Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jeremiah 1-10: A Book of Bad News, Mostly

I know, I know; I'm so behind.  But I'm in the prophets, and the prophets are so depressing that it's hard to want to write about them.  Jeremiah is no exception.

I like the way Jeremiah starts.  The first thing that God says to Jeremiah when He calls him is "before I formed you in the womb I knew you; And before you were born I consecrated you."  Even though immediately Jeremiah protests that he's only a kid and doesn't know how to speak (sound familiar?), God says that He is going to send him and tell him what to say and put the right words in his mouth.  Do you ever pray for God to put words in your mouth?  I do, because half the time I feel like I have no clue what is the right thing to say.  A lot of the stuff God tells Jeremiah is to encourage him, which I think was really necessary, because 1) like the rest of the prophets, Israel and Judah didn't listen to him at all, and 2) Jeremiah is not only a depressing book, but he was a very sad person.  He is called the "weeping prophet" because he was so heartbroken over what happened to Israel and Judah.  Imagine, on top of that, having to tell all the people why their homeland is being destroyed, and them not listening to you!  I would have been a weeping prophet too, I think.

Here are some of the notes I wrote in my margins:

2:27 - the context of this verse is saying that people will make up an idol that they form with their own hands and believe that it created them, but then when trouble comes they turn to God and ask Him to save them.  At least I think that's what this particular verse means.  What I wrote in my margins was the date 9/11/2001.  When the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11, a lot of people turned to God.  But it didn't seem to me like that lasted very long.  We think about God whenever a disaster strikes - whether we turn to Him in repentance or anger, in genuine faith or in a temporary shift of focus, it seems like bad things can't happen without us acknowledging God in some way.

3:5 says that "you [Israel] have done evil things, and you have had your way."  In my notes I wrote: "God does not force our obedience - he'll let us do what we want - have it 'our way' - if we so choose."  This, to me, is a sobering thought.  Sometimes I think that God won't let me do what's not in His plan for me.  But I think the truth is that if my heart is really focused on doing what I want - which is a state of rebellion toward God - sometimes He will just let me have what I want, even if it's bad for me.  And maybe that is because I am unteachable when I'm like that, and maybe getting what I want and finding out it wasn't right, will put me back on the right path.  But that doesn't sound like a way I want to go.  So right now I am praying that instead of God doing what I want to do, that God will make all my desires and all my will line up with what He wants for me.  It seems like a much better way to go.

Here is a passage of hope.  3:12ff is God's call to Israel to repent.  He says, "I will not look upon you in anger.  For I am gracious . . . I will not be angry forever."  It goes on from there.  The note I wrote was: "God wants us!  Here He's practically begging Israel to return to Him.  History is the story of how God tried time after time to have a relationship with people - finally it was accomplished - through Jesus."  Unfortunately, every appeal God made to Israel fell on deaf ears.  It's just like that parable where the master sent servants to his vineyard to get the profit or whatever, and the people working the vineyard mistreated the prophets, so finally the master sent his own son to do the job.  Of course, it didn't work out so well for that son, but at least Jesus rose from the dead.

I don't have any more margin notes in this passage.  But basically God tells Judah to repent, and tells them what will happen if they don't - destruction and judgment.  Jeremiah is overcome with anguish for the fate of his people.  So God tells Jeremiah to go through the streets of Jerusalem and try to find one person - just one - who "does justice, who seeks truth," and then He will pardon the whole city.  Remember Sodom and Gomorrah?  This is why I think if Abraham had asked God to spare Sodom for the sake of one righteous man, He would have.  But apparently Jeremiah doesn't find anybody.  That's pretty sad.  So yes, destruction is coming, and the people of Jerusalem are warned to flee the city to save their lives.

What is really difficult for me to grasp is that God tells Jeremiah not to pray for the people of Israel because He isn't going to hear.  Sometimes, the things we want are actually against God's will, and sometimes God even tells us not to pray for something or not to pray the way we would want to pray.  That is tough to think about.  Also, I don't think we can change God's mind when He is going to do something.  We can't force or manipulate or bargain God into doing what we want.  And finally, whether or not Israel survived didn't depend on Jeremiah, but on the rest of the people, and they had no intention of listening to God, apparently.

Jeremiah writes a lament for Zion, but then he acknowledges the greatness of God and the wickedness of people.  In spite of his own sorrow, Jeremiah is committed to the will of God and he knows that God does what is right, in the end.  I like this verse here, 10:23 - "I know, O LORD, that a man's way is not in himself, Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps."  Like I said above about wanting God to change my will - I really don't think that I have the ability to make the best decisions for myself.  Certainly not at 23.  I can't see ahead the way God can.  A few years ago I had an amazing job opportunity that I didn't take because, after thinking a lot about it, I didn't think I was ready for it and I wasn't sure I could commit to it.  The other day my mom mentioned that part of her wished now that we had gone for it (we, because I would have required my parents' help).  Did I do the right thing in not taking it?  I don't know right now; I'm not really sure I can know from where I'm standing.  I think several years from now I'll look back and see how God has directed my steps, and I'm sure I'll also see where I went astray.  It's hard to tell what straight is when you're up close to it.  That's why I need God to guide me, because only He has the perspective to tell where I need to go.

So apparently there is stuff to be learned from Jeremiah, both the book and the person, in spite of it's being an overwhelmingly sad book most of the time.  I'll try to be more regular about updating this. . . .  In my reading I'm almost to the end of Ezekiel (which is what I read immediately after Jeremiah).

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