jump to navigation

Strolling Through the Book of Lamentations September 29, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

I recently strolled through the Book of Lamentations with the aid of a commentary by Calvin.

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

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

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

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

Thus, he exhorts his compatriots to:

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

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

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

On the other hand, he:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Jehoiachin Released September 9, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fall of Jerusalem September 7, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

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

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

He also states that the Babylonians:

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

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

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

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

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

A Message About Babylon September 1, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

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?

A Message About Elam August 29, 2017

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

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

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

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

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

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

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

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

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

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

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

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?