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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.


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?

Drought, Famine, Sword March 31, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 14-15.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, declaring that He will bring the following calamities on the people of Jerusalem and Judah:

  • a severe drought
  • a famine that will kill many of them
  • foreign invaders who will kill many of them
  • forced exile for the survivors.

Jeremiah attempts to intercede with God on their behalf – yet He has resolved to punish them and the false prophets who condone their sins. Jeremiah then brings the following grievances before Him:

  • the people of Jerusalem and Judah consistently reject him and his message
  • He has failed to vindicate him.

God then rebukes him for his doubts concerning His faithfulness, assuring him that He will vindicate him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jeremiah wrestles with God regarding the extent of His punishment of His people. Based on previous passages, we know that Jeremiah was convinced that the actions of the people of God did merit His punishment. Yet we also know that he recoiled at the extent of that punishment – as it entailed the decimation of the populace via disease, famine and sword. Jeremiah’s mental anguish in this regard caused me to consider those who commit egregious sins today. As a believer, I know that their actions merit His punishment. Yet I also hope that they will repent of their sins and turn to Him for forgiveness. If His punishment would entail their deaths, should I conclude that His punishment is excessive? I suppose that He wants me to place such matters in His hands – yet I still wrestle with the finality of that form of punishment.

We also see that Jeremiah wrestles with God regarding His prophetic calling, as he struggles to reconcile it with his love for his compatriots. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 18 of chapter 15:

Jeremiah had previously shown that he courageously despised all the splendor of the world and had no regard for proud men who boasted they were rulers of the church. But he now confesses his frailty. When we think of the apostles and the prophets we must always distinguish between the pure truth they spoke and their own personal anxieties and fears. Jeremiah’s worries stemmed from this human weakness. That is the meaning of this verse.

It is evident that Jeremiah was overcome by at least two harsh realities:

  • his compatriots despised him, since he consistently preached against their sins
  • God had revealed to him that his compatriots would experience His terrible judgment.

Clearly “weeping prophet” is an apt description of Jeremiah. Now I conjecture that God wanted to use his predicament to show him that he could not trust in anything pertaining to this life – he could only trust in Him and His final deliverance in the next life. As modern-day believers, we should ask ourselves: do we cling to the things of this life? How can suffering help us place our trust in God alone?

This passage is replete with harsh imagery, including bodies being “thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem”, a deer who “deserts her newborn fawn” and God’s plan to “make their widows more numerous than the sand of the sea.” On a related note, I conjecture that modern-day believers who reside in First World countries often grow spiritually complacent – forgetting His holiness and allowing those around us to shape our thoughts. If that is the case, then these harsh images should jolt us out of our complacency and spur us to assess the degree of holiness that we exhibit on a daily basis. While I do not believe that He has called us to cloister ourselves, I do believe that we must strive to avoid being “of the world” – lest He punish us as severely as He punished the people of Jerusalem and Judah. We certainly need His guidance as we strike this fine balance on a daily basis.

Wineskins March 21, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 13:12-14.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, asserting that wineskins are a metaphor for the people of Jerusalem and Judah. They know that wineskins will be filled with wine; similarly, He will fill all of them with the consequences of their sins. He will not be merciful to them.

Thoughts: The Bible contains several passages where God makes an obvious statement to His audience – yet that assertion is used to reinforce a larger point regarding how they should live as His people. In this case, the people of Jerusalem and Judah fail to comprehend the connection between wineskins and their sinfulness; God will respond to the depth of their depravity by giving them over to it. As modern-day believers, we would do well to heed the teaching points in such passages; we must not allow the initial, apparently obvious, statements to dull the incisiveness of His core arguments.

The Covenant is Broken March 7, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 11:1-17.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, reminding the people of Judah of the covenant that He made with their forefathers when He brought them out of Egypt. Since their forefathers broke that covenant, though, He cursed them according to its stipulations. The current generation has also broken that covenant by engaging in idolatry; thus, He promises to curse them according to its stipulations.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the Israelites’ response to the covenant that God made with them – including its plethora of curses. My hunch is that at least some of them complained to God regarding those curses; perhaps they asked, “O Lord, how could you bind us to a covenant that you know we cannot fulfill? One must be perfect in order to keep your decrees and commandments – yet you know that we are not perfect. Thus, these curses will fall on our heads!” If my hunch is correct, then I wonder how those Israelites lived. Did they curse God for laying an unbearable burden on their backs – and lead a life of sin? Or did they trust in His goodness and assume that He would be merciful to them? The New Testament indicates that those who adopted the latter approach – before the earthly ministry of Jesus – would have been saved. I wonder how the Holy Spirit moved in their hearts to seek His mercy…

In verse 15, we see that God rejected the insincere worship of His people, as they offered sacrifices to Him without confessing their idolatry to Him. Perhaps their idolatry had become habitual, as they went through the motions of outward worship while ignoring their inward depravity. As modern-day believers, we should consider whether we have major sins that have become habitual. Minor sins cannot be avoided, yet we must be careful lest we allow minor problems to morph into major issues. Vigilance in this regard is a lifelong process.

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.

Coming Destruction March 1, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 10:17-22.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah employs several metaphors to illustrate the depths of Judah’s despair after God punishes her:

  • a fallen tent
  • childlessness
  • scattered sheep
  • jackals roaming through rubble.

Thoughts: The metaphors that Jeremiah employed here would have been readily grasped by his original audience. This reinforces the importance of understanding context when reading through Scripture: metaphors that we gloss over would have resonated deeply with the people of Israel. Clearly God endowed His prophets with wisdom and insight when they crafted His message for His people; instead of writing haphazardly, they ensured that each word was “carefully adapted for maximum understanding and usefulness” (a phrase that appears on the back cover of each Crossway Classic Commentary). Of course, Jeremiah’s original audience rejected his precisely worded message. The challenge for us, as modern-day believers, is to comprehend these metaphors and respond appropriately.

Sin and Punishment February 25, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 8:4-9:26.

Summary: This passage consists of a dialogue between the following groups:

  • the people of Judah – who are fearful of the advancing Babylonian troops; although they call on God for deliverance, they slowly realize that the hour of their punishment is at hand
  • Jeremiah – who expresses his anguish at God’s impending punishment of His people; he is acutely aware of their sinfulness, yet he wrestles with the scope of His divine retribution
  • God – who asserts that His people have committed numerous sins, including idolatry, deception and greed; thus, He will smite them and their land.

Thoughts: Here, we see a painful interaction between God, His people, and His instrument – Jeremiah – as the Babylonian army prepares to attack Judah. Did God explicitly direct Jeremiah to employ dramatic elements in this passage – or did Jeremiah determine that it was the best way to convey the tension of this situation? In any event, this is a valuable reminder that the events of this passage constituted a “drama in real life,” and the actors could not remain silent as they pondered its awful conclusion. Also, modern-day believers can identify with Jeremiah and the people of Judah in that we often struggle to comprehend the scope of God’s holiness – including His punishment of sin. As we are finite, unholy creatures, we struggle when we are confronted by our infinite, holy Creator.

In verse 22 of chapter 8, we see that Jeremiah makes a reference to “balm in Gilead.” That phrase reminds me of a book that presented the fall from grace – and subsequent rehabilitation – of a pastor in North Carolina named Gordon Weekley; I should note that I encountered an excerpt of that book in an old issue of Reader’s Digest. Pastor Weekley had a busy schedule as a rising young pastor; to cope with the demands on his time, he utilized a combination of drugs. He began to fumble his way through sermons, including a memorable incident involving John 14:2. His addiction became so severe that his wife eventually left him and filed for divorce. Eventually, he realized that he needed professional help; God then enabled him to overcome his addiction. Now I am curious as to how he spent the last years of his life; if any readers have some knowledge along those lines, feel free to leave a comment.

In verses 23 and 24 of chapter 9, we see what God desires from those who would boast about anything. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Jeremiah forbids anyone to glory except in God alone. All are greatly deceived who think themselves blessed when they are alienated from God.

I find these verses to be challenging, as I readily – either outwardly or inwardly – boast about my external advantages, including my:

  • educational background
  • intellectual abilities
  • ethnicity.

These external advantages are concrete facts that I often indulge. Yet God calls us to only boast about our relationship with Him. That is difficult, as one cannot judge the value of that relationship with worldly metrics. Nonbelievers may scorn us for assigning worth to a relationship that is unseen – and, to them, a delusion. How can we live in a way that demonstrates the primacy of our relationship with God? One thought is that God does not call us to reject our external advantages; instead, He wants us to leverage them to effectively exercise “kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.”

The Valley of Slaughter February 19, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 7:30-8:3.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah, condemning the people of Judah for their idolatrous actions, including:

He will punish them by causing them to perish in the Valley of Ben Hinnom; moreover, they will run out of room to bury their dead in that place. Furthermore, all of the dead will be exposed to carrion fowl and other wild animals – serving as a just punishment for their worship of the heavens.

Thoughts: This passage reminds me of the macabre imagery in Revelation 19:11-21 concerning the punishment of the wicked. The following question also occurs to me: what is the impact of exhuming a corpse and allowing it to be ravaged by carrion fowl and other wild animals? Clearly this action has no effect on the one who is deceased, as their soul has already departed from their body and cannot be damaged through physical means. One thought is that we should consider the effect of this action on those who are still alive. Indeed, a sense of decency and humanity compels us to honor the dead by giving them a proper burial. Thus, if the dead are not properly buried, our sense of decency and humanity is offended, and we ponder the rationale for that action. It is God’s desire that we arrive at the following conclusions:

  • He hates sin – whether it is committed in the Old Testament or the New Testament
  • we must abhor what He detests and cherish what He embraces.

False Religion Worthless February 17, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 7:1-29.

Summary: In this passage, God commands Jeremiah to preach the following message at the gate of His temple in Jerusalem: the people of Jerusalem and Judah have failed to worship Him properly. Although they pretend to worship Him, they repeatedly sin against Him; for example, He charges them with:

  • idolatry
  • oppressing the disadvantaged
  • shedding innocent blood.

While they commit these sins, they rest on the assumption that God will not hold them accountable for their deeds. In particular, they assume that since God has placed His temple in their midst, He would never allow it to be destroyed; thus, they draw strength from its supposed permanence. Yet He disabuses them of that notion by citing the example of Shiloh; He punished their ancestors for their sins by allowing Shiloh to be destroyed, and so He will punish them for their sins by allowing His temple to be destroyed.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the people of Jerusalem and Judah assume that since God has placed His temple in their midst, He would not allow it to be destroyed. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The prophet repeated the words the temple of the LORD because the Jews boasted, as it were, “We are invincible. How can enemies come to us? How can any calamity reach us? God lives in the middle of us. He has his court, his temple, and his Most Holy Place with us.”

There are no modern Christian theocracies – apart from the Vatican City – and so this passage lacks a primary application for most modern-day believers. In terms of a secondary application, though, perhaps believers who live in countries where a majority of the citizens are Christians should heed the warnings in this passage. Do we – either knowingly or unknowingly – assume that God views our nation with special favor? Are we hewing to His commands in verse 6 and striving to bless the disadvantaged in concrete ways? Indeed, as long as we strive to obey the second greatest commandment – and reject the assumption that our nation is uniquely blessed by God – then we can be confident that He will abound in spiritual blessings towards us.

Verse 18 displays the pervasive nature of idolatry in Jerusalem and Judah during the ministry of Jeremiah. Here, we see that all members of a particular family collaborate in the offering of sacrifices to an idol. Indeed, the depravity of the people of God even ensnared children. In light of this sobering fact, it is no wonder that Jeremiah’s repeated appeals for the people of God to repent were met with derision. Clearly God had to employ the Babylonians as His instrument of punishment; otherwise, the sinfulness of His people would continue to offend Him for generations to come.