Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Eiffel Tower

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Aug 23, Jer 38-41

Today's readings are Jer 38-41.

In Jer 38, Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonians, under Nebuchadnezzar's rule. Jeremiah warns king Zedekiah to surrender and allow the city to be taken captive. "Zedekiah" is the name given to Mattaniah by Nebuchadnezzar, who made him king of Judah with the understanding that he would fall under Nebuchadnezzar's rule. Zedekiah seems to sympathize with Jeremiah but is indecisive upon hearing the counsel of his advisers, a pattern that repeats itself throughout the siege with the king alternately showing Jeremiah mercy and punishment.  Zedekiah's lack of willingness to exhibit strong leadership becomes a blessing and curse to Jeremiah and ultimately will lead to the fall of Jerusalem.

The Egyptians begin to intervene on behalf of Jerusalem, and the Babylonians turn their attention to Judah's apparent allies, giving Jerusalem a respite. Jeremiah warns Zedekiah that this is only temporary and Jerusalem will fall. He again encourages the king to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar. The king's advisers counsel him that Jeremiah is wrong. Ultimately, Babylon turns its focus back on Jerusalem, nearly destroying it and Zedekiah is taken captive with disastrous results. The Babylonian army takes Judah captive and marches them into exile in Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar's man, Nebuzaradan (apparently there are lots of "Nebus-" in Babylon😊), recognizes Jeremiah's counsel would have avoided a lot of bloodshed and affords Jeremiah, who almost gets caught up with those being taken into exile, tremendous latitude, allowing him to stay in Judah and do as he pleases, turning him over to Gedaliah, an influential political ruler.  Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian who helped Jeremiah get out of the cistern is spared as well. 
Meanwhile, survivors and outcasts return to a decimated Jerusalem and Judah (Jer 40:7-12).

The Babylonian governor, Gedaliah is assassinated by Ishmael, who is working for the king of the Ammonites, who were anti-Babylonian. Ishmael kills the governor, a group of Babylonian soldiers and some Judean soldiers as well. Then Ishmael kills a group of men who are trying to worship at the Temple ruins. Ishmael takes the remaining people of Mizpah (about eight miles north of Jerusalem) hostage and sets out for Ammon.

Johanon, the soldier that tried to ward Gedaliah, rescues the hostages but Ismael and ten of his men escape.

Once again, we see the awesome sovereign authority of God as He does exactly what he said He would do to Judah. He uses not only good and godly people but faithless ones, pagan armies and leaders to accomplish his divine will and purpose. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Aug 22, Jer 35-37

Today's readings are Jer 35-37.

Here's a timeline to help put things in perspective:
We see the Recabites again in Jer 35, descendants of Jonadab, who lived nearly 200 years prior to Jeremiah’s time (2 Kings 10:15-23)  and charged his descendants with avoiding wine and leading holy lives. They have been faithful to their father's commands and God uses them as object lessons for those who obey. They will be blessed. They stand in stark contrast to Judah and Jerusalem who will suffer the consequences of disobedience and faithlessness 

In Jer 36, God instructs Jeremiah to write his prophecies down and give them to the king. At first, it seems Jeremiah will finally meet with some success, but the king destroys the scrolls. 

This is a lesson not only in the faithfulness and perseverance of Jeremiah but in the enduring nature of God's word. Jeremiah continues to preach the word despite his lack of effectiveness. Indeed, when the king hears God's word he tries to destroy it. God preserves it and continues to make it heard. Those who reject it are still subject to it. Trying to destroy it or trying to ignore it does not exempt them from the consequences and judgment it prophesies. 

Jer 37 reiterates that neither the king nor his servants nor the people of the land listened or obeyed. Jeremiah is unjustly thrown in prison by the new king, Zedekiah, who, contrary to the last king, also shows him some mercy while he’s imprisoned.

So far, Jeremiah has done everything the Lord has asked him to do. All he seems to get for it is more pain and suffering. Yet, he remains faithful. Why? Remember God has instructed Jeremiah to buy land. This is a promise that Jeremiah has a future and will be blessed by God regardless of what his situation appears to be. Jeremiah has consciously decided to put more faith and trust in God than he does in his circumstances. He’s made the determination that he will believe the word of God and not become a victim of fear and doubt. Jeremiah has “set his mind on things above” (Col 3:1-2) rather than allowing himself to be overwhelmed by his situation.

It's a lesson we would do well to take note of. The path of a disciple is not always an easy one. As believers, we must be willing to be misunderstood, unappreciated, and oppressed. Our sights should always be set on where we are headed (eternity) not where we are (the world). We have the same charge as Jeremiah, to be living examples of the truth of God’s word, regardless of the repercussions. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Aug 21, Jer 32-34

Today's readings are Jer 32-34. 

Contrasts and symbolism abound in these chapters. 

The Lord tells Jeremiah to buy land! This instruction comes in the middle of a siege on Jerusalem. The outlook for the city and Judah is dire indeed! Babylon has turned its sights on Jerusalem and its intention is to starve the city until they can capture it and take the inhabitants away. How can God ask Jeremiah to buy land at a time when the country is being overrun? 

God’s instructions to buy land are a promise that the people will return after being taken captive. God gave the Hebrews the land, allotted it to them (Jer 32:21-22). Their disobedience and chasing after other gods, while causing them to pay a costly price (Jer 32:23-25), does not nullify God's eternal promise. However, the promise does not soften the horrifying impact of what is about to come as Jerusalem is being taken captive by a fierce and ruthless enemy (Jer 32:26-35).

While the offenses of Israel are serious in nature and grave in their consequences, God’s plan is not to destroy His people. His intention is to refine, not eliminate them. Indeed, He will redeem them and bring them back home (Jer 32:37). Not only will He bring them back to the land He promised them, but they will, once again, experience His fullest blessing (Jer 32:38-41). 

Don't miss the profound lesson in this. Israel has done nothing God told them to do (Jer 32:23, 30). They are totally unworthy of His blessing. Yet, He will bless them (Jer 32:41)! This will happen by His sovereign will and action and not because of anything they do (Jer 32:38-41).

Their redemption/salvation occurs through the grace of God who returns the evil in His people with good by giving them new hearts and being their God. 

Likewise, our salvation comes from the same type of unilateral action by God in redeeming us and changing our hearts. We are as unworthy as the Jews were in Jeremiah's time. So, as He changes our hearts and makes us more like Him, we should strive to be more like Him returning the evil around us with good. 

We see the contrast between invasion/captivity and buying land and between evil and good in Jer 32.  The contrasts continue in Jer 33. Even as the city prepares itself for war, God promises peace. But peace will come only when the people cry out to Him. God promises that they will cry out and He will respond. His covenant will endure just as sure as the cycles between day and night endure (Jer 33:19-25).

Jer 34 provides a picture of King Zedekiah's fate which is related in amazing detail. We see another contrast: those who own slaves have set them free, but then enslaved them again, in direct opposition to the word of God. The disobedient slave masters will become slaves. The evil and rebellious spiritual/political leaders will become the prisoners and victims of the Chaldeans. 

Jer 34 ends with a chilling phrase, Jerusalem will become"…a desolation without man or beast"

The contrasts we see in these chapters have practical application for us today. As believers, the evil we do will be returned with the goodness of God. We are taken prisoner by the evil influences of the world but God will set us free. Our disobedience to Him will be resolved when He sheds His grace upon us. But, callously ignoring His word and His commandments will produce strife, battle, and hardship.

Realizing that these books of the Old Testament reveal God's character and nature can be more helpful than many believe. We can, in our human imperfection, do all we can do all in our ability to obey God and enjoy His blessing, as Jeremiah is doing. Or, we can disobey Him and suffer earthly consequences, as the people of Judah are doing. Both Jeremiah and the people of Judah will one day reoccupy the land. Jeremiah's path, while not an easy one, will be considerably easier than that of the people of Judah who have brought their hardships down upon themselves. Likewise, all those who are truly saved will enjoy God’s ultimate blessing, eternal life in His presence. Meanwhile, our actions and behavior, like those of Jeremiah and the people of Judah, will determine how rough the road to heaven will be. As believers, we stand in the same position as God’s people did nearly three thousand years ago. Do all we can to follow Him and enjoy His blessings, or be disobedient and suffer the consequences, making our path difficult and filled with trouble. All believers end up in the same place. Some will struggle greatly while getting there.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for. Aug 20, Jer 30-31

Today's readings are Jer 30-31.

As we have seen before, in spite of their stubborn rebellion, God will redeem His people! This will be an act of a sovereign God that has little to do with the behavior of His people and much to do with who He is. He will redeem because of His steadfast faithfulness and holiness. As examples, look at Jer 30:3, 8, 12, 21.
"Jeremiah 30:3 For behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.”
"Jeremiah 30:8 “And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him." 
"Jeremiah 30:12 “For thus says the Lord: Your hurt is incurable, and your wound is grievous." 
"Jeremiah 30:21 Their prince shall be one of themselves; their ruler shall come out from their midst; I will make him draw near, and he shall approach me, for who would dare of himself to approach me? declares the Lord." 
The Lord will relieve their burden and restore the fortunes of His people. The yoke they wear is captivity, brought on by their own actions. They are hopeless and incurable, separated from God. Yet, there will come a day when God will raise up a new leader that will bring them back into His presence, something only God can do for they are unable to do it themselves. This is a beautiful expression of His grace, the same grace that saves people like us when we are equally hopeless and separated from God.

We see Israel personified in the likeness of Rachel and Jacob in Jer 31, who will mourn bitterly and cry out to God for mercy. Although some will die, God will initiate a new covenant. One in which there will be deliverance from death. 

At this point, Jeremiah is looking even further down the road than Israel's return from captivity in Babylon. That captivity and redemption is temporary and does not address the fallen nature of God's children. It is, however, symbolic of an ultimate deliverance for God's people and a rewriting of the old covenant, something only God can do. This is not God coming to the bargaining table to renegotiate His terms with His people. It is God moving sovereignly, revealing His glory in both those He redeems (His chosen people) and those He condemns (the ones that oppress them and reject Him).

In God’s actions toward Israel, we see that, like Israel, our only hope, is in God's goodness and faithfulness. Just like Israel, we are, in and of ourselves, incurable and solely dependent on God's grace and mercy. If we understand this fully, we will have a deeper and more profound appreciation of grace. We can believe we have received it because He is God and is true to His word that He will redeem His own. 

Here's the beauty in all this, when we embrace this biblical truth, we become precious in His sight and experience His great love, a love that brings us closer to Him not based on who we are or anything we've done, but based on Christ in us.

Israel's story is our story. It is a story of unmerited favor flowing freely from a loving and merciful God, a God who owes nothing to no one and does everything for His own sake, revealing His own glory. The beautiful blessing is that the vessels He reveals His glory in and through are His children, everyone who repents and calls upon the name of Christ as Lord and Savior. We who are believers are the blessed benefactors of God's self-revelation and glorification.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Aug 19, Jer 26-29

Today's readings are Jer 26-29.

Jer 26 bounces around in time a bit, as many Jewish writers do. The year is 608 BC, almost 10 years before the sacking of Jerusalem. Jeremiah prophesies, asking for repentance and is threatened. Some leaders are cautious, remembering previous prophecies that came true, and prevent Jeremiah from being executed.

In Jer 27, Zedekiah (another name for Jehoiakim) who was placed in leadership by Pharaoh, hence the reference to Egypt, hears Jeremiah encourage him and the Judeans to submit to the authority of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. The last few chapters have revealed that God will bless some of the exiles taken by Nebuchadnezzar and bring them back to Jerusalem as “good fruit”. Here we see His prophet, Jeremiah, encouraging His people to submit to God’s plan even though it is objectionable to the Jews. The very last thing the Jews would want to do is surrender to the Gentiles. Frequently we will find ourselves being called to do the very last thing we want to do in order to garner God’s fullest blessings. This is the essence of “dying to self” and surrendering to the Lord and His word.

God says He is going to place an iron yoke on the nations. It is God's plan. Yet, Hananiah, a false prophet comes against Jeremiah, claiming the yoke Jeremiah describes is a lie. Hananiah prophesies that any exile or defeat will only last two years (Jer 28:1-5). Undoubtedly, that sounded good to the Jews, far better than Jeremiah’s message of surrender and yielding. Hananiah dies after Jeremiah prophesies that God will end his life for being a liar.

This is another point to be pondered. In a day when we hear prophecies about the end of the world, earthquakes, the flooding of the Eastern Seaboard, even massive revival--it would be wise to consider the fruit of the ministries of those prophets. In the middle of Jeremiah’s section on poor fruit vs. good fruit, we find this anecdote about a false prophet whose poor fruit is his own death. While many modern self-proclaimed prophets may not die, it would be wise and prudent to judge them by their fruits. Good questions to ask about anyone claiming to prophesy on behalf of God would be:

·       Exactly what are they prophesying? Are the details vague and subject to many interpretations or are they precise and easy to understand?  
·       Do they have a track record of accuracy? 
·       If they have been inaccurate in the past, what was the explanation? Supposedly they spoke the word of God. What happened? Do they blame the inaccuracy on the prayers or faith/lack of faith of others? Do they write it off as some un-measurable occurrence, “Oh, it happened in the heavenlies so we can’t see it down here!” What impact do previous inaccuracies have on how we view their current predictions? 
·       Are their prophecies scripturally sound? 
·       Do their prophecies line up with what we know about the character and nature of God as revealed in the Scriptures?
In Jer 29, we see a letter Jeremiah sends to the remaining exiles in Babylon somewhere around 589 BC, after the fall of Jerusalem. He tells them to settle in. They will be there for seventy years not two. Their lives among the Gentiles will last nearly two generations before God brings them home. This is the context for a familiar verse, 
Jer 29:11 "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." 
This is a verse frequently used out of context. Clearly, the Hebrews have 70 years of trial ahead of them. The preceding chapters have been preparing them for the long haul and cautioning them against the false prophets who are guaranteeing comfort, victory and a short exile.

Notice this, Jeremiah's ministry, so far, has few, if any converts. Jeremiah has to get whatever affirmation he gets from the only source that truly means anything, his Father in heaven. He's certainly not getting it from those around him. 

This is a valuable lesson to all of us. If our disposition is determined by how well received or how well-liked we are, we are likely to be disappointed.