Day 239: Ezekiel 1-4; Intro to Ezekiel

Today we begin the book of Ezekiel and we are going to talk a little bit about our setting for the book before we dive directly into the Scripture.  In fact, we will talk about today’s reading tomorrow, for the most part, and just get a good introduction to the book today.  Also, as a point of personal clarification, this is the first time I have written a blog in about 3 weeks as I just got married and have been on vacation since the 9th.  All of the blogs for the past 3 weeks were pre-written.  Thank you for your reading, likes, and comments!  I’m excited to be back and writing again!

The Chebar River Photo Credit:

The Chebar River
Photo Credit:

Ezekiel’s writing begins during the same time that Jeremiah was ministering and prophesying to the people of Israel.  Jeremiah was back in Jerusalem prophesying that the city would soon fall.  Ezekiel, however, was actually in Babylon as he says at the beginning of the book, “among the exiles on the Chebar Canal.”  This is a river that is a tributary to the Euphrates River, and is located in the Babylonian Empire north of the City of Babylon.  Remember that there were two waves of exiles from Jerusalem and Judah.  The first happened during the reign of Jehoiachin when the city of Jerusalem was actually spared.  For more on this you can check out 2 Chronicles 36 & 2 Kings 24.  Ezekiel’s writing comes from the land of Babylon, which means that he was likely taken in the first wave of exiles and was working as a priest in Babylon.

Our tendency, because Ezekiel is set in Babylon is to think that his writings happen after the time that Jerusalem falls.  However, Ezekiel is prophesying concurrently with Jeremiah and the messages that he is bringing compliment Jeremiah’s as well.  In fact, seeing these two prophets side by side gives a powerful message of God’s omnipresence and ability to be with His people no matter where they are, even in exile.  In fact, the vision that we read about today, and will talk more about tomorrow, is in many ways communicates that very message.  God is with His people, even in their  exile.  We see the repeated phrase time and again “Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went.”  Like I said, we’ll talk more about this tomorrow… it is some of my favorite imagery and writing in the Bible!

The Book of Ezekiel Photo Credit:

The Book of Ezekiel
Photo Credit:

Like I said, Ezekiel’s writing falls along the same lines as that of Jeremiah.  The outline of the book of Ezekiel is much the same as Jeremiah and Isaiah as well.  The first section of Ezekiel contains a great deal of “doom and gloom” messages, prophesies of judgement against Jerusalem.  This is followed by messages of judgment against the nations of the world as well.  Finally, like Jeremiah and Isaiah, Ezekiel speaks messages of hope to the people of Israel, speaking to their future restoration.

Ezekiel contains within it some of the same themes that we have seen in the other prophetic books as well:  God’s holiness, Sin and its consequences, Restoration, the burden of leadership, and the worship of God.  We will encounter these themes time and again throughout this book.  It is indeed some of my favorite writing and reading in the Bible.  Some of the imagery is exquisite and confusing all at the same time!  I hope that you enjoy this journey through Ezekiel!

Blessed Reading!

Day 238: Lamentations 3-5; Hope for Restoration

As we come to the final writings of Jeremiah, I think it is important for us to see where Jeremiah places his hope.  As we talked about yesterday, it is important for us to place our hope in God when we are faced with times of struggle and trial, when our live seems to be left in ruins.  Whatever it is that we have endured, we must continue to bring it before the Lord and allow our grief and struggle to be laid at His feet.  Jeremiah follows this path of Lament, crying out over the devastation that he has witnessed.

However, he doesn’t just stop his prayer or questioning of God at complaining and crying our over all that has happened.  Like Job, David, and many others before him, Jeremiah continues on in his prayer to speak of the righteousness, the goodness, and the faithfulness of God.  He acknowledges that the people of God needed this and that the Lord was right and just in His actions.  It is for the people of God that these things have been done, even though they hurt now they will lead to great things.  Jeremiah points out that the people need to examine their hearts and their ways as they go through this time, to see what God is doing within them.

It doesn’t stop there either though.  Jeremiah says that the people need to lift up praise and thanksgiving to the Lord in this time.  Even in the midst of all these struggles, the Lord has been good to them and continues to be faithful to them as well.  We often have the tendency too see only the negative things in our lives, the struggles and trials that take place day in and day out.  When we do this, we fail to look at the rest of life.  If we are only focused on the 5% of things that are difficult and terrible, we are neglecting the other 95% of our lives where God continues to be faithful and bless us.

Jeremiah doesn’t stop there either though.  Again, like Job, David, and so many others, Jeremiah prays for restoration.  It isn’t bad for us to ask God to put things back together for us.  I think that this is a very important part of this prayer and a great way to end this section of the writings of Jeremiah.  Reread chapter 5 and see the words that Jeremiah uses.  He asks God to remember all these things, to see the plight that has come upon His people, and to bring about restoration to them.  I think it is interesting that Jeremiah also asks God to return the people to “the days of old.”  Something tells me God chuckled a little bit when He heard Jeremiah say that.  It wasn’t to how things used to be that God was going to bring His people to, it was to a new day, a glorious day, when all things would be made right and restored!  This is the day that God is working toward in us as well.  When we face times of testing and we wish that things were just put back to the way they were, remember that God is working in us and doing a new thing within us, shaping and sculpting us as a potter shapes a new clay pot.  It takes a lot of work, but eventually we will be made into the image of God in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us each and every day.

Day 237: Lamentations 1-2; Jeremiah's Lament

The book of Lamentations is the record of Jeremiah‘s visceral and guttural reaction to the witnessing of the City of Jerusalem and the Temple of God being burned.  Written as a series of poems, each chapter chronicles Jeremiah’s grief, questions, and ultimately the request for God to bring about restoration.  In many ways, this book reminds me of a great Psalm of Lament, the cry of one who feels forsaken by God in the midst of tragedy and sorrow.  Jeremiah’s writings follow the pattern of lament, something he would have been familiar with as a part of Hebrew worship practices.

Today’s reading is very dark in nature.  Jeremiah is looking over what is likely the burning or smoldering city that he once lived in and loved and is weeping for her.  He looks and sees the Temple of God, the very center of the universe for him, lying in ruins, broken and burned beyond recognition or repair.  For Jeremiah, this is complete and utter devastation on a scale that was previously unimaginable.

We have all experienced times in our life where we feel like Jeremiah, looking over the broken pieces of what used to be our live and weeping over them.  Sometimes I think, especially for men, we don’t feel as though we can cry, weep, or mourn for a loss because it shows weakness and even a lack of faith.  Jeremiah’s reaction here would seem to communicate otherwise.  There is no lack of faith in Jeremiah’s voice, no doubt at  God’s existence or His work through all of this.  What is important here, I think, is Jeremiah’s attentiveness to God and God’s work in this crisis.

Life is rough and times can be tough.  There is no doubt that we will face time when we feel like the world that we are living in has been smashed to ruins.  As we learned from David, it is ok to be upset and even to go to God with the problems.  In fact, in times like that the most important thing for us to do is indeed go to God with our questions and our trust.  For the people of Israel, this was a time for them to be broken down and purged of their sins, punished for what they had done but also learning from it as well.  Not all disaster in our lives may take on this form, but there is no doubt at all that in any stage of life, God wants us to place our trust and our hope in Him.  Whether we are bringing our praise or our questions, or perhaps both, we need to make sure, as Jeremiah did, that our hope and trust lie solely on God.

Day 236: Jeremiah 51-52; Babylon and Jerusalem Fall, God is Faithful

Today’s reading, the last two chapters of the book of Jeremiah, lay in succession the utter contempt that God has for the nation of Babylon and her fall that will take place.  This if followed by the description of the Fall of Jerusalem, a non-prophetic narrative that describes for us again the events of God’s judgment on the city of David.  These events, particularly the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple are the setup for the book of Lamentations, also written by Jeremiah, which is an account of his witnessing the destruction of his city and the burning of the Temple.

What I want to focus in on today is the last part of Jeremiah 52, that talks about the release of Jehoiachin from prison in Babylon.  This is a part that is largely overlooked in the whole story because it is almost a footnote at the end in many ways.  Yet this is one of the greatest testaments of God’s faithfulness to the line of David, a promise He made to King David hundreds of years prior.  There is really no reason why Jehoiachin should have been released from prison.  We are not told that he was out on good behavior or anything of the sort.  The simple fact is that God continues to be faithful to His people and His promises even in these dark and difficult times.  No one knew what was to come next for God’s people, but it is clear in reading this that God is still at work in His own ways to fulfill His own purposes.

A story like this stands as a testament to God’s faithfulness to us as well.  We certainly haven’t done anything in our lives to warrant the unmerited grace that we receive from God each and every day, and we definitely do not deserve the blessings that He pours out into our lives every day.  Even in the darkest of times, those times when we feel lost and alone, we have the hope that God is still with us and still working in us.  It may be difficult to see; it might even be impossible for us to see, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t active in the situation walking with us, holding us up, sustaining us, and even refining us to make us more and more like the image of Christ each and every day.

Day 235: Jeremiah 50; Messages against the Nations (Part 3)

Like Isaiah, and many of the other prophets, Jeremiah also contains within it prophecy for judgment on Babylon, the Lord’s instrument.  I’m sure it seemed like the empire of Babylon was too great to be moved, unable to be defeated, but there is nothing that is too great for God to do.  The nation of Babylon was raised up by God for the purpose dispensing judgments to the nations.  However, they were by no means a nation that was without sin.  In fact, the nation of Babylon was incredibly sinful, worshiping false gods and even misusing the articles of the Temple of God that they had plundered.  Jeremiah’s message here makes sure that the people of God understand that not even Babylon, the great empire of the world, would be able to escape the judgment of God.  No amount of military or economic influence would be able to stay the judgement that was to come on them.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I think that this is a very clear message not just to the people of Israel, but to all who read these words.  In my context as a writer, I think of my own country and the decline in moral values and a culture that is… well… corrupt and lacking in solid moral values.  People feel that they can do whatever they want because we are “murica,” the strongest nation in the world.  We have the best stuff and the most of it as well… yet not even a world power like America can stand before the judgment seat of God.

The Church of North America must serve in some ways, like the prophets of Israel did as well.  We have a message given to us by God, one of repentance and salvation.  There is much to be said about what is going on in the country today, things that are contrary to the design and desire of God.  Sin runs rampant and is increasing more and more each day.  We cannot sit idly by and stay silent in the midst of this lest we too be included in God’s judgment.  As Christians, we must stand up in the face of sin, and speak truth into the brokenness of society, not for our own personal gain, but because God has given us a message or restoration through Jesus Christ.  We must place our hope in Him, for He is the only Way to Salvation.

Day 234: Jeremiah 49; Messages against the Nations (Part 2)

Today we read the messages against Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazor, and Elam.  This chapter has a similar ring to the last couple chapters and the next few as well.  My first thought about today’s reading was that we should just read it for what it is, the judgment against many nations for the sins they had committed.  I didn’t think that there was much else to say about it.  But as we read this, and yesterday’s reading as well, there are very specific traits that each of these cities and nations are being punished for, and each city and nation has a particular history with God and the nation of Israel.

The Ammonites worshiped other gods and sacrificed children to them.  Edom, the decendants of Esau, boasted in its wisdom and the strength of its city in Petra. They rejoiced at the fall of Jerusalem, only to see its own boarders fall only years later.  Aram, Kedar, Hazor, and Elam all were pagan cultures, likely worshiping a pantheon of gods and relying on their own strength and wealth rather than placing their trust in God alone.

I see bits and pieces of our culture in the United States here as I read this chapter.  We think we are wise and cunning at times, full of street smarts and crafty.  We often look to other things, leaders, or even money as that which can bring about our salvation, our strength, and our prosperity.  Yet none of this really amounts to a hill of beans before the Lord.  There is nothing in this world that is more powerful than God.  We may have the strongest military, the best technology, the greatest wealth, and even the smartest people, and yet all of that crumbles before the Lord, the God of the Universe.  We must keep in mind that it is God that has placed us where we are today, it is God who has empowered our nation, and it is in God whom we need to be placing our trust.  Before the Lord nations rise and fall, they are but a speck, a blip on the timeline of history.  Only by placing our hope and trust in the Lord can we find forgiveness and salvation.

Day 233: Jeremiah 46-48; Messages against the Nations (Part 1)

Like the Prophet Isaiah, Jeremiah too has a section of his book that is a collection writings about the judgments against the nations.  It is likely that these judgments, which we will read over the next couple of days, were actually delivered to Jeremiah throughout his life and are chronologically out of order here.  However, the messages are none-the-less true and did indeed come to pass on the nations mentioned here.

There is a lot of doom and gloom that comes with these particular messages.  Today we read about Egypt, Philistia, and Moab as being some of the first to fall in judgments of God.  In fact, it was Egypt’s defeat by King Nebuchadnezzar at the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. that ushered Babylon on to the main stage of world power.  Assyria had declined and Egypt had fallen, leaving Babylon to dominate the area and serve as the instrument of the Lord’s judgement throughout the land.  One of the commentaries that I read suggested that Babylon’s victory over Egypt was actually a bit of a surprise and might not have happened if Egypt hadn’t allied itself with Judah, or perhaps the other way around.  I’m not necessarily sure how I feel about this, but it is clear that Judah once again disobeyed God by turning to Egypt, their former master, for help, a move than ultimately wound up with both being crushed.

Yet even in these messages we see the nature of God come forward and His faithfulness to the covenant and His people displayed:

But fear not, O Jacob my servant,
    nor be dismayed, O Israel,
for behold, I will save you from far away,
    and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
    and none shall make him afraid.
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
declares the Lord,
    for I am with you.
I will make a full end of all the nations
    to which I have driven you,
    but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
    and I will by no means leave you unpunished.

Here, and really in all the readings of the prophets, as the Life Application Study Bible notes point out, we gain several insights about God and his plan for this world:

  1.  Although God chose Israel for a special purpose, he loves all people and wants all to come to Him.
  2. God is holy and will not tolerate sin.
  3. God’s judgments are not based on prejudice and a desire for revenge, but on fairness and justice.
  4. God does not delight in judgment, but in salvation.
  5. God is impartial – He judges everyone by the same standard.

Like we spoke about at the beginning of the book of Jeremiah, we should not simply box God into this idea of a fluffy, loving God who just gives us nice things, we need to understand the true nature of God.  He is indeed Holy and therefore cannot and will not tolerate sin, thus the wrath of God is against sin.  God is also a God of justice, true and fair justice, and therefore will judge the sin of the nations as well.  We also remember though, that God is also the God of forgiveness and grace as Psalm 103 reminds us:

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

Day 232: Jeremiah 42-45; No One Can Run From God

Time and again in Scripture we see people asking for the help of God, or in this case a Word from the Lord, and then doing the exact opposite.  It makes so little sense to me why people that have just witnessed the fulfillment of everything Jeremiah had been saying, would still not listen to what he says, even after they ask him.  What’s worse, is that in their direct disobedience to the Lord in what they do here, they also force Jeremiah to participate in this, albeit against his will, by taking him with them to Egypt.  I guess its one thing to disobey and a wholly other thing to force someone else to disobey.  Jeremiah didn’t run away, he was taken away, thus it is safe to say that he was not disobeying the Lord.  In fact, while he is in Egypt he continues to receive messages from God and delivers them to the small group of people that had fled there.

To make matters worse, the people that had fled to Egypt, again this is a pretty sad irony in itself, have not gone there to be safe and worship God away from the power of Babylon, no sooner did they arrive than did they start to worship other gods yet again.  Not only had they not learned the lesson from the judgment on Judah, they insisted on continuing to sin against the Lord and place their trust in other gods.  Likely, they thought by not being in Judah and having Jeremiah with them meant that they could get away from all that had happened… Jeremiah’s message from the Lord dictated otherwise.

In 568 B.C. king Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian military attacked Egypt.  Though there was resistance and rebellion on the part of the Egyptians, it was quickly crushed and the great empire that had one enslaved the people of God and in which that same people continually placed their hope was crushed, subject to the same fate as Judah.  Sadly, the people that had gone their for refuge were not allowed to return to Judah… ever… because of their disobedience to the Lord.

I hesitate to make claims about God’s judgment on the peoples and nations of the world in our present day context.  Too often people explain away tragedies like 9/11 and the monstrous hurricanes and massive tornadoes that seem to keep hitting America as judgments from God on a sinful nation because of something that we have done or allowed to happen.  Sadly and unfortunately, I think these are just reminders and evidence of a broken world that is desperately in need of restoration.  Yet I think that the message of Jeremiah can often be applied to the lives of people affected by these tragedies as well.  It is clear, living in the world today, that we desperately need God.  He is calling to us, offering us grace through the death of His Son Jesus, and longs for us to answer.  Times of hardship, struggle, and even tragedy remind us again and again that our hope rests in God alone, or at least it needs to be as such.  There is no place we can run, no rural town we can hide, no other country that we can go to where we can escape this call of God or this need for Him.  As Christians, we do not need to be preaching judgment in the face of tragedy, but instead offering the hope of restoration in Christ to those who find themselves broken and alone.

Day 231: Jeremiah 38-41; Fear and the Fall

Today, we come to it yet again, the fall of Jerusalem.  We have talked about it a couple of times already at the end of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  These two links will bring you back to these posts (over 100 days ago!).  Jeremiah‘s perspective on all that is happening is similar to what is recorded in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, but seen from a different point of view as he is still working desperately to save the city of Jerusalem and deliver the messages of the Lord of the Lord to King Zedekiah.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the fall of Jerusalem though.  It feels like we have covered this time and again through all of the prophesies and the accounts of its destruction.  There is another message for us today from the last conversation between Jeremiah and King Zedekiah.  The main theme of this?  Fear.

Jeremiah was punished for his unpopular message, imprisoned and thrown into a cistern because “he was going over to the Babylonians.”  I’m sure the public opinion poll of Jeremiah was pretty low at this point and the frustration level of all the Jews was super high.  This is a recipe for disaster for Jeremiah, one that winds up with him at the bottom of a cistern.  Clearly the people don’t want to hear what Jeremiah has to say… at least not until they are desperate, which is exactly what happens here.

The siege is almost over, the city has almost fallen, and King Zedekiah in a last ditch effort call for Jeremiah so he can hear from God one last time.  Jeremiah, knowing this game pretty well by now, doesn’t want to tell him anymore because he knows he’ll just get punished.  But after a promise, Jeremiah delivers one last message to him from the Lord, one that is, by prophetic standards, quite gracious.  I think that God recognizes that the King understands his folly and is seeking the Lord for repentance.  Yet even in that, Zedekiah is gripped with fear.  Jeremiah tells him to surrender… Zedekiah says he is afraid.  Ultimately, Zedekiah give into his fear and it costs him the entire royal court, his entire family, the whole city of Jerusalem, his eyesight, and his freedom.  All of this could have been avoided if Zedekiah had just listened to God.

Fear is a very powerful enemy, a gripping opponent, and a paralyzing emotion.  To often people in the world live (or rather don’t live) their lives because of fear.  I feel like there are times when I am even afraid to come before God because of the things that I have done.  I know my past and I know how God wants me to live and I see that these two things don’t match us.  In Zedekiah’s situation, the fear of what other people would think, say, and do if he followed God was what ultimately lead to his horrific capture and sentence.  Our culture pushes us to look and act a certain way so that people will like and appreciate us as well.  However, God calls us to live a certain way, a way in which He will indeed bless us, if we are faithful to Him.  Again, contrasting the Rechabites to Zedekiah, one will have a place serving God forever and the other will be completely cut off.  Sometimes faith and devotion to God may cost us a few worldly things, but those pale in comparison to the blessings we receive as faithful followers of God.

Day 230: Jeremiah 35-37; Rechabites and Obedience

The obedience of this clan of the tribe of Judah, those who were likely somehow connected to service in the house of the Lord is incredible admirable!  So much so that it warranted special attention in Jeremiah‘s book, even in the midst of the crisis that is going on during this time.  These folks had taken something like the Nazarite vow, like Sampson and others before him, to live a life wholly devoted to God and abstain from certain worldly things.  For Sampson, if you remember, it involved not cutting his hair, drinking wine, or eating leavened bread.  In this case, it meant simply abstaining from wine.  The vow, however, isn’t nearly as important as those that were (or weren’t) keeping it.  For roughly 200 years this family had kept this vow to the Lord throughout the times when the people of Israel were consistently and continually breaking the covenant.

The Rechabites Refuse Wine Photo Credit:

The Rechabites Refuse Wine
Photo Credit:

In the midst of all that is going on, this seems like a rather interesting side story.  However, Jeremiah is actually making a point here.  If you remember yesterday, we read about King Zedekiah releasing the slaves as a way of trying to appease the Lord by “following” the covenant.  He was trying to show some measure of faithfulness to God through his actions but had entirely missed the point.  It was a change of heart that God was looking for in His people and He hadn’t found it anywhere… except here.  In start contrast with the King of Israel and the people of Israel, the Rechabites had kept to the promise they had made to God for a long time.  This promise wasn’t to appease God, but was an outward sign of inward faith and commitment to the covenant.  In many ways, they were an example for the people of Israel, one that they could have learned a lot from.  God’s emphasis on them here, following the sad attempt by King Zedekiah, is His way of saying “this is what I want from you… devotion.”

You know, it seems as though it might be a good message for us today as well.  I don’t necessarily think that we need to be taking a Nazarite vow like these people, but they certainly are a good example as to how we should be living, not outwardly, but inwardly.  They demonstrated full devotion to the Lord and the covenant, the outward sign of which was their abstinence from alcohol.  Sometimes I wonder if the Church, especially in North America, might be heading in the same direction of the people of Judah, living however they want and thinking they can appease God when they need to.  It seems that more  and more, the Church is allowing people to do what they want, say what they want, live how they want, and then landing it under the umbrella of being saved by grace.  While that is entirely true, and thank God for that, I think we might be missing the point a little bit.  Paul speaks to this in his letter to the Romans, chapter 6:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

The example set for us by the Rechabites is one of total life transformation, one that starts with the inward commitment and is lived out in action.  We too need to walk in the newness of life, remembering that we once dead in our sins, but have been made live in Christ Jesus.

Day 229: Jeremiah 32-34; Prophecies Fulfilled

Unlike the book of Isaiah, the book of Jeremiah continues through the actual event of the judgment against Jerusalem by the hand of king Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army.  This is somewhat unique to the books of the prophets as most of them contain predictions, but few actually witness it, and only one truly chronicles it.  What is to come for the next couple of chapters is the interweaving of prophesies being made and prophecy being fulfilled, all from Jeremiah’s perspective.  The warnings have gone out, the people have been given their chance, but as the beginning verses of chapter 34 show us, the time has come for the judgment to be carried out.

There is a lot of mix between prophecy and historical events that are taking place here, but I think there are two main narratives that jump out of these three chapters.  The first is the account of Jeremiah purchasing the field.  The setting of this small account is that Jerusalem has been under siege for a year already and the land that Jeremiah buys is more than likely destroyed or occupied by soldiers.  On top of this, Jeremiah is a prisoner in the palace, likely because of all the negative prophesies that he has spoken against the king.  By all accounts, this is a bad investment.  All accounts that is, except those in the economy of the Lord.  Jeremiah is living into his faith that God would indeed fulfill His promise to bring the people back from exile.  Even in Jeremiah’s great faith though he struggles with doubts, which we see come out in his prayer to God.  After the prayer, God does not strike Jeremiah down for doubting, nor does He get angry, God simply answers Jeremiah’s doubts with honest and true answers, putting Jeremiah’s mind at ease.  We too are invited into this kind of a relationship with God in which our questions, doubts, and struggles are welcomed and given honest answers from our God whom nothing is to hard for.

The other short narrative that jumps out at me in the reading for today is that of king Zedekiah‘s actions to release the slaves in an effort to appease the Lord.  This account comes a bit later in the siege of Jerusalem, when the city is about to fall.  It seems as though Zedekiah finally realizes what he has done and tries to do some sort of a quick fix in order to win favor with God and avert the crisis that is looming.  However, it seems as though they weren’t to keen on this idea because they changed their minds almost instantly.  I kind of wonder if they were hoping that it would all instantly go away and when it didn’t they just took it back.

How much is this like us though as well.  We find ourselves in some sort of trouble and we try to make a quick fix in our lives so that God will be happy with us again.  Yet we know in our hearts that it is not the one or two things that we have done wrong in our lives that is the problem, our issue lies much deeper… its a heart issue.  King Zedekiah needed to change his heart before God, to come to repentance, not appeasement. There is nothing he could do to stay the judgment that God had brought on him.  I think the response of God is interesting here as well.  We so often fight for our own freedom, wanting the right to do whatever we want, but we don’t like the freedom of the consequences that come from our actions.  Yet this is exactly what God allows for Zedekiah.    In some ways, this idea just turns my stomach as I look at culture today and the push towards more and more ‘freedom’ to do whatever… I wonder when the ‘freedom’ of the consequences of culture’s actions will come rushing in.

Fortunately, our hope is in something much higher than culture and even sin… our hope is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  Nothing is too hard for Him.

Day 228: Jeremiah 30-31; Promised Restoration

There is a lot of interesting juxtaposition that is going on in today’s reading.  Thus far, with a couple exceptions, Jeremiah‘s prophesies have been primarily negative and judgmental in nature.  While tends to be what Jeremiah is often remembered for, he also interweaves the message of hope and the promised restoration that is to come.  Like Isaiah and many of the other prophets, Jeremiah is relating events that are near at hand with events that are yet far off.  There is the promise that the nation of Israel would be restored.  This is fulfilled somewhat with the return of the exiles from Babylon, but the full restoration of Judah still has yet to take place, referring to the coming Kingdom of God.

Jeremiah also speaks of several things that will be changed about the earth “in that day.”  He points out that there will be unity among the people, righteousness and peace will reign in their hearts.  At one point Jeremiah says “The Lord will create a new thing on earth – a woman encircles (seeks out, protects) a man.”  This is a direct reference to the weak protecting the strong, or rather the last of need for physical protection because of the peace that will surround all things.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

This too is an interesting juxtaposition, relating Jeremiah’s reference to the sin that was engraved on the heart of the people of Israel like the engraving of Iron (Jeremiah 17) with what is going to happen in the days that are coming.  Rather than sin being the primary thing that is on people’s hearts, it will be the Law of God, His very Word that will be written/engraved on their hearts, not just stone tablets.  Ultimately Jeremiah’s vision and message here is referencing the coming of Jesus Christ and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God, something which God must do on His own initiative because we are incapable of doing it on our own.  Notice that Jeremiah points to the truth of the matter in that He says that God will be the one doing the writing and the transforming of the lives of His people.  This is the experience we too have when we experience new birth in Christ Jesus, a decision that we make, but a process that is started and continued by God Himself through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Day 227: Jeremiah 27-29; Give the People what They Want?

There are really two messages that we read about today from largely opposing worldviews and motivations.  One comes from a false prophet and the other from the true prophet of God.  One is a message the people want to hear and the other is rather unpopular with the people.  One carries Truth, the other carries with it lies, deceit, and the desire for attention only.  Today we get to observe as Jeremiah, the prophet of God, and Hananiah the false prophet square off as they give their respective messages to the people of Judah.

As I was reading this I found myself, much like Jeremiah, wanting to agree and believe Hananiah’s message of deliverance.  His message centered around the idea that God was going to relent from His judgment and restore the people of Israel.  Taken at face value this message is great!  I’m sure there were a lot of excited people that were very motivated and thought they would just need to hold out a bit longer.  In some ways I’m sure that the people thought that this was obvious because of how loving and merciful God is, and probably along the lines of a “better late than never” situation.  But if you look a bit deeper, there are some very glaring problems.  The people have disobeyed God and sinned repeatedly.  As is spelled out by the Law, the people would first actually need to repent from their sins and turn from their evil ways for God to relent from the punishment that is prescribed.  Hananiah’s message would seem to contradict that.  Like Jeremiah, I wish this was what would have come true.  I too wanted to say “Amen!” to his message.  But the simple fact is, it wasn’t true, even if it was what the people wanted to hear.

On the other hand, the message of Jeremiah was absolutely an unpopular one, yet it carried with it the Truth and assurance of God.  Jeremiah’s message shows up in a letter written to the exiles in Babylon, those that had been taken in the first exile in 593 B.C.  He tells them to hunker down, prepare for the long haul, be ready to stay for a while.  This, as you can imagine, was not what the people wanted to hear at all.  I’m sure the response to the first part of the letter went something like this: “Stay in Babylon?  Build a life for ourselves in a foreign land?  God has truly forsaken us.”  However, neither God nor Jeremiah leave them with that hopeless message.  One of the most famous verses in the Bible and its subsequent explanation is spoken here, leaving the people with a message of hope and an understanding that God has indeed not left them, but has everything under control and is working His will through them even in this time and in this foreign land.

For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear 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 I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Two messages delivered.  Only one is popular and only one is true.  It makes me think about many of the sermons and messages that are being preached in churches today, about the rise of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, and about how people flock to hear sermons from pastors with very poor theology.  It makes me wonder about the message of the Church as a whole in culture today.  Are we going along with the ideas of relative truth?  Spiritualism?  Civil religion?  Or are we listening for the Word of God in all that we do and in ever situation that we find ourselves in?  I sure hope its the latter…

Day 226: Jeremiah 24-26; The Good and the Bad

Today we read all about the 1st exile to Babylon.  Yes, I said the first.  See, Nebuchadnezzar actually attacked Jerusalem twice, first when Jehoiachin was king of Judah and then again 10 years later when Jerusalem and the Temple were utterly destroyed.  Jeremiah is living in this time, speaking to the people about the troubles and hardship they are about to endure, the judgment and exile that are taking and will take place in the coming years.  What is interesting about this message of Jeremiah’s is that it contains no call to repentance to the people of Judah nor does it give any good way out.  Jeremiah has turned the focus of the message from avoiding the disaster to the proper and appropriate response to it.  This is what the vision of the figs is all about in chapter 24.

The good figs represented the exile to Babylon, oddly enough.  This didn’t have anything to do with the good that was in them, but because their hearts were open and would respond to God in this time of difficulty.  Because of their openness and because they would be transformed and refined by this time, God would preserve them and eventually bring them back to the land.  God, through Jeremiah, makes the point of saying time and again that He would watch over them while they were in exile.  There is no where they could go that would be too far for His watchful eye.  There is a promise here in chapter 24:6-7 of God’s work to bring them back to the land and to rebuild His nation through them.

The bad figs, however, are the people who did not go as captives to Babylon.  They remained in the land somehow or escaped to Egypt, a rather obvious irony if you ask me and a blatant act of disobedience against the Law of God as well.  But that would have been par for the course for these people, and that’s really the point.  They are choosing to not trust in God’s providence of faithfulness in this crisis.  In many ways, it seems like they are thinking that they would actually be blessed because they didn’t go into exile, that they could somehow escape the judgment and the hardship that is to come.  Interestingly, one of the commentaries I read suggested that the people believed that their blessing was tied solely to the land itself, not the God that gave it to them.

I wonder if we too don’t sometimes think that way as well.  We strive desperately to maintain a comfortable lifestyle, a happy equilibrium where we feel happy and blessed.  While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, the sole pursuit of this can actually pull our hearts away from God.  We begin to pay more attention to the holding on to our things than we do to God who gave them to us.  “Trouble,” this commentary points out, “is a blessing when it makes us stronger, and prosperity is a curse if it entices us away from God.”  Perhaps, like the people of God, we need to not look at trouble as being completely bad, but as an opportunity to embrace God’s moving and work towards growing us up in Him.

Day 225: Jeremiah 22-23; The Burden of Leadership

Though it is a small section in our reading for today, there is a very important message that Jeremiah delivers in chapter 23.  It is a short section about the “righteous branch” and Jeremiah has two main points: Leaders are responsible for the direction that their people are going, and there is one coming who will lead in righteousness and justice.  This of course is referring to the coming of Jesus and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God.  This is one of the first times in the book of Jeremiah that a message of hope is delivered to the people of Judah.  So far it has been fairly negative, talking about destruction and judgment, but here we see a glimmer of hope in this prophecy of the coming Messiah.

Today’s reading raised an interesting question for me though about leadership.  As a Church leader, I understand that I am responsible for leading a group of people, in my case the praise team, and should be doing the best that I can to be a faithful, Christ-like leader for them.  What was most troubling for me here is the notion that I am responsible, as a leader, for their growth… or lack thereof.  Jeremiah is point out that the burden of leadership is great and the people that are leaders have a great responsibility to those that they lead.  It made me stop and think… am I doing a good job of leading?  I certainly would like to think that I am, but I guess I’m not the judge of that.

This also made me think about other leaders of the Church, of local, state, and national governments, their burden seems so much greater than mine.  I wonder how much of the moral decline in a country like the United States actually falls on the responsibility of the leadership?  If we are looking to our leaders to lead and all we see is squabbling, deceit, greed, and infidelity, does that lead us to think that it is more acceptable now to do such things?  Perhaps the greatest threat to the moral fabric of America is the mere fact that things like this are becoming common place in the news… Sports stars use drugs and kill people, Government officials text inappropriate pictures of themselves, movie stars cheat and divorce at an alarming rate… if the past is any indicator (and it usually is) and the Bible is at all true (which it definitely is) these people that we have set up as leaders will indeed lead us somewhere, unfortunately it seems as though they aren’t pointing us in the right direction at all.  Which brings up another very important point: the need to pray for our leaders.  We need to be in prayer for our bosses, pastors, elected officials, sports stars, movie stars, and the like.  These are the people that the American people seem to be looking to (sad as that may be), these are the people that will lead us, and we need to be in prayer that it would be God that is leading them.