28. Expectations Recap 3

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 28. Expectations Recap 3

We have come to the end of this part of the series that took us through historical characters in the Old Testament and concluded at the beginning of the Gospels with Simeon. From now on we will consider expectations in the more familiar form of ‘hope’ that is now part of our Christian lives as a result of the work of Jesus. But before we do that, we will do what we have done twice before in this series and have a Recap to cover those studies since Recap 2, to highlight and hold on to the key points that have been made in these latter studies.

In the studies prior to this we had seen David chosen by Samuel, David having to wait some time for the fulfilment of that anointing to become king, and David slaying Goliath. Moving on from there we then considered the growing awareness that David had that he was in fact there by the working of God. We saw that we can have expectations formed by a word from God coming but, very often, the ‘vision’ has to die as we wait for the Lord to bring it about. Once He starts bringing it into fulfilment, we then have the challenge of believing that is what is happening and cooperating with Him in that.  We realise that our earlier expectations were real but now they become more concrete, we might say.

Following David, we then considered his son, Solomon who, as his father was clearly in his last days, first worked at removing remaining ‘belligerents’ from the previous reign and then, when confronted by the Lord in a dream, recognised the difficulty of the task before him and his need of the Lord’s wisdom, which had then been granted him. Solomon’s expectations of the future before him as the king following in his father’s footsteps were quite realistic. He knew it would be difficult and he recognised his need. We asked the question whether we too recognise the need for the Lord’s wisdom in our lives as we look forward to the things before us.

As we watched the dividing of the kingdom after Solomon died, we considered that variety of expectations that people have of God and suggested that it was inadequate expectations of God that were behind all that happened in both the northern and southern kingdoms. The north stumbled over idol worship and never recovered from it. We saw the number of times the Lord spoke into the situation but His determination was to divide the kingdom after Solomon’s disobedience, and pondered on reasons why it should be. The primary reason seems to be to double the chances of future kings getting it right. The opportunities of Israel – north or south – to get it right with God, were thus doubled. The tragedy is that both kingdoms failed to get it right. It was, therefore, also a double opportunity for sin to be revealed through these two kingdoms and perhaps as we compare them as we read about them, their failures are accentuated in the comparison. We also noted that an observation of history reveals that what we see in Israel is repeated again and again in the nations of the world. Sin is clearly the motivating force behind multiple wars at national or international level and family divisions at individual level.

Jumping to the end of the existence of the southern kingdom, the north having passed away long before, we saw Jeremiah speaking to the nation in the years running up to the exile and pondered on the folly of the nation that (unlike the rest of the world) had amazing records of their dealings with God through well over three centuries, and marvelled that they obviously disregarded or forgot these. These was a people who had received prophetic words galore and who knew what was expected of them after they had entered into the covenant with God at Sinai.  Although words of hope were brought through Jeremiah, the main thrust of his ministry had been a call to repent. He laid out clear cut expectations of what would happen if they failed to heed him, but nevertheless their lived in deception with the expectation that it would be ‘all right’. It wasn’t.

Staying with Jeremiah we observed the circumstances that rolled out in the final destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and the life of freedom that was granted to Jeremiah by the Babylonians. We saw how a remnant gathered after the Babylonians had left, leaving behind a governor, and we saw how some of that remnant killed the governor and then made everyone decamp to Egypt despite Jeremiah bringing a clear warning against doing that. It is a story that tells us that even if we are God’s servants, the ways of this fallen world may carry us into circumstances we wished we didn’t have. But the biggest lesson, as we watch Jeremiah continue to prophesy in Egypt, is the call to faithfulness regardless what we expect of the days to come. As a subtext to that story, is the awareness that in this fallen world, changing hearts does not come easily and often it seems, it is only the pressures of trials and tribulations that will truly change a heart towards God.

Following the years of the exile, we recognised that humanly speaking Israel’s expectations of the future had diminished to zero unless they heard and believed Jeremiah’s ‘seventy years’ prophecy. It was possible to maintain good expectations for the future only if they held on to God’s recent word to them. We are not called to have faith built on the obvious, because more often than not, the Lord does not reveal how He will bring about that which appears impossible to us at the moment. Israel could not have foreseen the coming of Cyrus and God’s ability to move on him and get him to send Israel back to their land to rebuild the temple. Similarly for us, we have to recognise that we may have expectations from the Lord in the form of personal prophecy, but more often than not we will not have a clue how that can come about, but it will. You cannot foresee a miracle! That is the shortcoming if expectations!

The years passed and then a man named Nehemiah heard the state of Jerusalem. Yes, the temple had been rebuilt but basically the city was still a demolition site. His heart was moved in anguish and the end result is Nehemiah back in Jerusalem rebuilding the walls of the city.  The expectations of the majority did not include the rebuilding of the city. It was down to one man to have such a hope and, we believe with God’s support, he brought it about. The expectations of just one person can change history; such is the significance of the individual – you or me? The Lord looks for those who will stand in the gap, who will intercede, or who will step up to serve, people who say we do not just have to accept the status quo if it runs contrary to God’s heart.

And so we eventually arrived at the New Testament and bedded these historical reflections of expectations of men or women of the Old Testament, and we did it with, again, just one man, Simeon, a man who was righteous and devout, a man of the Spirit, a man open to the leading of the Spirit and a man that God used to encourage His two servants, Mary and Joseph. Again, and we must emphasise it, it was just one man in Israel who was alert to the purposes of God being unfolded before him. He challenges us to be people who, similarly, will have our eyes and our hearts open to be alert for the moving of God.

Each of this last set of studies since the last Recap, have been about individuals:

  • David, who began to realise that the expectations he had as a result Samuel’s anointing, were now starting to be fulfilled.
  • Solomon, who realised that with the task of leading the nation before him, he needed the wisdom of God to match the expectations that he had of that role.
  • The two kings who caused the kingdom to be divided, whose expectations of God were too low, so that they failed to heed the opportunity to be godly kings.
  • Jeremiah, the faithful prophet of God in all the years running up to the destruction of Jerusalem, who recognised that his expectations for the future of the nation depended entirely on how the kings would respond to God’s word. One way – repentance – would result in future hope and continuation. The other way – rejection – would result in destruction and restoration only seventy years in the future.
  • Jeremiah, again the faithful prophet, but prophesying to the remnant escaping to Egypt. His expectations were not to do with his end but with his ability to keep on being the mouthpiece of God, wherever he was. His expectations were all about faithfulness.
  • Cyrus, who came to understand he could be God’s means of His people returning to their land and rebuilding the temple, an expectation probably no one else had had before that!
  • Nehemiah, one man whose expectations flowed against the general tide of acceptance of the status quo, a man whose heart moved him into dangerous territory to fulfil a hope that surely was based on the heart of God.
  • Simeon, another man on his own, who set his heart towards God and caught the heart of God as He brought His Son to the temple, so that His servants could be encouraged. Simeon’s expectations were based on the heart of God and thus caught the move of God.

This is the message of this last set of studies: individuals are important in the kingdom of God and the expectations we have of God are all-important: that we are called by God with a purpose, to achieve that purpose we need His wisdom, His power and His leading, that is at the heart of godliness, called to be witnesses to Him, to remain faithful regardless of what anyone else may be doing, open to Him to do what only He can do – a miracle to open a door or fulfil a vision, called to have hearts that can be moved by Him, called to be Spirit-people who can be led by Him, people who are called to achieve the impossible  because we are simply vessels of God. May we learn these things.

 

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25. But God

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 25. But God

Ezra 1:1   In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing.

In the previous study we considered Jeremiah’s faithfulness in a time when the Lord’s judgment came on Jerusalem and the Exile took place. The city and the temple are destroyed but seventy years later the temple is rebuilt and re-established.  Wow! How such a simple sentence whisks over such significant happenings. How easy it is to do that! It is probable that Ezra was written c. 440 B.C. and then Nehemiah c. 430. So, let’s look at Ezra first and then Nehemiah tomorrow.

Listeners? There are, essentially, two sorts of people in this world: those who listen to God and those who don’t. Which sort are you and me? The first I hope. Those who don’t, end up listening to the skeptics, the doubters, the agnostics and the atheists – and are depressed! Now yesterday we saw how a small remnant in Jerusalem ended up in Egypt, but the majority of the Israelites were now in Babylonia. Their world had come to an end.

False Expectations: This is all about expectations, remember. Their expectations had been positive. They had thought they were invincible and they thought their world would go on and on and on – because they were ‘the people of God’. Jeremiah had challenged this mentality with a word from the Lord: “Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” (Jer 7:4) This was God’s temple and surely He would look after it and it would always be there? That had been there expectations for the future. Jeremiah and Ezekiel both warned otherwise but the people ignored them.

Nebuchadnezzar had come in 605BC and Daniel and his friends had been taken. Just the top people; fine! Then he came again in 597BC and Ezekiel and some ten thousand Jews were taken to Babylon, but the poorer, more ordinary people, were left. Yes, we can handle this; it will be all right, the Temple is here and so God will look after us. But then Nebuchadnezzar came again and in 587BC Jerusalem AND the Temple were utterly destroyed, and the vast majority of the remaining people also taken to Babylon.  The bottom had fallen out of their world! It was the end of Israel. Now their expectations for the future were zero.

Listeners and Believers? But this is where we come back to my original comments about people who listen to God and those who don’t. Perhaps we should add a rider: those who listen to God and believe what He says, and those who listen but cannot accept what they hear. The fact is that Jeremiah had brought a word of hope that we briefly noted two studies back: This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jer 29:10-14)

From the year of the destruction of the Temple to the year the rebuilding was completed, was exactly seventy years. The people had started returning earlier but God’s yardstick for measurement was the presence of the Temple, His dwelling place in the midst of His people. So anyone who had heard of Jeremiah’s ‘seventy years’ word could be living in hope – but seventy years is still seventy years and for many that would have been beyond their lifetime. Their expectancy of seeing the new Temple would have been small – yet it still did bring a hope for the future of Israel.

But then we come to the matter of belief. You have just witnessed the utter destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple and you have been herded like cattle out of the Land up to Babylonia where you have been settled. You have little hope of any change – but God has said…..

Will you believe? How can such a thing take place? These Babylonians have had enough of Israel and so have deported us and put foreign peoples into our land. How can this ever change? How can we ever get back to the Land? How can the Temple ever be rebuilt? Surely, in the light of all that has just been happening, that is impossible. This must be at the heart of all these studies on expectations. Will we base our expectations on what God says, not what we can see around us?   Faith is about believing God and living in the light of what He has said. You may not be able to work out how His word can be fulfilled; the only important thing is that HE has said it and if He says it, it WILL be!

But however….. the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia”.  The Lord may have spoken about your future, about your partner, about your childlessness, about your unsaved children, about your job or about your ministry and humanly speaking you just can’t see how it can possibly be. Your expectations are zero – except God has spoken. If you were a Jew in exile you couldn’t have guessed in a million years how it could all change – but it did.

God moved Cyrus: We don’t know the exact detail, but it did happen. Did Cyrus come across the Hebrew scrolls from many years before, the scrolls of the prophet Isaiah who had written decades either side of about 690BC, a little over a hundred years before the time we are considering: “who says of Cyrus, `He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.” (Isa 44:28) and “I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free.” (Isa 45:13) Somehow or other the Lord spoke into Cyrus’s heart and he decreed, “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you–may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.” (2 Chron 36:23) And that was it, and it was done!

Well, we’ve said it already, but let’s reiterate it: will your expectations be based upon what God says? When you hear it, will you believe it, regardless of the circumstances? THIS is what provides a stable foundation in an uncertain period of history.

24. Living with Uncertainty

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 24. Living with Uncertainty

Jer 39:11,12  Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had given these orders about Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard: “Take him and look after him; don’t harm him but do for him whatever he asks.”

The previous study took us up to the period pre-Exile, while Jeremiah was prophesying over the closing days of Jerusalem.  It is difficult for us to comprehend the chaos that must have followed the sacking of Jerusalem. The city has been destroyed and most of the people are being taken to Babylon. Some Jews, as we’ll shortly see, had fled to surrounding nations, but most were taken captive and deported.

Jeremiah’s Release: In the city, Nebuzaradan, commander of the imperial guard, had released Jeremiah after the instructions in our verses above he spoke to Jeremiah (40:1,2) and added “today I am freeing you from the chains on your wrists. Come with me to Babylon, if you like, and I will look after you; but if you do not want to, then don’t come. Look, the whole country lies before you; go wherever you please.” However, before Jeremiah turned to go, Nebuzaradan added, “Go back to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon has appointed over the towns of Judah, and live with him among the people, or go anywhere else you please.” (40:4,5) How amazing was that! Gedaliah was appointed governor of the land and the commander gave Jeremiah carte blanche to go where he wanted, to Babylon or stay with Gedaliah. He chose the latter.

People Return: Then we read, “When all the Jews in Moab, Ammon, Edom and all the other countries heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant in Judah and had appointed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, as governor over them, they all came back to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah, from all the countries where they had been scattered. And they harvested an abundance of wine and summer fruit.” (40:11,12) Signs of resettling, signs that perhaps peace would come to the land, even under the king of Babylon. But life isn’t always smooth and, as I recently wrote, one historian has suggested that the history of the world is the history of wars, of upheavals in human affairs.

Upheaval & Questioning: Now a word was brought to Gedaliah that the Ammonite king had sent a man by the name of Ishmael to kill him (Jer 40:13,14) but he didn’t believe the men. Nevertheless, it was true and Ishmael rose up and killed Gedaliah (41:1-10), but there was a reaction against him and he fled (41:11-15). The survivors were fearful of what the king of Babylon’s reaction would be, and decided to flee to Egypt (41:16-18). However, before they did they sought out Jeremiah and asked him to seek out the Lord and find out what the Lord wanted for them (42:1-6). Ten days later Jeremiah received a word from the Lord that they should remain in the Land and He would bless them there (41:7-22). Moreover, if they went to Egypt it would be disobedience and they would die there by famine or sword. It was a strong but clear word.

To Egypt: Some foolish men rose and took the leadership and rejected God’s word through Jeremiah and forced he and the other people to go to Egypt (43:1-7).  In Egypt the Lord again speaks through Jeremiah and told the people that Nebuchadnezzar would come and vanquish Egypt (43:8-13). The word then continued to warn that all who had fled would die there (44:1-14).  Yet the people rejected the word and turned back to idolatry (44:15-19). Jeremiah brought a final word that reinforced the previous words – you will die here (44:20-30). Apart from various additional prophecies added to the end of Jeremiah and an historical recap, this is the last we hear of him. What a tumultuous story. But what does this story say to us today? What principles are there to teach us?

Life out of control: The first and most obvious thing from this story is that, man or woman of God or not, we live in a fallen world and the circumstances of that world are not always in our hands. The Lord clearly presided over this time in the life of Israel and prompted Nebuchadnezzar to come against Israel to deport them and discipline and change them. Within that He made sure that Jeremiah was spared and was given his freedom. Nevertheless, the Lord allows humanity to exercise its free will and so evil men are permitted to rise up.

Purging: Now we might suggest that the Lord saw that the hearts of the surviving remnant were not purged of their sin of idolatry that had been seen for decades, and this is confirmed by their behaviour when they get to Egypt. It may be, therefore, that the Lord allowed this train of events, to remove these un-sanctified people from the land. They have been given every opportunity to turn back to the Lord having been given a second chance in the land, but their hearts are clearly not changed. It is going to take forty years of life in Babylon before the hearts of the people as a whole can be changed.

Our expectation – and this is a major lesson – is that hearts can be changed easily, but that is untrue. It often takes major pressures to transform a heart, such is the folly of sin. Very often history shows that a precursor to revival is the nation reaching rock bottom morally, to the point where people are crying out for help. Simply knowing the truth does not mean people will respond to it. That is the overall lesson about people. But what about Jeremiah? He demonstrates that although our expectation might have been after the downfall of Jerusalem that he was safe, his safety is not the big issue. It is whether he can remain the mouthpiece of God regardless of what is going on around him.

Our Call: For you and me, the first call is to faithfulness. Will we remain true and faithful to the Lord regardless of what people round about us are doing? But second, will we remain as obedient witnesses to the Lord, continuing to fulfil whatever ministry He has given us, regardless of how people are responding? I have often said in these studies that the Lord calls us, gives us a vision and then that vision has to die before He raises it up and fulfils it. Years ago, the Lord said to me, ‘I don’t call you to success but to obedience.’

We might look at Jeremiah and think, well, he didn’t do very well did he! He ended up with a disobedient people in Egypt where presumably he eventually died. Unfulfilled. Well, actually, no. He fulfilled his ministry right up to the end. His role was to be God’s mouthpiece wherever he was. He spoke the word again and again to Jerusalem, and they disregarded him and so Jerusalem fell. He continued to bring the word to the surviving remnant, but they failed to heed it and so died in Egypt. His call was to speak. It was up to the people how they responded, and they would be answerable to God because they had heard and they knew. Now they would be held accountable. Jeremiah was a total success because he managed to keep going right to the very end. The people? That’s another story.

So, to conclude, don’t have any romantic ideas about sin and the state of people’s hearts. Our call is to be witnesses. How people respond is down to them. Remain faithful, remain true, remain obedient, do all you can to reveal Him. THAT is our calling!  Amen.

38. Jeremiah (3)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 38.  Jeremiah (3)

Jer 18:6    O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

In this longest book of the Bible we first saw Jeremiah’s calling, particularly noting the implied warnings that were there that this would not be an easy ministry. In the second study we saw how that worked out and particularly observed the perseverance and faithfulness of this man who so often had self-doubts but kept on going, being the mouthpiece of the Lord to this unfaithful people. But what stands out, what highlight is there when it comes to his prophesying?

Well we could focus on the many warning he brought of coming destruction in the face of the ongoing apostasy of the people of Jerusalem and Judah, but that can be taken as read and is fairly negative reading at best. We could take any of the visual prophecies that the Lord put before Jeremiah, for example the linen belt that was spoilt (Jer 13:1-11), or the two baskets of figs (Jer 24:1-10), but undoubtedly the most famous of such prophecies is that in the Potter’s house (Jer 18:1-6).

The Lord tells Jeremiah to go to the Potter’s house (v.1,2), which he does and sees the potter working the clay and when it didn’t work out as he wanted, he simply rethrew it on the wheel and remade it (v.3,4). It was at that point the Lord spoke the words of our verse above. The words of verse six are both simple and dramatic and staggering in their meaning. It is incredibly simple. Everything that Jeremiah has been talking about in his prophecies is summed up in this simple verse.

It is both scary and devastating and terrifying AND hope bringing. The scary part is that the Potter takes the pot that is not working out and dashes it on the wheel again. Judah is going to be ‘dashed on the wheel’. Jerusalem is going to be ‘dashed on the wheel’; the existing is going to be brought to an end. The way that that will happen – through the coming of Nebuchadnezzar – will be devastating and utterly terrifying.  That is the bit that will consume the minds of all of Judah and yet there is a hope-bringing second part: the Potter remakes the pot. God will remake Israel and Jerusalem. There IS a future for Israel. This side of the events we take it all for granted, we are ‘wise after the event’, but for Israel at the time of the siege all they saw was destruction. It took faith to believe the occasional words of hope from Jeremiah – but they were there – but this people were not a people of faith.

We have already made brief reference to Jeremiah’s prophecy about the Branch (Jer 23:5,6) but that prophecy concluded, So then, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when people will no longer say, `As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but they will say, `As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ Then they will live in their own land.” (23:7,8) There it is, a clear promise of restoration, the future of Israel back in their land.

Then there was the picture prophecy that we referred to earlier, of two baskets of figs, one bad and one good (Jer 24:1-3). The interpretation of what they mean is surprising. “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” (24:5-7) You can’t get any more clear than that. The exiles who are already in Babylon will come back under God’s blessing and they will be a transformed people, a pot remade! The bad figs are the people and king still in Jerusalem who refuse to repent and they will be destroyed.

In chapter 25 we find Jeremiah prophesying in 605BC with the destruction of Jerusalem still some nineteen years off, but there he prophesies destruction of Jerusalem and Judah by Nebuchadnezzar and warns of a seventy year period before restoration. (Although Israel started to return within some 40 years, from the time of the destruction of the Temple to the time of its rebuilding completion was exactly seventy years. While it was absent the Lord obviously did not consider Jerusalem His).

Now we have noted the clear warning that the Lord is remaking Israel and it will take a number of years. What we now find is Jeremiah writing to the exiles in Babylon who the Lord says He will bless and bring back in due season. Observe: “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jer 29:4-7)

What does He say? Settle down guys, you’ve got to wait this one out. Build your own houses, plant gardens and grow your own produce (all these things take time and are a commitment to the future). If you’re not married, get married and have children and increase in numbers. Oh yes, and seek to be a blessing to the people of Babylon because as much as you bless them, you will be blessed. Wow!

I find here one of the most poignant messages to Christians in the West today who are becoming a minority people. Pray for revival by all means, but while you wait for it to come, settle down in the midst of this pagan society, be established, plan for the future AND bless the world around you! There is no room here for enclave Christianity, ghetto Christianity. This is a call to shine in the darkness, to hold firmly to the word of God, to seek to be filled with the power of God and always be obedient to the leading of God – despite the darkness around you. We may live in unsettling times, but the call is still the same: “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) We will do that, not by being arrogant and isolated, but by being part of the community shedding God’s love and goodness wherever possible.

The message of Jeremiah? God has a long-term plan and it is to restore His transformed people in due season. As He does that they will be a light to the rest of the world, revealing His power and His might. In this ‘alien land’ we must break free from ‘words Christianity’, a faith that just utters words. We are called to be a people who DO what Jesus did (Jn 14:12) and that means we must seek Him, know Him, obey Him, receive His power and His wisdom and His revelation, and live and work with it. When the world sees this, they will believe. Thank you for the message Jeremiah!

37. Jeremiah (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 37.  Jeremiah (2)

Jer 20:1,2    When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the chief officer in the temple of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the LORD’s temple.

In the previous meditation we considered the nature of Jeremiah’s calling and noted that within it were various indicators that life was not going to be easy for Jeremiah over the coming years. You may wonder why I choose a couple of very negative verses as ‘highlights’ of this book. The answer is that they, with a number of others, show how that early calling was so accurate when it spoke of the rejection he would encounter. The fact that he is still ‘the last man standing’, so to speak by the end of the book, reveals the fact that God’s grace WAS there for him. Perhaps, therefore, rather than an individual verse as a highlight, we may suggest that Jeremiah’s life as a whole stands out above many others and he himself is the highlight of this book, and an example for us of one who stands for the Lord, faithful despite opposition.

We have already alluded to his self-deprecation – I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” (1:6) and as the book opens up he is shown to be a very human being (remember ‘prophets’ always are!) with the same sort of questions that you and I have, for example, “You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (12:1) i.e. Lord, life so often seems unfair with the unrighteous appearing to prosper. Why do you allow it? The Lord’s answer is to speak of the judgment He will be bringing soon.

On another occasion he complained to the Lord about the life he had been called to: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty. I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?” (15:16-18) i.e. Lord, I took on board your words and they were a blessing to me. I never joined in with the unrighteous which tended to make me a loner. I have sought to walk the righteous path and yet I seem to be in anguish so much of the time and, Lord, when it comes to you (as the Message version puts it) so often you seem to be nothing but a mirage, a lovely oasis in the distance—and then nothing! He certainly struggled.

And yet the Lord was clearly with him as he faced rejection: Because the LORD revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time he showed me what they were doing. I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that they had plotted against me.” (11:18,19) Nevertheless he was a complete mix of emotions. On one hand he was able to declare, “A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary.” (17:12) and yet a few moments later he was crying out, “They keep saying to me, “Where is the word of the LORD? Let it now be fulfilled!” (v.15) and then “Let my persecutors be put to shame, but keep me from shame; let them be terrified, but keep me from terror.” (v.18) On the one hand he knew that the Lord was indeed his protection and yet a few minutes later, fear and anxiety seemed to flow back over him like the incoming tide. Does that sound familiar?

Again he records, “They said, “Come, let’s make plans against Jeremiah; for the teaching of the law by the priest will not be lost, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. So come, let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.” Listen to me, O LORD; hear what my accusers are saying!” (18:18,19) Now note where all these references come – before our starting verse that shows him being beaten and put in the stocks! All his fears were coming true in a physical way. Later we find (37:14-16) he is beaten again and put in prison and later into a cistern (38:6) and restricted by house arrest until the day Jerusalem fell (38:28).

Despite all this he receives amazing Messianic prophecy, for example, “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” (23:5) and yet immediately afterwards, “My heart is broken within me; all my bones tremble. I am like a drunken man, like a man overcome by wine, because of the LORD and his holy words.” (23:9) It’s almost as if he is saying, ‘I’m seeing so many contradictory things, it leaves me reeling like a drunkard, I don’t know which way to go!’

On the one hand as we look at the life of Jeremiah himself, we see this amazing prophet racked at times by self-doubt and yet upheld by the Lord so he is able to persevere in his ministry, speaking out the word of the Lord to all level of society, including the kings. On a physical level he is beaten, put in stocks and put in prison and yet when Jerusalem finally falls he is saved in a most remarkable manner. You must read 39:11-14 and 40:1-5.

The end gets even more bizarre. A man named Gedaliah is appointed governor of the land for when the Babylonians leave, after Jerusalem’s destruction, and Jeremiah stays there. Gedaliah is assassinated (40:6,7,41:1-). In the shambles that ensues, the people seek out Jeremiah for help and guidance (42:1-3). After waiting on the Lord for ten days (v.7) he receives a word to reassure them that it will be fine to stay there but disastrous if they go to Egypt (v.10-22). Indeed it is a very strong word against going to Egypt; yet his word is utterly rejected (43:1-3) and the leaders took them off to Egypt (43:4-7). When the get to Egypt, Jeremiah gets a further word from the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar would yet come there (43:8-13) and further warned that that remnant that had gone to Egypt would all be destroyed for their rebellion (44:1-14) – and yet this word also was utterly rejected (44:15-19) but Jeremiah keeps on and reminds them that they are there because of their past apostasy (44:20-23) and  that yet they would perish when Nebuchadnezzar came and vanquished Egypt (44:24-30). Apart from an Appendix containing a note to Jeremiah’s friend, Baruch, a miscellany of additional prophecies against the nations (from various times during his ministry), and an historical summery at the end, this is the last we hear of Jeremiah.

We have focused in this study on the man himself and his perseverance and his experience that followed exactly what the Lord had said at his calling. To the very end in Egypt, God’s word is rejected but nevertheless Jeremiah kept an open ear to the Lord and brought whatever he was given. It is an amazing testimony of the faithfulness of the man, and as such it stands as a significant challenge to each of us to remain as faithful, regardless of how the people around us respond to us as witnesses to the Lord. May we be that.

26. Jeremiah (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 36.  Jeremiah (1)

Jer 1:5  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

The call of Jeremiah is very different from that of Isaiah. Whereas Isaiah had a vision of the Lord in heaven, Jeremiah has no such vision but hears directly from the Lord: The word of the LORD came to me, saying…” (v.4) and the verse above follows. Both books are mountains of prophecy but having said that, that is where their similarity ends. Yes, Isaiah does speak against the sin of the nation(s) but after the midway historical interlude, much of what follows is very encouraging. The encouraging elements of Jeremiah are much less. (Incidentally Jeremiah is said to be the longest book in the Bible with more words in it than any other.)

Jeremiah is very much more focused on the present while Isaiah has a strong present AND future overview.  Jeremiah has elements of future hope but most of what he says speaks into the present in a unique way. He is God’s primary mouthpiece at this point of history – the run up to the Exile. Ezekiel will be speaking to the chosen people soon to be exiled in Babylon, and Daniel will become God’s mouthpiece in the royal courts of Babylon, but Jeremiah is God’s man on the ground there in Jerusalem and he prophesied for forty years until Jerusalem was destroyed in 586/7 and then briefly to the fleeing rebels in Egypt (see Jer 44)

But like Isaiah, his calling is a clear highlight. For him it is the things the Lord says to him. The complete calling really includes a) the opening call and encouragement (v.4-10), then b) two visions that have significance in respect of what is to come involving him (v.11-16), and then c) some closing words of exhortation and encouragement (v.17-19). These are all significant verses for his future.

  1. The Opening Call & Encouragement (v.4-10): “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (v.5a) You will see a footnote in your Bible that ‘knew you’ could be ‘chose you’. This is very similar to what the apostle Paul taught us: “he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Eph 1:4) Both speak of the God who has planned all things even before He brought the world into being. He looked into the future and saw Jeremiah – but He saw more than just that: “before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (v.5b) I believe it is a case of the Lord looks at us and sees what we can become, what is our potential.

It is a mystery why we are what we are. Ongoing arguments have gone on over “nature versus nurture”, how much genetic makeup and experiences being brought up, together contribute to who we are, but there is always another dimension – that of God (for v.5a suggests God acts on us even as we are being conceived – a mystery!) The Lord sees these two elements and speaks and acts into our life situations and, as much as we are open and available to Him, He works into our lives by the work of His Holy Spirit (who indwells us Christians).

So, OK, Jeremiah, God has had His sights on you for a long time and knows what He can do with you and He has chosen you to be His prophet to speak to this nation. Jeremiah splutters a bit over this, protesting that he is too young for this (see v.6) but the Lord puts this aside with a) an instruction – just do what I tell you and say what I say (v.7)  – and b) an encouragement – and I’ll be with you so you need not be afraid, and I’ll rescue you (v.8).  Talk of rescue doesn’t sound so good because it implies he will need rescuing and that is not exiting news!!! Then the Lord touches his lips (v.9) and says from now on He will give him His words and he will speak to nations and kingdoms (The fact that he says the Lord touched his lips, suggests an element of ‘vision of God’ behind all this).

  1. Two Visions (v.11-16): And so it begins. It starts with the Lord asking him what he sees – obviously visions. The first thing he sees is an almond tree and the Lord confirms he is right and says, “I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” (v.12) The almond tree was the first to blossom and it comes early and so the Lord implies that what is coming, is coming soon and He’s watching for it. Again He asks Jeremiah what he sees and this time he sees a boiling pot tilting away from the north (v.13) The Lord explains that He is bringing an invader from the north (that will be Nebuchadnezzar) and that He is doing this because of the sins of Judah (v.14-16)
  2. Final Exhortation & Encouragement (v.17-19): Now comes the tough bit. The Lord gives him a threefold starting instruction: i) get ready, ii) stand up and speak whatever I give you and iii) don’t be afraid of them (v.17) How can that be? Because, the Lord explains, the Lord has given him great strength to withstand “the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.” (v.18) i.e. it sounds like everyone is going to be against him!!!! However, “They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.” (v.19) It’s OK, Jeremiah, WE will overcome them!

Now let’s summarise what we have seen. First, the context of God’s perspective. He knew this was coming and He knew of what Jeremiah was capable. Thus he could be a prophet! Second, the big picture: it’s all about the sin of God’s people and the fact that God is going to have to discipline them with judgment in the form of Nebuchadnezzar and exile in Babylon. That is the end play of these next forty years! Third, He knows it is going to be tough because Jeremiah is going to be rejected again and again by all and sundry! But that’s not a problem because the Lord’s grace will be sufficient for Jeremiah to do the job.

 

Now here’s an important question: If the Lord knows Jeremiah is going to be rejected and the people will refuse to repent so that eventually Jerusalem WILL be destroyed and they WILL be carried into exile, what is the point of Jeremiah’s ministry? Why is he going to have to go through forty years of rejection and even hostile persecution? The answer has to be at least twofold. First, that Israel will never be able to say that they didn’t know what was coming and why, and they would never be able to make excuses for what happened. Second, so that we, the watching world, can see the fairness and justice of God in the way He deals with this faithless and foolish people. You can never say God was unkind because of Jerusalem’s destruction and the exile of the people, because He warned and warned again and again and again through Jeremiah (and through Ezekiel) and did everything He could to get His people to repent. THAT is what this book is all about and THAT is why the calling of Jeremiah has these specific features, as the Lord seeks to prepare him for what He knows is going to happen.

 

Now there is an underlying crucial lesion behind all this. Jeremiah’s ministry was to speak out God’s word – and that was all. What the people did with it, was up to them. In one sense, looking at the long-term you might think it was a ministry of failure because he failed to turn the people, but that wasn’t his calling; it was simply to speak. He was called to obedience and faithfulness – and so are we – whatever the outcome.

24. To Jeremiah (2)

“God turned up” Meditations: 24 :  To Jeremiah (2)

Jer 32:6-8   Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, `Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’ “Then, just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, `Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin.

In all these studies on God turning up, as we’ve noted before, the Lord turns up in a variety of ways, but as the Bible develops it seems the most common way is that He comes and simply speaks directly to one of His servants, especially to the prophets who by their very nature had an ear open to God. In the previous meditation we saw the Lord coming to Jeremiah to call him to his ministry. Now there could be a dozen times where we could see the Lord turning up and giving Jeremiah a message, but this one seems a particularly significant example of God’s word coming.

To catch the significance of this episode we need to note what went immediately before it: This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah.” (Jer 32:1,2) So here is Jerusalem under siege, with all the surrounding country taken by Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah gets a warning from the Lord that his cousin would come and offer to sell him some of the family land outside the city. Now don’t be under any illusion that Jeremiah thought the present siege was going to turn out all right, because he had just prophesied to king Zedekiah, “This is what the LORD says: I am about to hand this city over to the king of Babylon, and he will capture it. Zedekiah king of Judah will not escape out of the hands of the Babylonians but will certainly be handed over to the king of Babylon.” (v.3,4)

So Jeremiah knows that the future is that Jerusalem will be taken and the land devastated by Nebuchadnezzar. What is interesting is that Jeremiah doesn’t say that the Lord told him to buy the land, merely that He had warned Jeremiah. Jeremiah obviously took it that the Lord was inviting him to buy the family land – in the face of impending doom. This is to be an act of faith in respect of the Lord’s plans for Israel obviously!

Jeremiah steps out in accordance with the warning from the Lord and when his cousin comes he does buy the land and goes through all the legal formalities so that there will be no question in anyone’s mind about the authenticity of this sale for he said, “I knew that this was the word of the LORD.” (v.8) .

Indeed at the end of the formalities we read, “I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard. “In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: `This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” (v.12-15)  That was quite an amazing prophecy there at the end. So often Jeremiah was accused of negative speaking, but this is very positive. It says the Lord has plans for the future of Israel after Nebuchadnezzar.

Note what follows: “After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah, I prayed to the LORD:” (v.16) What follows is a wonderful prayer declaring God’s greatness in all His deeds. Following this comes a further word from the Lord which includes, “I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” (v.37,38) and then a reiteration that fields and land will again be sold in the land. There is a remarkable clarity in this prophecy: yes, Israel will be taken into exile, but the Lord will eventually bring them back to this land and restore them.

What we have seen is Jeremiah being invited to step out in trust in the Lord and buy land which appeared worthless at present, as a sign that there was yet a future for Israel there. Jeremiah would not see it, but it would come. Once he acted in faith, the Lord confirmed His word to Jeremiah, a remarkable promise about the future. A simple lesson here?  Sometimes we need to step out in faith on fairly minor revelation before the bigger revelation is given. Faith as big as a mustard seed releases greater things. Let’s not despise the small acts of faith for they can lead to much bigger things. Has the Lord invited you to step out in a small way? Go for it, for it may open the way to something much greater.