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.