Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pride's Toll

We have heard of the pride of Moab- he is very proud- of his loftiness, his pride, and his arrogance, and the haughtiness of his heart. I know his insolence, declares the LORD; his boasts are false, his deeds are false.
Jeremiah 48:29-20

Pride stands high
when humility should bring low
It is lofty
when it should bow

Pride is arrogant --
boasts of gains
overlooking sovereign gifts
or praising God's name

Pride takes the credit
shuns any blame
it finds applause
and seeks its own fame

Pride's heart is haughty
and eyes in the mirror
admiring achieving self
no God to fear

God knows the insolence
within heart's store
and will demolish Pride
until it is no more

With Pride come boasts,
sins, lies, and disdain
for the things of God
Who is pride's bane

What God knows as sin
He will bring down again
God judges pride
with punishing pain

And in the fall
pride is seen as sin
so the heart can humbly
return to God again

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

the powerful decree of God

How can it be quiet when the LORD has given it a charge? Against Ashkelon and against the seashore he has appointed it.
Jeremiah 47:7

This is a brief but violent description of the end God had appointed for one of Israel's historic enemies, Philistia. This was the birthplace of Goliath and of the wicked queen Jezebel. It was a source of constant temptation with Baal worship. Israelites seemed to always envy Philistine trading success and commercial prosperity. But God would make their destruction complete at the hands of the Babylonians.

The ESV Study Bible has this summary:
Philistia was one of Israel's most ancient foes (Josh. 13:2–3; Judg. 3:31; 13:1). This brief chapter asserts that God will destroy the Philistines (Jer. 47:1–4) at the hands of a foe from the north, for his sword cannot rest until then (vv. 5–7). Evidence of such a conflagration appears in the excavations of Ashkelon. Remains from the destruction of the city by Nebuchadnezzar in 604 b. c. include a layer with much smashed pottery and a male skeleton with a crushed skull.

So the Word of God from Jeremiah's day has been visibly confirmed by archeologists today. What God decrees happens. It is that simple. And that powerful.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Beyond "motivational poster" spirituality

Fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the LORD, for I am with you. I will make a full end of all the nations to which I have driven you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished.
Jeremiah 46:28

This is typically not the way in which we think about God's promises. Most contemporary evangelical Christians tend to have what I call a "motivational poster" view of the promises of God. We want pithy words that make us feel good and that look nice with Thomas Kinkade artwork or graphically stunning photography. But God may promise difficulty for various reasons. In fact, much of scripture, narrative in particular in the Old Testament, is given over to these kinds of difficult circumstances.

And in this prophecy we have a promise stacked right in with very real difficult circumstances. God is speaking to the remnant of Judah. These Jews survived Babylon's ransack of Jerusalem, only to rebel against the Chaldeans and flee to Egypt. But then Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptian army and still these Jews were spared to enter captivity. And at the end of the prophecy that foretells the end of Egypt and of Babylon, God again reminds the Jews that He will keep covenant with them and restore them to their nation. But present discipline and punishment must still be experienced before that day. God gives hope while guaranteeing present difficulty. Sometimes hope does not mean an end of our troubles. God wants the troubles to bring us to the place where our hope is real and dear to us.

Save me from my false view of Your promises. I will trust in real hope within difficulty. And Lord, whatever it takes to purge my selfish optimism that ignores Your discipline... please lovingly cleanse it from me. I surrender to Your wisdom, even in difficulty.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The God Who builds and destroys

Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up-that is, the whole land.
Jeremiah 45:4

God was taking a loss in the consequential judgment on Judah. He had built the nation that the Babylonians tore down. He had planted the vineyard now uprooted in war. He had built and destroyed. God had planted and plucked up. This was His doing, but the metaphor conveys some of the loss that He knew as well. God was not particularly happy to judge Judah and see Jerusalem in ruins.

It is clear that God would have much rather delighted in building up the nation and planting His vineyard. He enjoys our growth and progress. He wants His people to enjoy the vivacious prosperity of the city. He takes joy in our celebrations of the harvest of the vineyard. The real pleasure of God is also found in the pleasures that He gives to His people. And that was His original intention with Israel.

So we should not forget that our sin also hurts God. He is not a God Who wants to punish us. He wants to walk with us in the joys that He gives us. But when we disobey and run from Him, the consequences are a loss of joy from the relationship. We feel it and God feels it too.

Friday, February 22, 2013

generational decay

They have not humbled themselves even to this day, nor have they feared, nor walked in my law and my statutes that I set before you and before your fathers.
Jeremiah 44:10

When fathers do not honor God
their children too will go astray
when God's truth is disdained
it leads to generational decay

Even those who play the game
looking holy in what they say
will eventually be shown as fake
by their generational decay

God makes Himself known, even
chasing those who run away
but He will not lift consequences
when sin leads to generational decay

Obeying God is hard to do
especially when the world wants us to play
the laziness that chills our hearts
will always cause generational decay

The warnings from the lives of saints
who failed God in ancient day
serve only to remind us to be true
and fight our own generational decay

We have God's Truth, His Holy Word
to show us how to seize the day
and fight sin in us, train for godliness
and repent of our generational decay

Thursday, February 21, 2013

a hostage in Egypt

And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the LORD. And they arrived at Tahpanhes.
Jeremiah 43:7

Given what God has just told this remnant, this is direct disobedience, sure to be dealt with in judgment. Johanan and Azariah continue to lead the armed resistance against the Babylonians. They made a strategic retreat to Egypt and bring along Jeremiah as a hostage.

Now the prophet is again persecuted but in the providence of God he is still allowed to proclaim God's Word to the fleeing rebels. And he does. He warns the leaders that Nebuchadnezzar's forces will follow them all the way to Egypt and there Pharaoh's might will be exposed as a sham. Egypt will be burned and ransacked. It cannot be a safe haven.

No plan that is in defiance of the Word of God can stand. All will fall. We cannot ignore God's truth and run our own lives without serious consequences hitting us hard sooner or later. There are no successful rebellions against the sovereign rule of God. And that should build a righteous and holy fear of God in us so that we can see the wisdom of living with God, under God, not against Him. God used Jeremiah as a hostage in Egypt to teach this lesson to his captors. They thought they controlled their actions and instead, failure was their final outcome.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

the carnage of faithlessness

And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the LORD your God in anything that he sent me to tell you. Now therefore know for a certainty that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to live.
Jeremiah 42:21-22

God knew the rebel hearts of the remnant still left in Judah. After Ishmael's revolt the remnant debated fleeing to Egypt. What seemed to be a sincere request came to Jeremiah: "Inquire of The Lord what we should do, and we will obey it." So the prophet sought God on the matter.

The message that God gave to the people was unchanged from past prophecies. They were to stay in Judah under Babylonian administration and God would keep them secure and safe. This was Jeremiah's message all along. But it was not at all what the people wanted to hear. They were very afraid of retaliation on all of them for Ishmael's murderous revolt. And Egypt seemed to be the logical place to which to flee. Yet God kept warning them that the real catastrophe would come if they fled there.

Why is it that our schemes seem so much more comforting than God's Word? It could be that our selfish autonomy over glamorizes our own thoughts and intentions. It is also the strong influence of our own will that blinds us to the options of faith in God. We are, after all, fallen sinners whose myopic views of self importance keep us from seeing the wisdom of God's ways. Humans have an inherited spiritual tunnel vision. It is not good to trust our limited perspective. But we do it all the time.

God kept asking His people to trust Him. And they kept looking for any other option. But faith rejects the present alternatives so close to us for the power of the undiscovered promise of God. It is adventure! And that is why faith is rewarded by God. It is why faith pleases Him. It is the means of relationship with God. And it counteracts our limited human vision with a greater hope and experience than we can possibly know from our naturalistic viewpoint.

Monday, February 18, 2013

a brief rebellion

And they went and stayed at Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem, intending to go to Egypt because of the Chaldeans. For they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.
Jeremiah 41:17-18

What looked like an act of Jewish patriotism was really a rebellion against God. The Lord had instructed the feeble survivors in Judah to obey the authority of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar left Gedaliah in control to manage Judah for the Babylonian empire. But again, the Jews would not abide by the Word of God despite the fall of Jerusalem and the experience of having the resources and people of Judah led away to Babylon.

Ishmael gathered together discontented mercenary forces and successfully led a rebel revolt. He struck down Gedaliah and several officials, along with members of the Chaldean army. He was suddenly on Babylon's "most wanted" list and the inevitable full force of the empire would roll against him. It was not a good place to be.

So an escape plan was in the works. Ishmael hoped to lead his rebel band to Egypt... perhaps hoping to form an alliance there against Babylon. The chances of success were already zero since it was really God Whom they had offended... not just to power of Babylon. The brief rebel success came at the price of disobeying God. This would not end well.

Friday, February 15, 2013


"If you remain, then return to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon appointed governor of the cities of Judah, and dwell with him among the people. Or go wherever you think it right to go." So the captain of the guard gave him an allowance of food and a present, and let him go. Then Jeremiah went to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, at Mizpah, and lived with him among the people who were left in the land.
Jeremiah 40:5-6

Nothing happens
that surprises You.
You are in control
of all that I do.

My choice is real
from my point of view;
But nothing I choose
can overrule You.

When times are hard
and its tough to see
what will become,
You comfort me.

It may be dark,
the way unsure,
but in Your hands
I rest secure.

When I look ahead...
afraid of the unknown...
You reassure me with
what Your Word has shown.

Men of faith
from ancient past pages
trusted in You...
the Rock of Ages.

So circumstances change
yet You remain the same.
I put my trust
in Your holy name.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

faithless contrasted with faithful

Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave command concerning Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, saying, "Take him, look after him well, and do him no harm, but deal with him as he tells you."
Jeremiah 39:11-12

Everything that Jeremiah has warned Jerusalem and the officials of Judah about has come to pass. Babylon has invaded the land, broken through the wall of Jerusalem, and taken the city captive. King Zedekiah is taken captive, his sons were slaughtered in front of him, and then blinded, he is led away in disgrace by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon.

In sharp contrast, God takes care of His prophet. The same ruthless gentile king gives orders to attend to Jeremiah. He is kept in the ruins of Jerusalem with a contingent of the king's own guard ensuring his well-being. God is making a point: The faithful prophet is cared for while the faithless king is led away disgraced and completely humiliated. The rewards of faithfulness to God are dramatically clear.

The visible evidence all clearly pointed to the glory of God even in judgment. The man most faithful to The Lord and His Word was treated like a dignitary. The political power that ignored God was treated like a ridiculed slave. There was no mistaking the outcomes. The clear distinction between the faithless and the faithful will be known in the end.

It should be noted that Jeremiah did not gloat. It should also be noticed that the prophet suffered torment of body before God blessed him in this capacity. And a final observation that keeps us from the sugary excesses of prosperity theology is the perspective that Jeremiah continued to mourn and suffer personally after the fall of Jerusalem while he was protected by the Babylonian army in relative comfort. The evidence of this is the Book of Lamentations which he composed after the destruction of the city.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

a friend with a rope

"My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern, and he will die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city."
Jeremiah 38:9

A gentile eunuch in the service of Judah's king has more righteous indignation and a sense of respect for God's prophet than all the other leaders of the Jews. He petitions king Zedekiah to save the life of Jeremiah. Ebed-melech was used to rescue Jeremiah from the muddy cistern into which he had been lowered to die from starvation.

Somehow the pleadings of an Ethiopian eunuch reversed Zedekiah's executive order. The king had allowed the officials to seize Jeremiah as a military necessity. The case was made that Jeremiah's message of judgment was demoralizing the already struggling troops in Jerusalem. But somehow the pleadings of a trusted court servant over rode the previous concerns and the king reversed direction. The rescue of Jeremiah was affected by God who controls the outcomes beyond the thoughts of kings.

The text is silent as to just how long Jeremiah sank into the mud of the cistern. The eunuch took action as soon as the news reached him, so I am assuming it ended just a few hours after it began. Still, those must have been lonely hours for Jeremiah since he knew he had been put there to die. God's rescue was amazing to him. It changed his perspective immediately. The ropes were lowered and he was lifted from the despair and mud of the pit.

There are moments in life that are marked by sheer personal suffering. I have known a few. And I think all people get there sooner or later. Powerless to change, dark feelings can overwhelm us, drawing us down into the mud of depression. But God can bring the friends with the ropes if we just wait patiently on Him. We still have to endure the darkness. We still have to take the rope when it is offered. But what joy arrives when others care to help lift us from our sorrows and despair!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Faithfulness at great pain

When Jeremiah had come to the dungeon cells and remained there many days, King Zedekiah sent for him and received him. The king questioned him secretly in his house and said, "Is there any word from the LORD?" Jeremiah said, "There is." Then he said, "You shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon."
Jeremiah 37:16-17

Prison will not silence a true prophet. Jeremiah is misunderstood and mistreated. He was accused of treason and falsely imprisoned for suspicion of collaboration with the enemy. All because he would not back down from God's message to the nation that affirmed that the Chaldeans were going to destroy Jerusalem and haul survivors captive away to Babylon.

God is His sovereign work moves King Zedekiah to retrieve the prophet from prison. If Jeremiah ever had a chance to play it safe and save himself by saying what the king wanted to hear, this was the opportunity. But the prophet remained absolutely faithful to the Word of The Lord. He would not back down, even if it would make things easier. He still spoke the hard truth to the king.

Jeremiah was rewarded for this faithfulness. God moved the king to hear Jeremiah's complaints of ill treatment and to help the prophet. He was kept by the king by the royal guard rather than returned to the cruel makeshift prison where he had been beaten and mistreated. This assured that God's Word would stay heard and could impact Jerusalem still, even in its darkest days of judgment from God.

God honors our commitment to Him. He sees it. Staying faithful to the truth is really its own reward. But God in His grace will notice and stay near to those who are faithful to Him and to His Word. I am grateful for this insight in these difficult days.

Monday, February 11, 2013

disdain for God's Word

As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments.
Jeremiah 36:23-24

The gall of a selfish king is so strong that he officially disdains the Word of God. Jeremiah was given a message for the king that was written on a scroll and then read to the king in the comfort of his palace. In front of his staff he casually slices up the scroll as it is being read and then burns it strip by strip. He clearly did not accept Jeremiah's message, neither did he yield to God's authority over him.

He did not heed the call to repentance at the Word of The Lord. Instead, his actions are the exact opposite. He should have torn his garments but instead he cut up the scroll. He should have been wearing the ashes of mourning, but instead he burned the scroll that contained God's message just for him. He did not heed God's warning.

The Lord responded by having Jeremiah dictate a second scroll that contained all of the first message, plus a pronouncement of impending judgment on the palace. Soon his kingdom would be taken away. The king's disdain for God would be eliminated by the shock and awe of the Babylonian army.

The principle to notice is that any disrespect for God's Word is direct disobedience to God. It is that simple. There is no exception to this fact. When God speaks, His truth and holiness infuse His words with unique and unparalleled authority. There are consequences for dismissing the words of the Creator of the universe. You cannot rise above God. Not even the mightiest ruler on the earth comes close to His power. There is only one God, and the upstart who defies Him will fall in failure by his own disdain for God. It's just a matter of timing in the will of the God Whose Word never returns to Him empty and always accomplishes what He sent it to do.

Friday, February 8, 2013

rebellious hearts

Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, because I have spoken to them and they have not listened, I have called to them and they have not answered.
Jeremiah 35:17
The word of God came
to a people in shame
calling for a return
to the grace they spurned
They did not listen
They did not answer
God patiently, lovingly reminded
how His hand had always guided
hoping that seeing their past
would bring change at last
They did not listen
They did not answer
Rebellious hearts come from rebel ears
that knew God's call, refused still to hear
choosing their own sinful way
rather than repenting to pray
They did not listen
They did not answer
Disaster fell from God's judging hand
strangers came and devoured the land
God's judgment fell like pouring rain
bringing justice and brokenness in pain
they did not listen
They did not answer

Thursday, February 7, 2013

abusing people profanes God's name

You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name, but then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back his male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your slaves.
Jeremiah 34:15-16

As part of the economy of Israel the LORD allowed the Jews to practice limited indentured servitude. The extremely poor were allowed to contract themselves into slavery. But the owner of the slave was bound to release the person from servitude after seven years. This release was not happing and for whatever reason, Zedekiah the king made a royal decree to immediately release them. The people followed the king's command (and thus the Lord's stipulation in the Law) but only temporarily. When they found they could not bear to be without their slaves, they forcibly enslaved them once again.

God was not pleased with this "unrepentance" and quickly sent a message on the lips of Jeremiah the prophet denouncing these activities. It was another reason for the coming sack of Jerusalem and march into Babylonian exile.

God told them that their abuse of these poor people with forced enslavement was a sin against Him. They had profaned God's holy name by their actions. There is a principle here of social responsibility. To abuse people is to besmirch the holiness of God. It is unholy to hurt people and to place your selfish desires above their ability to live freely within God's design.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

the future matters to God

In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.'
Jeremiah 33:16

There is a picture here of a time still yet to be for Israel and Jerusalem. This is a time where one king, descendent of David, will rule a prosperous nation. The nation is the center of world attention. The flourishing of it is something that God brings about for His glory. The covenant is renewed, embraced, and blessed.

Of course, I am firmly convinced that all the interpretive evidence puts this in the context of the millennial reign of Christ. Jesus is "the Branch", the Messianic leader described in this passage. And it is His rule as the Son of David that will fulfill the prophetic picture here portrayed. And His rule will transform Jerusalem, the nation of Israel, and all the kingdoms of this earth.

I am thankful God has shown us His future plan in His word. For the generation that Jeremiah was preparing for exile, this was a hope that would help them endure. And for all generations, it is a hope that helps us trust God in our difficult moments. For that reason, as well as theological ones, eschatology really matters.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

resting on the character of God

Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
Jeremiah 32:37-38

There are five statements about Israel in these two verses. God takes absolute responsibility for Israel's welfare with these statements. Four of them are promises made to a distraught, endangered, and desperate people.

I WILL GATHER THEM. This is the first promise God makes and it rests on His power and person alone. They were scattered all over the Near East by the time the Babylonians got done, but God would bring them all back together in His time, according to His plan, with His power, for His glory and purposes. The exile was not permanent.

I DROVE THEM. God took responsibility for their current situation. God's hand brought the Chaldean army besieging Jerusalem. He would drive the Jews from the covenant land as He willed for their sinful neglect of Him and His Word.

I WILL BRING THEM BACK. Again, God makes it clear that their return would be His doing. Just as He judged and scattered, He would re-assemble and return them. This was a promise given even before the punishment had befallen them.

I WILL MAKE THEM DWELL. Not only would God restore the nation to the Promised Land, but He would restore great peace and prosperity to them. They would return to full lives, obeying and loving Him again.

I WILL BE THEIR GOD. The covenant always stood first on God's character and commitment to Israel. That had not changed. He would once again honor the covenant made so long ago with the faithful nomad Abraham. Israel's God is Yahweh.

Monday, February 4, 2013

a restorative hope

For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.
Jeremiah 31:25

God's promise to the people of Israel was restoration, both nationally and personally. He would restore the fortunes of the nation. He would ease the suffering of His people. And this would happen on an individual level. His restoration would be complete for everyone.

This promise is given as a generation is exiled. This is the hope to hold on to with all their faith. God would restore. A new covenant would come to those who would return. Weary people would find rest. Empty souls would be filled. God would turn sorrow into joy and emptiness into fulfillment by His loving, providing hand.

God gives hope when there is none. He renews. He rebuilds. He restores. That has been God's relationship with humanity ever since the Fall when sin entered our lives and came between us. God takes the initiative and forgives repentant sinners. He provides the means for their atonement. He reaches to us even in our deepest pains. I'm thankful God's love is restorative. It is my firm and faithful hope!

Friday, February 1, 2013

flagrant sin

Why do you cry out over your hurt? Your pain is incurable. Because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant, I have done these things to you.
Jeremiah 30:15

great sin
accompanied by
great guilt
living in
great pain
crying out
great hurt

judgment's circumstances

my tears
could be
my guilt
giving me
my misery
over all
my iniquity

personal acknowledgement

to cry
in pain
to feel
the guilt
to accept
His wounds
to repent

God's forgiveness