Thursday, June 10, 2021

His Holy Words

Week 23 – Book of Jeremiah 

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 23 


Background
 

False prophets, sometimes called false teachers, tell lies and partial truths, and they offer false assurance. In our lesson this week, Jeremiah gives God’s message to the prophets, the priests, and the people who believe them. These people are in opposition to God’s true prophets, such as Jeremiah. Jeremiah exposes the false prophets and their message which “is rooted in a historical backdrop of moral compromise.”[1] 

Historically, this is a time of military defeat and political corruption. The religious leaders are teaching and living a lifestyle that does not represent the One True God. The Northern Kingdom falls to the Assyrian army which then loses its power as the Babylonians army rises to become the new military power. The spiritual revival Judah sees with king Josiah fades as Egypt and Babylon battle. All this time, false prophets tell the people what they want to hear, that all will be fine, and Judah cannot fall. Just ignore Jeremiah.

Interesting, the Old Testament provides guidance for the people to help them identify a true prophet. The references are Deuteronomy 18:15-22, 13:1-9. Here are the “5 tests for a true prophet: 1) must be an Israelite (Dt. 18:18), 2) speak in the name of Yahweh (Dt. 18:20), 3) predict the near as well as the distant future (Dt. 18:21-22), 4) perform signs and wonders with the prophecy (Dt. 13:1-3), 5) has to conform to the previously revealed word of Yahweh (Dt. 13:6-9).[2] The false leaders do not hold to these standards.

“The sins of these false prophets are a special abomination in God’s sight.”[3] Their self-serving teachings either indicate a lack of knowledge of God or simple a choice to ignore the truth. Their messages of peace and hope are without merit. “These prophets do not serve the truth, and they do not serve Yahweh.”[4] The integrity of the true prophets is undermined by these who bring an untrue message.

Study

Jeremiah starts this chapter with “woe” which is a word to suggest calamity, and he addresses the “shepherds” who are destroying “the sheep of My pasture”. The leaders are addressed in Chapter 23, leaders who being held accountable and will be punished by God leading the people astray. The prophets and priests are confronted. The first ‘Behold’ of this chapter comes before the end of verse 2. This interjection means look and look now! What are we to see? God is promising that in time He will “gather the remnant of My flock our of all countries where I have driven them” and return them to Jerusalem. He will appoint new leaders, faithful, godly leaders, such as Zerubbabel, Joshua the High Priest, Ezra, and Nehemiah. This is hope. God’s message reveals His plan to bring them back, build them into a nation. This is a promise of transformation.

Again, we have ‘Behold’ (v 5), and this is even more important. We see a promise when God will “raise to David a Branch of Righteousness”. This ‘branch’ is a term for Messiah. What will this Messiah do? He will ‘execute judgment and righteousness”, and “Judah will be saved”. The people now have another promise that Israel will dwell in safety. Who is this leader? “He will be called The LORD Our Righteousness.” This is a picture of restoration. 

“Yahweh our Righteousness” and the “Righteous Branch” refer to Jesus Christ. “No matter how dark the day may be, God sends the light of hope through His promise.”[5] This is a foretelling of the Promised Messiah. In verses 5-8, “the days are coming” is part of the messianic prophecy, an encouragement to the godly remnant of Judah. This hope sustains them. The remnant comes from “all countries, all the displacement that occurs between the conquering of the Northern Kingdom (931 BC) and Southern Kingdom (586 BC), a group to come back together as one people. “Remnant is used 19 times in Jeremiah. A remnant did return to Judah after captivity, rebuild the temple, and restore national life.”[6] This name Jehovah Tsidkenu, the LORD our Righteousness, is an “exalted name only applied to Jesus Christ.”[7]

The message to the false prophets (false leaders) continues, and Jeremiah is troubled and disappointed with the religious leaders. “My heart within me is broken.” He grieves the sins that God reveals. True prophets have taken vows and have responsibilities to their calling, but the false prophets live just like the sinners. There is a comparison to the prophets of Samaria, who participate in pagan worship; however, the prophets of Judah are worse because they pretend to worship God but tell lies, claim to speak for God. God says He did not call them. They speak their on version of truth from their own hearts. “Their lives and teaching lessons are no moral guide by which to live or act.”[8] 

God’s righteous anger promises destruction. The false leaders give false messages of false assurance. God has not given them any authority to speak for Him. In verse 24 we see God’s holiness, His omnipresence and omniscience, His being all places and knowing all things. These false prophets teach popular theology, say what the people want to hear. Finding their own inspiration, the messages are misleading and weak, full of false dreams. It is clear, God is against these false prophets (v 31). 

The ending comes with questions and the word “oracles” is used. The better translation of this is, “What is the burden of the LORD?” Clearly, the messages and lifestyles of these false prophets and priests and people who follow is the burden of the LORD. “You have perverted the words of the living God.”(v 36) God says, “I will cast you our of My presence.”(v39) This is the beginning of a spiritual restoration.

Reflection

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you shall know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. 1 John 4:1-3 ESV

Scofield’s commentary on this Scripture suggests two marks of false teachers: “(a) Erroneous doctrine concerning Christ’s Person and (b) Erroneous attitude toward the world."[9] To assume that everything we hear or read about God is “true” can open our hearts and minds to false teaching. Those who have a world viewpoint use this as their reference and may have many followers. Some who speak the name of Jesus can lead others down the wrong path. Scripture tells us to discern the Spirit of Truth from a spirit of untruth by comparing the truths of God’s Word against the words we hear. The world will tell you there are “no absolute truths” and unfortunately, you can even hear that in some churches. "What's true for you is true!" is not compatible with the Word of God. 

What absolute truths do Christians believe? One truth is found in 1 John 4:7-21. God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God but that He loves us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . We love because He first loved us. Christ’s deity is an absolute truth, just as His humanity, miracles of healing, ministry of love and forgiveness, experiences of betrayal, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. Listen carefully to the rhetoric of others; read prayerfully the words in books. Study and know God’s Word. Listen for the Spirit of Truth. 

Application 

Robert Laha says about this conflict between the false prophets and their messages and God’s messages of truth: This conflicted raise one of the most perplexing problems of any age: How do we distinguish what is of God’s mind and what is simply the wishes or our own minds.[10]

  •          What do you do to help you distinguish between God’s purpose and plan and your own personal desires? 

Warren Wiersbe says this: Whenever a nation needs healing, it’s usually because God’s people aren’t obeying and serving Him as they should. We like to blame dishonest politicians and various purveyors of pleasure for a nation’s decline in morality, but God blames His own people.[11]

  •    How do you think our nation is doing? Are we each willing to take individual ownership for the healing of America?

Donna Oswalt

 

 



[1] False Prophets in Jeremiah, The Message of the False Prophets in Jeremiah; Jones, Matt

[2] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah; Kaiser, Walter C, p283

[3] Interpretation Bible Studies, Jeremiah, Laha, Robert, p60

[4] Ibid, p 61

[5] Wiersbe Study Bible, Jeremiah Chapter 23

[6] Be Decisive, Jeremiah; Wiersbe, Warren, p 105

[7] Ibid

[8] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah; Kaiser, Walter C, p283

[9] Scofield Study Bible notes on false teachers

[10] Interpretation Bible Studies, Jeremiah; Laha, Robert, p61

[11] Be Decisive, Jeremiah; Wiersbe, Warren; p106

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Hear the Word of the LORD

Week 22 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 22


Background

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles. Daniel 1:1-3

This account in Daniel marks the Biblical timeline about 605BC, when Nebuchadnezzar attacks Jerusalem and takes King Jehoiakim and other Jewish captives to Babylon. This earlier deportation of Jewish captives includes Daniel. Some one hundred-fifty years before, the prophesy of Isaiah (39:7) indicates some of Hezekiah’s descendants will be taken to Babylon and become palace officials. Now this prophecy is fulfilled.

King Jehoiakim, the Judean king from 609-598 BC, is the second son of Josiah and a self-absorbed, tyrannical king. His mother’s name is Zebidah, and she names her son Eliakim, but Pharaoh Necho of Egypt changes it to Jehoiakim. Reigning for 11 years, Jehoiakim becomes king at 25 years old and is the 18th king of Judah. Known for overtaxing the people of Judah for Egypt’s benefit, he is an evil king.

In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar takes Jehoiakim prisoner, bound in bronze chains (2 Chronicles 36:5-8), but allows him to return to Jerusalem’s throne, making him a vassal king, Nebuchadnezzar’s own servant-king. Three yeas later Jehoiakim rebels (2 Kings 24:1-2), but God sends many soldiers from various armies to fight against Judah and destroy it as had been the prophecy. For 11 years Jehoiakim reigns, then dies a violent death when his body “having been thrown over the wall of Jerusalem,… is buried beyond the gates of Jerusalem.”[1] Jeremiah’s prophecy of Jehoiakim is fulfilled. 

Study 

This week in Chapter 22:18-19, we see Jehoiakim’s rejection of Yahweh. In a later chapter, we will see Jehoiakim’s arrogant act of cutting up and the burning of Jeremiah’s first draft of his prophecies. The self-indulgent behaviors and sins of Judah continue to be rejected by God, and a specific message to the royal families and their servants comes in Chapter 22. All the last four kings are mentioned in this passage, “Zedekiah (22: 1-9), Jehoahaz (Shallum)(22:10-12), Jehoiakim (Eliakim)(22:13-19), and Jehoiachin (Coniah) (22:24-20).”[2]

“Go down to the house of the king” may indicate Jehoiakim’s summer palace. Ramat Rahel is between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, a signal point two miles south of Jerusalem, an old Israelite citadel during the late 7th Century BC. And the message? “Execute judgment and righteousness”. The familiar and repeated message, foundational to the covenant, is to do justice and righteousness, deliver the oppressed, do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow. Do not shed innocent blood. Again, like many other times, it is simply ignored.

It is believed this summer palace demonstrates the excessive materialism and egocentric desires of Jehoiakim. The comparison to Gilead and Lebanon refer to the materials used to build the palace, as both are areas renowned for their cedar forests. He likely uses the people as cheap labor all the while they lack basic necessities. Jehoiakim does what he pleases and gets what he wants. God says, “And many nations will pass by this city; and everyone will say to his neighbor, ‘Why has the LORD done so to this great city?’” The reply echoes again, because the people have broken their covenant with the LORD and worshipped idols. 

Look back at Deuteronomy 29:24 and find the exact same words and warning to the same group of people in the days of Moses. To break the covenant by worshiping idols denies the sovereignty of God. The message to not weep for the dead references Jehoahaz or Shallum, the 18-year-old son of Josiah who had been carried to Egypt in 609 BC after 3 months as king. 

In vs 13, we see a warning, suggesting the building of one’s house with unrighteousness and injustice. It seems Jehoiakim is more interested in building this palace, perhaps the summer palace, than the crisis Judah is facing. There are references to the windows and cedar paneling. In the early 1960’s, archaeologists find, “the ruins of Beth Hakkerem”[3] or Ramat Rahel (Jeremiah 6:1), the signal point two miles south of Jerusalem. The discoveries include “columns with traces of red paint that formed the banister and railing of a window. Larger capitals were found with recesses at the top for ceiling beams, which were typically made of cedar wood. These finds remarkably match the description of Jehoiakim’s palace in Jeremiah 22:13–15; indeed, Ramat Rahel may have served as the king’s summer palace (Jeremiah 36:22).”[4] 

Jehoiakim, like many modern day politicians, profits from the poor while ignoring their cries. His ultimate punishment will be no laments, rather the “burial of a donkey” (vs 18). This essential means no real burial ceremony at all. In ancient times, “a proper burial was critically important, since to remain unburied was considered a dreadful fate.”[5] This prophecy is fulfilled in Jeremiah 36:30. Prophecy continues to tell us that from the mountains to both the north and south the end is coming. This prophecy of captivity (v 22) is fulfilled in 597 BC with the 1st group taken into captivity.     

Coniah, son of Jehoiakim and known as Jehoiachin, also has prophecies spoken about him. The image of a “signet ring” signifies a type of seal that is used to authenticate or authorize. God is removing him from having any authority. Coniah is exiled with his mother, Nehushta, and remains in prison as long as Nebuchadnezzar reigns (598-562 BC). While he is called childless, this means that he will have no son, no descendants will sit on the throne of Judah. In fact, Coniah actually has seven sons (1 Chronicles 3:17-18). We find Jehoiachin mentioned in Matthew 1:12 in the ancestry of Jesus. His grandson, Zerubbabel, becomes the governor of Judah (Haggai 1:1, 2:1-9), but not a king. Zerubbabel will return to Jerusalem with Joshua the High Priest and a remnant of people and direct the rebuilding of the temple. 

Zedekiah is not the son of Coniah, rather he is a son of Josiah. He succeeds Coniah, when Nebuchadnezzar names him king. These are the last kings of Judah, the last king in the Davidic lineage until Jesus Christ.

Reflection 

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24

In ancient times, even when the nation of Israel is nearly 1,500 years old, the people struggle to keep their covenant with God. Idolatry and false prophets and self-indulgent leaders challenge the One True God and His chosen prophets. These are difficult times. The message from God comes over and over, repeatedly warning of destruction and doom which can be avoided with true repentance. Good kings, even great kings will come and go, some bringing spiritual awakening and revival, pointing the people back to God. Wisdom will reign then fall, goodness will strive then end. The people desperately need hope and redemption, but their unrepentant hearts fall short. 

Looking at the first-century church, the underlying tensions and quiet rebellion within Jerusalem and the inner circles of Jewish leadership compete with Rome’s political agenda. Factions among Christian believers clash with Jewish tradition. These are difficult times. Their only hope rests in the resurrection of Christ, in the spreading of the Good News. HOPE lives in the presence of God. 

Today, we live in a world that craves immediate gratification and power that breeds arrogance, pride, and self-sufficiency. We experience conflict and contradiction on all sides. These are difficult times. So, after all these centuries, what hope do we have? Jesus, through all generations, throughout all time, You are still the only HOPE! Grace pours over me and refreshes my soul in the chaos of this world. For now, Jesus, You live in the presence of God and speak my prayers before Him. Count me alive in Christ. Holy Spirit, live in me.

Application

  •      When the leaders get it wrong, where can you still find goodness and justice? How do you live this?
  •     The world, as a whole, functions a lot like these self-important, self-focused kings of Judah. People are secondary, fairness falters, innocent people lose. What are some ways Christians can make a difference, turn the table, be the hands and feet and voice of Jesus to others that cross our paths? And when you and I have complied our answers… will we?

Donna Oswalt

 

 



[1] Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Jehoiakim

[2] Walking the Ancient Paths, A Commentary on Jeremiah,  Kaiser, Walter C, p 267

[3] Archaeological Study Bible, Ramat Rahel

[4] Ibid

[5] Archaeological Study Bible, Jeremiah notes