Thursday, January 14, 2021

Marked Before God

Week 2 – Book of Jeremiah

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




Background

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

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

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

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

Study 

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

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

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

Reflection 

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

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

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

Application 

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

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

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

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

 Donna Oswalt

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

 



[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Study Bible

[2] 2 Kings 23:25 NKJV

[3] Warren Wiersbe, Be Decisive, pg 20

Thursday, January 07, 2021

A Prophet to the Nations

 

Week 1 - Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 1

Background

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

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

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

almond blossom in Roatan Honduras/dho
Study

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

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

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

 Reflection

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

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

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

 Application

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

Donna Oswalt

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


[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Study Bible

[2] ibid

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

2021 Online Study - Book of Jeremiah

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

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

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

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

 Donna Oswalt, a fellow pilgrim on the journey