Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jeremiah 3

Israel's harlotry (vs. 1-5)--Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is the law referenced in verse 1. If a man divorced his wife and she married another, her first husband could never take her back again. But though Israel had "played the harlot with many lovers," Jehovah would accept her back. The "harlotry" of these verses, of course, is idolatry, and the accusation is that Israel (the northern kingdom) had had "many lovers" (v. 1), i.e., worshipped many false gods. The "Arabian" of verse 2 has allusion either to a huckster in the market or a thief by the side of the road, probably the latter given the description. Regardless, the Lord had punished Israel (v. 3), and though they had apparently now become to call on Him (vs. 4-5), it was too late because "you have spoken and done evil things" (v. 5).

"Her treacherous sister Judah saw it" (vs. 6-11)--Jeremiah again dates his prophecy in verse 6--"in the days of Josiah the king." As noted in verse 1, even after all her harlotry, the Lord was willing to accept Israel back (vs. 6-7). But Israel refused. Judah, the southern kingdom, saw all of this (v. 7), even the Lord putting Israel away (in Assyrian captivity). But "Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also" (v. 9), having "committed adultery with stones and trees"--again, a reference to idolatry. Under Josiah, there was a tremendous reform, a cleansing like none other in Israel's history. That great king attempted to remove all the signs of idolatry in the land, something no previous king had done. "Josiah put away those who consulted mediums and spiritists, the household gods and idols, all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem" (II Kings 23:24). Yet, while Josiah was a good and honest man, his people had "not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense" (v. 10). And Judah, because she had seen what the Lord had done to the northern kingdom, was more to be blamed than Israel (v. 11). If we do not learn from history, then it's our own fault if we suffer horrible consequences.

God's plea for restoration (vs. 12-19)--Jeremiah then is commanded to "proclaim these words toward the north" (v. 12), a message for Israel. The merciful Lord would forgive, if they would "acknowledge [their] iniquity” and that they had “not obeyed My voice" (v. 13). He would accept them back into the "marriage" covenant, bring them back to Zion (v. 14), and provide "shepherds" who would "feed [them] with knowledge and understanding" (v. 15). The language of the rest of this section sounds Messianic. There would be no more need for the ark of the covenant (a symbol of the Jewish system, v. 16), the Lord would reign from "Jerusalem" (the church), and "all the nations shall be gathered to it" (v. 17)--Gentiles, too, would be welcomed into God's kingdom.  It would be a holy kingdom (v. 17), and all of Jehovah's people would walk together, i.e., there would be no more division. All this could be a hyperbolic vision of the blessings that would be restored to national Israel after the return from exile, but it does seem to be referring to the New Testament age. How could God do this for such wicked, sinful people? Only upon their humble submission to Him: "You shall call Me, 'My Father.' and not turn away from Me" (v. 19). It is very rare in the Old Testament for God to be referred to as "Father;" that's a concept largely reserved for Christianity. And that might be another indication that this passage is Messianic.

"In vain is salvation hoped for from the hills" (vs. 20-25)--The figure of an adulterous wife is once again brought forth (v. 21). The results of their idolatry caused much weeping and sorrow (v. 21), but again, upon repentance the Lord would "heal" His "backsliding children" (v. 22). He's the only one who can help; no nation "from the hills" will protect them or provide salvation for them (v. 23). Their sin had cost them their wealth ("their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters," v. 24), and they should admit and confess those sins, which they had committed "from our youth even to this day"--from the very time God had brought them out of Egypt. They never really did.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Jeremiah 2, Part 2

Sin in spite of what the Lord had done (vs. 20-28)--Once again, the Lord reminds them of what He done for them in times past. On their part, the people had responded that they would not transgress, but the whole time they were "playing the harlot" (v. 20), i.e., worshipping false gods. And indeed, as one reads the books of history (Judges through II Chronicles) they are a catalogue of Israel's bowing down to pagan deities. This was their main sin and the main reason they were punished with captivity. What Jehovah does is always the best and most superior, but can be corrupted by man (v. 21). And even if Israel washed using "much soap," they could never cleanse the iniquity which "is marked before Me" (v. 22). Why they would even claim (v. 23) "'I have not gone after the Baals'" is remarkable; did they really think they could convince God that they hadn't? Verse 24 is pretty graphic. Israel is pictured as a wild donkey in the wilderness, sniffing out for a mate. The nation had become so corrupt that they could never get enough--"all those who seek her will not weary themselves" (v. 24). When counseled to cease such activity (v. 25), Israel responded that there was no hope of her changing her ways, she was determined to follow and worship the false gods. But some day, the sin would be exposed and Israel would be ashamed (v. 26) for "Saying to a tree, 'You are my father,' and to a stone, 'You gave birth to me'" (v. 27). How idiotic to think that a piece of wood could provide the blessings they needed, or had ever done so. It's similar to modern day astrology, to believe that a star in the heavens could in some way affect our life here on earth. But when people forsake the Lord, they will grasp at anything. And when Israel truly needed these "gods," they were not there to help (v. 28).

"My people have forgotten Me" (vs. 29-37)--Just as Israel had said there was no hope that they would be turned from their idolatrous ways (v. 25), when they finally did turn back to Jehovah, their pleading would be in vain (v. 29). He knew it would be hypocritical. He had tried to reform them (v. 30), but "they received no correction." But He pleads with them again, once more reminding them of how well He had taken care of them (v. 31). A bride will never forget her wedding ornaments, but Israel had forgotten something more important--the God Who had betrothed them to Himself (v. 32). How sad when people forget what the Lord has done for them. Their sin was plain (vs. 33-34); no one had to make a "secret search" for it (v. 34). Israel continued to proclaim its innocence (v. 35), but the Lord will confront them with their iniquities. When they departed from the Lord, they sought alliances with foreign powers; but eventually they will be shamed by that (v. 36). Assyria and Egypt didn't care anything about Israel; those nations were after their own glory and splendor and would use any means and anybody to obtain it. To think they could help was foolishness of the highest order. Israel would be reduced to a state of mourning and despair. The "hands upon your head" was symbolic of sorrow. See Tamar’s reaction to her abandonment by her wicked brother Amnon, who had raped her (II Sam. 13:19). For Israel, there would be no prosperity in their foreign allies (v. 37).

These themes will be continued through the next several chapters of Jeremiah. There will be no rest for the sinful, not when this man preaches!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Jeremiah 2, Part One

"The good ol' days" (vs. 1-3)--Over the next several chapters, the book of Jeremiah appears to be summaries of sermons the prophet preached. They have basically one theme: the unfaithfulness of Israel. What is amazing in these first three verses is that the Lord indicates that the most faithful time in Israel's history was in the wilderness wanderings under Moses: "when you went after me in the wilderness...Israel was holiness to the Lord" (vs. 2-3). If that was, comparatively speaking, the most righteous period in the Israelites' history, then they were indeed degenerate in Jeremiah's day.

"Where is the Lord?" (vs. 4-9)--The word of the Lord now goes out to the "house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel"--anybody who was left, but mainly Judah. What injustice had the people found in Jehovah that they would commit such vile atrocities that they were engaged in? They weren't seeking the Lord, the God who led them out of Egypt and sustained them since (almost 1,000 years of history had passed). The Lord brought them into a "bountiful country," but they "defiled My land" (v. 7). Even the priests, rulers, and prophets--the ones who should be leading the people--did not enquire of the Lord (v. 8); the prophets sought the counsel of Baal. In these few verses, we see a general overview of why the Lord was so displeased with His people. He'll get more specific as the chapters proceed.

Broken cisterns (vs. 9-13)--The Lord now brings "charges" against Israel (v. 9). What they had done--rejected their primary God--had not been done anywhere else by any other people (v. 10), that is, changed from the true, living God to those "which are not gods" (v. 11). Yet, that's what Israel did. It was an astonishing thing (v. 12). Two charges are brought forth in verse 13: they had forsaken Jehovah, "the fountain of living waters," and "hewn themselves cisterns--broken cisterns that can hold no water." The Lord can provide "living waters;" false gods cannot. What was Israel doing? Nothing intelligent, that's for sure.

Desolation (vs. 14-19)--As a result, Israel was being "plundered," (v. 14), or would shortly be, if it hadn't begun yet. The cities would be burned and left "without inhabitant"--a clear reference to the coming captivity in Babylon (v. 15). The Egyptians would return--Noph (Memphis) and Tahpanhes are cities in that country (v. 16). “Egyptians” here could be a reference to Babylon, with Egypt figuratively being used to represent the bondage they would endure under the Babylonians. But, either way, the Israelites had brought it upon themselves (v. 17), and this "wickedness will correct you" (v. 19). Neither Egypt nor Assyria will be able to help, not when the Lord comes in judgment (v. 18). The "River" of verse 18 is the Euphrates. It is "an evil and bitter thing" to forsake the Lord and not to fear Him (v. 19). A foolish one, too, one might add.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Jeremiah 1

The call of Jeremiah (vs. 1-10)--Jeremiah starts his book by dating his prophecy, which I've already done in the introduction. He was priest who lived in the town of Anathoth. It is generally believed that Anathoth was named after a local, pagan goddess, Anat. The Jews, as a rule, did not change the names of cities they found in Palestine (with some exceptions). Anathoth was about three miles north of Jerusalem.

Verse 4 tells us that the Lord knew what kind of man Jeremiah would be before he was even born, i.e., the kind of man God needed to do His work at the most critical juncture in Judah's history. Jehovah intended for Jeremiah to be a prophet (v. 5). Jeremiah was hesitant: "Then said I: "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth" (v. 6). But age means nothing to the Lord, if the person is right: "you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak" (v. 7), a challenging commission for any man, but Jeremiah was certainly up to the task. The Lord would give Jeremiah the correct message, and explained his job even further: "See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant" (v. 10). Notice that Jeremiah's mission encompassed "nations" and "kingdoms" (plural), and that weeds would have to be pulled before planting could begin. How true this is to this very day. So many congregations need a housecleaning before the positive work of the Lord can be done. Even a little leaven leavens the whole lump.

Two parables (vs. 11-16)--To illustrate part of what Jeremiah was facing, the Lord gave him two parables, or visions, or whatever one wishes to call them. "Jeremiah, what do you see?'" "'I see a branch of an almond tree,'" and it was apparently about to bud because Jehovah responded, "'You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word'" (v. 12). The Lord had warned, for generations, what He would do if His people continued their unfaithful, idolatrous ways, and now the price was about to be paid. The second vision was of a boiling pot, "and it is facing away from the north" (v. 14). The Lord explained this as "Out of the north calamity shall break forth on all the inhabitants of the land" (v. 15). He is speaking here about the coming of the Babylonian armies. They would come from the north; all armies moving into Palestine had to do so because of the desert to the east. If Jeremiah received this initial communication from the Lord in 628 B.C., then the calamity that befell Judah and Jerusalem was about two decades away, and the final destruction of the city and the temple was not for another 40 years (586 B.C.). But it was going to happen. Jehovah's patience had run out, it was simply a matter of arranging historical events to fit His timeframe. The main reason for this national calamity is clearly delineated in verse 16: "I will utter My judgments against them concerning all their wickedness, because they have forsaken Me, burned incense to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands." Josiah actually cleansed the land of all idol worship, but again, it was too late. Physical idolatry might have ceased, but the idolatry in the heart remained. It was too deeply inbred in the Jews, and they needed to have it washed out.

Jeremiah sent (vs. 17-19)--In one sense, Jeremiah is defeated before he even starts. Jehovah has already told him that Judah is going to be punished by northern armies, so there was no way that catastrophe could be averted. But individuals might still respond to godly preaching, so such is never in vain. Jeremiah's commission again was to "speak to them all that I command you" (v. 17). Don't lose heart. The Lord would give Jeremiah the strength he needed to stand "against the whole land--against the kings of Judah, against its princes, against its priests, and against the people of the land" (v. 18). You can be sure that the people of Jeremiah's day didn't like it any more than people today. And indeed, "They will fight against you," but they would not succeed because "'I am with you,' says the Lord, 'to deliver you'" (v. 19). Jeremiah would need a lot of delivering, but Jehovah never failed him. And Jeremiah never failed Jehovah.

Keep one thing in mind always. Jeremiah was preaching to God's people, not the heathen unbelievers. The parallel today would be a preacher preaching, not to the world, but to the church. Can God's people today drift so far away from Him and His truth? They did in Jeremiah's day and I don't think human nature has changed in the least.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Introduction to Jeremiah

Jeremiah was certainly one of the greatest men in human history. There was nothing this man wouldn't do for God, no words of rebuke or insult, no threats or warnings, no persecutions or personal harm could keep him from declaring whatever message Jehovah wanted preached. Over and over and over again, as recorded in his book, he was in some trouble with the Jewish authorities, but that never stopped him from telling the people what God wanted them to hear. The man was fearless and totally loyal to Jehovah--and yet, had as tender a heart as anyone in Scripture (read his book of Lamentations). He put himself at the Lord's disposal, and God used him to the fullest, and apparently until a ripe old age. Jeremiah was probably around 90 when he finally died, having prophesied at least 50 years, through the most troublesome times in Judah's history.

He began his work in the thirteenth year of Josiah's reign (628 B.C.). Josiah was probably the second greatest monarch Israel ever had (after David), but his reign was cut short by his untimely death in an ill-advised campaign against the Egyptians. To Jeremiah, Josiah's death was a national catastrophe (II Chron. 35:25).

Yet, even during Josiah's reign, the Lord knew that the people, as a whole, were far from pious. Thus, Jeremiah's message was a strong denunciation of the idolatry and hypocrisy of Judah. And, as noted, it got him frequently in trouble. And ultimately did little good, for the country ended up in Babylonian captivity. But it was in spite of everything this man did for them.

There is a lot of information in the book about Jeremiah, and we will consider more of his biography and the events of his life as we proceed through his prophecy. But, to be honest, this man is one of my heroes. Jesus excepted, of course, there is perhaps no one in the Bible I admire more than Jeremiah. The apostle Paul is certainly to be respected and loved for the great work he did. Amos, the unprofessional prophet, can only be lauded for his fearless preaching to a carnal, worldly people. And Jeremiah ranks right up there with them for his unceasing, sacrificial devotion to the Almighty. Oh, if this world only had more men like him!