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!