Monday, 27 October 2014

(301) October 28: Jeremiah 23-24 & 2 Timothy 2

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 is opposed to the prophets.

To ponder:
Jeremiah now speaks woe against Judah’s religious leaders, or shepherds. They are destroying and scattering (perhaps because provoking the exile) God’s people (sheep) of his land (pasture). Because they have not cared for God’s sheep, God will punish them. He will then gather a remnant of his people from the nations they are exiled to, and bring them back to the land where his intent from creation will be fulfilled – they will be fruitful and increase in number (23v1-3, see Gen 1v28). At that time he will put caring shepherds over them so that none are afraid or lost, and he will raise up a righteous king from David’s house who will reign wisely and justly, saving Judah from her enemies so the people live in safety. His name will be “the LORD our righteousness” (23v4-6). So after so many oracles of judgement, finally we have hope. It is of God giving the people the leaders and king they need to be kept faithful and secure. Although the king’s name could just be a way of honouring the LORD, it hints that although the king will be from David, he could also be the LORD himself. As previously, it is then said that the people will confess the LORD is God not by reference to the Exodus, but this return from exile (23v7-8). Obviously this is all fulfilled in Christ, and the apostles and ministers he commissions to shepherd his flock. His work should therefore be seen as the ultimate end of exile and the restoration of Israel (see Acts 1v6-8).
            An oracle is now spoken against the false prophets. Jeremiah is broken and overcome because of God’s words against them. The land is said to be full of adulterers, presumably because people are giving their devotion to false gods. So, under the curse promised in the covenant (Deut 30) the land is dry and unfruitful. Moreover, both prophets and priests do evil and use their power for injustice. They even act wickedly in the temple itself. So they will slip and be banished into darkness under God’s punishment (23v9-12). Jeremiah notes that the prophets in the north (at this point destroyed) prophesied by the false god Baal and led the people astray, and now those in Jerusalem are doing similarly in their spiritual adultery and deception of the people, which only strengthens evildoers and fails to turn people from wickedness, as prophets should. So the people are like those of the pagan and immoral Sodom and Gomorrah (23v13-14). This is the most serious of indictments, as Sodom and Gomorrah were the archetype of a sinful city. And so God declares in now familiar language that the prophets will eat bitter food and drink poisoned water (metaphors for suffering). Moreover, he tells the people not to listen to the false hope they give, for their visions are from their own minds and don’t reflect God’s word. They tell those who despise God and are stubborn that they will have peace and not harm. But none has stood (as the prophet should) in the council of the LORD (ie. in his communicating presence), seeing or hearing his word in a true vision (23v15-18). This all seems so contemporary, for in our day too, preachers proclaim a God who accepts all without repentance, and who would never judge; whilst even everyday Christians are quick to declare “the LORD says” when imparting what often proves to be false hope, and that stems from nothing more that their own thoughts and wishful thinking.
            Instead of peace, Jeremiah promises a storm of wrath on the wicked, that will not be turned back. He tells the people they will one day understand this, no doubt as it occurs. And he reiterates that God did not send the prophets. Indeed, if they had stood in his council they would have spoken his words and turned the people to repentance (23v19-22). God declares that he is both near and far, filling heaven and earth, which means none can hide from him. So he has heard the lies of the prophets, who say they’ve had dreams. They prophesy the delusions of their own minds, thinking this will cause the people to forget God, presumably to turn to the gods they now represent, as their fathers’ had done with Baal. God declares they should tell their dreams, but the one who has his word should speak it faithfully. He likens this to comparing useful grain with worthless straw. Indeed, he describes his word like fire and a hammer, in that it has devastating effects as it comes to pass – as with the coming judgement. It seems that because these false prophets lacked God’s word, they could only repeat what each other said. And God is clear that he is against them because they just wag their tongues whilst saying “the LORD declares.” He states that they are prophesying false dreams, leading the people astray - and he did not send them (23v23-32). It’s a reminder to seek out only preachers and minister who teach God’s word in scripture accurately. Anything else is powerless and pointless (see 1 Cor 3v11-15).
             God then tells Jeremiah that when these people ask him for an oracle from God, he is to tell them God declares that he will forsake them, and punish any prophet or priest who says they have an oracle from the LORD. It seems this is because of a flippancy in seeking God’s word from just anyone, rather than his appointed spokesmen - so that every man’s own word becomes an oracle from God, distorting what God actually says. Again, this resonates with similar flippancy in the church. And to those in Jeremiah’s day, God promised these people would be cast from his presence into exile, and into everlasting disgrace without remembrance (23v33-40).
            In chapter 24 Jeremiah describes a vision of two fig baskets he saw in-front of the temple after Jehoiachin and his officials and craftsmen were exiled. God declared the basket of good figs represented the exiles who he would watch over for good, replant in the land, and give new hearts to, so they return to and know him, and are re-establish as his covenant people, with him as their God. The basket of bad figs that couldn’t be eaten represented Zedekiah (Jehoiachin’s uncle and successor), his officials and the survivors – whether in Judah or having fled to Egypt. God stated they would become offensive to all the kingdoms of the earth, being an object of ridicule and cursing wherever they were banished, suffering sword, famine and plague until utterly destroyed (24v1-10). The point is that the people are so rejected that being in the land no longer ensures God’s blessing, but his curse.     

Praying it home:
Praise God for revealing truth through Christ and the scriptures. Pray for a reverent submission to scripture within the church, and a rejection of flippantly claiming God has spoken when he hasn’t.

Thinking further:
None today.

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