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A Message About Damascus August 14, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:23-27.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the kingdom of Syria.

He will cause the denizens of Hamath, Arpad and Damascus to be paralyzed with fear – before they are slain by their enemies. Moreover, He will compel their enemies to raze their cities.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God plans to judge the kingdom of Syria. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 23:

The Syrians had from the beginning been very hostile to the Israelites and had often attacked them. The kings of Israel then made a treaty with the Syrians in order to attack their fellow Jews in Judah. In this way the Syrians caused great trouble to the Jews and were friends to the Israelites until both kingdoms were attacked by the Babylonians.

This passage is yet another reminder of the futility of not placing one’s ultimate trust in God Himself. Israel – and Judah – repeatedly sought deliverance from their enemies by forging alliances with their pagan neighbors; while these alliances may have yielded short-term benefits, the people of God were inevitably ruined by their long-term costs. Here, God demonstrates to His people that He is sovereign over their pagan neighbors – and their false deities; moreover, He will exercise His sovereignty over their pagan neighbors by destroying them. Thus, His people should acknowledge His sovereignty in their words and deeds. As modern-day believers, this passage challenges us to consider whether we, too, acknowledge His sovereignty in our words and deeds.

A Message About Edom August 12, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:7-22.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the Edomites.

He states that they have offended him with their pride and arrogance.

Thus, He will compel foreign powers to crush them by sacking their cities. Moreover, He will enable their attackers to drive the survivors into exile.

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

Thoughts: Here, we see that God punishes the prideful and arrogant Edomites. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 7:

Here Jeremiah turns to the Edomites, who were inveterate enemies of the chosen people although they should have been kindly disposed to them, for both had Abraham as their ancestor. The Edomites gloried in their holy descent and also had circumcision in common with the Jews. It was a most impious cruelty for the Edomites to show such bitter hatred toward their blood relatives.

This passage reminds me of a particularly challenging section of Scripture: Romans 9:10-13, where God states that Jacob would be blessed at the expense of Esau – according to His sovereign choice. Those who are familiar with the story of Jacob and Esau may have difficulty comprehending the rationale for God’s favor toward Jacob – as he essentially deceived Isaac on two separate occasions to obtain the blessings that were intended for Esau. One thought on this point is that since God is sovereign, our inability to comprehend His sovereignty does not detract from it. As He is perfect, His perfection cannot be marred by the failings of our imperfect minds. While He gives us considerable latitude to wrestle with Him on thorny issues, in the end He calls us to worship Him and acknowledge His supremacy – despite our inability to grasp it.

In verse 11, we see that God commands the Edomites to place their orphans and widows under His protection. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

The prophet goads the Edomites when God says, mockingly, that he will protect their orphans and widows.

One of the questions in my NIV Study Bible actually concerns the meaning of this verse; the answer that is provided in that text references God’s intention to mock the Edomites as a potential explanation in that regard. Thus, I am curious: did God actually intend to harm the orphans and widows of the Edomites? If so, did He intend to prove that the sins of the Edomites were so great that He had to punish their entire community? Also, if God did harm these orphans and widows, did they ultimately enter His kingdom? Admittedly, it is difficult to reconcile this verse with our understanding of God and His concern for those who are disadvantaged. Indeed, in this book we see that He punishes the people of Judah for their mistreatment of those who are disadvantaged.

A Message About Ammon August 9, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the Ammonites.

He states that they have committed the following offenses:

  • worshiping false deities – especially Molech
  • displaying pride and arrogance – especially in relation to their economy
  • occupying the land that He gave to His people.

Thus, He will compel foreign powers to crush them by sacking their cities. Those who survive this calamity will mourn and wail, yet He will not stay the hand of their enemies. In fact, He will enable their enemies to exile the survivors from their land.

Yet He concludes with a note of encouragement, stating that He will eventually restore the Ammonites to their land.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God charges the Ammonites with several offenses. Now this book contains an additional offense on the part of the Ammonites against the people of Judah: we know from verse 14 of chapter 40 that Baalis king of the Ammonites plotted the murder of Gedaliah son of Ahikam. That offense drives home the point that the Ammonites deserved to be punished by God. Now I am curious: was Baalis affected by God’s punishment of his subjects? Also, how did God restore the fortunes of the Ammonites? Did they acknowledge His sovereignty at that time? Did they confess their sins before Him and repent of them?

A Message About Moab August 5, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 48.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the Moabites.

He states that they have committed the following offenses:

  • defying Him
  • displaying pride and arrogance – especially in relation to their military and their economy
  • worshiping false deities – especially Chemosh
  • scorning His people.

Thus, He will compel a foreign power to crush them by sacking their cities and ruining their vineyards. Many of them will be slain; moreover, the survivors will mourn and wail, yet He will not stay the hand of that foreign power. In fact, He will enable that foreign power to exile the survivors from their land.

Yet He concludes with a note of encouragement, stating that He will eventually restore the Moabites to their land.

Thoughts: In verse 7, we see that the Moabite deity “Chemosh will go into exile, together with his priests and officials.” I view this verse as an assertion of the supremacy of God. Indeed, He worked through the unnamed foreign power in this passage to demonstrate the relative impotence of Chemosh – to the extent that this deity is poetically described as being banished from its territory. This verse is also a valuable reminder to modern-day believers that God is superior to the false deities who wield their influence throughout this fallen world. He will defeat these false deities – in His timing – and put all those who place their confidence in them to shame. Thus, we should be on our guard, lest we unwittingly place our confidence in these impotent deities.

In verse 47, we see that God promises to “restore the fortunes of Moab.” This promise is similar to His words of encouragement to the Egyptians in verse 26 of chapter 46, where He states that “Egypt will be inhabited as in times past.” Note that He does not offer words of encouragement to the Philistines in chapter 47, though. Thus, I am curious: why did God decide to extend His grace to the Moabites and the Egyptians – while withholding it from the Philistines? Were the Philistines guilty of more egregious offenses than the Moabites and the Egyptians? Was God displaying His divine sovereignty through these words of encouragement? How did the Moabites and the Egyptians respond to God’s grace in the wake of their judgment?

Here, we see that God charges the Moabites with a litany of offenses, including pride and arrogance. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 30:

Whenever the ungodly boast, we should not be afraid, bearing in mind what the prophet teaches here. He says that this pride stems from their derision of God, but that it will not help them at all in their lives.

As a believer in a First World country, I am often tempted to boast of the advantages of my nation. For example, I could cite:

  • the strength of our military
  • the successful technologies that we have developed
  • the postgraduate programs that attract talented students from other nations.

Yet this passage – and, indeed, history itself – demonstrates that any prosperous entity will eventually be surpassed by another entity. Prosperous entities will experience a reversal in their fortunes. Thus, modern-day believers in First World countries should consider questions such as:

  • can we look beyond the advantages of our respective countries and maintain our focus on God?
  • are we aware of the difficulties experienced by believers and non-believers in other nations?
  • how can we leverage the advantages of our respective countries to advance His kingdom plan?
  • will our contributions to His kingdom plan transcend the inevitable decline of our nation?

A Message About the Philistines August 2, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 47.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the Philistines. Indeed, He will command Pharaoh and the Egyptian army to act as His sword in laying waste to their land. Moreover, He will pay no heed to them as they cry out and cut themselves.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God condemns the Philistines. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 1:

Jeremiah prophesies here against the Philistines, who were the Israelites’ enemies and were very cruel to them. It is clear that God wanted to show through this prophecy his love for the Israelites, for he supported their cause and avenged the wrongs done to them. God predicted the ruin of the Philistines so the Israelites would know God’s fatherly love for them as he set himself against their enemies.

My understanding is that the Philistines were essentially subjugated by the Israelites during the reign of King David. If so, why did God decide to judge them at this time? Did they aid the Babylonians in their invasion of Judah? Did they furnish the Babylonian troops with supplies? Did they capture any of the Jews who fled Judah and deliver them to the Babylonians? Did they attempt to plunder Judah after the Babylonians had sacked Jerusalem? Did they rejoice over the downfall of Judah and give credit to their gods for the demise of their ancient enemy?

A Message About Egypt July 30, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 46.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on Egypt. First, He asserts that their defeat at Carchemish by the Babylonians is an act of divine vengeance. He uses the Babylonians as His sword to destroy their formidable army.

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

  • scatter their mercenaries
  • sack their cities
  • expose their false gods.

He concludes with some comforting words to His people. In particular, He asserts that He will preserve them as a nation – while judging the Egyptians.

Thoughts: In verse 2, God asserts that He punishes Pharoah Neco and the Egyptian army through their defeat at Carchemish. Since I am a history buff, I was delighted to learn that God played an active role on that momentous occasion. Indeed, since God is the Lord of History, perhaps He played an active role in other contemporaneous battles such as the Battle of Megiddo. Now this spurred me to pose the following questions:

  • if God is still the Lord of History, does He exercise His sovereignty to the same degree in all world events?
  • for example, is He as concerned with the outcome of a sporting event as He is with the work of a Bible translator?
  • does God exercise His sovereignty in modern warfare?
  • did God exercise His sovereignty in other historical conflicts that did not occur in the Middle East?

Here, we see that God punishes the Egyptians for their idolatry. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 19:

As we have said, and as experience teaches, unbelievers are hardly moved when God summons them to his tribunal. They remain in their folly unless their torpor is shaken out of them. This is why the prophet attacks the wicked so strongly – that he may wake them up from their drowsy state.

This also spurred me to pose the following questions:

  • was this prophecy eventually communicated to the Egyptians?
  • if so, how did they respond to it?
  • if not, did God assert the irrelevance of their ignorance concerning the ultimate cause of their downfall?
  • what was the Egyptians’ concept of the God of Israel and Judah?
  • since at least part of this passage concerns events predating the fall of Jerusalem, when did God deliver this prophecy to Jeremiah?
  • did Jeremiah proclaim this prophecy to the Jews after they had fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar?

In verses 27 and 28, God directly addresses His people. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 27:

The prophet now speaks to the Israelites, for he was not appointed a teacher to ungodly nations. Whatever he said to ungodly nations was for the benefit of his people.

Calvin’s insights reinforce the main point of this passage: the people of God should place their ultimate hope in Him – not in a foreign nation that does not worship Him. Now this main point can be extended to our context; it challenges us to consider the extent of our trust in God. How much do we trust tangible things, e.g. careers, financial institutions, the ground beneath us? What does it mean for us to place our ultimate hope in Him – and reflect that reality in our thoughts, words and deeds? Since we naturally gravitate toward tangible things, we need wisdom and strength from Him to view all tangible things as subservient to His will and purposes – and live in light of that reality. For example, we can pray about how God can be more fully glorified through our management of our finances.

A Message to Baruch July 28, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 45.

Summary: In this passage, God addresses Baruch son of Neriah during the reign of King Jehoiakim as he completes the transcription of the prophecies of Jeremiah. In particular, God rebukes Baruch for his display of self-pity – yet He assures him that He will preserve him during the Babylonian destruction of Judah.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God instructs Baruch to not “seek great things for” himself. Now when I perused Calvin’s commentary on this passage, though, I found no mention of Baruch’s intentions at that time. This caused me to ponder the editorial decisions that produced the Crossway Classic Commentaries, especially those originally written by Calvin. In particular, I wonder how the editors, Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer, determined which sections of Calvin’s original text would be worthwhile for the modern reader. Here, it is fair to assume that inquiring minds would ask: why God was reproving Baruch in this passage? I will also make a small leap and assume that Calvin did address this point in the original text – so why did McGrath and Packer choose to omit it? It should be noted that some of the other Crossway Classic Commentaries, especially the ones originally written by Charles Hodge, contain many detailed explanations, while the ones originally written by Calvin are terse. I anticipate meeting McGrath and Packer someday and querying them on this point.

Disaster Because of Idolatry July 26, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 44.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, declaring that He has destroyed Judah in response to the idolatry of His people. He then condemns the Jews who have fled to Egypt, as they have also engaged in idolatry during their sojourn in that pagan nation. Thus, He will cause them to perish in Egypt – just as He punished their compatriots in Judah – and so they will never return to their homeland.

Yet the Jews in Egypt assert that they will continue to engage in idolatry; in particular, they will continue to worship the Queen of Heaven. Moreover, they assert that their current predicament stems from their failure to worship that deity.

Jeremiah responds by asserting that their current predicament stems from their failure to worship God Himself. He then repeats his declaration that God will cause them to perish in Egypt – demonstrating the true cause of their current predicament. He concludes by assuring them that God will cause the downfall of the current ruler of Egypt, just as He caused the downfall of King Zedekiah; that event will presage their downfall in Egypt.

Thoughts: In verse 1, we see that the Jews settled throughout Egypt after their flight from Judah. In light of the fact that immigration continues to dominate the headlines, I am curious as to how this influx of Jews impacted Egypt. Did the Egyptians recall the time in their nation’s history when the Jews dwelt among their ancestors? Did they warmly greet these refugees from King Nebuchadnezzar? Did these refugees place a significant strain on the resources of Egypt? What did these Jews offer the Egyptians in exchange for allowing them to stay in their country? Did the Egyptians compel at least some of these Jews to serve them as slaves?

We also see that the Jews in Egypt rejected God’s condemnation of their idolatry. I was taken aback by their response, as I am accustomed to Biblical accounts of the Jews responding to a warning from God with an initial declaration of repentance – before resuming their sinful ways. Here, though, the Jews skip the step of repentance. Now I am curious: were they embittered by their exile in Egypt? Did they suspend their worship of the Queen of Heaven during the siege of Jerusalem? Note that the siege would have put a crimp in their food supply – including the raw materials that were necessary for baking cakes and preparing drink offerings for that deity.

Here, we see that the Jews in Egypt declared that their troubles began when they suspended their worship of the Queen of Heaven. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

Here he emphasizes their ingratitude in blaming God for all their calamities. These punishments should have restored them to their right minds, but they only made them more and more obstinate.

This incident reminds me of the old adage that correlation does not imply causation. In particular, God rebukes His people for asserting a causal relationship between 1) not worshiping the Queen of Heaven and 2) their current predicament. This leads me to a larger point: it seems that causal relationships between events were more obvious during Biblical times. For example, we see that:

  • God caused the death of King David’s first child with Bathsheba in response to his acts of adultery, murder and deception in relation to her
  • God punished the people of Judah during the ministry of Jeremiah in response to their rampant idolatry and mistreatment of the disadvantaged members of their society
  • God struck down Ananias and Sapphira in response to their attempt to deceive Him regarding the money that they obtained by selling their land.

Yet it seems that nowadays, causal relationships between events are more difficult to establish. For example, when a calamitous event occurs, we cannot assert that it was caused by a specific sinful deed. God does not inform modern-day believers that, “human action X has directly caused awful event Y.” This lack of information may be difficult for us to accept, as we naturally seek an explanation for every shocking news story. At those times, we must return to the fact that God is still sovereign over all things – and He will direct them for our ultimate good and for His ultimate glory.

Flight to Egypt July 21, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 41:16-43:13.

Summary: In this passage, Johanan son of Kareah – and those whom he has rescued from Ishmael son of Nethaniah – flee to Egypt, as they fear reprisals following the assassination of Gedaliah.

During their journey, they beseech Jeremiah to inquire of God on their behalf; they declare that they will bind themselves to His response.

After ten days have passed, God responds to them through Jeremiah. In particular, He commands them to remain in Judah. He assures them that if they obey Him in this regard, then they will not face reprisals for the assassination of Gedaliah. If they flee to Egypt, though, then He will use the sword, famine and plague to punish them – cutting them off from their homeland.

They respond with vituperation – labeling Jeremiah as a false prophet and casting aspersions on Baruch son of Neriah. They resume their flight to Egypt,
eventually reaching Tahpanhes.

At this point, God commands Jeremiah to use several large paving stones as an object lesson for his compatriots. In particular, He asserts that Nebuchadnezzar will raze Tahpanhes and set his throne over these stones. Moreover, He will raze all of Egypt – thereby punishing His people for their disobedience in fleeing to that pagan country.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Johanan and his fellow officers lead those who had been with Gedaliah at Mizpah in an escape to Egypt, as they fear the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar. Now I am curious: did Nebuchadnezzar eventually learn of the death of Gedaliah? Did the Babylonians conduct an investigation of his death? Did Nebuchadnezzar eventually learn that Ishmael struck down Gedaliah? Did he assume that Johanan and his companions were culpable for the death of Gedaliah? Did he assume that the death of Gedaliah marked the beginning of a rebellion by the Jews? Did he install another governor over Judah – and if so, did he order that leader to rule the Jews with an iron fist?

This passage includes a fascinating interaction between Jeremiah and the Jews who were fleeing to Egypt. Now I am curious: what was the mindset of those who asked Jeremiah to inquire of God on their behalf? Did they assume that God approved of their flight to Egypt and that He would enable them to avoid Babylonian troops in the process? Did Jeremiah know that his compatriots lacked a genuine desire to obey the Lord concerning their flight to Egypt? When they attacked him for his response, was he filled with exasperation? Why did they assume that Baruch was colluding with him to deliver him into the hands of the Babylonians? Did Baruch and Jeremiah attempt to escape from Johanan and return to Judah?

In verses 10-12 of chapter 42, God exhorts those who are fleeing to Egypt to place their trust in Him. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verses 11 and 12 of chapter 42:

He tells the Jews to be hopeful because as long as they rely on God’s protection, they will be safe…We should be fully convinced that God’s help is above all the aid any human beings can ever give us. So if the whole world rises up against us, we can look down on the situation from a secure height without fear. This is the summary of what is said here.

At first glance, I thought that the Jews’ decision to flee to Egypt was defensible. In particular, Nebuchadnezzar had likely crushed previous rebellions; they feared that he would crush them while ignoring the salient point that Ishmael was responsible for the death of Gedaliah. After contemplating this point for some time, I realized that God was challenging His people to place their trust in Him. He knew that the Jews wanted to place their trust in Egypt; instead, He wanted them to display their ultimate allegiance to Him. As modern-day believers, we also see that God calls us to refrain from placing our trust in the things of this world – yet this is a challenge that is almost too difficult for us, as we gravitate towards the things of this world. Indeed, we need strength from God – on a daily basis – to trust Him, displaying that trust in our words and deeds.

Gedaliah Assassinated July 19, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 40:7-41:15.

Summary: In this passage, the remnant of the army of Judah travels to Mizpah to meet with Gedaliah son of Ahikam. He assures them that the Babylonians will not punish them if they lay down their arms; moreover, he encourages them to join their compatriots who have returned to their homeland from the surrounding nations in living off the land.

Later, Johanan son of Kareah and several army officers inform Gedaliah of a plot against his life; in particular, Ishmael son of Nethaniah has been sent by Baalis, the king of the Ammonites, to kill him. Yet Gedaliah does not heed their warning; he even rebuffs an offer on the part of Johanan to dispose of Ishmael.

Ishmael then carries out his plan, assassinating Gedaliah during a feast and murdering his Babylonian guards. He also slaughters seventy men who have come to the site of the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices.

He then captures those who have survived his rampage in Mizpah and prepares to bring them to Baalis. Yet Johanan launches a successful rescue attempt; when Ishmael realizes that he cannot defeat him, he flees to Baalis.

Thoughts: Here, we see the wanton deeds of Ishmael son of Nethaniah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 1-3 of chapter 41:

It was particularly cruel of Ishmael to kill Gedaliah, for Gedaliah had shown Ishmael kindness and entertained him. Even ungodly nations have always deemed hospitality as something sacred. To violate it has always been thought of as committing a great atrocity.

I must admit that when I read through this passage, I was shocked by its violent imagery, especially the account of the massacre of seventy men who wanted to offer sacrifices at the site of the temple in Jerusalem. In particular, the thought of seventy bodies being hurled into a cistern evoked several historical massacres. Now I am curious: did Ishmael view these seventy men – and Gedaliah and his companions – as traitors to Judah who deserved to be executed? Did he believe that if he murdered them, he could hamper a Babylonian investigation concerning the death of Gedaliah?

We also see that Baalis, king of the Ammonites, conspired with Ishmael against Gedaliah. Now I am curious: why did Baalis conspire with Ishmael? Was he in need of many slaves – and did Ishmael assert that Mizpah contained many potential slaves? Was Baalis in need of several concubines? Was he seeking to fill the power vacuum in Judah after the death of Gedaliah? Did he have any qualms about the outcome of a Babylonian investigation concerning the death of Gedaliah? What happened to him after the events of this passage?

On one level, this passage displays the ramifications of the sins of the (relatively wealthy) people of Judah. In particular, after the Babylonians had been defeated, the (relatively poor) people who remained in Judah abruptly lost their well-meaning governor; in some sense, the sins of their (relatively wealthy) compatriots were so great that their ramifications extended beyond the fall of Jerusalem. On another level, though, modern-day believers can be encouraged that these sins pale in comparison to the righteousness of Christ. Even though the sins of the people of Judah – and their ramifications – make for difficult reading, we know that Christ has defeated all sins throughout history by His person and work. While we cannot comprehend the extent of His person and work, we can gain some appreciation for Him and what He has done by contemplating the extent of human sinfulness.