Sunday, July 06, 2014

This Week in Jeremiah (1-25)

jerchartThough Jeremiah is mainly a book of judgment, it also is a guarantee of hope. His message is basically that Judah has failed to adhere to the covenant of the book of Deuteronomy and thus will experience the judgment of that covenant – exile in Babylon. They should have known it was coming from the example of the northern kingdom, Israel, but they did not take heed. The sentence of exile cannot be changed. However, there is hope. A new covenant was predicted in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah says that it will be implemented after a 70 year exile. In the first 25 chapters of the book Jeremiah calls the nation to submit to Babylon, submit to God and live in exile.

When God calls, he equips us with what is needed to carry out the assigned task. For Jeremiah it was the promise of God’s presence and deliverance from any threatening situation that the reluctant prophet needed to hear. The command “Do not be afraid” is found frequently in the Scriptures, suggesting how common is the human experience of fear. The basis for overcoming fear is the assurance of God’s presence.  Jeremiah 1.7-8, 51–52.

The book of Jeremiah is unique in its description of the struggles of the prophet as he speaks his message. It is encouraging to me to find that the great prophet experienced many of the same struggles as I do as we carry out the call of God in our lives. The bottom line is that he worked through his fears, doubts, and rebellion in an honest way with God and then acted in faith.

Every generation faces a similar challenge to trust in God for its security rather than in “gods” of its own making. As Brueggemann explains: “It is a recurring temptation for every concentration of power to imagine itself self-sufficient and therefore free to order its life for its own purposes without the requirements of Yahweh.  Jeremiah 1.17-19, 55.

Since Adam’s sin and denial of blame (Gen 3:12), the human race has become skilled at side stepping guilt. The most difficult words to form on human lips are “I was wrong; I am guilty.” Jeremiah 2.34-35, 69.

Knowledge of history is an insufficient antidote to repeating it. This is the implication of the Lord’s complaint in 3:6–11 that Judah refused to learn from the penalty suffered by Israel for its adulteries...Judah had the benefit of seeing what had happened to Israel but chose to ignore the warnings. Thus their guilt was greater.  Jeremiah 3.6-11, 72-73.

Rebellion, and the ability to lie about it, to ourselves is a universal shortcoming of the human race. We strive for self-sufficiency even though we know deep-down it will not satisfy and we try to keep the guilt away with distractions. We judge others for doing it, even as we do it ourselves.

By her faithlessness Israel forfeited a father-child relationship and an inheritance. Those who reject the Lord will never become what he alone can make them. Jeremiah 3.19-20, 77–78.

Jeremiah compared Jerusalem’s death throes to the pain of a woman in a difficult childbirth, reaching out for help and comfort but finding none. Instead, she found that she was surrounded by those who wished to take her life. Judah made the mistake of putting its trust in its allies and in its own cleverness rather than depending on God. Jeremiah 4.27-31, 86.

When people become useless to God because of their faithlessness, they will be set aside. Jeremiah 6.27-30, 102.

There is always a danger that religious leaders may become insensitive to the demands of God’s word and substitute their own rules. They may do this either through their own moral corruption or from a misdirected desire to win the approval of their constituency. Jeremiah 5.30-31, 94.

The consequences of the lies we tell ourselves is devastating. The worst thing is that through this we forfeit the blessing of relationship with God and then, the things we put in God’s place become the things that destroy us. Religious leaders are just as subject to this temptation as others.

In spite of their past wickedness, God was willing to show them how they could avert the coming punishment. They must go back to the fork in the road and decide which way to go. If they listened to God’s instruction and took the “ancient paths” (the Mosaic law that required morality, holiness, obedience, and compassion), they would find rest (cf. Matt 11:28–30). These words should not be taken as a polemic against progress or stubborn intransigence against change but rather as a commitment to submit to God’s ways.  Jeremiah 6.16, 99.

In such turbulent times the people grasped at any symbol of security, which for them was the temple. Jeremiah’s sermon, however, exposed the fallacy of their trust. Their only real security lay not in a building but in moral uprightness, faithfulness, and obedience to their God.  Jeremiah 7.1-15, 104.

Their sacrifices and offerings, however numerous, could not be substituted for faith and obedience.  Jeremiah 7.21-26, 109.

The solution to the problem is a return to God, seeking him in real relationship and returning to his word for guidance. A change in worldview from the inside-out is needed. Instead we often go only to old tradition, ritual or “churchianity.” God wants us 24-7. 

God is also weeping in this passage, as evidenced by the fivefold “my people,” a phrase frequently expressing God’s covenant relationship with Israel... Brueggemann suggests that it is “likely that the pathos of God and of the poet here are indistinguishable.” Only a parent who has experienced pain and heartsickness for a dearly loved hurting child can fully identify with this passage. Jeremiah 8.18-9.6, 116.

Jeremiah portrays God as intimately involved with his prophet and with his people. God deeply cares about us and even his judgment is an effort to bring us back into relationship.

The Lord rejects the usual grounds for boasting—wisdom, strength, and riches. Ironically, these are the things people like to boast about—how successful they are, how strong they are, or how rich they are. These verses put life’s values in proper perspective. When all the nonessentials are laid aside, the only appropriate basis for boasting is that a person knows and understands the Lord. Jeremiah 9.23-24, 121–122.

A cold, lifeless god produces a cold, lifeless faith... If we define a “god,” however, as anything more important to us than the living God, are not the “gods” we sometimes worship just as foolish—the gods of possessions, power, pleasure, and a thousand other ephemeral things that take priority over our relation with the Lord?  Jeremiah 10, 125.

Jeremiah’s confessions reveal that Jeremiah was a real human being, subject to the same emotional highs and lows as ordinary people. They remind us that even the most dedicated person may at times find it difficult to do God’s will. They also show that God uses imperfect people to do his work. He does not wait until we become perfected saints to use us. Finally, they remind us that we should not be reluctant to admit our weaknesses, fears, and doubts.  Jeremiah 11, 136.

The verse contains a well-advised warning to count the cost of serving God. It also suggests that a person who cannot solve his own problems cannot be very helpful to others in their time of trouble.  F. B. Huey, Jeremiah 12.5-6, 140.

It is all about relationship – with God, with people and with his creation. But the relationship must be honest. As we are honest with God he works on our imperfections. This is not easy and we need to count the high cost of following God in this fallen world

God intended Judah to be a people for his renown, praise, and honor; but they did not listen. Punishment was inevitable for the rebellious people. The spiritual life is like the loin cloth; left unattended it “rots.” Jeremiah 13.8-11, 144.

These words contain a warning for today’s preacher that he must be careful not to cloak his own desires under the guise of being God’s desires. They also warn people to be responsible in discernment when listening to “prophetic” voices. Jeremiah 14.14-16, 154.

We need to be continually attentive  to our spiritual lives. It is so easy to move from following God to making our own path and putting God’s name on it.

God expects total obedience. It also serves as a reminder that faithfulness in serving God does not exempt the servant from hardship and rejection by friends and family. The passage also teaches that the reward for faithful service may be more difficult service. Jeremiah’s most difficult years of ministry were still ahead.  Jeremiah 15, 164.

Jeremiah’s life added credence to his message. By being denied home life, wife, and children, Jeremiah would undergo symbolically what the entire nation would soon experience. His life also serves as a reminder that it may be necessary to abandon our plans and desires if God’s purposes are to be accomplished through us.  Jeremiah 16.1-4, 167.

Ridicule is perhaps the most devastating form of persecution, perhaps more powerful than physical abuse. When faced with ridicule, the best response is not the “stiff upper lip” but an admission to God that the words hurt and then a request that God forgive the ridiculers.  Jeremiah 17.14-15, 176.

By observing the potter at work, Jeremiah was reminded about the sovereignty of God. Like the potter who determines the shape the clay will take, God as Creator has that same authority over every nation and every person...Jeremiah also saw that God’s sovereignty is tempered by his mercy and patience. As the potter carefully reworks the clay to achieve the desired result, so God does not give up when we fail him. Especially in view here is God’s right to change his will concerning a people in response to their behavior. Jeremiah 18.1-4, 180.

In this chapter Judah is referred to as a broken jar, i.e., its punishment was irrevocable. Its future, however, was not. To the contrary, its future was very bright according to the promise of the new covenant...When people stand before God in a state of sin, they need to be broken like the jar that cannot be reassembled as it was; but now in the hands of the Potter, the repentant person can be reformed (18:1–12) into a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). Jeremiah 19, 189.

Jeremiah learned, as many others have, that testing, even severe testing, may be the most effective means of strengthening one’s faith. However, it is significant that no further complaints are found in the rest of the book. By means of hardships he experienced during this period, Jeremiah finally became the “iron pillar and bronze wall” that enabled him to stand against the whole land and not be overcome by his enemies.  Jeremiah 20, 195–196.

The persecution and troubles faced by Jeremiah are a reminder of the high cost of following God and being truthful to those around us. Jeremiah shows us that we can work through our troubles because we know that God uses them to make us into what he wants us to be. No matter how bad things get we always have hope because our hope is based in resurrection (Jesus first, then us) and new creation. If death has been overcome what persecution do we need to fear?

Because of the power for good or evil that is at the disposal of rulers, they are accountable to God for how they use that power. The human race was given the command to subdue the earth (Gen 1:28), but history is largely the story of subjugation and exploitation of other people in order to satisfy the vanity and ambition of rulers. Jeremiah 21, 201.

God gave warning after warning to the rulers who could have changed the course of Judah’s history had they listened. Their refusal to turn back to God and influence their people also to return brought punishment on each of them and on the entire nation.  Jeremiah 22, 210.

Chapter 23 is a solemn warning against falsely claiming revelations from God (whether words or dreams). Whether persons sincerely believe their messages are from God when they are not or they deliberately make that claim in order to deceive or influence others, they will be held accountable. Jeremiah 23, 219.

Chapters 21-23 are an indictment of the political and religious leaders of Judah. God gave them power and authority to serve and help his people, but they used it to oppress and lie to make themselves more comfortable. Leaders are held to a higher standard of behavior and will be judged more stringently. Followers will also share in the judgment and reward of leaders. This is a call to be more discerning in who we follow. The issue is not just good doctrine but good practice. We need to quit following leaders whose concern is enriching themselves.

“This God seems indeed to make the future with those whom the world judges to be without a future.” The NT continues the same thrust that the most unlikely ones—the poor, lame, downtrodden, sinners, exploited—are the objects of God’s grace rather than those we might expect. Jeremiah 24, 223.

God is the God of all peoples, whether or not they acknowledge him. Because he is Creator, all peoples are accountable to him. Because of his holiness, he takes sin seriously; he will punish it wherever he finds it. Jeremiah 25, 230.

Even though Jeremiah is mainly a book of judgment, hope shines through all of it. Out of the chaos of judgment God will prepare a faithful people for himself and he will do it from the people we would not expect. If you are still breathing there is still hope. The Lord of the New Covenant guarantees it. 

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