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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.

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.

Jeremiah 28: God will reveal what’s true

May 13, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s been a while. Instead of blogging I’ve been working on other writing projects, or at least opening up the documents and staring at them blankly. I need my brain to do something else for a while I hope. Blog posts are kind of nice because they are self-contained units of thought and I don’t have to be concerned about what I want to write a hundred pages from now. Alright. Ramble over.

Jeremiah 28.2-4
Hananiah speaking –
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house… I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, declares the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”

Jeremiah 28.6-9

and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord make the words that you have prophesied come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. Yet hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”

So, as I’m sure you’ll remember from 10 months ago, in the last chapter Jeremiah put a wooden yoke around his neck to represent the Babylonian takeover and exile of the Israelites. A yoke is used on people and cattle so that they labor more efficiently, specifically for the purpose of carrying a heavy weight. The implication of the yoke is that Israel will be subjected to Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon and he will be their ruler, making them to bear his burdens and labor to his benefit. Hananiah says that God declares that this yoke will be broken in a couple years while Jeremiah has been saying that if things stay the same, Israel will be subjected to the yoke of Babylon for 70 years.

Hananiah is working against Jeremiah with his prophecies. Hananiah is countering Jeremiah’s message of the coming wrath of God through Babylon by telling the people of Israel not to be overly concerned because it won’t last long. Throughout Jeremiah’s prophetic career, he has been warning of the coming takeover and exile by foreign powers because of the sin of Israel and has been met with opposition from others who claim that everything will be fine. Hananiah is just another example among many in the book of Jeremiah of a respected person in Israel who will tell Israel what they want to hear rather than what is true.

Jeremiah knows that Israel needs to hear the truth and believe that the sin of Judah has removed God’s hand of protection from them, and as a result Babylon’s intentions of taking over Israel will be successful. At first, it was important for the people in Jerusalem to believe this so they could turn from their sinful ways so that God would turn back toward His people and save them from the encroaching armies. Then, after the point of no return, it was important for Israel to believe the message of Jeremiah so they could prepare for their exile, understand how they were to live during the period of their exile, and have hope for a return to their land. Obviously being exiled is not desirable and therefore difficult to convince people of, especially when there are others who are trying to convince people that everything is fine.

It must be incredibly frustrating for Jeremiah when Hananiah comes in and contradicts his message. Given the frustrating circumstance, Jeremiah’s response is surprising. He doesn’t argue with Hananiah. He doesn’t yell at him or debate the point. Jeremiah doesn’t even reaffirm his own prophesies. Quite the opposite. He basically says, “I hope you’re right. I hope God does what you say He is going to do. God will make it clear whether your words are true or false soon enough.” Jeremiah doesn’t need to prove that Hananiah is a false prophet.

God does that for him. Later on in the chapter, God declares that since Hananiah declared the people of Judah will be back in two years, not only will that not come to pass, but Hananiah will be dead before the end of one year. Hananiah won’t even be around to see whether he was right. Then Hananiah died.

Jeremiah didn’t have to prove to everyone he heard from God. Jeremiah was not required to act out against those who were undermining his ministry. Jeremiah wasn’t required to counter every argument those who disagreed with him put forth. Jeremiah was given God’s words and asked to speak them. It was God’s job to reveal the truth of His word. And God did, ironically using a false prophet who was spreading lies to substantiate the truthfulness of the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 27: Seeking Those Who Lie

July 12, 2013 Leave a comment

“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the Lord.”

Even as Israel insists upon its own rebellion and the armies of Babylon loom outside the gates, YHWH gives Israel a way out. YHWH pleads with Israel to take the way out. There’s no need to die. There’s no need to suffer the destruction of the city and the the destruction of people. Bend to Babylon and live. Certainly this isn’t a pleasant way out. Submitting to a foreign ruler isn’t a great way to live, but it is the way to live. Israel refuses to accept it.

They don’t have to accept, because everyone else they look to, prophets, diviners, dreamers, fortune-tellers, and sorcerers, tells them its not true. They seek for another opinion from a different presumed authority on the matter, and they find people willing to tell them what they want to hear. The truth of impending destruction is too distasteful, so they look for others to tell them lies which are more palatable. Their refusal to trust YHWH’s difficult truth is their undoing.

Telling people unpleasant truth is neither a fun business nor a profitable one. It’s not fun hearing it either. Telling people lies they want to hear is a much more enjoyable experience and lots of people, even in churches, are willing to pay to hear it. People want to hear lies when the truth is irksome and will look for others to confirm their sweet deception.

The problem is lies don’t do any good. Living in a pleasant false reality is fine for a moment but will bring destruction in the end. Surround yourself with those who speak the truth, even, maybe especially, the truths that are tough to swallow. Those who telling you only what you want to hear are leading you into darkness and destruction. Those who speak truth will guide you into light and life.

Oooh Jeremiah: YHWH is the Jesus I Know

June 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Then the priests and prophets said to the officials and all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”

Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore, mend your ways and deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you. But as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

– Jeremiah 26:11-15

We’ve been through this again and again, and we will continue to, because it is beautiful. The people of Israel, as a whole, are doing some very destructive things. They are worshipping wood and stone. They are treating the poor with contempt. They are falsely accusing the innocent and letting the guilty go unpunished. They are in a constant state of hypocrisy by trying to follow the conflicting  rules and rituals of multitudinous religions. They engage in killing each other, and sometimes sacrifice their own children to idols.

YHWH still won’t give up on them. God still longs to bless them. When Jeremiah is facing potential capital punishment for speaking against these heinous behaviors, God doesn’t use this time to speak a final curse upon Israel. God uses Jeremiah to speak of repentance. YHWH speaks words of forgiveness for the past if His people would stop destroying their relationship with God and others. YHWH speaks of protecting Israel from the violent destruction they are on the cusp of.

The reason God’s patience is so striking is because YHWH has no need for Israel. God was never in need of humanity at all, and He certainly didn’t need one small tribe in the middle east. YHWH certainly could have found another group of people to accomplish His purposes in the world. He had no debt to Israel. He owed them nothing and He needed nothing from them, but He wanted to relent, He wanted to bless them, because YHWH loved them so much. So so much.

I too infrequently discover Jesus in the God of the Old Testament. But in passages like these, I see Messiah Jesus. I see a YHWH whose arms are constantly outstretched toward humanity even when their backs are turned. I see a God who refuses to stop caring no matter how much He is ignored. YHWH humbles Himself to humiliation in His pleas for relationship. YHWH will do all He can to draw His children into a restored relationship with Himself and with each other. YHWH is the Jesus I know.

Oooh Jeremiah: What happened to the seventy years?

May 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Prophets are those who speak the words of God to others. The primary purpose of the prophet is to reveal the will of God to a person or group of people to exhort them to follow Him. Often while speaking the words of God to others, prophets talk about what will happen in the future. Sometimes these predictions are very general, like “I will prepare destroyers against you” (Jer 22:18) Sometimes they are more specific, even including a timeframe for events, like this.

Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.
– 
Jeremiah 25:10-12

The basic idea of this prophecy is that God is going to allow Israel to be sent into exile for seventy years. After seventy years, Babylon, the nation that has the superior strength to take Israel into exile, will be brought down for its own sinful idolatry and mistreatment of others. The implication of Babylon’s destruction is Israel’s freedom. With their oppressor powerless, Israel is free to return to the land of the promise (Jer. 29:10). The people of Israel and Judah who trusted YHWH fully expected to be back in their land at the end of seventy years.

The whole action of the book of Ezra is based on this expectancy of a return after seventy years.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing… “[The Lord] has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem” – Ezra 1:1-2
The time when this was occurring? About 70 years after exile. In a very real way, YHWH was bringing Israel back to their land that they might be His people and He might be their God. In another sense, this form of return, where a foreign king sends some Israelites to go to their land and rebuild the temple under his authority, appears to be much less than the escape from exile Jeremiah talked about. That’s true too.

In Daniel 9 when Daniel noticed the seventy years had passed, he wondered about Israel’s return to their land, because despite being exile, Israel didn’t repent. Daniel said “we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth” (Dan 9:13). God responds  with news of a delay in Israel’s full return from exile because of their disobedience. It was now no longer seventy years, but 490 years.*

About these 490 years, Daniel is told:
Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks… After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary… And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.
– Daniel 9:24-27

Guess what events happen in the last few decades of this time period? Yeah. Ministry of Jesus, his death, resurrection, and the destruction of the temple in CE 70 also predicted by Jesus in Daniel-like language. With those events are the end of the sacrificial system, the death blow to sin, atonement for iniquity, an everlasting righteousness, and a new covenant made with many. However, there’s a nagging question that remains after reading the Daniel passage. Jeremiah’s prophecy was about Israel’s return from exile in seventy years. Daniel’s prophecy of 490 years doesn’t come across that way. Wouldn’t the time extension from seventy to 490 mean the exile would end just a little later.

It does. The end of exile was always the people of God being free to live where God is and where God reigns. With the sacrificial system and temple gone and sin deceased, there is no need for a centralized location to atone for sin. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, God is now wherever his people meet and God reigns wherever his people obey him. Home is now wherever the people of God are being the people of God. Jesus not only freed Israel from exile as prophesied by Jeremiah, but Jesus made it impossible for the people of YHWH to ever be in exile again.**

* If you read Daniel 9, it says seventy weeks. It’s a little complex, but the way the book of Daniel as a whole uses days, it’s pretty clear that it uses a day to represent a year (people sometimes call it a “prophetic day”). Seventy weeks is 490 days. 490 days in Daniel represent 490 years.
**Whew!

Oooh Jeremiah: Protecting God’s Blessings

April 27, 2013 Leave a comment

“Like these good figs, so I will regard the exiles from Judah… I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
But… Like the bag figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat Zedekiah the king of Judah, his officials, and the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. And I will send sword, famine, and a pestilence upon them, until they shall be utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.”
Jeremiah 24:4-10

There are a lot of interesting things going on in this passage.* One thing that stuck out to me is who YHWH says will have the land He promised to Israel. It is not the ones I would naturally expect to inherit the land. Those who stay in Jerusalem and try to keep it are those very people who will lose it. Those who voluntarily depart from Jerusalem into exile are the people God promises will have the land and God’s blessing. The people who abandon the land are the people who will keep the land.
To be fair, this isn’t some arbitrary decision by God to bless those who leave and let those who stay die, He already warned very clearly that destruction was coming upon the city and that the way out was to surrender to the attackers (Jer 21). Those who believed God’s words are those who are saved. It’s pretty fitting in light of the rest of Scripture. Still, it’s an odd circumstance to think about. Israel is in the land of the promise, but in order to inherit the land of the promise later, they have to abandon it now.
Their abandonment of the land YHWH promised them is actually an act of obedience to Him. Those who left the land are those who cling to God’s words in the presence and not the blessings of the past. Those who choose to remain in Jerusalem are protecting their city, their homes, their families, their lifestyles – God’s blessings. In protecting these blessings from YHWH they are abandoning YHWH. Those who are willing to abandon YHWH’s blessings are protecting their relationship with Him.
What are you protecting? What are you clinging to?

*References to other parts of the book abound in this little section: This passage directly references uprooting, planting, tearing, and building which are all a part of the section on the first chapter in Jeremiah we discussed. Told you it was one of the “broader themes of the book.” The prophet warned Israel not to go to Egypt and told them they would be safe if they left the city in peace of their own free will. The two groups who didn’t listen to this are specifically singled out as bad figs due to their insistence on rejecting God’s words spoken through this sections. The true people of God are those who hear and obey, and thus even amongst the Israelites YHWH distinguishes between his people and those who have rejected Him. Like so many other parts of this prophecy, we see God through Jeremiah talking about the increased culpability of those who have power.

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