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.
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.
Letting it go…gaining it all
Jeremiah 38: I’m telling you this for your own good.
Zedekiah’s a pitiful failure. When it comes to Jeremiah, he keeps him locked up, but can’t resist talking to him; he hates what he says, but can’t stop listening. Once again the prophet’s being held in the courtyard, and, as things continue to deteriorate, Zedekiah arranges a secret meeting with Jeremiah. However, he’s just wasting his time. At first Jeremiah refuses to answer because he knows Zedekiah won’t like what he says and will once again refuse to listen to him anyway. When Zedekiah insists, Jeremiah simply tells him what he’s told him before: the city will fall and only those who surrender to the invading army will be spared. Jeremiah is offering Zedekiah the way to life, but he knows Zedekiah will reject it once again. In the New Testament we find the story of a wealthy young man who comes to Jesus asking the way to life. When Jesus tells him that the “way” is for him to give up everything and become one of his followers the young man sadly turns and walks away. In the passage before me today I find Zedekiah, like the rich young ruler, rejecting the only hope there is. How pitiful to be so close and yet so far. Jeremiah offers Zedekiah hope and Jesus offers the rich young ruler “life.” Both decide to reject what’s offered in favor of position and wealth and power. When Jesus, himself, is faced with the same choice he willingly gives up everything and surrenders to his enemies. This leads to the ordeal of the cross, but it also leads to the resurrection. So, what are you holding on to that must be released for you to have life? Today, both Zedekiah and the rich young ruler alike would tell you it is better to let it go because holding on costs too much.
Take Away: Whatever it is that keeps us from the Lord isn’t worth it.
Three cheers for Ebed-melek
Jeremiah 38: Jeremiah sank into the mud.
Jeremiah’s reprieve from the cistern of Jonathan doesn’t last. He’s more accessible where he’s being kept in the courtyard of the palace guards so people are coming to him to hear the word of the Lord. And that’s just what they hear: being descendants of Abraham doesn’t make them invulnerable. The city’s going to fall and their only hope is to surrender. When community leaders realize what’s happening they go straight to king Zedekiah, insisting that Jeremiah be silenced. Once again the king fails as he washes his hands of the situation, handing Jeremiah over to his enemies. Jonathan’s cistern was at least dry. They put the miserable prophet down in Malkijah’s cistern. There, we’re told, “Jeremiah sank into the mud.” One can only imagine the terror of Jeremiah as his feet touch the mud and he begins to sink. How much mud is there? Will he suffocate, drowning in mud? The Lord, though, hasn’t forgotten his prophet, and the Lord has some loyal people in the city. One of those people is Ebed-melek. When he hears what’s happened to Jeremiah he goes to the king and insists that Jeremiah deserves better treatment. Once again Zedekiah wavers, this time giving permission to Ebed-melek to take some men and get Jeremiah out of that cistern. We don’t know much about Ebed-melek. He was an Ethiopian, an official in the court, and his name means “servant of the king.” This event causes us to wish we knew him better. This man suddenly appears on the scene, is used by God at a critical moment in history, and then moves on, never to be seen again. In the Kingdom there are those who are called to play big roles. Some are like Jeremiah who stays on the center stage of history for decades. (This is just an aside, but we shouldn’t mistake being called to play a big role in God’s plans to mean we’ll always like where that role takes us. Rather, it might be to a terrible place, knee deep in mud.) The rest of us, though, are given supporting roles. It may be that our whole lives will be lived in the background, unnoticed by history. However, we might, at just the right time and place, be given some key lines to say or a fleeting, but important, thing to do. If that’s what God has in mind for me, I hope I can do my job as well as Ebed-melek does in this passage.
Take Away: We may live our entire lives and only be given one, eternal, history making opportunity. Let’s make the most of that opportunity when it comes.
Jeremiah’s worst nightmare
Jeremiah 37: Please don’t send me back to that dungeon.
In this passage, the story of Jeremiah returns to Zedekiah and the attack of the Babylonians. The prophet has made many enemies with his gloom and doom preaching. Ultimately, he’s imprisoned on trumped up charges. The prison he finds himself in is his worst nightmare. He’s imprisoned in a cistern. There, we’re told, he stays for a long time. Jeremiah’s out of sight, but he isn’t out of Zedekiah’s mind. The king hates Jeremiah’s sermons, but, somewhere, deep inside himself, he knows that Jeremiah’s telling the truth. Finally, Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah and, in spite of his misery, Jeremiah tells the king, not what he might want to hear, but the truth: Judah will fall and Zedekiah will be handed over to the king of Babylon. Even though the prophet has just given more bad news, Jeremiah pleads with Zedekiah for mercy. He’s done nothing to bring such inhumane treatment upon himself. He begs Zedekiah to not send him back to that terrible dungeon. To his credit the king has mercy on Jeremiah and, while Jeremiah’s to remain under guard, he’s put in a better place and given rations for food. A couple of things come to mind. First, in spite of his fierce messages, Jeremiah’s just a man. He’s miserable and afraid in the cistern. He isn’t too proud to beg for mercy. Even the spiritual giants in my life are still human and in need of compassion and mercy. Second, even though Zedekiah’s deeply flawed, he shows mercy to Jeremiah. We’re created in the image of God and that means that from the most unlikely of candidates there’s the potential of the reflection of his image.
Take Away: Even spiritual giants remain human beings with the accompanying weaknesses and flaws of humanity.
A heaping helping of humble pie
Jeremiah 21: I’ve giving you a choice: life or death.
It’s doubly hard for the priest, Pashur, to come to Jeremiah with the request. He’s Jeremiah’s sworn enemy. Just recently he put the prophet in stocks for the night to teach him to mind his tongue. Still, things aren’t going well for the nation. They’re at war with the juggernaut Babylon and barring a miracle they face certain defeat. Even that, though, isn’t why Pashur finds himself in this humiliating conversation with Jeremiah. He’s here because King Zedekiah ordered him to go to Jeremiah and ask this troublesome man to pray for God’s intervention. Pashur protested, sputtering out that Jeremiah has already stated God’s judgment on him and his household. Maybe the king should send someone else. Zedekiah, though, ordered and didn’t ask, so the priest finds himself, hat in hand, asking Jeremiah to pray to God for the deliverance of the country from their powerful enemy. Jeremiah’s response is exactly what Pashur expects: more gloom and doom, more defeatist talk. The prophet says he won’t pray for them, in fact, he’s throwing his support to Nebuchadnezzar and his army. The stubborn prophet declares that not only does God refuse to help them but that he’s actively working against them. God’s offer of mercy is not that he’ll deliver them in battle, but that, if they surrender, they’ll live, carried off as captives. As I read this, I can’t help but think that bargaining with God is never a smart thing to do, but doing so while still rebelling against him, well, that’s just plain crazy.
Take Away: Bargaining with the Lord is never a smart thing to do.