Sunday, August 8, 2010

Jeremiah 20-29: Jeremiah in Danger

Once again, apologies for the hiatus.  When I get really far ahead in my reading I'm further discouraged from posting, so I've started just rereading the part I'm supposed to blog about until I get to blogging.  Smart, eh?  We'll see.

So this is the part where we learn a little bit about Jeremiah's life.  And it's not a very fun life.  Some priest named Pashhur puts Jeremiah in the stocks in chapter 20, and in chapter 26 people actually try to kill him.  Between those events, he apparently has to take his message of impending doom to other nations besides Israel and Judah, and I can only imagine that he wasn't entirely well received.  All in all, I think Jeremiah got a pretty raw deal as far as career satisfaction goes, and he knew it.  In chapter 20 he gives this long complaint to God, and it actually starts by claiming that God deceived him.  It talks about all the crap he has to endure from all the people who won't listen to him, and just about the terrible nature of the prophecies he's been commanded to speak.  But somehow in all that, Jeremiah finds the courage or faith or perseverance or something to say this:

"But the LORD is with me like a dread champion; Therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. . . . Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD! For He has delivered the soul of the needy one From the hand of the evildoers."  From there he goes on to wish that he'd never been born and stuff like that, but still, that he can somehow praise God in the midst of what he's been going through, is pretty amazing to me.

The other main thing that stuck out to me in this passage was that after all God has said about destruction and punishment and judgment and wrath, we get a very clear message that He is willing - wanting - to relent.  First all we see is that God promises to spare the people if they will flee Jerusalem and give themselves over to Nebuchadnezzar.  I can understand how the Israelites would not have taken that message well; it kind of sounds like treason, really.  I think that God wanted to cleanse not just the people but the land of Israel.  If you remember way back to the Law, the people were supposed to let the land lie fallow every seven years to rest, and apparently Israel did that about . . . zero times . . . which, if you know anything about agriculture, isn't actually good for the soil.  Part of the reason (not the main reason) Israel went into exile was to give the earth a chance to replenish itself.

But then if you flip over to chapter 26, God tells the people that if they repent and turn away from evil, he will not cause all the destruction He is planning.  Jeremiah tells this to the people again when they've seized him and want to kill him.  This message reminds me of 2 Chronicles 7:14, which states that if the people do evil and reap all the curses God promised in the covenant, then if they will just repent, God will hear and forgive them and heal the land.  They could have avoided the 70 years in exile, not to mention all the horrific things that happened during the conquest of Judah, if only they had repented and started following God's laws.  Why did they need to follow God's laws so much, you ask? Because they made a covenant with Him to do so.  And this covenant was binding to all generations, not just the people who stood before Mt. Sinai.  The people fully expected God to keep up His end of the bargain - they went to the temple to ask Him to save them from Nebuchadnezzar and so forth - but they didn't have any intention of keeping their end of the covenant, which was service to God.  I think this is very applicable to the way we treat God today.  We ask Him for stuff, we ask for His help, we ask for His blessing, but we do it sometimes without any intention of changing the things in our lives that we know He doesn't like.  How is that fair?

Now, since Israel has not listened to God, God is going to send them into exile, but that doesn't mean their lives have to be miserable there.  This is something I find weird and interesting: God tells the people to pray for the welfare of the city where they are living in exile, because "in its welfare you will have welfare."  I think that for those of us who are trying to understand the place of patriotism or nationalism in light of being citizens of the kingdom of heaven, this is really relevant.  This world is not our home, and the country and city we're living in isn't our home either (at least not permanently), but God has placed us here for a time, for a reason, and while we're here we are to desire the good of the place we're living.

There are a few Messianic prophesies in this passage.  The first (chapter 23) uses a shepherd metaphor, and I love the language that is used in verse 4.  In contrast to the current leaders of Israel who are destroying the flock (the people) and causing them harm, God promises one day to raise up shepherds who will care for the flock and watch over them so they won't be afraid anymore, and none of them will be missing.  I don't know if this specifically is a Messianic reference or not, because it uses a plural for "shepherds," but I just love that idea of sheep - who are one of the most paranoid animals ever (like, they're afraid of running water) - not being afraid anymore.  And also how sheep have this tendency to wander off, but none of them will be missing.  But right after this it talks about raising up a righteous Branch who will reign as king over Israel and whose name will be "The LORD our righteousness."  I love that name (without looking it up, I think that it is Jehovah Tsikendu.)  And later in chapter 24, it says that God will give the people a heart to know Him, and that they will be His people and He will be their God.  This is important because God has done just about everything conceivable to make Himself known to Israel, but so far nothing has worked, at least not for long.  The problem is that we need a new heart, a heart that seeks God.

I have to mention chapter 29 because it has one of the most famous verses in Jeremiah, Jeremiah 29:11 - "For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Now He's talking specifically to Judah here, and even more specifically, He's referring to what will happen after their 70 years of exile are over.  But I'm sure that this verse still has bearing to all of God's people anyway.  But what I love even more are the verses that come immediately after verse 11.  Starting in verse 12 it says, "'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,' declares the LORD."  Right now, the people do not seek God, although they do seek His blessing, and they don't serve Him with their hearts, although they do with their mouths.  God promises that the exile, this punishment for sin He is brining, will cause them to turn around and become a people who seek God wholeheartedly.  I think that sometimes God causes unpleasant and even bad things to happen to us to get our attention, but even more than that, to change us inside, to make us more into the kind of people we need to be to have a relationship with Him.  We have to seek Him and call on Him and pray to Him and search for Him, not just say we belong to Him and expect Him to show up like a genie whenever we're in trouble.  So maybe when bad things happen to us, instead of necessarily praying for the bad stuff to end, we should pray for God to teach us or change us or do to us whatever He's trying to accomplish through the bad stuff.

Finally, I want to mention one other thing that is underlined in my Bible.  And incidentally, they all have something to do with knowing God.  The first is 22:15-16, which states: "'Did not your father eat and drink And do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him.  He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; Then it was well.  Is not that what it means to know Me?' Declares the LORD."  This reminds me of a verse in Micah that we'll get to eventually.  It sounds like in God's perspective, knowing Him is as simple as doing the right thing (do justice and righteousness, plead the cause of the afflicted and needy) as you live your life (eat and drink).  Sometimes we over-complicate matters, I think.  We think that God's will is this abstract, really obtuse thing that we have to be super spiritual to understand.  Maybe sometimes things can be simple.  Just do the right thing, and that will bring you closer to God.  I like that.

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