Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Jeremiah 11-19: Brokenness

I feel really bad about getting so behind on these things.  It's just hard to blog about the prophets, like I said before.  I feel like I'm saying the same thing over and over.  I wonder if God felt that way when saying all this stuff to the prophets?

Chapter 11 is about how Israel has broken their covenant with God.  Covenant were an ancient oath ritual thing, very formal contracts that had specific terms and often very harsh consequences for breaking the covenant.  Israel has broken their terms of covenant, which were to remain faithful to God and worship Him only, basically. Not only this, but the people actually refuse to listen to God or turn back to Him. They don't want to be part of the God of Abraham's people anymore.  For this reason, God tells Jeremiah that he is not even supposed to grieve for the destruction that will come on Israel and Judah.  That would be very hard for me to obey.

Meanwhile, some people think it would be way more fun if Jeremiah weren't around, so there are some plots against his life, but God is protecting him from anything serious so far.

In chapter 12, we see again God's disgust with his chosen people who have rejected Him.  He says He is actually going to abandon them and forsake them - whoa, what?  The Bible actually says that?  Yes, it actually does.  God uses some very harsh language in the prophets, because He is flipping fed up with chasing after people who want nothing to do with Him.  So He's going to uproot them, cut them off, make their land desolate.

But . . .

The story doesn't end there.  After God does all this, He is going to bring them back, restore them, and bless them.  And when He does, then they will follow Him whole-heartedly.  I don't know if this is a reference to the coming of Christ, or to the eventual and ultimate restoration of Israel in the Day of the Lord.  Because Messiah has come, and the people of Israel didn't recognize or accept Him.

I think that we know more about Jeremiah as a person than we do about any other prophet who wrote a book.  Jeremiah (the book) is full of prayers of Jeremiah (the person), either laments over the state of his nation, or pleas with God to remember him and deliver him from his enemies, etc.  We find out about some of the plots against him, and we also find out that God didn't let him get married or have kids.  Bummer.  There are some people in the world that it seems God calls to live a really hard life.  Jeremiah did not have a fun life. Jeremiah did not have a lot of friends.  His only delight was in God.  He says in chapter 15, "Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart, For I have been called by Your name."  If we had no joy in life, would we be able to find delight in God?  That is something I wonder about myself.  Do I give praise to God because He makes my life fun and happy and successful, or because He is goodness and joy itself?

God uses some harsh words about Israel and Judah, like I said before.  He says that even if Moses and Samuel (the epitome of obedience to God, right?) were to plead with Him on behalf of the Jews, God would not listen or have compassion on them.  And this is saying a lot because Moses did plead with God on behalf of Israel more than once, and in each of those cases God relented from the punishment He was about to give. So Judah is in a pretty bad state right now if not even Moses can change His mind.

But . . .

There is something that could change God's mind, and that something is repentance.  He says, "If you return, then I will restore you."  No matter how far gone you are - even if you've become so corrupt that Moses himself could't argue a case for you - God will forgive you in a heartbeat if you simply turn away from a life of rebellion and submit to Him.  It's that simple.  Why don't we do that more often?

Chapter 17 has a famous verse about the heart: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; Who can know it?"  My translation, the NASB, says that the heart is "desperately sick."  I think this is a better word image than what the KJV gives for the condition of our hearts.  We have a disease; it is called sin.  No matter what we do, we cannot rid ourselves of this inner illness, and what's worse, it is terminal.  Our sin is going to kill us.

But . . .

There is a cure.  There is one Doctor who knows how to treat this disease, a miracle surgeon who can take out all the nasty cancerous blackness and replace it with something good.  "Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved," says Jeremiah.  There is only one way not to die of sin, and that is to die to sin by subjecting ourselves to the rule of God in our lives.  What does that look like?  Well, it kind of looks like clay being shaped into a pot, and God gives Jeremiah a visual of this by sending him down to a potter's house.  The potter is making a pot, and as sometimes happens in pottery, the thing just isn't turning out .  If you've ever tried your hand at pottery, you've experienced this - sometimes for whatever reason, the shape becomes such that you really can't fix it no matter what you do.  So you have to smash the clay back into a ball and star over.  This is what happens with the potter Jeremiah watches - the pot is ruined, so the potter starts over with the clay and makes something new, and that works.  This is what God is going to do to Israel.  They've become spoiled; they can't be repaired or patched or reshaped anymore because it's just patches on patches and sticking your finger in a dike, so to speak.  It's not going to work.  So God has to bring Israel down to the lowest possible point - He has to break her - in order to remake her into something new.

That is the gospel.  Sin has screwed us up beyond the point of repair; you can't slap a bandaid on an amputee and expect it to help.  If we are ever to become whole, we actually first have to become broken.  It's like when you break a bone, and it heals improperly, so then you go to the doctor to get it set and he has to re-break the bone in order to put it where it belongs.  It's a horrible, painful procedure, but it is the only treatment.  Brokenness is the only means to our cure.  That is what God is doing with Israel and Judah here - He's not just saying all this stuff about forsaking and destroying because He's done with them and is going to leave them in a pile of bones somewhere.  All this doom and gloom stuff has a purpose, and the purpose is to break Israel and Judah of their pride so they will return to following God.  And it actually worked; after the exile to Babylon, Israel remained monotheistic.  It was in Babylon that the Old Testament was compiled and copied.  To this day, the Jews have a strong attachment to their religion and the God of their fathers.  Unfortunately, as a whole they missed God's biggest blessing to them, their long-awaited Messiah.

Finally, one more broken thing.  God has Jeremiah take a jar out in the open and break it to foretell that destruction is coming to Jerusalem.  Another nation will come in and conquer the city and the nation, and they will demolish Jerusalem.

What do we learn about this passage?  First of all, there is a punishment for turning your back on God.  God is serious when He lays down consequences; He really means it when He says bad things will happen to you. Think about that before hastily agreeing to follow Him - because He's going to ask a lot of you.

Secondly, though, we learn that God is merciful, and that in spite of all His anger and frustration with these crazy people, He is willing and even eager to forgive them; in fact, everything He is doing to punish Israel is for the purpose of restoration.

I wrote in my journal once that we are like broken pieces of glass, and God can take all those broken pieces and shape them into something new and beautiful.  It's not something we can do ourselves (we're the broken pieces, remember?) - it's something only God can do.  And the amazing thing is, no matter how broken you were when you started, the thing He will make you into will actually be better than what you started as.  And that's a pretty awesome thing.

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