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Jeremiah 33: You Are Not Rejected

September 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Most Christians I know have felt rejected by God at some point in their life. Some of them struggle with this feeling on a regular basis. This is especially true when they have some sin they keep repeating or believe they have committed a sin so big God cannot accept them again. As most of us have discovered at some point, sin has real negative consequences in our life, sometimes very grave consequences, and when we are facing this difficult repercussions, it feels like God is not there with us, and thus has rejected us. The people of God in Jeremiah 33 felt this too.

23 The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 24 “Have you not observed that these people are saying, ‘The Lord has rejected the two clans that he chose’? Thus they have despised my people so that they are no longer a nation in their sight. 25 Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, 26 then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.”

The people of Israel and Judah are in exile. They are no longer under their own kings, but are being ruled at home and abroad by the Babylonian empire. Their countries and their central cities have been destroyed. Their holy places are in ruins. And they know it is because of their sin, because they neglected justice and worshiped the gods of Babylon that YHWH allowed Babylon to destroy their nation. Naturally, in their present state of despair, they conclude God has rejected them.

YHWH has always allowed for freedom to sin. Such liberty is built into the structure of Creation. Sin, because it is a deviation from the good God’s design, has negative consequences. God allows for these negative consequences because He wants human choice to have power to impact the world positively. With this power also comes the ability to impact the world negatively. When these painful consequences occur, it is tempting to, like the exiles, believe God has rejected us.

As we see, this is not the case. God is not giving up on His people. He made promises a thousand years prior and hundreds of years prior which he is not abandoning. He is faithful even when the people who claim to follow Him are faithless. The end is not the present moment of suffering, the end is instead a full restoration provided not through the faithfulness of His people, but by his own mercy. He always has a plan for good.

For those who have seen Jesus in the Scriptures and met Him in our lives, how much more does this promise ring true! Jesus puts on display mercy and acceptance even of those who have rejected Him, even of those who killed Him, in a way so clear it cannot be mistaken. Jesus is the character of God in human flesh and in the gospels we see Him reaching out to the most rejected sinners on page after page. The message of God to His people is always, ultimately one of hope. He is always standing with open arms to all, even those who run from him, waiting for them to turn and fall into His unconditionally loving embrace.

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Jeremiah 32: You Asked For This

At the beginning of Jeremiah 32, our prophet is locked in prison because he keeps telling besieged Jerusalem that they’re gonna lose. King Zedekiah is not a fan. Jeremiah’s response while locked up? He keeps saying things which would be quite troubling to the people in Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 32.26-35

26 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, 27 “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?”28 Therefore thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am about to give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will take it. 29 The Chaldeans who are fighting against this city will enter and set this city on fire and burn it, with the houses where people have offered incense to Baal on their roofs and poured out drink offerings to other gods to provoke Me to anger. 30 Indeed the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah have been doing only evil in My sight from their youth; for the sons of Israel have been only provoking Me to anger by the work of their hands,” declares the Lord. 31 “Indeed this city has been to Me a provocation of My anger and My wrath from the day that they built it, even to this day, so that it should be removed from before My face, 32 because of all the evil of the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah which they have done to provoke Me to anger—they, their kings, their leaders, their priests, their prophets, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 33 They have turned their back to Me and not their face; though I taught them, teaching again and again, they would not listen and receive instruction. 34 But they put their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it.35 They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

At the beginning of this passage, God says he is about to give Jerusalem into the hands of those attacking it. This is one of the main ways the Scriptures explain God’s punishment of people. He allows the choices of kings and armies to take effect and the result is the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people. God performs these judgments by allowing the natural results of human action to take effect in full force. He works with exercise of free will to accomplish his purposes, even when He purposes to express His wrath.

The text makes it clear why YHWH was angry and frustrated with His people. They were brazenly worshipping other gods. They worshipped these gods on their homes, they built altars and places of worship, and they sacrificed to other gods. They even sacrificed their own children to these other gods! Despite warning after warning from YHWH, they continued in these practices. They were not interested in being His people, they wanted to be the people of all the gods. YHWH doesn’t work this way. He wants people to follow Him alone or follow other gods. Not both.

In a sense, God’s withdrawal, which allowed the Chaldeans and Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to capture Jerusalem, was exactly what the Jews wanted. God warned them what the worship of these foreign gods would lead to, and they continued in their idolatry. They wanted to worship Baal. They wanted him to have power. And guess whose god Baal is? Baal is the god of Babylon.

They wanted these gods to have power, now they do! Congratulations people, you did it. In a narrative sense, YHWH is allowing these gods to exert their power, through Babylon, upon the nation of Israel. Israel is getting exactly what they asked for in a different way than they desired. Their city is now being destroyed by the gods they worshiped and many of them will be shipped to lands where these gods are even more honored. The idols of Israel will become their rulers and ruin their lives.

John’s Birth Narrative

April 10, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve taught about this topic based on this section of text at church before, but for no reason in particular, this passage has been running through my head again and I thought I would try to clarify and solidify my thoughts through writing.

Unlike the gospels of Luke and Matthew, the gospel of John does not tell us about the birth story of Jesus at the beginning of the book. Instead, John chooses to explain Jesus’ entrance into the world as the Creator God taking on human flesh to bear His image perfectly and put on display humanity as humanity was intended to be. However, it is my contention that John’s gospel does contain a birth narrative, but the birth of Jesus does not occur until the end of the book.

So as not to get bogged down, we will be flying through these texts, only pointing out what is pertinent to my argument, and deliberately ignoring some of the most important elements of the story. We’ll start with Jesus on the cross nearing death.

John 19.25a-27
But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
26 When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He *said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then He *said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.

For our purposes, there’s only one thing I want you to pay attention to in this passage, which we probably normally wouldn’t give a second thought. Who are the women here? Well, we have Jesus’ mother, whose name every reader or hearer (hereon, we’ll use only the term reader, even though most of John’s original audience heard this text read to them) knows. Mary of course. Then we have Mary and Mary. So, Mary, Mary, and Mary.

The text goes on to tell us about the death of Jesus. He’s given sour wine, then He parallels Elohim in Genesis, with, “It is finished.” At this moment, Jesus gives up His Spirit.

Everyone is in a hurry to bring him down from the cross before the Sabbath or they would have to leave the bodies on the cross for a whole day cuz silly reasons. To double check to make sure Jesus was dead, they pierce his side, and out of him flows blood and water. He was quite dead.

Then we come to the story of Jesus’ burial.

John 19.38-42
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body.
39 Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

We’re reading through John and we hear Mary, Mary, Mary, there is a ten verse depiction of Jesus’ death, and after we come immediately to Joseph. Mary, Mary, Mary… Joseph. “Mary” is fresh in reader’s minds, and then “Joseph.” What is commonly associated with these two names in close proximity to one another? Jesus’ birth. I think John wants us to have the story of His birth in mind right now. Given that both of these names are common, it is perfectly plausible their usage is purely coincidental. I would tend toward calling it a coincidence, except for other elements of the text.

Because of what we see in the rest of this gospel, we know John is a well thought out writer who is very deliberate about what he says. Rarely, if ever, does he provide specific details without reason. He tells us Jesus is going to be laid in a tomb, a new tomb. No one had ever been laid in it. Just like the Virgin Mary when she gave birth to Jesus (Pun not intended in the Greek). It’s a virgin tomb.

Here’s the kicker of the passage, and perhaps the most important reason for seeing this part of John as a sort of birth narrative. John tells us Nicodemus is there. Nicodemus is here to both foreshadow what is about to happen and to provide a theological explanation of what does happen. No other gospel tells us about him. Not only that, John also happens to specifically point us to the first meeting Nicodemus had with Jesus. The importance of referencing Nicodemus is found in this conversation.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night to get some questions answered. We pick up this iconic conversation in John 3.2

this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus continues on in the conversation to frame this new birth as a “heavenly thing” and as what brings the “life of the age (of the kingdom of God)” to the reborn. He also talks about himself being raised up as the means by which the people of God will receive the salvation from death to receive the life he speaks about in this passage.

With this background in mind we come to the resurrection in John 20, the climactic moment of the author’s birth narrative. In this chapter, Mary goes to Jesus’ virgin tomb and finds it empty. Later she is the first to see the risen Jesus whom she mistakenly believes to be the gardener.

John’s reference to the story of Nicodemus provides one lens through which we are to view Jesus’ resurrection. It is the new spiritual birth which allows the reborn to see the kingdom of God. What was confusing in John 3 has now become quite clear. No, it’s not about climbing back into the mother’s womb. Other than being impossible, that would simply result in another birth of the flesh. This is a birth of a different sort.

The gestation process of the new birth takes place in a tomb. The precursor to a birth of the spirit is a death to the old fleshly ways of law, sin, division, centralized religious control, and the like. Jesus’ death to sin on the cross was his conception and the resurrection with a new, imperishable body is his birth. Jesus was born again with a body fit to see and experience the kingdom of God.

The resurrected Jesus in the garden is the new Adam, the first of humanity to experience both a birth of water and one of spirit. Jesus lovers are to follow him into the tomb that they might also be born, “not of [blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1.13). As revealed in the conversation with Nicodemus, it is the raising up of Jesus like the serpent which enables us to share with Jesus in this spiritual rebirth through death and resurrection – experiencing the life of the age in the present as we await the fullness of this life in the future.

*As a pertinent post-script, Jesus frames his death and resurrection as a birth story in John 16.20-22 as well.

Jeremiah 31: What’s In A Name?

March 9, 2017 Leave a comment

Reading chapter 31, a message from God to his conquered people who have been exiled to a foreign land, I noticed something new . The author repeatedly uses a unique name which I didn’t recall seeing so often during read throughs of previous chapters. “Ephraim,” the name for one of the tribes of Israel, is scattered throughout this passage. Here are its uses.

31.6
“For there will be a day when watchmen

On the hills of Ephraim call out,

‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion,

To the Lord our God.’”

31.9
“With weeping they will come,

And by supplication I will lead them;

I will make them walk by streams of waters,

On a straight path in which they will not stumble;

For I am a father to Israel,

And Ephraim is My firstborn.”

31.17-20
“There is hope for your future,” declares the Lord,
“And your children will return to their own territory.
18 “I have surely heard Ephraim grieving,
‘You have chastised me, and I was chastised,
Like an untrained calf;
Bring me back that I may be restored,
For You are the Lord my God.
19 ‘For after I turned back, I repented;
And after I was instructed, I smote on my thigh;
I was ashamed and also humiliated
Because I bore the reproach of my youth.’
20 “Is Ephraim My dear son?
Is he a delightful child?
Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him,
I certainly still remember him;
Therefore My heart yearns for him;
I will surely have mercy on him,” declares the Lord.

In the book of Jeremiah, the largest book in the Bible, there are seven uses of the word, “Ephraim.” Four of them are found in this one chapter. Only in this chapter is Ephraim referred to directly as an individual. All other uses are descriptive (hills of Ephraim, offspring of Ephraim). The frequency and uniqueness of the use of “Ephraim” here is a good indicator of a deliberate literary move.

After noticing this, I did some “research” (that’s a generous term for my brief internet search), on why. The first reason which came up explains the use of the term Ephraim at the outer layer of meaning. Ephraim was the strongest tribe of those which formed the northern kingdom of Israel, and thus using the name was shorthand for referring to all these tribes. I believe it safe to say the author intended to include all these tribes  when referring to Ephraim. However, it should be pointed out, there are already well established terms for distinguishing the northern from the southern kingdoms, Israel and Judah, respectively. This explanation doesn’t quite explain the why.

A few other people pointed out Ephraim is the second son of Joseph who was the second to last son of Israel (who also, as long as we’re going through this list, was the last born of Isaac who was the second born son of Abraham). These are those who were the chosen sons through whom God’s people would descend. In the ancient near east, the standard was for the firstborn son to receive the inheritance. God’s manner of choosing who would inherit his kingdom was different, unexpected, and often included those who were overlooked by others, the weak, the humble.

The implications of this are at least twofold. By focusing on Ephraim, the last born of all the patriarchs of the Israelite tribes, God is pointing out his love for the lowliest in society and his intention to elevate their status and do great things to them and through them. Certainly exiled Israel can identify with those in the lowest position at this time. This also hints at the gentiles, the latter born group of people, entrances into the kingdom of God with as much status as God’s firstborn, through the new covenant referred to in this chapter.

I will suggest it serves another purpose in the text. Full disclosure, I have a four month old son named Ephraim. So, I’m definitely inclined to pay more attention to his name than most. Conveniently, I also know what the Hebrew word Ephraim means in English. It means “fruitful.” Before we get into the implications of this, here’s why Joseph chose this name for his son.

Joseph entered Egypt as a slave, become a prisoner, and then the second most powerful man in the entire nation. He was forcibly extracted from his life and family and brought to Egypt against his will, and yet God still used him and gave him good things. In this context, when Joseph has his second son, he says they will name him ‘Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”’

Egypt was not a place where God blessed Joseph only, but where he blessed all of the people of Israel for centuries. This foreign nation was where a small immediate family grew into a nation of people. And eventually, when this nation within Egypt were made into slaves, YHWH brought them out and blessed them elsewhere.

Jeremiah’s use of “Ephraim” should not only cause the reader to think “fruitful,” but also to think of the story of Ephraim’s naming. God has a history of making his people fruitful. He even does so when they are in a foreign land. He even does so when they were forced to come to the foreign land against their will. “Ephraim,” in a word, tells a story of hope, of God’s faithfulness to his people even when they are brought by their oppressors into a land of affliction. He has provided fruitfulness before in a similar context, he will do so again. YHWH is assuring Israel that despite their circumstances they are still his fruitful firstborn.

The hope God communicates, hope for freedom, hope for a renewed relationship, hope for future safety, brought about by a moment of complete forgiveness, is best summed up in 31.31-34.

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Man, Woman, and Authority

February 3, 2017 Leave a comment

From another writing project in which I deal with a handful of arguments for male authority over women from this text:

Genesis 2.18-23

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
   And flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
  because she was taken out of Man.”

Sometimes interpreters will use Genesis 2 to argue for men’s position over women in the hierarchy of Creation. The attempt to demonstrate this comes from a flawed understanding of the purpose of this chapter and an ignorance of Genesis 1. God has already outlined the hierarchy of Creation in Genesis 1. This chapter is not designed to speak to the issue.

Still, there are some who use chapter 2 to posit male authority over females. These arguments which place men over women are common enough it is worth the time to address some of them directly.

In Genesis 1, it looks like male and female were created at the same time. However, in chapter 2 Adam was created before Eve. As one who has been alive in the world for longer, it would make sense for Adam, with his more expansive knowledge of the world, to have a position of authority over her. God deliberately created man first because He wanted men to always have a position of leadership over women.

The main problem with this conclusion is its presumptiveness. There’s no reason in the text to assume being made first put one in a position over others. In fact, were one going to use the order of creation as a way to figure out God’s original design for hierarchy, the exact opposite would have to be concluded. We already know humans are over the rest of creation and humans were created last. The creatures with the highest authority are those created later. If woman was created last of all, then God must want her to have dominion over everything which came before, including man.

Eve is called Adam’s “helper.”  When the ESV (and many other translations) use the word “helper” to describe Eve’s relationship to Adam, they are not intending to communicate the idea of some sort of hierarchy. When modern readers perceive Eve to be Adam’s subordinate because of the use of the term helper, they are reading their experiences into the text.

The assumption of some readers that to call someone a “helper” is to subordinate them is not without reason in our modern context. It is common in the work environment to refer to less skilled people as a “helper.” Children who aid in cleanup or who are being kind to younger children are also called “helpers.” A helper is  someone who is there to be of assistance to the person who is in charge. We often use “helper” to refer to someone who is in a position of subordination.

The word for helper in the Hebrew text carries no such connotations. The Hebrew word for helper is Ezer. This word is most often applied to God. God helps humanity out sometimes, this certainly doesn’t make him a subordinate. Using similarly shallow arguments to those seeking to prove patriarchy, it would be very easy to conclude Eve must be Adam’s superior, since the same term applied to her is also applied to God. The text is not trying to say anything about a hierarchy at all.

The process of Eve’s creation is another event some use to conclude that God designed men to be in a position over women. Adam slept and then God used his rib to create Eve. She is a part of Adam’s body. Adam is the originator of Eve.

Only a small logical step is required to propose that Adam has rightful authority of Eve. She owes her very existence to him. He owned the rib from which woman was made, so he should have some continuing rights of ownership. Adam obviously has authority over his own body and Eve is simply a separated extension of his body. As one created from someone else, it is reasonable to conclude Adam is above Eve in the hierarchy of creation.

Yet, we find ourselves only able to use these verses to justify a hierarchy between man and woman if we ignore the preceding text. Adam wasn’t created out of thin air either. He originated from another substance – dirt. Is dirt over man in the hierarchy? Quite the opposite, the earth is the very thing over which man is to rule. In the interest of a consistent application of the hierarchal hermenuetic, if man was created from the substance over which he had dominion, then it must be that woman is supposed to have dominion over man.
Or perhaps interpreting Genesis 2 as if it is trying to tell us something about an authority difference between men and women is the wrong way of reading it altogether.

Categories: Miscellaneous

Jeremiah 30: The God Who Sees

January 19, 2017 1 comment

Jeremiah 30.5-9

“For thus says the Lord,
‘I have heard a sound of terror,

Of dread, and there is no peace.
‘Ask now, and see
If a male can give birth.
Why do I see every man
With his hands on his loins, as a woman in childbirth?
And why have all faces turned pale?
‘Alas! for that day is great,
There is none like it;
And it is the time of Jacob’s distress,
But he will be saved from it.
‘It shall come about on that day,’ declares the Lord of hosts, ‘that I will break his yoke from off their neck and will tear off their bonds; and strangers will no longer make them their slaves. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

When I read this over quickly, my first thought was, “God’s talking about judging Israel again.” I don’t know if other readers are like me, but I’m inclined to simply throw passages into this equation: Old Testament Prophet + talking to Israel + talking about human suffering = judgment language. I ran the numbers on my first skim through, and I totally misread the passage.

YHWH’s begins his speech by informing Israel He has heard a sound of terror. This isn’t God acting or proclaiming, He is listening. He is paying attention to His people. YHWH does not hide his face from them, He sees them. He understands their pain.

YHWH is not pronouncing judgment here. God is using empathetic language to let Israel know He understands what they are going through right now. Using the visceral and universal metaphor of labor pains, YHWH reflects their suffering back to them. He demonstrates an intimate knowledge of their circumstances. God sees as if He were in their shoes, looking through their eyes, taking on their perspective. Their pain feels like the most tremendous and debilitating pain they can imagine.

This God knows their pain. While is true the sin of the people has caused their desperate and painful condition, He is loving and forgiving. The merciful God who sees will not allow the pain to endure forever. He’s going to do something about it. He’s going to set things right.

His solution points us obviously to Jesus. I’ve pointed out many times in writings, lectures, and in conversation that choosing a king was a rejection of God. God also promised a descendant of David would be on the throne forever. Jesus is the unique and unexpected solution to this (and many other) problems. Jesus is both God enfleshed and a descendant of David. Jesus both fulfills the promises of God to David and rectifies Israel’s rejection of YHWH as the only rightful king.

Categories: Miscellaneous

Jeremiah 29

December 16, 2016 Leave a comment

I think I’m going to restart doing this regularly. I have a few creative outlets I’m focusing on right now, but I currently have none where I am specifically focusing on Scripture, save for sub 140 character twitter posts, but that hardly counts. This type of writing is also nice to do because it’s fairly easy and I hold it to a very low standard. These blog posts aren’t completely without thought, but they don’t require very extensive thinking either.

Jeremiah 29, huh. There are so many rabbit trails on which we could travel. I’ll work on staying focused and brief.

How about Jeremiah 29:12-14. These verses are a part of a message sent to people from Jerusalem who were taken and are now living in exile in Babylon. God chose to use this time to speak hope to His people in their time of potential despair. They didn’t heed Jeremiah’s warnings and repent, thus God chose not to prevent their conquering. So, now what. God didn’t protect them because of their sin. As covenant breakers in a foreign land, where do they stand with God? The passage in its

12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’

The Jewish religious practices ascribe a lot of importance to objects and geography in the worship of YHWH. So much emphasis is placed on these things, the very presence of God is thought to be directly connected to them. God is where the Ark of the Covenant is. The Holy of Holies is where God’s presence is strongest. As one moves outward, the potency of God’s presence decreases. It’s next strongest in the sanctuary, less in the outer courts, still less in the city of Jerusalem, and still present, but weaker in the land of Judea as a whole. The further away one gets from the Temple, the further away one gets from God Himself.

If the presence of God is geographically related, then the exiled Jews have a problem. They’re in Babylon. They’re really far from Jerusalem and they can no longer make trips to the Temple. God directly addresses any fears about His absence. YHWH lets them know His presence extends even to Babylon. Away from home, under power of a foreign rulers, in the midst of a multitude of other gods, YHWH is with them. And He’s as available for relationship as ever. They need only seek Him truly and honestly to find Him. The promise of presence is wonderful and unexpected news to a people who thought their sin drove them away from God.

These words were penned to a very specific group (Jewish exiles in Babylon), at a very specific time (during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar – I don’t know dates people), with a very specific message (God will bring the Jewish people back to Jerusalem). How might a message of return from exile apply to followers of Jesus thousands of years later?

For most of human history, the people of God have been a people in exile. Followers of Jesus are no exception. We are told by new testament authors to identify so strongly as citizens of the kingdom of heaven that we consider ourselves as strangers in a foreign land wherever we find ourselves in the world. We are told to live like those whose home is elsewhere, whose home is different, than the place and culture in which we currently reside. In our exile, God speaks a message of hope – including promises of His presence where we are and promises of a return back to where we belong.

Ultimately, the people of God then and the people of God now are waiting for the same grand return from exile. It is the sin of the world which makes followers of Jesus exiles at present. It was the sin of the Israelites which made them exiles in their time. It was sin in the garden which exiled humanity from the world as it should be. All people of God across history look forward to this final return, when redeemed humanity is brought back to the home for which their heart has always yearned.

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