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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?

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A Message About Elam August 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:34-39.

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

He will compel their enemies to:

  • massacre them
  • drive the survivors into exile.

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

Thoughts: I am also curious as to why God pronounced His judgment on Elam in this passage. Had the Elamites attacked Israel and/or Judah? Did the Elamites render assistance to Nebuchadnezzar during his invasion of Judah? Was God primarily punishing them for worshiping false gods? Did He intend to send a powerful message to His people that they should not place their trust in any entities other than Himself? Had Israel and/or Judah been tempted to form an alliance with the Elamites? How did His people respond to the news concerning the downfall of the Elamites? When did He bless the Elamites and restore them to their land?

A Message About Kedar and Hazor August 26, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:28-33.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on Kedar and Hazor.

He will compel Nebuchadnezzar to attack these nomads. Indeed, the Babylonians will:

  • defeat them
  • plunder them
  • ravage their territory.

Thoughts: I am curious as to why God pronounced His judgment on Kedar and Hazor in this passage. Had these nomads attacked Israel and/or Judah? Did they render assistance to Nebuchadnezzar during his invasion of Judah? Was God primarily punishing them for worshiping false gods? Did He intend to send a powerful message to His people that they should not place their trust in any entities other than Himself? Had Israel and/or Judah been tempted to form an alliance with these nomads? How did His people respond to the news that these nomads had been defeated?

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.