Thursday, June 10, 2021

His Holy Words

Week 23 – Book of Jeremiah 

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 23 


Background
 

False prophets, sometimes called false teachers, tell lies and partial truths, and they offer false assurance. In our lesson this week, Jeremiah gives God’s message to the prophets, the priests, and the people who believe them. These people are in opposition to God’s true prophets, such as Jeremiah. Jeremiah exposes the false prophets and their message which “is rooted in a historical backdrop of moral compromise.”[1] 

Historically, this is a time of military defeat and political corruption. The religious leaders are teaching and living a lifestyle that does not represent the One True God. The Northern Kingdom falls to the Assyrian army which then loses its power as the Babylonians army rises to become the new military power. The spiritual revival Judah sees with king Josiah fades as Egypt and Babylon battle. All this time, false prophets tell the people what they want to hear, that all will be fine, and Judah cannot fall. Just ignore Jeremiah.

Interesting, the Old Testament provides guidance for the people to help them identify a true prophet. The references are Deuteronomy 18:15-22, 13:1-9. Here are the “5 tests for a true prophet: 1) must be an Israelite (Dt. 18:18), 2) speak in the name of Yahweh (Dt. 18:20), 3) predict the near as well as the distant future (Dt. 18:21-22), 4) perform signs and wonders with the prophecy (Dt. 13:1-3), 5) has to conform to the previously revealed word of Yahweh (Dt. 13:6-9).[2] The false leaders do not hold to these standards.

“The sins of these false prophets are a special abomination in God’s sight.”[3] Their self-serving teachings either indicate a lack of knowledge of God or simple a choice to ignore the truth. Their messages of peace and hope are without merit. “These prophets do not serve the truth, and they do not serve Yahweh.”[4] The integrity of the true prophets is undermined by these who bring an untrue message.

Study

Jeremiah starts this chapter with “woe” which is a word to suggest calamity, and he addresses the “shepherds” who are destroying “the sheep of My pasture”. The leaders are addressed in Chapter 23, leaders who being held accountable and will be punished by God leading the people astray. The prophets and priests are confronted. The first ‘Behold’ of this chapter comes before the end of verse 2. This interjection means look and look now! What are we to see? God is promising that in time He will “gather the remnant of My flock our of all countries where I have driven them” and return them to Jerusalem. He will appoint new leaders, faithful, godly leaders, such as Zerubbabel, Joshua the High Priest, Ezra, and Nehemiah. This is hope. God’s message reveals His plan to bring them back, build them into a nation. This is a promise of transformation.

Again, we have ‘Behold’ (v 5), and this is even more important. We see a promise when God will “raise to David a Branch of Righteousness”. This ‘branch’ is a term for Messiah. What will this Messiah do? He will ‘execute judgment and righteousness”, and “Judah will be saved”. The people now have another promise that Israel will dwell in safety. Who is this leader? “He will be called The LORD Our Righteousness.” This is a picture of restoration. 

“Yahweh our Righteousness” and the “Righteous Branch” refer to Jesus Christ. “No matter how dark the day may be, God sends the light of hope through His promise.”[5] This is a foretelling of the Promised Messiah. In verses 5-8, “the days are coming” is part of the messianic prophecy, an encouragement to the godly remnant of Judah. This hope sustains them. The remnant comes from “all countries, all the displacement that occurs between the conquering of the Northern Kingdom (931 BC) and Southern Kingdom (586 BC), a group to come back together as one people. “Remnant is used 19 times in Jeremiah. A remnant did return to Judah after captivity, rebuild the temple, and restore national life.”[6] This name Jehovah Tsidkenu, the LORD our Righteousness, is an “exalted name only applied to Jesus Christ.”[7]

The message to the false prophets (false leaders) continues, and Jeremiah is troubled and disappointed with the religious leaders. “My heart within me is broken.” He grieves the sins that God reveals. True prophets have taken vows and have responsibilities to their calling, but the false prophets live just like the sinners. There is a comparison to the prophets of Samaria, who participate in pagan worship; however, the prophets of Judah are worse because they pretend to worship God but tell lies, claim to speak for God. God says He did not call them. They speak their on version of truth from their own hearts. “Their lives and teaching lessons are no moral guide by which to live or act.”[8] 

God’s righteous anger promises destruction. The false leaders give false messages of false assurance. God has not given them any authority to speak for Him. In verse 24 we see God’s holiness, His omnipresence and omniscience, His being all places and knowing all things. These false prophets teach popular theology, say what the people want to hear. Finding their own inspiration, the messages are misleading and weak, full of false dreams. It is clear, God is against these false prophets (v 31). 

The ending comes with questions and the word “oracles” is used. The better translation of this is, “What is the burden of the LORD?” Clearly, the messages and lifestyles of these false prophets and priests and people who follow is the burden of the LORD. “You have perverted the words of the living God.”(v 36) God says, “I will cast you our of My presence.”(v39) This is the beginning of a spiritual restoration.

Reflection

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you shall know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. 1 John 4:1-3 ESV

Scofield’s commentary on this Scripture suggests two marks of false teachers: “(a) Erroneous doctrine concerning Christ’s Person and (b) Erroneous attitude toward the world."[9] To assume that everything we hear or read about God is “true” can open our hearts and minds to false teaching. Those who have a world viewpoint use this as their reference and may have many followers. Some who speak the name of Jesus can lead others down the wrong path. Scripture tells us to discern the Spirit of Truth from a spirit of untruth by comparing the truths of God’s Word against the words we hear. The world will tell you there are “no absolute truths” and unfortunately, you can even hear that in some churches. "What's true for you is true!" is not compatible with the Word of God. 

What absolute truths do Christians believe? One truth is found in 1 John 4:7-21. God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God but that He loves us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . We love because He first loved us. Christ’s deity is an absolute truth, just as His humanity, miracles of healing, ministry of love and forgiveness, experiences of betrayal, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. Listen carefully to the rhetoric of others; read prayerfully the words in books. Study and know God’s Word. Listen for the Spirit of Truth. 

Application 

Robert Laha says about this conflict between the false prophets and their messages and God’s messages of truth: This conflicted raise one of the most perplexing problems of any age: How do we distinguish what is of God’s mind and what is simply the wishes or our own minds.[10]

  •          What do you do to help you distinguish between God’s purpose and plan and your own personal desires? 

Warren Wiersbe says this: Whenever a nation needs healing, it’s usually because God’s people aren’t obeying and serving Him as they should. We like to blame dishonest politicians and various purveyors of pleasure for a nation’s decline in morality, but God blames His own people.[11]

  •    How do you think our nation is doing? Are we each willing to take individual ownership for the healing of America?

Donna Oswalt

 

 



[1] False Prophets in Jeremiah, The Message of the False Prophets in Jeremiah; Jones, Matt

[2] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah; Kaiser, Walter C, p283

[3] Interpretation Bible Studies, Jeremiah, Laha, Robert, p60

[4] Ibid, p 61

[5] Wiersbe Study Bible, Jeremiah Chapter 23

[6] Be Decisive, Jeremiah; Wiersbe, Warren, p 105

[7] Ibid

[8] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah; Kaiser, Walter C, p283

[9] Scofield Study Bible notes on false teachers

[10] Interpretation Bible Studies, Jeremiah; Laha, Robert, p61

[11] Be Decisive, Jeremiah; Wiersbe, Warren; p106

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Hear the Word of the LORD

Week 22 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 22


Background

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles. Daniel 1:1-3

This account in Daniel marks the Biblical timeline about 605BC, when Nebuchadnezzar attacks Jerusalem and takes King Jehoiakim and other Jewish captives to Babylon. This earlier deportation of Jewish captives includes Daniel. Some one hundred-fifty years before, the prophesy of Isaiah (39:7) indicates some of Hezekiah’s descendants will be taken to Babylon and become palace officials. Now this prophecy is fulfilled.

King Jehoiakim, the Judean king from 609-598 BC, is the second son of Josiah and a self-absorbed, tyrannical king. His mother’s name is Zebidah, and she names her son Eliakim, but Pharaoh Necho of Egypt changes it to Jehoiakim. Reigning for 11 years, Jehoiakim becomes king at 25 years old and is the 18th king of Judah. Known for overtaxing the people of Judah for Egypt’s benefit, he is an evil king.

In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar takes Jehoiakim prisoner, bound in bronze chains (2 Chronicles 36:5-8), but allows him to return to Jerusalem’s throne, making him a vassal king, Nebuchadnezzar’s own servant-king. Three yeas later Jehoiakim rebels (2 Kings 24:1-2), but God sends many soldiers from various armies to fight against Judah and destroy it as had been the prophecy. For 11 years Jehoiakim reigns, then dies a violent death when his body “having been thrown over the wall of Jerusalem,… is buried beyond the gates of Jerusalem.”[1] Jeremiah’s prophecy of Jehoiakim is fulfilled. 

Study 

This week in Chapter 22:18-19, we see Jehoiakim’s rejection of Yahweh. In a later chapter, we will see Jehoiakim’s arrogant act of cutting up and the burning of Jeremiah’s first draft of his prophecies. The self-indulgent behaviors and sins of Judah continue to be rejected by God, and a specific message to the royal families and their servants comes in Chapter 22. All the last four kings are mentioned in this passage, “Zedekiah (22: 1-9), Jehoahaz (Shallum)(22:10-12), Jehoiakim (Eliakim)(22:13-19), and Jehoiachin (Coniah) (22:24-20).”[2]

“Go down to the house of the king” may indicate Jehoiakim’s summer palace. Ramat Rahel is between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, a signal point two miles south of Jerusalem, an old Israelite citadel during the late 7th Century BC. And the message? “Execute judgment and righteousness”. The familiar and repeated message, foundational to the covenant, is to do justice and righteousness, deliver the oppressed, do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow. Do not shed innocent blood. Again, like many other times, it is simply ignored.

It is believed this summer palace demonstrates the excessive materialism and egocentric desires of Jehoiakim. The comparison to Gilead and Lebanon refer to the materials used to build the palace, as both are areas renowned for their cedar forests. He likely uses the people as cheap labor all the while they lack basic necessities. Jehoiakim does what he pleases and gets what he wants. God says, “And many nations will pass by this city; and everyone will say to his neighbor, ‘Why has the LORD done so to this great city?’” The reply echoes again, because the people have broken their covenant with the LORD and worshipped idols. 

Look back at Deuteronomy 29:24 and find the exact same words and warning to the same group of people in the days of Moses. To break the covenant by worshiping idols denies the sovereignty of God. The message to not weep for the dead references Jehoahaz or Shallum, the 18-year-old son of Josiah who had been carried to Egypt in 609 BC after 3 months as king. 

In vs 13, we see a warning, suggesting the building of one’s house with unrighteousness and injustice. It seems Jehoiakim is more interested in building this palace, perhaps the summer palace, than the crisis Judah is facing. There are references to the windows and cedar paneling. In the early 1960’s, archaeologists find, “the ruins of Beth Hakkerem”[3] or Ramat Rahel (Jeremiah 6:1), the signal point two miles south of Jerusalem. The discoveries include “columns with traces of red paint that formed the banister and railing of a window. Larger capitals were found with recesses at the top for ceiling beams, which were typically made of cedar wood. These finds remarkably match the description of Jehoiakim’s palace in Jeremiah 22:13–15; indeed, Ramat Rahel may have served as the king’s summer palace (Jeremiah 36:22).”[4] 

Jehoiakim, like many modern day politicians, profits from the poor while ignoring their cries. His ultimate punishment will be no laments, rather the “burial of a donkey” (vs 18). This essential means no real burial ceremony at all. In ancient times, “a proper burial was critically important, since to remain unburied was considered a dreadful fate.”[5] This prophecy is fulfilled in Jeremiah 36:30. Prophecy continues to tell us that from the mountains to both the north and south the end is coming. This prophecy of captivity (v 22) is fulfilled in 597 BC with the 1st group taken into captivity.     

Coniah, son of Jehoiakim and known as Jehoiachin, also has prophecies spoken about him. The image of a “signet ring” signifies a type of seal that is used to authenticate or authorize. God is removing him from having any authority. Coniah is exiled with his mother, Nehushta, and remains in prison as long as Nebuchadnezzar reigns (598-562 BC). While he is called childless, this means that he will have no son, no descendants will sit on the throne of Judah. In fact, Coniah actually has seven sons (1 Chronicles 3:17-18). We find Jehoiachin mentioned in Matthew 1:12 in the ancestry of Jesus. His grandson, Zerubbabel, becomes the governor of Judah (Haggai 1:1, 2:1-9), but not a king. Zerubbabel will return to Jerusalem with Joshua the High Priest and a remnant of people and direct the rebuilding of the temple. 

Zedekiah is not the son of Coniah, rather he is a son of Josiah. He succeeds Coniah, when Nebuchadnezzar names him king. These are the last kings of Judah, the last king in the Davidic lineage until Jesus Christ.

Reflection 

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24

In ancient times, even when the nation of Israel is nearly 1,500 years old, the people struggle to keep their covenant with God. Idolatry and false prophets and self-indulgent leaders challenge the One True God and His chosen prophets. These are difficult times. The message from God comes over and over, repeatedly warning of destruction and doom which can be avoided with true repentance. Good kings, even great kings will come and go, some bringing spiritual awakening and revival, pointing the people back to God. Wisdom will reign then fall, goodness will strive then end. The people desperately need hope and redemption, but their unrepentant hearts fall short. 

Looking at the first-century church, the underlying tensions and quiet rebellion within Jerusalem and the inner circles of Jewish leadership compete with Rome’s political agenda. Factions among Christian believers clash with Jewish tradition. These are difficult times. Their only hope rests in the resurrection of Christ, in the spreading of the Good News. HOPE lives in the presence of God. 

Today, we live in a world that craves immediate gratification and power that breeds arrogance, pride, and self-sufficiency. We experience conflict and contradiction on all sides. These are difficult times. So, after all these centuries, what hope do we have? Jesus, through all generations, throughout all time, You are still the only HOPE! Grace pours over me and refreshes my soul in the chaos of this world. For now, Jesus, You live in the presence of God and speak my prayers before Him. Count me alive in Christ. Holy Spirit, live in me.

Application

  •      When the leaders get it wrong, where can you still find goodness and justice? How do you live this?
  •     The world, as a whole, functions a lot like these self-important, self-focused kings of Judah. People are secondary, fairness falters, innocent people lose. What are some ways Christians can make a difference, turn the table, be the hands and feet and voice of Jesus to others that cross our paths? And when you and I have complied our answers… will we?

Donna Oswalt

 

 



[1] Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Jehoiakim

[2] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah,  Kaiser, Walter C, p 267

[3] Archaeological Study Bible, Ramat Rahel

[4] Ibid

[5] Archaeological Study Bible, Jeremiah notes

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Sword, Famine, and Pestilence


Week 21 – Book of Jeremiah 

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 21; 2 Kings 24 



Background

What is culture? Various dictionaries define culture as the customs, social institutions, arts, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or social group. We recognize culture as “a way of life” or more simply the way a group of people do things. Culture represents belief systems and social practices of a group while society is the people who share these common beliefs and customs. Economic and political factors can influence both culture and society. Culture and society exist together. 

“Culture is the combined characteristics and knowledge of a group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music, and arts.”[1] Jeremiah begins his ministry during the thirteenth year of King Josiah’s reign. The spiritual and ethical revival of Josiah changes the outward and emotional tone for the culture, but after Josiah, the undertones of truth remove their masks. There is an open shift back to idol worship and false assurance from political and religious leaders. The increase in cults of Canaan and a zealous disrespect for God dominate the culture, even attempt to normalize these dark practices. These swings in political and religious leadership strongly influence both culture and society. 

As a small land, Judah remains conflicted in her allegiance to either Egypt or Babylon. The powerful Assyrian Empire, who captured the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC, falls to the Babylonians, just over a hundred years later. As Jeremiah’s ministry continues, kings come and go while an era of materialism and economic prosperity and social injustice dominates the culture of Judah. Archaeologists find indications of a significant educational infrastructure in Judah. By the 7th Century, Jerusalem’s population grows, as does its valuable olive oil industry, but becomes a vassal state of Assyria. When Assyria falls, both Egypt and Babylon desire control of Judah, which ultimately leads to the military destruction of Judah.

Commerce and education are significant components in Judah’s cultural heritage, while political and religious leadership frequently intersect. In ancient history, Israel begins as a group of people designated by God as His chosen people. With specific religious beliefs and rituals that define its culture, the Hebrew people evolve and grow. Ultimately, Israel is divided into twelve tribes. Now, only the last tribe, Judah, remains, and its customs and belief systems barely resemble the culture of Abraham, their faithfulness to the One True God fails. 

Study

It is good to note that this chapter is an example of chronological differences and incongruities of a timeline in the book of Jeremiah, some back and forth historical recording of events outside of chronological order. “One possible explanation of the time-leaps here is the fact that Jeremiah made many additions to his writings when he replaced the scroll destroyed by King Jehoiakim (36:32).[2] Apparently, much of Jeremiah’s messages are “arranged by subject rather than by chronology.”[3] Jeremiah 21-23 are designated as prophecies against Judah.

Many Jeremiah’s messages are to special people. In Chapter 21, we see this message is to the leaders of Judah: to King Zedekiah and Pashhur “one of the court officers”[4] and Zephaniah, a priest. Some scholars believe this event recorded in Chapter 21 probably takes “place in the year 588 BC when the Babylonian army camped around the walls of Jerusalem.”[5] Zedekiah is a weak king who rebels against the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and now finds the situation desperate. He desires Jeremiah put in a good word for him, to “inquire of the LORD for us” in hopes Nebuchadnezzar would leave them alone.

God says no! The Chaldean (Babylonian) army will come – even into the middle of the city, and Yahweh will allow all of this. “Judah’s military would be ineffective against the Babylonian Army.”[6] How will this happen? Destruction will come by pestilence, by sword, and by famine. According to the original Hebrew, this can also read, by pandemic, by war, by starvation. 

The terms of the covenant previously agreed upon by God and the Hebrew people never change. Their disobedience would bring His judgment. In verses 8-10 describe the way of life or the way of death. Read Deuteronomy 30:15-20 for the terms of the covenant. Choose life or choose death. To go into exile would be to choose life, to go without outward symbols and depend only on God and His promises. In verse 9 Jeremiah recommends surrender, but this singles him out as a traitor. This incident is also recorded in Jeremiah 38:1-6 and ends with Jeremiah being arrested. Choose life is the message!

The last message addresses the House of David (vs 11-14). “David and his dynasty are mentioned only in this verse in Jeremiah; ‘house of David’ appears only eight other times in all the prophets. Jeremiah is calling those in this royal line to follow example”[7] in doing what is right. In The Message verse 11 gives instruction for the House of David or the King of Judah and reads, Execute judgment in the morning, and deliver him who is plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. “Within Israelite traditions, one of the main duties of the King was to ensure that justice was practiced throughout the land.”[8] Clearly, the King Zedekiah fails.


Reflection 

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your current culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1-2 The Message

The old hymn, Jesus Is All the World to Me, begins, Jesus is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all; each verse ends with He's my friend. The words of this hymn reinforce the theology of living a Jesus-Centered life. In times of sadness, trials, and blessings, at beginnings and endings, and into eternity, Jesus provides everything we need. This divine promise for us hinges on whether we make Jesus the center of our world or not. The world stands full of contradictions and excuses luring us away from an intimate relationship with Jesus.

To become a 
living and holy sacrifice, an offering to God, one must accept the cost of obedience. The world's prince, Satan, never reveals the price of disobedience; rather, he charms the mind with unattainable more, teases the heart with fading hope, and leaves the soul with elusive satisfaction. To conform to culture's expectations only fuels futility, but through the Holy Spirit comes a spiritual transformation that is the foundation of discipleship. A Jesus-Centered life merges righteousness and holiness combining spiritual worship and holy living.

God's Grace opens the door to having a Jesus-Centered life. Our response comes next. Peterson's 
The Message describes how to take our everyday, ordinary life and embrace God! To recognize God in a culture that proudly denies Him, to give generously within a culture that takes selfishly, to hold faithfully to God's promises in a culture that persecutes His truth, to value life surrounded by a culture that marginalizes weakness, to love others more boldly than culture hates God - THIS is to be transformed by Jesus. When one truly embraces God, every aspect of living should reflect Christ's Light into the world. Then the soul can sing, "Jesus is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all. . . Eternal life! Eternal joy! He's my friend!"  

Application

  • How does historical context in Biblical writings help you better understand the message?

  • Blackaby writes: “Daily, God invites us to follow His path of righteousness. We are free to choose our way, but God makes it clear that the choice is between life or death.” Free will or God allowing us the freedom to choose brings responsibilities and consequences. Do you Choose Life? 

Donna Oswalt



[1] https://www.live science.com/21478-what-is-culture-definition-of-culture.html

[2] Jeremiah Classic Commentaries; Kidner, Derek, pg 83-84

[3] Ibid

[4] Wiersbe Study Bible commentary Jeremiah Chapter 21

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah; Kaiser, Walter C., p261

[8] Reading the Old Testament Commentary Series, notes on Jeremiah Chapter 21

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Terror on Every Side



Week 20 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 20; Lamentations 3 

Background

In this week’s lesson, Jeremiah is suffering and despondent over all that is happening to him. Some scholars call a feeling like this a “dark night of the soul.” In this emotional time of deep sorrow of his soul, Jeremiah goes to Yahweh.

A dark night of the soul is when what you believe life to mean or be collapses around you. This overwhelming and deep sense of despair or meaninglessness is usually caused by an external event or disaster which triggers these emotions. Examples are death, divorce, diagnosis, or disaster. Beyond falling to your knees, it is more of a curled-up-on-the-closet-floor with great sorrow kind of time.

Described by spiritual leaders and writers and poets over the centuries, the phrase, dark night of the soul, is believed to originate with John of the Cross (1547-1597), a priest, scholar, spiritual director, and poet from Spain. It can describe a spiritual crisis or a time when things just do not make sense. Usually temporary, it can last for a period of time. Internal feelings of emptiness and doubt compete with experiential knowledge of trust and faith, an intersection where sorrow and truth meet. Only by integrating these two, the overwhelming grief and trusting God’s unchanging character, only in the merging of emotion and intellect can the soul move through the crisis.

The other side of the dark night of the soul often reveals a new and deeper understanding or sense of purpose. A spiritual awakening or reset can be transformative. New insights and greater intimacy with God frequently emerge. Perhaps the the hardest part is holding on to the truths of God, His true character, while riding out the dark times.

Lamentations, the Old Testament book authored by Jeremiah, says this in its opening verse of Chapter 3,”I am the man who has seen affliction.” In verses 17-18 Jeremiah writes, “You have moved my soul far from peace…My strength and my hope have perished from the LORD.” Jeremiah is speaking of his experiences with suffering. While these verses may sound hopeless, simply read on a few verses. In remembering his afflictions, Jeremiah also remembers God’s goodness and finds renewed hope. A few verses later he writes, “Surely my soul remembers… therefore I have hope.” (20-21) In some of the most quoted and familiar verses from Lamentations Jeremiah reminds, “The LORD’s mercies never cease; for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.” (22-23) 

“In remembering His God, the prophet gains a clearer and more complete understanding of God’s sovereign purposes for the suffering of His people.”[1] Like many servants of God in the Old Testament and countless others throughout the ages, suffering can lead to greater intimacy with God. God’s sovereign purposes will always remain. Great is His faithfulness! 

Study 

Most believe that this takes place during the time of Jehoiakim. At the end of Chapter 19, Jeremiah again shares the message at the Temple, and this makes the elders and Temple leaders angry. Pashhur is the “chief officer” which is more like the “head of security detail for the large complex.”[2] In verse 2, he has Jeremiah beaten and put into stocks at the Benjamin gate near the Temple. Stocks are a confinement device of the feet, neck and hands that fastens a person in a stooped position. This Upper Gate of Benjamin is likely the same as the north gate of the inner court as opposed to “the Benjamin Gate” in the city wall. (Jeremiah 37:13;38:7) Both gates face north toward Benjamin territory.

Jeremiah is released the next day and calls Pashhur “Magor Missabib” which means “terror on every side”. The King of Babylon is coming, and Judah will be given over to him as they become exiles. Along with captivity, their wealth and treasures will fall to the enemy also. In verse 6, Pashhur is told that he will be taken into captivity and die there. He is identified as one of the false prophets. Likely Pashhur will go “into exile in 597 BC”.[3] “Destruction comes in three waves of invasion by Babylon, the first 605 BC, then 597 BC when Pashhur and King Jehoiachin are captured, and 586 BC the final defeat.”[4] 

Jeremiah 20:7-18 is the sixth lament of the prophet. Jeremiah shares his despair and praise to God, shares his burdened heart. Having demonstrated his obedience in giving God’s message, in return, the response is persecution. When Jeremiah writes that he feels “deceived” this a “sense of being overcome or prevailed on to do something for the Lord.”[5] People mock him and make fun of him; yet he continues to speak God’s message of “violence” and “destruction”. For this he is taunted and scorned, shamed and disrespected. 

“Jeremiah is the only prophet to compare the word of God to ‘fire’” (5:14; 23:29)[6] I am reminded of the two followers of Jesus after the crucifixion, returning home on the road to Emmaus and how they felt a burning within when Jesus teaches them. The presence of God is powerful. Jeremiah feels this is a spiritual fire inside, and while it motivates him, Jeremiah is weary. He tires of the rejection. 

In this lament, in verse 11, Jeremiah is reassured as “the LORD is with me like a ruthless (dread) champion (hero).” Jeremiah recognizes God’s protection and righteous justice. We begin to see some self-loathing, feelings of insecurity, feelings of failures and weaknesses, honest feelings of his heart as he lays it out before God. This is called by some commentaries as Jeremiah’s “dark night of the soul”, a time of spiritual darkness yet an awareness of the unchanging character of God. 

Finally, the question of “why is God allowing these things to happen to me?” “His own despair is so all-consuming that all he can think about now is some quick way out of this mess.”[7] We must always remember there is a bigger picture – God’s Picture – which begins and extends beyond our comprehension. Like others, like Jeremiah, “we, in our depressed states, need to have a  whole new vision of the greatness, magnificence, and awesomeness of our God.”[8] 

Reflection

Because of the LORD’s great love, we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. Lamentations  3:22-23 NIV 

Various Bible translations use great love, lovingkindness, steadfast love, mercies, faithful love to describe the way God loves, the character of His love, and the depth of His love. Even as Israel suffers for her unrepentant disobedience to God, as she nears captivity in Babylon, as Jerusalem waits for complete destruction, God’s covenant love for His people remains. God’s never-ending mercy constantly seeks restoration. I will hope in Him! 

Words struggle to adequately explain deep grief or spiritual emptiness or deliberate rebellion or profound remorse. God’s unmeasured grace finds us wordless, defenseless, guilty and starving.  With compassion, God understands the wordless sighs, the heart’s intentions, the soul’s great needs. Even though we stumble or fail, sway or faint, God’s faithfulness will always endure. 

“Even though at times Jeremiah felt an acute loneliness, he nevertheless experienced God standing by his side as a great champion.”[9] Jesus teaches that we will have trials and troubles, but He will be with us. Adonai, my great LORD, hear my whispers of regret, my sighs of anguish, my confessions of sin. Replace my emptiness with Your goodness; let my story tell of Your mercy-full forgiveness. Great is Your faithfulness, overflowing with truth and compassion and never-ending grace.   

Application

  • Betrayal stings! Jeremiah feels betrayed by his friends. When have you felt the sting of betrayal and rejection?
  • Do you tell God how you feel, pour your heart out at His altar? Will you trust in God’s infinite love and never-ending mercies even in the hard places? 

Donna Oswalt

 



[1] English Standard Version Literary Study Bible notes on Lamentations Chapter 3

[2] Archaeological Study Bible notes Jeremiah Chapter 20

[3] Ibid

[4] Chronological Life Application Study Bible notes

[5] Complete Word Study Bible Dictionary

[6] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah, Kaiser, Walter C, p 251

[7] Ibid, p 254

[8] Ibid, p 255

[9] Shepherd’s Notes, Jeremiah and Lamentations

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Broken

Week 19 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 19; 2 Kings 21:10-15 

Background

“Each generation comes up with its own ways to offend God.”[1] The Book of Jeremiah records the purpose of the prophet Jeremiah’s ministry which is to bring God’s message to Judah regarding her apostasy. So, what is apostasy?  it means “turning away”. “In a religious sense, apostasy indicates a turning from the truth.”[2] The word or concept is used more frequently in the Old Testament, meaning waywardness, backsliding, or faithlessness.

This rebellion or abandoning of belief in God is repeatedly told in the Old Testament. Much of the narratives in the OT books Judges, Samuel, and Kings document Israel’s falling away from God. The root cause, according to our study of Jeremiah, is an unrepentant heart.  Blackaby points out the recurrence often comes from “building on the sins of past generations.”[3] Certainly this pattern reveals itself over and over in the OT. 

Hosea, prophet to the Northern Kingdom/Israel from 753-715 BC, declares God’s message, “I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely.” (Hosea 14:4) This messages comes to the Northern Kingdom prior to 722 BC when Assyria conquers Israel. Blackaby says, “Receiving God’s word is our choice, but living in the consequences is not.”

“We must remember that God cares for us continually… when our shortcomings and our awareness of our sins overcome us, God’s love knows no bounds.”[4] In Hosea, this is Israel’s hope. In Jeremiah, this is Judah’s hope. Today, this is our hope. True repentance remains the road to reconciliation.  

Study 

Heading back to the potter, Jeremiah is told to go get a clay pot, then take it and a group of elders of the city and the temple to the Valley of Ben-Hinnom. These elders would be Jewish religious priests and leaders, as well as, civic leaders, likely political allies of the king. The mentioning of the ‘potsherd gate’ is where the broken pottery is thrown out. The gate overlooks the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, Jerusalem’s garbage dump. In verse 3, Jeremiah begins to share God’s message, “Behold I am about to bring a calamity upon this place.” Jeremiah must know that this will not be well received, delivering the message requires strength and courage from Jeremiah. These folks are tired of him.

Despite this same message being given during the reign of King Manasseh over 50 years prior, the people continue to ignore the consequences. Again, the same reasons echo - idol worship, sacrifices to false gods, turning from the One True God. Another name for Tophet or the Valley of Ben-Hinnom is the Valley of Slaughter, as this is where child sacrifices had been performed.

Consequences hit close to home with “I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place.” An image of fallen leaders is followed with the desolation of Jerusalem after disaster. (Vs 7-8) To better illustrate this, Jeremiah smashes the clay jar into pieces. This image is God’s message of how He will break the people and the city. In Proverbs 6:15 the image is given of a “calamity that will result in being broken beyond healing.” Isaiah 30:14 give the same example of “smashing a potter’s jar” into so many pieces, no fragment is useful.

Historically there exists many references for shattering pottery as ritual. For example, before going tin to battle, military leaders in the Near East perform this ceremonial act of smashing a piece of pottery as a  “symbolic [act] of their total defeat of their enemy.”[5] Another example is, “Egyptians of the Twelfth Dynasty (1963-1786 BC) inscribed the names of their enemies on pottery bowls and then smashed them, hoping in so doing to break their power.”[6]

The visual for Chapter 19 continues to use clay pottery, but a change to note is that in “Chapter 18, the clay is still pliable and worthy of being reshaped by the potter, but by now the vessel has been completed and baked hard in the oven.”[7] Verse 11 proclaims that the clay vessel “cannot be made whole again.”

From the valley, Jeremiah goes to the Temple and stands “in the court of the Lord’s house” and repeats  the message of judgment from verse 3, this time to the people. “Judgment is the only response to willful apostasy.”[8]

Reflection

The brokenness of the clay jar in this week’s lesson reminds me of my own brokenness, my fractured and flawed nature. No amount of self-effort or religious rituals or rule-following can ever completely heal my spiritual brokenness. I must ask Jesus to take all my broken pieces, all the fragments of my best intentions, all the shattered edges of my worst days, take my scraps of faith, take my remnants of doubt, and make me again, make me new in Him! This is Grace, both undeserved and unmeasured, anguished and amazing.

[Jesus to His disciplesAnd He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me. Luke 22:19 NKJV 

Common to Passover tradition, a blessing comes after a meal, after eating bread, a grace spoken to express gratitude for God’s constant and unchanging care. Until this night, the Passover meal involves a thanksgiving blessing of remembrance such as, “This is the bread of affliction our ancestors ate when they came from Egypt.” This night, Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks and says something new. The unleavened bread takes on a new meaning as Jesus establishes a new way of remembering. “This is My body, broken for you”.   

For now, the disciples do not fully grasp the underlying meaning of Jesus’ words, do not understand the implications of the symbol, and do not recognize the offering will come within hours. Soon, Jesus will be hastily arrested, falsely accused, and brutally afflicted. This celebrated bread of affliction will be remembered as the Bread of Life, as Jesus willing allows His body to be broken for the disciples in that room, for those who arrest and beat and crucify Him, for those who do not understand, for all people ~ then and now and to come,… for you… for me.

Application

Warren Wiersbe writes: Can nations and individuals sin so greatly that even God can’t restore them? Yes. As long as the clay is pliable in the hands of the potter, He can make it again if it’s marred (18:4), but when the clay becomes hard, it’s too late to reform it.

  • Do you see any parallels to these times in history and today? If so, what are they? Are we still pliable clay in The Potter’s hands? What are the consequences to our choices?

  • Do I find any parallels to these people in history and myself? If so, in what ways? Am I willing to be pliable clay in The Potter’s hands? What are the consequences to my choices?

 Donna Oswalt



[1] Blackaby Study Bible notes; Jeremiah Chapter 19

[2] Complete Word Study Bible Dictionary

[3] Blackaby Study Bible notes; Jeremiah Chapter 19

[4] Chronological Life Application Study Bible notes; Jeremiah 19

[5] Wiersbe Study Bible

[6] Archaeological Study Bible, notes on pottery

[7] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah; Kaiser, Walter C; p 242

[8] Wiersbe Study Bible