Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jeremiah Chapters 37-39

37:2 - A haunting legacy that sounds a great deal like the the descriptions of the lives of many of the kings in 1st and 2nd Chronicles. Zedekiah's name goes down as synonymous with faithlessness and corruption. It is passages like these that make me think about my own legacy? What is the legacy that I am going to leave behind? How about you? What will people say about us when we are gone? How will they summarize our lives? Live out an eternal legacy.

37:3 - The audacity of these leaders of Judah is boundless! They reject God's call to faithfully follow Him...they deny that Jeremiah's prophecies are legitimate and call him a liar...they serve only themselves and oppress the weak...yet when things get tough they come running immediately to Jeremiah, asking him to put in a "good word" with God. We act like this sometimes, don't we? Live our lives completely oblivious to the presence of God and the work of God in this world...totally focused on ourselves and our pleasure...and then everything falls apart and we go running to God. God deserves so much more from us.

37:12 - What does it mean when it says that Jeremiah is going out to receive his portion from among the people? Well, it seems that Jeremiah is leaving Jerusalem after the Babylonian siege has been lifted for a short time...he is going to the land of his ancestors - the Benjaminites - and will lay claim to his share of the land there. He knows for a fact that there is not going to be much left of Jerusalem, so he is going to get the ancestral land he is due. But the guards accuse him of trying to turn traitor and go over the other side and they beat him and throw him in prison. Old Testament prophet is a really tough gig!

38:2 - I read these passage and you have to give Jeremiah credit for his willingness to speak the truth that God has placed on his heart no matter what...his commitment is incredible! At any time, in any culture on the earth - telling people on your side to give up and go over to the side of the enemy would be considered treasonous behavior and probably be worth getting killed for. But Jeremiah knows that his words are the truth from God, and he cares more about the people of Israel than he does about his own life. He wants to give them a chance at salvation and continues to teach the hard truth even when death is looming over his head. And to think, there are times when you and I are scared to represent God's name and truth because somebody might think we're weird...pretty pathetic.

38:6 - I thought it was interesting that the passage very clearly states that Jeremiah was lowered down by ropes into the cistern. I mean, they want to kill this guy right? They hate his guts...why not just shove him in the cistern and get it over with? I think that they lower him down into the cistern so they won't have his blood on their hands figuratively. I think in some twisted way they have convinced themselves that if they place him on the bottom of the well alive and he "just happens" to die of natural consequences (Like starvation or death by mud), then they won't actually be the ones that killed him. Just an interesting detail, that further illustrates the twisted nature of the leaders of God's people.

38:12 - Here we have another interesting detail that is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the first...Ebed-Melech not only fights for Jeremiahs release and goes to get him out of the well, but he very compassionately even brings some old rags along so that the ropes will be more comfortable under Jeremiah's arms. This speaks pretty highly to the kind nature of Ebed-Melech. The group that puts Jeremiah in the well, lowers him gently to the bottom, not out of courtesy, but because they want to cover their own butts. Ebed, who could have just pulled Jeremiah up roughly and still been seen as a faithful man of God, shows the true depth of his character by taking time to get rags and see to Jeremiah's comfort as well as safety. Often times faith is lived out in the little, everyday, details of courtesy and loving-kindness.

38:22 - Very ironic - Jeremiah tells the king that he sees a vision of the king stuck in mud as the kingdom crashes down around him, a short after Jeremiah himself has literally been trapped in mud at the bottom of a cistern. Great writing! I also wonder if this gives us some clue as to how Zedekiah is caught in verse 39:5 after he runs away from Jerusalem. It says he was caught on the plains of Jericho...was it muddy that day? Did the mud slow up the horses...did a chariot break an axle? We don't know but it is interesting to theorize - maybe the Babylonians came upon the powerful king of Judah bogged down in mud, in a filthy and pathetic state.

38:24 - The king knows exactly what is going to happen - Jeremiah has told him over and over - but instead of acting like a true leader, he orders Jeremiah to be silent about the prophecy and he ignores the warnings yet again. The king refuses to trust God to the end, which fits in perfectly with the legacy of faithlessness that already permeated his life.

39:6 - This is a horrifying and heartbreaking end to the story. All of his sons would have lived, if he had just listened to Jeremiah...if he had just trusted God. Jeremiah told him that he and his family would be spared if they gave themselves up tot he king...but in his pride he refused and his kids paid the price for it. They are all slaughtered before his eyes and the vanquished king is blinded and dragged off to Babylon as a showpiece of the victory. How often to this day, to children pay the price for the sins of their parents? Parenting is a sacred duty that requires our total commitment and faithfulness...things that were not abundant in Zedekiah. Hopefully that is different for you.

39:12 - Why is it that the king of Babylon sends out orders for Jeremiah to be freed and taken care of? It is possible that the king has heard that Jeremiah has been prophesying about Babylon's victory and the supremacy of the king from people who have deserted Jerusalem. That would make sense. But we cannot discount the fact that Jeremiah is under the protection of God and the simplest explanation could be that God made it so...God moved Nebuchadnezzar's heart to release the prophet. Either way, Jeremiah's faithfulness is honored in the end.

39:16 and 18 - Because Ebed-Melech made the counter-cultural choice to stand with Jeremiah, thus aligning himself with God, he was one of the few leaders of Jerusalem that was spared. There are times when living faithfully is difficult, but we mus always remember that trusting God and fighting for His kingdom in this world will always pay off in the end.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Jeremiah Chapters 34-36

34:17 - You can turn your bibles back to Deuteronomy chapter 15 and read through the laws that God set up with regards to the treatment of slaves. This is yet another area where God shows His incredible, culture-changing compassion. In this ancient world, slaves were taken by war and by debts and they were kept forever...they were harshly mistreated. We may be asking ourselves - why would God even allow slavery? I think this is another instance of God allowing human beings to work through their hard-heartedness...God allowed them to keep slaves, but demanded that they be treated kindly. Most of the slavery among fellow Jews had to do with unpaid debts and the relationships was really more like indentured service. The reason I bring up Duet. 15 is so that we can all understand that treating slaves like human beings was part of God's covenant with the people. When the rich and powerful people of Israel go back on their promises of freedom and take their slaves back after releasing them - they break their covenant with God (Yet again). God does not go back on His promises, so this does not sit well with Him. God hates when the strong oppress the weak and He hates it even more when His own people are doing it!

34:18-19 - This is another passage that references God's covenant with His people. In Genesis 15:7-21 we see a covenant making ceremony between Abraham and God. Abraham slaughters and divides multiple animals and lays them out in a path...with half of each animal on each side. God (As a smoking firepot - doesn't that sound cool!) and Abraham walk through the bloody path together as a symbol of their covenant. This ceremony is a way for Abraham to acknowledge that if he breaks the covenant with God, he will be slaughtered like the animals they walked through. As we read before - Zedekiah and the other powerful leaders in Israel have broken their covenant with God, and they will face the consequences of their actions. It would probably do us all some good in current-day Christianity to consider more often the seriousness of our own covenant with God. God takes His promises seriously - do you? Does your commitment to be a disciple of Jesus Christ permeate every area of your life?

35:14 - The teaching illustrations that Jeremiah uses are incredible! Here God instructs Jeremiah to use the Recabite people as an illustration. See, these people are an extremely conservative branch of Judaism. The patriarch of the family, Jonadab, instructed his children and followers not to drink any wine, not to plant crops and not to live in permanent houses. They preferred to stay more connected with their roots as shepherds and nomads. So this human being, Jonadab, asks his children to follow rules that are not even necessary for God worship and they do it faithfully. Yet the Israelites refuse to listen to the warnings and call of God as He tries to guide them over and over. Jeremiah compares the faith of both parties to highlight the depravity of the nation. It seems absurd that people would be able to commit themselves fully to limitations placed on them by a peer group, yet refuse to submit to the will of their creator, but it happens all the time doesn't it? I have high school kids that will memorize 200 lines for a school play but never even read their bible. I have other students who punish their bodies to become better athletes who give their relationship with God no real consideration. How about you?

36:5 - So why was Jeremiah banned? We do not know for sure, but you can bet that it was because everything that came out of his mouth made people feel uncomfortable. I mean, you are reading the book with me right? Everything the man says is divisive and negative (And also directly from the mouth of God)...so I guess finally the priests got tired of him and banned him from teaching in the temple. Maybe it happened back in chapter 26 where the people almost lynched Jeremiah for his strong words...any way you cut it, it is just another sign that the people refuse to listen to the voice of God.

36:23-24 - I mean, it would be crazy to burn a scroll that came from a prophet of God regardless, but this is just twisted and insane. The king sits there and listens to the prophecy word for word and just cuts off little bits and burns them one after the other. The arrogance and sickness here is colossal! The picture that comes to mind for me is Mr. Dursley burning the hundreds of letters that Harry Potter receives inviting him to Hogwarts one at a time in the first movie. Dursley has this look of insane glee on his face as he burns them and I bet Jehoakim looked pretty similar. Neither the king nor any of his officials feel any fear and they listen to the words of God and then burn them...their disgusting arrogance will seal their own fate.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Jeremiah Chapters 31-33

31:2 - There are some really beautiful promises in today's passages...here we see that the people are promised that after the pas through the initial judgement, the pain, the suffering...they will be able to see the grace of God at work. Isn't that true? There are times when we go through painful "desert" experiences, where we question what God is doing. But on every occasion where I have experienced something like that, I have come to see the grace of God and the way He was shaping me through the situation.

31:3 - No matter what your misconceptions about God's nature in the OT are (Some people think He is mean, cruel, angry, etc.), we are told plainly over and over what the reality is: God's love is everlasting and steadfast...though His people reject Him over and over, He is always faithful to His promises.

31:13-14 - As always, after the promises of punishment are the promises of future peace and restoration. God allows the people of Israel to be exiled so that thy will eventually draw closer to Him.

31:15 - This is another prophecy from Jeremiah about the life of Jesus. This prophecy is fulfilled in Matthew 2:18 when the Jewish children were slaughtered in a failed attempt to kill Jesus.

31:22 - Now this is a verse that is often very confusing to people. What does it mean - "now a woman encircles a man?" Well, this has a lot to do with the concepts of the New Covenant and the Old Covenant. I can't tell you how many Christians I know that believe that Jesus ushered in a New Covenant that completes makes the Old one meaningless. I know people who feel no need to spend time in the OT because they have the NEW Testament. What we need to understand is that Jesus did not come to usher in a new covenant, meaning something completely different...he made the covenant "new", as in - he restored it to what it was really supposed to be all along. Jesus himself said he did not come to abolish the Law and prophets, but to fulfill them. Maybe we should listen to Jesus on this one. God is an everlasting, never-changing God and His covenant is the same. So why did I say all that? Because we have to see that God's intentions for relationships with His people even in the OT are so world and culture shattering it is amazing! Jeremiah is writing to an ancient culture of people that have a very twisted understanding of the role of women in the world. They believe that women are supposed to be subservient and ancient societies generally did their best to oppress women (Even the Jewish people). What is awesome is that Jeremiah, in the OT, shows us that God's real covenant with the people will shake up even the roles of women in society. Women will not just be looked at as helpless individuals who exist to serve/please men, but they will once again take on the role of guide, protector, "helpmate" for men as was originally intended (In the garden). That is radical, revolutionary teaching from the OT and it came thousands of years before human cultures began t actually treat women as people of true worth. How cool is that? And when I think about my relationship with my wife...this passage just comes to life. She is a wise woman and often steps into my life to "protect" me from experiencing the fallout of acting on my impulsive nature. She is always there to offer encouragement, but also good advice and I have no idea what I would do without her.

31:25 - Love that beautiful promise. Replenish my soul God, please.

31:33-34 - As I read this, I see future prophecy about Jesus Christ buried here. When Jesus gave his life as a sacrifice for our sins, human beings for the first time since the fall of man in the garden were able to connect themselves to the Spirit of God. That sacrifice cleanses us and makes it so that the Holy Spirit can dwell within us. Why do you think it was so hard for the Israelites to remain faithful to God? They didn't have the resources that we have - they didn't have the very essence of God living within them and working on them. We have that! You hear Christians all the time wishing that they could see God at work like they did in the OT...they wish they could hear God speak out of a burning bush, see God part the Red Sea, etc. We think Moses was so fortunate to experience God like that, but if Moses was here, he would be jealous of us. He would probably say, "You get to have the Spirit of the living God dwell within you? WOW!"

32:14-15 - Here is another powerful illustration from Jeremiah. Though an army is literally besieging the city, Jeremiah goes out and buy some property...buys a vineyard. That is crazy...why would he do that? It is all going to be captured and destroyed soon. He buries the deeds to the property in an urn, to stand as a symbol that one day this land will again be worth something. God will bring His people back and restore them to their promised land. Jeremiah's message is to remain faithful.

32:35 - Why does the punishment of the Israelites seem so harsh? Captured and taken from their homeland for 70 years - whoa! Well, this verse may give you some clues as to why - the people have begun to live lives of utter depravity. God's chosen people are sacrificing their own babies to false idols. God has to destroy the wickedness that exists in His people. Instead of asking how God can be so harsh, we should be asking how He can be so merciful over and over.

32:41 - God cannot wait to get back to the place where He and His people are unified again. Kinda like a father who had to punish His child (Because he loves him) and cannot wait until it is all over, so they can once again play together with joy.

33:6-9- Here we see more promises of future healing while the people are in the midst of pain.

33:15-16 - The true branch that rises from the stump of Jesus - the line of David - is Jesus. Jesus absolutely embodied this promise that "the Lord is our righteousness." God came to earth as a man, showed people what humanity is really supposed to look like by example, and then gave himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. The only way sinners like you and me could ever be righteous is through the blood of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Lord is our righteousness, literally.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jeremiah Chapters 28-30

28:10-11 - I guess that Jeremiah has been going around wearing the yoke he built as instructed by God for a while. Jeremiah really likes to drive home the point of his messages from God. In my mind he sleeps in the yoke...walks hunched over all the time because of the yoke weighing him down...he really sells the illustration. It probably makes the Jewish people around him pretty uncomfortable..."Here comes the crazy guy with the yoke that says we're all gonna be enslaved for 70 years! Let's get out of here." So finally Hananiah decides to do something about it...he doesn't like the message that Jeremiah is bringing, so he breaks the yoke off Jeremiah's back and tells everybody that God said there isn't going to be an exile. How often do people lie to themselves in order to hide an uncomfortable truth they don't want to have to face?

28:13-14 - Jeremiah tells Hananiah that the wooden bars of the yoke have now become iron bars...his lies and false prophecy have actually made the situation even worse and they highlight the corruption that was so prevalent in the leadership of Israel at this time. This reminds me of the webs of lies that people often entrap themselves in...they keep lying to avoid consequences, and the more they lie...the worse the situation gets. Face the truth, no matter how difficult, and start to work towards making things better rather than avoiding reality.

28:15 and 17 - This is a great example of why you don't want to ever get involved with lying or misleading the children of God. And though it would be easy to say this passage only applies to church leaders...I think it also drives home the importance of being a godly parent. When you have been give the responsibility of leading - it is a serious task that should be approached with much humility and prayer.

29:7 - God instructs the exiles to accept the situation that has descended on them and to move froward...to go on living their lives. Jeremiah tells them, "Pray for Babylon. Be good citizens. Live God honoring lives in the midst of the pagans." Of all the passages from Jeremiah that apply to the life of a Christian living in America...this one really carries some weight. Instead of trying to cloister together in holy huddles...instead of trying to force a human government to be "Christian" (which it never will - either party) - choose to live your lives as holy exiles. We are exiles from the kingdom of heaven that we will go to one day...pray for your country (and others)...be good citizens...set the example for what it looks like to be the people of God in a broken society.

29:11 - I love this verse...the plans of the Lord are always focused on bringing wholeness to our lives - you can rely on that promise from God. Is life gonna be easy? Not hardly. Is everything gonna go our way? Nope. But the Lord of All has plans that are focused on bringing wholeness to our being. We are disjointed and empty when we reject Him...and He will do whatever it takes to change that (Even if we don't like "what it takes.")

29:23 - The leaders of the Israelites are the most corrupt people of all...they pose as God-fearing, holy leaders, and then they live corrupt live and lie to cover up their actions. But there is a witness that is testifying against them...and this is the most reliable witness of all - God. God needs know proof outside of what He can see for Himself to bring His judgment...remember that the next time you are feeling really judgemental. As Christians we should spend our time focused on living righteous lives to honor our Holy God, as opposed to throwing self-righteous judgement at others.

30:22 - This verse echos back to the original covenant God made with Abraham. God said, "I will make you a great nation and all peoples will be blessed through you." The Israelites are the people of that promise - they are the nation. Though they broke the covenant with God over and over...and though God was forced to allow them to experience the consequences of their actions...He always remains faithful to His promises. He says, "You will be my people, and I will be your God."

30:23-24 - The picture that comes to mind for me is a powerful electrical storm, crackling on the horizon. The lighting bolts split the sky and cause a forest fire to rage through a wooded area. The woods are charred and destroyed by the blaze...destruction is everywhere...yet from the ashes of the blaze grow a new and more vibrant forest...a forest that feeds on the nutrients left behind by the forest fire. After new life begins, you understand we the raging fire needed to come in the first place. The judgement of God is like that...it is fearsome to behold, but once it passes you see that it was necessary to bring change and new life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Jeremiah Chapters 25-27

25:3 - Can you imagine? 23 years of ministry...23 years of speaking the Word of God and he has absolutely no success to show for it? If that is not a testament to the incredible faithfulness of Jeremiah - I don't know what is? We support missionaries at Northside that have been on the mission field for 10 years and have yet to see a convert...they are living their lives in a Muslim community that is closed to the Gospel, but they remain faithful to the work that God has called them to. Can we remain faithful to God no matter what the circumstances?

25:31 - All flesh will be judged by God...the vile and corrupt with be cut away so that the good can flourish. This reminds me of pruning in a garden. Sometimes a plant must be pruned, cut back, so that it can grow back more healthy later. Are we living for things that are going to be cut away by God eventually? Meaningless things? Or our we living our lives to bring good to the world - to create relationships that will have eternal implications?

26:3 and 13 - The hope from Jeremiah's perspective (Which comes from God) is that there will be repentance. The punishment that God allows to come down on His people exists simply to bring redemption and renewal. This is always the back story of any discipline that God gives His...the discipline comes to bring change and new life.

26:8-9 - Prophets who cal for change and repentance in the midst of corrupt cultures have never been received well. (See: Jesus) If you choose to live in the way of Jesus...if you choose to follow the radical Prophet, Messiah, Priest, God-man Jesus...you will stand out in this corrupt culture and it may not always make life easier for you (In fact, it will most certainly make life harder on occasion). But isn't it worth it? To be connected to your Creator? To be living for eternity now?

26:24 - So who is this Ahikam guy? Well, he is a man from a family of scribes (With a good deal of authority in their Jewish culture) that is willing to stand by Jeremiah's side as he calls the people to repentance. This passage tells us that it is because of Ahikam's support that Jeremiah's life is spared. I think the person of Ahikam is very important for us to key in on because his choice is so applicable to our lives. Not everyone in the Body of Christ is called to be a prophet like Jeremiah, but everyone is called to stand by the Word of God no matter what. We can choose every day to stand by the truth we know from scripture, even if it goes against everything our culture is trying to brainwash us to believe.

27:2-3 - Here we have another classic object illustration from Jeremiah. God tells him to construct a yoke (A harness warn by oxen when they pulled a plow) and to put it on. I can picture Jeremiah stumbling through town, burdened by the heavy weight of the yoke on his shoulders...crying out for the people to accept the captivity that they are about to go into. He wants them to have a vivid picture to remember his words by...God is going to allow His people to be captured...if they accept the punishment they will be allowed to live in their own lands...if they fight back - they will become a ruin. Accept the yoke! Hope lies in accepting the punishment of God...if they try to fight against His discipline it will not go well.

27:5 - This verse offers a powerful reminder to us...God is in control of everything - everything! God is working everything that takes place in the world into the intricate tapestry of His plan for all humanity. God's will...will be done.

27:11 - Be wary of people who tell you exactly what you want to hear. In my experience these are not people that love you, but people that just want to keep you placated. The people in your life that actually love you and want to help you to become the people that God has called you to be in this world, will be willing to speak hard truths to you. Usually it the people saying the things that we don't want to hear, that are echoing the things that God is already telling us in our hearts, right?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jeremiah Chapters 22-24

22:3 - This passage gives us a picture of what God expects from His people: justice, righteousness, helping the poor/widows/aliens, etc. These are especially the expectations of those who are in positions of leadership. God does not want formal religious activities practiced to hide the rottenness of the heart...He wants to see faithfulness lived out on a daily basis.

22:5 - I laughed at this - "I swear on myself!" Who else is God going to swear on? There is no one better...there is no one more perfect...when God says He is going to do something - He is gonna do it!

22:9 - Why are all these bad things befalling the people of God? Well...they have broken the covenant promises they made to God ("You will be my people and I will be your God.") - they have rejected God for false idols they made themselves and are offering service to statues of stone and wood instead of their creator God. Pretty good grounds for anger there.

22:11 - As I read through this chapter, I got a little confused with all the names of kings that get thrown around here...Shallum, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, etc. Is this one of the contradictions of the Bible that non-Christians always talk about? No. These are all the names of a series of Kings, that were put together in one section of Jeremiah because they are all receiving the same message from him. They were not kings that ruled simultaneously, but kings that were in power at one point or another during Jeremiah's prophetic teachings.

22:15 - Kings, in God's eyes, are not made by their fancy palaces, clothes or the crowns that they wear on their heads. To God, the kings among men are those who live humbly before Him and walk justly in the world. Kings are made by their ability to lead people towards the righteousness of God. At this point in Israel, there were probably a lot more "kings" out amongst the people than there were living in palaces.

23:1 - Let me just say...you do not want to be a church leader and misrepresent or misuse the authority that God has given you...not good. You don't want to be a leader of any sort that abuses the power granted by God...not good...not good at all.

23:3 - Jeremiah says that after the vile and evil leaders are captured and destroyed, that God promises to bring the faithful back together once again into a covenant relationship with Him. God is so merciful! How many times is He going to allow His people to reject Him and then enter back into relationship with them? As many as it takes...

23:5-6 - As always, God promises that there is hope on the horizon. No matter how dour the situation, God is always working to bring His people back to Him. Because the earthly leaders they have been given have failed to lead the people well, God himself will restore the people to His promises. This passage seems like another allusion to God's plan that came in the form of Jesus. In the line of David - check. Righteous branch - check. Embodies the fact that the Lord is our righteousness (literally!) - check.

23:10 - I remember my freshmen year of high school we read a book called "The Once and Future King," about the life of King Aurthur. He went through various philosophies of leadership in life, but at one point when he was young, rash and powerful - Arthur believed that, "might was right." Basically, whoever had the most power made all the rules and was always "right." This concept has always been alluring to the powerful men and women of the world...belief that the strongest are always right. But there needs to be a reality check in all this thinking because God is the ultimate source of power and authority in the universe. He has given power to the leaders of Israel and now they are being called out for using that power incorrectly. Human strength does not make you right, your relationship to God makes you right.

23:13-14 - It was bad when the people chose boldly to worship false idols in the land that God has given them...it was far worse when they pretended to be God-followers and served only themselves. Hypocrisy is vile...if you are going to live in an anti-God fashion, at least have the guts to admit that you are anti-God. Don't call yourself a Christian and then live in opposition to the way of Christ.

23:20 - In the midst of the judgment - it seems harsh and cruel that God is pouring out His anger on the people...they don't understand why these things are happening. But Jeremiah says, "Just wait...one day you will see what God was doing during these hard times." As brutal as this world can be sometimes, we have got to remember that God is in control and that God is shaping you through the good and bad things you experience.

23:23-24 - Never forget - God is NOT some bearded old man sitting far off, looking over the world like a chess player with humanity as his pawns...He is here among us...He fills the entire universe...He is present...He is active...He is at work in this world.

24:5-9 - I find it interesting that the ones who face the "judgement/exile/captivity" are the ones that Jeremiah describes as the good fruit. The ones going through the toughest times are the ones that God is going to use to restore and rebuild His relationship with the Hebrew people. The ones left in their homeland (Who probably thought they were pretty "lucky") are the ones who will face destruction...they were the ones who were the most corrupt. God often uses hard times to forge His people - those left totally alone may have a lot more to worry about in the end.