Thursday, January 14, 2021

Marked Before God

Week 2 – Book of Jeremiah

Read:   Jeremiah Chapter 2; Additional reading: 2 Kings 21-23




Background

The Book of Jeremiah reveals much historical and biographical information, to include many specific dates and events. Jeremiah is born during the reign of King Manasseh, but God calls him to be a prophet during Josiah’s thirteenth year as King, eras of both rebellion and reformation. So, what happens in between? To find out more about these times, look back to 2 Kings Chapters 21-23.

Jeremiah enters the world during a political and spiritual era of rebellion. Considered to be one of the most evil men to ever rule over Judah, King Manasseh is the son of King Hezekiah, a godly ruler. Manasseh begins his rule at age twelve and rules for fifty-five years in Jerusalem, the “longest reign of any king in Jewish history.”[1] During his leadership, idol worship flourishes, altars for Baal and wooden images are built in the Temple. The practice of witchcraft and the occult expands. King Manasseh promotes child sacrifice, to include making “his son to pass through the fire” (2Kg.21:6). Ruthless and wicked thoughts and behaviors prevail in society and his years as king. Upon the death of Manasseh, his son, Amon, continues this evil rule for two years until he is killed by his own servants. Jeremiah grows up surrounded in these unmoral times. 

King Josiah, Amon’s son, becomes king at eight and reigns for thirty-one years. He desires to do what is right in the sight of God, and a period of reformation begins. In reading Josiah’s history in 2 Kings Chapters 22-23, we meet the High Priest, Hilkiah, who is Jeremiah’s father. Hilkiah helps Josiah in many ways to restore the Temple and reorient the people to the one true God. Over the next years, the idols and images and shrines are destroyed, and the Temple restored. Although the consequences of disobedience looms, the faithfulness of Josiah brings a renewed reverence for the Covenant, the Book of the Law, and the traditions of God’s chosen people. In the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign, the Passover is once again celebrated. God recognizes Josiah as “no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might.”[2] Jeremiah is five years into his calling as a prophet and maybe the possibility for a change of heart in the people.

In the Old Testament, prophets use “these three strands of truth to weave their message together: past sin, present responsibility, future hope.”[3] Jeremiah attempts to do follow this pattern. This week we see Jeremiah bring God’s message to the people in city of Jerusalem, a message that presents God’s indictments and verdict. 

Study 

In Chapter 2, Jeremiah delivers God’s message which describes in detail the failures of Israel: 1) worship of other gods 2) forgetting God’s promises and 3) provisions 4) the priests did not protect God’s word – did not teach God’s truth, did not lead the people 5) and the false prophets taught about Baal and other foreign gods. God admonishes both the political and the spiritual leaders. 

God charges Israel, this generation, and the next saying, “My people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols.” Using imagery, God explains the people have left the “fountain of living water” for “broken cisterns”; they are abandoning God, the life-giving, living water, for “broken cisterns which can hold no water”. Promises to God are broken and disrespected.

God’s people find themselves in trouble. Over 800 years since rescued from Egypt, God continues to seek them, to provide and protect, to rescue and redeem, but the people still choose their wicked ways and live according to their sinful habits. The verdict: Judah chooses false gods and abandons the one true God. God’s replies, “Behold, I will bring you to judgement and will plead against you because you say, I have not sinned.” (Jeremiah 2:35 AMP) 

Reflection 

In thinking about the historical times of Jeremiah’s growing up and starting out as a prophet, I see the contradictions of his world with his family, his calling, his obedience. While the world Jeremiah is born into reeks of wickedness, his father, Hilkiah the High Priest, likely gives him a foundation, teaches him the word of God, tells him the stories of his people and their traditions. This becomes the foundation of faith that will prepare and carry Jeremiah into his role as prophet.

Trying to decide what is good and what is evil can be hard, no matter the century. Today, is no different than then. In fact, all the centuries bring their own spiritual and social unrest, poor decisions, and stressful events. Wars and diseases and unemployment and unfair labor practices are constant challenges throughout history. Add in religious indifferences that influence moral choices, both before and now, we find ourselves facing the same personal conflicts and contradictions. The heart often deceives us, tricks us into following the masses or taking short cuts. And, if I am honest, I do not like when I am confronted with my failure to stand true to my stated beliefs, with my denial, with my weaknesses, with my attitude, with my bias, with my apathy.

God confronts me and makes His case against my failures. Fortunately, as a Believer in Jesus Christ, God has given me grace and consistently forgives me; yet, the lesson must go further. I must change my heart and live the truth of God. My life must reflect my faith, not only in my words but in my actions. About hundred years before Jeremiah, Isaiah confronts Israel’s apostasy. Today, about 2,600 years after Jeremiah, God confronts me, teaching me where I need to improve, how to live more like Christ. The word of our God stands forever. (Is. 40:8)

Application 

Warren Wiersbe said, “Any decisions we make that are contrary to God’s plan will lead to bondage, because only the truth can set us free.”

·         Read 2 Kings chapter 22 and identify the culture of Judah; think about the world today.

·         Consider Jeremiah 2:13: “living water” and “broken cisterns”. What places in your life are like a “broken cistern”?

·         God said Josiah loved Him “with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his might.” Ahh, that God could say that about me!

 Donna Oswalt

 ** A few people have told me how they have started Study Journals for Jeremiah. I hope you will find a similar way to record your notes and reflections and applications each week. - dho

 



[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Study Bible

[2] 2 Kings 23:25 NKJV

[3] Warren Wiersbe, Be Decisive, pg 20

Thursday, January 07, 2021

A Prophet to the Nations

 

Week 1 - Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 1

Background

Jeremiah, called “a prophet to the nations" by God, is born about 655 BC into a familial lineage of priests, with his father, Hilkiah, an active priest in Anathoth, a city in the tribe of Benjamin. Some 100 years after Isaiah and in the days of King Josiah of Judah, God sanctifies and ordains the young Jeremiah a prophet to the Southern Kingdom. For 40 years, Jeremiah’s faithfulness to God’s message of judgement on the people of Judah continues, concluding with the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians and the subsequent destruction of the Temple in 587 BC.

God’s messages are rebellion, repentance, righteousness, and restoration. “One of the most important lessons Jeremiah can teach us is that the test of living for God isn’t success; it’s faithfulness.”[1] Jeremiah demonstrates faithfulness to God even in the middle of disrespect and defiance by the people. Idolatry flourishes in Judah, and many feel hopeless; yet the running theme in the Book of Jeremiah is hope, despite all the political and personal chaos.

As we explore this period in Old Testament history, we discover Jeremiah spans the reign of 5 kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. Some have better intentions than others, but mostly their desires to worship false gods fuel the ultimate peril of God’s righteous judgement on the people of Judah. Initially, like Moses and Gideon, Jeremiah feels unprepared, but he becomes a great spiritual leader.

almond blossom in Roatan Honduras/dho
Study

The first chapter of Jeremiah contains a familiar verse: Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. (vs 5) Another similar reference is found in Psalm 139:16: Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. God has a specific plan and purpose for Jeremiah, but Jeremiah feels too young, unable, ill-equipped. In verse 9, Yahweh gives a sign to Jeremiah as He touched my mouth ordaining him with authority to speak over the nations and over the kingdoms.

In verses 7-8, God gives Jeremiah 3 instructions: Go where I send you, speak what I instruct you, and don’t be afraid. God’s promise to Jeremiah follows with for I am with you to deliver you. Despite the difficulties, Jeremiah finds comfort in knowing God is with him.

God gives Jeremiah two visions. First, he sees a “branch of an almond tree.” The almond tree blossoms in January in the Holy Land, the first note of Spring. This signifies the beginning of God’s divine judgement and a message for Jeremiah to remain alert and continue to be a keeper of God’s Word. Second, he sees “a boiling pot” that is “facing north”. This symbolizes God’s disappointment in the people's  failure to remain faithful while their leaders seek power from neighboring kingdoms. God’s words proclaim He is “in control of the nations of the world and can use them to accomplish His own purposes.”[2] The over arching message to the people proclaims God’s Sovereignty.

 Reflection

I have never been given such a grand task as Jeremiah, never been called to take on such a monumental effort; however, I have found myself in the position of choosing to be faithful to God or following the whims of the world. While I have had my share of failures, I keep coming back to God’s promises of love and grace. For many years, I have particularly liked the verse, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” This is powerful for me to consider. Even BEFORE I was conceived, God KNEW me. He had plans and purposes for my life, even before my life existed. Wow!

This reminds me of Jesus' prayer in John Chapter 17 on the night of His crucifixion, when He prays for all the believers to come. To think Jesus prayed for me, centuries before I was born astounds me. God’s infinite power exceeds my mind.

I believe most of us struggle with judgement, righteous or unrighteous. We like to make our own decisions, choose our own paths. Free will allows this, and when we do, we also get to live our personal consequences. The lesson today echoes the conflict that can exist within choice. The biggest truth we frequently overlook is that we cannot see the distant path, we cannot know the future as God sees and knows. Circumstance always brings us to God’s Sovereignty, brings us to confess our limitations, brings us to our knees before the throne of the one True God.

 Application

Chuck Swindoll writes, “The prophecies of Jeremiah offer us a unique insight into the mind and heart of one of God’s faithful servants.” As I examine my own mind and heart, do I find “faithfulness” and a “servant” attitude? Do I recognize the tasks God has planned for me? Am I equipped by God’s promise of “I am with you”? If so, does my living reflect my believing?

Donna Oswalt

** I encourage you to journal your own study notes, reflections, and applications to each lesson.


[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Study Bible

[2] ibid

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

2021 Online Study - Book of Jeremiah

Trying something new! THIS year I am studying the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah, 52 chapters in 52 weeks, AND I am going to post each week a few glimpses and gleanings of what I am learning. I challenge you to read along this year, listen for how God’s ancient words still speak loudly to each of us. Use whatever translations and resources you choose. I pray God will reveal His purposes and promises and provisions... for you!

Be watching this week and every week of 2021, mostly on Thursdays, as I share my thoughts on Jeremiah. I invite you on this study-journey of the Book of Jeremiah. Each week I will give you some insights into the history of the times, share my reflections and help explore ways to apply this knowledge of God.

 The goal of studying the Bible is not just knowledge, rather it is always to develop a closer relationship with God. In-depth study and prayer and listening for God’s truths should lead to ‘experiential knowledge’ or spiritual transformation. To grow spiritually, learning is not enough; we must apply or incorporate our understanding of God into our living.

Join this study! Week 1 - Chapter 1 is coming Thursday January 7, 2021! Journal your thoughts and findings. Let your friends know how to follow. Please share what you are learning!

 Donna Oswalt, a fellow pilgrim on the journey

 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Year’s Hallelujahs!

Despite this year’s difficulties, myriad as they are, God is still worthy of our praise! Spend some time finding the good in 2020, the unexpected revenue of 2020 (and I am not talking about money!). Seek the fragrance of Christ in this year; pause when you remember grace, the purpose of His suffering. Instead of only sitting beside the hardships and sacrifices, the losses and isolation, stand up and look around at all the giving hands and serving hearts, recall the gestures of goodness and light that people have been sharing with each other. So much good has happened! Remember the renewed value of time spent together. Remember the random acts of kindness and repeated gifts of generosity. Remember Immanuel, God with us! All good gifts come from God, and His Presence remains with us. Read Psalm 111 (The Message) and name your own 2020 ‘hallelujahs’! What a great way to celebrate the beginning of a NEW YEAR! His Hallelujah lasts forever! dho 

                                                                                                               

Hallelujah!

I give thanks to GOD with everything I've got—

Wherever good people gather, and in the congregation.

GOD's works are so great, worth

A lifetime of study—endless enjoyment!

Splendor and beauty mark his craft;

His generosity never gives out.

His miracles are his memorial—

This GOD of Grace, this GOD of Love.

He gave food to those who fear him,

He remembered to keep his ancient promise.

He proved to his people that he could do what he said:

Hand them the nations on a platter—a gift!

He manufactures truth and justice;

All his products are guaranteed to last—

Never out-of-date, never obsolete, rust-proof.

All that he makes and does is honest and true:

He paid the ransom for his people,

He ordered his Covenant kept forever.

He's so personal and holy, worthy of our respect.

The good life begins in the fear of GOD—

Do that and you'll know the blessing of GOD.

His Hallelujah lasts forever! 

- Psalm 111/The Message

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Greetings 2020

Merry Christmas 2020...



Traditions can change over time, replaced or revised for another time, a new beginning. While it’s often hard to let go of our cherished customs, we must not stop having traditions. These special moments build foundations for our future generations. Even if their celebrations look different, they will remember packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, seeing the outside lights flooding the trees, smelling fresh cut Frasier Fir Christmas trees, eating decorated cookies and marinated shrimp, loving Christmas Eve Open House after church, and feeling Christmas morning joy. Over time, we may gather in different places, coming and going as life demands, but we will always unwrap laugher, treasure time together, and celebrate Christ! A Hallmark quote from the Christmas season echoes, “Traditions are the stories that families write together.” We must keep writing those stories because they will remember the joy! - dho

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Fourth Sunday of Advent - Holy Light! Perfect Love!

the 4th Sunday of Advent leads us into Christmas...

“…and they hall call his name Immanuel,” which means 

GOD WITH US!  Matthew 1:23



FrederickBuechner, American writer and theologian writes, “…Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning…” The Season of Light captures our attention with its hurried and increased activities. Choirs and candles, decorations and details capture us. Words and wonder fill us to nearly overflowing. The Virgin Mary with Joseph traveling to Bethlehem, angels singing to shepherds, a star and Magi, all coming to celebrate this newborn baby called Immanuel. Advent candles retell the familiar story with hope and peace and joy and love. Buechner continues, “The birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it.



Christmas reminds us of new beginnings. We sing Christ the Savior is born but must remember that Christ is also the Redeemer, bringing salvation to a dying world, establishing a new relationship with us. Immanuel, GOD WITH US, is still with us and holds us with grace and goodness. Jesus came that we might be His Light to others, to help the lost and have compassion on the broken, to feed the hungry and hold the hurting, to tell the Good News of His Grace, to forgive, to listen, to love. We must continue to live a new way after the Christmas celebrations end and the decorations are put away, long after we forget about sheep and shepherds. As we find our old routines, let the greatest Christmas Gift, Jesus, renew our journeys. Let’s find the new beginning and new ways of living for Christ in the coming year! ~ dho 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Third Sunday of Advent - Shepherds See the Glory

"Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night... and the glory of The Lord shone around them... For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ The Lord... You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger..." Luke 2:8-20




The shekinah Glory of God fills the house of The Lord (1Kings 8:11) when the Ark of the Covenant is placed into the Holy of Holies in the temple Solomon built. Centuries later high above a Bethlehem field the Glory of The Lord again appears breaking the silence of the night, revealing to shepherds where to find Christ the Lord! This stands in stark contrast between appearing to the priests in the Temple in the Most Holy Place and common shepherds in an open field. Considered the least in society, shepherds, believed to be unclean, could not even worship in the Temple; yet, God chooses these with simple faith to go and find the baby Jesus. The least, the simple, the willing shepherds.

Some scholars suggest that sheep to be used for sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem were frequently kept in the fields around Bethlehem, and that perhaps the very shepherds the angel appeared to were keeping watch over these sheep. While the shepherds could not even be witnesses in legal situations, perhaps it is irony that they become the first people to bear witness and testify to the birth of Jesus. The New Testament uses the Greek word poimen for 'shepherd' meaning a person who tends to a flock. According to Mounce's Expository Dictionary, the most frequent use of poimen refers to Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. These shepherds who society deems some of its most unworthy receive the first invitation to see the Lamb of God. The unclean, the unworthy, the invited shepherds.

This Advent season reconsider these God-chosen ones. In the Christmas Story, shepherds of simple faith and willing to respond are key figures, but society calls them unworthy and unreliable. The shepherds came with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when [the shepherds] had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. Do we see others through God's eyes or accept society's view? Are we willing to recognize Jesus in the least, the simple, the broken? Aren't we ALL unclean, sinners who are unworthy? Yet, God chooses each of us ~ rich or poor, scholar or laborer, old or young, thriving or hopeless, struggling or defeated! God invites each of us to come and meet Christ The Lord ~Perfect Love, Lamb of God, Amazing Grace!  ~dho

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Second Sunday of Advent - Preparing the Way

 Ad-venta time of waiting; marked by a spirit of anticipation; an arrival of a notable person; appearance



"See, I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple, the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty." Malachi 3:1 NIV

Some say the four candles we light at Advent symbolize the 400 years between the prophecy of Malachi and the proclamation of John the Baptist. During those 400 years, God is silent. Historians record the lives of the people during Persian, Greek and Roman rulers, each group conquering the next. Cyrus of Persia meets defeat, and Alexander the Great claims victory. When Jerusalem comes under Greek control, idol worship desecrates the temple.
During these years the Jews participate in the Maccabean revolt which re-establishes the Jewish temple. It is cleansed and rededicated (Hanukkah celebrates this victory)Ultimately the Romans defeat the Greeks, and by the time John the Baptist spreads the message about Jesus, Herod the Great rules the Roman Empire. Four hundred years of waiting! 

These 400 years mark the completion of the Old Testament writings
 giving the Jews an authoritative canon, comprising the Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom writings. The Greeks compile the Scriptures of the Old Testament and translate them into Greek calling it the Septuagint. Other writings scholars acknowledge from this period include the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha, writings of Philo and Josephus, early rabbinical writings, and religious literature known as the Qumran. The Old Testament we know today includes the 39 canonical books that the Jews accepted during this time. Four hundred years of writing! 

"It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

"I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way - a voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, and make straight paths for him.'" 
And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him...And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
Mark 1:2-8

In Luke 4:14-21 we can read the account of Jesus going to the synagogue, standing to read from the scroll given Him. "Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is one Me because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  Everyone watches Jesus as He returns to sit. Jesus looks at them and says, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Four hundred years of silence broken!

The Old Testament tells of obedient prophets who share the messages God reveals, but all pass from life without the appearance of the 'Wonderful Counselor'. A faithful remnant living in a world more impressed with power and possessions and waiting for the 'Everlasting Father' to end their struggles pass their hope from generation to generation to generation. Desperate and defeated people longing for the one called 'Mighty God' anticipate His coming. Then the 'Prince of Peace' walks into the synagogue and announces God's promise is fulfilled, but nobody recognizes Him. 

This week contemplate God's promise of the Messiah. Think of the years of faithful waiting. Imagine yourself in the synagogue that day, listening to Jesus read the Holy Scriptures from ancient times. Are you listening? Do you recognize Jesus? Do you hear Him calling? God is calling to you, preparing you for His purposes. Listen! ~ dho