Friday, 24 October 2014

(298) October 25: Jeremiah 14-16 & 1 Timothy 5

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

To discover:­
As you read consider why God refuses to turn from what he is doing.

To ponder:
As God speaks to Jeremiah about a drought, the implication is that it had come because of the people’s sins. Judah mourns for the land and city, with servants weeping as they can’t find water for their masters, farmers dismayed because of cracked land, and animals impacted too (14v1-6). Jeremiah acknowledges the people’s sins, but prays God would act for the sake of his name, glorifying himself as the one who saves those in distress. He acknowledges God is amongst the people who bear his name, yet asks why he is like those who lack the desire, disposition or power to act (14v7-9). God responds that he will not accept the people because of their sinful wandering, commanding Jeremiah not to pray for their well-being, and stating that he will not respond to their fasts or offerings, but destroy them with sword, famine and plague (14v10-12). Here Jeremiah says that other prophets are nevertheless saying that this will not happen and the people will have peace. God is clear: He has not sent them, and so they are prophesying lies, whether through false visions, divination practices, or simply the delusions of their own minds. They will therefore perish by sword or famine themselves, as will the people of Jerusalem, who will end up with none to bury them (14v13-6). It’s a strong indictment of any who claim to speak in God’s name but who speak their own ideas. We should also ask whether drawing conclusions from circumstances or coincidences that are then boldly claimed to be God’s word is rather like the process of divination.
            The description of the people as “my virgin daughter” suggests 14v17-18 may describe God expressing his own mourning over the destruction that he is bringing, resulting in Judah’s spiritual leaders being in exile. However, in context it is most likely Jeremiah weeping as he witnesses the destruction, probably in a vision. So the people are as precious to him as a young woman under the protection of her father. He asks God whether he has totally rejected Judah, as they hoped for peace only to receive terror. Again, he acknowledges the people’s sin and asks God to act for the sake of his name – ie. to show he is king and not dishonour his throne, and to remember his covenant and so display his faithfulness. He acknowledges the people’s hope can only be in the LORD as he, not the idols, is the creator who brings rain (14v19-22). So there is no-where else for any of us to turn when in need, but to God. And we too can pray he would act for the sake of his glory.
            Once again, the irreversible nature of this judgement is stressed, as God responds to Jeremiah’s request by saying that even Moses or Samuel would not be able to move him to compassion. He therefore commands the people be sent away from him to whatever he has destined for them, whether death, sword, starvation or captivity (15v1-2). His four destroyers (15v3) stress the absolute destruction and humiliation of the bodies, who will be abhorrent to the nations in the sense that they will look down on them in their ruin or captivity. Here we see this is due to the sin they were led into by Manasseh (15v4, see 2 Kgs 21v9-16). What follows implies none will pity Jerusalem. And God reiterates the destruction God he bring, bringing the sword not just against the men (as in war) but their mothers too (15v5-9).
This seems to move Jeremiah to think of his mother, despairing of his birth, because, although he acts righteously, the whole land contends with and curses him. God responds by promising to deliver him and cause his enemies to plead with him in the end. He then promises that no strength that is present in Judah will break that coming in this army from the north. He adds that his anger will cause the people to be plundered and enslaved. To this Jeremiah states how God understands him – presumably his grief in 15v10. He prays God would remember, care for and avenge him in his patience, because Jeremiah is suffering for his sake. Indeed, he finds God’s word palatable, rejoicing in it; and he experiences the loneliness of being apart from revellers, because God constantly fills him with his anger at the people. And so Jeremiah expresses the unending pain of being God’s prophet, asking whether God will refresh him or fail him like a brook that dries up (15v10-18). All this displays the cost that can be felt by those who stand against the compromises of the church.
God’s love for the likes of Jeremiah doesn’t keep him from confrontation where it is necessary. So (as with Elijah) he calls Jeremiah to repent – presumably of his despair and reluctance with respect to his calling. He promises to restore him to service if he will speak worthy rather than worthless words. Here the role of the prophet or preacher is put so succinctly: God’s spokesperson must not turn to the people, by saying what they want to hear or following their ways. Rather, he must be unmoveable in declaring the truth, so the people turn to him, accepting his words and ways. In this, God promises to save and rescue Jeremiah, making him like a fortified wall so the people will not overcome him (15v19-21).
Next God tells Jeremiah not to marry and have children because of the horrors that will come on families. Nor should he attend funerals, because God has withdrawn his pity for the people, and in what is coming no-one will be buried or mourned – no doubt because there will be so much death. Jeremiah is also not to join any feast because during his lifetime God will bring an end to the sort of joy found in wedding celebrations. The point is that Jeremiah’s actions are to symbolically preach what is coming. And when the people ask why God is bringing such a disaster, he is to point out that in their idolatry and breach of God’s law they have acted even more wickedly than their fathers. Yet he adds that one day people will speak of God’s reality displayed not in the Exodus but in restoring his people from exile – a new Exodus. However, God’s present purpose is to bring “fishermen” and “hunters” to catch and weed out his people - because their sin is not concealed from him. This is to repay them double (ie. to excess) because they defiled the land with their idolatry (16v1-18).
At this point, Jeremiah affirms God as his strength, and how the nations will eventually come to him confessing the worthlessness of their gods. God responds that he himself will teach the nations of his power and might so they know that he, the God of Israel, is “the LORD” - I AM, the one true God (16v19-21, as in 1 Thess 1v9). And so God teaches the nations through the church as his gospel is preached and the Spirit brings it home.

Praying it home:
Praise God for supplying the church with those who like Jeremiah will not flinch from proclaiming his word. Pray that they would not despair or turn to the ways of the world.

Thinking further: The Word of the LORD came
Throughout we see something of what it means when the Word of the LORD came to a prophet. It is often visual, but always audible, and of such clarity that it can be recorded word for word (see 30v2). It is also often in the context of a dialogue, seen in Jeremiah conversing with God: He hears God speak. He then responds, sometimes saying things that reflect his human fallibility, as when he vocalizes his despair, or when he continues to pray for the people despite being commanded by God not to. We must be careful to recognize that only God’s words in these oracles are entirely righteous and true. Much that Jeremiah says is, but God’s own response to him (as with Job) reveals that not all is. So we need discernment with what we read. And when Jeremiah is showing his sinful weakness, we can learn about God’s grace in using him nevertheless, and the traits he displays that we should guard against.

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