Sunday, 19 October 2014

(293) October 20: Jeremiah 3-4 & 2 Thessalonians 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider how the people’s sin was expressed.

To ponder:
3v1 refers to Deuteronomy 24v1-4 which forbids remarrying one’s wife if after divorce they remarry. So God is picturing his covenant with Judah (the southern kingdom) annulled, and her effectively divorced. But rather than being with just one new lover, she has been with many – ie. worshipped many false gods. And because the fruitfulness of the land was tied to Judah’s obedience (Deut 28-30), this had caused it to be defiled – ie. made unfit for God’s blessing (3v2-3). However, the key question is whether she would return to the LORD; and whether he would have her back. Indeed, she calls to God as he father and friend since youth (her time in Egypt), asking if he will be angry forever. But at the same time she continues in her evil (3v4-5)!
In the light of all this, God describes Israel’s (the northern kingdom’s) “adultery” to Jeremiah, and how he assumed she would return after it (3v6-7). Obviously this is using human language and ideas for impact, as God would always have known and even purposed Israel’s responses. The point is that she would not even repent. So God divorced her and sent her away – a reference to the northern kingdom being exiled by Assyria. Yet, whereas one would have thought her sister Judah would have learnt from this as she looked on, she showed no fear and did the same, only feigning repentance (3v7-10). Perhaps it is this refusal to learn that made Judah more unfaithful than Israel (3v11). And here God instructs Jeremiah to call the northern kingdom to return with an acknowledgement of her rebellion, and with the promise that he will be merciful (3v12-13). The northern kingdom no longer existed as nation, but this oracle would encourage all of Israelite descent amongst the nations to return to God. And so as Israel’s first husband, the LORD promises to choose and bring a remnant of survivors to Zion, from what were Israel’s towns and clans. He anticipates their numbers increasing in the land, and the Mosaic covenant (ie. her first marriage to God), in which the tablets of God’s law were kept in the ark, forgotten. At that time God will be enthroned in Jerusalem, where the nations will honour him without stubborn hearts, and those of Israel and Judah will come from their exile and join together again as one united nation (3v14-18). This is where Isaiah left off – the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham, in which the whole earth is blessed with his descendents as they honour God with them (Gen 12v1-3).
In what follows God affirms how gladly he would have given the land as a beautiful inheritance to Israel like sons, if only the people had not turned away (3v19-20). Jeremiah then speaks of their cries under oppression away on barren heights (not the abundant land) because they forgot God (3v21). At this point he calls on the people of Judah to return, promising a cure for their backsliding. We will see this is the nature of the new covenant God will enter into. It will not be about the external law on stones in the ark, but an internal law written on the heart (see Jer 31v31-34). Nevertheless, in experiencing it the people must respond. An outline of what that should look like is given: a willingness to repent because the LORD is their God; a recognition that the idolatry conducted on hills is a deception and salvation is found in the LORD; a confession of the people’s history of idolatry, giving their harvests and children to false gods, and of their own persistent shame and disobedience (3v20-25). This is model of heartfelt repentance. And God promises the people of Judah and Jerusalem, that if it is sincere and results in no longer going astray, then God’s purpose for the nations being blessed will be fulfilled (4v1-2). He therefore calls them to sow new life within themselves, but not mixed with the thorns of evil and idolatry. They are to circumcised their hearts – ie. cut off sin at the level of inner desire and decision, and out of devotion to God. Otherwise they will face his burning wrath (4v3-4). This all looks to the inner work of the Holy Spirit in overcoming our tendency to sin (Rom 2v29).
The need for repentance in Jeremiah’s days was urgent. But the sense is that the people will not do so. Indeed, God calls the people to sound the alarm, flee to the cities, and repent in sackcloth, because in anger he is bringing a lion (Babylon) to destroy the land to the horror of Judah’s rulers (4v5-9). Jeremiah’s comment about God deceiving the people is probably at how he allowed false prophets to preach peace to them – perhaps so that they would not repent in time to avoid this threat (4v10, as 2 Thess 2v9-12). Whatever the case, God was now sending Jeremiah to speak the truth that judgement is coming not for cleansing but for punishment (4v11-12). So, as if a watchman seeing an army, Jeremiah declares the LORD coming as a divine warrior, and urges the people of Jerusalem to repent and so wash the evil from their hearts. From Dan and Ephraim in the north, a voice is then said to announce to the nations and Jerusalem the coming of a real army, to besiege Judah’s cities because of her rebellion against God. And it is stressed that only the people are to blame (4v13-18). Jeremiah then expresses his own anguish at the coming disaster, probably witnessed in a vision, and his despair at the foolishness of his people in not knowing him as a prophet. He describes a formless heavens and earth with quaking mountains, no people or birds, and the land ruined by under God’s anger (4v19-26).
The LORD then speaks, declaring the land will be ruined, but not entirely. And he explains Jeremiah’s vision. It is a picture of the creation mourning over the certainty of the horrors to come, and of the people absent because they’ve run and hidden from the enemy (4v27-29). So God asks Judah why she dresses herself a prostitute seeking lovers, when they seek her life. The inference is that Judah is seeking an agreement with Babylon, who will end up destroying her. Jerusalem (the daughter of Mount Zion) therefore cries out that he life is given over to murderers. But there is hope: She is likened to one giving birth. New life awaits (4v30-31).

Praying it home:
Praise God for graciously having folk call you to repentance. Pray that you would not feign it, but that it would be sincere.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Jeremiah, click here.

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