The end – sort of
Jeremiah 52: Judah went into exile, orphaned from her land.
The final pages of Jeremiah are a sort of historical wrap up. We hear about Zedekiah’s failure, the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the striping of the city of anything of value. People are marched off into exile and it seems the story of the people of Israel has ended. The epitaph is: “Judah went into exile, orphaned from her land.” It all happened as Jeremiah said it would. The nation has refused to take every off ramp it came to, steadily advancing to this point. Thus, we come to “the end.” Well, not quite. God not only promised this destruction, he also promises restoration. The final words of the book describe the kindness shown to the surviving king, Jehoiachin, by Nebuchadnezzar’s successor, Evil-Merodach. After many years of imprisonment, Jehoiachin becomes an honored guest at the Babylonian king’s table. By concluding with this account we see that even as the curtain has fallen on a horrible period of Israel’s history, the story continues with a new, hopeful episode about to begin. I find that story both by moving forward and backward in my Bible. I can go back to Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. Or, I can turn forward a few pages and spend time in Daniel or Haggai or Zechariah and continue this story. If I want I can hit the fast forward button and advance to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to find the account of God’s ultimate deliverance of his people.
Take Away: With the Lord “the end” might just also be “the beginning” – that’s true because God is the God of Second Chances.
A lesson in humility
Jeremiah 49: I, God, say so, and it will be so.
Chapters 46 through 51 of Jeremiah are a compilation of prophecies Jeremiah gives about the nations of the region. Clearly, the Almighty is interested in more people than just those of Israel. He’s been paying close attention to the downward spiral of the region and is about to shake everything up. Clearly, this isn’t as drastic as the Flood was in Noah’s day, but it is a remaking of this entire region. Jeremiah writes it all out as poetry: awful, frightening words put to verse. It’s in the message to the Ammonites that I find the phrase, “I, God, say so, and it will be so.” To me, that pretty much sums up these painful-to-read chapters. This is an aspect of the Lord that makes me uncomfortable. Frankly, I don’t like these chapters. Then again, I don’t have to. Sovereign God, the Giver of Life, surely has the authority to be the Taker of Life. What he does along these lines is on his side of the equation, not mine. He doesn’t have to explain himself to me and I don’t have to like how it all works out. I find some consolation in the fact that the very words I read today are warnings to these nations, given before the fact. In theory, at least, their turning to God might have resulted in a display of his mercy. Instead, these people live evil lives and are addicted to cruelty. In bringing Judgment on this region the Almighty is acting unilaterally and he doesn’t need my approval and support. Today as I remember who God is and who I am I find myself learning a lesson in humility.
Take Away: When the Lord acts according to his own Sovereignty we can simply accept it – after all he doesn’t need our understanding, permission, or approval.
A personal promise from the Lord
Jeremiah 45: I’ll keep you alive through the whole business.
The story of Jeremiah pretty much ends with him in Egypt. Aside from the conclusion to his writings in the last pages of the book we’re about to move to an “appendix” of some of his prophecies concerning other nations. Just before we do that, we find the brief words of chapter 45. Obviously, this is out of place and would fit better back in chapter 36. It’s in that chapter that we find the story of Jeremiah’s dictating his gloom and doom message to his loyal secretary, Baruch. This good man writes it all down, not once, but twice. Baruch, then, is very aware of what’s coming, and frankly that knowledge scares him to death. The king might deny it all and act to silence the messenger. Baruch, though, believes every word he’s written. In an act of mercy, Jeremiah informs his faithful secretary that now he has a message specifically for him. God’s word for this good man is this: “Things are going to get worse, but don’t worry, I’m going to take care of you and see you through this whole business.” I can just imagine Baruch’s blood pressure dropping several points as Jeremiah states these words of assurance to him. I can’t find any prophecies in the Bible with my name on them, but I do find plenty of promises addressed to those who put their trust in the Lord. Like Baruch, then, I have a word from the Lord to hold on to even when things are in the “getting worse” stage. I don’t have to be consumed with worry because God has promised life to me.
Take Away: It’s a great comfort in troubling times to remember that the Lord has promised life to me.
Walk like an Egyptian
Jeremiah 44: The good is gone.
The survivors of the destruction of Jerusalem not only flee to Egypt, they embrace the idol worshipping culture of their nation of refuge too. It isn’t that big a step. They were already toying with such things before, although before fleeing Jerusalem they had kept a dash of Jehovah worship mixed in with their religious practices. Now that Jerusalem’s destroyed and they’ve deserted that place they think they’re free from God Almighty too. They embrace all things Egyptian. The popular thing to do is “walk like an Egyptian.” Meanwhile, God’s anger toward them increases. Back in Judea when everyone else was either being killed off or carried off to live the rest of their lives in Babylonian exile these people had been spared. “Blest” is probably too strong a word, but it’s clear that they were treated less harshly than were their fellow Israelites. Their response: run the opposite direction, away from their homeland and away from their God. So, again, God’s fed up with them. If they like Egypt so well, they can have it along with the judgment that’s coming to that land. God says to them, “It’s all over; I have nothing good left for you.” I’m not a gloom and doom preacher but passages like this concern me. We Christians are so quick to embrace the current cultural fads. We’re entertained by the same things, buy into the same materialistic values, and, in general, fit into the broken culture of our day. The Lord tells those who fled to Egypt that, if they like Egypt so well, he’ll treat them as he’s going to treat the Egyptians. Maybe we Christians ought to think twice before we get too carried away with “walking like an Egyptian.”
Take Away: We’re in the world but we’re not to be of the world.
Looking into the future
Jeremiah 43: He’ll set up his throne on the very stones I’ve had buried here.
I don’t believe that the future is mapped out in detail because I firmly believe God has given us the gift, and responsibility, of free will. However, I certainly believe that some things about the future are preordained. It isn’t that the Lord has looked into the future and seen things happening; it’s just that he’s Sovereign and he’s declared he’s going to bring certain things to pass. When the Almighty says he’s going to do something, that’s just as sure as if it already happened. In this passage we find Jeremiah in Egypt. I’m not sure why Johanan and the others brought him along. Apparently, it’s similar to why King Zedekiah kept Jeremiah locked up but couldn’t resist going to him for the latest word from the Lord. Jeremiah’s message to them is unwavering. The Lord said, “Don’t go to Egypt” and they’ve gone to Egypt anyway. The Lord said, “If you go to Egypt you’ll find the death and destruction you’re fleeing.” Now, Jeremiah drives that point home by having some stones laid along the walkway that leads to one of Pharaoh’s palaces. He says that the day’s coming when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon will sit his throne right on top of those stones as he claims the gem of Egypt for Babylon. Again, I don’t see every detail of the future as predetermined. Still, there’s plenty that God has already declared to be certain. For instance, Jesus is coming back, Judgment day is sure, and everyone will spend forever somewhere. I have the freedom to prepare for those certainties or not, as my future isn’t predetermined. By the grace of God that much is up to me and my eternity hangs in the balance based on that decision.
Take Away: Certain things about the future are sure but how I respond to the grace of God in preparing for that future he leaves to me.
God’s direction or just his blessing?
Jeremiah 43: Liar! Our God never sent you with this message.
It starts when Johanan and others come to Jeremiah asking him to pray as they decide on their course of action. It won’t be long before the king of Babylon hears of the murder of the governor he appointed over their territory and they want to get out of town before he comes to finish the destruction that was started when Jerusalem fell. They promise that they’ll do whatever God says. Jeremiah agrees to go to the Lord for a plan of action but the instructions he receives from the Lord surprises everyone, maybe even the prophet, himself. God says stay put and he’ll take care of them. That doesn’t sit well with any of the leaders. You see, they don’t really want God’s direction. Instead, they want God’s blessing on what they’ve already decided to do. When Jeremiah returns with a word from God that contradicts their plans they immediately declare Jeremiah to be a liar who has an agenda of his own. In spite of dire warnings from him they load everyone up and head for Egypt…and for more destruction. I’m glad I never make the mistake Johanan and the others did and ignore the “asking for directions” part and leap directly to the “Lord, bless what I’m about to do” part. Well, at least I know how it’s supposed to work. Maybe one of the reasons I end up in “Egypt” so often is that I spent all my prayer time explaining to the Lord why he ought to bless my predetermined course of action instead of asking him what it is, exactly, he wants me to do in the first place.
Take Away: Do we really want the Lord’s directions or just his rubber stamp on what we what to do?
Some things are easier said than done
Jeremiah 42: I’m on your side, ready to save and deliver you from anything he might do.
Johanan and other Judean leaders know that the murder of Gedaliah is a very big deal. The Babylonian king is not known for his forgiving nature. Gedaliah was the person he left in charge and his murder will be seen as an uprising against his rule. There’s sure to be devastating punishment. Their solution is to prepare for exile by running in the opposite direction to Egypt, the other major power in the region. Johanan and others ask Jeremiah to pray for God’s direction in this, promising to do whatever the Lord says. However, the message from the Lord isn’t what they expect to hear. The Lord says to stay put and trust him. Again, this is totally unexpected and, from a human point of view, very unreasonable. They’ve already seen the wrath of the Babylonians. Thousands have been killed, multiplied thousands have been carried off into exile never to return, and devastation is all around them. For civic leaders to stick around, waiting for word of the governor’s murder to reach Babylonia is, in their eyes, an almost criminal inaction. Jeremiah says, “Just trust God and everything will be okay.” That’s one of those “easier said than done” statements. Happily, such extreme, life and death situations don’t come our way very often, if ever. For me to find applications in life I have to dial things back considerably. Still, there are times when we, too, are to stand still and trust God rather than take matters into our own hands. For instance, things down at the church may not be going well and several are jumping ship for the latest and greatest program down the road. We’re tempted to follow suit, but when we pray, we simply can’t feel free to do it. Others say, “Come on in, the water’s fine!” God seems to say, “Stay right where you are, I’ll take care of you and your family.” As a pastor it always concerns me when church people from other congregations show up at our door on a Sunday morning. I’m not saying there’s never a time to go, but I don’t want to be someone’s “Egypt” when the Lord wants them to stay put and be a part of the turning of the tide right where they are.
Take Away: If the Lord says “stay put” the only thing to do is, well, to stay put!
Gedaliah’s last supper
Jeremiah 41: His ten men jumped to their feet and knocked Gedaliah down and killed him.
You’d think that people would be weary of the bloodshed; that they’d consider themselves fortunate to now be on the back side of the Babylonian storm. However, it isn’t that way. Ishmael is a member of the royal family who escaped deportation and now he has his eye on the throne. The Babylonian-appointed governor, Gedaliah, welcomes those who had fled the siege of Jerusalem, apparently thinking the best of everyone. However, in doing so, he brings the traitor Ishmael right into his fold. It’s not that he isn’t warned about Ishmael, in fact, Johanan wants to do away with him right off, knowing he’ll destabilize the fragile state of Judah. Gedaliah is having none of that, in fact, he invites Ishmael and his men to come to, what turns out to be Gedaliah’s last meal. As I read about Gedaliah’s short tenure as governor of Judah I’m reminded of the instructions of Jesus to his disciples to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” In this passage, we have the shrewd Johanan who knows Ishmael means nothing but trouble. His solution is to knock him off. On the other hand we have the innocent Gedaliah who makes no provision for his own protection and pays for his wide-eyed innocence with his life. We Christians are supposed take the best from both of these men. We need to know the score, to be shrewd in how we go about living our lives. At the same time, we’re to do no intentional harm. I don’t have to scheme to do away with my enemies, but I don’t have to hand them my wallet either.
Take Away: As the people of the Lord we’re to use graceful and merciful common sense.
Kindness from an unexpected source
Jeremiah 40: The captain of the bodyguard singled out Jeremiah.
Jerusalem falls. Jeremiah doesn’t give us the details, just that it happened as the Lord had said it would. Jeremiah is put in chains and included in the mass relocation program that’s the policy of the conquering Babylonians. However, when the commanding officer, Nebuzharadan surveys his captives, he takes note of Jeremiah. This heathen military man knows the story. He knows that Jeremiah has, for years, been warning his people that all this was coming. Nebuzharadan declares Jeremiah free. He can travel to Babylon as his guest or he can return to Jerusalem. He even goes so far as to encourage Jeremiah to go to the vassal king, Gedaliah, who has been put into power over Judah. I find it interesting that God’s man is shown more respect by a heathen captain than he was given by the now as good as dead Zedekiah, king of Judah and descendant of David. Actually, I shouldn’t be greatly surprised at this because it’s a fairly common occurrence. For instance, when the Savior is born, “wise men from the east” come to honor him. They get directions from the experts in Jerusalem, but those same experts aren’t themselves interested in making the short jaunt to Bethlehem. Here’s my take on this today: sometimes God’s people aren’t as much God’s people as they think they are and sometimes lost people aren’t as lost as we might think.
Take Away: The Lord works though some unlikely people, especially when the “likely ones” aren’t up to the task.
Taking the “rest of the story” by faith
Jeremiah 39: I’ll most certainly save you.
The hero who rescued Jeremiah from the muddy prison is Ebed-melek. Now, as Jerusalem totters on the brink of destruction Jeremiah seeks him out. The Lord has a message specifically for this hero, and it’s a good one. The Lord has taken note of this good man’s courage and faithfulness. Things are going to get really bad very soon but Ebed-melek is going to be spared because God’s going to see to it. In a sense, we see here God’s message to all those who are faithful to him. There’s no promise for any of us of an easy life in which bad things never come, but there is the promise of God’s watch care over us. It must have been, at the same time, welcome and unbelievable news for Ebed-melek. Of course, he’s happy to hear such a message from Jeremiah, God’s prophet. At the same time, he, and all Jerusalem, is very aware of the mighty army that’s poised on their doorstep. The reality of it all nearly overwhelms the message of assurance from Jeremiah. It’s the same for you and me. The hard facts of pain and disappointment and disaster can nearly obliterate the promise of God’s presence. Still, none of that negates it. Interestingly, the writer of the sacred text doesn’t follow up on the story. Jeremiah promises Ebed-melek that God will save him and that’s it. Maybe there’s a lesson for us in what isn’t included here. We’re to read this promise and conclude that, even though we don’t know the details, God keeps his word. In the same way, I, right in the middle of life without any specific knowledge of what’s coming, must conclude that God will “most certainly save” me too.
Take Away: Even we don’t know how he’s going to do it we can rest assured that the Lord will, indeed, keep his promises.