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

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