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Freedom for Slaves June 15, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 34:8-22.

Summary: In this passage, God pronounces judgment on His people. This stems from the following sequence of events:

  • the Babylonians had been besieging Jerusalem
  • the people of Jerusalem – along with King Zedekiah – made a covenant before Him that they would free their Hebrew slaves
  • the people of Jerusalem freed their Hebrew slaves
  • the Babylonians withdrew from Jerusalem – leading to a (temporary) cessation of their siege
  • the people of Jerusalem re-enslaved those whom they had freed.

In particular, by re-enslaving those whom they had freed, they have violated His command in Deuteronomy 15:12.

Thus, He declares that He will cause the Babylonians to resume their siege of Jerusalem. The city will fall, and many of His people will be slain.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the people of Jerusalem reneged on their promise to free their slaves after the Babylonians (temporarily) withdrew from their city. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Since King Zedekiah had been warned about this, he called the people together and, with everybody’s consent, proclaimed freedom to the slaves as God had commanded. But this was done in bad faith, for soon afterwards the slaves were taken back into slavery, and so treachery was added to cruelty. From this we see that they not only wronged their own brethren by imposing on them perpetual slavery, but they also wickedly profaned the sacred name of God, for they were violating a solemn oath.

This disappointing turn of events caused me to ponder the vows that we often make to God during trials – where we declare that if He will rescue us from our troubles, then we will honor Him for the rest of our lives. Yet we swiftly break our promises after He rescues us from our troubles. Clearly God knows that we cannot honor our vows – so why does He choose to rescue us from our troubles? Perhaps He has decided to adopt a long-term perspective when dealing with us. He knows that sanctification is a process, and He is willing to accept some amount of backsliding on our part. What He desires is that we also adopt a long-term perspective when dealing with Him; instead of making rash vows, we should maintain our confidence in Him and His sovereignty.

This passage also furnishes another example of God’s concern for those who are less fortunate. Indeed, His zeal for those who are less fortunate is displayed throughout this book, as He repeatedly charges His people with mistreatment of the poor, the fatherless, the widow and the foreigner. Perhaps this passage should remind us that, as modern-day believers, we must continue to serve as His conduits of blessing to those who are less fortunate today – lest He level the same charges at us that He presents in this book.

The False Prophet Hananiah May 18, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 28.

Summary: In this passage, the false prophet Hananiah son of Azzur attempts to discredit Jeremiah – declaring that God will:

  • deliver Judah from the oppression of Babylon within two years
  • bring all of the exiles in Babylon – and the articles of worship that Nebuchadnezzar looted – back to Judah at that time.

Jeremiah responds by appealing to God, declaring that He will reveal the veracity – or lack thereof – of Hananiah’s proclamations.

Hananiah refuses to retract his statements; moreover, he demonstrates his stubbornness by breaking the wooden yoke on Jeremiah’s neck.

Later, God responds by condemning Hananiah for his false prophecies and asserting that Babylon will oppress Judah for more than two years. After two months have passed, Hananiah receives the ultimate punishment for his blasphemous deeds when God slays him.

Thoughts: I found this passage to be fascinating, as it sharpens our understanding of the opposition that Jeremiah endured throughout his ministry. In particular, we see that Hananiah spoke with authority, utilizing phrases such as “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says,” “declares the Lord,” and “This is what the Lord says.” Jeremiah – and other genuine prophets of God – also utilized these phrases during their ministries; thus, we have a better sense as to why the people of Judah had difficulty discerning God’s voice at that time. They needed to distinguish between genuine and false prophets, and one obvious – in retrospect – approach was to ask: whose prophecies came to pass? In this case, since the exile in Babylon lasted for seventy – and not two – years, we see that Hananiah was a false prophet.

In verses 5-9, Jeremiah responds to Hananiah’s proclamations. The sidebar in my NIV Study Bible includes the following note:

Was Jeremiah being sarcastic? Probably. Some feel Jeremiah genuinely wanted the temple and the nation restored. But it’s more likely there was a sarcastic edge to his reply.

Calvin offers some related thoughts on Jeremiah’s response in his commentary on verses 5 and 6:

It was therefore Jeremiah’s object to turn aside the false suspicion under which he labored, and he testified that he desired nothing more than the well-being of the people…”May it happen in this way. I would willingly retract, and that with shame, all that I have predicted so far, so great is my care and anxiety for the safety of the public. For I would prefer the welfare of all the people to my own reputation.”

Thus, Calvin does not appear to detect any sarcasm in Jeremiah’s response. When I meet Jeremiah in the next life, I hope to query him on this point and learn more about his interactions with Hananiah – and other false prophets. Did he ever pray to God that they would repent of their sins and seek His forgiveness?

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.

Disaster From the North February 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel Forsakes God February 2, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 2:1-3:5.

Summary: In this passage, God reiterates the charges that He leveled against the people of Israel and Judah in the previous passage:

  • they have forsaken Him
  • they have turned to other gods.

They have manifested their sinful disposition by:

  • signing treaties with pagan nations
  • committing acts of ritual prostitution
  • abusing the weak and poor in their midst.

God has responded to their sinful deeds by:

  • compelling their pagan allies to break their treaties with them
  • enabling their enemies to plunder them
  • striking their land with a severe drought.

The people of Judah, though, respond to God by becoming more obstinate in their sinfulness.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God levels a charge of idolatrous behavior against the people of Israel and Judah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 25 of chapter 2:

He simply means: The people are so insane that they cannot be reformed, no matter how much God tries to check their excesses, through which they were led away into following idols and superstitions. Whenever there was any danger they ran until their feet were bare and their throats were parched, for they went off to Egypt and then to Assyria, as we have already seen.

As a modern-day believer, I often struggle with an attitude of superiority towards the idolatrous Israelites. In particular, I scorn them for prostrating themselves before idols of wood and stone, and I assert, “I would never commit such a foolish sin today.” I need to remember, though, that each generation has struggled with idolatry. Perhaps I should consider how I spend my time and resources; do I dedicate the bulk of my energies to fruitful endeavors? Modern-day idols (e.g. the Internet) are pernicious; I need more strength from the Holy Spirit to achieve daily victories in that regard and bear more fruit for His glory.

In verse 26 of chapter 2, we see that there were many false prophets in Israel and Judah during Jeremiah’s ministry. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

It is as if he said they were corrupt from top to bottom and now showed total contempt for God.

This spurred me to consider the spiritual environment in Judah during Jeremiah’s ministry. It is evident that Jeremiah regularly battled a plethora of false prophets as he delivered God’s words to his compatriots. Perhaps those false prophets constantly assured the people of Judah that God was pleased with them and that the calamities that Israel had suffered would not befall them. When Judah experienced any adversities, those false prophets may have refused to connect them with God’s judgment of their sinfulness. The people of Judah would have struggled to apprehend the truth in Jeremiah’s message as the false prophets skillfully plied them with eloquent falsehoods. Unfortunately, discerning spiritual truth is still difficult for modern-day believers. Truly we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to act with love and humility towards others who may disagree with us on various points of controversy.

The Call of Jeremiah January 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 1:4-19.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks to Jeremiah on three occasions:

  • first, He states that He had predestined him to serve as His prophet to the nations; although Jeremiah attempts to resist that calling, God declares that He will empower him to fulfill it
  • later, Jeremiah has a vision of an almond tree; God uses that vision to reinforce the point that He will actively work through him
  • finally, Jeremiah has a vision of a boiling pot; God uses that vision to reinforce the point that He will work through the peoples of the north to punish his compatriots.

God asserts that his compatriots have committed the following sins:

  • forsaking Him
  • worshiping other gods.

He then reiterates that He will empower him to condemn their sins – through his prophecies.

Thoughts: In verse 6, we see that Jeremiah attempts to resist his prophetic calling. I was struck by the fact that Jeremiah acknowledges God as the “Sovereign Lord” – yet immediately resists his calling. If Jeremiah accepted the sovereignty of God, then why would he attempt to resist His will for his life? Perhaps this verse highlights the cognitive dissonance that plagues many Christians – including me. On one hand, we readily acknowledge the sovereignty of God through various praise songs and (public) prayers. On the other hand, our actions reveal our trust in our own abilities; we do not genuinely believe that God is sovereign in our lives. This indicates that we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit in overcoming our crippling doubts and leading lives that reflect our trust in His sovereignty.

In verses 18 and 19, we see that God assures Jeremiah that He will empower him to fulfill his calling – despite the opposition of the kings of Judah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 18:

God encourages this prophet to be firm and to persevere, as though the battle would be long, so that he would not faint from being tired. The prophet would not have to contend with one king only, but as soon as one died, another would rise up and replace him. From this Jeremiah saw there would be no hope of rest until the time that God had appointed arrived.

This caused me to ponder the fact that God wanted Jeremiah to proclaim His message of judgment to all of his compatriots – even if it elicited an angry response. I often have difficulty saying what people need to hear, as my instinct is to say what people want to hear. This tendency may have hampered my effectiveness in my previous ministry roles as a Sunday School teacher and a youth counselor, where I had great difficulty rebuking students for their misbehavior. As my Christian walk progresses, I need to trust that if I say what is right, then God will be pleased with me – regardless of human opinions. It is difficult to discount human feedback, yet we need to be more attuned to God’s feedback – with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

The Dead are Judged March 12, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 20:11-15.

Summary: In this passage, John observes the throne of God – where the dead are judged based on their (recorded) deeds. If their names are not found in the book of life, then they are thrown into the lake of fire – which is the second death.

Thoughts: This passage reminds me of the third verse of Jesus Paid It All. In particular, I know that my earthly deeds do not merit a mention in the book of life; thus, I am completely dependent on the:

  • grace of God in my election to His family
  • finished work of Jesus Christ in securing my election.

Since I am constantly aware of my sinfulness, I cannot imagine boasting about my earthly deeds before the throne of God. That being said, I pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to work in me so that my earthly deeds would demonstrate that I am mentioned in the book of life. Moreover, I pray that when I stand before the throne of God, I would be able to rejoice in (and with) Him during the proclamation of His (recorded) deeds through me in this life.

Patience in Suffering November 1, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on James 5:7-12.

Summary: James begins by exhorting his readers – in light of the preceding passage – to be long-suffering until the next manifestation of God’s judgment. To encourage them in this regard, he cites the example of the farmer, who waits for:

  • the land to yield its fruit – through hard labor
  • the rains that fall a little before sowing
  • the rains that fall a little before the fruit ripens.

Thus, they should be immovable in the faith and hope of Christianity, since the next manifestation of God’s judgment is at hand. Also, they should not injure each other over the topic of circumcision – or God will punish them; His judgment is at hand for those who injure each other in this regard.

James then exhorts his readers to imitate the prophets who were authorized to speak to the people in God’s place, since they endured their afflictions. Indeed, those who show fortitude in misery are declared to be happy by the whole Christian church; for example, Job showed fortitude in his misery, and God produced a happy outcome for him. The story of Job demonstrates that God overflows in His pity and pardon for the sins of believers.

James concludes by emphasizing the importance of not taking an oath by a creature; their affirmations and negations should be firmly grounded in simple truth – lest God judge them.

Thoughts: In this passage, James exhorts his readers to be patient in the midst of their afflictions. Manton offers some interesting thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 11:

We would never have heard of Job if he had not been brought so low. Affliction makes saints eminent; Job’s poverty made him rich in honor and esteem. Stars shine only in the night; the lower we are made by providence, the greater we are made. God’s children never gain so much honor as in their troubles. Many people whose names now breathe out a fresh perfume in the churches would have lived and died obscurely, with their bones thrown into some unknown charnel, undistinguished from other relics of mortality, if God had not drawn them to public notice by their eminent sufferings.

While I assert that a believer does not need to be afflicted in order to gain great renown, God can certainly use afflictions to bring believers great renown. For example, as a believer in a First World country, I am acutely aware of the struggles of believers in Third World countries – especially when they face persecution for their faith. I have heard of believers who lost their possessions – and even their lives – for their faith. Now Manton’s point also raises the following questions: how many believers throughout history will live and die “obscurely?” Will I live and die in obscurity as a believer? Will those believers who endure great afflictions in this life be granted a higher place in heaven as a reward for their faithfulness? Regarding my third question…I assume that most of these afflicted believers do not seek out troubles that will earn them greater honor in the next life, as troubles are painful. Yet when believers remain patient in the midst of great afflictions, it would seem that God should reward them for their faithfulness. I suppose that I will have to wait until the next life to see if my hypothesis is correct.

Warning to Rich Oppressors October 18, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on James 5:1-6.

Summary: James calls those who abuse their wealth and those who abuse their greatness to the throne of God’s judgment; he threatens them by asserting that:

  • they will show great grief when they are greatly afflicted in this life and experience hell-torment in the life to come
  • their goods rot and are eaten by moths
  • their money rusts – serving as a witness against them and causing their ruin
  • they have heaped up wealth in the time when the Jewish nation will be scattered and destroyed
  • they have oppressed poor laborers – provoking the Lord of hosts to take notice of this sin
  • they have indulged their senses in food, drink and clothing – placing all their happiness in this earthly life
  • they breed lust by making every day a festival and giving to their desires what should only be given to religion on special occasions
  • they have corrupted judgment and executed Jesus Christ – who did not resist them.

Thoughts: In this passage, James denounces non-believers who use their wealth and/or position to oppress poor believers. Manton offers some interesting thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 5:

Pleasures nourish the heart and fatten it into a senseless stupidity. Nothing brings dullness to it like pleasures. Plutarch observes that the ass, the dullest of all creatures, has the fattest heart…There is a fish called the ass-fish, which has its heart in its belly – a fit emblem of a sensual epicure.

When I read Manton’s commentary on this verse, I was intrigued by the notion of a fish with “its heart in its belly” and I Googled this phrase. After some sleuthing, I determined that Manton was referring to the hake. Now I assume that Manton was not asserting that the heart of a hake literally resides in its belly; instead, he was probably referencing its prodigious appetite, which is described in A History of British Fishes by William Yarrell. Perhaps the gluttony of the hake – which gorges itself on pilchards – should spur us as believers to avoid submitting to the pleasures of the world. By shunning certain worldly pleasures (e.g. pornography) and only enjoying other worldly pleasures in moderation (e.g. alcohol) we can avoid the afflictions that are described in this passage. Moreover, daily self-denial reminds us as believers that this planet is not our final destination; it also frees us to spend more time in preparation for an eternal existence in our final destination.