Sunday, July 20, 2014

This Week in Jeremiah (44-52, Lamentations)

Lamentations StructureI am in California this week preparing to speak tomorrow at Camino Community Church in the morning and Gold Country Baptist Church in the evening. I finished working through Jeremiah and Lamentations in the New American Commentary this week. The sections in both of Jeremiah’s books focus on destruction and judgment, but both books provide hope based on God’s character and promises. As long as one is alive there is the possibility of confession and repentance. This may not mitigate the consequences of past disobedience but it does put one into remnant who will share in God’s eternal kingdom.

As usual the quotes are from the New American Commentary, Jeremiah and Lamentations, by FB Huey.

The abruptness with which Jeremiah’s story ends is a reminder that the word of the Lord is important, not the one who bears the word. The lone exception to this is, of course, Jesus Christ, who both brought the word and was the Word. Jeremiah 44, 370.

Blessing is often equated with material prosperity, even as it was in ancient Israel. The lesson to be derived from Baruch’s complaint is that God determines the nature of rewards for faithful service. It may or may not be what we would expect. The best summary, however, is from the words of the German pastor D. Bonhoeffer, who, in the face of Nazism, lost his life. He said: “When a person has completely given up the idea of making something of himself … then one throws oneself entirely into the arms of God, then one no longer takes seriously his own suffering, but rather the suffering of God in the world … I think that is faith.… How is a person to become proud of success or to go astray at failures when one shares God’s sufferings in the life of this world.” Jeremiah 45, 372.

For the minister of God (which should be all Christians) the focus of ministry and life should be God and his mission, not self or blessings for self. The great blessing is relationship with God and God’s presence. All other blessings must flow from that. We need to (as Jesus did) think of this life in terms of looking through the cross and looking forward to resurrection.

The message for Judah was clear: God is in control of history, not just Judah’s history but the history of all the nations. In essence the Lord is larger than they ever imagined, and he is righteous.  Jeremiah 46, 373–374.

Ease and affluence of a nation may lead to weakness and internal decay; that was Moab’s condition. If we are to become everything the Lord wants us to be, there must be a certain divine discontent and striving to realize one’s fullest potential. A willingness to be “shaken” in order to grow and mature does not contradict the advice of Phil 4:11 and Heb 13:5, correctly understood and linked to Phil 3:14. Jeremiah 48.11-13, 390.

The length of the message of judgment on Moab may have been intended to underscore the seriousness of the sins of pride, complacency, and idol worship and to teach the sovereignty of God over all nations and their accountability to him.  Jeremiah 48, 397.

The cause of Edom’s downfall, like Moab’s, was its pride and confidence that it was secure from all enemies. It had inspired “terror.”...Pride and smug self-confidence have been the downfall of many a nation other than Edom. Jeremiah 49.14-16, 402.

Damascus depended on its fame (49:25). Kedar depended on its remoteness (49:31) and Elam on its bow, but all of them failed. The fate of those nations is a solemn reminder that dependence on human resources rather than on God will always fail. Jeremiah 49, 407.

History repeats itself, but nations and peoples are slow to learn its lessons. Even as God had punished the king of Assyria, he would punish the king of Babylon. After the death of Ashurbanapal in 627 B.C., the last of the great Assyrian rulers, Assyria rapidly declined and was overthrown by the Babylonians in 612 with the taking of Nineveh. Now Babylon was facing a similar fate. Jeremiah 50, 412.

Tyrants may have had their day in the sun, but they would eventually come under God’s judgment...Bel would be forced to give up the wealth of nations he had taken. This was the same god the Babylonians had credited for the Lord’s defeat in Jerusalem in 587. Now the Lord would show his superiority over Bel by bringing his people back to their land. Jeremiah 51.36-44, 426-7.

The destruction of Babylon’s wall is announced (cf. 51:44). Its city walls were one of the wonders of the ancient world. Its tall gates that ordinarily protected the city from invaders would be set on fire. The defenders would exhaust themselves to no avail. All their efforts would only serve as fuel for the destructive flames. Jeremiah 51.58, 430.

Judgment of others should always be seen as an opportunity to examine ourselves for the same issues (believe me they are there). We should not be smug about our own righteousness when we realize that God judges his own people by a much higher standard than those who don’t know him.

The “fall of Babylon” was the message the exiles desired to hear. After having served in exile, the people saw the fall of Babylon as a sign that the Lord is God, not Marduk; it was time to go home. Jeremiah 51.61-64, 431.

The inclusion of Jehoiachin’s release as the conclusion of the Book of Jeremiah probably was intended to communicate hope to the despondent Jews that just as Jehoiachin had been freed, so one day the nation would be free. Thus the book ends on a positive note that a descendant of David was still alive and through him the kingdom could be reestablished. Jeremiah promised a restored Davidic ruler in 23:5–6; 30:8–9, 21; 33:14–17. Therefore chap. 52 is not an unnecessary postscript or anticlimax to the book. Rather, “The chapter seems to say: the divine word has been fulfilled—and will be fulfilled.”  Jeremiah 52, 439.

One of the saddest things about post-exilic Israel is that though they were freed from Babylon, most of them did not choose to return to Jerusalem and continued to live in exile. Sadly this is the condition of most of the church. Jesus has freed us to be part of his kingdom and we still choose to live in the captivity of the world.

Contemporary applications that can be made from the Book of Lamentations include the following: the wickedness of any people will eventually result in the disintegration of that society; we should never take God’s past blessings as assurance that they will continue when we continue in sin;...though many solutions for human suffering have been proposed, ultimately the only satisfactory way to deal with it is through deep and abiding faith in God in spite of the circumstances. Lamentations, 446–447.

The basic message of Lamentations is that the end of sin is total and complete destruction, but there is hope for the repentant remnant because of the character of God who keeps His promises with His people. The comment in Romans 6.23 that the “wages of sin is death” is written to Christians. God’s people experience “death” when they move out from under the kingship of Jesus Christ.

The first lament has focused on the misery and desolation of a city that suffered the consequences of ignoring the prophets’ warnings that God punishes those who sin. It serves as a solemn reminder of the ultimate misery and sorrow of all who think they can escape God’s punishment. Lamentations 1, 457.

The verse serves as warning that no amount of ritual can avert God’s judgment or take the place of obedience and a broken and contrite heart. Lamentations 2.6-7, 461.

It seems to me, that, most often, God’s judgment consists of letting us experience the full consequences of our bad choices. The people of Judah wanted to live like the rest of the nations and move out from under the kingship and torah of God. God let them do that and experience living outside of God’s protection.

Often in life people do not realize the faithfulness of God until the “bottom has fallen out” of their lives. In Lam 3 the “faithfulness” of God is to be interpreted in light of his promise to destroy, which he has done, and his promise to restore, which he would do. Lamentations 3.22-24, 474.

The people had put their trust in the Davidic dynasty as well as in the temple and the prophets and priests, but they failed to put their trust in God, the only One who could have saved them. Lamentations, 483–484.

One of the major reasons for God’s judgment is to draw us back into the only adequate basis for trust – God himself. We tend to trust other things as the basis for our lives (money, power, etc) and so God lets us experience what those false objects of trust provide. As Jesus said, “those who live by the sword, die by the sword.”

For the poet serious questions arose, but the answer was that it was not God’s fault but rather was that of the people. Hope is present, but only when it is realized that hope rests in knowing who God is: God is love (3:22; 1 John 4:16). His compassions are new every day, and they reveal his faithfulness (3:23). While many may remain in a state of utter despair, hope is in acknowledging, in that despair, that God is “good to those whose hope is in him” and wait for the “salvation of the LORD” (3:25–26).  Lamentations 5, 488.

The truth is found only in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This must be the basis for our hope. God doesn’t just want our mental assent or worship rituals, he wants to know us in relationship as our king and God. Hope only comes through knowing God and in his ultimate revelation of himself through Jesus.

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