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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?

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A Message About Egypt July 30, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 46.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This also spurred me to pose the following questions:

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

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

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

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

A Message to Baruch July 28, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 45.

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

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

Disaster Because of Idolatry July 26, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 44.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flight to Egypt July 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gedaliah Assassinated July 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah Freed July 15, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 40:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, Nebuzaradan discovers that Jeremiah is among the group of captives who are about to be exiled to Babylon. He acknowledges that the God of Israel has enabled his army to destroy Jerusalem, and he allows Jeremiah to decide whether he should travel with him to Babylon or remain with Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah.

Jeremiah selects the latter option; before they part, Nebuzaradan grants him provisions and a present.

Thoughts: In verses 2 and 3, Nebuzaradan acknowledges that God effected the downfall of Judah. This implies that the Babylonians were aware of the God of Israel and Judah and that they acknowledged His sovereignty over His nation. Did Nebuzaradan realize, though, that the God of Israel and Judah also asserted His sovereignty over the entire world – including Babylon? If so, did he immediately dismiss the God of Israel and Judah as a minor, local deity and trust in the power of the Babylonian gods? One must wonder if Nebuzaradan witnessed the defeat of Babylon at the hands of the Persians during the reign of Belshazzar; if so, did he comprehend the true nature of the God of Israel and Judah at that point?

The Fall of Jerusalem July 13, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 39.

Summary: In this passage, King Nebuchadnezzar and his entire army return to Jerusalem and resume their siege of it.

During Jeremiah’s confinement in the courtyard of the guard, God speaks to him, commanding him to reassure Ebed-Melech of His concern for him. In particular, God asserts that although He will destroy Jerusalem – in fulfillment of His prophecies – He will spare Ebed-Melech in response to his faith.

After eighteen months, the Babylonians successfully breach the city wall. They then destroy it and torch the entire city – including the royal palace. They also capture King Zedekiah and, after executing his sons and all of the nobles of Judah, they put out his eyes.

Later, they carry most of the people of Judah into exile in Babylon – except for those who are destitute.

Nebuchadnezzar orders the commander of the imperial guard, Nebuzaradan, to spare Jeremiah. Nebuzaradan allows Jeremiah to stay with Gedaliah son of Ahikam.

Thoughts: In verses 5-7, Nebuchadnezzar inflicts a stomach-churning punishment on Zedekiah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 6:

The prophet now tells us how cruelly Nebuchadnezzar treated Zedekiah. It was surely a sad spectacle to see a king, who came from a noble family and who was a type of Christ, lying prostrate at the feet of a proud conqueror. But much worse than this was to see his own sons killed before his eyes. Nebuchadnezzar wanted to remove all hope by killing the royal family and the nobles.

While the brutality of this passage shocks modern-day readers, it illustrates God’s holiness. We should remember that Zedekiah repeatedly disobeyed God’s explicit instructions – through Jeremiah – to surrender to the Babylonians. At some point, God had to punish him – lest His holiness be cast in doubt. As modern-day believers, we must not forget that we worship a holy God who will not allow His name to be besmirched.

In verses 15-18, God reassures Ebed-Melech – through Jeremiah – of His care and concern for him. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The prophet says that God remembered Ebed-Melech the Cushite, by whom he was preserved, although he was a foreigner from an uncivilized nation. The prophet says that man will be rewarded for his exceptional courage and service. In his very danger he experienced God’s favor and was protected and delivered from peril.

The grim imagery of the bulk of this passage might lead the reader to assume that the fall of Jerusalem occurred outside the sovereignty of God. Of course, we know that the Babylonians were actually fulfilling the dire prophecies that He had repeatedly delivered through Jeremiah. Now these four verses drive home the reality of God’s sovereignty in this passage. Indeed, He was mindful of the faithfulness of Ebed-Melech – especially in rescuing Jeremiah from the cistern in the courtyard of the guard; thus, He promised to reward him – even in the midst of the greatest calamity in the history of Judah. As modern-day believers, we should be encouraged by the permanence of God’s sovereignty and respond to Him with the faithfulness that Ebed-Melech displayed.

Zedekiah Questions Jeremiah Again July 8, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 38:14-28.

Summary: In this passage, King Zedekiah arranges a clandestine meeting with Jeremiah. After reassuring Jeremiah of his willingness to heed his advice, Jeremiah declares that he – and Jerusalem – will be spared if he surrenders to Nebuchadnezzar.

Otherwise, Jerusalem will be destroyed and he – along with his wives and children – will be captured by Nebuchadnezzar.

Zedekiah responds by ordering Jeremiah to not divulge the contents of their conversation. Several royal officials question Jeremiah on this point, yet he obeys the king’s command in this regard.

Jeremiah remains in the courtyard of the guard until Nebuchadnezzar destroys Jerusalem.

Thoughts: In verse 19, Zedekiah expresses his fears regarding surrendering to Nebuchadnezzar, as he does not want to fall into the hands of “the Jews who have gone over to the Babylonians”. Now I am curious: who were these Jews? Did they surrender to the Babylonians in response to Jeremiah’s prior instructions in this regard? Why would they have sought to harm Zedekiah if Nebuchadnezzar had delivered him to them? Would they have blamed him for the capture of Jerusalem?

In verses 24-26, Zedekiah instructs Jeremiah to conceal the substance of their conversation concerning his impending defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. I am also curious: did Zedekiah wield any power in his administration? Did Nebuchadnezzar select Zedekiah as a puppet ruler, knowing that he lacked the ability to govern effectively? Who were the royal officials who struck fear into his heart? Did these royal officials consider the possibility of a coup – given their dire circumstances?

Jeremiah Thrown Into a Cistern July 6, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 38:1-13.

Summary: In this passage, several royal officials hear Jeremiah’s declaration that the people of Jerusalem should surrender to the Babylonians, as they will die if they continue to resist them. These officials view Jeremiah as a traitor to Judah, and so they advise King Zedekiah to have him executed.

The king gives them carte blanche in this matter, and so they place Jeremiah in a cistern in the courtyard of the guard, leaving him to die.

Another royal official, Ebed-Melech, learns of Jeremiah’s predicament. He informs the king of Jeremiah’s desperate circumstances.

The king orders him to rescue Jeremiah from the cistern in the courtyard of the guard, and he responds accordingly.

Thoughts: One could argue that Ebed-Melech is the hero of this passage. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 7-9:

But God rescued him in a wonderful way through the help of Ebed-Melech, a Cushite. He was a foreigner, and this is stated so that we might know that none of the king’s counselors resisted this great wickedness. Only a Cushite was found to come to the help of God’s prophet.

I anticipate meeting Ebed-Melech in the next life and learning more about him. How did he come to believe in the God of Israel? When did he come to Jerusalem? What was his role in the administration of Zedekiah? How did God spur him to appeal to the king on Jeremiah’s behalf? Did he take a significant risk by apprising the king of the actions of the other royal officials? Did he – and the thirty men with him – encounter any opposition when they lifted Jeremiah out of the cistern? What happened to him after the fall of Jerusalem?

Here, we see that King Zedekiah initially consents to his officials’ demands, allowing them to place Jeremiah in a cistern – before reversing his decision after meeting with Ebed-Melech. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 10:

The king, full of fear, had recently given over the holy prophet to the cruelty of the princes. Since the king had not dared to stand up to his princes, how was it that he now ventured to extricate Jeremiah from the pit? We see that the king’s mind had been changed. Previously he had been in the grip of fear and did not dare to plead the cause of the holy man…It is clear that divine power had overruled.

One thought is that the king himself was in a desperate situation – given the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem – and he needed a solution to his predicament. Perhaps he initially assumed that Jeremiah could not guarantee the military victory over the Babylonians that he desired – before changing his mind on this point. In any event, Zedekiah appears to be a weak king who is unable to make the best of a bad situation by making difficult decisions. One can only wonder how a more God-fearing king would have acted in this situation.