Thursday, April 08, 2021

The Cry of Jerusalem

Week 14 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 14

Background


“The purpose of life is the building of character through truth, and you don’t build character by being a spectator.” – Phillip Brooks


What is character? The dictionary defines character as “features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.”[1] We understand character to be the qualities that might explain or express the habits, personality, reputation, or disposition of a person. Jeremiah’s character is tested and revealed and proven throughout the book of Jeremiah.

“Jeremiah’s life reminds us that God sometimes call us to take a difficult stand.”[2]  Jeremiah, a deep thinker with keen perspective, demonstrates some strong character components that serve him well in his appointed ministry. A strong spiritual relationship with God replenishes his faithfulness and obedience to God’s calling. Inner strength sustains Jeremiah in difficult times. Jeremiah exhibits, “qualities of courage, compassion, and sensitivity. He also [reveals] a darker side of moodiness, introspection, loneliness, doubt, and retribution toward his personal enemies.”[3]

Another character trait is compassion. Jeremiah, the author of Lamentations and called the weeping prophet, feels the suffering of his people, understands their grief. His empathy flows as he weeps for the people demonstrating love for the people. With passionate intercession to God, Jeremiah prays for a stubborn people. Laments evidences his love for the Hebrew people.

“Jeremiah depends on God’s love as he develops endurance.”[4] To make it through difficult times, endurance is required. Jeremiah reveals his courage by standing before the people, other prophets, priests, and kings as he delivers a divine but unfavorable message. Repeatedly, he brings the message which brings great risk to him. From responding to God to delivering the messages to seeing the prophesies fulfilled, Jeremiah endures. “The Lord who formed us, knows what particular services and purposes He intended us.”[5] Jeremiah is anointed by God for a specific purpose.

Study

Jeremiah delivers four messages in chapters 14-17. As we study Chapter 14, the time “reflects the panic and dismay of the people… to preserve life and home in the face of overwhelming military threats.”[6] Historical preservation of this era comes through a collection of broken pieces of pottery with written texts, that “grant glimpses into the last decades of the Kingdom of Judah.”[7] Most are military communications. Certainly, we see that these are stressful and uncertain times. These chapters are “dominated by laments: some from the people, some from the prophet, and some from God.”[8] The lesson is repeated and “nothing can be done now to stop the destruction.”[9]

Chapter 14 begins with the drought and the laments that follow. While Egypt benefits from the Nile River, Canaan depends on rain, the blessings God sends. In Deuteronomy 28:1-24 read about the blessings of obedience and the consequences of disobedience. Drought is a consequence of turning from God. The people mourn, both rich and poor, both city dwellers and farmers. They “covered their heads” suggests mourning like a funeral procession. There is no water, the vessels are empty. The city of Jerusalem mourns, and the land mourns.

The confessions and pleadings in vs. 7-9 speak to their iniquities, acknowledge their sinfulness against God, and beg God not to leave them. God always knows the heart and recognizes these as insincere. “To weep because of the sufferings that sin causes is to show remorse but not repentance.”[10] God responds, “They have loved to wander.” He will not respond to their pleadings, and, for a third time (v 11) tells Jeremiah not to pray for these people. God says the people will be consumed by sword, famine, and pestilence.

Jeremiah tries to say the people have been influenced by false prophets giving a false vision and offering false hope and peace. God replies that “lies in My name” and “deceit in their heart” are no excuses. The prophesy of doom will happen. The idols of Canaan have no power to bring rain. God has two tests for false prophets: “True prophets or prophetesses in Israel: (1) their predictions must be 100 percent accurate (Dt. 18:20-22), and (2) their messages must agree with the law of God (Dt. 13:1-18).”[11] Any and all idol worship that is promoted or permitted comes from false prophets. God would never send a false message.

We see weeping for the difficulties coming, the pleading for mercy. In the last verses, the imagery helps to paint a picture for us. There is weeping for the “virgin daughter” that is Judah. No healing, rejection is found along with battles and famines. Religious leaders fail the people and God. Wickedness and iniquity prevail. After repeatedly breaking the covenant, the people are pleading for God, “Remember, do not break Your covenant with us.” They must be remiss in the parameters of this promise: rain as blessings for obedience and drought as consequence for disobedience. (Dt. 11:10,12; Lev. 26:3-5) “Therefore, we hope in You”. In the last verse, a great truth is spoken. God is our only hope!

Reflection

The lesson offers more visuals of destruction and disobedience, of disappointment and despair; yet, in the last thought we find hope. God is the only true hope. As Christians, we frequently seek our affirmations in the New Testament, but clearly the message of God’s hope resonates throughout the whole Bible. In Hebrews 6:19 NLT, “This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.”  

This anchor for our souls symbolizes confidence, expectation, and assurance which encourages in uncertainty, endures through storms, promises beyond fear. Hope, like faith, believes what cannot be seen. God’s faithfulness secures our hope with Grace.

Throughout Holy Week and Easter, Christians all over the world remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. On the day of the crucifixion, at the moment when Jesus dies the curtain in the Temple that separates the Most Holy Place tears completely from top to bottom. Anchored and immovable, hope fills the inner sanctuary. Grace invites each believer to spiritually enter the presence of God. Jesus Christ is our Living Hope.

Holy One, I need hope in the darkness and courage in my doubt; I hold tight to this anchor when the storms of life make me weary. As I enter Your inner sanctuary, peace fills my soul. Great is Your faithfulness.

Application

Considering some of Jeremiah’s character traits, what are there some you desire but struggle to exhibit? Which one(s) do you think benefit(s) Jeremiah most frequently?

What parallels do you see in Jeremiah’s Judah and the world today? We understand that for them, they have reached the point of no turning around, that destruction is certain. What about us? Where is the hope for us?

Donna Oswalt

*Just an update, Chapter 13 was ¼ of the way through… This study guide includes 17,993 words so far and with a small font (11), fills 37 pages, with 53 references in addition to Scripture.



[1] Dictionary.com/character

[2] Blackaby Study Bible notes, Blackaby, Intro to Jeremiah

[3] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah; Kaiser, Walter C, p 2

[4] Life Application Study Bible, Jeremiah, p 1123

[5] Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, Jeremiah

[6] Archaeological Study Bible; Jeremiah Chapter 14 commentary

[7] Ibid

[8] Walking the Ancient Paths; Kaiser, Walter C., p 189

[9] Ibid

[10] Wiersbe Study Bible; Wiersbe, Warren; commentary Jeremiah 14

[11] Ibid

Thursday, April 01, 2021

This Is Your Portion

Week 13 – Book of Jeremiah

 

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 13

 

 


Background


“Jeremiah is an anthology or collection of writings drawn from an entire lifetime of prophetic ministry. The narrative sections scattered throughout the book are loosely structured around the main events of Jeremiah's life in ministry, which themselves were shaped by Judah's decline, fall, and exile in Babylon.”[1] The chronological order of Jeremiah varies, often depending on the Biblical historians. Most all agree, however, that the order of the Book of Jeremiah in the Holy Scriptures does not necessarily follow the historical sequence of events. 

Some divide Jeremiah into thematic categories such as “Judah’s Sin and Judgement” (Ch. 1-45), “Prophecies Against the Nations” (Ch. 46-51), and “A Sobering Ending” (Ch. 52).[2] Some commentaries like to order Jeremiah by topics to include judgement, preaching, hope, prophecy. Generally, most agree the timeline of events is between 627 and 585 BC, accounting for roughly 40 years of Jeremiah’s ministry. At another time, we will take an in-depth look at Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe who also figures prominently in Jeremiah. While some scholars question if Jeremiah is the author of fifty-two chapters, overall, they credit Jeremiah with authorship. 

Another way to look at Jeremiah is the varied structure of the book: “visions and prophesies of judgement as well as personal laments” (Ch. 1-24), “speeches of Jeremiah and stories about him” (Ch.25-45), “prophecies of restoration and comfort” (Ch. 30-33), “prophecies against the nations” (Ch. 46-51), and “historical appendix” (Ch. 52).[3] While the Book of Jeremiah follows one order in the original Hebrew writings, it follows “a different order in the Septuagint”[4] The messages are the same. 

The timeline of 627-586 or 585 BC follows the book’s progression although some events are re-told or referenced in later chapters. It can be unclear at times who is the ruling King of Judah, we know Josiah (640-609 BC) rules for thirty-one years and during Chapters 1-12, while in the latter chapters, his successors reign. In total, five kings rule Judah during the writings of Jeremiah, Josiah being the only one to truly worship Yahweh.

Scholars generally agree with the accuracy of the writings within the context of events. Chapter 1 and Chapter 52 serve as bookends to this collection. Chapter 1 is somewhat of an overview and gives some historical perspective. Chapter 52 describes the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple , but conclude with a message of hope. So, while not historically sequential and perhaps repetitive in its message, the Book of Jeremiah reveals the heart of God’s prophet and life of an obedient servant of God while bringing a most difficult message to Judah. 

Study

This is what commentaries call one of Jeremiah’s “object lessons” as he uses visual ideas like allegory and metaphor to make his point. This begins the chapter with the “linen sash”. Translations call this linen object various things such as sash, loincloth, waistband, girdle, and belt. Some suggest this is a undergarment that represents intimacy or an intimate relationship. Another suggestion is the sash represents part of the garments a priest wears (Exodus 28:4) and denotes holiness, dignity, and position. Whatever it is called, Jeremiah is told to go and bury the item. Then he is to return after some time and dig up the item, knowing it would be ruined.

Another debate arising among scholars, did Jeremiah go all the way to the “Euphrates” which is several hundred miles from Jerusalem and would take around 3-4 months travel time? Some suggest the ”Euphrates” may refer to “Perath [being] the same as Parah (Jos 18:23), near the modern Wadi Farah. Alternatively, it may refer to the Euphrates River.”[5] This would be only a short distance from Jerusalem. Perhaps the idea of such a long trip is indicated to make a point of significance. The meaning of a long journey and the ruined sash depicts Judah’s relationship with God as “profitable for nothing”. (v 7) God says, “I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.” (v 8)

God’s words close this section (v 11) with His hopeful promise and disappointed reality of the Hebrew people, “That they may become My people, for renown, for praise, and for glory; but they would not hear.” Again, we see the unrepentant hearts of the people.

Another image lesson is the wine bottles. In verse 13, all the inhabitants will be filled with “drunkenness” and there will clash with each other. God affirms, “I will not pity or spare nor have mercy, but will destroy them.” This symbolizes a defeat, full of shame and pain. The next visual we are given is “darkness” in verse 16. There is stumbling on the “dark mountains”while “looking for light”.  Images of God leading the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years comes to mind, leading them as cloud by day and fire by night. Now prophesy says, “the LORD’s flock has been taken captive.” God will not protect them from invasion and captivity.

Verse 18 mentions “the king and to the queen mother” and may suggest king Jehoiachin. The leaders are filled with pride. “During Jehoiachin’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar’s armies besieged Jerusalem, and both Jehoiachin and Nehushta [his mother] surrendered. Jehoiachin was sent to Babylon and imprisoned (2 Kgs 24:1-15). Jeremiah’s prophecy came true”.[6]

We see Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, lament (v 17-20) for Judah, for “the LORD’s flock”. The leaders’ selfishness would lead to captivity, exploitation of the people and disobedience of all involved will bring doom. Verse 22 asks, “Why have these things come upon me?” It is like choosing one’s own way and then wondering about the consequences. God says He will “scatter” them like chaff, exactly what an agricultural culture could understand, the discarded part of the wheat from the threshing floor blows away just as wicked Judah – unnecessary and worthless. God reminds that their choices, their idol worship, and unrepentant hearts, “This is your lot, the portion of your measures from Me.” Trusting in falsehoods and participating in wickedness determines their outcome.

Reflection

One thought that keeps coming to my mind as I read and study the lesson this week is the part where God says, “This is your lot, the portions of your measures from Me… because you have forgotten Me and trusted in falsehood.” There is similar language that I remember in Psalms. David writes, “LORD, You alone are my portion and my cup; You make my lot secure.” (Psalm 16:5) These use the same words and phrasing but have opposite truths. Both are promises from God, but not both are good.

In Psalms, the verse is saying that the author, King David, chooses Yahweh as his portion or inheritance and our share of secure. Choosing God as our inheritance is about eternal life. God’s promise of redemption brings the security we need. Through Jesus, the Messiah, we find our inheritance which is grace unmeasured. When we place our faith in Christ, or use David’s words to claim that Jesus is “my portion”, everlasting life becomes our inheritance.

In this week’s lesson in Jeremiah, God is saying to Judah that they are His people, and as people of His covenant, this gives them an inheritance. Israel’s allotment first comes in the form of the Promised Land, a portion or inheritance from God to His people. The land is given, and God is their God, but disobedience and turning from God prompts His reply. NOW, God is saying maybe you do not want this land, you do not want me as the One True God. IF this is true, then, “This is your lot, the portions of your measures from Me.” God takes the land away allowing an army from the north to invade and capture them, to destroy and tear down their cities and the Temple.

As David concludes his psalm of praise, his faith in God recognizes His great blessings. “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) We, too, find our hearts full, and God alone is enough. While our paths may wind and roll through difficult times, our true inheritance is secure in Christ. The ‘path of life’ is to follow Jesus, to know the ‘fullness of joy’ in His presence, and to know at the end of this life, we have eternal life with Him. This is soul-security!

 

Application

As long as I can remember, my dad frequently used this phrase, “a leopard never changes his spots” when it was unlikely something (or someone) would actually change. For many years, I never knew where the phrase came from. In the lesson today, the question is rhetorically asked, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?” This example suggests that God knows the hearts of Judah and  their struggles with wickedness, and it is not likely they will change.

·         Do you have any bad habits that may have been with you a long time that are interfering with necessary changes for better?

·         Am I so accustomed to certain patterns of behavior that I cannot see better choices?

·         Am I stuck in a rut that is preventing me from spiritual growth? What will I do to change the outcome?

Donna Oswalt



[1] ESV Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Jeremiah

[2] Swindoll, Charles R.

[3] Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Jeremiah, p. 456

[4] Ibid

[5] Archaeological Study Bible Notes, Jeremiah13:4

[6] Chronological Life Application Study Bible - Study Notes on Jeremiah