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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.

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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!

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?

Oooh Jeremiah*: A Prayer Answered, A Prophet Vindicated

March 20, 2013 Leave a comment

In the last chapter we discussed in Jeremiah, chapter 20, Jeremiah had a rough go of things. He was arrested, beaten, and thrown into stocks for a day by Pashhur the priest, son of Immer. Understandably, being beaten and publically humiliated for preaching the word of YHWH was pretty frustrating for Jeremiah. After being released, he laments over his isolation, embarrassment, having many enemies, and being stuck in his circumstances, all while declaring that God is trustworthy and will prevail. Despite being shunned for his words, Jeremiah was the one right person in the midst of an ignorant nation.

In the beginning of chapter 21, we see, at least in part, an answer to Jeremiah’s prayer.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchiah and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying “Inquire of the Lord for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the Lord will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us.”
– Jeremiah 21:1-2

Do you see it? Jeremiah went from being in stocks for his prophecies, to praying, to having a king request Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jeremiah transitioned from laughingstock to the counselor of a king over the course of a chapter. Why are things changing for Jeremiah? Because his prophecies are beginning to be manifested in reality. Jeremiah is vindicated soon after his expression of His frustation before the Lord.

In the text, I believe Pashhur performing the action in chapter 20 and Passhur (different Passhur) performing the action in chapter 21 is important to notice. These individuals represent the completely different ways the leaders of Judah, specifically the religious leaders of Judah, respond to Jeremiah. Passhur once engaged in beating, seizing, and publically humiliating the prophet for his words. Now, because of those same words, Passhur is requesting the help of Jeremiah at the behest of the king! I suspect the placement of two Passhurs in the text so close to each other whose responses so obviously contrast with one another’s is a deliberate literary move highlighing the shift in responses to the prophet (albeit not a permanent shift). Attitudes and actions towards the prophet shift when the prophets words that once seemed insane turn out to be true.

Jeremiah’s plight as a prophet is probably the plight of most prophets. When things are going well and the prophet warns of Babylon’s future destruction of Jerusalem, no one listens to or believes the words of Jeremiah. But when it looks like Babylon is indeed preparing to attack Jerusalem, who can anyone, even the king, turn to for answers but the person who saw this coming all along? Prophets are frustrating fools when they are warning about future results of sin and preaching repentance, but they are sought-out sages when sin bears its fruit and death is at the door.

What do we (I) take from this? Three things. 1. Jeremiah’s prayer of frustration, expressed desire for vindication, and request to see YHWH do what He said he would was answered. He prayed in chapter 20, YHWH vindicated in chapter 21. In the middle of a story about a nation, YHWH is still looking out for the individual. 2. Speaking truth into wickedness can be a real bitch in the short term. But perhaps when words become reality, those who once rejected the truth-teller will come back for wisdom and aid. Keep speaking truth in love. 3. It is possible that Jeremiah’s public humiliation is part of the reason king Zedekiah even knew who Jeremiah was. Maybe being nationally known as a laughingstock and a famous fool was the tool YHWH used to bring Jeremiah’s words before the king. Even beatings and public humiliation can be used for God’s glory and His glorification of us.
* Preview Track 8

Prophecy: I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

August 21, 2010 7 comments

I listened to people talk about Revelation a week or so ago, and thankfully held my passionately frustrated tongue, which reminded me of an old blog post by Greg Boyd that can be found here. He talks about some examples of unfulfilled prophecy in Scripture. Not just stuff that hasn’t happened yet, but examples where something was prophesied in Scripture and later Scripture reveals that what was prophesied would happen does not happen. It’s kind of outside of typical Christian conversations about the Bible, so naturally, I’d like to talk about it a little bit and maybe get the conversation ball rolling. Although normally I give the ball a good shove to no avail. I still enjoy pushing it though.

We’ll start with some examples that it would probably be good to think about before we discuss this stuff. I’m gonna do a lot of shortening up to save space, but I’ll try not to make any passage say something it doesn’t, and they are all right there so you can check up on me.

Prophecy What actually happened
Ezekiel 26:7-12

“From the north I am going to bring against Tyre Nebuchadnezzar… with a great army. He will ravage your settlements… He will demolish your towers with his weapons…he will kill your people with the sword, and your strong pillars will fall to the ground…. They will beat down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber, and rubble into the sea.”

Ezekiel 29:18-20
“Nebuchadnezzar drove his army in a hard campaign against Tyre; every head was rubbed bare and every shoulder made raw. Yet he and his army got no reward from the campaign against Tyre.”
Jeremiah 22:18-19; 36:30

Therefore this is what the Lord says about Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah:

“They will not mourn for him: ‘Alas my brother! Alas my sister!’… He will have the burial of a donkey — dragged away and thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem.”

2 Kings 24:6
Jehoiakim rested with his fathers. And Jehoiachin his son succeeded him as king.
Jeremiah 34:4-5
“‘Ye hear the promise of the Lord, O Zedekiah king of Judah. This is what the Lord says concerning you: You will not die by the sword; you will die peacefully. As people made a funeral fire in honor of your fathers,… so they will make a fire in your honor and lament… I myself make this promise, declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 52:8-11
The Babylonian army pursued King Zedekiah… and he was captured. He was taken to the king of Babylon… There… the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes… Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon, where he put him in prison until the day of his death.

I’ll explain these a little for any who doesn’t want to pay attention to my table. I thought I’d try something a little new and crazy. Ezekiel says that YHWH said that the Lord will use Nebuchadnezzar to completely destroy Tyre, but we find out just a few chapters later that Nebby’s campaign was long, difficult, and unsuccessful. In fact, Tyre wasn’t laid waste for many, many years, and it definitely wasn’t Nebuchadnezzar that did it. Jeremiah said that the Jehoiakim wouldn’t be buried or even have his descendants succeed him as king, but in another part of the bible we see that Jehoiakim was buried with his ancestors and his son became king after he died. Jeremiah said that God promised Zedekiah would die peacefully be properly lamented by his people. Then Jeremiah tells us later that something totally different happened, the last thing he saw before having his eyes stabbed out was his sons being brutally murdered, then the king died blind in a prison cell held captive by his conquerors and murder of his children. This gruesome manner of death seems a far cry from YHWH’s reassuring words of Jeremiah 34:4-5.

So… these passages appear to be illustrative of a view of prophecy that calmly and quietly sits in opposition to what I have always been taught prophecy was. It’s right there, but who touches it? Who talks about this stuff? Not anyone I know. Not really. Doesn’t it seem pretty important? It forces us to rethink how we define and think about prophecy in Scripture in a way that is more true to Scripture. But these are difficult things to make heads or tails of, especially since there weren’t quarters in the bible.

How do we make sense of passages like these? How do we reconcile them? I’m asking you, but I have a few quick ideas to throw out there. First, we could simply say that the God of the Bible is either nonexistent or impotent and the Christian Bible should be disregarded as contradictory and false. That seems like a fair conclusion to me. Second, we could go Boyd on these passages and say that for reasons unknown to us (and notably unnoted in the text) God changed his mind and decided to make things happen differently. I do think God is free and is so powerful that he can dynamically change his decisions in response to our actions without compromising his integrity of character. Third, perhaps the way that we perceive prophecy is not the same way that the authors of the Bible perceive of prophecy. Certainly the prophets themselves had no issue with revealing how what they prophesied did not actually happen. That seems to indicate that they might have saw what they were saying a little differently than we do. Fourth, perhaps these passages and passages like these are the prophets referring solely to what will happen in the afterlife and communicating it in this life metaphors. Scripture definitely contains a strong element of future vindication for the faithful, wrath for those in opposition, and justice for all.

Do you have any other ideas? I have more thoughts to post on this issue at a later time. It feels important. At the least, it’s somewhat unique. We owe it to ourselves, Scripture, and God to ask these kinds of questions about what many of us say is the very word of God. I think it is humble, intellectually honest, trustworthy, and faithful to consider and discuss the things that challenge our perspective and contradictions in the Bible, not writing them off because a contradiction in Scripture is inconceivable.*

*See title, and please, someone tell me they get it. I don’t know how well my sometimes subtle references work…

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