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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Way We Should Go

Week 42 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 42



Background

King Josiah of Judah dies at the Battle of Megiddo in 609 BC, while fighting against Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. Egypt soon finds themselves in a power struggle with Babylon. Before Nebuchadnezzar captures Jerusalem, King Zedekiah tries to negotiate help from Egypt. In Jeremiah 37 Pharaoh Hophra’s army attempts to come to Jerusalem, even though Jeremiah discourages Zedekiah from making an alliance with Egypt. The Babylonian army sends the Egyptians home defeated. When Jerusalem falls to Babylon, those poorest remaining Jews are sent to Mizpah and find themselves struggling with loyalty between Babylon and Egypt.

Egypt’s ancient history is long and full of influence and wealth. Found in the fertile soil along the Nile River, Egypt is known for its agriculture and cultivates a legacy in engineering, building, mathematics, and literature. The era of 1549-1069 BC marks Egypt’s more prosperous era, both in wealth and military power. As the Assyrians rise to power and after they conquer Israel/Northern Kingdom (721 BC), Assyria occupies Memphis in Egypt. After some attempts in battle with the Persians in 5th Century BC fail, Egypt is never able to defeat them.

Egypt does not seem to be God’s plan for Israel. The Hebrew people are rescued after 400 years of Egyptian slavery some 900 years before this. Old habits may be hard to break. Abraham flees to Egypt during a famine, in disobedience. After God frees the Israelites, they whine to Moses how they would rather go back to Egypt. “During the final years of the kingdom of Judah, there was a strong pro-Egyptian party in the government, because Egypt seemed to be the closest and strongest ally.”[1] In less than twenty years after the fall of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar enters Egypt (568-567BC). God chooses the best for His people.

“For almost 30 centuries—from its unification around 3100 B.C. to its conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.—ancient Egypt was the preeminent civilization in the Mediterranean world.”[2] From Alexander the Great to Cleopatra to the Roman Empire, many changes occur over these thousands of years. Today, Islam is the dominate culture and religion.

Study

Johanan and other leadership consider their destiny, and ask Jeremiah for advice and suggesting a desire to follow what God says. “The LORD be a true and faithful witness between us.” We will obey. Jeremiah seeks God’s will and waits for ten days (v7).

God says stay in Judah, and do not fear the Babylonians. If you remain in the land, God will build you up and plant you. “For I relent concerning the disaster. Do not be afraid… for I am with you, to save and deliver you.” (v10-12) Or, if you leave in disobedience, if you go to Egypt, you will find war and famine and pandemic. These are the consequences of disobedience, famine in Egypt and death to all who go. All will perish. God’s promises and consequences of disobedience are clear.

“O remnant of Judah, do not go to Egypt.” Pleadings from God’s will go ignored. Jeremiah says they are hypocrites, saying to ask God and we will obey, but their hearts are not really wanting to obey. If you go to Egypt, you will die!

 

Reflection

Today you are about to cross the Jordan River to occupy the land belonging to nations much greater and more powerful than you. . . I will say it again: The LORD your God is not giving you this good land because you are righteous, for you are not - you are a stubborn people.

The Promised Land lay before the Israelites but to enter would require obedience. Once before they stood on the threshold of this God-offered possibility, but refused to go forward. Andrew Murray writes, “The land of promise that has been set before us is the blessed life of obedience. We have heard God's call to us to go out and to dwell there . . . We have heard the promise of Christ to bring us there and to give us possession of the land. . . But do we desire that all our life and work be lifted to the level of a holy and joyful obedience?”[3]


A desire to be obedient is not the same as being obedient. Murray continues with this response to how we must embrace obedience, “It can only be reached by an inflow of the power of the Holy Spirit. By a faith that grasps a new vision and lays hold of the powers. . . which are secured to us in Christ.”[4] How does Abraham respond when God first gives the promise? By faith Abraham obeyed . . . And he went out, not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)Through faith, we find obedience that grasps a new vision. Our ability to be obedient comes from Christ, the Bread of Life.


Lord, You call us to new hope within a world of old doubt. You offer the Bread of Life to a starving people. You secure our faith through the living Christ. And what do You ask of us? To love You with obedient hearts. Forgive our greed for the land of promise held tightly by selfish desires. Open our hearts, reveal our stubbornness, so we can embrace the blessed life of obedience. Amen.

 

Application

Chapter 42 suggests these “leftover” ones from Judah want God’s guidance but do not truly want to be illuminated by God’s vision for them. So often we are just like them.

Do you go to God with your own agenda? How often do we ‘ask’ God as we offer our own answers?

How open am I to God’s vision? What if it is different than what I want?

Donna Oswalt



[1] Be Decisive Wiersbe, Warren, p158

[2] History.com “Ancient Egypt”

[3] A Life of Obedience, Murray, Andrew; p 69-70

[4] Ibid

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Betrayal and Murder

Week 41 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 41



Background

Known by his fellow countrymen as a wise, kind, and humble, Gedaliah is as governor by Nebuchadnezzar. Gedaliah, a righteous Jewish leader, welcomes the Jewish refugees of Jerusalem to Mizpah, the last of Judah’s people, those left after the exiles, those who had fled during the Babylonian invasion and are now seeking community and security. Keeping with Jeremiah’s prophecy, Gedaliah proclaims their loyalty to the king of Babylon. In return, they receive an abundant harvest and protection.

“From a prominent family in Jerusalem, [Gedaliah’s] grandfather was a scribe during Josiah’s rule (2 Kg. 22:3) and a member of th team sent to inquire of the prophetess Huldah (Jeremiah 22:11).”[1] In Jeremiah Chapter 26::24, he protects Jeremiah. Respected by the Jewish people, Gedaliah gives wise advice to concede to Babylonian rule.

Some commentaries suggest Gedaliah would have been a better leader if he had listened to others, like Johanan who warns the governor of Ishmael’s threats. “Being of a true and generous nature”[2]  Gedaliah does not believe the rumors. Does his sense of fairness contribute to his murder? Is Gedaliah just naïve? Maybe, wicked jealousy creates an unnecessary tragedy. Ishmael betrays and murders his own people and leader. As if the destruction and burning of Jerusalem is not problem enough, these refugees now become prisoners of one of their own countrymen. Betrayal brings multilayered consequences.

“In memory of the assassination of Gedaliah and the tragedy that it brought upon our brethren in those days, so soon after the destruction of the Holy Temple, we fast on the third day of Tishrei, the Fast of Gedaliah.”[3] Tishrei on the Hebrew calendar falls during September-October, which also includes Sukkot, and the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Fast of Gedaliah commemorates the “governor of the First Commonwealth in the Holy Land”.[4] With his death, Jewish independence comes to an end, “the last embers of Jewish sovereignty.”[5] The Hebrew letters of Gedaliah’s name mean “God is great.”

 

Study

Some scholars suggest the details of Chapter 41 occur about two months after Nebuchadnezzar torches Jerusalem. Ishmael, of the royal lineage of David and one of the officers of Zedekiah, comes to Gedaliah with ten of his men to join him in a meal. During the meal, Ishmael, and the men murder Gedaliah, who the king of Babylonia appointed governor over the land. The Jews with Gedaliah are also killed, along with the Chaldean soldiers present. Ishmael’s jealousy over Gedaliah’s appointment or some political power play creates the ultimate betrayal.

A group of eighty men arrive from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria, all clean-shaven with torn clothing and obvious wounds (likely self-inflicted). They come bearing offerings for Yahweh, but they do not know about the recent murders. Ishmael greets them, invites them to meet Gedaliah, and then kills them, too. Ten of these eighty men beg for mercy, offering good and goods they have hidden in a field. Ishmael spares them but fills a large cistern with the seventy slain men. Turning against the Chaldeans is contrary to Jeremiah’s message. “Without a king, with no law and no loyalty to God, Judah was subject to complete anarchy.”[6]

“The areas of Shechem, Shiloh,  and Samaria had been worship centers in the north after the northern kingdom was destroyed in 722/721 BC. Many Israelites made periodic pilgrimages to Jerusalem.”[7] The ten pilgrim survivors, as well as “the rest of the people of Mizpah, including the daughters of the king” become prisoners of Ishmael. Ishmael takes his new captives, to include some of his own people, and sets out toward the Ammonites. These eighty men are likely planning to give offerings to Yahweh. “Even though the temple itself was in ruins, the site was still considered holy.”[8]

Outraged, Johanan takes his army and marched out to find the evil Ishmael and engage him in battle. Reaching the great pool in Gideon, all the people taken prisoner by Ishmael join  with Johanan. Unfortunately, Ishmael an eight of his men escape, fleeing to the Ammonites. Leaving behind the drama, Johanan and all the “soldiers, women, children, and court officials” Ishmael had taken captive gather. They plan to head to Egypt, to escape. “The function of the assassination narrative is to set up the fateful choice that the remnant will make.”[9]

 

Reflection


Judas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, betrays Him to authorities for thirty pieces of silver. As for the motivation of Judas, one can suppose evil ambitions or simple greed. Whatever his intention, Judas brings the authorities to the Gethsemane, as he knows this place to be somewhere Jesus and the disciples frequently gather. Usually a quiet place for prayer and reflection, Gethsemane becomes a place of betrayal.

 

Betrayal robs more than loyalty; it robs the soul. As life hurries along, sometimes it is easier to be lost in a moment, enticed with the crowd, and controlled by the money, safer than admitting weakness, confessing insecurity, or expressing need. Jesus, when I forget Your goodness and ignore Your peace, when I hurry pass Your joy and overlook Your Grace, I betray You again and again. You give a greater grace.

 

Application

When chaos interrupts us, when betrayal weakens us, when uncertainty pauses us – we question life: what do we do, where do we go, how do we move forward? The better solution might not come in the form of a question, rather it is the “Who” we seek. Just seek God!

Remember: God is our Help, God is our Keeper, God is our Protector. Remember God, who always goes before us also walks beside us, comforts us, weeps with us. Read Psalm 121 and ponder Who God is for us!

Donna Oswalt

 



[1] Blackaby Study Bible, Character Study Gedaliah

[2] Chabad.org, Gedaliah; The Fast of Gedaliah

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Chronological Living Application Study Bible notes of Jeremiah Chapter 41

[7] Archaeological Study Bible, Jeremiah Chapter 41

[8] Ibid

[9] ESV Literary Study Bible notes

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

The Refugees

Week 40 – Book of Jeremiah

Read: Jeremiah Chapter 40




Background

Mizpah, located about 4 miles NW of Jerusalem, sits “on the highest hill in the region, six hundred feet about the plain of Gideon.”[1] Old Testament people like Samuel and Saul and Nehemiah are familiar with Mizpah with recognizable stories of conquering the Philistines, placing an Ebenezer, making Saul the first king of Israel, and rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. Mizpah, mentioned in Judges 20:1-3 and 1 Samuel 7:5-7, 12-14, 10:17 and other Scriptures, historically marks a place of battle and worship and protection.

“Mizpah meaning watchtower or lookout was called such because it was from that location that travelers from the north would first see Jerusalem.”[2] In 1926, Dr. William Badè begins excavations finding pottery, tombs, grain pits, and cisterns, “however the chief discovery was the city’s defenses. The ancient city had two sets of walls: a smaller inner wall and a large outer wall.”[3] This outer wall is taller and stronger and greater than any other of the military citadels. “Some of the largest stones were so heavy, three or four workmen could not budge them.”[4] This hugely critical outpost serves as a massive defense for Judah.

There is some discrepancy among researchers if modern day locations Tell en-Nasbeh or Nebi Samwil is Mizpah. While the distances of these locations are so close, the geography debate continues. “When examining the evidence from the two sites, the sheer amount of archaeological discoveries from Tell en-Nasbeh that correspond with the biblical accounts strongly suggest that Tell en-Nasbeh is Mizpah.”[5]

Centuries after this area has been a part of Judah’s history, archeologists search for evidence reveal some interesting finds. Two specific findings relate to people in Jeremiah Chapter 40. In 1935, “in the layer of ashes left by Nebuchadnezzar’s fire when he burned Lachish, a seal was among the Lachish Letters bearing this inscription: “Belonging to Gedaliah, the one who is over the house.”[6] Another seal found in 1932 mentions “Jaazaniah (also, Jezaniah, son of the Maacathite, in Jeremiah 40:8; 2 Kings 25:23) who is an army captain with Gedaliah. This seal, found “in the ruins of Mizpah, the seat of Gedaliah’s government (Jeremiah 40:6) [is] an exquisite agate seal” that is inscribed, Belonging to Jaazaniah, servant of the king.[7]

Today, research and excavation continue to search for historical artifacts. The Alexandria Archive Institute, a non-profit, digital museum (Alexandriaarchive.org), together with Open Context is digitizing thousands of objects that are part of the Tell en-Nasbeh Collection and many other sites. Their goal is to assist research and scholarship. From the ancient Judean hills to 21st Century virtual museums, God’s story continues to be revealed and revisited.

 

Study

“Chapters 40-41 record the tragic story of the first attempt a governance after the departure of Zedekiah.”[8] In the Ramah refugee camp, Jeremiah is found, waiting like the other Hebrew people for deportation. Rescued from the group being exiled to Babylon, Jeremiah’s rescuer is Nebuzaradan, captain of the Babylonian guard. With notable certainty, Nebuzaradan proclaims, “The LORD your God promised this calamity against this place, and the LORD has brought it on and done just as He promised.” (v2-3) It is possible to believe that Nebuzaradan recognizes the truth in Jeremiah’s prophecy. Freed by the captain, Jeremiah chooses to return to those “left in the land” and reunites with Gedaliah, now appointed governor.

Political controversy soon shows its face among the remains soldiers in Judah. Concern rises that Gedaliah is now the governor and “in charge of the men, women, and children, those of the poorest of the land who had not been exile to Babylon.” (v7) Mizpah, 4-5 miles NW of Jerusalem, becomes the location of the summit between Gedaliah and the Judean soldiers. Ishmael and Johanan, and Jonathan, and others are among these soldiers. Nothing new is offered as Jeremiah’s prophecy is simply repeated by Gedaliah. To stay and serve the Chaldeans does not satisfy these men. Nebuchadnezzar leaves behind an abundant harvest in Judah, and many of the Jews who fled or hid during the invasion return.

While in Mizpah, Johanan privately conveys to Gedaliah that Ishmael is plotting to kill him. Gedaliah does not believe Ishmael will harm him. Since Ishmael is part of David’s royal lineage, he “may have been angry that he had been passed over for leadership”[9] Political chaos reigns during this time as no one knows what to believe or who to trust.

 

Reflection

“And the name of the city from that time on will be THE LORD IS THERE.”  Ezekiel 48:35 NIV

While living in Babylon in a refugee settlement among the exiled Israelites, the prophet Ezekiel encounters “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking”. Through visions to Ezekiel, God reveals His warnings to an unrepentant Jerusalem, judgments on all nations, hope for Israel, and a New Jerusalem. Most refuse to listen to Ezekiel. Forty-eight chapters and over twenty years later, Ezekiel records as the Sovereign LORD declares, ”And the name of the city from that time on will be: THE LORD IS THERE.” Jehovah Shammah, Hebrew for ‘The LORD is there,” describes the New Jerusalem, the same city in Revelation 21:3 where God will dwell with His people.

 

Although idol-worshiping Babylon seems an unlikely place for Israel to find God, He is there. After Christ returns and all Believers live in the New Jerusalem, God will be there, too. God desires to dwell among His people. God’s presence exceeds our finite boundaries of time, location, and circumstance. Lord, I come acknowledging my infinite dependence on Christ. Whisper the hope of THE LORD IS THERE into my brokenness, into my disappointment, into my weakness, into my silence, into my vanity, into my prayers. Count me alive in Christ. Jehovah Shammah!  Amen 

 

Application

In thinking about the Babylonian army captain, Nebuzaradan, and how he seemed to voice God’s truth, we do not know if he is repeating something he hears and circumstance seems to confirm, or he uses this as rhetoric since the Babylonians are obviously destroying Judah, or perhaps he is simply acknowledging that this so-called-prophecy is true. What is NOT clear, does he have faith in the One True God?

  • Some people will say that they believe God exists and even proclaim that they believe God does miracles, yet they do not have a personal relationship with Him. Knowing about God and being known by God are two different things. Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Are you known by the One True God? Can others see your faith?

Donna Oswalt



[1] Blackaby Study Bible notes Jeremiah Chapter 40

[2] https:www.watch Jerusalem.co.il Uncovering the Bible’s Buried Cities: Mizpah

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Halleys Bible Handbook Archaeological note: Jeremiah Chapters 40-41

[7] Ibid

[8] Exalting Jesus in Jeremiah and Lamentations: Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary, Smith, Steven

[9] Life Application Study Bible notes on Jeremiah 40