Jeremiah 30 – The Lord’s Good News for His People

This chapter starts with God’s promise that he will bring back the people of Israel and Judah from captivity and restore them to “the land I gave their forefathers to possess.” This of course has to do with the physical land in the Middle East directly, but the land is never about just “the land.” The latter has eternal significance, and Israel’s captivity always points to our captivity in sin, the wages of which Christ died to pay.

That this points beyond the historical moment it depicts is shown in the following verse describing the salvation the Lord will provide. He uses the phrase, “In that day” to pinpoint the time their bondage will be broken, and when they will no longer be enslaved by foreigners. Here is what comes next:

Instead, they will serve the Lord their God
    and David their king,
    whom I will raise up for them.

How could they serve David if he died over 400 years earlier? In Scripture references to David are almost always Messianic, and we know now that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Davidic reign. The physical-temporal almost always points to the spiritual-eternal, as it does here.  The Lord’s promise to Israel then and us now:

I am with you and will save you.

What do we need saving from? Captivity to sin a la Israel, and spiritual death a la all humanity. In this same verse (9) the Lord says the people must be disciplined, but with justice. Their sins must be punished, and we read yet again the case laid out against them in the following verses. But at the same time he continues to affirm that he will restore his people. The Lord never proclaims judgment without the hope of salvation, justice without mercy. He again points much further with this verse about the leader he will raise up:

21 Their leader will be one of their own;
    their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me—
    for who is he who will devote himself
    to be close to me?’
declares the Lord.
22 “‘So you will be my people,
    and I will be your God.’”

This leader will be known by the closeness of his relationship to Yahweh. The question the Lord asks here is a rhetorical one: the Leader! Nobody else wants to be close to a holy God who will judge them for their sin. We know that among God’s people none could be found to fulfill the ultimate role of Savior. God himself would have to do it. We read in Isaiah 6 why this is:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King,the Lord Almighty.”

This Leader is “David their king” of verse 9, all of which allows Yahweh to have a relationship with his people and be their God. Paul tells us how this happened in I Corinthians 5:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

And what is the nature of this reconciliation: not counting his people’s sins against them. And what does reconcile mean exactly?  To restore to friendship or harmony. What Adam lost, Christ restored. Now we live in harmony with our Father because he no longer counts our sins against us. A simple gospel message with profoundly eternal questions right here in Jeremiah.

The final words of the chapter say that God’s wrath and anger will be satisfied against the wicked, but the ultimate enemy we know is death. I think the word “fully” in the last verse looks to a much bigger cosmic victory won in Christ:

24 The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back
    until he fully accomplishes
    the purposes of his heart.
In days to come
    you will understand this.

We live in the days to come! The revelation of God in Christ makes all the shadows and types of the OT Clear.

Jeremiah 29 – The Lord’s Promise to Exiled Judah Ultimately Fulfilled in Us

What a rich chapter this is. There are two sets of people, those who have already gone into exile, who’ve listened to the Lord and submitted to his judgment, and those who remain in Jerusalem. The latter preferred to listen to other prophet’s lies. It starts with a letter Jeremiah had delivered to the exiles in Babylon, of how they are to conduct themselves there as exiles. These people had no experience of how their ancestors lived, wanderers without a home. They had lived in their own land for hundreds of years, but will now once again be exiles.

Jeremiah drafts a letter and has it delivered to the exiles in Babylon. Even in the midst of punishment, the Lord is reaching out to his people, teaching them what they should do to prosper where he has placed them.

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.”

God commands his people in exile to have children; if they don’t increase, the implication is that they will decrease. You wonder why he would command such a thing. It’s likely their initial reaction to being hauled off to Babylon was that this wouldn’t last long. But the Lord says it will last long, 70 years long—so settle in. And there must be new generations alive who he will be able to bring back to the land of promise. I think there is some redemptive-historical significance for we 21st century Christians, ourselves exiles in a strange land. We need to increase, not decrease, to pray for “the city” that it might prosper. One day when the time is right, he will bring all of us back to the eternal land of promise.

Then the Lord tells them it’s going to be 70 years, and then he “will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.” Then there are well-known verses that are often applied as if they were speaking directly to us outside of their redemptive-historical significance. Their meaning is specifically to these Babylonian exiles, but they point to something far more grand, even cosmic in scope:

11 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. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 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.”

In history, the Lord will definitely bring them back to the land. We call that the post-exilic period. But the ultimate promises here can only come from the transformation of the human heart, and that can only come from what I’ve called a “radical relational reversal.” This happens at the cross where Jesus pays the price for our sin, and satisfies God’s wrath. This is called in Bible speak, propitiation, a word you will likely never hear in almost any church:

The word propitiation carries the basic idea of appeasement, or satisfaction, specifically towards God. Propitiation is a two-part act that involves appeasing the wrath of an offended person and being reconciled to them.

This reconciliation is the reversal, from God as our judge, jury, and executioner, to God as our loving father. Our hearts are transformed from stone, which is enmity and rebellion toward our maker, to affection and love. It’s supernatural heart surgery, and the only way we could ever seek the Lord with all our heart. We don’t seek our way into the reversal, we are transformed into it. This captivity the Lord speaks of is ultimately pointing back to the captivity of sin.

The chapter ends, in fact it’s the majority of the verses, with the Lord’s warnings to not listen to the lies of false prophets. This common theme throughout Israel’s history is a lesson for the ages; we must listen to the Lord alone. He has given us his Word and his Spirit that we may now do so.

Jeremiah 27 & 28 – Trusting God’s Judgment When It Doesn’t Seem to Make Sense

In these chapters the Lord through Jeremiah encourages the people of Judah to accept their punishment and submit themselves to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It ends up turning into a battle of prophets, as Jeremiah speaks the message from the Lord, and another false prophet says the opposite. The Lord is giving the people a way out if they will just listen to the Lord’s prophet and submit to the Babylonian king. For them, exile is salvation from death and horrible suffering. On the other hand, if they listen to the “positive” prophecy, basically listen to what they want to hear, they will perish.

As throughout the whole OT, the Lord gives his bona fides, why he has the authority to make such judgments:

Give them a message for their masters and say, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Tell this to your masters:With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please.

Hard to argue with that! And he again calls Nebuchadnezzar his servant. The Lord is in charge of this show. And chapter 27 ends with the Lord declaring that even though the furnishings of the house of the Lord have been taken to Babylon, he himself will bring them back and “restore them to this place.” He is always pointing beyond judgment; the payment for sin is not the end of the story, but really only the beginning as we now now.

The false prophet pays for his false prophecies with his life. Jeremiah tells him,  “The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies.” Why would someone who knows he’s selling lies, persist in selling with the threat of death hanging over his head. Who knows. Human beings can be irrationally and persistently rebellious. And God is as good as his word. In the seventh month of that year he died. 

Maybe he persisted because Jeremiah’s prophecies of submitting to the king of Babylon didn’t seem to make sense. Maybe he preached lies because all the people cheered him on. They may have thought, there is no way God is sending his people into exile. He gave us this land. The Babylonians are heathens. But for whatever reason, they couldn’t discern the word of the Lord over the lies. Those who could, who decided to trust the Lord when it didn’t make sense, escaped with their lives. Those who didn’t perished. This is every human being’s choice: will we trust the Lord.

Jeremiah 26 – It Ain’t Easy Being God’s Prophet

Poor Jeremiah. All he does is tell the people what the Lord commands him to say, and everyone wants to kill him! And to add divine insult to injury, he makes Jeremiah proclaim these words basically in front of the whole world:

“This is what the Lord says: Stand in the courtyard of the Lord’s house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the Lord. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word.

But the reason isn’t to get Jeremiah in trouble. He’s making him do this so perhaps the people will turn away from their sin and God will relent from bringing judgment. We know how this turns out, that’s it’s a futile exercise, but there’s a reason he keeps giving his people a chance. He wants us to know that he longs to be merciful to his people. He’s also telling us his justice must be met as well. When we understand the covenantal nature of his relationship to his people, it all makes sense—blessings and curses. Only Jesus could ultimately fulfill both.

Why did the people insist Jeremiah must die? Because he was telling them things they didn’t want to hear. The critics of Christianity are rarely honest that this is the reason they don’t embrace it. Christianity is not a religion for those with itching ears. It’s not the least bit flattering to our sense of our own self-importance. We are condemned criminals by nature. Great! Sign me up! But to me, our revulsion to this basic message is an indication of it’s truth. By it we verify God’s judgment against us, and we are helpless to do anything about it by ourselves.

Then Jeremiah tells the people that “in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.” And they relented. Once they were convinced the message really was spoken to them “in the name of the Lord” their God, how could they kill him. Other prophets of the Lord were not so fortunate, and many died horrible deaths. One thinks of John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, not to mention Jesus of Nazareth, our Savior. Biblical religion is nothing if not brutally honest about what it might cost to follow God. Jesus tells us we must take up our cross daily, denying ourselves, and follow up. No sugar coating there. This will not be easy. And while few over the millennium have paid the price with their lives, there is a price to be paid. Praise the Lord Jesus he paid the ultimate price so we don’t have to pay that one.

 

Jeremiah 25 – God’s Wrath Poured Out on the Nations

Chapter 25 begins to get into details about the exact nature of God’s judgment. The Lord reiterates his case against them through Jeremiah, again, and what is about to happen will start “the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.” Interestingly, the Lord calls this pagan king “his servant.” What does a servant do? Anything his master wants. God is sovereign over the kings of the earth.

I’ve been listening to a D.A. Carson series on the book of Revelation, and he points out how much all of us have bought into the naturalism of the day. We no longer speak of God’s providence directing the the great movements of kings and nations, as for instance America’s founders and leaders up through Lincoln did. All of the bloodshed and blessings among the nations we now think just happen. Our deist God sits on his throne, possibly amused, but a bystander who himself wonders what is going happen. But the kings of the earth do God’s bidding, always, and as with Nebuchadnezzar this does not limit their agency or their accountability. They are still human and still acting of their own free will. God’s “control” is not analogous to the way humans control, through coercion.

12 “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the Lord, “and will make it desolate forever.

Even though they do what God wants as his servants, they incur guilt for what they do. And the Lord keeps his promises because Babylon is nothing today, some dirt mounds in the middle of nowhere.

The rest of the chapter is a description of “The Cup of God’s Wrath” against the nations. This reads like a last judgment kind of accounting you’d read in Revelation.  John probably gets his imagery from this chapter of Jeremiah. These words are especially sobering:

God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath.

This holy and just God is not to be trifled with. His power is terrifying, not quite the image of the nice old man sitting on a throne doling out approval and praise to his bumbling creatures.

33 At that time those slain by the Lord will be everywhere—from one end of the earth to the other. They will not be mourned or gathered up or buried, but will be like dung lying on the ground.

The wages of sin must ultimately be paid, one way or the other. Praise the Lord Christ paid it for us!

Jeremiah 24 – Israel’s True Leader: Jesus!

Chapter 24, starting with the leaders of Judah already having been carried off to Babylon, is about a vision Jeremiah has of two baskets of figs. The metaphor is another way for the Lord to excoriate Judah’s leaders, whom he compares to a bad basket. It is not going to go well with them because they’ve failed to listen to God’s prophet. A good basket is compared to all the exiles whom the Lord has sent away, but whom he will bring back. Speaking of which it is clear he’s not only referring to the people of Judah of the 5th century BC:

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.

The process of becoming God’s people is a supernatural work of Almighty God, supernatural spiritual surgery, if you will. God has made it clear for 726 pages in my Bible that the people he has chosen can’t pull it off, that the heart they were born with consistently leads them astray. So he will just give them, give us, a new heart! And notice that a people with this heart will return to him with all of it; this returning will now be who they are. Instead of hiding from the Lord like Adam and Eve, they will seek him, and even when they fall, they will return with their whole being.

So again, the Leaders of God’s people are held to a different standard because, well, they are supposed to lead. I imagine believers of a fundamentalist stripe will automatically see this as pointing to leaders of God’s people today, pastors and teachers, elders and deacons, etc. who are supposed to lead God’s flock. They will be held accountable for their leadership, which is true enough. But I believe this points to Christ who will be the true leader of Israel no human ever could be; he succeeded where every other leader failed.

 

Jeremiah 23 – The Lord Our Righteousness

This chapter basically answers the issues of the previous two, of the defective leader who ends up defiling the land. The NIV gives it the title, “The Righteous Branch,” and starts by implicating the leaders:

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.

These leaders have caused the people to be scattered, but as the Lord says, he himself will bring them back. This continues the theme throughout the whole OT that God himself will work salvation for his people. He doesn’t provide a possible salvation, and then hope they make the right decision to accept it. And we’re told how he will do it:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
    and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
    and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteousness.

Verse 5 could also be interpreted as “the line of David,” so this continues a long line of prophecies of a Davidic Kingdom to come. We learn the nature of this king who who will reign wisely; he will be our righteousness! The first thing I think of when I see this king’s name is 1 Cor. 1:30:

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

We receive in Christ a righteousness that is wholly foreign to our nature that we might be accepted by the righteous and holy God. Paul further clarifies this in Romans 3 by calling it “the righteousness of God” given to us by faith in Christ. God is driving home the message through the people of Israel that we fallen, sinful human beings can never pull it off. If we are to be accepted before our holy God and creator, he himself must provide everything we need. This, of course, includes a perfect justice that satisfies his wrath as payment for sin, which is fulfilled in Christ. Then his perfect obedience is counted on the ledger for us. By faith we are robed in Christ’s perfect righteousness. On this basis alone do we come before God, enter the Holy of Holies with a clear conscience that we may serve the Living God!

I notice that this king is Yahweh himself. The Savior of God’s people will not only be himself, he will be a man! He will be the God-man. Imagine after the resurrection and Jesus teaching his disciples that the OT is about him. What may have seemed cryptic before (how could Yahweh himself be in the line of David?) must have become perfectly clear. Ah, now we get it!

The next section of the chapter is the Lord’s declaration of judgment against the false prophets and the priests. These verses are so revealing of the sinful human heart:

16 This is what the Lord Almighty says:

“Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you;
    they fill you with false hopes.
They speak visions from their own minds,
    not from the mouth of the Lord.
17 They keep saying to those who despise me,
    ‘The Lord says: You will have peace.’
And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts
    they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’

The sinful human heart loves lies, especially the lie that God will not judge them for their sin. And it’s fascinating to see that the Lord says that such sinners “despise” him. Paul makes that very clear in the NT, that in our natural state we hate God; he is our enemy, and we would kill him if we could.

Because this is so ingrained in human nature, people will find any way they can to find leaders who will tell them what their itching ears want to hear. That must have been endemic in Judah at this time because the Lord condemns it over and over again. Compare these lying words with the Lord’s word:

29 “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

His word will accomplish what he intends, and in this case it’s judgment, as the last two verses state bluntly:

39 Therefore, I will surely forget you and cast you out of my presence along with the city I gave to you and your ancestors. 40 I will bring on you everlasting disgrace—everlasting shame that will not be forgotten.”

How does everlasting here compute with the revelation of God’s mercy to his people, a consistent message throughout the OT? Maybe it’s everlasting in that it will always be remembered, the utter failure to accomplish we the Lord commanded. This failure must ever be contrasted with the Lord’s answer to that failure, that he alone could accomplish what he commanded. Thus the kind, the Lord our Righteousness.