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A Message About Damascus August 14, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:23-27.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the kingdom of Syria.

He will cause the denizens of Hamath, Arpad and Damascus to be paralyzed with fear – before they are slain by their enemies. Moreover, He will compel their enemies to raze their cities.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God plans to judge the kingdom of Syria. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 23:

The Syrians had from the beginning been very hostile to the Israelites and had often attacked them. The kings of Israel then made a treaty with the Syrians in order to attack their fellow Jews in Judah. In this way the Syrians caused great trouble to the Jews and were friends to the Israelites until both kingdoms were attacked by the Babylonians.

This passage is yet another reminder of the futility of not placing one’s ultimate trust in God Himself. Israel – and Judah – repeatedly sought deliverance from their enemies by forging alliances with their pagan neighbors; while these alliances may have yielded short-term benefits, the people of God were inevitably ruined by their long-term costs. Here, God demonstrates to His people that He is sovereign over their pagan neighbors – and their false deities; moreover, He will exercise His sovereignty over their pagan neighbors by destroying them. Thus, His people should acknowledge His sovereignty in their words and deeds. As modern-day believers, this passage challenges us to consider whether we, too, acknowledge His sovereignty in our words and deeds.

A Message About Edom August 12, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:7-22.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the Edomites.

He states that they have offended him with their pride and arrogance.

Thus, He will compel foreign powers to crush them by sacking their cities. Moreover, He will enable their attackers to drive the survivors into exile.

Their demise will elicit horror – and scorn – from neighboring countries.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God punishes the prideful and arrogant Edomites. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 7:

Here Jeremiah turns to the Edomites, who were inveterate enemies of the chosen people although they should have been kindly disposed to them, for both had Abraham as their ancestor. The Edomites gloried in their holy descent and also had circumcision in common with the Jews. It was a most impious cruelty for the Edomites to show such bitter hatred toward their blood relatives.

This passage reminds me of a particularly challenging section of Scripture: Romans 9:10-13, where God states that Jacob would be blessed at the expense of Esau – according to His sovereign choice. Those who are familiar with the story of Jacob and Esau may have difficulty comprehending the rationale for God’s favor toward Jacob – as he essentially deceived Isaac on two separate occasions to obtain the blessings that were intended for Esau. One thought on this point is that since God is sovereign, our inability to comprehend His sovereignty does not detract from it. As He is perfect, His perfection cannot be marred by the failings of our imperfect minds. While He gives us considerable latitude to wrestle with Him on thorny issues, in the end He calls us to worship Him and acknowledge His supremacy – despite our inability to grasp it.

In verse 11, we see that God commands the Edomites to place their orphans and widows under His protection. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

The prophet goads the Edomites when God says, mockingly, that he will protect their orphans and widows.

One of the questions in my NIV Study Bible actually concerns the meaning of this verse; the answer that is provided in that text references God’s intention to mock the Edomites as a potential explanation in that regard. Thus, I am curious: did God actually intend to harm the orphans and widows of the Edomites? If so, did He intend to prove that the sins of the Edomites were so great that He had to punish their entire community? Also, if God did harm these orphans and widows, did they ultimately enter His kingdom? Admittedly, it is difficult to reconcile this verse with our understanding of God and His concern for those who are disadvantaged. Indeed, in this book we see that He punishes the people of Judah for their mistreatment of those who are disadvantaged.

A Message About Ammon August 9, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the Ammonites.

He states that they have committed the following offenses:

  • worshiping false deities – especially Molech
  • displaying pride and arrogance – especially in relation to their economy
  • occupying the land that He gave to His people.

Thus, He will compel foreign powers to crush them by sacking their cities. Those who survive this calamity will mourn and wail, yet He will not stay the hand of their enemies. In fact, He will enable their enemies to exile the survivors from their land.

Yet He concludes with a note of encouragement, stating that He will eventually restore the Ammonites to their land.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God charges the Ammonites with several offenses. Now this book contains an additional offense on the part of the Ammonites against the people of Judah: we know from verse 14 of chapter 40 that Baalis king of the Ammonites plotted the murder of Gedaliah son of Ahikam. That offense drives home the point that the Ammonites deserved to be punished by God. Now I am curious: was Baalis affected by God’s punishment of his subjects? Also, how did God restore the fortunes of the Ammonites? Did they acknowledge His sovereignty at that time? Did they confess their sins before Him and repent of them?

A Message About Moab August 5, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 48.

Summary: In this passage, God proclaims His comprehensive judgment on the Moabites.

He states that they have committed the following offenses:

  • defying Him
  • displaying pride and arrogance – especially in relation to their military and their economy
  • worshiping false deities – especially Chemosh
  • scorning His people.

Thus, He will compel a foreign power to crush them by sacking their cities and ruining their vineyards. Many of them will be slain; moreover, the survivors will mourn and wail, yet He will not stay the hand of that foreign power. In fact, He will enable that foreign power to exile the survivors from their land.

Yet He concludes with a note of encouragement, stating that He will eventually restore the Moabites to their land.

Thoughts: In verse 7, we see that the Moabite deity “Chemosh will go into exile, together with his priests and officials.” I view this verse as an assertion of the supremacy of God. Indeed, He worked through the unnamed foreign power in this passage to demonstrate the relative impotence of Chemosh – to the extent that this deity is poetically described as being banished from its territory. This verse is also a valuable reminder to modern-day believers that God is superior to the false deities who wield their influence throughout this fallen world. He will defeat these false deities – in His timing – and put all those who place their confidence in them to shame. Thus, we should be on our guard, lest we unwittingly place our confidence in these impotent deities.

In verse 47, we see that God promises to “restore the fortunes of Moab.” This promise is similar to His words of encouragement to the Egyptians in verse 26 of chapter 46, where He states that “Egypt will be inhabited as in times past.” Note that He does not offer words of encouragement to the Philistines in chapter 47, though. Thus, I am curious: why did God decide to extend His grace to the Moabites and the Egyptians – while withholding it from the Philistines? Were the Philistines guilty of more egregious offenses than the Moabites and the Egyptians? Was God displaying His divine sovereignty through these words of encouragement? How did the Moabites and the Egyptians respond to God’s grace in the wake of their judgment?

Here, we see that God charges the Moabites with a litany of offenses, including pride and arrogance. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 30:

Whenever the ungodly boast, we should not be afraid, bearing in mind what the prophet teaches here. He says that this pride stems from their derision of God, but that it will not help them at all in their lives.

As a believer in a First World country, I am often tempted to boast of the advantages of my nation. For example, I could cite:

  • the strength of our military
  • the successful technologies that we have developed
  • the postgraduate programs that attract talented students from other nations.

Yet this passage – and, indeed, history itself – demonstrates that any prosperous entity will eventually be surpassed by another entity. Prosperous entities will experience a reversal in their fortunes. Thus, modern-day believers in First World countries should consider questions such as:

  • can we look beyond the advantages of our respective countries and maintain our focus on God?
  • are we aware of the difficulties experienced by believers and non-believers in other nations?
  • how can we leverage the advantages of our respective countries to advance His kingdom plan?
  • will our contributions to His kingdom plan transcend the inevitable decline of our nation?

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.