards – and judgment of – Babylon. Indeed, the Babylonian soldiers displayed an utter disregard for His holiness by treating the temple artifacts as mere sources of valuable metals. Their focus on material wealth blinded them to the true purpose of those artifacts. They dared to besmirch His holiness – compelling Him to display His holiness through His comprehensive judgment of their empire. One must wonder if they – or their descendants – regretted their actions in the temple during the Persian invasion of their land.

In verse 1, we see that Zedekiah assumes the throne of Judah at the age of twenty-one, and his reign lasts eleven years. One must wonder if his age had a negative impact on his reign, as he seemed to lack a coherent plan for addressing the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem and repeatedly sought the advice of Jeremiah in that regard. Before reading this passage, I assumed that Zedekiah had enjoyed a lengthy career as a government official before he assumed the throne of Judah, but that is clearly false. Perhaps his age also influenced Nebuchadnezzar’s decision to anoint him; if he had more political experience, then he could have organized an effective revolt against his political masters.

A Message About Babylon September 1, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 50-51.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah to declare His comprehensive judgment on the Babylonians.

He states that they have committed the following offenses:

  • worshiping false deities – especially Marduk
  • displaying pride and arrogance – especially in relation to their military and their economy
  • plundering the land that He gave to His people
  • genocide against His people
  • desecrating the temple.

He then asserts that their nation will be invaded by the Persians. At that time, He will use the Persians as His sword to:

  • expose their false gods
  • cause them to be paralyzed with fear
  • slay their mercenaries
  • plunder their land
  • commit acts of genocide against them.

Their demise will elicit horror – and scorn – from neighboring countries.

He intersperses words of comfort to His people. In particular, He asserts that He will:

  • preserve them as a nation during the Persian invasion of Babylon
  • enable them to return to the land that He gave them
  • enable them to praise Him as their deliverer from Babylon
  • enable them to praise Him for His justice in punishing the Babylonians
  • establish a new covenant with them.

Jeremiah concludes by instructing a staff officer, Seraiah son of Neriah, to proclaim this message of judgment in Babylon itself.

Thoughts: This lengthy passage displays the holiness of God, as He proclaims His comprehensive judgment on those who attempt to besmirch His name by plundering the land that He gave to His people and committing acts of genocide against His people. It should be noted that while the language in this passage is reminiscent of previous passages that describe His judgment of other neighboring nations, a novel feature of this passage entails the five references to “the north.” These five references compel the reader to recall His declaration in Jeremiah 1 that, “from the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land.” As Babylon had brought judgment on Judah from the north, the Medes and Persians would bring judgment on Babylon from the north. This demonstrates His justice; He properly repays the Babylonians for their offenses.

On a similar note, this lengthy passage offers additional encouragement to believers around the world who endure persecution. These verses remind them that God does not turn a blind eye to their sufferings; indeed, He will vindicate them – displaying His holiness in the process. As believers, we trust that just as He vindicated the people of Judah – through the successful invasion of Babylon by the Persians – He will vindicate His people who suffer for His name. As a believer who is not being persecuted for their faith, I believe that this passage compels me to continue to pray for my brothers and sisters who lack the legal and social protections that I enjoy. I pray that they would have the strength to glorify His name in the midst of their sufferings, and I pray that God would grant them a significant reward in the next life.

In verses 61-64 of chapter 51, we see that Jeremiah commands Seraiah to proclaim God’s message of judgment in Babylon itself. I am curious as to whether the Babylonians learned of this message of judgment – whether they witnessed Seraiah’s declaration or heard it secondhand. If so, how did they respond to the forceful words in this message? Did they place their trust in their deities and the strength of their empire, dismissing this message as mere bluster from a vassal state? Did they attempt to punish Seraiah – and, by extension, Jeremiah – for their treasonous declaration? Did they recall this message when their land was invaded by the Persians? Did they ever acknowledge the sovereignty of the God of Judah?