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

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