Thursday, January 28, 2021

Rend the Heart

Week 4 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah 4; Additional reading: 2 Chronicles 33, 2 Chronicles 34-35


Background

The reign of King Manasseh, known as the most evil king of Judah and the grandfather of Josiah, can be read about in 2 Chronicles Chapter 33. His leadership encourages all kinds of pagan worship practices including child sacrifices, even Manasseh’s own son. The longest reigning king, fifty-five years, Manasseh misleads Judah but is captured by the Assyrians, an act orchestrated by God (v 11).

In his distress, Manasseh calls on God, humbles himself, and prays to God confessing his sinful ways. God is moved (v 13) and forgives Manasseh, brings him back to Jerusalem, and restores him as king. “Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God.” To know, the Hebrew word yada, means the experience of learning. This type of knowing is experiential knowledge, not simply knowledge. Manasseh is confessing his experiential relationship with Yahweh.

Only Chronicles gives testimony to Manasseh’s repentance and restoration. With a new openness to God in his distress, he prays and confesses his sin and reveals a spirit of humility before God. God’s response is grace and mercy. (2 Chronicles 33:19) Just as Manasseh’s evil actions and disobedience to God brings judgement, his repentant heart to God brings a blessing. Even evil Manasseh is not beyond God's forgiveness.

Chronicles 33 gives insight into the people’s beliefs under evil leadership. Manasseh’s son, Amon, the next king reigns only two years. Also, evil, his own servants assassinate him. When Josiah becomes king, there is much to do to revitalize and restore the people’s faith in God. His task is epic. (2 Chronicles 34-35) Today’s lesson takes place during Josiah’s reign.


Study

As we move into Chapter 4 of Jeremiah, a-matter-of-the-heart theme continues. Saying the right words with the wrong motives still prevails. God desires a repentant heart, a heart that is broken for its impure actions. In verse 4, “circumcise…your heart” becomes a dominant theme. This is a call for repentance, a sincere confession of guilt that reveals changed behavior.

Circumcision goes back to Abraham. (Genesis 17:9-14) As a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and his descendants, it is an outward sign or mark of His chosen people. The symbolic circumcision of the heart suggests an inner spiritual renewal, a repentant heart, a sincere and faithful returning to God.

Images of fallow ground suggest a hardened heart, a heart like land that requires plowing and cultivating to allow growth. Decades before Jeremiah, Moses uses this heart-speak in Deuteronomy 10:16, “Circumcise your heart”. This religious ritual, this outward act becomes a metaphor to bring attention to the people’s inner being. In Biblical times, the word heart, “leb” in Hebrew, refers to the inner person or mind or will. The heart is considered, in those writings, to be the seat of thought and emotion or conscience. Faithfulness is an inward transformation that has an outward action. This attitude of the heart is far more important than following laws and rituals. The message of obedience to God is both word and deed.

Jeremiah predicts “disasters on disaster” and devastation. We see Jeremiah’s personal anguish in verses 19-21, deeply moved by God’s message of judgement. In the middle of the coming destructions, the message of hope lives strong. The LORD says, “Yet I will not execute a complete destruction.” (v27) God, who on occasion does relent or change His mind because of the intercession of His people, vows that this time, “I will not change My mind.” (v28) Certain devastating judgement is coming, but Hope for the remnant of His faithful people is a promise.

 

Reflection

Biblical history records the prophesies and outcomes some 2,800 years ago that we read in Jeremiah. Society’s predictions and the consequences of behaviors find their way into more current history anthologies and even our own personal histories. Each day gives us multiples opportunities to choose which side of history we will stand. Do we give an honest answer or speak an untruth, seek a God-view or choose a world-view solution, offer an optimistic response or a negative reply, give a word of encouragement or sling a critical comment, look forward with hope for tomorrow or lie with regret in the past?

“Right living is more than simply avoiding sin.”[1] Researchers say the average person makes 35,000 decisions each day, some good and others not so good. Sometimes, it can be hard to know the best answer.

No matter how well we may strive to do good things, the human heart is easily influenced, innately self-focused. The OT prophet Joel gives this advice, “Return to Me with all your heart… rend your heart and not your garments. Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness.” (Joel 2:12-13) Rend means to tear, and in Biblical times, tearing one’s clothing shows deep remorse. God does not want me to merely tear my clothes, rather, He desires me to rend my heart, not just make some outward gesture but offer true inward repentance. For God’s goodness comes to those who are sincerely faithful to Him.

 

Application

Blackaby writes: Every encounter with God calls for a choice: rebellion or obedience… Keep your heart tender toward the Lord.

Consider the religious traditions or behaviors you participate in each week… such as: prayer, Bible study, worship services, music, Lord’s Supper/Eucharist, giving money, service to others, etc. Then consider your heart’s attitude during these times. AND THEN, consider your heart’s attitude in the everyday moments that fill your week.

One day this week after studying the lesson, I found my heart humming a song, just partial lyrics at first, until I remembered the whole chorus. Not sure why this came to mind, but I am sharing my promise of Hope:

“Mercy there was great, and grace was free

Pardon there was multiplied to me

There my burdened soul found liberty

At Calvary.”

Donna Oswalt



[1] Chronological Life Application Study Bible

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Scattered Charms

`Week 3 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 3



Background

Biblical timelines are many, timelines of judges, of kings, of prophets, of the rise and fall of nations. Like any timeline, these linear compilations mark the order and dates of history, but, perhaps as importantly, timelines give people perspective. Historically, we are people who record and retell past events. We revel in the victories, but we are ‘historically’ forgetful and neglectful to remember the unforeseen and unfortunate outcomes of chronicled events.

Timelines can also mark future events, such as defining project deadlines, planning academic achievements, and estimating monetary growth potential. Some people set business or personal 5-Year Goals while others simply dream of future possibilities.

This week let us compare 2 timelines: 1) the Kings of Judah and 2) Christ, the King of kings.

Kings of Judah

Hezekiah               730 BC

Manasseh              697

Amon                     642

Josiah                    640

Jehoiakim              609

Zedekiah               597 – 586

Jeremiah the prophet brings God’s message of repentance to Judah for 40 years, then the era of kings in Judah ends. Jerusalem is destroyed and the people of Judah are taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon The Israelites of Judah are in captivity 70 years. During these roughly 150 years between 730-586 BC, several kings reign over Judah, and Babylon has two kings, Nabopolassa and Nebuchadnezzar, over about 75 years. We learn that Persia, whose ruler is Cyrus, conquers Babylon in 539. The rise and fall of political leaders make up this short timeline.

Christ, King of kings

In Scripture, there is a Messianic timeline that reveals Christ – past, present, and future. From the beginning, before time is recorded, Christ is life itself. Messianic prophesies fill the Old Testament, a God-promise coming for all nations, for all people. After all the predictions of a Messiah, Christ’s birth, teaching, ministry, death, and resurrection are all recorded in the New Testament. Now, Christ is sitting at the right hand of God until His return.

Biblical references of a New Jerusalem, a New Earth, of Heaven shout to eternity with God. Revelation gives us a glimpse into Christ’s return and rule on the New Earth. This timeline, counting from before time is recorded through the centuries of waiting for Christ’s birth, from Christ’s birth to His resurrection and to an unknown time of Christ’s return, continues infinitely. From Genesis to Revelation, from hope to everlasting hope, God’s promise of love never ends.

 

Study

This chapter continues to describe the sinful nature of “backsliding” or turning away from God. Using metaphorical examples of marriage and adultery, God says Judah is playing the harlot. Three times we read that God invites “faithless Israel” back to Him. He requires two things: acknowledge the sin and spiritual repentance. This forgiveness is a message of hope. “New shepherds” who follow God will feed your mind with “knowledge and understanding”.

Having a stubborn or unchanged heart becomes a recurring theme. In verse 13 the NKJV uses the phrase “scattered your charms” while most translations use “favors”. God is confronting the heart of the people. Words and rituals of repentance do not count when the heart is deceptive or insincere. The people have ‘scattered their charms’ or lost the way of the Lord or been promiscuous with strangers. They have given their hearts to false gods; they have lost God’s blessings.

In Chapter 3:17, a promise of hope comes with Jerusalem becoming the “Throne of the LORD” and “all nations will be gathered to Jerusalem”. We see a glimpse into the New Jerusalem, a place for all nations, where God’s faithful people will live without any “stubbornness” of hearts. This will be a place for the faithful remnant. In verse 22, God desires to ‘heal’ their faithlessness. God’s message of hope prevails despite their blatant and wonton behavior. The Message 3:12 God faithfully reminds, “I’m committed in love to you.”

 

Reflection

The unconditional love God promises exceeds my mind. “I’m committed in love to you” can be said by folks who should mean it or maybe mean it at the time, but something changes. While some are friends or neighbors, some are business partners or marriage partners, we live in a society that is full of “casual partners”. Sometimes, even family members become casual acquaintances. How rare to have a loyal and trusted long-time, loving relationship! God’s commitment to love reveals an essential characteristic of His nature.

As people, flawed and fragile and fickle, we frequently have a problem with our hearts and ‘scatter our charms’ or our loyalties, our honesty, our sincerity, our trustworthiness. I like to believe I am a person who commits and does not waiver, but life proves otherwise. Most of us, if we are honest, drop the ball. God, however, never waivers, never falters. God always remains ‘committed in love to you.’ There is great comfort in knowing that nothing can separate us from God’s love. We can walk away from God, but He remains faithful, forgiving me, inviting me back. God desires a relationship with us.


Application

Chronological Life Application Study Bible says this: To live without faith is hopeless; to express sorrow without change is hypocritical… Repentance demands a change of mind and heart that results in changed behavior.

 What behaviors cause us to miss the experiences of God’s love?

 How can our actions reject the blessings of God?

 Think about the ways our “stubborn hearts” cause us to lose opportunities to share Jesus with others?

 Donna Oswalt

 ** Continue to journal your thoughts during this time of study and reflection. You can share your comments at the bottom of the blog post. I would love to hear your insights. - dho

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