Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Sin of Judah

Week 17 – Book of Jeremiah

 Read: Jeremiah Chapter 17

Background

Throughout Jeremiah the heart of the people gets much focus. In Scripture, the heart refers to a person’s intellectual and moral and emotional responses. Multiple references to the heart describe negative attributes, such as hearts that are proud, idolatrous, stubborn, hardened, deceitful, and backsliding. Some positive characteristics of the heart in Scripture are clean, reverent, broken, contrite, tender, joyful, and “a heart after God’s own heart”. Not like today’s use of heart which is usually all about feelings, in ancient writings that include the Bible, the heart represents the center of one’s being, frequently interchanging heart and mind and will.

There are over a thousand references to heart in the Bible. The intensity of matters of the heart finds sharp contrasts, from divided to devoted. Deuteronomy 10:12-13 both asks and answers the question of what God requires: “Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” Using the Hebrew leb, the scriptural use of heart consistently means the inner person or conscience. 

In our Jeremiah lesson this week, verse 9 reads, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” Humanity is naturally prone to deceit. A deceitful heart is dishonest, fraudulent, and willfully turns from truth. This is the very reason we need God, because on our own we are simply unable to keep a pure, faithful, honest heart. God sees each heart and knows its motivations and deepest emotions. While today we use the word somewhat differently, sometimes to depict our emotions and sometimes to describe our physical heart, the weakness of the human heart will always need rescuing! Our everlasting hope rests in trusting the Lord with our whole heart, and Christ brings us the grace we so desperately need.

Study

During Josiah’s reign, there seems to be a great spiritual revival, now as his life ends, the deceptive and idolatrous practices return. The people never really experience a true, sincere, repentant heart. As an introduction to chapter 17, Wiersbe says these are the sins of Judah outlined in this chapter: idolatry (v 1-4), unbelief (v 5-10), greed (v 11), forsaking the Lord (v 12–13), rejecting God’s covenant (v 14-18), profaning the Sabbath (v 19-27).[1] This is the sin of Judah.

The opening verse spells it out as we digest the mental image of the depth of the sin, “it is engraved” on the hearts of the people. False gods are abundant in this time and the early verses examine how influential they are and the outcomes of such idol worship. Their wealth and “all your treasures” will be plundered, and more importantly, your inheritance. The prophecy reminds they will lose everything.

Some commentaries call verses 5-8 a wisdom poem. An image of curses or losses are given, suggesting that political allies are trusted more (“flesh his strength”) than God. The image of “parched places in the wilderness” paints a picture of turning from God. “Unbelief turns life into a parched wasteland; faith makes it a fruitful orchard.”[2] A relationship with God is paramount.

We leave the gloom of the curses and enter the blessings in verses 7-8, images of trees by the river, roots soaking in water, no worries about drought, no lack of fruit. “Here is the supreme promise with the best hope for individuals who will live through the desperate days ahead and the Babylonian exile; there is hope, but it is exclusively in Yahweh.”[3] Today, we find the same hope in Christ, the One who blesses us, provides for our mental health, guides us to living water that sustains us, especially in times of drought or difficulty.

“The heart is deceitful above all things” (v 9) makes us stop and reflect on the significance of that statement. With the next thought there is greater pause, “I, the LORD, search the heart; I test the mind” and “give everyone according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (V 10) The heart of any person leans toward selfish motivations, AND God, not only sees it all, but He rewards each person on the fruits of his or her works or deeds. The ‘partridge’ in verse 11 gives us an example of what happens when we try to take what others have, cheat our way through life, bully and demean people, act without justice.

The Lord is the “hope of Israel” and the “fountain of living waters”. Jeremiah’s fourth prayer (v 14-18) is for deliverance from his enemies. The Message uses these words in verse 14: GOD, pick up the pieces, put me back together again. You are my praise. God is our hope, too. He is our hope in whatever “woeful day” or “day of doom” that we encounter.

The last part of this chapter reminds Judah of its failure to keep the Sabbath day holy. Certainly not a new idea here, we know that even God rests on the seventh day during Creation. Nearly 100 years before prophets Amos and Isaiah speak of the problems with not observing the Sabbath. Working seven days a week is purely for greed. This disrespectful behavior reveals another act of stubbornness. The Ten Commandments require this (Ex. 20:8). “The Sabbath was given as a sign of the covenant (Ex. 31:13,17), for it is a key indicator of the nation’s spiritual commitment to Yahweh.”[4] A national crisis or potential national blessing rests on the honoring of the Sabbath.

Reflection

Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.Psalm 37:4

In our seeking God and searching for a deeper relationship, we find that our desire to know Him more grows. Scripture encourages us, even convicts us. While Scripture defines grace and describes joy and directs obedience, the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to God’s heart, teaching us to delight in God. In this way, God can give us His desires - some new, some newly discovered.

“We sacrifice our desires on the altar of other people’s expectations.”[5] In his book Whisper, Mark Batterson gives us some “caution signs” to watch for, such as ego, wrong reasons, emotions, the source of our desires, and emotional intelligence. In discerning God’s desires, we must be careful of our pride, idols, and reactions. We must keep God first and seek the things He desires for us.

Desire is a language of God. Far too often, we settle for good enough or better when God desires for us His best. By divine design, each person is uniquely created by God; yet we try to re-create ourselves with individual efforts to reach personal goals we set for ourselves. Batterson writes, “God-given gifts are what we’re best at. God-ordained desires are what we are most passionate about.”[6] Along with me, let us ask, “Who do I desire to serve?” 

Application

  •  What ways do you try to honor the Sabbath and in doing this, honor God?
  • What comes to your mind when you think of a “deceitful heart”? Do you seek God’s desires for your life? If not, how can you begin to think and act differently in sincerely seeking God’s best for your life?

Donna Oswalt



[1] Be Decisive, Wiersbe, Warren; p79-81

[2] Wiersbe Study Bible notes on Jeremiah

[3] Walking the Ancient Paths; A Commentary on Jeremiah, Kaiser, Walter C; p 222

[4] Ibid, p 227

[5]Whisper, Batterson, Mark; p 82

[6] Ibid, p 83

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Now Watch for What Comes Next

Week 16 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 16; 2 Chronicles 36:15-23


Background

Prophet to the Southern Kingdom, Jeremiah’s ministry of 40 years in Judah suffers many disappointing outcomes. Despite the Hebrew people not returning to Yahweh with truly repentant hears, he gives great energy and effort to fulfill his calling as a prophet. In a time of disillusionment and despair, only one king, Josiah, is know as a God-trusting king. The other four kings who reign during Jeremiah’s ministry only advocate increased idolatry and false truths to Judah. Jeremiah, severely persecuted and frequently rejected, witnesses Judah’s defeat. “Jeremiah responded to all this with God’s message and human tears… God had called him to endure.”[1]

This week let’s focus on the many accomplishments of Jeremiah. Frequently his heartfelt emotions for the coming destruction and the people’s losses speak loudly. Known as the ‘weeping prophet’, Jeremiah’s sincere sorrow is repeatedly evident in the verses. Despite God telling Jeremiah not to pray for the people, he did plead for mercy of several occasions. Jeremiah shows compassion on a stubborn people.

Jeremiah, his life often in danger, risks everything to be God’s faithful messenger. God anoints him for this time and place, and Jeremiah willingly complies. He learns that security does not necessarily come with service. His perseverance for so many years is to be applauded.

During Josiah’s reign, Jeremiah walks alongside to help with the king’s spiritual reformation. These times are probably the best and easiest period for Jeremiah to speak God’s message of repentance. A servant of God and faithful messenger, Jeremiah remains obedient to God’s calling.

Scholars credit Jeremiah as author of two Old Testament books, the book of Jeremiah and Lamentations. The book of Jeremiah compiles the great struggle of the Hebrew people and the last two tribes of Israel. This provides historical recordings of political and military happenings as Judah falls to Babylon. Providing the moral and religious weaknesses that lead to God’s judgment on Judah, the lessons become clear for future generations that God expects a true, repentant heart.

Jeremiah, son of a Hebrew priest, a prophet for God, a fellow countryman of Judah, accomplishes much in 40 years. Broken in spirit for the people, Jeremiah faithfully and repeatedly brings God’s message. Often rejected, isolated and alone, God tells him not to marry; yet, Jeremiah endures the hardships, grows his relationship with God, demonstrates endurance and strength, and authors two books. Because of Jeremiah, today some 2,500 years later, we can read God’s message, still relevant for us.

Study 

Immediately chapter 16 begins with a significant command for Jeremiah, “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place.” “All Jewish men were expected to be married by age twenty.”[2] Jewish customs require marriage and children, and rabbis would pronounce “a curse in any who refused to marry and begat children.”[3] In Walking the Ancient Paths we read, “Jeremiah is not forbidden to marry because of the present crisis… but because his life is a symbol of his message.”[4] As this chapter continues, we will discover God forbids Jeremiah to participate in “three normal and acceptable activities: getting married, mourning for the dead, attending feasts. God often guides prophets toward unexpected, attention-getting behaviors.

Continuing to verse 5, the second restriction is given, “Do not enter the house of mourning, nor got to lament or bemoan them.” God desires Jeremiah’s life to “be a living warning that Yahweh no longer has sympathy for the people of Israel in that generation.”[5] There is too much despair to celebrate. In verse 9 there is no peace or joy, no gladness, no marriage celebrations. “Weddings will cease as society disintegrates.”[6] “The prophet’s ministry itself was an object lesson—a real-life parable about God’s judgment against Judah’s sin”.[7]

Again, the people question this message. In fact, the people ask three questions: 1) why are we threatened with terrible misfortune, 2) what is our crime, 3) what is our sin against God. “Their unbiblical theology gave them false assurance that God would never abandon His people or allow the Gentiles to desecrate the hoy city or temple.[8] Simply restated, the answer remains that their ancestors follow other gods. “And you have done worse than your fathers”. (v 12) Assyria takes the Northern Kingdom of Israel captive because of idolatry, and still at least 100 years later, the same behavior is strong in the Southern Kingdom. Same lesson is repeatedly taught and is never learned. 

While the judgement is coming, the prophet uses imagery and metaphors to describe the coming captivity. Reminding them of their deliverance from Egypt, God reminds them of His mercy. Fishermen, hunters, and bankers suggest complete destruction but then comes a message of hope that one day they will return, a message of restoration. This return will be like “a second exodus and far outside the glory of Israel’s exodus from Egypt.”[9]

The last three verses (19-21) express an affirmation as Jeremiah proclaims “not only the gathering of the Jewish remnant but also the coming of the Gentile nations from the ends of the earth to worship the true and living God of Israel.”[10] “O LORD, my strength and my fortress, My refuge in the day of affliction” can be our battle cry, our whisper in the darkness, our hope in difficulty. The chapter concludes with a powerful proclamation from God: And they shall know that My name is the LORD. This is the One, True Living God, this is I AM. “God wants us to know Him. When He chooses to reveal who He is and what He is like, there can be no doubt about His sovereignty.”[11]

Reflection

O LORD, my strength, and my stronghold,

And my refuge in the day of distress Jeremiah 16:19 

The times of Jeremiah are full of discontent and despair. In all this chaos, Jeremiah draws his courage and perseverance from God. Each week something speaks to me, and these words capture my heart.

Let me break the verse down, beginning with “O LORD”. This is the Hebrew YHWY that speaks of Yahweh, the One True God. It also implies Jehovah, with whom we have a personal or covenant relationship. This is the I AM who never changes, who always keeps His promises. This is Who I must pray to and plead with, call on and choose first.

In these words, there are three attributes of God that will help me. First, strength is the Hebrew word “oz” which means power or might, and this strength comes from Him, not me. This effort or force is provided for me. God is fierce in His boldness. Elohim is all-powerful. Second, there is the Hebrew word “maoz” for stronghold which means fortress, a place of shelter, a place of protection. God is my shelter. Jehovah-Jireh is the One who provides. Third, the metaphor of God as a refuge is given. The Hebrew word “manos” means safety, a place to escape, a place to flee. I think of a safe harbor or port in a storm. Immanuel reminds us that God is with us. These are ways God teaches us to know His name is LORD!

The last phrase to explore is the day of distress, the when God becomes these things for us. Of course, God is present in good times, although how easy to forget God when everything is good. Not only does every good thing come from God, but He loves to celebrate with us. Truthfully, we find the dark places the hardest, the times that disrupt our plans, our dreams, our lives. These days of distress can be anytime that we find ourselves in trouble. Times of anguish or anxiety, times that can break our hearts, times that can literally bring us to our knees require an extraordinary strength, a strength beyond us. El Shaddai is all-sufficient, the God of the mountains who says nothing is too hard. 

Holy Father, we call you many names for many reasons. In the silence of waiting, in the chaos of need, You come to me. You feed my soul with everlasting manna. I cannot prove You, but I can testify that God provides for me in mysterious and majestic ways. I do not understand the when or how or why of Your provision, but I trust that Your Goodness will always cover me in Christ. 

Application

Derek Kidner’s writes this about Judah in his commentary about the Book of Jeremiah: “[We] get some insight into Judah’s insensitivity to God, and her inverted scale of values, whereby the first commandment was the last to be considered. But to be amazed at her tolerance of other gods is to be no less amazed at a generation – our own – which prides itself on religious pluralism and is embarrassed at the exclusive claims of Christianity.”

·       *      What do you hear when you read the above statement?

·        *     Compare Judah and our world today. How is our “scale of values” inverted?

·         *    What is religious pluralism? (You may have to look that up…)

·         *    What is the difference between “religious pluralism” and “religious tolerance”

·         *        Relativism is a belief system that accepts all religions as equal while no one religion gives access to absolute truth. This is inclusivism. Where do you stand?

·           *      What absolute truth about God speaks loudest in your life?

 

Donna Oswalt



[1] Chronological Life Application Study Bible Notes on Jeremiah, Introduction

[2] Be Decisive, Wiersbe, Warren W.; p76

[3] Ibid

[4] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah, Kaiser, Walter C.; p 211

[5] Ibid; p 212

[6] ESV Study Bible, notes on Jeremiah 16:9

[7] Ibid; notes on Jeremiah

[8] Be Decisive Wiersbe, Warren W; p 77

[9] Wiersbe Study Bible, notes Jeremiah 16:14,15

[10] Ibid; Jeremiah 16:19-21

[11] Blackaby Study Bible notes Jeremiah 16:21

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Remember Me

Week 15 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 15; God’s Shekinah Glory: Exodus 13:21-22, Exodus 24:16-18, Exodus 40:34-38, 2 Chronicles 7:1-3, Ezekiel chapters 8-11


Background


Shekinah, a Hebrew word meaning dwelling, describes God’s visible presence in the world. Reference to God’s Glory, or His dwelling place, merge with such physical manifestations as a burning bush, a pillar of cloud, a pillar of fire, the Ark of the Covenant, the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle, the Mercy Seat, the Most Holy Place. To fulfill His plan to dwell with the people becomes the primary purpose of the Temple in the Old Testament. Despite God’s protection and blessings for Israel, their repeated disobedience creates destruction, and only emptiness remains when the glory of God departs the Temple. Shekinah Glory emphasizes God’s plan to dwell among His people and defines the intimate relationship God desires with us.

In the above readings, you can see some examples of God’s glory. There is a belief among the Jewish people that God will never leave the Temple. From the Presence of God with Israel in the desert, from Egypt through the next 400 years until Solomon dedicates the Temple, and for the next almost 400 years, God’s presence is with the people.

After King Solomon dies in 931 BC, the United Kingdom of Israel is divided into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah). Prophets warn of destruction without obedience to the one true God. The Assyrians conquer Israel, and Babylon will take the people of Judah into captivity, destroying Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BC.

In Jeremiah Chapter 12 God declares, “I have forsaken My house…” which can mean the temple or the people. One of Jeremiah’s slightly younger contemporaries, the prophet Ezekiel, reveals in his “visions that the Glory of God [abandons] the Temple”.[1] Scripturally, Ezekiel writes in 10:18, “Then the glory of the LORD departed from the threshold of the temple.” According to various scholars, Yahweh’s glory leaves the Temple around 592 BC, with final destruction of Jerusalem occurring 586 BC. The Temple is destroyed, and the location of the Ark of the Covenant from the Holy of Holies remains a mystery still.

After 70 years, the Jews begin their return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. Prophets encourage the people to focus on God. Working through His people, God says, “Take courage … and work, for I am with you,”(Haggai 4:2-9), but this time He offers a future glory that will be greater. The Messiah will become Shekinah glory, God’s visible presence on the earth.

God does not desire to turn from His people or any community or nation, but He makes it clear that disobedience to His truths will have consequences. The “Abiding Presence of God” or shekinah glory represents God’s protection and guidance and never is to be kept inside a building. Jesus, the Messiah, comes to earth as a living presence of God, and after His resurrection, the Holy Spirit becomes the presence of God in the lives of Christians. “So, then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22 NASB) And the “greater future glory” will come when Jesus returns and establishes the New Jerusalem.

Study

Chapter 15 continues in the series (14-17) of Jeremiah’s messages and heartfelt prayers. Right away we see familiar Biblical heroes, prophets and leaders named Moses and Samuel. God says even these respected men of God could not intercede a rescue for Judah. The destiny of doom and death by sword and famine and captivity play out (vs 2-3). King Manasseh’s name comes up again, the worst, most wicked and longest ruling King of Judah. This is the reason God gives for His coming “horror”.

The people have forsaken Yahweh, and they “keep going backward”. God is “tired of relenting”. The Message says, “I’m tired of letting you off the hook.” The outcome is to scatter them. Their lack of repentance creates great loss. An image in verse 9 of a mother who bears “seven sons” refers to ‘7’ being a perfect number, and in “losing all she has represents Judah’s reversal of fortune.”[2]

Jeremiah begins his pity party by saying perhaps he should never have been born. After all, “everyone curses me.” Jeremiah states his case, “I’ve never hurt or harmed a soul… God knows I have done everything I could to help them… God knows how hard I’ve tried.” (V10-11 MSG) We see images of “iron” which indicates great strength and the destruction from the north is Babylon. God says, “For a fire has been kindled in My anger; it will burn on you.” (v 14)

Jeremiah begins his prayer or petition to God by saying, “You know, O LORD, remember me.” Going further Jeremiah asks God’s retribution or vengeance on his persecutors, pleading for safety. A great verse follows, “Your words become for me a joy and a delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name.” Recognizing the joy of God, of God’s holy word, of being called by God, Jeremiah acknowledges a great truth.

Then, he is back to justifying his behavior of standing alone outside the crowds, not joining the company of those against God. We see his loneliness and lack of friends, and what he calls “enduring pain”. Jeremiah makes his case, and his emotions are myriad – anger, hurt, fear. Jeremiah is not looking at God’s purposes but his own emotions. God is not upset that Jeremiah is sharing his heart. God desires us to bring our raw emotions to Him, to share our deepest wounds with Him. While God hears and knows his heart, Jeremiah is struggling with the stress and what he knows to be true.

R.E. Clements says this is “one of the great turning points… Jeremiah’s success as a prophet has not to be measured by the extent to which he had been able to persuade his hearers to listen to the word of God… but rather in the firmness and consistency with which he bore testimony to the righteous purpose and grand design of God.”[3] God replies to the prophet, “If you return, then I will restore you… You will become my spokesman.” (V19) The Message says, “Use words truly and well. Don’t stoop to cheap whining. Then, but only then, you’ll speak for Me. Let your words change them.” God never tells Jeremiah it will be easy. He offers encouragement in the middle of truth, and sometimes this is hard to hear. God calls him for a righteous purpose – of speaking God’s message. So, stop whining and be about the task.

In return for Jeremiah’s faithfulness, God will make him strong like a “fortified wall of bronze.” God will deliver him from those who try to harm him, from “the hand of the wicked”. He reminds Jeremiah, “For I am with you to save you.” God uses strong action verbs like save and deliver and redeem. These are words in which we, too, can find assurance.

Reflection

Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by Your name, O LORD, God of hosts. Jeremiah 15:16 ESV 

In Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, he writes that joy is a mark of the “authentic Christian . . . [one who is] on the way of salvation. Joy is characteristic of Christian pilgrimage.” Peterson continues, “Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it is a consequence… it is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience.”[4] Jeremiah’s words reflect the decision to live in God’s abundance. Despite circumstances, God is constant and certain. His word speaks to us today, just as it did to Jeremiah.

Consuming God’s words helps us to consider God’s nature, God’s purpose, God’s design. Taking time to read and study and reflect on the Holy Scriptures, brings refreshment to the soul, restoration to the spirit. I have been making a playlist of songs that remind me of God’s goodness and promises, His power and presence. I believe Jeremiah could have used some of this encouragement. One of songs on my new play list is Evidence by Josh Baldwin. Consider the lyrics. If you have time, look it up the song and listen.

All throughout my history
Your faithfulness has walked beside me
The winter storms made way for spring
In every season, from where I'm standing
I see the evidence of Your goodness
All over my life, all over my life
I see Your promises in fulfillment
All over my life, all over my life
Help me remember when I'm weak
Fear may come but fear will leave
You lead my heart to victory
You are my strength and You always will be
I see the evidence of Your goodness
All over my life, all over my life
I see Your promises in fulfillment
All over my life, all over my life
See the cross, the empty grave
The evidence is endless
All my sin rolled away
Because of You, oh Jesus
See the cross, the empty grave
The evidence is endless
All my sin rolled away
Because of You, oh Jesus
I see the evidence of Your goodness
All over my life, all over my life
I see Your promises in fulfillment
All over my life, all over my life
I see the evidence of Your goodness
All over my life, all over my life
I see Your promises in fulfillment
All over my life, all over my life
Why should I fear
The evidence is here
Why should I fear
The evidence is here [5] 

Application 

"The inevitable result of genuine salvation is joy! The joy found in Christ is like an inexhaustible well, satisfying the most desperate thirst."[6] 

·    *     As you journey through your current season, are you finding Real JOY? If not, perhaps you are looking in the wrong places. You do not have to wander alone in the dry, dark places. The Holy One is here! Christ is Real JOY! Let the promises of God mark you with joy!

·  *       Make your own encouraging playlist or Scripture-list or promise-list!

Donna Oswalt



[1] Apologetics Study Bible Notes

[2] ESV Global Study Bible Notes on Jeremiah 15:9

[3] Jeremiah, Interpretation; Clements, RE, pg 123-24

[4] A Long Obedience in the Same Direction; Peterson, Eugene

[5] Evidence song lyrics; Baldwin, Josh

[6] Blackaby Study Bible Notes

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