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Thursday, February 25, 2021

In Mourning

Week 8 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 8


Background

Let’s look at some historical background on Huldah, the female prophet, from last week. She serves during the reign of King Josiah, and some scholars believe Huldah had been influential in Josiah’s childhood. Huldah’s husband, Shallum, serves in the royal court as “keeper of the royal wardrobe”, and they live in the Second Quarter in Jerusalem.

During the spiritual reformation of Josiah, a hidden scroll is found, and Josiah sends Hilkiah, the high priest, along with Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah to Huldah, the prophetess, to seek her thoughts. [Read the complete account in 2 Kings 22:14-20 and 2 Chronicles 34:22-33.] Validating God’s anger and impending wrath, she says Josiah will not witness the coming destruction. One commentary calls this Huldah’s “word of grace” to Josiah. Huldah’s prophecy, like Jeremiah, does come true, but not for another thirteen years, after the spiritual revival attributed to Josiah and his leadership.

Some scholars suggest that Huldah and Jeremiah are related, both descendants of Rahab by marriage to Joshua. In the Old Testament, seeking a woman’s opinion is rare. Grouped with greatly respected women of the OT, Huldah, the prophetess, finds company with Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, and Esther. Miriam (Exodus 15:20) and Deborah (Judges 4:4) are the other female prophets of the OT. Her reply to Josiah about the finding of the Book of the Law plays a part in the spiritual reformation of Judah.

Study

Future mages of graves desecrated by the coming Babylonian army opens Chapter 8. In verses 5-6, the people’s behavior is identified as “perpetual backsliding” and deceitful and showing no repentance from “wickedness”. Nothing new here as the same story continues. Continued apostasy is the theme of the second section of Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon and addresses ongoing behaviors and unrepentant hearts. 

Nature seems to understand the flow of life, the rhythm of the seasons. Unlike nature, humanity pens false narratives, rewords facts, and unashamedly speaks of peace when there is no peace. The hearts of the people, to include all “from the least to the greatest”, reveal self-focused and compromising lifestyles. Simply, just tell the people what they want to hear. God does not operate this way.

The repeated warnings and consequences of unrepentance continue. Verse 16 mentions Dan, one of the twelve tribes of Israel which fell with the Northern Kingdom, as the northern route which Nebuchadnezzar will take to invade Judah. Dan is also a know place of pagan worship. Jeremiah mourns for the people, for Jerusalem (v 18-22). His heart weeps for the coming judgement, “My sorrow is beyond healing, my heart is faint within me.” Jeremiah is broken hearted for the cities to be destroyed, the people to be killed or taken into captivity.

The last verse, familiar to many, reflects on what could possibly bring healing. The rhetorical question asks, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” Gilead is a “mountainous region east of the Jordan River… known for its aromatic spices and healing balms.”[1] Jeremiah knows the message, knows what is coming, knows the brokenness that these self-inflicted wounds will bring, and he so hopes for a healing balm. Centuries later, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and its coming destruction. (Matthew 23:37-24:2)

Reflection

Warren Wiersbe writes in The Wiersbe Study Bible, “Although the Bible is still a bestseller, its popularity isn’t keeping Western society from crumbling morally and spiritually. There seems to be no connection between what people say they believe, and the way people act.” The “State of the Bible Survey” in 2020 by the American Bible Society reveals barely 30% of American adults use the Bible outside of church, with only 9% reading the Bible daily. The Bible is still the world’s best-selling book with estimations of over 6 billion copies sold. In 2016, the Gideon’s distribute nearly 60 million Bibles worldwide. Various surveys indicate the average American owns multiple Bibles. Today we seem to have infinite access to the Holy Scriptures, to include online and Bible apps; yet we, who have so much opportunity, are the very ones who seldom study the Bible.

Henry David Thoreau writes, “The more we know about the ancients, the more we find that they are like the moderns.” Frequently I hear folks say that America is more and more like the Romans of ancient times. The adage that ‘history repeats itself’ plays out in many ways, century after century, decade after decade. Oh, each one does it better or with more sophistication or at least more technology. I believe the greatest truth may lie within humanity itself, simple and sinful humanity. We need moral and spiritual guidance, and for the Christian, we find that in Christ.

As I think about Jeremiah and his weeping for the people, I wonder who weeps for us? We live in a frail and fragmented time, not much different from Judah. We struggle with success and societal pressures, with the need to be more and sometimes to have more, with pushing the boundaries and self-focused lifestyles. Lately, it seems there is so much anger and hurt and dissent about everything. I am reminded of a song by Matthew West, a contemporary Christian artist, and these words from one of his songs, “Father, break my heart for what breaks Yours, give me open hands and open doors. Put Your light in my eyes, and let me see that my own little world is not about me.” Lord, I pray that I will weep for us, and together we will weep for each other. Surely, God must weep over us. 

Application 

In Jeremiah Chapter 8, verse 18-19, Jeremiah is pleading for the people, for Judah. We go on to read about his asking, “Is there no balm in Gilead”? The African American spiritual “There is a Balm in Gilead” speaks the truest answer. It tells of the New Testament offer of Grace through Jesus Christ. The chorus goes, “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.”

 

·         Do you find wounds within your life that need a soothing balm, a healing         balm?

·         Where do you go for spiritual healing?

·         Do you know Jesus Christ, the healing balm of grace?

 

Donna Oswalt



[1] Blackaby Study Bible

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Stand at the Gate

Week 7 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 7; Additional reading: 2Kings22-23



Background

Josiah becomes Judah’s sixteenth king at eight years old and reigns for thirty-one years. His father, Amon, and grandfather, Manasseh, only offer examples of evil and wicked leadership, but Josiah is more like his great-grandfather, Hezekiah. Josiah knows God and develops a personal relationship with Him. Like Hezekiah, he is a “passionate reformer” in leading the people of Judah to return to God. Faithful and obedient to God, Josiah becomes a leader during a dark time of apostasy, yet he stands against the loudest cultural voices.

Josiah’s reign brings a breath of fresh air to Judah after decades of pagan worship and spiritual backsliding of the Southern Kingdom. During his eighteenth year as king, Josiah works with Hilkiah, the high priest and Jeremiah’s father, to begin restoring the Temple. “In 622 BC, the Book of the Law, apparently including at least a portion of the Book of Deuteronomy, is discovered.”[1] Josiah asks Hilkiah and Shaphan, the court secretary, to go to the Temple and seek the Lord’s way for them.

Here we meet Huldah, a female prophet (like Miriam and Deborah). She confirms God’s anger and reiterates the coming destruction because the people worship pagan gods and have turned from Yahweh. Huldah gives the king this message, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the message you have just heard:  You were sorry and humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I said against this city and its people—that this land would be cursed and become desolate. You tore your clothing in despair and wept before me in repentance. And I have indeed heard you, says the Lord.  So, I will not send the promised disaster until after you have died and been buried in peace. You will not see the disaster I am going to bring on this city.’” (2 Kings 22:18-20 NLT)

Josiah goes to the Temple having gathered all the leaders of Judah and the priests and prophets, and “all the people from the least to the greatest”. (2 Kings 23:2) He reads the “entire Book of the Covenant that had been found in the LORD’s Temple” and renews the vows to the LORD. (2 Kings 23:3) Josiah promises to obey God’s ways with “all his heart and soul.” Both Josiah and all the people reconfirm their covenant before the LORD.

The Temple is restored as a place for worshiping the One true God while the idols and pagan gods are removed and burned. All the symbols and shrines of Baal worship are also taken down and burned. The altar of Topheth in the valley of Ben-Hinnom is desecrated, never to be used again for rituals of child sacrifice. Josiah recognizes that renewing a promise must include a response, an action. Words of obedience are only as powerful as the deeds that follow. 

Josiah reinstates the celebration of Passover, the yearly remembrance for Israel’s rescue from slavery in Egypt, (Exodus 12) which apparently has not been observed for many years. Remembered as Judah’s most obedient king, Josiah’s name means “the LORD Heals”. Scripture remembers him as, “Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since.” (2 Kings 23:25)

Yahweh’s anger lingers against Manasseh for his most wicked ways, the most evil king of Judah. Josiah’s spiritual reformation of Judah could not eliminate God’s judgement. In 609 BC, Josiah makes a fatal military error, and subsequently with his army defeated, he dies of battle wounds from Egypt’s army at Megiddo. Carried back to Jerusalem, Josiah is buried in the royal cemetery. Jeremiah composes a lament or song of sorrow to honor him. This marks Judah’s last glory-moment. For the next four years, Judah’s defeat gives Egypt (609-605BC) great political influence over Judah and her kings. This begins the final phase of the judgement of Judah. 

** Josiah’s story: 2 Kings 21:24-23:30 and 2 Chronicles 33:25-35:27

Study

This week we enter a section of Jeremiah that scholars call the “Temple Sermon” which includes Chapters 7-10. We will explore parts of this sermon by chapter. Some believe this occurs after Josiah’s reformation, and other commentaries suggest this may be the period after Josiah’s death, during the reign of Jehoiakim, Egypt’s puppet king. Certainly, Jeremiah speaks to the people’s spiritual apathy and habits of hypocrisy. Some Biblical scholars believe the Temple Sermon coincides with one of Israel’s three major religious pilgrimages to the Temple, considering the crowds.

Jeremiah is to “stand at the gate of the LORD’s house” and proclaim God’s message. From the first verse, we can see God wants the people coming to the Temple to hear His words. The message is to make your life and your deeds pleasing to God. The Hebrew people have a false belief that the Temple is safe from any harm and cannot be destroyed. In verse 4, the superstitious swearing “the Temple of the LORD” is false security.

Examples in verses 5-6 of truly living a better life describe practicing justice and helping neighbors, being fair with each other. In verses 7-8 the stealing and murdering and lying along with adultery and idol worship, identify their hearts and behaviors. Their real lifestyles defy God. Verse 11 uses a phrase Jesus quotes in Matthew 21:13 when He cleanses the Temple - “a den of thieves”. Here in Jeremiah, God calls out the people’s behavior, saying they are making the Temple unholy by falsely using worship ceremonies to cover up their sinful living.

Shiloh is mentioned as an example of God’s judgement. Located about 18 miles north of Jerusalem, this place is the first permanent home for the Tabernacle (Joshua 18:1) after the Israelites enter Canaan. The constant sinfulness of God’s people becomes the reason God allows the Philistines to destroy Shiloh around 1050 BC. The Ark of the Covenant is stolen. (you can read more about that in 1 Samuel 4). So, God is reminding them that this Temple, this Sanctuary is not secure without their faithfulness to Him.

Jeremiah is told not to pray for these people. Do not intervene on their behalf, do not cry out to Me about them, do not intercede for them. God’s plan to move forward is clear that He will not relent. Whole families are described as working together to make offerings for other gods, including the “queen of heaven” which is a female Canaanite goddess that promoted immorality. God can no longer find those who choose obedience to Him, rather their disobedience, their stubborn, “evil hearts” choose their consequences. In verse 31, Topheth is a “high place” in the valley of Hinnom which gets its name from “the clamor of drums that drowned the cries for the babies flung into the fires”.[2]

The days of judgement are coming. There will be no joy. There will be grief and death. Each section of the Temple Sermon brings an indictment against the people of Judah. The first indictment is False Worship.

 

Reflection

God tells Jeremiah to “stand at the gate of the LORD’s house” and proclaim God’s message. That is like you or me to going to church and proclaiming God’s message of salvation. Excluding these unprecedented Covid months, I think about how often I go through the doors of the church to participate in worship, sing the hymns, study the Bible, fellowship with other Believers. I consider my offerings, my time, my service, both inside the church and outside the walls. Frequently my attendance is because someone organizes an event or provides an opportunity. Other times, a commitment to a group or committee defines the occasion for my participation. As I add up those hours each week, I am pleased with my choices and even count those times I show up but would rather choose something else. Perhaps we all evaluate and give ourselves a pat on the back for “doing” more than just “saying” we believe in Jesus. The stark and defining truth is that God always sees the intention of the heart, knows the motives I bring to the tasks.

Not unlike the people of Judah, there are times we all go through the motions, our minds preoccupied with unnecessary anxieties, decisions weighing us down, a financial or health crisis that demands attention. There are times we simply fall into the world’s traps of materialism, the political arena, or societal expectations. We dilute our time with whatever catches our interests, anything from social media to social dilemma. While there is nothing wrong with examining these myriad viewpoints, nothing wrong with opinions, for Believers the hardest part is merging our individual conclusions with our personal faith. As I stand in the doorway, what is my faith-message?

While the Temple in Jerusalem represents God’s Presence to the Hebrew people, Christianity defines our bodies, each of us, as a Temple of the Holy Spirit. God lives in us. 2 Corinthians 3:3 reminds us that we “are a living letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” I do wonder what my letter says to those with whom I worship and fellowship, serve and study, but what does it say to those I stand beside in the check-out line at the grocery store or interact with at the post office, to those I greet along the road or honor for brave service, to those who need more but have less, to those who walk a different way than I choose? Does my living letter look like Christ, sound like Christ? Am I Christ to those I meet along my journey? We are called to live a faith-full life, trusting God while living out this faith with truth and not hypocrisy. This is the message of God through Jeremiah, and the goal of our heart-letters.

 

Application

We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way. Francis of Assisi

Francis of Assisi, an Italian friar who lived 1181-1226 AD, gives voice to the 21st Century’s needs. The lesson today speaks to those who have lost their way, to those who lived more than a millennium before Francis of Assisi and more than eight centuries after. How can it be that more than 800 years after his words, we still find ourselves in the same place?

The season of Lent began yesterday, Wednesday, February 17, with Ash Wednesday, a season for reflection and spiritual renewal. Take this week and begin to reflect, to examine what your living letter says to those around you, to those you influence. Look for hypocrisy and inconsistences. Seek God’s Presence and find restoration.

Donna Oswalt

 

 



[1] Chronological Study Bible, p.693

[2] Jeremiah: Priest and Prophet, Meyer, FB

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Ash Wednesday 2021


The Lord says, “For what purpose does frankincense come to Me from Sheba and the sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, and your sacrifices are not pleasing to Me.” Jeremiah 6:20





As this Lenten season begins, I am spending the year studying the Book of Jeremiah, and I find that the message for all people is the same. The Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, and Jeremiah all remind that sacrifices are not what God desires, instead He wants the people to come to Him with a sincere and repentant heart. Threads from the beginning throughout all of Scripture point to the same spiritual need - the need for grace.  

[Jesus said] "Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13


Jesus comes for sinners, those who need His mercy. All of fallen humanity meets the requirements of ‘sinner.’ Only through Jesus can we be made holy, only through His Grace can we be made righteous. It is only our soul’s sincere repentance that invites Grace to enter. On this Ash Wednesday, many Christians around the world gather together and receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads. These ashes remind us of our need for Grace, remind us that without Jesus we are only sinners. With Jesus, however, we are sinners who find forgiveness and redemption. We can trade our ashes for a robe of righteousness with Jesus! 


Jesus, I kneel at your altar wearing the mark of a sinner. With humble awareness I examine my need for grace, my desire to serve You more. Let my love and service always be mindful of Your mercy. ~dho



Thursday, February 11, 2021

Rejected Silver

Week 6 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 6; additional reading: Matthew 11:28-30


Background

Jeremiah’s biography can be found in the two books of the Bible credited to him, Jeremiah and Lamentations. Born into a priestly family in the small town of Anathoth, just three miles north of Jerusalem, his father is Hilkiah, the High Priest here. Accepting his divine calling to become a prophet during the 13th year of King Josiah’s reign in 627 BC, Jeremiah is possibly younger than 20. Having been told not to marry or have children, Jeremiah becomes known as the “preaching prophet” and continues in ministry for 40 years. 

Scripture teaches God chooses Jeremiah as His messenger before his conception. His ministry covers the reigns of the last 5 kings of Judah, from Josiah to Zedekiah. With God’s message rejected by the people, this creates much suffering and ridicule for this servant of God. Despite the hardships and anguish, Jeremiah will faithfully serve God as His prophet, bringing His message to the Hebrew people of the Southern Kingdom known as Judah. 

In Biblical commentaries, Jeremiah is commonly known as “the weeping prophet” because of his sincere sorrow for his community, for his people. Empathy defines Jeremiah’s feelings toward his fellow Hebrew citizens. His heart breaks for them as God’s judgment comes. God allows Jeremiah to witness the prophesies revealed, the horrific devastation of Jerusalem. Most commentaries believe Jeremiah writes Lamentations after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

Jeremiah remains a true and faithful follower of God, believing that Yahweh is the LORD of Judah and of all nations. Messages of sin and consequences fill the book of Jeremiah, and frequently Jeremiah reminds the people of God’s mercy and faithfulness, of His promises of restoration. While false prophets proclaim false peace to this nation of rebellious people, Jeremiah brings light to this darkness exposing these lies and false hope. Because of His Covenant with Israel, God’s people can come back to Jerusalem with a new vision, a new hope – true Shalom. Inside and wrapped around the messages of judgement, Jeremiah always reminds the people of God’s mercies. Jeremiah understands the righteous nature of God.

Tradition marks Jeremiah’s death around 570 BC although there is no record in Scripture. Jeremiah is exiled to Egypt after Jerusalem falls, and some historians say it is possible that “the weeping prophet” is stoned to death in Egypt by his fellow countrymen.

 

Study 

In the beginning of Chapter 6, Jeremiah gives God’s message, first, to his own neighbors in Anathoth, a city in the tribe of Benjamin. The reference to “Tekoa” is a town 6 miles South of Bethlehem, some 11 miles from Jerusalem, and the hometown of the prophet, Amos, and known as the hill country of Judah. The next location we see is Beth Haccerem, meaning house of the vineyard, which is signal point 2 miles

south of Jerusalem. The Jews have “three main ways to get military info: trumpet signals (v 1), signal fires (v 1), and watchmen on the walls (v 17).”[1] We continue to see the warnings about disaster and great destruction from the north (v 1).  In verses 5-9, God gives specific instructions to the Babylonian army, the how and why for taking the city of Jerusalem.

Our empathetic Jeremiah laments the people’s blatant disregard, and his “weary” and burdened heart aches for this coming calamity. “Nobody is listening” seals their fate. Because of their greed no one will be exempt, “from the least… even to the greatest”, “from the prophet and even to the priest”. (v13) These false teachers giving false hope to the men, women, and children - all will experience God’s judgment.

In verse 14 we hear God’s frustration with these false leaders who are giving false peace, “there is no peace.” This peace, the Hebrew word Shalom, describes not simply a time or place without disturbance; rather, this peace is true peace, a wholeness or completeness. There is no peace in Judah.

How does one find this peace? God tells them to seek the “ancient paths”. Where does one find “the good way” in verse 16? These ancient paths are simply the old ways of the Chosen People, the Torah, the Law, the lessons of Moses. The people reject the good way, do not listen, and offer empty sacrifices. God’s anger will bring “stumbling blocks” (v 21) such as famine and invasion, and all will suffer.

The chapter closes with a lesson that calls the rebellious people of Judah “rejected silver”. The reference of “bronze and iron” in verse 28 is symbolic language describing the rebellious nature of the people, “stubborn rebels” and “corrupters”. The Chronological Study Bible Commentary says that silver naturally occurs in nature mixed with lead. To get pure silver, the process includes heating the silver to a high temperature, and the impurities will rise to the top. These impurities, called dross, are then skimmed off. The process is repeated until the silver is free of impurities. God says that their wickedness, the dross, is “not drawn off”. In other words, the people reveal their impurities in their lives. Because they are not willing to seek purification or righteousness through a true repentance, they remain as impure silver – rejected silver.

 

Reflection

The LORD says, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls…” (Jeremiah 6:16) These words speak to me this week, call to my heart and mind and soul. We all find ourselves as this common intersection, sometimes we are lost and need directions, sometimes we have questions and seek answers, sometimes we are weary and simply need rest. In fact, we probably come to this crossroads several times a day: tell the truth or manipulate it, keep a confidence or boast being-in-the-know, abstain from critical comments or make that condescending remark, choose to be kind or turn the other way with indifference. As Christians, we are called to live a better way, a right-living way with God. I must do better.

Every day we “stand at the crossroads” of good and evil; we mingle with good enough and not-so-bad, with just okay and almost-too-far. You get what I am saying! We stand beside some people who offer veiled taunts while others shout blatant hostility. Looking the other direction, we see folks who give simplistic replies or just say nothing. This contrast on paper reflects the greater chasm between choosing the world over choosing God, being insolent over intentional, being ambiguous over authentic. I must ask and choose “the good way”.

The ancient paths lead us to true rest. After mentioning Matthew 11:28-30 last week, I discover this week that verse 29 quotes Jeremiah 6:16, “and you will find rest for your souls.” This “rest” means a “state of refreshment and life, a state of renewal for one’s life and soul.”[2] In the same way, shalom offers more than peace, reflecting a deeper, more complex idea that conveys a completeness evidenced by the blessing of spiritual security and rest, of wholeness and well-being. This rest and this peace come from Jesus. In Hebrew, Jesus is called Yeshua and is also known as Sar Shalom, Prince of Peace. My favorite version of Matthew 11:29 is in The Message which paints the image of true rest as “to learn the unforced rhythms of grace”. I need this rest for my soul!


Application 

The very last line in Jeremiah 6:16 is dismal, “But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” The history of faith takes us way back – long before denominations, even before the 1st century theology of grace. Prophesies written long, long ago tells us that our faithful God always reveals “The Way”!  

·         Do you find yourself standing with Judah saying, “We will not walk in it!” or “No, that’s not the road we want!” (NLT)

 

Test the ancient paths - evaluate these faith-based beliefs and hold them as a standard to culture, as a standard to your own living.  

·         Ask yourself: Where have I gone astray? How can I do better? What changes must I make to reflect God’s Way in my living? 

Donna Oswalt

*I hope you are finding these lessons purposeful and useful in your devotional and study time.

 

 

 

 



[1] The Wiersbe Study Bible, Warren Wiersbe

[2] Complete Word Study Bible of OT and NT

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Broken Yoke

Week 5 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 5; Additional reading: 1 Samuel 8


Background

In the Old Testament threads of history tell the evolving story of Israel, a people God chooses as His own. The story begins with Abraham, a promise from God, and future descendants. Genesis 17:4-7 NLT reads, “This is My covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! …Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them… from generation to generation. This is an everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you… Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner… will be [your] possession forever.” A prophecy to Abraham reveals that Israel will become slaves and be oppressed for 400 years.

Moses leads Israelites out of Egypt after these 400 years of captivity. The Promised Land is close but due to doubt and fear and disobedience, the Hebrew people wander in the wilderness for 40 years. When Joshua leads them into Canaan, they are surrounded by foreign gods. Israel is called by God to be a holy nation, to be separate and unique from all others. (Leviticus 20:26) Their constant exposure to extreme pagan behaviors begins to diminish their religious traditions while worship of Canaanite gods, intermarrying, and hedonistic sexual immorality become part of their culture. The Ten Commandments begin to take a backseat. Chosen by God to live a life of “practical holiness”, they begin to live just like their neighbors.

Because the people are disobeying God’s commandments and not listening to His guidance, God establishes judges. The period of Judges comes around 1375, centuries after Abraham and lasts about 300 years. Familiar judges are Deborah (yes, a woman), Gideon, and Samson. From different tribes of Israel, these leaders help to establish justice and rescue the Hebrew people from their enemies. God chooses these leaders, and their main purposes are to restore the people to a right relationship with God and give them victory over their oppressors. By the end of this era, Israel has continued to break its covenant with God in all kinds of ways. 

Although set apart for God’s purpose, the Hebrew nation desiring to be like everyone else demands a king. Samuel, both priest and prophet, becomes the last judge as God hears the people demands. Disagreeing with them, God wants Samuel to explain the downside of having a king: you will be slave labor for the king, your best fields and vineyards and olive groves will be taken by the king, you will be taxed, and your sons will fight for the king’s purposes. Still, the people want a king to govern and protect them. Until this time, the LORD is their King, their Provider and Protector and Promise-keeper. God says, “they have rejected Me from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:7) His permissive will allows the people their choice. Israel enters a “transition from theocracy (led by God) to a monarchy (led by a king)”.[1] 

Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, reigns as the first king beginning 1050 BC. There would be many other kings, continuing through the divided Northern and Southern kingdoms, ending with fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Roughly 500 years of kings, some would be good political leaders, some good economic leaders, some good city planners, and some with good military skills, but many would be evil kings. The good kings, the ones who would seek God’s plans and purposes, search for God’s wisdom, remember God’s promise, lead the people to worship the one true God, would be few. Some 1400 years after God establishes His covenant with Abraham, King Josiah establishes his reign while remembering the everlasting promise of God to His people. During the early years of Jeremiah’s ministry, this good king tries lead the people back to the one true God.

Study

In Chapter 5, the refusal to repent continues. Jeremiah struggles to find someone, anyone, who will be repentant. The people, all together, “have broken the yoke”. (v 5) In verses 6-7 God asks, “Because their transgressions are many, their apostasies are numerous, why should I pardon you?” The Message says, “Their betrayals are past counting.” God’s message of hope weaves itself even here with “do not execute a complete destruction” as a pruning is coming. Both Israel and Judah (the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom) betray God, over and over. God’s prophets’ warnings are ignored.

We find God’s judgement is announced, again, and this time it comes like a fire, consuming them. Judgement is coming from nation far away. This ancient and powerful nation will destroy your cities. Yet again, God’s glimpse of hope comes with, “I will not make you a compete destruction.” (v19) The faithful remnant, those who have a repentant heart will survive, will return to this Promised Land.

In the closing verses we see a divine revelation of corruption and consequence. Priest and prophets sharing false stories, choosing their own authority over God. And the people, well they “love it”. God gets the last word, “But what will you do at the end of it?”

Reflection

A phrase that stands out to me is the people “have broken the yoke”.  An agricultural example, a yoke is one wooden piece placed on work animals to “harness them for labor”. Here Jeremiah uses “yoke” as a metaphor to express God’s power and authority, a combination of God’s covenant and God’s word. The people break their covenant, their promise to worship the one true God, deny God’s word, do not worship God with a faithful heart. They choose the culture of the day, rejecting God’s ways. The people “know the way of the LORD” and understand the judgement, but all together they choose to break away.

The people of Judah know the law, the Ten Commandments that establish guidelines on how to live. While the Ten Commandments initially provide rules to set the people apart from those who worshipped many false gods, it ultimately becomes the principles for righteous living. In time, this Ultimate Law reveals the bigger truth – that humankind can never reach this level of righteousness on our own. The biggest truth comes with Ultimate Love, with Jesus Christ who becomes true righteousness for each person. We believe these same standards, but as Christians understand our need for grace, for a Savior.

Yoke appears in the New Testament in Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” As believers, we are no longer yoked to the law, which could never make us righteous; rather, we are truly set apart in Christ. This does not mean I can say whatever I choose or live however I desire. Simply, it means in Christ I find unmeasured grace. In Matthew 11:28-30 we find the Christ-yoke. This yoke is for the weary and the burdened, for the lessons of compassion and humility, for rest and restoration. To be yoked with Christ brings unspeakable peace, even in the chaos of living. 

Application

God alone has the power to alter the course of history by bringing to a close those things that oppose His will and creating anew those things that might better serve His purposes.[2] – Robert Laha

·    *    People know – Israel knows in Moses’ era and in Jeremiah’s time, that their faithless behavior toward God would bring disastrous consequences. What actions do you see in the world today that mirror the people of Judah?

·  *     God asks a startling question at the end of Chapter 5, “What will you do in the end of it?” The Message says it this way, “What will you do when it’s time to pick up the pieces?” God is asking you and me this same question. Consider Proverbs 14:12 as you reflect on your answer.

 - Donna Oswalt

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[1] Life Application Study Bible/ commentary 1 Samuel Chapter 8

[2] Jeremiah, Interpretation Bible Studies/Robert Laha p18