10. Decpetive Blindness

Gleanings in Jeremiah : 10:  Deceptive Blindness

Jer 2:27  They say to wood, `You are my father,’ and to stone, `You gave me birth.’ They have turned their backs to me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say,  `Come and save us!’

For those who would unwisely criticise the Lord for His dealings with Israel, these are significant verses and we need to note them individually and in the big picture. The Lord continues to lay out His charges against Israel: As a thief is disgraced when he is caught, so the house of Israel is disgraced – they, their kings and their officials, their priests and their prophets.” (v.26) Look, He says, you are just like a thief when he is caught in the act – disgraced.  That is exactly what you are like. You’ve been caught in the act, you are so obvious, what you are doing, all of you, rulers, officials, priests and prophets, you are all into this idol worship imported from abroad: “They say to wood, `You are my father,’ and to stone, `You gave me birth.’” (v.27a)  It’s like He says, stop and think about it, how stupid it is that you talk to wood and stone, inanimate objects and attribute life to them. I have watched what this nation has done: “They have turned their backs to me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say, `Come and save us!’” (v.27b)  They have turned away from me to their idols and then when they get into trouble with invading nations they come running back to me and say come and save us.

He goes on to deride their idol worship: “Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah.” (v.28)  Come on, He says, if you’ve got all these idols that you appear to believe in, can’t they help you? You’ve got so many of them in every town there is no shortage of those you could turn to. Are you telling me that these ‘things’ you have turned to as a replacement for Me are in fact helpless and can do nothing to help you????

But the problem is even worse. The people have blamed God or spoken against Him; people do that when they are trying to makes excuses before God, they put the blame for the mess in their lives on Him. “Why do you bring charges against me? You have all rebelled against me,” declares the LORD.” (v.29) You are trying to blame me for things going wrong but you have caused it by rebelling against me and going your own ways. I tried to bring you to your senses: “In vain I punished your people; they did not respond to correction. Your sword has devoured your prophets like a ravening lion.” (v.30) I brought the same punishment to you by invaders as I have had to do so many times in your history (see the book of Judges), yet now it seems in vain for you do not come to your senses. You have tried to shut out my voice as you have killed my prophets and only let the false prophets live.

It’s like He pauses but then starts again: “You of this generation, consider the word of the LORD.” (v.31a) He is not turning His back on this people, He is instead speaking to them yet again through Jeremiah. It is a sign of His love for them and His desire to give them yet another chance to repent, that He continues speaking through Jeremiah. Bear this in mind as we continue.

He challenges them to face the truth about how He has dealt with them: “Have I been a desert to Israel or a land of great darkness?” (v.31b) I like how the Message version starts this bit: “Have I let you down?”  Has your experience of me and my provision or you been one where you have starved in a desert, or been one where you wander in the confusion of darkness? You know it has been exactly the opposite. So, “Why do my people say, `We are free to roam; we will come to you no more’?” (v.31c)  You rejected all the wonder of my provision and care for you and said, we are a free people we can do what we like and go where we like. Why?  Think about this!

“Does a maiden forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number.” (v.32) If I can put it in terms you should understand, does a young girl, a bride forget the precious jewelry she has on her wedding day?  Have you forgotten all I did for you when I called you out of Egypt and made you my nation, my bride, at Sinai? Your behaviour reveals you for exactly what you are: “How skilled you are at pursuing love! Even the worst of women can learn from your ways.” (v.33)  Everyone can see how you’ve gone off looking for other ‘lovers’ other religions; you are like the worst of women in your society.

In every way your behaviour has been less than that expected of a holy people: “On your clothes men find the lifeblood of the innocent poor, though you did not catch them breaking in.” (v.34)  The marks of your corruption and violence are there to be seen in your society, how you have shed the blood of those who are poor and innocent, not beaten because they were burglars which might have been excused, but beaten and oppressed by the rich and powerful among you who care nothing for justice.

“Yet in spite of all this you say, `I am innocent; he is not angry with me.’” (v.34c,35a) You make excuses for yourselves and try to deny the truth and pretend it doesn’t offend me. “But I will pass judgment on you because you say, `I have not sinned.” (v.35b)  I will punish you as much for your denial of the truth as for the things you have done wrong.  Look, “Why do you go about so much, changing your ways? You will be disappointed by Egypt as you were by Assyria.” (v.36) Why have you changed so much and gone to these other nations? Don’t you realise that they will not live up to your expectations of them. Compare what they do for you with what I have done for you (implied) The end will not be good: “You will also leave that place with your hands on your head, for the LORD has rejected those you trust; you will not be helped by them.” (v.37)  God hasn’t blessed them so how can you expect them to bless you? No, it will not end well, they are not a ‘cistern’ you can rely on.

In the world, people, individuals, authorities, governments, all rely on things, methods, plans, strategies, one another, anything except the Lord. The is the folly of Sin. Leaders can even be ‘religious’ as they so often show at election times, but it is merely a show; the reality is that they do NOT look to the Lord for guidance, they do NOT rely on Him to lead them. If we follow their example we will suffer the same outcomes as them. May it not be so.

The wonder of these passages, and I realise these ten verses have been fairly heavy stuff, is that the Lord continues to seek to communicate with Israel, continues to try to get them to be honest with themselves, and it is all to bring them back to Him, back to a place where they can experience again the goodness, the love and the blessing of the Lord. Is the Lord trying to speak to us similarly? Do we fully enter into the goodness, the love and the blessing of the Lord? If not, is it because we are relying upon things, upon people, upon anything but the Lord Himself?

(Here we will pause up in Jeremiah and return to him at a later date)

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9. Accept no substitutes

Gleanings in Jeremiah : 9:  Accept no Substitutes

Jer 2:18   Now why go to Egypt to drink water from the Shihor? And why go to Assyria

to drink water from the River?

Having pronounced on Israel’s two sins, the Lord makes Israel look at themselves and see the fruits of where they have gone and then reminds them of who they went to with little success.  First the fruits of folly (v.14-17):

“Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth? Why then has he become plunder?” (v.14) When established she was a free nation, freed from Egypt but now she becomes a source of plunder from other more powerful nations. “Lions have roared; they have growled at him. They have laid waste his land; his towns are burned and deserted.” (v.15) Predators have come and threatened them and indeed invaded and destroyed their lands. “Also, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes have shaved the crown of your head.” (v.16) Men from these two towns of Egypt have come and taken from you. You have become a victim. And so a crucial question: “Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the LORD your God when he led you in the way?” (v.17)  It is a rhetorical question. This has all happened because you forsook the Lord.

Second the form of the folly: “Now why go to Egypt to drink water from the Shihor? And why go to Assyria to drink water from the River?” (v.18) They had drawn from ‘the waters’ of Egypt and Assyria.  Remember, this follows on from the complaint that they had turned from the Lord, the spring of living water, to broken cisterns for other ‘water’. They had turned to Egypt and Assyria for spiritual life, another water.

Third see the fruits of this folly again (2): “Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.” (v.19) Earlier he had spoken about invaders, marauders who had plundered the land. Now He repeats the fruits of that folly but with a general admonition – this folly had led them to be punished for it and that was evil and bitter, painful, and it was all because they had forsaken the Lord.

Then, fourth, the form of the folly again (2). He goes back again but this time to expand on the folly of what they had done. He uses two analogies, first of a seeker of prostitutes, and then of a vine. First the prostitute: “Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, `I will not serve you!” (v.20a) They had always been a rebellious people. “Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute.” (v.20b) As a man goes with a woman for money, a woman  that is not his wife, so Israel had gone to other religions having turned from God.

Then the picture of the vine: “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock.” (v.21a)  He changes the picture. Elsewhere he uses the picture of Israel as a vine that He had planted. He had chosen them from right back with Abram, continued right through to Jacob (Israel), patriarchs who had all had a living relationship with Him and who grew into a nation.  So He asks the question, “How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (v.21b) How did what started out so well end up so badly?

But then come, fifth, to a denial of their folly: “Although you wash yourself with soda and use an abundance of soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me,” declares the Sovereign LORD.” (v.22) They try to make out that they are fine. They kid themselves. Cleansing only comes with forgiveness and forgiveness only comes with repentance.

So, sixth, let’s see the reality of their folly (v.23-25): The Lord makes them face up to the truth of what has happened: “How can you say, `I am not defiled; I have not run after the Baals’? See how you behaved in the valley; consider what you have done. You are a swift she-camel running here and there,” (v.23) It’s almost like they say, what’s an occasional idol around the place, we didn’t go searching for these, and the Lord replies, you’ve got to be joking! You’ve been as bad as a female camel on heat running round looking for a mate! If not a camel, a wild donkey: “a wild donkey accustomed to the desert, sniffing the wind in her craving– in her heat who can restrain her? Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves; at mating time they will find her.” (v.24) You have been obvious and blatant in your turning to other religions!   “Do not run until your feet are bare and your throat is dry. But you said, `It’s no use! I love foreign gods, and I must go after them.”  (v.25)  I’ve tried to put you off, says the Lord, but you were determined to go after these other false religions.

Let’s summarise this charge laid out before Israel – they have abandoned the Lord despite all He did for them in their early days as a nation, and they have gone to other countries and brought back the religions with their idols, that we will go on to see in the next study. As a result of this the Lord had lifted off His hand of protection from them and they had received His disciplining in the form of surrounding nations coming and plundering them, yet still they did not heed Him and determinedly followed the gods of other pagan nations.

We may not do this so obviously as we can see above, but if we turn to other means of getting satisfaction in life, we are no longer relying on the Lord alone and should perhaps not be surprised when we suffer the same sorts of things going wrong in life as our ungodly neighbours suffer. Are we alert to the Lord’s ways of discipline that seek to draw us back to Him?

8. The Two Sins

Gleanings in Jeremiah : 8:  The Two Sins

Jer 2:13   “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

We have seen in this chapter so far, the Lord referring back to Israel’s origins and reminding them how He had looked after and provided for them, how they had been His people knowing His blessing, but then He asked what had brought the change to what they are now and in so doing He lays a charge before them of their guilt and He does it in two ways, The first way, we saw, was to ask a question, is there any other nation that has changed its gods?  This brings us to the second part of the charge He lays before them.

He simply states their sin in the most simple and general way possible: “My people have committed two sins.”  Please note this, not just one sin, but two, and they are like two sides of a coin.

The first sin is that “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water.” God is the author of all life, the provider of all the resources we need, material or spiritual. Notice He calls Himself a spring of living water. A spring is an origin of water supply and the inference when you speak about a spring is that it is an ongoing supply like a tap that is always on. God’s resources are always there, His supply never stops.  And note also He is a source of ‘living water’, vibrant, life-giving water.  Jesus spoke of such water to the woman at the well in Samaria referring to the Holy Spirit who is the source of eternal life. God is thus the source of all life, now and into eternity. In this He is unique, but these people have turned away from Him.

But the other side of the coin is the second sin: “and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” i.e. instead of relying upon His resources they have tried to provide their own resources, but in fact what they provide never holds on to the needed resource but continually falls short, is inadequate, and fails to provide all that is needed, so they is always demand for more, their resources are never adequate and never satisfy.

Look around you in our largely  godless society and see this so plainly. Go into any big book store and see shelf after shelf of books telling you how to have a satisfying life, what technique to use to get the most out of life, what the next thing is to run as a course for the thirsty. The latest fad which has even penetrated the Christian world is the Eastern concept of ‘mindfulness’. Book after book is coming out about mindfulness but if they are not focused on God, they are godless and just another human attempt at creating a cistern of supply but, like every previous substitute cistern, they will hold initial fascination but soon run dry and its adherents will move on to the next substitute.

What the Lord is giving Jeremiah to say here goes to the heart of modern society and indeed often to the heart of the church. Sin is self-centred godlessness leading to unrighteous acts. Forsaking the spring of living water is godlessness and flows out of self-centredness, yet it doesn’t cover up the ongoing desire we have for ‘life’ and we are left hungry and thirsty and so we look around to see what we can create to act as a substitute to replace His source of life, but find nothing satisfying. That is at the heart of modern Western society. But we do it in the church as well. The enemy challenges us to do ‘good church’ and so we strive harder, we plan harder and we take on things that others have tried and found successful, and in so doing we become godless, because we did not pause up, wait on Him, seek Him until He showed us the path and the way to proceed. Thus we end up doing lots of good things but they can be godless things when we do the same thing year in, year out, and when we copy other people and fail to be led by the Holy Spirit.

Even last weekend I heard a preacher acknowledging that he was using the structure of a sermon out of an old book of sermon structures. It was all truth but it lacked the life of the One who longs to supply us week by week with living water sermons and teaching. I know of another preacher who similarly mentions the author of the book  his teaching comes from. Again and again we must acknowledge good teaching but it lacks the life of the Spirit who brings living water. Or there is the aged visiting speaker who is invited because “we have always invited him” and who looks back over all his sermon notes of the past fifty years and picks one to reuse.

Truth but not life. Not the spring of living water. Or there is the preacher who denies the work of the Holy Spirit and so relies on his intellect. Truth but lacking life.  Don’t be mistaken this is truth being imparted and indeed some will always be blessed by it, but ‘life’, life transforming life, is not being conveyed as it should be. Where we do not rely upon the Holy Spirit, the spring of living water, then whatever else we do have will be a substitute and not the real thing and we will never be satisfied. Is this why people jump at ‘mindfulness’ in church because they are only being fed a lifeless diet of sterile information and so remain hungry and thirsty?

Be honest, it is risky relying upon the Holy Spirit and it takes an effort to sit alone with the Lord for His resources. Yes, that is strange isn’t it. How easy it is to use a set of Bible notes each morning that give you five lines of brief comment and then dash on into the affairs of the day. Even reading these notes can be a substitute for the Lord. May that not be though. I feed me by writing these notes; that is my first reason for doing them, but then went to publish them at someone’s suggestion but felt, no, I will give them away on the Internet. So yes, I get fed by them and I try to ensure that I pray briefly about them before I start, but that is only after I have had half an hour alone with the Lord, not looking to achieve anything beyond knowing Him.

Whatever we do in the spiritual world can become a substitute for knowing Him.  Meetings of any kind in church, when we worry more about their structure than about the Lord can become substitutes, whether they be prayer meetings, Bible study gatherings or whatever else. Unless we put knowing Him at the top of the agenda, whatever we do can be a religious substitute, while all the time the source of the living water is waiting there to pour out His life into us afresh. All these other things can be good and we can get things from them, but unless we ensure The Source is there at the heart of whatever we do, we may be missing out on life, the stuff that changes us and changes the world, which may be why either we or the world around us changes so little. May it not be so.

7. Why have you changed?

Gleanings in Jeremiah : 7:  Why have you changed?

Jer 2:1,2   The word of the LORD came to me: “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: ” `I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me

Lord now gives Jeremiah something to DO: Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem.” (v.2a)   It comes as yet another ‘word’ to him. Perhaps we can note here the distinction between a person with the prophetic gift and a prophet. It is the fluency or frequency and ease with which a ‘word’ comes. A prophet once said to me, ‘You should be able to put anyone in front of a prophet and they could have a word for them.’ The word flows easily to Jeremiah (v.1) and it is a word of instruction.

But it is not merely a word that says go and speak, for it also brings content of what the Lord wants to say to the people of Israel in Jerusalem. These ‘words’ expose the state of Israel.  Let’s observe what He says to Israel:

First of all, the Lord looks back: “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown.” (v.2) He reminds them of the Exodus. His dealings with them as a nation began then.  He says how He saw them then: “Israel was holy to the LORD, the first fruits of his harvest.” (v.3a) He looked to the world in the long-run, and now of course  we can see that the millions of Christians of the last two thousand years were His bigger harvest, and so Israel were, if you like, ‘first fruits’ of His intended harvest, a people who related to Him.  He reminds them how He had been there for them, standing against their enemies when He says, “all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,’ ” declares the LORD.” (v.3b) This is all part of His reflecting back in history. This is both a testimony to the Lord’s goodness to them and also a challenge in the light of what is happening in the present.

But then second, the Lord asks them to pay attention to what He is about to say. “Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, all you clans of the house of Israel.” (v.4) It comes almost as a new word to them, and stands out as such, something they will clearly hear and understand.  When He says, “Hear the word of the Lord,” He is saying hear and take in this specific thing I am saying to you. So He opens up this line of enquiry.

Thus, third, He moves on and the Lord asks what brought the change?  “This is what the LORD says: “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.” (v.5) He says, look at what has happened. Once you were close to me but now your people follow worthless idols, and asks, what did your fathers find in me that made them act like this? There must be a reason why you have gone this way, what is it? Is the cause in me, and if not (implied) is it in you?

So fourth the Lord asks them again to remember their past: Look back and see what you did: “They did not ask, `Where is the LORD, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and rifts, a land of drought and darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’ (v.6)  At no point did they question about me or seek me to see what I thought because if they had done they would have remembered how I cared for them and looked after them when I brought them into being as a nation and led them through the desert from Egypt to Sinai and then from Sinai to the Promised Land. Don’t you remember how, “I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce?” (v.7a) If you had thought about it you would have remembered that I only did good by you, providing you with this wonderful land with all its provision.

Now fifth, we find the Lord bringing charges against their guilt. But no, you wouldn’t want to remember those past days because, “you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable” (v.7b)  That history is clearly there in the time of the Judges. How easily time and time again you turned from me to the idols of other nations, the nations round about you.

When you got into difficulties, “The priests did not ask, `Where is the LORD?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me.” (v.8a) Those who had the Law as a constant reminder of my will failed to turn the eyes of the people back to it and to me again and again. “The leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.” (v.8b)  How terrible! Leaders turned away from me and false prophets tuned in to the false religions around them and their worthless idols. It was  sham!

“Therefore I bring charges against you again,” declares the LORD. “And I will bring charges against your children’s children.” (v.9) I charge you with this guilt and knowing what you are like, it will be a charge that applies not only to the past generations but the ones yet ahead as well!

The charge comes in the form of a question first of all. Their guilt will become more clear in the verses ahead which we will consider in the next meditation, but first the question: “Cross over to the coasts of Kittim and look, send to Kedar and observe closely; see if there has ever been anything like this: Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,” (v.10-12) Your footnotes will tell you that Kittim is Cyprus (lands further afield) and Kedah is the desert lands to the south and east, closer by. Look at these foreign places and tell me if anything like this has happened there, that a nation has changed its gods? Yet you have changed the wonder of my glory and my wonderful presence for worthless and lifeless idols. What are you on about, we might say today?

These are the people that Jeremiah has to go to, a people who have turned away from God to worthless idols. One cannot help but compare modern UK and USA and see similarities. Both countries have known such an inheritance of the Lord’s blessing and presence and yet today, both countries exhibit creeping godlessness which has spread to the majority who have given themselves over to the modern idols of materialistic affluence and humanistic endeavour. It is little wonder that parts of the Middle East look to these two countries and speak of ‘the Great Satan’, for so much of the modern western world has so little to commend it to fledgling nations who look for a moral lead which is missing.  Many people don’t like to face these truths and yet they are there, ready to be talked about by those who are confident that God will look after them.

6. Going to War

Gleanings in Jeremiah : 6:  Going to War

Jer 1:17  “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.

Often when men go to war they are frightened of the potential of fighting, but having enlisted they are more frightened of being shot as a traitor by a firing squad. One fear overcomes the other fear. As the Lord commissions Jeremiah we will see a similar element in it. We’ll see that in a minute, but let’s look at the elements of what comes in this word in the following verses.

First, Think Aright:  He simply instructs him, Get yourself ready! Stand up.” (v.17a) We have probably heard the expression, “Pull yourself together!”  It’s the same thing; get yourself in a right attitude. ‘Stand up’ says get into a fighting position, at least in your mind and your spirit. Be wide awake, be alert, get ready. I wonder if we realise that we CAN take control of our thinking, our attitudes and so subsequently our emotions?  David the psalmist declared, “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” (Psa 27:3) It was an attitude he took on and why was he able to do that? “The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psa 27:1) Attitude based upon knowledge of the Lord.

Second, a principle, do what you’re told:  Now this is all you have to do: “say to them whatever I command you”  (v.17b) That sounds rather easy. As I described it yesterday, its just like being an office boy running errands for the boss. The only problem is the people you have to go to.  It seemed to run through Israel’s history.

Jesus told a parable full of meaning about just this sort of thing:  “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. `They will respect my son,’ he said. “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, `This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” (Mt 21:33-39)  The servants in this story were the prophets, and the son was Jesus.

This came up in Jesus’ teaching again and again: “you say, `If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.” (Mt 23:30,31) and  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together.” (Mt 23:37) This is how Israel came to be known, as those who rejected God’s messengers.

Third, get a right perspective: So the Lord is warning Jeremiah about what he is going to face: “Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.” (v.17c) It’s the ‘one fear conquers another fear’ thing again. Don’t let them terrify you or I’ll let you know what real fear is by (implied) revealing myself to you.

Fourth, realise who God has made you: The Lord seeks to reassure Jeremiah with a threefold description of what He has made him: “Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land–against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land”. (v.18) See the pictures He gives. First, “I have made you a fortified city.”  That speaks of security and impregnability, a place that cannot be overcome. Jeremiah, remember this, they will never overcome you! Second, you are like “an iron pillar”. Have you ever been in an old building where there are either old cast iron or steel columns that will withstand anything. They are the curse of the demolition contractor. Remember this Jeremiah, you are tough, hard and immovable! Third, you are like “a bronze wall.”  Brick you can plough through. A stud partition you can kick through, but a bronze wall!!!!  Nothing is going to get through that. Jeremiah you will stand before this nation as an obstacle. They may wish to run amok, doing their own thing, living without restraint, but they are my people and in my love for them I will get you to stand before them and you will act as an immovable obstacle to stop them getting worse.

Fifth, be realistic: Very well, let’s face what is coming head on: “They will fight against you but will not overcome you,/ for I am with you / and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.” (v.19) They are going to oppose you but understand these three things:  1. They will not overcome you. If God says it, it is a promise. Jeremiah, remember this, they will not overcome you.  2. I am with you. Jeremiah, remember this: you are not alone for I will never leave you and if they come against you, they come against me (implied). I will always be your present resource. 3. I will rescue you.  Jeremiah, hear this, not only am I with you but I will act on your behalf to deliver you from them.

Now if you read to the end of the book you will find that kings and princes and other dignitaries come and go but Jeremiah remains. Opposition comes against Jeremiah but he is delivered and it is the other who are carried away. When the enemy comes to destroy Jerusalem he hears about Jeremiah and promises him safe passage. Did the Lord honour and fulfil each of these promises to look after Jeremiah? You bet He did!  Jeremiah is one of the most amazing testimonies of the Lord’s safe keeping in the long term that you will find in the Bible. The Lord promised these things and kept every one of them. Praise His name! Know He will keep you too!  Hallelujah!

5. Interpreting Pictures

Gleanings in Jeremiah : 5 :  Interpreting Pictures

Jer 1:11,12  The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.  The LORD said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.”

Now something I suspect most of us take for granted when we read these verses is why the Lord uses pictures at all. Why didn’t He just speak His message directly to Jeremiah instead of going through this process of providing a picture that needed interpreting?  Perhaps it was the same reason that Jesus used picture parables to teach – it is just more memorable. Neurologists and psychologists tells us that many people think in pictures and fewer of us think in pure words. I find, and I suspect many others do too, that pictures grab my attention. Yes, there are times, as I said in the previous meditation, when I catch a sense of something, and sometimes a sense of a sentence or sentences being spoken to me, but when it comes to other people I think I more often than not start with a picture. Even before the interpretation comes they lock in to the pictures, they see it in their own minds, they are actually tuning in to what the Holy Spirit is going to say. So what can these pictures that Jeremiah gets teach us?

I see the branch of an almond tree.” What would Jeremiah have known about an almond tree which was quite common in his land? Well, the almond tree blooms first in the year and so therefore we might say it “wakes up” early. You will find a footnote in your Bible that says “The Hebrew for watching sounds like  the Hebrew for almond tree,” but the Hebrew word for “watching” also means to be wakeful. Whatever else this picture is saying it is speaking of being an early watcher which is what a prophet is to be, one who watches and sees what the Lord is doing before other people see it. If that was all it was it would be good, a word picture from the Lord picturing what Jeremiah is to be like, but often the word is more about what the Lord Himself is doing and so this ‘watchful, early tree’ also speaks of the Lord who is watchful, knowing before all others what is coming and what He is doing and because this is the first time Jeremiah gets such a picture the Lord adds content to it in words: “I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.”

In this picture He is saying I will make sure that what I say through you WILL come about, be assured of that. In such a way He reassures Jeremiah who no doubt was thinking, as so many do, “But supposing I am wrong and it doesn’t come about?” Those are the two most common responses to prophecy I believe – first, “Who me, you’ve got to be joking,” but then second, “But suppose this is not God and it will never happen, dare I believe it?”

Having started the ball rolling with Jeremiah the Lord gives him a second picture: “The word of the LORD came to me again: “What do you see?” “I see a boiling pot, tilting away from the north,” I answered.” (v.13) So what can we see from that even before any further interpretation is given? Well there is a pot with boiling water that is tipping over so the scalding water pours out. It doesn’t need much imagination to see that boiling water brings pain. It is pointing away from the north; in other words pain is coming from the north. That is a simple starter to catch our attention and that of Jeremiah, and so the Lord now adds content: “The LORD said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the LORD.” (v.14,15a)  To the north was the power of Babylonia. Assyria had previously been a threat but since the death of Ashurbanipal, Babylon was left to be the major threat from the north. Throughout his ministry this same word would come and of course in the last decade before the destruction of Jerusalem by them, they would come again and again.

The word continues: “Their kings will come and set up their thrones in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem; they will come against all her surrounding walls and against all the towns of Judah.” (v.15b)  King after king from Babylon would be used by the Lord to discipline Israel.  The entrance area just inside the gates was the place where the rulers of Jerusalem and the land sat and so when it refers to kings of the north sitting there, it means they will come and take over the city – and so it was through the last years of Jerusalem, again and again.

But the Lord doesn’t just say what He is going to do He also explains WHY He will do it: “I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made.” (v.16)  That is pretty simple and straight forward and needs no interpretation.

If you are someone the Lord is giving, or has given the prophetic gift to, then watch for pictures that He may give first, and ask Him what they mean. When I hear people starting out with the gift saying, “Well I have this picture…” and they explain it but then add, “but I don’t know what it means.” I always say, “Well, still your spirit and listen to the Lord for what He wants to tell you it means, and I will listen as well and confirm what you are hearing after you have got it,” and that’s how it works so often.

Why pictures? Because they are memorable and catch our attention. Why words of interpretation? Because the Lord loves to draw us closer to Him as we seek for understanding. He communicates but as well as blessing the person for who you have the word, He also wants to bless you and draw you closer to Him through the process. It is all about relationship with Him.

Just a word about perspective. Beware pride when you start hearing from the Lord. I explain it to people in the following terms: I see me purely as an office boy who gets called in to the  boss’s office to carry a memo to someone else. He writes the meme, and I simply carry it. Of course it is more wonderful than that because I am also a child of God and so He has called me (and you) into the family business. Isn’t that wonderful – but always remember who the boss is!

4. Picture and Word Prophet

Gleanings in Jeremiah : 4 :  Picture and Word Prophet

Jer 1:11,12  The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.  The LORD said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.”

The ‘mechanics’ of a prophetic gift is remarkably simple but does require faith. Already in this chapter we have probably taken for granted the ‘conversation’ that has been going on between the Lord and Jeremiah. How easy it is to read the words and fail to see the wonder of what is happening. In verse 4 we read, The word of the LORD came to me.,” and that was followed by a long and profound statement from the Lord that Jeremiah ‘heard’. There was no mention of a word out loud and so it is probable that Jeremiah heard this in his spirit or, to be more precise, in his mind, because that is where the intellect picks up words.

Accepting that what you are ‘hearing’ is in fact God speaking to you is a most basic act of faith. The proof, if there is such a thing, that it is the Lord is the fruit of it. Does it bring a sense of goodness to you, does it build you, strengthen you, encourage you, challenge you, teach you, bless you? Does it conform to His written word for He will never speak contrary to it? Illustrations, I believe, are probably the best way to communicate in this subject. I’m sure I’ve given these examples on these pages before but people seem to find  them helpful so I will repeat them here. Perhaps the earliest ‘words’ tend to be the most memorable.

The first one happened when my daughter was only a few months old. I crept into our bedroom where she was sleeping in a crib and gazed down at here and as I did, it seemed like a voice came in my mind and asked, “What do you think of her?” I was surprised but in my youthfulness assumed it was the Lord and so thought back, “She’s wonderful Lord.” And then came a strange question and it is such questions or things that cut right across the flow that so often convince me it is the Lord: “What does she do?” How strange, but I answered back, “Well she cries a lot, wakes us up in the middle of the night, continually wants feeding and wants her nappies (diapers for you Americans) changing all the time.” “And what do you think about her?” “Oh, she’s just wonderful Lord.”  “Why do you think that?” “Because she’s mine Lord.” “And that’s why I love you, son, because you’re mine” and suddenly I realised for the first time that He loves me just as I am, despite my misunderstandings and getting it wrong, and it changed my life.

The other incident that comes to mind, must have happened a few years before that time. I was leading a youth team for a Scripture Union beach mission in Wales. That week we had been teaching the teenagers basics about God. Near the end of the week we were planning an evening barbecue a mile or so down the beach from where we held our daily meetings. As we went back into the team house about lunchtime, one young team member came bounding in saying, “It looks like it’s going to rain this afternoon.” Rather cynically I replied, “You’d better pray about it then.”  At that time I did not believe in a God who changed the weather but this youngster that morning at early prayers had prayed for good weather and I had already made a negative comment about it. Nevertheless the rain held off for the afternoon and we collected a massive pile of timber on the beach (I wouldn’t dream of doing that today without numerous permissions, but ignorance is a wonderful thing!) courtesy of some builders who were pulling out a load of timber windows from a small house they were renovating nearby.

Our house was located near where the barbecue was to be and so we had to drive down into the town to collect the teenagers and bring them along to this part of the beach. As we started to get ready to go, my young team member came rushing in saying, “It’s starting to pour with rain.” “Pray about it,” I said, while inwardly thinking, “Well, that’s it. We’ll have to do something with them in the hall in town.”  As I said, it was about a mile drive along the seafront to where we were to collect the teens. As I started off along the road in my empty car, it seemed like there was this voice in my mind, “What have you been teaching them all this week?” So much did it just cut across my thoughts that I found myself answering, “That you are the Creator God.” “And?” “And you are all-powerful.” “And? “And you can do anything.” “Including changing the weather?”  I paused a few seconds. “Er, yes, I suppose so.” “Then ask me now out loud to change this weather.” And so feeling a fool I prayed out loud (because I hadn’t got round to that sort of thing by then, I was only a very young Christian), “Lord, please will you stop it raining. Amen.” And that was it.

A few minutes later I arrived at the hall where the teens were huddled under an awning keeping out of the rain. As I climbed out of my car, I was greeted with calls of, “Is it off then? Are we staying in the hall this evening?” By then something had happened in me and so I replied, “No, it will be all right, get in the cars,” as other team members turned up in their cars. Now when I tell this story I am careful not to exaggerate. We drove along the beach and in this particular place there was a high concrete sea wall with steps every hundred yards or so up an over the wall onto the beach.  As the first teenager stepped onto the stones of the beach it stopped raining and remained like that for the rest of the evening. Here’s the even more amazing thing – the timber on the beach was still dry. We had a great barbecue. We took the teens back to town, cleared up and as the last member came through the front door of our house, it started to rain again and poured for the rest of the night.

Most of the time today I see pictures and then get the interpretation, but when I’m having my personal time with the Lord every morning, every now and then He breaks in and speak directly into my spirit. I have learned to distinguish, I hope, between His gentle but firm voice and other ‘voices’. Tomorrow we’ll consider what Jeremiah ‘saw’ and what it meant, and how to interpret such ‘pictures’.