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A Message About Elam August 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 49:34-39.

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

He will compel their enemies to:

  • massacre them
  • drive the survivors into exile.

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

Thoughts: I am also curious as to why God pronounced His judgment on Elam in this passage. Had the Elamites attacked Israel and/or Judah? Did the Elamites render assistance to Nebuchadnezzar during his invasion of Judah? Was God primarily punishing them for worshiping false gods? Did He intend to send a powerful message to His people that they should not place their trust in any entities other than Himself? Had Israel and/or Judah been tempted to form an alliance with the Elamites? How did His people respond to the news concerning the downfall of the Elamites? When did He bless the Elamites and restore them to their land?

Zedekiah Questions Jeremiah Again July 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah Thrown Into a Cistern July 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah in Prison June 24, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 37.

Summary: In this passage, King Zedekiah requests that Jeremiah intercede with God on his behalf – as the Babylonians are besieging Jerusalem. At some point, the forces of Pharaoh advance on the Babylonians, leading to their (temporary) withdrawal from Jerusalem.

King Zedekiah and the people of Jerusalem grow complacent. God then speaks through Jeremiah, declaring that the Babylonians will return to Jerusalem and destroy it.

Later, Jeremiah is arrested and accused of attempting to desert to the Babylonians. He proclaims his innocence – yet he is imprisoned.

At some point, he informs Zedekiah that he will be captured by the Babylonians. Despite this ominous prophecy, Zedekiah grants his request to be placed in the relatively pleasant confines of the courtyard of the guard.

Thoughts: In verses 9 and 10, God asserts that the Babylonians will destroy Jerusalem. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Jeremiah took it for granted that the destruction of the city of Jerusalem would not be effected by the forces of King Nebuchadnezzar or by his power or the number of his soldiers, but by God’s judgment…Jeremiah intimates that even if the contest were only with shadows, they would not escape the extreme vengeance that God had threatened.

Verse 10 is jarring; it is difficult to contemplate a wounded soldier staggering out of their tent and mustering the strength to torch the chief city of their foes. If that impossible event had occurred, the people of Judah would have been compelled to acknowledge that God was opposing them through the Babylonians. They would have admitted that God was giving the wounded Babylonians supernatural strength. Now I assume that the siege of Jerusalem ended in a more conventional manner, with (relatively) unscathed Babylonian soldiers overrunning the city; thus, I am curious as to whether an analogous event has occurred in the history of warfare…

In verse 18, Jeremiah decries his imprisonment before King Zedekiah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Although the prophet’s words had displeased the king, Jeremiah also complains that wrong had been done to him since he had been thrown into prison. In this way he shows that he had been unjustly condemned for having threatened ruin to the city and destruction to the kingdom, for he was constrained to do this by the obligations of his office. So the prophet shows that he had not sinned in this but had proclaimed God’s commands, however bitter they were to the king and to the people.

I found this verse to be somewhat amusing, as it immediately follows verse 17 – where Jeremiah declares that Zedekiah would be captured by King Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah would have found that turn of events to be incredibly humiliating; thus, he would have been angry with Jeremiah. How did Jeremiah have the temerity to proclaim his innocence before Zedekiah? Perhaps the best explanation is that Jeremiah knew that God was actually speaking through him; thus, he implicitly appealed to God to vindicate him. As modern-day believers, perhaps we can be inspired by Jeremiah’s actions in this passage; if we know that God is working through us, then we do not need to be ashamed.

In verse 21, we see that King Zedekiah ordered the transfer of Jeremiah from the house of Jonathan the secretary to the courtyard of the guard. Now I am curious: why did the king make this decision? Did he believe that by treating Jeremiah with more respect, God would respond by showing favor to him – and Jerusalem? Did God somehow work in his heart, enabling him to determine that Jeremiah should not be mistreated? Also, did Jeremiah alter his opinion of the king after he was transferred to the courtyard of the guard? Did Jeremiah harbor the belief that he should have been pardoned?

Warning to Zedekiah June 11, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 34:1-7.

Summary: In this passage, God speaks through Jeremiah during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, pronouncing His judgment on King Zedekiah. In particular, He asserts that King Nebuchadnezzar will:

  • capture and raze Jerusalem
  • capture him and transport him to Babylon – where he will die.

Yet God declares that Zedekiah will die in peace; moreover, his subjects will mourn his passing.

Thoughts: Here, we see that God addresses King Zedekiah. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 4 and 5:

And yet if we look at all the circumstances, it would have been a lesser evil to be put to death at once than to prolong life on the condition of being doomed to pine away in constant misery. When the eyes are put out….we know that a major part of life is lost. When, therefore, this punishment was inflicted on Zedekiah, would not death be considered desirable?

Calvin makes a compelling point in this instance, as I could not imagine life without my eyesight. Yet I wonder if, in some sense, God displayed His grace to Zedekiah in sparing him a violent death. In particular, my thought is that instead of putting him to death, God granted Zedekiah an opportunity to return to a proper relationship with Him. Given that Zedekiah would be blind – and helpless – during his exile in Babylon, he would have time to contemplate his sinfulness and arrive at a state of brokenness – where he could confess his sins before God. Now that raises the following question: did he confess his sins before God in Babylon?

A Letter to the Exiles May 20, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 29:1-23.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah pens a letter to the exiles in Babylon where he makes the following points:

  • they should adjust to life in Babylon – instead of pining for their homeland; moreover, they should pray for Babylon – and its rulers
  • God will restore them to their homeland after seventy years; moreover, He will restore them to a proper relationship with Himself
  • they should not envy their compatriots who remain in Jerusalem – as He will punish them with the sword, famine and the plague for their sinfulness
  • He will punish the false prophets in their midst, including Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, for uttering lies in His name; in particular, King Nebuchadnezzar will burn them to death.

Thoughts: In verses 4-7, we see that God commands the exiles in Babylon to adjust to life in that foreign land. I am curious as to how those exiles responded to this command. Did they view Jeremiah as a false prophet who was essentially exhorting them to commit treason by praying for Babylon? Did they view Ahab and Zedekiah as genuine – and patriotic – prophets who were encouraging them through their promises of a brief confinement in Babylon? Or did God miraculously enable them to respond to Him appropriately? If so, how did they pray for their new masters? Did they intermarry with their new masters?

Verse 11 is a popular memory verse; thus, I was eager to comprehend it in its proper context when I read through this passage. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

But God shows that the right time would not come until their prayers proceeded from a right feeling; this is what he means by with all your heart. Of course, people never turn to God with their whole heart, nor is the whole heart engaged in prayer as much as it should be. But the prophet contrasts the whole heart with the double heart. So we should understand here not perfection (which can never be found in human beings) but integrity and sincerity.

Thus, we see that verse 11 does not constitute an unconditional promise on the part of God – as He will not bless us if we do not make a genuine effort to draw closer to Him. Another thought is that in verse 10, we see that the exile in Babylon would last for seventy years. In that case, most of the exiles would pass away in Babylon – and never return to their homeland. This sobering fact confronts us with this larger point: we will not receive most of the blessings of God until the next life. In light of that fact, perhaps we should view verse 11 as an exhortation for us to anticipate the greater blessings of the next life – which is manifested in a fruitful relationship with God in this life.

In verses 20-23, we see that Jeremiah curses the false prophets, Ahab and Zedekiah, for presuming to speak in God’s name. Their eventual fate reminded me of the trial that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego experienced when they refused to worship the idol that King Nebuchadnezzar had constructed in Babylon. In that case, we know that God intervened to deliver them from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. In this case, God does not intervene, and so Ahab and Zedekiah experienced a painful demise. Indeed, the notion of being burned to death is revolting; perhaps Ahab and Zedekiah perished slowly, screaming as the flames consumed their flesh. Yet this account should spur us to reflect on God and His holiness; His zeal for His name is great, and we must not besmirch it.

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?

Strolling Through the Book of Jeremiah January 25, 2017

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I’ve recently started reading through the Book of Jeremiah with the aid of a commentary by Calvin. I should note that I’ve previously read through Jeremiah. As in my recent stroll through the book of Acts, I hope to comprehend Jeremiah as a whole. Regular readers of this blog will also know that this is my first stroll through a book of the Old Testament; thus, I am eager to acquire a greater understanding of God’s unchanging nature.

I plan to blog about this experience as I read through both the book and Calvin’s commentary. Each post will correspond to a specific section in the NIV translation.

For starters, here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 1:1-3.

Summary: In this passage, we see that God called Jeremiah as His prophet. Jeremiah’s ministry encompassed the reign of at least three kings of Judah:

God spoke through him until the people of Jerusalem were exiled by the Babylonians.

Thoughts: In verse 3, we see that Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry concluded when the people of Jerusalem were forced into exile. Thus, it would appear that his ministry concluded on a disappointing note – as he was ultimately unsuccessful in compelling his countrymen to heed God’s warnings. Yet this raises a salient question: was his ministry a failure in the eyes of God? Did he accomplish all of the tasks that God had assigned him? I shall have to continue my stroll in order to answer that question…