Growing in Christ
"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
Links to observations drawn from other books of the Bible
Background: Jeremiah's name means "the Lord establishes." Jeremiah received his call while "a youth" (Jer. 1:6) and ministered faithfully, and largely unfruitfully, for over 40 years (627-585 BC). When Jeremiah began to call Judah back to the Lord and warn of pending punishment for its apostasy, Judah was comparatively prosperous, free and secure. Judah's leaders continued to reject Jeremiah's warning through the rise of Babylon and Babylon's final breaching of Jerusalem's walls and exile of it's most prominent people.
Jeremiah, like Jesus, wept over Jerusalem. Yet, Jerusalem's hardness of heart remained firm. Jeremiah himself was taken to Egypt (against his will) by a remnant left in the land as the Babylonians withdrew, where Jeremiah died (in oral tradition by stoning at the hands of his countrymen weary of a message they refused to heed).
If you are able to access a copy, the NLT provides an excellent introduction to Jeremiah, as do many other translations. (Those who purchase the NLT have access to the introduction online.)
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Book of Jeremiah (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively, taking personal notes, before reading observations below):
A Purpose for Every Life: God's plan for Jeremiah's service of the Kingdom is formed before his birth (v.5) and God's call to obey (v.7) comes to Jeremiah while still young (v.6), probably in his teens.
Sustained by God: See how God sustains Jeremiah in his call...
1.) The Word of God is put into Jeremiah's mouth (v.9) and continued to come to Jeremiah from 627 BC (v.2) through 586 BC (v.3) without fail,
2.) God knew there would be violent opposition to His message and messenger but promised to protect Jeremiah as a fortified city (v.18), to be with and deliver him (v.8, 19).
3.) God promised to watch over the Word He gave to Jeremiah and bring it to pass (v.12).
Jeremiah as royal messenger: In the ancient near east messengers representing their King and were sometimes abused by those rejecting the message. Jeremiah knew this. Yet the cost of fearing man more than fearing God is a very bad exchange (v.17). Therefore Jeremiah remained a faithful messenger to the end, knowing the Lord's promise: "I am watching over my Word to perform it" (v.12).
Stuff: People are prone to collect and "worship the works of their own hands" (v.16), whether homes, car, clothes or technology. This is no different than the ancients worshipping idols fashioned by their own hands. It may be for this reason some Christians have resisted even the idea of private property (despite the fact ownership tends to produce better care of it.)
My Practical Response: I will embrace God's calling on my life until I have fully fulfilled His purpose for me (Acts 13:36). I will hold lightly the "works of my own hands" (possessions, education and achievements) and hold absolute allegiance to the King of the rulers of the earth.
My Prayer: I will go everywhere You send and speak all You
command. Lord, give me ears to hear your voice.
Yahweh yearns for the days when He was Judah's Husband: God remembers the devotion of the early days of their love (v.2) when Israel followed her Lord through the wilderness after He had set her free from slavery, when Israel sought to love Him purely, when Israel was holy unto the Lord (v.3). But, without any injustice from God (v.5), Israel wandered from Him, walking after emptiness to become empty (v.5). In this, Israel's leaders failed her: priests, rulers and prophets led the way to apostasy (v.8).
Effects of Breaking Covenant: In abandoning her marriage covenant Israel exchanged living water from eternal springs for broken cisterns (v.13), the Glory of God for unprofitable slavery to pagan gods (v11), the status of a wife for that of a harlot (v.20). Unfaithfulness to Yahweh leads to political alliances to provide the projection only God can give (v.14). "The Israelites had been rescued from slavery in Egypt, but they became slaves again in Jeremiah’s time through their covenants with Egypt and Assyria (NLT)." Judah made for herself as many gods as she had cities, none of which could save (v.28). How can the children of Israel forget the God who brought them into being? (v.32) Such abandonment of its gods had not even been done in the surrounding nations (v.11).
Refusal: Despite all this, and the life-blood of the innocent poor on her clothes (v.34), Israel refuses to accept responsibility (v.35). Therefore God has no choice but to allow Israel the consequences of her abandonment. Israel and those in whom she trusts, will be judged (v.35, 37).
Substitute Alliances: Political alliances as a substitute for trust in the Lord (v.18)) always lead to sorrow as they produce slavery to fickle nations and/or spiritual compromise (as "Ivy League" seminaries bring in teachers not committed to the Lordship of Christ, where one board member or professor with divided heart votes to bring another).
"But now what are you doing on the road to Egypt, to drink the waters of the Nile? Or what are you doing on the road to Assyria, to drink the waters of the Euphrates?" (v.18)
History is littered with broken branches of the faithful church entering alliances with the world leading off into apostasy. Consequently and repeatedly, a faithful remnant remains of whom Yahweh requires one alliance only; that with Him. And that alliance in utter purity of heart and purpose.
Personal Application: I will not enter into alliances with those who hold not only to Christ. I will serve the Lord only. I will expect persecution (hard or soft) from governments and institutions which hold not to Christ.
My Prayer: Father, how can it be that a nation which has known Christ, could loose her ardor and abandon her covenant joy and blessing? Yet many nations in the west have done so. Lord, call your people to faithfulness, love and covenant.
Unteachable Hearts: Judah belonged to Yahweh, the One who brought her into being, out of Egypt, her husband. Both Israel (the 10 northern tribes) and Judah (the southern tribe) absorbed and embraced the idolatry of the Canaanites; despite God's command to root out these spiritual influences entirely. For her spiritual adultery Israel was given a writ of divorce and sent into exile permanently among the Assyrians. Yet Judah, her sister, has learned nothing, and without fear continued in the same harlotry (v.9) despite King Josiah's efforts to bring reformation (Jer. 3:6 to 6:30).
God's Yearning: Though continuing to be polluted by every false god (v.2) Yahweh calls His bride to return (v.12-14), not unconditionally but on the condition of faithfulness to her Husband. This, Israel and Judah, the promiscuous sisters, refused to do to the end (v.24-25).
Promises: Yet God is good, unceasingly beacons his people (v.12) and makes promises to those he hopes will be a repentant faithful bride. The promises include good shepherds who are committed to Israel's shalom (v.15). In addition, though the physical Ark of the Covenant is gone (v.16, and see note below), the very presence of God enthroned in Jerusalem will draw all the nations of the earth (v.17). This promise, and that of the reunification of Judah and Israel (v.18), is yet to come, but both are equally sure.
Father/son: Jesus's reference to God as Father is prefigured in vs. 4 and 19. God is creator, husband, father, king, shepherd and unspeakably more. The 'waiting Father' (Luke 15) is clearly seen in vs. 12-15. The Father's arms, despite all, are open wide those those who will come:
v.14: "Return, O faithless sons, declares the Lord…and I will bring you to Zion…. v.17: and they shall call Jerusalem "the Throne of the Lord" and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of Yahweh."
Personal Application: I will be patient and persistent, inviting and giving hope to those who wander and reject Him, as I also have been faithless but found Him to be faithful. I will seek to be a midwife to at least one person each day, to come or return to the Good Shepherd (v.15).
My Prayer: Father, give me today an opportunity to give hope, to invite, to be a midwife to someone to enter the Kingdom, to draw near to you. Give me eyes to see into hearts, courage to speak, wisdom from the Holy Spirit. Lord, use me as a midwife today for your glory.
(Final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant: This question remains interesting, largely because there is no answer. The last Biblical reference to the Ark is in 2 Chron 5 during Josiah's reforms, when the king calls for it to be returned to Solomon's temple. We assume, but don't know for certain, that Josiah's command was obeyed. The last noncanonical reference is 2 Maccabees 2, which states Jeremiah hid the Ark, tent and alter of incense in a cave on Mt. Nebo where Moses had received the law. We also don't know if this happened, though many have since looked for a blocked cave, without success to the best of our knowledge.)
Benefits of Repentance: Repentance brings blessing to the nations and glory to God (v.2). The blessing to the nations is truth, justice and righteousness (v.1). Without these no society can prosper. For this blessing however, repentance must be firm, permanent and unwavering.
Alternative Judgment: when repentance is rejected, judgment is needed to cleanse evil. Judgment wipes the slate, so to speak, as far as necessary to remove evil, even back to the formlessness of the original state (v.23ff) if necessary. Why anyone would prefer judgment to repentance is unfathomable. Judgment is certain (note v.7-8 is in present tense) and as one-sided as a man against a lion (v.7), a sirocco wind (v.11), or storm (v.13). There is no defense (v.29-31).
There is then nothing greater than to be rightly related to God. In so far as it is up to us, it is worth all our focus, love, energy and effort. Yet, even then, God bridges the gap remaining with His grace and forgiveness. In this we are given yet greater reason for praise and worship.
v.2: You will swear, "As the Lord lives in truth, in justice and in righteousness." Then the nations will bless themselves in Him, and in Him they will glory.
Personal Application: I will do all I can to hold before the nations His truth, justice and righteousness (v.2) that the nations may know Him also, be blessed in Him and give Him all glory. I will seek to do this by continuing to help strengthen disciple-making movements and national church planting processes and by developing www.murraymoerman.com.
My Prayer: Father, how I desire your Glory to be spread through all the earth. How I desire everyone to be blessed as they come to know Your glory and salvation and to love You above all.
Repentance Precedes Pardon: The Lord asks, "Why should I pardon you?" (v.7) and looks for a reason but can find none. He looks for a man who does justice and seeks truth (v.1) but cannot find one. In addition, Jerusalem refuses correction, even when smitten, but sets her heart and face hard against God's rebuke (v.3).
God's patience amazingly is nearly without limit, but His patience is not without limit. God seeks a reason to pardon (v.7). But lacking reason to pardon, pardon comes not, but judgment.
Judgment Alone Remains: Jeremiah found no openness to God's Word among the poor (v.4) so went to the great (v.5) but found no difference. Evil abounded (v.25-29), spiritual eyes and ears closed (v.21), false prophets welcomed (v.31) and God's prophets rejected (v.13). Therefore God will bring judgment like fire (v.14-17) by a nation which comes from afar (v.15) to take Jerusalem as slaves to exile (v.19).
v.31: The prophets prophesy falsely and the priests rule on their own authority and my people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?
Personal Response: I will be a man who seeks truth and does justice (v.1). I will be a man who is not surprised, should God not find what He seeks on earth, when judgment comes.
My Prayer: Father, those who reject you - by ignoring you, by pretending, giving mere lip-service or by direct hostility - are angry when You discipline them or when judgment comes. Yet repentance is easy and pardon sure. Father, turn the hearts of those who reject You to seek You and run to You alone. Father, here I come!
The Babylonians Come to deliver God's Judgment: Jeremiah calls his own tribe, the Benjaminites, to flee as "evil looks down from the north" (v.1). Babylon is cruel without mercy (v.23) causing hands to fall limp with fear (v.24) and bitter lament (v.26).
Why?: Jerusalem has ceased being God's "city of peace" ("salem"). In turning from God, Jerusalem has become a city of oppression, wickedness and violence (v.6-7). Rather the delighting in the Word of the Lord, Jerusalem rejects it (v.10).
Leadership: People don't easily rise above the models of leadership before them. Even those who should provide moral leadership in Israel - prophet and priest - live falsely, without shame, greedily and superficially (v.13-15). Leadership has a greater responsibility before God and society due to its disproportionate influence.
Beyond Refining: True watchmen sounding God's trumpet are rejected (v.17). As a result, God's refining work does not separate the wicked from the righteous perhaps because, as in Sodom and Gomorrah, there are no righteous. "In vain the bellows blow fiercely..." (v.29) not able to produce the needed refining between good and evil.
Stubborn hearts do not melt easily. For this reason God sometimes initiates extreme measures.
Personal Application: I will accept greater responsibility to lead to a higher standard. I will not deal superficially but expect myself, and help others, to go deeper. I will not accept nominalism in myself or others, recognizing no one stands still but always becomes either more or less devout, loving, worshipful and Kingdom centered. Therefore, I must continually choose for God and good.
My Prayer: Father, Israel and Judah's pollution by other gods and wandering from you is a desperately cautionary tale for every age and day. Let it never be far from my heart or mind or decision making. Lord Jesus, be my center, today and always!
Jeremiah Confronts Temple-Goers: Jeremiah is blunt, as prophets are and must be, to be heard by hard hearts. The truth is God demands faithfulness, humility and purity. Temple-going is no substitute for love, justice and obedience - indeed is a false confidence. God seeks not temple-dressing but faithful-love.
The Scourge of Syncretism: The root divergence of Israel from following Yahweh is syncretism, walking after other gods (v.6), even sacrificing to Baal (v.9) including the burning their own children in the sacrificial fire (v.31). False gods always lead to injustice and immorality (6-9). Showing-up at the temple to cover your base with various gods is of no value. Yahweh alone is God. Monotheism allows no pretenders or rivals. God will cast out (v.15) syncretists.
Do not pray: At this point of deliberate sustained disobedience in the life of Judah, prayer is fruitless. Punishment will not be averted (v.16). Families collaborate to worship Ishtar, the Babylonian "queen of heaven" (v.18) to their own shame (v.19) and ruin (v.6). Choosing to go backwards and not forwards (v.24) removes the blessing of God (v.23). To be "beyond prayer" is frightening!
What about us? The west has known the Lord for centuries but has chosen instead a civil religion of moral therapeutic deism, if not practical atheism, or even other gods as paganism gains new footholds in the west. The west too burns its unborn children in the sacrificial fires of abortion-on-demand.
The window for prophets today to speak with equal clarity as Jeremiah is closing or will be met with seething hostility or active hatred. In the west, people demand justice of others, e.g. the police, and refuse to forgive others e.g. the police, but themselves want liberty to do as they wish and believe what they want, and often denying their own need for forgiveness personally. The Lord has not called us to cease praying (v.16) for the west so must as long as we can.
Personal Application: I will speak prophetically with courage even if people do not listen or answer (v.27). I will be patient as long as God shows patience, and call for repentance as long as God calls, even if few listen.
My Prayer: Father, please give strength for a continuing long obedience in the same direction as western culture continues to unravel, falling apart without people even understanding why. Lord, I pray for joy on the difficult journey, clarity of thought and speech, and courage to call out in love even to those who don't want to hear.
Questions for a failing culture: Can Jeremiah's words have relevance for our day? For example, how can it be that any people would choose death rather than life (v.3)? Yet many do so, also in our culture.
What kind of wisdom have those who reject the word of the Lord (v.9)? Very little. Yet many are satisfied with the thin dangerous foolishness which remains when the world turns its back on the deposit of heaven offered by the Lord.
Are people then less wise than birds who do know their way home (v.7)? It seems so. And, when one falls, isn't it natural to get back up again (v.4)? Yet as many fall to apostasy, they are not ashamed (v.11) and refuse to get up (v.5).
What then is the outcome? Sorrow (v.18), loss and brokenness (v.21): "Harvest is past, summer is ended, and we are not saved (v.20)"
The chapter concludes with Jeremiah's question, "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? (v.22) The phrase refers to a resin used medicinally in nearby Gilead. Yes, God is near, His arm is not shortened, healing is available to those who turn. But Israel was unwilling and went into exile.
Who is unable to draw the application to our times? Who will ask of themselves, what will you do?
Personal Application: I will, when I fall, whether the slip be small or great (v.4), turn again quickly to the Lord with all my heart, get up with gratitude and press on with joy! I will look to the Lord as my homing beacon (v.7) eager to make course corrections, eager to arrive home.
My Prayer: Father, you are our righteousness, our peace, our hope and joy, our balm in Gilead. Lord, I grieve when the world turns its back on you. I turn to face and follow you our wisdom and protection, our salvation and healer.