Week 12 – Book of Jeremiah
In our Scripture today, Jeremiah asks some hard questions and learns some important lessons. These early years as a prophet bring stress and uncertainty. Of course, there are many examples of God’s servants getting weary. Moses finds himself discouraged, and Joshua wants to leave the Promised Land. Elijah wanders from his assigned place, so hopeless he wants to die. There are more whose human nature feels defeat or discouragement. “God doesn’t want us to ignore our feelings… but He does want us to trust Him to change our feelings and start walking in faith.”
Jeremiah, having been faithful to speak God’s messages, now finds himself somewhat confused. In his prayer, he tries to make sense of all the pieces. Jeremiah is learning much about a life of service to God. One lesson Jeremiah learns is that “the life of godly service isn’t easy.” Coming from a priestly family, surely, he understands the devotion and obedience necessary for serving, but his prophet role is different, harder, and brings dangers than the priesthood.
Another lesson Jeremiah discovers is that “the life of service becomes harder, not easier” We will see examples of this in the lesson this week. The trials that seemed difficult are getting harder, more risky. The land is becoming more dangerous, the threat of invasion nearer, the potential for harm grows as peace diminishes. Even his own family and community question him, plot against him.
“The life of service gets better as we grow more mature.” While this lesson may seem just the opposite, Jeremiah is learning to depend on God as he faces increasing challenges. His faith grows during the chaos. Jeremiah improves his ministry skills. For all of us, our faith grows in the soils of uncertainty, of need, of dependency. “You don’t build character by being a spectator.” Jeremiah discovers spiritual growth in the challenges. Challenges bring changes. Jeremiah’s lessons are lessons for us.
Our lesson opens with a section some Bibles title “Jeremiah’s Question” and others, “Jeremiah’s Prayer.” Clearly Jeremiah is calling out to God. “When I plead with You” suggests a desire to get a resolution or strive to discover an understanding or come to a resolution. We see Jeremiah in a “theological crisis” as he tries to make sense of how a holy God could allow evil to prosper. “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” God obviously allows this to happen.
Heart-felt words follow in verse 3 as Jeremiah verbalizes that God sees his heart, God tests his faithfulness. The second question Jeremiah asks, just like us, is “how long” will this trial last. In verse 4 Jeremiah sees the drought and recognizes this as one known consequence of sinful hearts. (see Leviticus 26 for the Blessings and Curses) While the evil leaders prosper, the people suffer. We, too, ask ‘why’ and ‘how long’ when struggles challenge us.
As Jeremiah’s questions end, God’s answers begin. In verse 5-6, instead of responding to the wicked, God gives Jeremiah somethings to think about. Telling Jeremiah that if he thinks it is hard now, just wait! Another teaching moment reveals that even Jeremiah’s “brothers” and family are plotting against him. God warns him to be careful. These lessons likely are not what Jeremiah expects, but God teaches him lessons to build him up, increase his character.
In the second part of God’s reply to Jeremiah (vs 7-17), words like ‘forsaken’ and ‘inheritance’ catch our attention, but these striking words stop us where we are, “I have given the beloved of My soul into the hands of her enemies.” This falls in the category of curses for not trusting the One True God. This land of Canaan, the Promised Land, is on loan to the people, is their inheritance. God is saying that He is taking it back. The land is being defiled by the people. Disobedience and false worship tarnish their inheritance. “Hate” in verse 8 represents rejection of the people who have become like enemies or adversaries of God. Persistent rebellion seals their fate.
God looks upon the land given with such hope and promise, but He sees a land that “mourns before Me”. The discipline will come from Babylon. Despite the harsh punishment, God’s hope reaches into the coming doom. Because God does not break His covenants, He will always love His people. In verse 15, we see God’s compassion, and His promise to bring them back to the land. The redemption picture Jeremiah paints includes punishment of their wicked neighbors, return of Judah from exile, compassion on the evil nations, and the restoration of each nation pending their response to God. Remember that God’s plan of redemption is always for all people.
This Sunday is Palm Sunday, they day we celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. Children waving palm branches frequent our churches. Smiles fill the pews as we watch the sweet, innocent children. When Jesus enters Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago, we read “He wept over” the city. Knowing that Jerusalem would fall and its people who turn from Him will perish, Jesus mourns this coming loss. (Luke 19:37-44) In a short 40 years, Romans will conquer Jerusalem and destroy the Temple completely. The rejection of God’s plan brings consequences, but God’s plan for redemption remains for all people.
Today’s lesson speaks of Judah’s land in mourning. In the NLT God says, “I hear its mournful cry.” God hears the grief of the Promised Land waiting for its invasion. God understands grief (see vs 7-8) as He experiences losses too! We all experience various kinds of loss. There is the emotional pain of ingratitude or indifference. Disappointments bring situational changes and often loss. Failed marriages and family or friends struggling with addictions hurt the heart. Job loss and illnesses add stress to our lives. We mourn for the losses, for the endings, for the dreams that die with the relationships.
Wounding circumstances cause our hearts to be sad, and sometimes we question, like Jeremiah, ‘why’ and ‘how long’. Twenty-five centuries later, we still ask the same unanswerable questions. Truthfully, we live in a world that is fractured. Anything can happen! We must be careful not to impose our frustration or anger over circumstances on God. God’s unchanging goodness prevails in all times, as does His love for each of us. I recommend a relatively new song to me by Tasha Layton called “Into the Sea”. It has a chorus that we must claim in times of uncertainty: Though the mountains may be moved into the sea, though the ground beneath might crumble and give way, I can hear my Father singing over me, “It’s gonna be okay, it’s gonna be okay.” Take a listen to it! Trust in God’s forever-goodness.
The commentaries bring up a word that may be new to some of us – theodicy (thee-OD-ud-see). While it may be a new word, the concept is as old as time. Theodicy is a “divine attribute, particularly holiness or justice, in allowing the existence of physical or moral evil.” Like Rabbi Kushner’s book title, we often ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Two weeks ago, we looked at God’s Sovereignty. Ultimately, the simple answer to the question is that God is in charge, and He allows circumstances to occur. The New Testament in Romans (8:28) reminds us that God can use all things for His good. It is really a mystery for my frail mind to even consider how the mind of God works.
· Sit with that question about ‘why do bad things happening to good people’. What questions/thoughts does it raise?
· What about “good things that happen to undeserving people”? What thoughts come to your mind?
· We believe God to be a good and righteous, all-mighty, all-knowing, all-powerful God. When difficult things happen to people we care about, we ask questions like Jeremiah, “Why” and “How Long”. Sometimes we question God’s intentions or His goodness. How do you defend God in situations like these?
Decisive, Warren Wiersbe, p 76
Study Bible, Warren Wiersbe, commentary on Jeremiah