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The Fall of Jerusalem September 7, 2017

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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.

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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.

Restoration of Israel June 3, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 30-31.

Summary: In this passage, God instructs Jeremiah to declare this message to His people: He will bring them out of exile in Babylon and restore them to their homeland.

Moreover, He will:

  • not inflict a lasting punishment on them for their sins
  • inflict a lasting punishment on the Babylonians for the war crimes that they will commit against them
  • rebuild Jerusalem
  • heal their land
  • place a new king – from the house of David – over them
  • establish a new covenant with them
  • permanently remove their sinfulness
  • enable them to respond to these actions with praise and thanksgiving
  • never leave them nor forsake them.

Thoughts: This passage contains a brief description of the work of God the Son and God the Spirit in restoring His people to a proper relationship with Himself. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 9 of chapter 30:

It was the office and work of God to raise up Christ. We must always come to the fountain of God’s mercy if we want to enjoy the blessings of Christ. We will find in Christ whatever is necessary for our salvation.

Also, verses 33 and 34 of chapter 31 describe the work of God the Spirit in this regard. The truths that are contained in these verses should spur us to reflect on the nature of the Trinity – and rejoice in the fact that we worship God in Three Persons. Each member of the Trinity is invaluable in God’s great plan of salvation. In contrast, only God the Father plays a role in the old covenant – and that covenant was not effective in maintaining His relationship with His people. When He introduced that covenant, though, He already knew its primary purpose – to point to a new covenant that would also glorify the other (two) Persons who share His nature.

Here, we see that God’s love of His people is boundless. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 37 of chapter 31:

But God brings before us these strange and impossible things so that we may know that he will at length be reconciled to his people after having justly punished them…The prophet reassures them that God cares for them and would gather his scattered seed.

The beauty of these verses is evident, as they are replete with phrases including

‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight…will Israel ever cease being a nation before me’

and

‘Only if the heavens above can be measured…will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done.’

The extent of God’s love of His people is amazing – especially as there is nothing in them that would merit His favor. As modern-day believers, we should ponder this point. Why has God chosen us? Why does He love us so much that He sent His own Son to die for our sins? It is difficult to even begin to formulate answers to these questions – yet we can still rejoice in His love for us and rest in His loving arms on a daily basis.

Given that this passage was written to the people of Judah, I am curious: how – and when – did they first hear it? Was it read to them before they were transported to Babylon? Or was it read to them during – or even after – their time in Babylon? How did they respond to the abundant promises in this passage? Did they interpret this passage as a long prophecy concerning a political Messiah who would restore the glory that Israel had enjoyed during the reign of David? What was their understanding of the new covenant that is described in this passage? Did they merely assume that God wanted them to recommit to the old covenant that He had established with Abraham?

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?

Keeping the Sabbath Holy April 6, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 17:19-27.

Summary: In this passage, God commands Jeremiah to preach the following message at the gates of Jerusalem:

  • the people of Judah need to observe the Sabbath
  • if they obey this command, then He will maintain the preeminence of Jerusalem
  • if they disobey this command, then He will destroy Jerusalem.

Thoughts: Calvin offers some intriguing thoughts on this passage in his commentary on verses 19-21:

This discourse should be separated from the preceding one. Whoever divided the chapters was in my judgment deficient here, as well as in many other places.

Calvin’s thoughts led me to the following question: how was the Bible divided into chapters and verses? A quick Google search revealed links such as this one and this one. My conjecture is that many Christians have grown accustomed to the standard chapter-and-verse divisions; thus, removing them would do more harm than good. Yet we must not allow them to hamper our understanding of a given section of Scripture. Once we have used them to locate a particular passage, we must then attempt to ignore them if they might hinder our grasp of what God is saying in that particular case. One thought is that when one is preparing an inductive Bible study, they can omit the verse divisions in the handouts that contain the passage of interest.

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.

Not One is Upright February 11, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 5.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, declaring that all social classes in Jerusalem and Judah are plagued by sinfulness. He charges them with the following sins:

  • rebellion against His authority
  • corruption
  • oppression of the disadvantaged
  • ignorance – as they should have acknowledged Him as their Creator and Sustainer.

Thus, He will employ the Babylonian army to punish them. In particular, the Babylonians will devastate their land and decimate their population.

Thoughts: Verses 12 and 13 include the reaction of the people of Jerusalem and Judah to Jeremiah’s prophecies. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

Jeremiah exposes the contempt the people had for God. They said, “Oh, these are fine words the preachers speak from their pulpits. But everything they say comes to nothing. Whatever they denounce on us will fall on their own heads.”

I anticipate meeting Jeremiah in the next life and plying him with questions concerning his ministry. Did he pray that God would move in the hearts of his compatriots so that they would accept His message and repent of their sins? What were his thoughts and emotions as they scoffed at his attempts to rescue them from impending judgment? Did he ever harbor a desire to compel them to accept the truth of his message? Did he ever entertain the thought of abandoning his ministry and fleeing to a neighboring country?

Here, we see that God condemns His people, as they fail to acknowledge His sovereignty despite the evidence of His creation. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 24:

The people were more senseless than lifeless elements. “For you have eyes,” he says in summary, “and you have ears, and all human faculties. God gave you rain. Every year the earth has been fruitful. Are not your minds filled with God’s bounty? Yet you do not think he should be worshiped.”

This passage reminds me of Paul’s polemic against unbelievers in Romans 1:18-32, since they fail to acknowledge God as the Creator of the universe. Indeed, the ultimate cause of the nature of the universe has been debated since the beginning of time. In general, humans can employ their five senses in perceiving nature; for example, they can:

  • feel the warmth of the Sun
  • smell a field of flowers
  • behold the grandeur of a glacier.

While humans generally agree on the nature of these phenomena, they often make widely varying inferences regarding their ultimate cause. Sometimes I wonder why God has made it difficult for all humans to make the same inferences in this regard. Perhaps those differences reveal His holiness, as holiness has no meaning without wickedness.

Paul Arrested November 11, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 21:27-36.

Summary: In this passage, Paul went to the temple – where he was seized by several Jews from the province of Asia. They solicited the assistance of the populace in their attempt to lynch him, asserting that he was guilty of:

  • blasphemy
  • desecrating the temple.

A large crowd gathered, dragging him out of the temple and beating him. Their efforts were checked, though, by the arrival of the Roman commander and his soldiers. They bound Paul and brought him toward the barracks in order to interrogate him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the Jews leveled serious charges against Paul. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 30:

Here, we see how irresponsible the common people were, treating Paul like a condemned man even before they heard him. It is not surprising the city was aroused over a religious matter, but this was perverse zeal and insane rashness. In this corrupt nature people willingly defend a bad cause, when many exhortations would hardly get them to do what is right.

It is disappointing, though not surprising, that the Jews attempted to kill Paul before he had the chance to defend himself. Evidently they were resolute in viewing him as a blasphemer who had to be put to death. I wonder if they were aware of his discussion with James and the elders in the previous passage regarding purification rites; if so, did they assume that he was being disingenuous when he went to the temple? In any event, I hope that they eventually realized the error of their ways and repented of their sins.

Paul’s Arrival at Jerusalem November 6, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 21:17-26.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and his companions arrived at Jerusalem; the local church greeted them warmly. Later, Paul delivered a report of his missionary endeavors among the Gentiles to James and the elders of the local church. They then implored him to display his respect for the Mosaic law by joining four believers – who had taken a religious vow – in their purification rites. That would constitute a conciliatory action on his part toward the Jews and the Jewish believers. Paul then acceded to their request.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Paul acceded to the request of James and the elders in Jerusalem that he display his respect for the Mosaic law. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 26:

His courtesy is most praiseworthy, in that he not only humbled himself for the sake of the ignorant, but also deferred to those who foolishly and groundlessly suspected him. He might well have expostulated with them because they had been so ready to believe reports damaging to his reputation. By abstaining, he showed great patience; by being so careful to win their favor, he was remarkably moderate.

This passage spurred me to consider other “gray areas” within Christianity and the degree to which one can compromise on those points. Here are some “gray areas” where I (personally) could be somewhat flexible:

  • whether women should be allowed to serve as pastors and/or elders
  • the Presbyterian practice of baptizing infants
  • (on a related note) the practice of baptism via sprinkling
  • how often one should observe Communion.

Here are some other “gray areas” where I (personally) could not compromise, though:

  • whether professing homosexuals should be allowed to serve as pastors and/or elders
  • whether the church should tolerate recreational marijuana use
  • whether it is proper to attend an interfaith service.

Admittedly these are controversial points, and I should not presume to speak for other believers in this regard. Hopefully, though, believers can agree that it is most important to help others see the truth of the Gospel message. We need wisdom from God in order to put that desire into practice.

The Church Persecuted and Scattered June 12, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 8:1b-3.

Summary: In this passage, the Jewish aristocracy fomented persecution of the church in Jerusalem – spurring many believers to flee to other parts of Judea and Samaria. Saul played a key role in this campaign of persecution, as he arrested many believers.

Thoughts: We see that the Jewish aristocracy completely disregarded the advice of Gamaliel regarding the Gospel message. The nature of their response to the Word – including murdering Stephen and fomenting persecution of the believers in Jerusalem – reflected their misguided zeal for God. Indeed, they believed that they were honoring Him by punishing those who were:

  • spreading a false doctrine concerning Him
  • accusing them of murdering Jesus of Nazareth – when they had simply punished that blasphemer for rebelling against their righteous authority and inciting others to follow His lead.

In the rest of this book, we will see how God displayed His sovereignty by utilizing the misguided zeal of the Jews to fulfill His Kingdom plan; whenever they opposed His Word, it continued to advance.