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Jeremiah in Prison June 24, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 37.

Summary: In this passage, King Zedekiah requests that Jeremiah intercede with God on his behalf – as the Babylonians are besieging Jerusalem. At some point, the forces of Pharaoh advance on the Babylonians, leading to their (temporary) withdrawal from Jerusalem.

King Zedekiah and the people of Jerusalem grow complacent. God then speaks through Jeremiah, declaring that the Babylonians will return to Jerusalem and destroy it.

Later, Jeremiah is arrested and accused of attempting to desert to the Babylonians. He proclaims his innocence – yet he is imprisoned.

At some point, he informs Zedekiah that he will be captured by the Babylonians. Despite this ominous prophecy, Zedekiah grants his request to be placed in the relatively pleasant confines of the courtyard of the guard.

Thoughts: In verses 9 and 10, God asserts that the Babylonians will destroy Jerusalem. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Jeremiah took it for granted that the destruction of the city of Jerusalem would not be effected by the forces of King Nebuchadnezzar or by his power or the number of his soldiers, but by God’s judgment…Jeremiah intimates that even if the contest were only with shadows, they would not escape the extreme vengeance that God had threatened.

Verse 10 is jarring; it is difficult to contemplate a wounded soldier staggering out of their tent and mustering the strength to torch the chief city of their foes. If that impossible event had occurred, the people of Judah would have been compelled to acknowledge that God was opposing them through the Babylonians. They would have admitted that God was giving the wounded Babylonians supernatural strength. Now I assume that the siege of Jerusalem ended in a more conventional manner, with (relatively) unscathed Babylonian soldiers overrunning the city; thus, I am curious as to whether an analogous event has occurred in the history of warfare…

In verse 18, Jeremiah decries his imprisonment before King Zedekiah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Although the prophet’s words had displeased the king, Jeremiah also complains that wrong had been done to him since he had been thrown into prison. In this way he shows that he had been unjustly condemned for having threatened ruin to the city and destruction to the kingdom, for he was constrained to do this by the obligations of his office. So the prophet shows that he had not sinned in this but had proclaimed God’s commands, however bitter they were to the king and to the people.

I found this verse to be somewhat amusing, as it immediately follows verse 17 – where Jeremiah declares that Zedekiah would be captured by King Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah would have found that turn of events to be incredibly humiliating; thus, he would have been angry with Jeremiah. How did Jeremiah have the temerity to proclaim his innocence before Zedekiah? Perhaps the best explanation is that Jeremiah knew that God was actually speaking through him; thus, he implicitly appealed to God to vindicate him. As modern-day believers, perhaps we can be inspired by Jeremiah’s actions in this passage; if we know that God is working through us, then we do not need to be ashamed.

In verse 21, we see that King Zedekiah ordered the transfer of Jeremiah from the house of Jonathan the secretary to the courtyard of the guard. Now I am curious: why did the king make this decision? Did he believe that by treating Jeremiah with more respect, God would respond by showing favor to him – and Jerusalem? Did God somehow work in his heart, enabling him to determine that Jeremiah should not be mistreated? Also, did Jeremiah alter his opinion of the king after he was transferred to the courtyard of the guard? Did Jeremiah harbor the belief that he should have been pardoned?

A Letter to the Exiles May 20, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 29:1-23.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah pens a letter to the exiles in Babylon where he makes the following points:

  • they should adjust to life in Babylon – instead of pining for their homeland; moreover, they should pray for Babylon – and its rulers
  • God will restore them to their homeland after seventy years; moreover, He will restore them to a proper relationship with Himself
  • they should not envy their compatriots who remain in Jerusalem – as He will punish them with the sword, famine and the plague for their sinfulness
  • He will punish the false prophets in their midst, including Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, for uttering lies in His name; in particular, King Nebuchadnezzar will burn them to death.

Thoughts: In verses 4-7, we see that God commands the exiles in Babylon to adjust to life in that foreign land. I am curious as to how those exiles responded to this command. Did they view Jeremiah as a false prophet who was essentially exhorting them to commit treason by praying for Babylon? Did they view Ahab and Zedekiah as genuine – and patriotic – prophets who were encouraging them through their promises of a brief confinement in Babylon? Or did God miraculously enable them to respond to Him appropriately? If so, how did they pray for their new masters? Did they intermarry with their new masters?

Verse 11 is a popular memory verse; thus, I was eager to comprehend it in its proper context when I read through this passage. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

But God shows that the right time would not come until their prayers proceeded from a right feeling; this is what he means by with all your heart. Of course, people never turn to God with their whole heart, nor is the whole heart engaged in prayer as much as it should be. But the prophet contrasts the whole heart with the double heart. So we should understand here not perfection (which can never be found in human beings) but integrity and sincerity.

Thus, we see that verse 11 does not constitute an unconditional promise on the part of God – as He will not bless us if we do not make a genuine effort to draw closer to Him. Another thought is that in verse 10, we see that the exile in Babylon would last for seventy years. In that case, most of the exiles would pass away in Babylon – and never return to their homeland. This sobering fact confronts us with this larger point: we will not receive most of the blessings of God until the next life. In light of that fact, perhaps we should view verse 11 as an exhortation for us to anticipate the greater blessings of the next life – which is manifested in a fruitful relationship with God in this life.

In verses 20-23, we see that Jeremiah curses the false prophets, Ahab and Zedekiah, for presuming to speak in God’s name. Their eventual fate reminded me of the trial that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego experienced when they refused to worship the idol that King Nebuchadnezzar had constructed in Babylon. In that case, we know that God intervened to deliver them from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. In this case, God does not intervene, and so Ahab and Zedekiah experienced a painful demise. Indeed, the notion of being burned to death is revolting; perhaps Ahab and Zedekiah perished slowly, screaming as the flames consumed their flesh. Yet this account should spur us to reflect on God and His holiness; His zeal for His name is great, and we must not besmirch it.

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.

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?

God Rejects Zedekiah’s Request April 18, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 21.

Summary: In this passage, Zedekiah, the king of Judah, sends an official delegation to Jeremiah. They request that Jeremiah intercede with God on Zedekiah’s behalf, as the Babylonians are besieging Jerusalem.

Yet Jeremiah responds by asserting that the siege of the Babylonians will be so fierce that famine and plague will decimate the population of Jerusalem. Those who survive these twin calamities – including Zedekiah himself – will be slaughtered by the Babylonians.

God then condemns Zedekiah as an unjust monarch.

Thoughts: It is evident that the people of Israel and Judah were strongly influenced by their rulers. The majority of a ruler’s subjects would follow his lead in terms of piety – or lack thereof. This spurred me to consider the modern-day analogy of this phenomenon. In particular, I would submit that the piety – or lack thereof – of a modern-day political leader does not directly impact the piety – or lack thereof – of many of their compatriots. I can say that I do not depend on my national leader in order to determine how to live piously. This raises the interesting question as to how political leaders can lose their moral sway over their compatriots. Perhaps the legalized separation between church and state plays a role in this regard.

In verse 9, we see that God recommends that the people of Jerusalem surrender to the besieging Babylonian forces – instead of continuing to resist them. Now if a resident of Jerusalem had surrendered to the Babylonians, I suspect that at least some of their compatriots would have viewed them as a traitor. The leaders of Judah likely exhorted their subjects to resist foreign invaders and defend their homeland at all costs. Clearly, though, the sinfulness of those leaders had deprived them of moral authority – leading God to display His disapproval of outwardly patriotic actions. God knew that the moral decay of Jerusalem was so great that it was not worth defending. On a related note, I am curious as to whether the Babylonians actually spared those who surrendered to them at that time. Did they torture their prisoners – and even kill some of them?

Jeremiah and Pashhur April 12, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 20:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, the priest Pashhur punishes Jeremiah for his dire prophecies in the temple by having him beaten and (temporarily) imprisoned. Jeremiah responds to his punishment by declaring that God will punish Pashhur for his sins. In particular, Pashhur and his entire family will be sent into exile in Babylon; there, he will die and be buried.

Thoughts: I am curious as to how Pashhur responded to Jeremiah’s pronouncement of God’s judgment upon him. Was he gripped by fear, sensing that God was actually speaking through Jeremiah in this instance? Or did he dismiss Jeremiah’s words – including his declaration that Pashhur’s name had been changed to Magor-Missabib – as the ravings of a lunatic? What were his thoughts and emotions as the Babylonians ravaged Jerusalem and its populace? Did he eventually go into exile in Babylon, and if so, did he repent of his sins at that time?

Jeremiah’s Prayer March 3, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 10:23-25.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah prays that God would:

  • discipline him – yet not in anger, lest he be destroyed
  • punish Babylon for its war crimes against the people of Judah.

Thoughts: This passage spurred me to ponder this question: when is it proper for believers to pray that God would punish others? Perhaps we should consider those actions that are clearly sinful, e.g. rape, pillage and murder. Those of us who follow the news know that these sinful deeds still occur today; we immediately recoil from their inherent wickedness. Yet our desire for God to punish those who commit these sins is, in some sense, mitigated by our desire that they repent of them and seek mercy from Him. How can we know that they will never repent of their sins? Perhaps we should place these evildoers into God’s hands and ask that He would deal with them as He sees fit, as we lack His wisdom and foresight. He knows their hearts and can determine if they have hardened beyond the point of no return.

Jerusalem Under Siege February 15, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 6.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, proclaiming imminent judgment on the people of Jerusalem. He describes the battle plans of the Babylonian army concerning that city – including a siege. He stresses that Jerusalem will be besieged due to the detestable actions of its inhabitants. Although they claim to worship Him with pure hearts, their hearts are evil. He has repeatedly warned them – through His prophets – of the consequences of their actions, yet they have ignored all of those warnings. Thus, He rejects their acts of worship. Indeed, they are utterly worthless in His eyes, and so the Babylonians will cause them to mourn and wail.

Thoughts: In verse 20, we see that God rejects the external acts of worship of His people, as they are internally rotten. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The prophet replies to those hypocrites who thought they had made expiation when they offered incense and sacrifices, as if that were all that was necessary in serving God. See Jeremiah 7:21-22; Psalm 50:8-10; Micah 6:7.

Jeremiah presents a more in-depth discussion of this point in the next passage, but for now, this passage should suffice as a challenge to modern-day believers. Clearly there is nothing inherently wrong with the following actions:

  • singing loudly – and on-key – during a worship set
  • praying passionately – and eloquently – in a small group setting
  • taking copious notes during a sermon.

Yet this passage compels us to consider how we live during the week – in relatively mundane moments. What occupies our time on weekdays? Is God pleased with those pursuits? Are we blessing the disadvantaged when we are not in the presence of other believers? Indeed, if we do not love our neighbors when other believers are not observing us, then God will not accept our acts of worship during formal church activities.

In verses 27-30, we see that God has tested His people and determined that they are wicked. This spurred me to consider the trials that I have experienced – and His purpose for those trials. I often wonder: given the trials that I have experienced, how will I respond to future trials? One thought is that since I am human, it would be unnatural for me to not feel some degree of sadness when confronted with a trial. Trials are meant to be painful to some degree, and God does not call us to avoid pain in those instances. That being said, the fact that I have overcome previous trials will give me confidence – in the midst of pain – that God is working through any future trials that I experience. In particular, I am learning that a confident mindset is a key aspect of His plan for me to:

  • rely less on the things of this life
  • rely more on the things of the next life.

I will not be able to completely learn that lesson in this life, but each confident thought in the midst of a trial is a small victory in that regard – and reveals some amount of spiritual mettle.

Disaster From the North February 8, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 4:5-31.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, warning the people of Jerusalem and Judah of His impending judgment. In particular, since they have repeatedly sinned against Him, He has chosen the Babylonians as His instrument of judgment; He will empower the Babylonian army to invade their kingdom from the north. Jeremiah then bemoans this portent of doom, as he cannot bear to observe the destruction of his homeland. Indeed, the Babylonians will wreak such havoc on Jerusalem and Judah that it will appear that God is reversing His act of creation through them.

Thoughts: In verses 19-21, we see that Jeremiah is deeply troubled by God’s impending punishment of His people and their land. These verses serve as a valuable reminder that this book (and the book of Lamentations) does not merely contain the words that God spoke through Jeremiah. Indeed, Jeremiah reminds us in these verses that he is a human being with passions and desires; his love for his people compels him to express these feelings. Even though God has divinely commissioned him as His prophet, he cannot help but wrestle with Him regarding His judgment. On a related note, I must admit that I cannot read Hebrew; I do envy those who are proficient in that regard, as I suspect that some of the nuances of Hebrew poetry have been lost when translating this passage into English.

Verses 23-28 highlight the scope of God’s impending destruction of the land of Judah due to the sinfulness of His people. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

In highly metaphorical language the prophet expands on the terror of God’s vengeance, that he might arouse the Jews, who were so stupid and careless…And wherever he looked, he saw dreadful tokens of God’s wrath that threatened the Jews with utter ruin.

The language that Jeremiah employs in these verses reminds me of the creation account in Genesis 1. Indeed, God could bring no greater calamity on the land of Judah than the effective reversal of His act of creation – returning it to a “formless and empty” state. When confronted with this dramatic warning, though, the people of Judah dismissed it as the ravings of a lunatic. Perhaps they could not believe that God would actually wreak havoc on their land – after all, they were His people and He was their God. Perhaps they believed that Jeremiah was merely being ostentatious. At any rate, Jeremiah would be vindicated – causing him a great deal of sorrow.

The Fall of Babylon February 26, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 18.

Summary: In this passage, John observes a mighty angel declaring the downfall of Babylon the Great – since she has:

  • committed adultery with other nations
  • indulged in excessive luxury.

Believers are exhorted to separate themselves from her – since God will judge her for her sins. Her abrupt downfall is mourned by many unbelievers, including:

  • the kings of the earth
  • the merchants of the earth
  • seafarers.

Believers are also exhorted to rejoice over her downfall – since she has persecuted them and even executed many of them. A mighty angel then describes the totality of her downfall.

Thoughts: Verses 12 and 13 demonstrate the economic power of ancient Rome. She enjoyed the finest luxuries and ruled over a vast empire – yet God called believers to “come out of her…so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues.” These verses should challenge those of us who live in First World countries. For example, if our nation belongs to the Group of Eight, then one could argue that it possesses the economic strength of ancient Rome. In that case, what aspects of life in a prosperous nation compete with our call to worship God alone? Is God calling us to “come out of” our nation and avoid “her sins?” Do we need to emigrate to less prosperous nations? As God’s holy people, we must wrestle with these questions as we seek to maintain our spiritual purity.

In verses 10, 17 and 19 we see that the downfall of ancient Rome occurred “in one hour.” This highlights the rapidity of her demise; as a history buff, I believe that these verses should greatly encourage modern-day believers – especially those who live in Third World countries. Great leaders have built vast empires over the course of human history – yet we have seen that all empires eventually decline and fall. This stands in sharp contrast to the permanence of God’s power and His sovereignty over human history. In light of this, we should strive to worship our eternal, sovereign God. Indeed, history has repeatedly demonstrated that God is more worthy of worship than any empire or world leader.