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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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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: 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.

Oooh Jeremiah: Their Hope, Our Reality

April 14, 2013 Leave a comment

I really hope some of you are reading through the book of Jeremiah with me. It’s pretty powerful stuff, and I found chapter 23 to be particularly rich.

“Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multipy. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord. Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
– Jeremiah 23:2-6

The sins of Israel and Judah were going to bring them into exile. YHWH made it very clear that Jerusalem’s self-destruction was going to be manifested in the complete obliteration of the city and the departure of its people into a foreign land. That was going to go down, but when God deals with evil, He doesn’t just end the destruction, He brings back the good. The great hope of exiled Israel was a glorious return to their own land where they no longer had fear or dismay and where none were still exiled. Their great hope was to be led by a good shepherd who would direct their paths and guide their interactions with YHWH. The great hope of the exiled people of God was to have a descendant of David back on the throne, his wise rule bringing justice and peace to the kingdom of YHWH. Israel’s great hope is that the Lord would be their righteousness.

Because of the faithfulness of YHWH, our people’s greatest hopes have become our reality. Jesus has brought the promises of God to fulfillment. The good shepherd has come, he is guiding us into all righteousness, is set on keeping us close to Himself, and he is the Love who sets us free from fear. All who were once in exile are back in the kingdom of YHWH, for wherever the Shepherd King is, His kingdom reigns. The righteous Branch of David has come: he walked into Jerusalem, declared Himself King, and took his throne. He brought justice and righteousness by taking all the injustice unrighteousness the world could throw at him and putting it to death. Jesus is alone in truly deserving the name, “The Lord is our righteousness.” We live in a reality that was once our people’s greatest hope.

Still, in a world where the kingdom of God has come in part and is coming in full, we can still live in exile. We can still live in fear. We can still be dismayed. We still experience and enact injustice. Yet, our reality is one of hope fulfilled.

All of these things have been taken care of ultimately and are being taken care of day by day. They are all passing away. The fulfiller of promises has shown he will stop at nothing to set the world to rights. He has removed all the roadblocks on the way home. Jesus has defeated injustice with forgiveness. He has overcome all barriers to relationship to be close enough to encourage us until the dismay dissipates and he will hold us until love has replaced all fear. We live in a time of hope fulfilled. Let us live with our hope filled full.

Ooh Jeremiah: And For Us?

March 27, 2013 2 comments

In Jeremiah 22, the young man speaks a prophecy that is at this point quite familiar to readers of the book. It’s a simple call for those with power over others to be just toward others.
Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
    and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing,
   and does not give him his wages,
who says, ‘I will build myself a great house
  with spacious upper rooms,’
who cuts out windows for it,
  paneling it with cedar
  and painting it with vermilion.
Do you think you are a king
  because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
  and do justice and righteousness?
  Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
  then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
  declares the Lord.
But you have eyes and heart
  only for your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
  and for practicing oppression and violence.”
– Jeremiah 22:13-17
The subject matter of this prophecy is characteristic of much of Jeremiah. A brief summary of the sin issues Jeremiah is speaking into in this passage: 1. People are acquiring and gaining wealth by using their power to force weaker people to work without compensation. They are growing wealth through injustice. 2. People are building opulent shit because they think they are big shit. They are taking pride in their own wealth and power. To make it worse, it is wealth and power acquired through coercion. 3. Because of their wealth and power, they have a responsibility to be justice bringers to the poor and needy. Instead of bringing justice, they are guilty of violent oppression.
When Jeremiah was speaking out against oppressors, he did so in a very specific context. He was living amongst the people of YHWH, who together formed the nation of God, who had a king whose function was to keep the people of God following the Law of YHWH and worshipping Him only. Jeremiah’s prophecy was primarily designed to get the people of God to turn from their ways of arrogance, idolatry, and oppressive use of power. As the people of YHWH, Israel is charged with representing YHWH to the world and so is held more responsible than other nations for their distortions and destructions of His image.
Because Jeremiah is speaking into such a specific context, I wonder how much of his prophetic ministry should be replicated by followers of Jesus. Certainly there are prophets in our Jesus communities. Certainly there are people being oppressed by those with power and people simply using their power to take wealth from others in order to increase their own wealth and power. Our world contains tremendous conspicuous consumption and many with hubris regarding their power and possessions. What does a prophet do about it?
Who are those oppressing others? Who are the oppressed? Should the prophet call only those who claim Jesus to repent or also speak against the pagan world? Does this include speaking against the pagan political world where coercion against weaker people is the rule? What would being a prophetic voice calling for things to be set right and proclaiming that things will be set right look like? What would be the most effective way to do this? Any other thoughts on being a prophetic voice for our present world?

Jeremiah Was A Dragon Man: Sometimes Everyone Else Is Wrong

February 3, 2013 4 comments

​Now Pashur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. Then Pashur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord.
​- Jeremiah 20:1-2

​Every character that Jeremiah interacts with and references in this narrative is upset with him. It’s as if the entire city of Jerusalem believes Jeremiah is a fool for his warnings of imminent judgment because of Judah’s idolatry. Many mock him. Some argue with him. Most ignore. The highest religious authority decided that Jeremiah’s words were so off base, so blasphemous, that Jeremiah should be beaten and thrown in stocks. The actions of everyone around Jeremiah indicate that they believe his prophecies are lies.

​The odd part is, Jeremiah is not the lone crazy fool spouting gibberish in the city; Jeremiah is the only one who knows what is really going on. His ability to stay consistently on message and continually prophesy with boldness despite feeling like “a laughingstock all the day” (20:7), is impressive, admirable, and imitable. Despite all social indicators pointing to Jeremiah being completely wrong, Jeremiah is getting his information from YHWH and thus is completely right. The key to Jeremiah seeing the world as it is and living in light of reality is not who agrees with him or how many people agree with him or how accepted his perspecitive is, but the trustworthiness of his source of information.

​The same is true for us. Understanding reality and living well within it requires that we have the right source of information and has nothing to do with the number of people who do or don’t agree with us. The majority sometimes believe some crazy shit. Society as a whole has a tendency to provide misinformation about popularity, money, respectability, fame, fun, relationships, gods, virtues, behavior, and the like. Like the chief priest in the house of the Lord, churches are often guilty of wrongly persecuting people because of the churches’ misinformation. The world is full of majorities who are wrong. You and I will be tempted to agree with these majorities to avoid being mocked or beaten, or will agree simply because it’s easier and if enough people believe something, it feels likely to be true.

​The real truth is: truthfulness is not indicated by the number of people who believe something to be true. The majority is a poor source of information. Where do your beliefs about truth come from?

Jeremiah Was A Dragon Man: As Go God’s Children, So Goes Creation

December 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Because of the ground that is dismayed, since there is no rain on the land, the farmers are ashamed; they cover their heads. Even the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn because there is no grass. The wild donkeys stand on the bare heights; they pant for air like jackals, their eyes fail because there is no vegetation.

Jeremiah 14:4-6

The people of God in Judah are receiving judgment because “they loved to wander thus; they have no restrained their feet.” The Israelites not only sin against YHWH, but they love it! Although they make appeals for forgiveness, the people of Israel show no indication that they have any interest in restraining themselves from idolatry, injustice, and deceit. The judgment Israel has been warned about for years is imminent. But it is not only the people of Israel who will suffer.

The kingdom of Creation will suffer too. Because of the judgment coming on Jerusalem, the doe leaves her child, the majestic wild donkeys starve to death, even the ground is dismayed. When those who are supposed to be the redeemed people of YHWH are being less than who they should be, then the domain of Creation under their power suffers. This is not a new concept.

When Jeremiah talks about the way that Creation suffers when the people of God face judgment for not being the people of God, he is merely picking up on a Biblical theme that begins in Genesis and weaves its way throughout Scripture.

Genesis 1:26 says:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

The first job of man was to rule over creation. Humanity was not to have dominion with an iron fist that destroys, but to rule as one made in God’s likeness. Certainly the God who made creation and called it good would want it well maintained. Ruling over creation as one made in God’s image requires preserving the goodness of the creation. When first Man sinned, Creation was also corrupted because its ruler failed to preserve the goodness of creation. As humanity goes, so goes Creation.

God’s promise to Abraham to bless his descendants and bless the other nations through them was God’s long-term plan to set things right with the corrupted humanity. It is also, because humans are the caretakers of Creation, God’s way of setting things right with Creation. And so we see that a thousand years down the road, the fate of Abraham’s descendants is still intimately connected with the fate of Creation. This is neither a new concept nor an archaic one.

For the people of God re-centered around Jesus Messiah, part of our bearing of the image of God also includes taking care of what God has created. We have been redeemed by Jesus, but will not experience this redemption in all its fullness until we acquire new and incorruptible bodies. And guess who can’t wait for us to be redeemed in full? Yeah, Creation groans with us for our redemption that Creation might be free with us and experience the glory of its original goodness.

Romans 8:19-23

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

As we grow to reflect the image of the Messiah, obtaining the freedom and glory of redemption, the Creation over which we rule should experience the firstfruits of redemption as well. If this is true, then I have a nagging question, what the hell does that look like?

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