Monthly Archives: March 2017

Jeremiah 32 – God’s Promise to Never Stop Doing Good to His People

We see Jeremiah imprisoned by King Zedekiah to start this chapter. The king can’t believe that Jeremiah would prophesy that Jerusalem will fall and he’ll be captured and dragged away to Babylon, even though at that very moment the city is under siege! Like many of those who refuse to accept God’s word, he’s oblivious to the obvious.

Then the Lord tells Jeremiah to buy a field as an object lesson for what he will do with Israel in his mercy: they will again buy fields and vineyards in the land. Then Jeremiah begins a great prayer with these words:

17 “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.

This is a constant theme throughout the OT, asserted and affirmed more than any other, that God as Creator is the ultimate justification for his purposes. And these purposes are always affirmed in the context of the redemption of his people. The Bible, after all, is redemptive history, the history of the redemption of his people.

The Lord then affirms Jeremiah’s affirmation with his own rhetorical question:

27 “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?

Uh, no! Yet how often do we treat stupid little frustrations in life or situations that don’t exactly line up with our expectations as if God is a bystander. Or worse, we blame him for malevolent intentions. As the chapter goes on we’ll see that he won’t let us get away with either, if we’re willing to believe what he says.

After he declares his power, he yet again recites the litany of Israel’s sins. You’d think they, and we, would have gotten the point by now, but I think the point isn’t to rub their noses in it. Rather, it’s purpose is to contrast the sins with the mercy and grace he will show to such sinners, both ancient and modern. In v. 36 he in effect says, you all are saying look at this calamity the Lord has brought upon you, but you are focusing on the wrong thing:

37 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. 38 They will be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. 40 I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.

Yet again the Lord points to the material-temporal while pointing to something much bigger in the spiritual-eternal. Yes he will bring Judah and Israel back to the land where they will be able to buy fields and vineyards, but what he’s really after is the heart of his people. The physical-material circumstances of his people, while important, are always secondary.

God’s people are those whose hearts he has transformed so that they will alone reverence him—singleness of heart and action is a far cry from the rebellion Israel and Judah have been guilty of for centuries. What changed? God! His “furious anger and great wrath” have been satisfied in Christ! As “Our Father who art in heaven,” he will “never stop doing good to” us, and he “will rejoice in doing” us good. He will “assuredly plant” us in the eternal land, and do it with all his being.

We can trust God’s good intentions toward us because his change of heart is not arbitrary, as it is with the God of Islam. His good intentions, i.e. his love, is based on something he has done, and demonstrated, something objectively we can point to and say, “See, look how our God loves us!” Paul tells us what that is:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God himself gave himself in the person of Christ for us! No wonder he will never stop and rejoices in doing us good. The everlasting covenant he makes with us he first made with himself in the councils of his Triune being. That is why when he forgives our sin he is faithful and just. His forgiveness is not dependent on the depth of our remorse or the sincerity of our repentance (as if we could gauge such things), but on his character! This we can live, albeit imperfectly, in the words of Isaiah:

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.

Amen!

Jeremiah 31 – The Ultimate Victory for God’s People

Chapter 31 starts with the familiar phrase, “At that time,” not unlike, “In that day.” Both convey fulfillment, that God’s purposes shall not be thwarted, ever. The Lord declares that when this time comes:

“I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.”

And for the next thirteen verses he describes what life will be like for his people when he brings them back to Zion. But again as we’ve seen, there is both temporal-material as well as eternal-spiritual implications to the Lord’s promises. No doubt this message through Jeremiah was meant for God’s people exiled in Babylon. They needed hope that they would not be captives of the Babylonians forever, but there are hints throughout these verses, I think, that point to something much greater than a physical homecoming for God’s people. Take this verse:

11 For the Lord will ransom Jacob
    and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.

To ransom and redeem implies payment and transaction. This is exactly what God did for his people in Christ, but from the sin stronger than us. The result of all this he says in verse 14 is “my people will be filled with my bounty.” Then in the very next verse we read these prophetic words, horrifying to those of us who know to what they actually refer:

15 This is what the Lord says:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

Matthew tells us this describes Herod having all the little boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger killed in his attempts to destroy the Messiah—didn’t work. But this is not the most obvious Messianic reference in the chapter. That comes some verses later in a much more direct declaration about a new covenant he will make with the house of Israel. This can only be fulfilled in Christ. Unlike the old covenant which could be, and was, broken, this one can never be broken, and here is why:

33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.

This is the radical relational reversal, or spiritual surgery, I’ve spoken of before. This covenant will not be a matter of external observance, but of internal transformation. God’s will becomes the desire of our heart, or as Isaiah says to the Lord, “your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” The reason this covenant is a sure foundation for the future of God’s people is based on our sins being dealt with, which is the sole reason we are alienated from God:

For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.

He cannot just forgive our sins by willy nilly; they must be paid for, and they have been.

In the last verses the Lord again states his bona fides to make all this happen: he is the Lord Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. He speaks of “the city” being rebuilt, and that it will “never again be uprooted or demolished.” For those to whom these words were written, they would take that to mean the physical city of Jerusalem. It would be rebuilt. But what the Romans did to it in AD 70 confirms that the never in “never again” ultimately refers to the eternal city where God will dwell forever with his people.

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!