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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.

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.