Thursday, April 08, 2021

The Cry of Jerusalem

Week 14 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 14

Background


“The purpose of life is the building of character through truth, and you don’t build character by being a spectator.” – Phillip Brooks


What is character? The dictionary defines character as “features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.”[1] We understand character to be the qualities that might explain or express the habits, personality, reputation, or disposition of a person. Jeremiah’s character is tested and revealed and proven throughout the book of Jeremiah.

“Jeremiah’s life reminds us that God sometimes call us to take a difficult stand.”[2]  Jeremiah, a deep thinker with keen perspective, demonstrates some strong character components that serve him well in his appointed ministry. A strong spiritual relationship with God replenishes his faithfulness and obedience to God’s calling. Inner strength sustains Jeremiah in difficult times. Jeremiah exhibits, “qualities of courage, compassion, and sensitivity. He also [reveals] a darker side of moodiness, introspection, loneliness, doubt, and retribution toward his personal enemies.”[3]

Another character trait is compassion. Jeremiah, the author of Lamentations and called the weeping prophet, feels the suffering of his people, understands their grief. His empathy flows as he weeps for the people demonstrating love for the people. With passionate intercession to God, Jeremiah prays for a stubborn people. Laments evidences his love for the Hebrew people.

“Jeremiah depends on God’s love as he develops endurance.”[4] To make it through difficult times, endurance is required. Jeremiah reveals his courage by standing before the people, other prophets, priests, and kings as he delivers a divine but unfavorable message. Repeatedly, he brings the message which brings great risk to him. From responding to God to delivering the messages to seeing the prophesies fulfilled, Jeremiah endures. “The Lord who formed us, knows what particular services and purposes He intended us.”[5] Jeremiah is anointed by God for a specific purpose.

Study

Jeremiah delivers four messages in chapters 14-17. As we study Chapter 14, the time “reflects the panic and dismay of the people… to preserve life and home in the face of overwhelming military threats.”[6] Historical preservation of this era comes through a collection of broken pieces of pottery with written texts, that “grant glimpses into the last decades of the Kingdom of Judah.”[7] Most are military communications. Certainly, we see that these are stressful and uncertain times. These chapters are “dominated by laments: some from the people, some from the prophet, and some from God.”[8] The lesson is repeated and “nothing can be done now to stop the destruction.”[9]

Chapter 14 begins with the drought and the laments that follow. While Egypt benefits from the Nile River, Canaan depends on rain, the blessings God sends. In Deuteronomy 28:1-24 read about the blessings of obedience and the consequences of disobedience. Drought is a consequence of turning from God. The people mourn, both rich and poor, both city dwellers and farmers. They “covered their heads” suggests mourning like a funeral procession. There is no water, the vessels are empty. The city of Jerusalem mourns, and the land mourns.

The confessions and pleadings in vs. 7-9 speak to their iniquities, acknowledge their sinfulness against God, and beg God not to leave them. God always knows the heart and recognizes these as insincere. “To weep because of the sufferings that sin causes is to show remorse but not repentance.”[10] God responds, “They have loved to wander.” He will not respond to their pleadings, and, for a third time (v 11) tells Jeremiah not to pray for these people. God says the people will be consumed by sword, famine, and pestilence.

Jeremiah tries to say the people have been influenced by false prophets giving a false vision and offering false hope and peace. God replies that “lies in My name” and “deceit in their heart” are no excuses. The prophesy of doom will happen. The idols of Canaan have no power to bring rain. God has two tests for false prophets: “True prophets or prophetesses in Israel: (1) their predictions must be 100 percent accurate (Dt. 18:20-22), and (2) their messages must agree with the law of God (Dt. 13:1-18).”[11] Any and all idol worship that is promoted or permitted comes from false prophets. God would never send a false message.

We see weeping for the difficulties coming, the pleading for mercy. In the last verses, the imagery helps to paint a picture for us. There is weeping for the “virgin daughter” that is Judah. No healing, rejection is found along with battles and famines. Religious leaders fail the people and God. Wickedness and iniquity prevail. After repeatedly breaking the covenant, the people are pleading for God, “Remember, do not break Your covenant with us.” They must be remiss in the parameters of this promise: rain as blessings for obedience and drought as consequence for disobedience. (Dt. 11:10,12; Lev. 26:3-5) “Therefore, we hope in You”. In the last verse, a great truth is spoken. God is our only hope!

Reflection

The lesson offers more visuals of destruction and disobedience, of disappointment and despair; yet, in the last thought we find hope. God is the only true hope. As Christians, we frequently seek our affirmations in the New Testament, but clearly the message of God’s hope resonates throughout the whole Bible. In Hebrews 6:19 NLT, “This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.”  

This anchor for our souls symbolizes confidence, expectation, and assurance which encourages in uncertainty, endures through storms, promises beyond fear. Hope, like faith, believes what cannot be seen. God’s faithfulness secures our hope with Grace.

Throughout Holy Week and Easter, Christians all over the world remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. On the day of the crucifixion, at the moment when Jesus dies the curtain in the Temple that separates the Most Holy Place tears completely from top to bottom. Anchored and immovable, hope fills the inner sanctuary. Grace invites each believer to spiritually enter the presence of God. Jesus Christ is our Living Hope.

Holy One, I need hope in the darkness and courage in my doubt; I hold tight to this anchor when the storms of life make me weary. As I enter Your inner sanctuary, peace fills my soul. Great is Your faithfulness.

Application

Considering some of Jeremiah’s character traits, what are there some you desire but struggle to exhibit? Which one(s) do you think benefit(s) Jeremiah most frequently?

What parallels do you see in Jeremiah’s Judah and the world today? We understand that for them, they have reached the point of no turning around, that destruction is certain. What about us? Where is the hope for us?

Donna Oswalt

*Just an update, Chapter 13 was ¼ of the way through… This study guide includes 17,993 words so far and with a small font (11), fills 37 pages, with 53 references in addition to Scripture.



[1] Dictionary.com/character

[2] Blackaby Study Bible notes, Blackaby, Intro to Jeremiah

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

[4] Life Application Study Bible, Jeremiah, p 1123

[5] Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, Jeremiah

[6] Archaeological Study Bible; Jeremiah Chapter 14 commentary

[7] Ibid

[8] Walking the Ancient Paths; Kaiser, Walter C., p 189

[9] Ibid

[10] Wiersbe Study Bible; Wiersbe, Warren; commentary Jeremiah 14

[11] Ibid

Thursday, April 01, 2021

This Is Your Portion

Week 13 – Book of Jeremiah

 

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 13

 

 


Background


“Jeremiah is an anthology or collection of writings drawn from an entire lifetime of prophetic ministry. The narrative sections scattered throughout the book are loosely structured around the main events of Jeremiah's life in ministry, which themselves were shaped by Judah's decline, fall, and exile in Babylon.”[1] The chronological order of Jeremiah varies, often depending on the Biblical historians. Most all agree, however, that the order of the Book of Jeremiah in the Holy Scriptures does not necessarily follow the historical sequence of events. 

Some divide Jeremiah into thematic categories such as “Judah’s Sin and Judgement” (Ch. 1-45), “Prophecies Against the Nations” (Ch. 46-51), and “A Sobering Ending” (Ch. 52).[2] Some commentaries like to order Jeremiah by topics to include judgement, preaching, hope, prophecy. Generally, most agree the timeline of events is between 627 and 585 BC, accounting for roughly 40 years of Jeremiah’s ministry. At another time, we will take an in-depth look at Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe who also figures prominently in Jeremiah. While some scholars question if Jeremiah is the author of fifty-two chapters, overall, they credit Jeremiah with authorship. 

Another way to look at Jeremiah is the varied structure of the book: “visions and prophesies of judgement as well as personal laments” (Ch. 1-24), “speeches of Jeremiah and stories about him” (Ch.25-45), “prophecies of restoration and comfort” (Ch. 30-33), “prophecies against the nations” (Ch. 46-51), and “historical appendix” (Ch. 52).[3] While the Book of Jeremiah follows one order in the original Hebrew writings, it follows “a different order in the Septuagint”[4] The messages are the same. 

The timeline of 627-586 or 585 BC follows the book’s progression although some events are re-told or referenced in later chapters. It can be unclear at times who is the ruling King of Judah, we know Josiah (640-609 BC) rules for thirty-one years and during Chapters 1-12, while in the latter chapters, his successors reign. In total, five kings rule Judah during the writings of Jeremiah, Josiah being the only one to truly worship Yahweh.

Scholars generally agree with the accuracy of the writings within the context of events. Chapter 1 and Chapter 52 serve as bookends to this collection. Chapter 1 is somewhat of an overview and gives some historical perspective. Chapter 52 describes the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple , but conclude with a message of hope. So, while not historically sequential and perhaps repetitive in its message, the Book of Jeremiah reveals the heart of God’s prophet and life of an obedient servant of God while bringing a most difficult message to Judah. 

Study

This is what commentaries call one of Jeremiah’s “object lessons” as he uses visual ideas like allegory and metaphor to make his point. This begins the chapter with the “linen sash”. Translations call this linen object various things such as sash, loincloth, waistband, girdle, and belt. Some suggest this is a undergarment that represents intimacy or an intimate relationship. Another suggestion is the sash represents part of the garments a priest wears (Exodus 28:4) and denotes holiness, dignity, and position. Whatever it is called, Jeremiah is told to go and bury the item. Then he is to return after some time and dig up the item, knowing it would be ruined.

Another debate arising among scholars, did Jeremiah go all the way to the “Euphrates” which is several hundred miles from Jerusalem and would take around 3-4 months travel time? Some suggest the ”Euphrates” may refer to “Perath [being] the same as Parah (Jos 18:23), near the modern Wadi Farah. Alternatively, it may refer to the Euphrates River.”[5] This would be only a short distance from Jerusalem. Perhaps the idea of such a long trip is indicated to make a point of significance. The meaning of a long journey and the ruined sash depicts Judah’s relationship with God as “profitable for nothing”. (v 7) God says, “I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.” (v 8)

God’s words close this section (v 11) with His hopeful promise and disappointed reality of the Hebrew people, “That they may become My people, for renown, for praise, and for glory; but they would not hear.” Again, we see the unrepentant hearts of the people.

Another image lesson is the wine bottles. In verse 13, all the inhabitants will be filled with “drunkenness” and there will clash with each other. God affirms, “I will not pity or spare nor have mercy, but will destroy them.” This symbolizes a defeat, full of shame and pain. The next visual we are given is “darkness” in verse 16. There is stumbling on the “dark mountains”while “looking for light”.  Images of God leading the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years comes to mind, leading them as cloud by day and fire by night. Now prophesy says, “the LORD’s flock has been taken captive.” God will not protect them from invasion and captivity.

Verse 18 mentions “the king and to the queen mother” and may suggest king Jehoiachin. The leaders are filled with pride. “During Jehoiachin’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar’s armies besieged Jerusalem, and both Jehoiachin and Nehushta [his mother] surrendered. Jehoiachin was sent to Babylon and imprisoned (2 Kgs 24:1-15). Jeremiah’s prophecy came true”.[6]

We see Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, lament (v 17-20) for Judah, for “the LORD’s flock”. The leaders’ selfishness would lead to captivity, exploitation of the people and disobedience of all involved will bring doom. Verse 22 asks, “Why have these things come upon me?” It is like choosing one’s own way and then wondering about the consequences. God says He will “scatter” them like chaff, exactly what an agricultural culture could understand, the discarded part of the wheat from the threshing floor blows away just as wicked Judah – unnecessary and worthless. God reminds that their choices, their idol worship, and unrepentant hearts, “This is your lot, the portion of your measures from Me.” Trusting in falsehoods and participating in wickedness determines their outcome.

Reflection

One thought that keeps coming to my mind as I read and study the lesson this week is the part where God says, “This is your lot, the portions of your measures from Me… because you have forgotten Me and trusted in falsehood.” There is similar language that I remember in Psalms. David writes, “LORD, You alone are my portion and my cup; You make my lot secure.” (Psalm 16:5) These use the same words and phrasing but have opposite truths. Both are promises from God, but not both are good.

In Psalms, the verse is saying that the author, King David, chooses Yahweh as his portion or inheritance and our share of secure. Choosing God as our inheritance is about eternal life. God’s promise of redemption brings the security we need. Through Jesus, the Messiah, we find our inheritance which is grace unmeasured. When we place our faith in Christ, or use David’s words to claim that Jesus is “my portion”, everlasting life becomes our inheritance.

In this week’s lesson in Jeremiah, God is saying to Judah that they are His people, and as people of His covenant, this gives them an inheritance. Israel’s allotment first comes in the form of the Promised Land, a portion or inheritance from God to His people. The land is given, and God is their God, but disobedience and turning from God prompts His reply. NOW, God is saying maybe you do not want this land, you do not want me as the One True God. IF this is true, then, “This is your lot, the portions of your measures from Me.” God takes the land away allowing an army from the north to invade and capture them, to destroy and tear down their cities and the Temple.

As David concludes his psalm of praise, his faith in God recognizes His great blessings. “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) We, too, find our hearts full, and God alone is enough. While our paths may wind and roll through difficult times, our true inheritance is secure in Christ. The ‘path of life’ is to follow Jesus, to know the ‘fullness of joy’ in His presence, and to know at the end of this life, we have eternal life with Him. This is soul-security!

 

Application

As long as I can remember, my dad frequently used this phrase, “a leopard never changes his spots” when it was unlikely something (or someone) would actually change. For many years, I never knew where the phrase came from. In the lesson today, the question is rhetorically asked, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?” This example suggests that God knows the hearts of Judah and  their struggles with wickedness, and it is not likely they will change.

·         Do you have any bad habits that may have been with you a long time that are interfering with necessary changes for better?

·         Am I so accustomed to certain patterns of behavior that I cannot see better choices?

·         Am I stuck in a rut that is preventing me from spiritual growth? What will I do to change the outcome?

Donna Oswalt



[1] ESV Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Jeremiah

[2] Swindoll, Charles R.

[3] Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Jeremiah, p. 456

[4] Ibid

[5] Archaeological Study Bible Notes, Jeremiah13:4

[6] Chronological Life Application Study Bible - Study Notes on Jeremiah


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Questions and Answers

Week 12 – Book of Jeremiah

 Read: Jeremiah Chapter 12 


Background

In our Scripture today, Jeremiah asks some hard questions and learns some important lessons. These early years as a prophet bring stress and uncertainty. Of course, there are many examples of God’s servants getting weary. Moses finds himself discouraged, and Joshua wants to leave the Promised Land. Elijah wanders from his assigned place, so hopeless he wants to die. There are more whose human nature feels defeat or discouragement. “God doesn’t want us to ignore our feelings… but He does want us to trust Him to change our feelings and start walking in faith.”[1]

Jeremiah, having been faithful to speak God’s messages, now finds himself somewhat confused. In his prayer, he tries to make sense of all the pieces. Jeremiah is learning much about a life of service to God. One lesson Jeremiah learns is that “the life of godly service isn’t easy.”[2] Coming from a priestly family, surely, he understands the devotion and obedience necessary for serving, but his prophet role is different, harder, and brings dangers than the priesthood.

Another lesson Jeremiah discovers is that “the life of service becomes harder, not easier”[3] We will see examples of this in the lesson this week. The trials that seemed difficult are getting harder, more risky. The land is becoming more dangerous, the threat of invasion nearer, the potential for harm grows as peace diminishes. Even his own family and community question him, plot against him. 

“The life of service gets better as we grow more mature.”[4] While this lesson may seem just the opposite, Jeremiah is learning to depend on God as he faces increasing challenges. His faith grows during the chaos. Jeremiah improves his ministry skills. For all of us, our faith grows in the soils of uncertainty, of need, of dependency. “You don’t build character by being a spectator.”[5] Jeremiah discovers spiritual growth in the challenges. Challenges bring changes. Jeremiah’s lessons are lessons for us.

Study 

Our lesson opens with a section some Bibles title “Jeremiah’s Question” and others, “Jeremiah’s Prayer.” Clearly Jeremiah is calling out to God. “When I plead with You” suggests a desire to get a resolution or strive to discover an understanding or come to a resolution. We see Jeremiah in a “theological crisis” as he tries to make sense of how a holy God could allow evil to prosper. “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” God obviously allows this to happen.

Heart-felt words follow in verse 3 as Jeremiah verbalizes that God sees his heart, God tests his faithfulness. The second question Jeremiah asks, just like us, is “how long” will this trial last. In verse 4 Jeremiah sees the drought and recognizes this as one known consequence of sinful hearts. (see Leviticus 26 for the Blessings and Curses) While the evil leaders prosper, the people suffer. We, too, ask ‘why’ and ‘how long’ when struggles challenge us.

As Jeremiah’s questions end, God’s answers begin. In verse 5-6, instead of responding to the wicked, God gives Jeremiah somethings to think about. Telling Jeremiah that if he thinks it is hard now, just wait! Another teaching moment reveals that even Jeremiah’s “brothers” and family are plotting against him. God warns him to be careful. These lessons likely are not what Jeremiah expects, but God teaches him lessons to build him up, increase his character.

In the second part of God’s reply to Jeremiah (vs 7-17), words like ‘forsaken’ and ‘inheritance’ catch our attention, but these striking words stop us where we are, “I have given the beloved of My soul into the hands of her enemies.” This falls in the category of curses for not trusting the One True God. This land of Canaan, the Promised Land, is on loan to the people, is their inheritance. God is saying that He is taking it back. The land is being defiled by the people. Disobedience and false worship tarnish their inheritance. “Hate” in verse 8 represents rejection of the people who have become like enemies or adversaries of God. Persistent rebellion seals their fate.

God looks upon the land given with such hope and promise, but He sees a land that “mourns before Me”. The discipline will come from Babylon. Despite the harsh punishment, God’s hope reaches into the coming doom. Because God does not break His covenants, He will always love His people. In verse 15, we see God’s compassion, and His promise to bring them back to the land. The redemption picture Jeremiah paints includes punishment of their wicked neighbors, return of Judah from exile, compassion on the evil nations, and the restoration of each nation pending their response to God. Remember that God’s plan of redemption is always for all people.

Reflection 

This Sunday is Palm Sunday, they day we celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. Children waving palm branches frequent our churches. Smiles fill the pews as we watch the sweet, innocent children. When Jesus enters Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago, we read “He wept over” the city. Knowing that Jerusalem would fall and its people who turn from Him will perish, Jesus mourns this coming loss. (Luke 19:37-44)  In a short 40 years, Romans will conquer Jerusalem and destroy the Temple completely. The rejection of God’s plan brings consequences, but God’s plan for redemption remains for all people.

Today’s lesson speaks of Judah’s land in mourning. In the NLT God says, “I hear its mournful cry.” God hears the grief of the Promised Land waiting for its invasion. God understands grief (see vs 7-8) as He experiences losses too! We all experience various kinds of loss. There is the emotional pain of ingratitude or indifference. Disappointments bring situational changes and often loss. Failed marriages and family or friends struggling with addictions hurt the heart. Job loss and illnesses add stress to our lives. We mourn for the losses, for the endings, for the dreams that die with the relationships.

Wounding circumstances cause our hearts to be sad, and sometimes we question, like Jeremiah, ‘why’ and ‘how long’. Twenty-five centuries later, we still ask the same unanswerable questions. Truthfully, we live in a world that is fractured. Anything can happen! We must be careful not to impose our frustration or anger over circumstances on God. God’s unchanging goodness prevails in all times, as does His love for each of us. I recommend a relatively new song to me by Tasha Layton called “Into the Sea”. It has a chorus that we must claim in times of uncertainty: Though the mountains may be moved into the sea, though the ground beneath might crumble and give way, I can hear my Father singing over me, “It’s gonna be okay, it’s gonna be okay.” Take a listen to it! Trust in God’s forever-goodness.

Application

The commentaries bring up a word that may be new to some of us – theodicy (thee-OD-ud-see). While it may be a new word, the concept is as old as time. Theodicy is a “divine attribute, particularly holiness or justice, in allowing the existence of physical or moral evil.”[6] Like Rabbi Kushner’s book title, we often ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Two weeks ago, we looked at God’s Sovereignty. Ultimately, the simple answer to the question is that God is in charge, and He allows circumstances to occur. The New Testament in Romans (8:28) reminds us that God can use all things for His good. It is really a mystery for my frail mind to even consider how the mind of God works.

·         Sit with that question about ‘why do bad things happening to good people’. What questions/thoughts does it raise?

·         What about “good things that happen to undeserving people”? What thoughts come to your mind?

·         We believe God to be a good and righteous, all-mighty, all-knowing, all-powerful God. When difficult things happen to people we care about, we ask questions like Jeremiah, “Why” and “How Long”. Sometimes we question God’s intentions or His goodness. How do you defend God in situations like these?

Donna Oswalt



[1] Be Decisive, Warren Wiersbe, p 76

[2] Wiersbe Study Bible, Warren Wiersbe, commentary on Jeremiah

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Dictionary.com

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Broken Covenant

Week 11 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 11; additional reading Deuteronomy 27, 28



Background

“Covenants are one of the most important themes in the Bible because they act as the skeletons upon which the entire redemptive story is built. They’re like the backbone of the Bible.”[1] Covenants fall into the category of a promise or an agreement or a contract and can be either unconditional or conditional. In the Old Testament, we find the term many, many times, and covenant is used in the New Testament multiple times. A covenant identifies a relationship, whether between God and humankind or person-to-person. The one great truth is that the LORD will never break His covenants. 

A conditional covenant usually is between two equal parties with each party bearing certain responsibilities. Some examples are treaties, business partnerships, contracts, friendship, and marriage to name a few. The covenant or agreement formalizes the relationship. Of course, if the respective parties do not keep the terms of the promises, these covenants can be broken. Business partnerships can be dissolved, financial agreements can be terminated, and divorce breaks the legal, civil marriage contract.

Some covenants bring together two unequal powers, a greater power with a lesser power. We see these types in the Bible in various forms. An example of this type of conditional covenant would be the Sinai Covenant (Exodus 19-24). God gives the law to the Hebrew people after rescuing them from Egyptian captivity, providing them with guidelines for living in what we call the Ten Commandments. This Covenant is between God and Israel, both making promises, and helps define their relationship. God expects obedience, and the people pledge such, but many times the people’s disobedience threatens to destroy this conditional covenant bringing repercussions. In our lesson today, we see repeated examples of how the people break the covenant. 

An unconditional covenant, however, is found between Abraham and God. God promises Abraham a great land, “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great. You shall be a blessing. I will bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12) He goes on to make a formal covenant with Abraham giving the land of Canaan to his descendants (Genesis 15). Yahweh makes this promise unconditional. This means that regardless of the people’s response, God considers the covenant binding. 

In covenants, sometimes stipulations are given, such as obedience to the Law. Also a sign of a covenant is sometimes seen. The annual sacrament of Passover for the Jews is a sign to remember that God delivers them out of Egyptian bondage, rescues them, and provides the Law for them. For Abraham’s descendants, circumcision is a sign of the covenant. These signs and symbols are not the covenant rather an outward demonstration of recognizing the covenant.

In our lesson today, we see Jeremiah talking about the “broken covenant” which is the Sinai Covenant. Their repeated disobedience and apostasy revoke their previous agreements. The unconditional covenant God makes with Israel, that they are His people, and He is their God, is not broken. Why? God does not break His covenant promises. God still chooses the Hebrew people as His chosen people and does not break the relationship.

God chooses us, too. We will see in a few weeks where Jeremiah will prophesy about a New Covenant. Jesus Christ is the new, irrevocable, binding, unconditional covenant. He comes for all people. His grace cannot be purchased or earned. The Old Testament covenants lead the Hebrew people and the Gentiles toward a Messiah, toward righteous living. While the Law could never redeem mankind, it simply points out the need for redemption, for a repentant heart.

Study 

As Chapter 11 opens, God tells Jeremiah to say “Hear the words of this covenant”referring to the Sinai Covenant. In Exodus 19:5-6 read, “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” This covenant begins some 500 years before this, with continued and repeated breaking of the agreement, repeated disobedience of the Hebrew people. Written into the covenant, the blessings and the curses continue to be revealed. You can read these in length in Deuteronomy 27 and 28. 

God desires obedience, to recognize and worship Him as the One True God, yet the people assume the standards of their culture worshiping Baal and many other false gods. In verse 6 God tells Jeremiah to proclaim the message in the “cities of Judah” and the “streets of Jerusalem”. God says, “Obey My voice,” but the people continue to follow their evil hearts. This is likely not long after Josiah renews the Covenant with the people and “All the people” pledge their re-commitment.

Reading in 2 Kings 23(NASB) we see, “Then [King Josiah] gathered to him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. The king went up to the house of the LORD and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD. The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to carry out the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people entered into the covenant.”

We find the word “conspiracy” in verse 9 revealing the people’s turning from God and refusing to hear God’s word. Both the House of Israel and House of Judah are accused of breaking the covenant. “The conspiring against the king was actually a hidden rebellion against God’s covenant and reforms that Josiah was busy to lead.”[2] Calamity is coming and there will be no escape. Still the people continue to burn incense and cry out to their empty gods. Again, God tells Jeremiah that praying for the people is not beneficial. The people’s empty rituals  and compromised worship guarantees the impending destruction. “The redeemed people were instructed in the covenant at Sinai concerning how they should live. Obedience to this law could not save them. But continual and hard-hearted disregard of it brought the consequent curses of the covenant upon them.”[3]

The Olive Tree represents fruitfulness, a symbol of economic prosperity. A storm is on the horizon that will bring “fire” and result in “broken” branches. Their own wickedness is the catalyst for the storm. In verses 18-20 we discover a plot to take out Jeremiah. This conspiracy against Jeremiah comes from the “rejection of God’s word.” In closing, we find God states His intention of protection, to protect His word and His prophet. “Throughout the book of Jeremiah and the books of the other canonical prophets we are startled by repeated reminders that the faithlessness of Israel and Judah cannot frustrate God’s sovereign grace. He has determined to have a remnant of faithful people among whom he will dwell in glory.”[4] 

Reflection

Warren Wiersbe writes that what and how we worship are essential in determining “the character of life itself.” Reflecting a lifestyle pleasing to God, the the Ten Commandments provide standards of righteous living, offer examples of visible, outward behavior. Ethical living defines integrity and exceeds head knowledge by calling for a heart response. Our inner character writes the story our living tells others.

In chapters 11-20 of Jeremiah, we find what some scholars call the confessions of Jeremiah. These reveal more of Jeremiah’s inner emotions, personal conflict, and spiritual wrestling. In today’s lesson in verse 19a we read Jeremiah’s heart, “But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.” We also read in that the “men of Anathoth” are seeking to take Jeremiah’s life. Even his own hometown is turning against him with plots to murder him. Jeremiah, despite his anxiety about this, did not stop sharing the message God gives him.

The Holy Scriptures reveal the character and holiness of God, record the history of God's prophecies and their fulfillment, teach the way of repentance and redemption through Christ, establish the guidelines for righteous and holy living, and define hope as God's promise of eternal life. With precepts and promises, prophets and parables, God's story of redemption and restoration enfolds us. Within the pages of this ancient text, we discover God's ultimate plan for humanity. Jesus Christ, His Word in the flesh (John 1:14), proclaims God's truth and love and hope for the world. Reading this holy and living book gives us a taste of eternity and the goodness of God. In reply, our lives tell the Jesus-story we hold most dearly.

Application

·         What are some of the things that interfere with or sabotage our prayers? Some of the problems of Judah are our problems, too! Examples: wrong motives, insecurity, hypocrisy, sinful habits, disobedience…

·         God desires to hear our prayers. Read Psalm 139. Explore God’s profound interest in our thoughts and lives.

Donna Oswalt

[1] BibleProject.com/blog/covenants -the-backbone-bible/

[2] Wiersbe Study Bible, Warren Wiersbe, Jeremiah 11 commentary

[3] Gospel Transformation Study Bible Notes, Jeremiah 11 commentary

[4] Ibid

Thursday, March 11, 2021

One True God

Week 10 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 10

Background

What is God’s Sovereignty? We struggle with the sovereignty of God. Having authority over all things goes against our personal desires to make our own decisions, yet we cannot just pretend that Divine Sovereignty does not exist. “The sovereignty of God is the fact that he is the Lord over creation; as sovereign, he exercises his rule. This rule is exercised through God’s authority as king, his control over all things, and his presence with his covenantal people and throughout his creation.”[1] Yahweh’s control comes full of love and compassion, complete with righteousness and divine decisions.

Ray Stedman writes, “Far beyond the greatness of men, a God of wisdom and knowledge and power is at work.” Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God remains unchanging, always faithful and true, full of mystery and majesty. His sovereignty and power span infinity. God’s promise of Perfect Love brings life, real life, right now!

No one likes to talk about God’s judgment preferring to focus only on God’s love and goodness, yet God cannot be compartmentalized into categories. Eugene Peterson writes, “But we have no choice: God is Sovereign. God rules. Not only in our personal affairs but in the cosmos. Not only in our times and places of worship but in office buildings, political affairs, factories, universities, hospitals—yes, even behind the scenes in saloons and rock concerts. It’s a wild and extravagant notion, to be sure. But nothing in our Scriptures is attested to more frequently or emphatically.” In our study of Jeremiah, Judah wrestles with these same issues regarding God’s sovereignty and the messages of judgement.

“Sovereignty, God’s sovereignty, is one of the most difficult things for people of faith to live out in everyday routines,” Peterson continues. The human mind cannot begin to measure the infinity of God. His Sovereignty exceeds time and space, without boundaries, without beginning, without ending. His power is greater than any power, above or below the heavens. The Holy Spirit brings us into God’s presence, anoints us with unspeakable holiness, embraces us with perfect love, covers us with unfailing mercies. 

In His Sovereignty, God reveals His everlasting promise, reveals the Truth, reveals the Messiah, reveals Jesus as The Way. The source of this promise comes from the LORD’s unfailing love, from His desire to unite our spirit with His Spirit. Even when disobedience interferes and distractions ignore the Spirit, God marks the path with mercy and truth. God’s most extravagant gift of love, His Son, brings new hope to old wounds, compassionate arms for old regrets, gentle smiles to the abused, tender hearts toward the outcasts, healing for the spiritually blind. God’s judgment reveals our true heart, our weakness, our shortsightedness, our stubbornness, our desire to walk on the edge. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more. (John 3:19) 

 

Study

We enter the text of Chapter 10, finding the last section of the Temple Sermon of Jeremiah. The Message opens the chapter this way, “Listen to the Message that GOD is sending your way, House of Israel. Listen most carefully.” Verse 2 references Old Testament Scripture in Leviticus and Deuteronomy reminding Judah to no be like other nations. This includes worship of the occult and “celestial bodies”. We then read about the customs of pagan nations that make idols, wooden and worthless, metal but meaningless, limited not lasting. Judah simply follows the cultures of surrounding nations as if to say, “everybody is doing it”. Crafted by artisans, some created of gold and silver, perhaps even decorative and pretty, these idols represent false-identities, false-values, false-security. Today, our idols are just as temporary and powerless and dead.

“There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and great is Your name in might.” (vs 6) Jeremiah confirms that God is greater than any idols. “The remedy for idolatry is for us to get caught up in the majesty and grandeur of God, the true God, the living God, the everlasting King.”[2] We see in verse 7 a reference to Psalm 22:28, “The kingdom is the LORD’S”. Then comes another section defining idols as “worthless” and man-made. “But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King.” This verse 10 and continuing through 13, the attributes of God as Creator and All-powerful, the Giver of wisdom. Again, the images of idols are described as empty and non-living, perishable. Jeremiah echoes the message that “you are what you worship”.

We again see the consistent message of divine judgement will be an invasion and captivity. God is distressed by their choices. These ‘shepherds’ (vs21) represent the political and spiritual leaders who are responsible for not leading and teaching God’s truths. “A great commotion out of the north” speaks of Babylon with the invasion resulting in desecration of Judah.

The conclusion of this sermon finds Jeremiah’s prayer to God. (vs23-25) Acknowledging Yahweh, there are references to Proverbs 16:1, “The plans of the heart belong to a person, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.” Also, Proverbs 20:24 is reflected, “A man’s steps are ordained by the LORD.” Jeremiah says it this way, “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” Jeremiah pleads for mercy. For his weakness, he asks for correction, for justice not anger. Knowing they deserve destruction, Jeremiah pleads with God for a lesser judgement, believing the Gentiles, the pagan nations, deserve punishment for their coming destruction of Judah. We, too, try to bargain with God, give Him our point of view, plead for the ending we think we want.

Reflection

TS Eliot writes, “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”[3] This quote summarizes much of Judah’s culture centuries before, and we continue to ask these same questions. Searching more, I discover that this quote comes from the 1934 play by Eliot, “The Rock”. This play, written for Forty-five Churches Fund, becomes a fundraiser that will use the proceeds “to build forty-five churches in London’s suburbs.”[4] In the center of the play, a church is being built, within the contexts of “community and tradition” as key ideas. Eliot constructs the play to involve the audience at times, to give a feeling of liturgical ritual. Of course, all the folks have different opinions and ideas, some even believe the building of a church is more important than believing in God.

The world comes at us full force with numerous options for personal entertainment, strong rhetoric within political parties, countless organizations to benefit humanity. Many loud voices seek to motivate, include, and sway our thoughts and commitments. As Eliot asks, “Where is the Life we have lost in living?” While many of these opportunities can generate good, we must seek the paths of the LORD. Another Hebrew name for God, El Roithe God who sees me, reminds us that God literally sees each person. El Roi meets us at every crossroad pointing the way of mercy and truth.

We live in times that can be compared to Judah and to Eliot’s London, separated by thousands and hundreds of years, respectively. Still, we struggle with the same issues. Often, we practice rituals and traditions simply for the sake of keeping. Anything that takes God's place in our hearts is an idol. We comfort ourselves by saying that these "idols" are nothing like the golden calf of the Old Testament; we are not melting gold, molding a pagan god. ANYTHING that we allow to mean more to us than God is our idol. We surround ourselves with beautiful tokens of success, and we deny we feel empty. Lost in negative rhetoric and consumed by our personal opinions, we pretend to defend righteous living. We boast about the mission trips we take and the foreign children in faraway orphanages we sponsor, as if any part of missional living is our idea. God, forgive us; guard our hearts!

 
Application


- What idols do I worship?

- How do I plan to "guard" my heart from these idols?

- Am I willing to place Jesus Christ at the center of my life?

 Lord, I go along without thought to idols, thinking my gestures of love and service in Your name are enough. When I place time in the Living Word last in the day, when I place my desires ahead of another's needs, when I spend Your offering on tokens that will not bring me joy, when I take credit for the goodness and success that comes my way - I place my idols BEFORE You. Forgive my shallow, selfish ways. Guard my heart from the evil one. Guard me from myself. Amen. 

Donna Oswalt



[1] “The Sovereignty of God”, thegospelcoalition.org

[2] The Wiersbe Study Bible, Wiersbe, Warren, commentary Jeremiah 10

[3] “The Rock”, Eliot, TS, a play

[4] “Raising ‘The Rock’: The Importance of T.S. Eliot’s Pageant-Play”, Atkins, Hazel, Christianity and Literature, Vol. 62, No. 2 (Winter 20143), pp 261-282

Thursday, March 04, 2021

In the Midst of Deceit

Week 9 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 9



Background

Many ancient cultures record historical findings of the rituals of mourning. This wailing custom “prevalent in classical Greece… is still practiced in the Middle East.”[1] Routine and expected, professional mourners are arranged for events of distress such as personal loss or death or national crisis. In 2 Chronicles 35:25 Jeremiah chants a lamentation or funeral song at the death of King Josiah. Blackaby defines lamenting as, “Loud weeping which is a sign of honor for the one who has died.”

In Chapter 9 of Jeremiah, two images given is “mourning women” and “wailing women”. The outward expressions of the dramatic mourning rituals include wearing mourning garments (sackcloth), tearing one’s clothing, fasting, prostate position on the ground, putting ashes on the head, and sitting in the dust. No jewelry or perfume is worn. Laments or chants of grief accompany this time, which lasts from 7 days to 30 days. 

Scripture contrasts these mourning clothes with garments of salvation, such as the imagery of robes of righteousness. Likewise, Jeremiah’s description of the mourning women outlines deep distress and inconsolable grief in comparison to the description of Yahweh who is lovingkindness and justice and righteousness. “These practices show that the Israelites had practices at most levels of culture that were virtually identical to the people around them… Yahweh’s revelation to them in general did not change their culture; it changed their theology – particularly regarding how they thought about God.”[2]

Life is fragile! The book of Lamentations is “a ritual text of mourning over the fall of Jerusalem”[3] in 586 BC. These demonstrative, woeful wailings have become more ritual than heart felt. “The most singular custom of wailing every week, at the wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, has been kept up for ages, by those Jews who still look for the Christ and hope for the deliverance of Zion.”[4] With the resurrection of Christ, our coming death changes our tears and mourning turn to tears of joy and dancing through His grace. This is the Hope of Christianity. 

Study

This week’s lesson opens with Jeremiah weeping (vs 1-6). The third part of the Temple Sermon describes Judah’s false confidence. Society’s wounds come from the misuse of words, “sins of the tongue” and carelessness toward others. Lies and deceptions crowd their talk creating mistrust and harm. “Here is a picture of a society that has lost its ability to function coherently and communally, for where there is no trust there is no longer a community.”[5] These sins reveal the heart, the recurring theme of the unrepentant heart. They find themselves “in the midst of deceit.” (v6)

In the next set of verses (7-16), the message of no escape from judgement repeats itself. God weeps for the people turn from Him. The lament or death song wails with hopelessness, as God paints images of Jerusalem in “a heap of ruins”. (v 8) The people act “according to the dictates of their own hearts” and idol worship. (vs 14)

In verse 15 we see the images of “wormwood” and “water of gall” representing both bitterness of the heart of disobedience and bitterness of loss. This wormwood is “a small shrub in the aster family with multiple branches and hairy leaves bearing masses of small yellow flowers.”[6] Bitter in taste and poisonous, “Scripture uses this shrub as a metaphor for the experience of suffering and bitter sorrow, and even cruelty (Lam 3:15, 19; Jer 23:15)”[7] 

The “wailing women” appear next in the series of prophetic imagery. “For death has come through our windows.” (v21) Death does not choose some but all, ordinary or official, young and old, men and women. There is no escape. The “favored people” have become comfortable depending on what they believe will protect them – God’s Covenant with them, the possession of the Ark, the Temple, the Book of the Law. The truth does not consist of false confidence in rituals and worship habits. “God promises covenant blessings to those who obey Him, not to those who only submit to religious ceremonies.”[8]

The chapter ends reminding of what is worthy, of the glories of God. God delights in the one who “understands and knows Me”. God’s attributes are “exercising lovingkindness, judgement, and righteousness in the earth.” (v 24) God delights, also, in the ones who “practice kindness and justice and righteousness because they know and fear the Lord.”[9] All the nations listed in verse 26 will be punished, and the recurring reason is an unrepentant heart. 

Reflection

The unrepentant heart continues to be the big problem with Judah. An intimate relationship is what God desires, and He delights in finding us people of kindness and fairness and goodwill. The examples on today’s lesson hit close to home, despite the over 2,500 years of history. Our words harm, with slander or in carelessness. We, too, find security in the rituals of our faith practices, the comfort of the familiar, the fellowship of those we have grown to know and care about. God is not saying He hates the practices or habits that help us worship, rather, God knows that these are only outward expressions. The real relationship happens inside at the heart-level. 

We find verse 24 quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:31b, “Let him who boasts, boast in the LORD.” Paul again quotes this verse in 2 Corinthians 10:17, adding in verse 18, “For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.” Paul also writes in Romans 2:29, “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart; and his praise is not from men but from God.” Unfortunately, we like the world’s applause for a job well done!

Our truest blessings come in knowing God, knowing His character, knowing His promises. Scripture teaches this intimate relationship is what we are to celebrate – to celebrate God’s goodness and grace. As Christians, we can only do this if we have open and willing hearts, both repentant and redeemed through Christ. Our life always exposes the heart.

Application

We can easily boast about our service or church ministries or mission activities. Like Judah, culture often figures into how we identify our beliefs, what we decide is acceptable, and who we believe God is. Our actions are influenced by society, and culture can alter our theology.

·         Where do our ministry successes come from? Our own efforts? God’s design?

·         Do we give God the credit for the successful ministries of our churches?

·         Is our confidence (or faith) in the outcome of a circumstance or in God alone?

·         What is God teaching me about serving with at pure heart? How does culture affect my beliefs about God?

Donna Oswalt

 

**Please leave some comments regarding the way God is leading you in the study of Jeremiah.

 

 



[1] NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, commentary on Jeremiah 9:17

[2] Ibid, “Mourning”

[3] Archaeological Study Bible, Sackcloth and Ashes: Rituals of Lamentation

[4] Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Mourning

[5] Walking the Ancient Paths, Kaiser, Walter C., pg 147

[6] Walking the Ancient Paths, Kaiser, Walter C., pg 150

[7] Ibid

[8] Be Decisive, Wiersbe, Warren, pg 150

[9] The Wiersbe Study Bible, commentary on Jeremiah 9:24