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Jeremiah Was A Dragon-Man*: One of these things is not like the other.

May 28, 2012 1 comment

I’ve avoided the book of Jeremiah for a long time because that’s my name. I always thought that I would naturally tend toward reading it more than the other prophets so I would deliberately read a different book instead. Now, realizing how little I know it, I decided to start engaging with the text a little bit. My plan is to write some thoughts on a short passage of each chapter and blog about it on a regular basis. I’m sure my interpretations will be superficial given my lack of familiarity with the text, but there will probably be some things of note in this upcoming 52 post series.

A lot of sweet stuff I could touch on in chapter 1 of Jeremiah. We could talk about his youth, God’s plan for his life, crazy visions, God’s affirmation, and the like. I think I’d like to start by talking about broader themes of the book and the Bible in general. So we go to verse 9-10:

Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me,
“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and kingdoms,
To pluck up and to break down,
To destroy and to overthrow,
To build and to plant.”

I love the way that God sets Jeremiah over nations and kingdoms. Jeremiah doesn’t receive Samsonite strength. YHWH doesn’t give him military power. YHWH doesn’t give him anything which would typically place Jeremiah over nations and kingdoms. YHWH gives Jeremiah His words. God’s words are a mechanism by which His power is unleashed and his will is accomplished. I think it is important to keep Jeremiah’s power over nations because he has God’s words. When Jeremiah is being mocked by everyone, facing the overwhelming flow of culture, and standing before kings and armies, it’s easy to think that Jeremiah is the one who is vulnerable when the truth is Jeremiah has the upper hand. He has been given the words of YHWH, through which the world was created and the world will be judged.

Being placed over nations, what the prophet is supposed to do with God’s words is what God does a lot of in Scripture. These nations will be plucked up, broke down, destroyed, and overthrown. It’s judgment time. As we go through this book together, we will see God warning of punishment coming for Israel and Judah because of their unceasing disobedience. His people will be torn from their lands because of their refusal to repent, turning away from their other gods who are not really gods and following YHWH.

However punishment is not the final goal. When God judges, he doesn’t just punish the perpetrator because that’s not justice. YHWH’s ultimate purpose is not to destroy, but to rectify. What has been built and what has grown up is heinous, helpless, and hopeless so it must be demolished, not to leave destruction but to leave a solid foundation on which to build and good soil in which to plant. YHWH wants to rebuild His people, restore their relationship, that they would be His people and He would be their God. YHWH is using Jeremiah to bring his justice – to set things right.

By this time in human history, God’s had a lot of practice with this. He created the world to be good, then he destroyed most of the people in a flood. Why? To get back at everyone for disrespecting him? No, YHWH destroyed what was ruining His creation so that He could re-create. Breaking down in order to build and plucking up in order to plant is what God has been doing since the beginning, is doing in this story to set His people right, and what God is doing today to set us right. This is why we must die with Christ to the old man and put on the new one. This is what it means to die daily.** Insofar as the old man or woman which runs counter to God is in our life, we will not experience God’s New Creation. Israel’s story and ours are the same
* ‘If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.’ -Jeremiah 20:9 See Also: the other dragon man

** It would be interesting if someone used the devastation images of the prophets to talk about dying to oneself in order to live for God. Surely dying to ourselves is sometimes a tumultuous process and at times seems overwhelming and hopeless. The end is new life, but the process includes violent death.

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A Few Stories About Water: Salvation

November 1, 2011 1 comment

God’s covenant people, the people who were the promised descendants of Abraham, are stuck in Egypt. Enslaved in Egypt. Through a series of acts of warning, YHWH convinced Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go. So, taking everything they could get their hands on, Israel left. But Pharaoh had seller’s remorse, so he took his army and went after Israel. When he and his army caught up with the Hebrew men, women, and children, they were by the side of the Red Sea. Israel had two options, die or go back to Egypt as slaves.

There was no hope. There was no way humanly possible for Israel to cross the massive body of water. God we would have to intervene. Moses spread his arms over the sea and YHWH divided the waters. Land appeared. The water that would have brought them death was now their way into a new life. The overwhelming and deadly sea was rendered impotent because God did something he had done before. He gathered the waters together so there was dry land for humanity. By the hand of the Creator, through these divided waters Israel walked. From the deadness of a life in slavery, they walked to new life.

I don’t think we’re supposed to read the Red Sea story and think “hey, this is just like creation!” It’s not. But we are supposed to see the parallels. Israel surely did. There aren’t that many points in Scripture where we have this same imagery of the water dividing. The imagery of God’s manner of salvation is the same in the story of the Red Sea as it is in the story of Noah. Dry land appears where once there was only a world of water. The entire world isn’t being remade when Israel walks across dry land, but Israel is walking from slavery into a new life in a new world. It is a magnificent act of God that preserves his image in His creation. As we saw in the Noah story, a part of this preservation of God’s image is eliminating those things on earth that are distorting his image and destroying his image.

After Israel had crossed through the Red Sea on dry land, they still had a serious problem. Pharaoh and his armies were still pursuing them. Pharaoh was still set on taking them back to Egypt into slavery. While the Egyptians were between the waters, Moses spread his arms again and YHWH closed the waters over the Egyptian armies and they died in the water. God was saving His image from the distorters and enslavers of His image. And He used water to do it.

Flood anyone? It’s not the same. God isn’t flooding the whole world. He isn’t getting rid of everyone. But it’s very similar. In both stories God uses water to destroy those people who were ruining Creation. He got rid of those people who were messing up the world in order to make the world better. He eliminated those who were destroying the innocent. In both stories the people of God come out of the same water that God used to destroy others. In both stories, God’s image in humanity is being repressed, controlled, ruled over, ruined, and distorted and through Creator acts, God preserves what makes humanity human.

The tale of the Red Sea is about more than just its parallels with the previous stories. This story is about God’s final magnificent act of saving the Hebrew people and judging Pharaoh. The crossing of the Red Sea is about God keeping His covenant with Abraham, preserving the children of the promise and continuing the process of bringing them into the land YHWH promised to Abraham’s descendants a long time previous. The crossing of the Red Sea is an entering into freedom. Israel was now free from the evil that oppressed them so that now they are free to live as the covenant people of God. Israel’s freedom gives them the ability to reflect the image of God as a nation, proclaim His power through their story, and live in right relationship to YHWH, that they would be blessed and would be a blessing to all nations.

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