Kill Me Ishmael (Jeremiah 40v13-41v15)

You’ve probably heard of Stockholm Syndrome.  It’s the documented psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors.

Did you know that it’s possible to experience something like that without being kidnapped?  An expert in victimology writes,

Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”
I sincerely hope and pray that none of you has such a person in your life.  If you do, please deal with it; abuse is not godly, nor is submitting to abuse.

Having said that, if you are a Christian, there is such a person in your life – one who wants to beat and abuse you; one who harasses, threatens and intimidates you.

It’s the devil.  Although he’s been defeated and has no power over you, if you’re not careful you can nonetheless be taken captive by him to do his will.

Don’t take my word for it.  Listen to what the Bible says in Second Timothy 2:24-26.

2Timothy 2:24    And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient,
2Timothy 2:25    in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,
2Timothy 2:26    and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.

The context of those verses is how to lovingly deal with folks being led astray by false teaching.  For our purposes this morning we note that the last phrase states that it is possible to be ensnared by the devil, in one of his traps, and be taken captive by him in such a way that you end up doing things that are consistent with his will rather than God’s will.

Don’t take this too far.  It doesn’t mean you can be possessed by the devil or that you can somehow lose your salvation.
As Dave Hunt says, “you can’t be taken captive by him at his will unless you are willing.  Satan doesn’t have the power just to take captive anybody he wants saved or unsaved.”

Think of being “taken captive” in the sense of yielding yourself to the devil’s influence and then behaving in a manner more consistent with his character and methods than with those of Jesus Christ.

It’s crazy but Christians who the devil is harassing, threatening, and intimidating can start acting just like him towards others.

What can we do to avoid being taken captive by the devil to do his will?  Our text in Jeremiah gives us a glimpse of an Israelite who we would say was the devil’s captive.  As we look at his story we are warned to recognize the danger we face and to recoil at the potential for destruction should we give in to the devil’s will.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 You Must Recognize The Danger Of Being Taken Captive By The Devil To Do His Will, and #2 You Must Recoil At The Destruction Of Being Taken Captive By The Devil To Do His Will.

#1    You Must Recognize The Danger
    Of Being Taken Captive By The Devil To Do His Will

Our story takes place as newly appointed Governor Gedeliah is working to rebuild the nation of Judah.  He’s a great leader, with a solid plan that is definitely within the will of God.  It’s no surprise, then, that he would be opposed by the enemy of God.

Jeremiah 40:13    Moreover Johanan the son of Kareah and all the captains of the forces that were in the fields came to Gedaliah at Mizpah,
Jeremiah 40:14    and said to him, “Do you certainly know that Baalis the king of the Ammonites has sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to murder you?” But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam did not believe them.

The Ammonites were next on Nebuchadnezzar’s to-do list of nations to conquer.  If they could keep him busy with uprisings in Judah, perhaps he’d leave them alone.

Satan doesn’t appear as a character in this narrative; at least, not directly.  What we see is a wicked rival king influence an Israelite to do his will in opposition to the will of God.  It can therefore serve as a great illustration of what it means to be taken captive by the wicked rival king of this world, Satan, to do his will in opposition to God’s will.

Jeremiah 40:15    Then Johanan the son of Kareah spoke secretly to Gedaliah in Mizpah, saying, “Let me go, please, and I will kill Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and no one will know it. Why should he murder you, so that all the Jews who are gathered to you would be scattered, and the remnant in Judah perish?”
Jeremiah 40:16    But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam said to Johanan the son of Kareah, “You shall not do this thing, for you speak falsely concerning Ishmael.”

I like Johanan.  He’s a loyalist; he’s a pragmatist.  If I didn’t know better I’d think he was Sicilian.

As to the morality of his suggestion I think we need to take a raincheck.  In light of what happens in chapter forty-one the point being made is that Gedeliah did not take seriously the danger of Ishmael opposing God’s will in order to do the will of a rival king.

We should take the devil seriously.  Satan is busy setting traps for you.  He’s a very good trapper, by the way.  He has a lot of resources at his disposal; and he has time on his side – meaning that he can set a trap and wait years to spring it, when it will do the most damage.

All he requires is your willingness to be influenced by some wicked thought that goes unchallenged.  Or some root of bitterness that you allow to grow.  Or some misrepresentation of Jesus that you start to believe.

The devil is defeated but is no less dangerous.  For centuries he worked to defeat Jesus Christ.  Now that the Lord has defeated him, on the Cross, Satan has turned his attention to destroying Christians.

Theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote,

… the enmity of Satan is not only toward the person of God… but also toward every true child of God.  Too much emphasis cannot be placed on this fact.  Satan has no controversy or warfare with his own unregenerate people, but there is abundant Scripture to prove that he makes unceasing effort to mar the life and service of believers.

Do not underestimate his zeal to take you captive to do his will.  Do not yield to his influences – not for a moment.  If you do, repent and return to the humility of serving The Lord.

Maybe it will help if you see with your own eyes the kind of devastation that can be accomplished by one person being taken captive by the devil to do his will.

#2    You Must Recoil At The Destruction
    Of Being Taken Captive By The Devil To Do His Will

We know next to nothing about Ishmael except that he was in the royal line of David.  He might, therefore, have been king of Judah instead of Gedeliah – who was not in the royal line of David, who was an appointee of Nebuchadnezzar’s.

It’s perhaps enough to get you bitter and make you vulnerable to the influence of a wicked rival king.

Jeremiah 41:1    Now it came to pass in the seventh month that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, of the royal family and of the officers of the king, came with ten men to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, at Mizpah. And there they ate bread together in Mizpah.
Jeremiah 41:2    Then Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and the ten men who were with him, arose and struck Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, with the sword, and killed him whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.
Jeremiah 41:3    Ishmael also struck down all the Jews who were with him, that is, with Gedaliah at Mizpah, and the Chaldeans who were found there, the men of war.

One of the most chilling lines of dialog in the Godfather movies is uttered by Michael Corleone.  As he is calmly contemplating how to murder a rival, he says, “If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.”

You gotta wonder if Ishmael comforted himself by thinking that what he had done was for the greater good of Judah.  Even though Jeremiah had been prophesying surrender to Babylon, I could see Ishmael and others thinking that resistance was their patriotic duty.  To them Gedeliah was a puppet ruler who should be deposed – not the rightful ruler to whom you should submit.

Human beings have an amazing capacity for justifying disobedience to God.  God’s Word can be clear as crystal but we can nevertheless imagine ways in which it doesn’t apply – not in our special case.

Jeremiah 41:4    And it happened, on the second day after he had killed Gedaliah, when as yet no one knew it,
Jeremiah 41:5    that certain men came from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, eighty men with their beards shaved and their clothes torn, having cut themselves, with offerings and incense in their hand, to bring them to the house of the LORD.
Jeremiah 41:6    Now Ishmael the son of Nethaniah went out from Mizpah to meet them, weeping as he went along; and it happened as he met them that he said to them, “Come to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam!”
Jeremiah 41:7    So it was, when they came into the midst of the city, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah killed them and cast them into the midst of a pit, he and the men who were with him.

Take a long look at Ishmael.  He was a hero general who had led troops fighting against Babylon.  He had still been in the field, risking his life, when the city was breached.  He wasn’t a terrorist or a criminal.  I’m sure if you would have told him that he was going to kill seventy innocent worshippers who were coming to make their offerings at the ruined Temple he would have been incensed.

Yet here he was, almost overnight going from a heralded general to an assassin to a mass murderer.

Sin is a slippery slope.  It’s more than that; it’s a sheer cliff.  One sin leads to another until you find yourself in a free fall headed towards a splattering.  Remember, the devil sets traps, and traps use bait, and bait is something that, at least at first, seems desirable.

Jeremiah 41:8    But ten men were found among them who said to Ishmael, “Do not kill us, for we have treasures of wheat, barley, oil, and honey in the field.” So he desisted and did not kill them among their brethren.
Jeremiah 41:9    Now the pit into which Ishmael had cast all the dead bodies of the men whom he had slain, because of Gedaliah, was the same one Asa the king had made for fear of Baasha king of Israel. Ishmael the son of Nethaniah filled it with the slain.
Jeremiah 41:10    Then Ishmael carried away captive all the rest of the people who were in Mizpah, the king’s daughters and all the people who remained in Mizpah, whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had committed to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam. And Ishmael the son of Nethaniah carried them away captive and departed to go over to the Ammonites.

Ishmael added kidnapping to his criminal profile.
What’s the phrase we sometimes use – “Hero to zero?”  Being compared to Asa is like that.  Asa was an earlier king of Judah who started well but finished poorly.  Same with Ishmael.

I said earlier that though the devil isn’t mentioned anywhere in this account, he is easy to recognize.  In John 10:10 Jesus warned us that Satan is like a thief who comes to rob, steal, and destroy.  Other verses describe him as a murderer from the beginning.  His fingerprints (if he has any!  Featherprints?) are all over the events in this chapter.

Jeremiah 41:11    But when Johanan the son of Kareah and all the captains of the forces that were with him heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done,
Jeremiah 41:12    they took all the men and went to fight with Ishmael the son of Nethaniah; and they found him by the great pool that is in Gibeon.

Israelite versus Israelite.  It’s terrible when there is infighting among the people of God.  It’s a victory for the devil, for sure.

Don’t get me wrong; Ishmael must be opposed.  In sixth century Judah that meant hand-to-hand combat.

Our verses in Second Timothy, about being taken captive, tell us that today the “servant of The Lord must not quarrel.”  That word for “quarrel” just happens to mean hand-to-hand combat.
We are to oppose those who are taken captive, who are doing the will of the devil, with the truth of God’s Word, as servants, in humility and with gentleness.  We don’t back down, but we do not meet them on their level; we take the spiritual high ground.

Jeremiah 41:13    So it was, when all the people who were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces who were with him, that they were glad.
Jeremiah 41:14    Then all the people whom Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah turned around and came back, and went to Johanan the son of Kareah.
Jeremiah 41:15    But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men and went to the Ammonites.

Not the best outcome but certainly a better one than we might have expected.

It puts us on notice that there will always be Ishmael’s out there, eager to do the will of the rival king.

Do you see the destruction caused by yielding to the will of the devil?  You do; I do; but we can still sometimes, if not most of the time, fail to apply it to ourselves.

When I was growing up I can remember several educational programs aimed at keeping kids on the right path.  One you might remember (if you’re old enough) was the film, Reefer Madness, which was shown in my school.

Released in 1936, it’s described as “an American propaganda exploitation film revolving around the melodramatic events that ensue when high school students are lured by pushers to try marijuana – from a hit and run accident, to manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape, and descent into madness.”

Did I just hear chuckling?

I don’t know about you but my friends and I laughed at that documentary back then, too.  We never for a moment entertained the slightest thought we could end up like the strung-out addicts depicted in the film – even though we were high while watching it.

What I’m saying is that we have an almost innate sense that it’s “not me” when it comes to being taken captive by the devil to do his will.  It gives us a false courage to dabble with sin, or bitterness, or some such thing – thinking we would never let it get very far.  We yield to the devil in some area, step into his snare, thinking we can set the boundaries of how far we will go.

While we are laughing at Reefer Madness, the devil is laughing at us.

The heralded general who would be king went from assassin to mass murderer to kidnapper in just a few days time.  It’s a warning – one we ought to heed without laughter.

The good news is that Satan really has been defeated.  His schemes and strategies are mostly known to us.  He’s easily recognized.  Whenever there is pride or strife or envy or greed; whenever there is gossip or slander or backbiting; that’s him influencing someone.

In James 4:7 we read, “submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

Albert Barnes says, “While you yield to God in all things, you are to yield to the devil in none.  You are to resist and oppose him in whatever way he may approach you, whether by allurements, by flattering promises, by the fascinations of the world, by temptation, or by threats.”

You need not be subject to traumatic bonding with Satan.  Barnes goes on to say,

The true way of meeting him is by direct resistance, rather than by argument; by steadfastly refusing to yield in the slightest degree, rather than by a belief that we… can return to virtue when we have gone a certain length in complying with his demands.  No one is safe who yields in the least to the suggestions of the tempter; there is no one who is not safe if he does not yield.

I’m not suggesting we become paranoid – although I do like the quote, “it’s not paranoia if there really is someone out to get you!”

The devil really is out to get you… to get me… But he has been defeated and all we need to do is resist him.  It’s not paranoia – just caution.

Jesus prayed for us with regard to the devil.

John 17:15    I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.

God certainly can keep us from Satan.  We just need to quit yielding ourselves to him.

In the 1980’s cop-drama, Hill Street Blues, the tough but caring sergeant, knowing the multitude of dangers his officers faced on a daily basis, always ended his squad room briefings by saying the same thing.  It’s good advice for us, too.

He would say, “Let’s be careful out there.”

Choosey Prophets Choose Judah (Jeremiah 40v1-12)

Do you always do God’s will?

No, you don’t; I don’t.  Others don’t.  If we did we wouldn’t need to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Most of us believe God has a perfect will for our lives but that He gives us the freedom to choose whether or not to find and follow it.  Some call this second tier God’s permissive will.

I’m guilty of oversimplifying.  The matter of God’s will is a vast theological landscape.  But while the scholars are arguing about it, you and I have practical decisions to make.  We need to find and follow God’s will.

While our text cannot make your choices for you, it can offer you two very important perspectives on choosing when it comes to God’s perfect will for your life.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 You Should Choose To Remain In God’s Will, and #2 You Should Choose To Return To God’s Will.

#1    You Should Choose
    To Remain In God’s Will

Jerusalem had fallen to Babylon after a thirty-month siege.  Chapters forty through forty-four focus on Jeremiah and on those Jews who survived the devastation and remained in Judah and in the nearby countries.

The Babylonians appointed Gedeliah, a Jew, as governor.  He encouraged the Israeli troops out in the fields to lay down their arms and live at peace with Babylon, and he invited Jews who had fled or been driven from Judah and were living in nearby countries to return.

Gedeliah’s governorship won’t last long.  The king of Ammon will plot with a Jewish soldier named Ishmael to assassinate him.

The last few verses of chapter forty start to get into that part of the history.  We’ll get into all the details next time we are together studying Jeremiah.  Today we see Jeremiah, then the Jewish rebels and refugees, have an important choice to make.

Jeremiah 40:1    The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD after Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he had taken him bound in chains among all who were carried away captive from Jerusalem and Judah, who were carried away captive to Babylon.

In chapter thirty-nine we read that Jeremiah had been set free.  How is it he was “bound in chains” in Ramah?

Probably, in the aftermath of the siege, the Babylonian soldiers mistakenly took Jeremiah prisoner along with the other captives and brought him to Ramah, which was a small town just a few miles outside of Jerusalem.

Another possibility is that Jeremiah was set free in Jerusalem but decided to accompany the captives to give them encouragement.  Not realizing who he was and that he had been freed, the soldiers rearrested him.

In either case Nebuzaradan recognized him in Ramah and had him released.

Jeremiah 40:2    And the captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him: “The LORD your God has pronounced this doom on this place.

Jeremiah 40:3    Now the LORD has brought it, and has done just as He said. Because you people have sinned against the LORD, and not obeyed His voice, therefore this thing has come upon you.

Nebuzaradan was certainly not a believer.  That didn’t stop him from seeing prophecy being fulfilled.

Whether they realize it or not, nonbelievers are seeing prophecy being fulfilled before their very eyes.  Israel is a nation again and in their land creating problems for the nations of the world – all in fulfillment of centuries old prophecies.  Each week we suggest many other fulfillments of prophecy.

Even without recent prophetic fulfillments we can show that of the nearly 2500 prophecies in the Bible, 2000 have already been fulfilled exactly as they were written.

If you want to get even more specific, Jesus Christ fulfilled over 300 prophecies in His birth, life, death and resurrection.  The odds of one person doing that are almost incalculable.

If someone doesn’t believe in Jesus, it’s not because there is no evidence.  It’s because they don’t want to.

Jeremiah 40:4    And now look, I free you this day from the chains that were on your hand. If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you. But if it seems wrong for you to come with me to Babylon, remain here. See, all the land is before you; wherever it seems good and convenient for you to go, go there.”

Jeremiah was free to choose.  He could accompany those being deported to Babylon where he would be treated well and be protected by Nebuzaradan.  Or he could remain in Judah.  His choices weren’t unlimited (they never are!) but they were genuine.

Jeremiah 40:5    Now while Jeremiah had not yet gone back, Nebuzaradan said, “Go back to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon has made governor over the cities of Judah, and dwell with him among the people. Or go wherever it seems convenient for you to go.” So the captain of the guard gave him rations and a gift and let him go.

It almost sounds as though Jeremiah were hesitating between the two choices.  Maybe he was.  It only emphasizes for us that he was being given a real choice.

Jeremiah 40:6    Then Jeremiah went to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, to Mizpah, and dwelt with him among the people who were left in the land.

Jeremiah chose to remain in the land.  Was this a good choice?  Was it the right choice?  More to our point, had he chosen the perfect will of God?

In this case we can without hesitation or reservation say, “Yes!”, staying in the land was definitely God’s perfect will for Jeremiah.
It was always God’s will for a Jew to live in the land.

So much of what God had promised to the Jews involved their living in the land.  Their lives and destinies were rooted in the Promised Land.  From the Exodus forward they were to enter the land, possess the land, find their identity and blessing in the land.

They were only being dispossessed from the land temporarily, by God, on account of their sin.  God had promised to return them to the land after the Babylonian captivity.  He’d also made statements about them permanently dwelling in the land in the far future.

Jews were supposed to live in Judah.  If you were carried off captive, forced away from Judah, fine; there was nothing you could do about that.  Daniel and Ezekiel had been thus forced away to live in Babylon.  But if you had the choice – and Jeremiah did – God’s perfect will was to choose to remain in the land.

Why would Jeremiah even hesitate?  Well, for one thing, life in Babylon would be a lot more comfortable and much safer than life in Judah.  He could settle there into a kind of retirement.  After all, he was very old and persecution had taken its toll on him physically.  There wouldn’t be any real work to do – not compared to the rebuilding of Jerusalem anyway.  As we will see, things got very dicey in Judah.

In the end he chose not just to remain in the land but to remain in God’s will for his life.

Our choices always seem more complicated but most times they are quite simple.  God has revealed, in His Word, a great deal of what we would call His perfect will for our lives.  We should remain in it.

I often use marriage as an example in our studies because it is something we all can relate to.  We know God’s perfect will for marriage.  If you are a believer His perfect will is that you marry another believer.  God’s will for marriage is that it be a monogamous relationship between one man and one woman to last their lifetime on this earth.  There are a few grounds for divorce but even then it isn’t commanded, only permitted.

God has gifted marriage with sexual gratification but any sex outside of marriage is sin.  We are told plainly that “this is the will of God… that you should abstain from sexual immorality…” (First Thessalonians 4:3).

In every major area of our lives God has established what His will is for us.  Whether it’s the home or the church or our employment, we can read-up on God’s will for us as believers and we can choose God’s way.  We can choose God’s way because we have God’s grace to empower us.
OK, but what about the more particular choices?  I mean, we see God’s will for marriage but how do I know who I should marry?  Or what church to attend?  Or what job to take?

We don’t just have guidelines and the grace to follow them; we have a Guide to accompany us in life.  Jesus promised He would send the Holy Spirit to live in us.  He would be, and is, our Guide, applying the Word to the specific situations of our lives.

God has revealed His will for our lives.  We are to remain in it – but we need to choose to remain in it.  Make no mistake; there will be choices along the way.  There is always going to be a Babylon that seems safer and more comfortable.  We should reject it and submit to God’s will trusting that God, in His love, knows what is ultimately best for us spiritually.

#2    You Should Choose
    To Return To God’s Will

It wasn’t hard for the Jewish rebels and refugees to know God’s will for them in the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem.  God had revealed through Jeremiah for decades that His will was for them to surrender to Babylon and thereby submit to His discipline for their sin.  With the fall of Jerusalem as proof Jeremiah’s words were true, it was time to return to God’s will by surrendering to and submitting to the Babylonians.

Israeli soldiers were still out in the fields when Jerusalem fell.  Gedeliah’s first order of business was to get them to lay down their arms and serve Babylon.

Jeremiah 40:7    And when all the captains of the armies who were in the fields, they and their men, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam governor in the land, and had committed to him men, women, children, and the poorest of the land who had not been carried away captive to Babylon,
Jeremiah 40:8    then they came to Gedaliah at Mizpah – Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, Johanan and Jonathan the sons of Kareah, Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth, the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, and Jezaniah the son of a Maachathite, they and their men.
Jeremiah 40:9    And Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, took an oath before them and their men, saying, “Do not be afraid to serve the Chaldeans. Dwell in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.
Jeremiah 40:10    As for me, I will indeed dwell at Mizpah and serve the Chaldeans who come to us. But you, gather wine and summer fruit and oil, put them in your vessels, and dwell in your cities that you have taken.”

For a soldier to surrender, that’s hard.  But they weren’t really surrendering to an enemy; they were surrendering to God.  If they had been surrendered to Him all along they would not have been besieged.

In your marriage, for example, you aren’t submitting to your spouse; you’re submitting to The Lord by submitting to your spouse.  (And guys, submission is mutual; it’s not just for the ladies).

We’d do well to remember our lives are as unto The Lord.

Quite a lot of Jews had fled Judah and were living in nearby countries.
Jeremiah 40:11    Likewise, when all the Jews who were in Moab, among the Ammonites, in Edom, and who were in all the countries, heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant of Judah, and that he had set over them Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan,
Jeremiah 40:12    then all the Jews returned out of all places where they had been driven, and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah, and gathered wine and summer fruit in abundance.

Whether or not they should have fled, or were “driven” to these countries, now they certainly should return to Judah.

‘Return’ is a great word.  When you find yourself fighting God and fleeing God, stop and return to submitting to His will for your life.

In some cases you’ve made a mess of your life and the lives of others.  There may be consequences; you may not be able, ever, to return to things the way they once were.

But you can always return to The Lord, begin walking with Him again in His will.

I should tell you that Jeremiah is going to have a rough time in Judah.  Johanan will succeed Gedaliah.  Refusing to listen to Jeremiah’s counsel, Johanan flees to Egypt, taking with him Jeremiah and Baruch, Jeremiah’s faithful scribe and servant.  There the aged prophet seems to have spent the remainder of his life.

There is no authentic record of his death.  One tradition is that he was stoned to death by Jews, but nothing is certain – except that it wasn’t a life of ease.

I add this as a postscript to say that surrendering to God’s perfect will doesn’t mean ease and smooth sailing.  It can even seem foolish.  I mean, look at Jeremiah.  He chose to remain in the land only to be forcibly taken away from the land to end his days in Egypt.  Wouldn’t he have been better off in Babylon?

Jeremiah was supposed to be in the land.  If he was later forced to leave, that was in the will of God for his life.

God’s will can be hard to accept, but it’s not that hard to know.  It’s mostly already been revealed to you.  Remain in it, or return to it.  Your life may not get any easier but you’re living it will be filled with the wonder of God’s grace enabling you to endure to the end.

One final thought.  If you’re not a Christian, it’s God’s will that you be saved.  He is not willing that any should perish, but that all – that you – should come to know His Son, your Savior, Jesus Christ.

Two Men And A Babylon (Jeremiah 39v1-18)

See if you recognize this classic bit of movie dialog.

But that don’t matter either, you know? ‘Cause I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head, either. ‘Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.

Who won that first fight between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed?Rocky Balboa lost that first fight to Apollo Creed – at least technically.  But because he went the distance and was still standing he considered himself victorious.  And so did we.

It’s good to have a strange sense of what makes you victorious; you’re gonna need it as a Christian.  God’s concept of victory can be very Rocky-esque.

Case in point.  After a brutal thirty-month siege Jerusalem falls into the hands of the Babylonians.  The princes of Babylon assemble in great pomp in the gates of the city.  Jerusalem’s Jewish governor, Zedekiah, is captured.  His sons are executed in front of him and then his eyes are gouged out.  The chief citizens are rounded up, shackled, and deported to Babylon.

In the aftermath of Israel’s defeat and Babylon’s seeming victory God said something strange; it’s in the last verse of the chapter.

Jeremiah 39:18    For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,” says the LORD.’ ”

These words are addressed to Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian who had saved Jeremiah from the dungeon in chapter thirty-eight.  The phrase that arrests our attention is, “your life shall be as a prize to you.”  It means that he wouldn’t die at the hands of the invaders; but it means something more than that.

The ESV translates it, “you shall have your life as a prize of war.”  The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates it, “you will keep your life like the spoils of war.”

I described the scene inside Jerusalem to you.  Who would you say was the victor to whom belonged the spoils of war?  Wouldn’t you say it was the Babylonians?

If it’s true that to the victor goes the spoils, then God thought Ebed-Melech was victorious.  It’s a strange sense of what constitutes victory; very Rocky-esque.

What about us?  The world in which we find ourselves has been described over the centuries as a sort of Babylon.  There is most definitely a spiritual warfare all around us in which the devil and his followers seem to be victorious while believers are suffering.

With Babylon all around us; with the devil currently crowned as the god of this world; we’re going to be defeated if we’d rather be Apollo Creed than Rocky Balboa.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Your Victory Is Not In The Material Spoils Of The Kingdoms Of This World, but #2 Your Victory Is In The Spiritual Spoils In The Kingdom Of The Lord.

#1    Your Victory Is Not In
    The Material Spoils Of The Kingdoms Of This World

Ask yourself this question: In our chapter would you rather be Samgar-Nebo or Ebed-Melech?
You’d rather be Ebed-Melech, trusting and obeying The Lord and, in so doing, being declared the victor by God to whom go the spoils.

Jeremiah 39:1    In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem, and besieged it.
Jeremiah 39:2    In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, the city was penetrated.

Reckoning by the Jewish calendar this works out to a siege that lasted thirty-months.  Famine, disease and pestilence had already taken their toll.  The sword came over the wall and through the gates to take an even greater toll.

Jeremiah 39:3    Then all the princes of the king of Babylon came in and sat in the Middle Gate: Nergal-Sharezer, Samgar-Nebo, Sarsechim, Rabsaris, Nergal-Sarezer, Rabmag, with the rest of the princes of the king of Babylon.

Gates were the place in ancient cities where the leaders sat to govern.  The princes of Babylon were declaring victory and doing it with pomp and pride.

Jeremiah 39:4    So it was, when Zedekiah the king of Judah and all the men of war saw them, that they fled and went out of the city by night, by way of the king’s garden, by the gate between the two walls. And he went out by way of the plain.
Jeremiah 39:5    But the Chaldean army pursued them and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho. And when they had captured him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, to Riblah in the land of Hamath, where he pronounced judgment on him.
Jeremiah 39:6    Then the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes in Riblah; the king of Babylon also killed all the nobles of Judah.
Jeremiah 39:7    Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, and bound him with bronze fetters to carry him off to Babylon.

To seal their victory kings would capture and humiliate the conquered monarch.  The Babylonians left no doubt who had won and who had lost.

Jeremiah 39:8    And the Chaldeans burned the king’s house and the houses of the people with fire, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 39:9    Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive to Babylon the remnant of the people who remained in the city and those who defected to him, with the rest of the people who remained.

Line upon line in this narrative you see how complete was the victory of the Babylonians.

Jeremiah 39:10    But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left in the land of Judah the poor people, who had nothing, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.

How very Robin Hood of them – to give the poor land and such.  It would endear those left behind to their conquerors.

In every way possible you see that Babylon was victorious over Judah.  At least they were from a purely material point of view.

Spiritually speaking we know something else was going on.  God had raised-up Babylon as a tool in order to discipline His unrepentant people.  From that point of view this wasn’t a victory for Nebuchadnezzar.  His involvement was incidental to the deeper purposes of God.

We need always to bear in mind that God Who has begun a good work in us will continue to conform us into the image of His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Since we are in the world, currently ruled by the god of this world, we can expect Babylon to seem victorious yet all the while we know God is overruling for our good and His glory.

Think of it this way.  There was one moment in time, in human history, that seemed to be the devil’s greatest triumph – his moment of absolute victory over God.  It was at the Cross when Jesus Christ was crucified.

From the beginning of human history he had tried to stop Jesus from coming by murdering.  We’re told that Cain “was of that wicked one” when he slew his brother Abel.  Or how about Pharaoh’s order to the midwives to kill all the Jewish baby boys?  Then there was King Herod’s massacre of the children after the Magi told him the King of the Jews was born.

With Jesus on the earth Satan turned his efforts towards murdering Him.  Satan possessed Judas; he filled the Jewish leaders with hatred; he pressured Rome to cooperate, until the sinless Son of God was tortured and dying on the Cross.  Psalm twenty-two indicates that demons were there, around the Cross, tormenting Jesus and claiming their victory.

One Roman centurion summed up the feeling when he said, “Truly this was the Son of God” – speaking of Jesus in the past tense as if all hope for humanity had been lost.

Was the Cross Satan’s finest moment?  Was it his great victory?  Quite the opposite.  It was there God resolved the problem of sin and separation from His creation once and for all.  It was there that Jesus became the Savior of all men – especially those who believe.  It was by being lifted-up on the Cross that He can draw all men to Himself offering salvation.

Jesus went the distance on the Cross, saying, “It is finished!”  He was victorious and we along with Him.

But it also puts us on notice that our victories against the devil, in everyday Babylon, will be similar in that we must take up the Cross, die to ourselves, trust and obey God.  Victory is in going the distance – or we would say, in enduring to the end.

#2    Your Victory Is In
    The Spiritual Spoils In The Kingdom Of The Lord

Let the Babylonian princes sit proudly in the gates as if they had won this victory.  We turn our attention to those who received the true spoils of the Babylonian conquest – Jeremiah and Ebed-Melech.

Jeremiah 39:11    Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying,
Jeremiah 39:12    “Take him and look after him, and do him no harm; but do to him just as he says to you.”
Jeremiah 39:13    So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent Nebushasban, Rabsaris, Nergal-Sharezer, Rabmag, and all the king of Babylon’s chief officers;
Jeremiah 39:14    then they sent someone to take Jeremiah from the court of the prison, and committed him to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, that he should take him home. So he dwelt among the people.
We’ll see in chapter forty that initially Jeremiah was shackled and carried off but, during processing, he was set free.

Jeremiah had been telling Jews to defect to Babylon and they would be spared.  Nebuchadnezzar had heard of him through these defectors.  We’d also factor-in God working upon Nebuchadnezzar’s heart to show favor to Jeremiah.

If you’ve been through all or most of our studies thus far in Jeremiah you know that his entire life is a case study in what constitutes real victory, spiritual victory.
Put in almost anywhere, in just about any chapter, and it looks like Jeremiah is being defeated while his enemies are victorious.  But you know in your heart, in your spirit, that victory – real victory – is in trusting and obeying God.

The problem lies in that it is easier to see Jeremiah’s spiritual victory than it is to see our own.  For one thing, we see the end of his life and ministry.  We see, for example, him finally vindicated as Jerusalem falls into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar just as Jeremiah had prophesied for decades.

Our own lives are far more challenging in that we are asked to trust that God will bring us to a glorious end.  Put in at any point along the way, in a chapter of our lives as it were, and we can seem defeated by the world – humiliated, persecuted, imprisoned, even killed.

We must therefore always remember what victory – real victory – looks like.  It looks like the Cross; it looks like dying to self and obeying God.

Jeremiah 39:15    Meanwhile the word of the LORD had come to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the prison, saying,
Jeremiah 39:16    “Go and speak to Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will bring My words upon this city for adversity and not for good, and they shall be performed in that day before you.
Jeremiah 39:17    But I will deliver you in that day,” says the LORD, “and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid.
Jeremiah 39:18    For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,” says the LORD.’ ”
We met Ebed-Melech when Jeremiah was thrown into a dungeon and left to die.  Ebed-Melech risked his own life to save Jeremiah’s.  We saw that Ebed-Melech was a foreigner, a slave, an emasculated harem keeper.  He’s anonymous in that Ebed-Melech is a title, not a name, meaning, the king’s servant.

This anonymous foreigner, a slave who had most likely been mutilated to serve in the harem, is the one person in this account of the fall of Jerusalem who is described as having any “prize” or, as we are putting it, spoils.

God reiterated to him that the Babylonian invasion was His doing; it was God’s way of bringing the Israelites to their spiritual senses.  No matter how pervasive the Babylonian victory might seem, this was God’s triumph.  Through it He would spare His people and prepare the way of The Lord.

The material prosperity of Babylon would be short-lived.  Just like the Assyrians before them, and the Medes and Persians after them, the Babylonians were a blip in the history of nations on the way to bringing the Savior of the world to die on the Cross to gain the ultimate victory for mankind.

Read the New Testament with an emphasis on what constitutes spiritual victory and you find that God’s sense of victory involves things like being poor in spirit… mourning… meekness… and being merciful – all while being persecuted for His sake.

His spiritual victories can involve subduing kingdoms, stoping the mouths of lions, quenching the violence of fire, escaping the edge of the sword, and turning to flight armies.

Or they can involve being tortured, trials of mockings and scourgings, chains and imprisonment, being stoned or sawn in two or slain with the sword.  It can mean wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, and tormented (Hebrews 11:33-37).

The Bible declares that in all things we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).  What things?  Tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword… “As it is written: “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE KILLED ALL DAY LONG; WE ARE ACCOUNTED AS SHEEP FOR THE SLAUGHTER” (Romans 8:36).

Our victory isn’t that we avoid those things but that we endure them for the sake of Jesus Christ.

My favorite example and explanation of what constitutes real, spiritual victory comes from the mouths of Daniel’s three friends as King Nebuchadnezzar is threatening to throw them into a fiery furnace.

Daniel 3:16    Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.
Daniel 3:17    If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.
Daniel 3:18    But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”

‘More than conquerors’ know it doesn’t matter which way things go – life or death – because the victory is in trusting God, in obeying God.  These three boys were spared but many after them throughout history, who were every bit as victorious, were killed.

Our victory is at the Cross.  It is in dying to self in order to serve The Lord.  It’s not about anything in the material world; it’s not about gaining or getting or looking like we have the upper hand.

We have much in the way of spiritual spoils.  All spiritual blessings in heavenly places are already ours to draw from.  Because of the indwelling Holy Spirit we can effortlessly produce the fruit of the Spirit.

Why don’t we always act and react spiritually?  At least one reason might be that we forget God’s strange but wonderful sense of what constitutes real victory.  We can be too quick to defend ourselves when God is trying to show His strength in our weakness.

Let’s quit seeking the kinds of victories the world offers us and instead receive the true spoils of war.  Let’s be the ‘more than conquerors’ who know that God will deliver us but, if not, we will go on trusting Him, obeying Him.

Let’s go the distance and remaining standing at the final trumpet.

Pit Stopped (Jeremiah 38)

127 Hours is the film that tells the survival story of canyoneer Aron Ralston who became trapped by a boulder in an isolated slot canyon in Blue John Canyon, southeastern Utah, in April 2003, and was eventually forced to amputate his own right arm to free himself.

He fell and his arm was pinned by a boulder.  He discovered that by applying enough force to his forearm he could break it.  He gathered the will to do so and eventually severed his arm with a dull knife, fashioning a crude tourniquet out of the insulation from his CamelBak tube and using a carabiner to tighten it.

He then made his way out of the canyon where he was forced to rappel down a 65ft rockface and hike several miles before, exhausted and covered in blood, he finally ran into a family on a day hike.  The family sent for help and Ralston was evacuated by a Utah Highway Patrol helicopter.

We commonly use expressions that describe predicaments like Ralston’s in order to explain some personal difficulty we find ourselves in.  We say we are between a rock and a hard place or that our life is the pits.

That’s all well and good as long as we realize one huge difference between our personal predicaments and the physical ones like Ralston’s.  In his case he needed to do everything he could to save himself because he knew no help was coming.  In our cases, as Christians, we know that help is always coming.

It is more than coming; it is already available to us because Jesus said He would never leave us or forsake us.  No matter how dark or how deep our pit, The Lord is there.

Jeremiah was quite literally thrown into a pit.  His physical predicament can be seen as a figure of our personal predicaments when we find ourselves in some pit.  Just as The Lord sent Jeremiah a servant, He always has one for you.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 When You Are In The Pit God Will Send You A Servant, and #2 When You Are Out Of The Pit God Will Send You As His Servant.

#1    When You Are In The Pit
    God Will Send You A Servant

Our story takes place in the final months of the third and final siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian armies.  Mounds of dirt are being built-up so the soldiers can go over the walls.  Battering rams are hammering the gates.  Inside the walls famine and disease and pestilence are claiming many lives.

In the pit that Jerusalem had become there were two schools of thought.

Jeremiah 38:1    Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken to all the people, saying,
Jeremiah 38:2    “Thus says the LORD: ‘He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes over to the Chaldeans shall live; his life shall be as a prize to him, and he shall live.’
Jeremiah 38:3    Thus says the LORD: ‘This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, which shall take it.’ ”
Jeremiah 38:4    Therefore the princes said to the king, “Please, let this man be put to death, for thus he weakens the hands of the men of war who remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man does not seek the welfare of this people, but their harm.”

Jeremiah claimed God had made a way out of the pit.  All you had to do was have faith in God, believe Him that if you went out and over to the Chaldeans you would live.
The princes listed here made a different assessment of the pit they were in.  They thought they must fight to save themselves.
Faith or fight – those were the choices.  If fight was going to prevail then Jeremiah must be silenced.

Jeremiah 38:5    Then Zedekiah the king said, “Look, he is in your hand. For the king can do nothing against you.”

This was a Pontius Pilate moment for Zedekiah.  He knew it was wrong to kill Jeremiah but he tried to wash his hands of it by saying he had no power over these princes.

Pontius Pilate moments come in all of our lives. They are the times we must say and do what is right despite the real or perceived consequences.

Jeremiah 38:6    So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the king’s son, which was in the court of the prison, and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire. So Jeremiah sank in the mire.

This “dungeon” was a cistern, a reservoir for holding water that was hewn out of the ground and covered over with plaster.  It would have only a small, roundish opening at the top from which to draw water.  This particular one had been exhausted of its water supply on account of the long siege.  On its floor was a thigh-deep layer of “mire” – muddy slime.

Jeremiah was lowered into it – probably about fifteen feet or so.  He sank into the mire.  There would be no clean or dry spot to lie down or to sit.  There was little to no light.  It stank.  In Jeremiah’s other book, Lamentations, he mentions that rocks were thrown at him while in the pit.

The king himself had consented to it and powerful princes had carried it out.  It was about as hopeless a situation as you could imagine.

Some of you can imagine it though, can’t you?  You’ve been in pits like that.  Not literally, but personally… emotionally… spiritually.  Some of you may be in such a pit right now.

You have the same two choices – faith or fight.  We are prone to fight, to thinking that no help is coming so we must help ourselves.  Though it’s not in the Bible, even Christians tend to believe that “God helps those who help themselves.”

God helps those who cannot help themselves.  God’s help is always available by faith.

Think of others who were in pits of sorts.  Daniel was thrown into a pit – the den of lions.  He survived the night with God’s ever present help.

Before Daniel was thrown into the pit his three friends were thrown into Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace.  They emerged without burns; they didn’t even smell smokey.  That’s because there was a fourth Person with them in the furnace – a Person Nebuchadnezzar thought looked like the Son of God who we know was Jesus Christ.

The psalmist knew God was with him in his pits.

Psalm 40:1    I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me, And heard my cry.
Psalm 40:2    He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, And established my steps.

God sent His servant to save Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 38:7    Now Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs, who was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon. When the king was sitting at the Gate of Benjamin,
Jeremiah 38:8    Ebed-Melech went out of the king’s house and spoke to the king, saying:
Jeremiah 38:9    “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon, and he is likely to die from hunger in the place where he is. For there is no more bread in the city.”

It would be hard to find a more unlikely source of help than Ebed-Melech.  He was a foreigner, a slave, an emasculated harem-keeper.  In order to help Jeremiah he had to abandon his post and rebuke the king in public risking execution.

Let me put it a different way.  If you were Jeremiah and you wanted to try to fight for your rescue, Ebed-Melech would be the last person in Jerusalem you would think of to come to your aid.  You wouldn’t waste your one phone call on him.
Jeremiah may not have known him at all.  Meaning that the one source of help God would raise-up was someone known only to The Lord.

God’s help in the pits of life is not what we expect.  But it is always better than we expect.

Jeremiah 38:10    Then the king commanded Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, saying, “Take from here thirty men with you, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon before he dies.”
Jeremiah 38:11    So Ebed-Melech took the men with him and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took from there old clothes and old rags, and let them down by ropes into the dungeon to Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 38:12    Then Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Please put these old clothes and rags under your armpits, under the ropes.” And Jeremiah did so.
Jeremiah 38:13    So they pulled Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the dungeon. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.

He not only pulled Jeremiah from the miry pit – he did it with compassion.  He didn’t want Jeremiah to get so much as a rope burn during the rescue.

Listen: “Ebed-Melech” isn’t this guy’s name.  He’s anonymous; we don’t know his name.  “Ebed-Melech” means the servant of the king.

God has a lot of servants He can dispatch to you in the pit you find yourself mired in.

God can send you a person, like this Ethiopian eunuch.  He can send you His angel, like He did for Daniel.  He can manifest Himself to you, like he did for Daniel’s three friends.

We don’t always recognize the servants He does send.  We’re looking for a person or maybe even an angel.  We have our own ideas about deliverance from the pit.

We can miss the fact that God always sends His most powerful servant – grace.  Grace is God’s enabling power that sustains us in all things and through all things.  There’s no pit that can possibly exhaust the grace of God.

Grace rarely comes alone to your pit.  Grace is accompanied by mercy.  Or peace.  Or forgiveness.  Or joy.

This is how we need to think when we are between the rock and a hard place, in the pit, stuck fast in the mire.  By faith, receiving grace.  Or mercy.  Or peace.  Or forgiveness.  Or joy.  Or any of the very powerful spiritual servants that are ours by virtue of our relationship to Jesus Christ.

Faith is not merely believing you can do something; it is knowing that you can through the power of Christ.

Remember something else.  God can rescue you from the pit or through the pit.

When our pits are personal, emotional, spiritual pits, it’s most likely God rescues us through them – meaning we must endure them.  But we do not endure them without His servants to help us.

God’s servants render you mireproof.  There is no pit they can’t handle.

#2    When You Are Out Of The Pit
    God Will Send You As His Servant

God rescued Jeremiah so the prophet could go on ministering.  Hard as it might be to believe, God still wanted Jeremiah to minister to Zedekiah.  Harder still to imagine, Jeremiah was ok with it.

Jeremiah 38:14    Then Zedekiah the king sent and had Jeremiah the prophet brought to him at the third entrance of the house of the LORD. And the king said to Jeremiah, “I will ask you something. Hide nothing from me.”
Jeremiah 38:15    Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “If I declare it to you, will you not surely put me to death? And if I give you advice, you will not listen to me.”
Jeremiah 38:16    So Zedekiah the king swore secretly to Jeremiah, saying, “As the LORD lives, who made our very souls, I will not put you to death, nor will I give you into the hand of these men who seek your life.”
There was nothing wrong with Jeremiah asking for protection.  It’s not spiritual to have a death wish.

Jeremiah 38:17    Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘If you surely surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then your soul shall live; this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live.
Jeremiah 38:18    But if you do not surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans; they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.’ ”

It was a clear choice, not difficult to understand, needing no interpretation.

People often argue that the Bible is unclear, subject to any number of interpretations.  It’s just not true.  At least, not when it counts.

The most beloved, famous, and well-known of all the verses in the Bible – to both believers and nonbelievers – is John 3:16.

John 3:16    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

There is nothing complicated about it.  It’s very clear.  There’s no need for interpretation.  The youngest child can understand and act upon it.  You either “believe in Him” and are saved; or you don’t and you “perish.”

Jeremiah 38:19    And Zedekiah the king said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Jews who have defected to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they abuse me.”

Zedekiah’s unbelief was on account of his fear of man.  That’s a big one for a lot of people.  They are afraid of how others will react to them if they follow Jesus Christ.  Afraid of losing face or relationships.

You just might lose face with men but you’ll be looking into the face of The Lord.

You might lose relationships with some people but in your relationship with Jesus you gain an enormous forever family of believers – brothers and sisters in Christ throughout all of history past and present.

Jeremiah 38:20    But Jeremiah said, “They shall not deliver you. Please, obey the voice of the LORD which I speak to you. So it shall be well with you, and your soul shall live.
Jeremiah 38:21    But if you refuse to surrender, this is the word that the LORD has shown me:
Jeremiah 38:22    ‘Now behold, all the women who are left in the king of Judah’s house shall be surrendered to the king of Babylon’s princes, and those women shall say: “Your close friends have set upon you And prevailed against you; Your feet have sunk in the mire, And they have turned away again.”
Jeremiah 38:23    ‘So they shall surrender all your wives and children to the Chaldeans. You shall not escape from their hand, but shall be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon. And you shall cause this city to be burned with fire.’ ”

Do it for the sake of the women and children, Zedekiah; hat they might be spared suffering.

Sacrificial living is at an all-time low.  Our culture values the pursuit of individual happiness above almost everything else.  People aren’t even sacrificing for their kids.  I don’t know how many couples, for instance, that I have encouraged to work-out their relatively minor, selfish problems and to stay married for the sake of their children who have insisted that “divorce is better for the kids.”  It isn’t – at least not in the majority of families.

Jeremiah 38:24    Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Let no one know of these words, and you shall not die.
Jeremiah 38:25    But if the princes hear that I have talked with you, and they come to you and say to you, ‘Declare to us now what you have said to the king, and also what the king said to you; do not hide it from us, and we will not put you to death,’
Jeremiah 38:26    then you shall say to them, ‘I presented my request before the king, that he would not make me return to Jonathan’s house to die there.’ ”

Zedekiah was asking Jeremiah to withhold certain information from the princes.  Would he do it?

Jeremiah 38:27    Then all the princes came to Jeremiah and asked him. And he told them according to all these words that the king had commanded. So they stopped speaking with him, for the conversation had not been heard.

Jeremiah covered for Zedekiah.  I don’t want to over-analyze the ethics of his decision.  He didn’t really lie; he just didn’t tell everything.  Some fault him for it.

Not the point.  What is the point?  Obviously we can’t say for certain but I see Jeremiah trying to keep a line of communication open with Zedekiah by which he might still convince the king – while there was yet time – to surrender to Babylon.  It would spare the people of Judah much suffering.

We should try to do the greater good without compromising our beliefs.  Keep lines of communication open – not at any cost but within reason.

Jeremiah 38:28    Now Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken. And he was there when Jerusalem was taken.

It’s a bittersweet postscript.  Jeremiah was spared further persecution but Zedekiah never did do the right thing.  The city fell – meaning it was burned and its citizens deported to Babylon.

The pit did nothing to quench Jeremiah’s zeal.  It didn’t cause him to tone down God’s Word.

Add to that he was not getting any younger.  Seriously – he’d been at it a long time and with very limited success.

It’s a great reminder to go on serving The Lord with every breath til your last breath.

Life is going to be the pits.  Recognize the King’s servants; let them lift you up, spiritually speaking; go on serving your King.

Dungeons And Dramatics (Jeremiah 37)

Jonathan Edwards is a former British Olympic champion in the triple jump.  Due to his strong Christian beliefs during his athletic career he initially refused to compete on Sundays.

Following his retirement as an athlete Edwards worked as a sports commentator and presenter for BBC television.  He also presented episodes of the BBC Christian worship program, Songs of Praise, until he renounced his faith in 2007.

“I lost my faith when I retired,” he was quoted as saying.  “Retirement is very traumatic.  You stop doing what you love, what you are very good at, the thing that has given you your identity.  You have to start again.  At a time when your contemporaries are nearing the peak of their professional lives, you are over the hill.  How do you prepare for life after being an athlete?”

You and I hear that and say, “It’s time to quit whining and put on your big-boy pants,” but the truth is that it is not uncommon for a person to encounter a life-changing event that puts their confidence in God’s Word to the test.

Confidence in God’s Word was put to the test when the Babylonian troops besieging Jerusalem suddenly retreated.  It seemed contrary to everything Jeremiah had prophesied for decades.

Then Jeremiah was accused of trying to defect to the Babylonians and was beaten and incarcerated in a makeshift dungeon.

Some event, or some evil, may come upon you personally or upon those you love.  However minor it may seem to others, it will be major to you.  God’s Word – perhaps a promise He’s made – will seem almost voided.  How will you respond?

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points:  #1 Don’t Let Events Shake Your Confidence In God’s Word, and #2 Don’t Let Evils Shake Your Confidence In God’s Word.

#1    Don’t Let Events
    Shake Your Confidence In God’s Word

Babylon’s troops were besieging Jerusalem for the third time and this time they were poised to destroy the city and its Temple.  It was all exactly as Jeremiah had prophesied.

Then something dramatic happened that seemed to contradict God’s Word through Jeremiah.  Hearing of an Egyptian threat behind them, the Babylonians suddenly broke-off their siege and withdrew their troops.

What was happening?  Had God repented of His prophesied judgment?  Let’s see how it all played-out and how Jeremiah – whose prophesies suddenly seemed suspicious – responded.

Jeremiah 37:1    Now King Zedekiah the son of Josiah reigned instead of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah.
Jeremiah 37:2    But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land gave heed to the words of the LORD which He spoke by the prophet Jeremiah.

Zedekiah had been appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to govern Judah.  Historians tell us he made an alliance with Egypt in order to get out from under the yoke of Babylon.  It was his betrayal of Nebuchadnezzar that incited this third attack.

Meanwhile Jeremiah had been telling the kings of Judah to submit to Nebuchadnezzar and that they would be subject to Babylon for seventy years.  It was the Word of The Lord and Jeremiah had not wavered from it.  With the armies upon them it seemed to confirm the truth of his prophecies.

Jeremiah 37:3    And Zedekiah the king sent Jehucal the son of Shelemiah, and Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest, to the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “Pray now to the LORD our God for us.”
Jeremiah 37:4    Now Jeremiah was coming and going among the people, for they had not yet put him in prison.
Jeremiah 37:5    Then Pharaoh’s army came up from Egypt; and when the Chaldeans who were besieging Jerusalem heard news of them, they departed from Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 37:6    Then the word of the LORD came to the prophet Jeremiah, saying,
Jeremiah 37:7    “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Thus you shall say to the king of Judah, who sent you to Me to inquire of Me: “Behold, Pharaoh’s army which has come up to help you will return to Egypt, to their own land.
Jeremiah 37:8    And the Chaldeans shall come back and fight against this city, and take it and burn it with fire.” ‘

If I’m reading this correctly, the Babylonians withdrew and Zedekiah sent to ask Jeremiah if, in fact, God had repented of what he had been prophesying for some years and was going to spare Jerusalem from judgment.

Jeremiah insisted that the withdrawal precipitated by Egypt was merely a forestalling of the inevitable.

Think of it from Jeremiah’s point of view.  Powerful circumstantial evidence seemed to prove your prophecies to be wrong.  Instead of the Babylonians breaching the walls and burning the city they had withdrawn – so much so, as we will see in a moment, that anyone who wanted could leave Jerusalem and travel freely in the surrounding regions and towns.

Add to that a couple of biblical facts:

First, some hundred years or so earlier God had repented of His judgment when Hezekiah was king and instead sent an angel into the camp of the besieging Assyrian army to kill 185,000 soldiers.
Second, Jonah had once announced doom upon Nineveh only to see God repent and spare them.

Was something like that happening again?  Sadly, no, because unlike Hezekiah and the Ninevites, the citizens of Judah did not and would not repent.  We just read that they “gave no heed” to the Word of God.

Still, if you were Jeremiah, this could be disheartening to say the least.  Everything pointed to you being wrong about the most important thing you’d ever said.  It was a very challenging event to say the least.

All of us have events – some life changing, some life challenging.  Circumstantial evidence can point to a failure in the Word of God or, at least, a promise that now seems unlikely to be kept.
We say that all things are working together for the good but there can be huge periods of time when we don’t see the good and can’t even imagine it ever coming.

We all know people who had an event that shook them up so much they turned to The Lord.  You might also know Christians – I know I do – who had an event that shook them up and they became embittered with The Lord.  It’s more common than we’d like to admit.

What did Jeremiah do?

Jeremiah 37:9    Thus says the LORD: ‘Do not deceive yourselves, saying, “The Chaldeans will surely depart from us,” for they will not depart.
Jeremiah 37:10    For though you had defeated the whole army of the Chaldeans who fight against you, and there remained only wounded men among them, they would rise up, every man in his tent, and burn the city with fire.’ ”

Jeremiah not only remained confident in God’s revealed Word; he emphasized it all the more.  In face of contrary circumstantial evidence he made the bold assertion that God’s Word could not possibly fail.  The Chaldean’s had withdrawn but would return.  Even if the Jews were to somehow defeat the Chaldeans in battle, a handful of their wounded would still fulfill God’s Word.

This wasn’t blind faith.  As we already pointed out, Jeremiah knew God hadn’t repented of the coming judgment because the Jews had refused to repent.  Jeremiah’s confidence was based upon both the Word of God and the character of God.
He knew God could never contradict Himself.  Though He could conceivably turn away His judgment, it could only be in response to genuine national repentance.

In a court of law circumstantial evidence can be very powerful.  Much of the evidence against convicted American bomber Timothy McVeigh was circumstantial.  Speaking about McVeigh’s trial, University of Michigan law professor Robert Precht said, “Circumstantial evidence can be, and often is much more powerful than direct evidence.”

The 2004 murder trial of Scott Peterson was another high-profile conviction based heavily on circumstantial evidence.

Throw all that out when it comes to spiritual matters.  Abraham comes to mind.  All the promises God made him were dependent upon he and Sarah having a son when they were past childbearing.  Then, once they had the son, Abraham was asked to kill him in a sacrifice.

Circumstantial evidence was always against God fulfilling His promises to Abraham.  But He did and He is still doing it today.

Beware of allowing circumstantial evidence to challenge what God has said and Who God is.  His revelation, and especially His promises to you, are all true and Amen despite what you may be experiencing at any given point along your journey homeward to Heaven.

#2    Don’t Let Evils
    Shake Your Confidence In God’s Word

A false accusation led to a great evil being done against Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 37:11    And it happened, when the army of the Chaldeans left the siege of Jerusalem for fear of Pharaoh’s army,
Jeremiah 37:12    that Jeremiah went out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin to claim his property there among the people.
Jeremiah 37:13    And when he was in the Gate of Benjamin, a captain of the guard was there whose name was Irijah the son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah; and he seized Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “You are defecting to the Chaldeans!”
Jeremiah 37:14    Then Jeremiah said, “False! I am not defecting to the Chaldeans.” But he did not listen to him. So Irijah seized Jeremiah and brought him to the princes.

Jeremiah was a loyal patriot. He loved his country and his people.  To be accused of defecting was a terrible and evil thing.

Jeremiah 37:15    Therefore the princes were angry with Jeremiah, and they struck him and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe. For they had made that the prison.
“Struck him” probably means he was flogged – a very, very serious and painful legal beating.  All this without regard for any hearing or trial.

There were no prisons in Jerusalem so they used a portion of the house of Jonathan to hold Jeremiah.  It was probably an underground cistern – a dank, empty water reservoir.

Can you say, “Life’s not fair?”  It isn’t and all of us will experience evil in our lifetimes.  It might be on a large scale, like Jeremiah’s beating and incarceration.  It might be something most people would consider petty.  But either way it can cause you to lose confidence in God’s Word.

Much of the philosophy I studied at the University of California Riverside was the modern response to the two world wars fought in the twentieth century.  Intellectuals and academics, as well as average Joe’s and Jane’s, could not reconcile how there could be an omnipotent and loving God in the face of the horrors of those conflicts.  They rejected the notion of God altogether on account of the evils that were so evident.

What did Jeremiah do?

Jeremiah 37:16    When Jeremiah entered the dungeon and the cells, and Jeremiah had remained there many days,
Jeremiah 37:17    then Zedekiah the king sent and took him out. The king asked him secretly in his house, and said, “Is there any word from the LORD?” And Jeremiah said, “There is.” Then he said, “You shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon!”

Jeremiah went right on boldly proclaiming the very same Word of God he had been delivering.  The presence of evil – even evil done against him, allowed by God to touch him – did not dissuade him from trusting God’s Word.

We’ve already talked a lot, in previous studies, about the theological issue of evil with regard to the omnipotence and love of God.  Today I will only say that it does you no good to remove God from the discussion.  It may be hard for some to come to grips with why or how the omnipotent loving God allows evil; but if you reject Him the only alternative is hopelessness.

Those who reject God because of the presence of evil have adopted the philosophy of Satan.  When Satan appeared in Heaven before God in the opening chapters of the Book of Job he insisted that if anything evil befell Job that he would renounce God and cease from worshipping Him.  The devil uses the so-called ‘problem of evil’ to entice men and women to renounce God.

God is God in what seems like happenstance; He is God in every circumstance.  Don’t allow Satan to argue otherwise.  Instead be like Jeremiah and go even deeper into God’s Word.

Jeremiah 37:18    Moreover Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, “What offense have I committed against you, against your servants, or against this people, that you have put me in prison?
Jeremiah 37:19    Where now are your prophets who prophesied to you, saying, ‘The king of Babylon will not come against you or against this land?’

There are always other voices to challenge God’s Word.  They seem true but only for a moment, and even then only in a very shallow, self-serving way.  God’s Word stands forever.

Jeremiah 37:20    Therefore please hear now, O my lord the king. Please, let my petition be accepted before you, and do not make me return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there.”
Jeremiah 37:21    Then Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah to the court of the prison, and that they should give him daily a piece of bread from the bakers’ street, until all the bread in the city was gone. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.

He remained a prisoner but, really, everyone in the city was again a prisoner when the Babylonians returned; and bread was a delicacy during a siege.

It’s a way of reminding us that, believer and nonbeliever, we are all in this together.  The difference is that have the words of eternal life.  We know the bread of life and can share Him with all men.

Time is too short for us to let events or evils turn us aside from the narrow road we are on that leads to eternal life.  Too many hopeless sinners need us to remain confident in God’s Word and when life challenges us to go even deeper in our confidence that all things really do work together for the good.

Jehoiakim The Ripper (Jeremiah 36)

Thomas Jefferson sat in the new presidential mansion in Washington in 1803 and opened his Bible – not to study, but to cut.  He scoured the text for Jesus’ greatest teachings, sliced out his favorite portions, and glued them into an empty notebook.  He called it “The Philosophy of Jesus.”  That book was lost to history.

In 1819 he started over and created a new version called “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” commonly referred to now as the Jefferson Bible.  This volume was kept largely secret and passed among Jefferson’s relatives until 1895 when it was discovered by the librarian at the Smithsonian.  In 1904 it was published by Congress.

The Smithsonian described Jefferson’s editing process like this:

Jefferson created his own Gospel by taking a sharp instrument, perhaps a penknife, to existing copies of the New Testament and pasting up his own account of Christ’s [life and teachings]…

Maybe Jefferson got the idea to cut portions out of the Bible from King Jehoiakim of Judah.  Jeremiah dictated a scroll which was read aloud to Jehoiakim.  When every three or four columns had been read to him, “the king cut it with the scribe’s knife and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth.”

It’s never a good idea to cut God’s Word.  Instead we ought to want it to ‘cut’ us – to cut us to the heart.  It is, after all, “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

There’s not much danger of us literally cutting the Bible with our Kershaw’s and pasting together our own version.  But we can emphasize certain things over others; and we can ignore certain things even though they are right there in God’s Word.  In that way we become editors of God’s Word, do we not?

I’ll organize my thoughts around two desires: #1 May It Always Be That God’s Word Cuts You To The Heart, and #2 May It Never Be That You Cut God’s Word From Your Heart.

#1    May It Always Be
    That God’s Word Cuts You To The Heart

The tone of this chapter is captured in words from verse three where God said, “it may be… that everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.”  God is always reaching out to save or restore you.

Which do you need today – saving or restoring?  Whichever it is listen carefully because God is here to perform it with power.

Jeremiah 36:1    Now it came to pass in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, that this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying:
Jeremiah 36:2    “Take a scroll of a book and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel, against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah even to this day.
Jeremiah 36:3    It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the adversities which I purpose to bring upon them, that everyone may turn from his evil way, that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.”

Up to now Jeremiah had only spoken the prophecies in the hearing of the people.  Now he would commit them to parchment in order to reach a wider audience.

When the printing press was invented the first thing ever printed was a Bible.  Today we have so many means to communicate the Word of God; we should use all of them to the glory of God.

Jeremiah 36:4    Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah; and Baruch wrote on a scroll of a book, at the instruction of Jeremiah, all the words of the LORD which He had spoken to him.

We’ve seen that Jeremiah did have a few friends over the course of his ministry: Ahikam (26:24), Gedaliah (Ahikam’s son, 39:14) and Ebed-Melech (38:7-13; 39:15-18).  Jeremiah’s closest companion was a faithful secretary, Baruch, who wrote down Jeremiah’s words as the prophet dictated them.

Jeremiah 36:5    And Jeremiah commanded Baruch, saying, “I am confined, I cannot go into the house of the LORD.
Jeremiah 36:6    You go, therefore, and read from the scroll which you have written at my instruction, the words of the LORD, in the hearing of the people in the LORD’s house on the day of fasting. And you shall also read them in the hearing of all Judah who come from their cities.
Jeremiah 36:7    It may be that they will present their supplication before the LORD, and everyone will turn from his evil way. For great is the anger and the fury that the LORD has pronounced against this people.”

We don’t know why Jeremiah was “confined” and unable to go into the Temple.  Baruch must have been surprised that he would read aloud what he had been writing.

Don’t be surprised when God wants you to share aloud what you’ve been reading in His Word.

God had told Jeremiah the point of the scroll was to lead men to repentance.  Jeremiah told Baruch the same thing.  We need reminding that God is for us, not against us.  His Word convicts in order to convert.  We are sinners in the hearing of an atoning God.

Jeremiah 36:8    And Baruch the son of Neriah did according to all that Jeremiah the prophet commanded him, reading from the book the words of the LORD in the LORD’s house.

Verse eight jumps ahead to the result.  The details of the reading are in the rest of the chapter.  Why tell us he did it before it happened?

I think it’s a way of emphasizing that with God’s calling or commanding comes His enabling.  God wasn’t telling Baruch to do something that He wouldn’t equip him to accomplish.  We can be certain that God enables us to obey Him.

Jeremiah 36:9    Now it came to pass in the fifth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, in the ninth month, that they proclaimed a fast before the LORD to all the people in Jerusalem, and to all the people who came from the cities of Judah to Jerusalem.

There was only one mandatory day of fasting under Jewish law and that was the annual Day of Atonement.  Fasts would sometimes be announced for certain special occasions.  In this case biblical historians think the occasion was the defeat of Egypt by Babylon and the advance of the Babylonian armies against Jerusalem.  The crisis was a good opportunity to call for repentance.

Jeremiah 36:10    Then Baruch read from the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of the LORD, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe, in the upper court at the entry of the New Gate of the LORD’s house, in the hearing of all the people.
Jeremiah 36:11    When Michaiah the son of Gemariah, the son of Shaphan, heard all the words of the LORD from the book,
Jeremiah 36:12    he then went down to the king’s house, into the scribe’s chamber; and there all the princes were sitting – Elishama the scribe, Delaiah the son of Shemaiah, Elnathan the son of Achbor, Gemariah the son of Shaphan, Zedekiah the son of Hananiah, and all the princes.
Jeremiah 36:13    Then Michaiah declared to them all the words that he had heard when Baruch read the book in the hearing of the people.
Jeremiah 36:14    Therefore all the princes sent Jehudi the son of Nethaniah, the son of Shelemiah, the son of Cushi, to Baruch, saying, “Take in your hand the scroll from which you have read in the hearing of the people, and come.” So Baruch the son of Neriah took the scroll in his hand and came to them.
Jeremiah 36:15    And they said to him, “Sit down now, and read it in our hearing.” So Baruch read it in their hearing.

Scholars debate over the exact content of this scroll – whether it was everything Jeremiah had said up to this point or just a portion.  Either way it was a lot to read in one sitting.

Just as he finished reading it publicly Baruch was invited to give another private reading to a group of nobles.  It’s just like God to expand your ministry.  You’re never quite done when it comes to spreading His Word.  Expect new doors to open.

Jeremiah 36:16    Now it happened, when they had heard all the words, that they looked in fear from one to another, and said to Baruch, “We will surely tell the king of all these words.”
Jeremiah 36:17    And they asked Baruch, saying, “Tell us now, how did you write all these words – at his instruction?”
Jeremiah 36:18    So Baruch answered them, “He proclaimed with his mouth all these words to me, and I wrote them with ink in the book.”

They first resolved that these words really were from God through Jeremiah and not just Baruch’s recollections or opinions.  We would compare them, in one sense, to the Bereans of the New Testament who wanted to be sure what the apostle Paul was teaching lined up with the inspired Word of God.

Jeremiah 36:19    Then the princes said to Baruch, “Go and hide, you and Jeremiah; and let no one know where you are.”

Jehoiakim was not very sympathetic to prophets.  He had sent men to extradite a prophet named Uriah from Egypt in order to execute him.  The princes acted shrewdly to protect Jeremiah and Baruch.

We’re not told of any reaction from the general population to the reading of God’s Word, and in a minute we will see that Jehoiakim’s reaction is to destroy the scroll.  The princes at least acted on the Word by bringing it to the king and a couple of them will object to his cutting and burning it.

The question for us is, “How is God’s Word affecting me?”  Every time I encounter the Word God wants to show me something; He wants to deal with something; He wants to teach me or reprove me or correct me or instruct me in righteousness.

In the New Testament James warns, however, that we can look into God’s Word and walk away not having had an encounter with Him that accomplishes any of those things.

There are probably as many reasons why we render God’s Word ineffective as there are people; that’s not the point.  The point is for us to return to, or remain in, a state of expectation in our relationship with God.

I can’t say exactly how, but I can say that God wants to show… to deal… to teach, reprove, correct and instruct in righteousness all the time.  We tend to concentrate on His teaching us, and our learning about Him, from a mostly academic model.  That’s part of what God wants to do but there’s a whole lot more.

I’ve been quoting from Second Timothy 3:16 which reads, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…”

As a spiritual exercise, take at least one of those things and ask The Lord what He is saying to you today.  What doctrine are you seeing more clearly?  How are you being reproved or corrected?  What is He suggesting so that you are pursuing a more righteous lifestyle?

Since the Word is alive and cutting to our hearts to do those things – we should always expect them to be happening.

#2    May It Never Be
    That You Cut God’s Word From Your Heart

Jehoiakim was a jerk.  See if you agree.

Jeremiah 36:20    And they went to the king, into the court; but they stored the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe, and told all the words in the hearing of the king.
Jeremiah 36:21    So the king sent Jehudi to bring the scroll, and he took it from Elishama the scribe’s chamber. And Jehudi read it in the hearing of the king and in the hearing of all the princes who stood beside the king.
Jeremiah 36:22    Now the king was sitting in the winter house in the ninth month, with a fire burning on the hearth before him.
Jeremiah 36:23    And it happened, when Jehudi had read three or four columns, that the king cut it with the scribe’s knife and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth.

God’s Word exposed Jehoiakim as someone who put himself above the Word of God, aloof from it.

Jeremiah 36:24    Yet they were not afraid, nor did they tear their garments, the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words.

The fear of The Lord, as evidenced by the tearing of their outward garments, ought to have been their reaction.  Instead they heard the Word with contempt.  Have you ever thought, “Wow! That’s just what my friend or family member needed to hear!  For sure they’ll get saved today.”  Only to watch them walk away seemingly unaffected?  It’s your own mini-Jeremiah moment.

Jeremiah 36:25    Nevertheless Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah implored the king not to burn the scroll; but he would not listen to them.

This was pretty bold on the part of these guys given the demeanor of Jehoiakim.  He was a prophet-killer.  Kudos to them for taking a stand.  God’s Word was working on hearts, as it always does, only, sadly, sometimes it reveals the hardness of hearts.

Jeremiah 36:26    And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king’s son, Seraiah the son of Azriel, and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel, to seize Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet, but the LORD hid them.

Century after century the devil encourages wicked men and women to kill the messengers of God.  It never stops the Word from spreading; in fact, it usually multiplies it.

In our cases, at least in this country, no one is trying to kill you.  Not yet, anyway.  They will try to stop you some other way – usually by finding fault, either real or imagined, with your testimony for Jesus.  Even if there is fault it doesn’t nullify the truth of God’s Word.  Keep giving it out.  If you fail, ask for and receive God’s forgiveness.  Sometimes the most powerful testimony you can give is to show how God restores His fallen saints.  We never sin so that grace can abound; but when we sin, grace does abound.

Jeremiah 36:27    Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words which Baruch had written at the instruction of Jeremiah, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying:
Jeremiah 36:28    “Take yet another scroll, and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned.
Jeremiah 36:29    And you shall say to Jehoiakim king of Judah, ‘Thus says the LORD: “You have burned this scroll, saying, ‘Why have you written in it that the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land, and cause man and beast to cease from here?’ ”
Jeremiah 36:30    Therefore thus says the LORD concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: “He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night.
Jeremiah 36:31    I will punish him, his family, and his servants for their iniquity; and I will bring on them, on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and on the men of Judah all the doom that I have pronounced against them; but they did not heed.” ‘ ”
Jeremiah 36:32    Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the instruction of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And besides, there were added to them many similar words.

You can’t keep God’s man down.  They rewrote the scroll and even added to it – including prophecies unique to Jehoiakim.

People have been editing God’s Word ever since Eve misquoted The Lord in the Garden of Eden and Satan gave his own interpretation.  The easy target today is the person we would label a religious “liberal,” who cuts from the Bible events like miracles and teachings like the virgin birth of Jesus.  Or the cults who both add to and subtract from God’s Word.

The real question for us is, “Do we ever edit God’s Word?”
Christians sometimes do edit God’s Word in their own lives.  I’m hesitant to give examples, although I must, because I don’t want to single-out any one thing in particular, but rather the tendency we all have to edit.

Let’s take an easy one to start – one that doesn’t affect you since you are here.  A lot of professing Christians are simply not involved in regular fellowship in a local congregation.

There are specific verses that command them to be in fellowship; the whole tone of the New Testament assumes participation in a local church; all the illustrations of the church presume you are a part of a greater whole, like stones in a building or the members of a human body.

Yet they insist it isn’t necessary for them to be involved.  Whatever their reasoning, they have edited the Bible to fit their own preferences, their own ideas.  They may as well have taken a knife to the text.

Another example would be giving.  I use it not as a solicitation for funds but because it is universal in its scope and because there is solid quantifiable research about giving habits among Christians.

The New Testament encourages believers to invest in the kingdom of God by giving of their earnings to the work of the church.  Giving is to be regular and cheerful but also generous and sacrificial.

That just isn’t happening – not in America, anyway.  According to one study, called Passing the Plate, “more than one out of four American Protestants give away no money at all – not even a token $5 per year… Thirty-six percent [of Evangelicals] report that they give away less than two percent of their income.  Only about twenty-seven percent tithe.”

For sure the twenty-seven percent who give nothing and the thirty-six percent who give very little are editing God’s Word – cutting away huge portions of it to their own detriment.

Anything we know we ought to do or practice but choose to overlook for any reason is an editing of God’s Word.  We don’t need a scribe’s knife to cut away the passage.

If you went to college you probably remember CliffsNotes.  They are study guides that greatly condense great works of literature. The criticism is that the CliffNotes version discourages students from reading the original author’s work in favor of the overview.
If you’re not careful you can settle for a kind of CliffNotes version of the Bible.  It will lack the fullness, the richness, the joy of the Author’s original intention.

Don’t be a condensed version of the person God is at work making you. Embrace the fullness of God’s work through His Word.

You Can Lead A Rechabite To Wine But You Can’t Make Him Drink (Jeremiah 35v1-19)

The Hobbit is playing in theaters and those who are fans of The Lord of the Rings have been drawn back into the world of J.R.R. Tolkien as interpreted by director Peter Jackson.

A plot point in the previous movie trilogy was the offer of the one ring by the ringbearer, Frodo, first to Gandalf and later to Galadriel.

It’s an offer they refuse knowing that the one ring would only corrupt them.  They instead remain true to their own character and convictions.

An offer is made and refused in our text in Jeremiah thirty-five.  The Rechabites seek refuge in Jerusalem against the advancing armies of King Nebuchadnezzar.  While in the city Jeremiah invites them to happy hour and sets wine before them to drink.

You’re gonna find out that Rechabites have convictions about a few things and wine is one of them.  None of their descendants have drank it for over two hundred years.

They refuse Jeremiah’s offer, as he knew they would, and God uses their refusal as a living parable.

I’m going to suggest that we are like the Rechabites in this story; that we can and should identify with them.

It’s not a study about alcohol, although we will use it as an example.  It’s about living a separated life as Christians in a world that is constantly offering us all manner of things we really ought to refuse in favor of the things of The Lord.

I’ll organize my thoughts by asking two questions: #1 What Is The World Offering You That You Really Ought To Refuse?, and #2 What Is The Lord Offering You That You Really Ought To Receive?

#1    What Is The World Offering You
    That You Really Ought To Refuse?

There’s a pretty intense backstory to the Rechabites.  They are not Hebrews but were nevertheless zealous followers of Jehovah.

They were named after Rechab but he wasn’t the most famous Rechabite; that would be his son, Jonadab.  About two hundred and fifty years before this scene in Jeremiah Jonadab teamed up with Israel’s King Jehu to kill the servants of Baal and thereby eliminate Baal worship from the nation.  It was a spiritual high point.

Immediately after the slaughter of the servants of Baal you read,

2Kings 10:28    Thus Jehu destroyed Baal from Israel.
2Kings 10:29    However Jehu did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin, that is, from the golden calves that were at Bethel and Dan.

Jonadab undoubtedly was disturbed at King Jehu’s halfheartedness and hypocrisy.  As he thought about it, and about the sad history of Israel’s disobedience to God over the centuries, he may have determined that city living among the Canaanites would keep leading to compromises and sin.  He therefore voluntarily adopted a nomadic lifestyle and passed it on to his descendants – some of whom were the invited guests in this chapter.

Jeremiah 35:1    The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, saying,
Jeremiah 35:2    “Go to the house of the Rechabites, speak to them, and bring them into the house of the LORD, into one of the chambers, and give them wine to drink.”

God decided to throw them a wine tasting party.  Offering wine to Rechabites was the last thing you’d ever do under normal circumstances.
God will ask you, from time to time, to do things that may seem odd at first but nevertheless have a profound purpose.

Jeremiah 35:3    Then I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, the son of Habazziniah, his brothers and all his sons, and the whole house of the Rechabites,
Jeremiah 35:4    and I brought them into the house of the LORD, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan the son of Igdaliah, a man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the door.
Jeremiah 35:5    Then I set before the sons of the house of the Rechabites bowls full of wine, and cups; and I said to them, “Drink wine.”

We commonly say that Jeremiah was all alone in his ministry with no real converts.  Along the way, however, we read of other godly individuals who were his contemporaries.  Hanan was “a man of God,” which usually meant a prophet.  We can’t speculate about his relationship with Jeremiah because we don’t know anything else about him.  We can say that God provides or withholds fellowship as He sees our true spiritual needs.

Jeremiah 35:6    But they said, “We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, ‘You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever.
Jeremiah 35:7    You shall not build a house, sow seed, plant a vineyard, nor have any of these; but all your days you shall dwell in tents, that you may live many days in the land where you are sojourners.’
Jeremiah 35:8    Thus we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, or our daughters,
Jeremiah 35:9    nor to build ourselves houses to dwell in; nor do we have vineyard, field, or seed.
Jeremiah 35:10    But we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us.
Jeremiah 35:11    But it came to pass, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up into the land, that we said, ‘Come, let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans and for fear of the army of the Syrians.’ So we dwell at Jerusalem.”

Dwelling in Jerusalem was a temporary situation in response to the presence of enemies in the surrounding regions.  The Rechabites had no intentions of relaxing the code they had lived by for more than two centuries.

There was no prohibition in God’s Law against building houses or sewing seeds or planting vineyards or drinking wine.  The Rechabites had taken these steps on their own as safeguards against falling into the kind of sin that Jonadab saw particularly in King Jehu and in the Israelites in general.

Jonadab didn’t have to be a prohibitionist nomad; he chose to be one. He made a lifestyle decision that would give he and his descendants the best spiritual chance to obey God in those circumstances.

Regardless what you can lawfully do, sometimes you need to think about what you ought to do or ought not do to give yourself the best spiritual chance to stay close to The Lord.

The Rechabites were a small group of zealous believers who found themselves surrounded by folks who professed to believe in God but were living compromised, sinful lives.

We live in a nation that professes to be Christian but the majority of people are clearly not saved.  Many of those who are saved are making carnal choices in disobedience to God’s clearly revealed will.

We, therefore, should want to be Rechabites – a small but zealous group of followers of Jesus who remain separated from the world.

I can confidently say that the world is going to offer you things you really ought to refuse.  I say that because it is a favorite strategy of Satan’s to get you to conform, to compromise, to relax biblical standards of character and conviction.

Abraham’s nephew Lot comes to mind.  All Satan had to do was get him to look over towards Sodom and Gomorrah and soon Lot was living there as a defeated believer.  For his part Uncle Abraham remained a nomad and finished strong.

What is the world offering you?  For you it could be alcohol.  While it’s OK to drink (as long as you don’t get drunk), that doesn’t mean you should drink.  You might want to adopt the convictions of Jonadab knowing that alcohol leads to mostly bad things.

Something more universal would be the world offering us its morality.  God created marriage to be between one man and one woman to last their lifetime.  Sex is a gift to be enjoyed within a biblical marriage.

The world offers a very different view of sexuality and marriage.  Sadly, a lot of Christians have compromised and are committing sexual sins and pursuing nonbiblical divorces.  We could use a little more Jonadab in our approach to these things.

These issues of morality and marriage aren’t suggestions, by the way.  They are God’s absolutes.  If we can’t get a few simple absolutes right then we are going to be easy prey in the gray areas.

Answer for yourself – What is the world offering you that you really ought to refuse?  There are things clearly prohibited by the Bible we must refuse.  There are also things we can choose to refuse in order to remain separated from the world – nomads on our way home to be with Jesus.

#2    What Is The Lord Offering You
    That You Really Ought To Receive?

If we are not careful we make Christianity sound like a restrictive list of don’ts.  It’s not that at all.  It is the opposite in that it sets us free to pursue life that is worth living.

The Rechabites voluntarily lived as tee-totaling nomads.  They were free to roam all over the land God had promised His people.  They could enjoy the city without living there among all the problems of city life.
Most importantly, they had the freedom to say “No” to things they had liberty to partake of that could nevertheless lead them into slavery.

Alcohol provides a good example of this principle of true freedom.  It is certainly possible to drink without becoming a drunk.  But nobody becomes a drunk who doesn’t drink.  There is always the possibility that our freedom to drink will lead to the slavery of alcohol abuse and addiction.

Drinking has become wildly popular among certain younger Christian ministers.  Listen to these observations and comments by Pastor John MacArthur.

If everything you know about Christian living came from blogs and websites… you might have the impression that beer is the principal symbol of Christian liberty… whole websites [are devoted] to the celebration of brewed beverages.  They earnestly assure one another “that most good theological discussion has historically been done in pubs and drinking places.”  They therefore love to meet for “open dialog on faith and culture” wherever beer is served – or better yet, right at the brewery.  The connoisseurs among them serve their own brands and even offer lessons in how to make home brew… Mixing booze with ministry is often touted as a necessary means of penetrating western youth culture, and conversely, abstinence is deemed a “sin” to be repented of.  After all, in a culture where cool is everything, what could be a better lubricant for one’s testimony than a frosty pint?

You just don’t know, do you, where alcohol is going to lead you.  It can be the greatest exercise of freedom to say “No” to your liberty and go on enjoying life without becoming enslaved to something or to someone other than Jesus.

Jeremiah 35:12    Then came the word of the LORD to Jeremiah, saying,
Jeremiah 35:13    “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Go and tell the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “Will you not receive instruction to obey My words?” says the LORD.
Jeremiah 35:14    “The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, which he commanded his sons, not to drink wine, are performed; for to this day they drink none, and obey their father’s commandment. But although I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, you did not obey Me.
Jeremiah 35:15    I have also sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, ‘Turn now everyone from his evil way, amend your doings, and do not go after other gods to serve them; then you will dwell in the land which I have given you and your fathers.’ But you have not inclined your ear, nor obeyed Me.
Jeremiah 35:16    Surely the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them, but this people has not obeyed Me.” ‘

God used the Rechabites as a living parable to the Jews in Jerusalem and Judah.

You are considered a living letter as a Christian.  People ‘read’ you to find out about God.  Your life is no less a living parable; in fact, it is even more one than the Rechabites.

God wasn’t tempting them.  For all we know Jeremiah may have told them what he was going to do.  He may have enlisted their help as his actors.

The idea was to compare and contrast their faithful obedience to a mere earthly forefather with the faithless disobedience of the Jews to the Heavenly Father.

I don’t like to make comparisons between the efforts of Christians and, say, the zeal of the cults.  It’s too easy to criticize believers by pointing at Mormon missionaries racking up bike miles or JW’s getting bloody knuckles from going door-to-door.

By “too easy” I mean it doesn’t factor in the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Just because cults are going door-to-door or wearing out ten speeds like they’re going out of style doesn’t mean we should be doing the same.  No, we should be constantly listening for the Lord’s leading and following it.

If you want to make a valid comparison you ought to look for believers who are sold-out to The Lord and full of joy serving Him – not cultists who are doing it out of fear.  Let them inspire you – not bring condemnation upon you.

The real criticism might be that we can too often be far more zealous for other things we enjoy or want to talk about than the things of The Lord.
The apostle Paul once said, “for in [Jesus] we live and move and have our being…” (Acts 17:28).  We can be zealous for lots of things so long as Jesus remains at the core of them.

Jeremiah 35:17    “Therefore thus says the LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the doom that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken to them but they have not heard, and I have called to them but they have not answered.’ ”

One commentator called it Rechabite faith versus Judahite folly.

Judahites had the word of the mighty and sovereign God of all creation.  Rechabites had nothing but the word of a mere mortal yet they were more faithful to the miniword than Judah was to the Mighty Word (The Preacher’s Commentary).

Jeremiah 35:18    And Jeremiah said to the house of the Rechabites, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Because you have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts and done according to all that he commanded you,
Jeremiah 35:19    therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not lack a man to stand before Me forever.” ‘ ”

I don’t feel one bit sorry for the Rechabites for not being able to enjoy the wine set before them.  Or for their living out in the countryside in tents rather than houses as nomads.

I feel sorry for the Jews who thought they were enjoying wine and other material things when, in fact, they had become blinded by them, compromised by them, enslaved to them, and had no walk with The Lord.

The Lord made the Rechabites a promise.  Their line would continue and they would forever have a presence before The Lord.  In their tribal culture that was huge – a lottery win.

Mean time these guys were pretty different from the city-dwelling Jews.  In dress and demeanor as well as vocation, they were odd.

What are some of the ways we might look different and even odd to the world?  There’s a bunch.  I’ve already mentioned biblical morality.  There’s no more obvious way to look different from the world than to hold biblical values of marriage and sexuality.  By their behavior it seems most Christians don’t hold to biblical morality anymore.  If you do, you will be different and odd but in a really good way that gives a testimony of the grace and power of God.

We could talk about things like our language.  The words we choose to use are important.  Lately there has been a movement in certain Christian circles to infuse words that are edgy and even foul into the pulpit and, after that, into our daily vocabulary.  They say it helps us to seem more real, more approachable, more down to earth to nonbelievers.

Do you honestly think Jesus cussed when He was at the homes of sinners in order to reach them and to seem more real to them?

One pastor commented,

Look, I am all for relevance.  We need to make sense to the people we are reaching.  But let’s not lower our standard in order to extend our reach.  Let’s not trade reverence for relevance.  I think for us to seek to live godly lives is very relevant, and very different than what this world has to offer.  That’s how we will turn our world upside down, instead of the world turning us upside down.

We ought to adopt a way of thinking that asks, all the time, What can I be doing in this setting that would set me apart from the world and give a testimony that I love Jesus?

Maybe it’s as simple as applying a bumper sticker or wearing a Christian t-shirt or setting the radio to Christian music.  Or carrying your Bible or displaying Scripture where you work.

Maybe it’s giving-up alcohol or, for sure, not taking it up as a new habit simply because you can.  Maybe it’s moving somewhere not to get away from it all but to be in the center of it all in order to be a laborer in the harvest of souls.  Maybe it’s using vacation time to go on a mission.

The possibilities are endless when you ask The Lord for His direction.

There was a Christian campaign a few years ago, “Go against the flow.”  It was a slogan on t-shirts and bumper stickers.

It might have started with Jonadab and his descendants.  But he’d say, “Go against the flow even if you don’t have to.”

Do it because you want to – because you want to stand for The Lord and then before The Lord.

Let’s Put Christ Back In Crisis (Jeremiah 34v1-22)

By some estimates on the Sunday following the 9-11 terror attacks roughly half of the adult population in the United States attended a religious service.  The attendance dropped off starting just two months later in November.  According to Barna Research, one year later religious activity was back to just about what it was before the attacks.

A professor of theology explained, “When things are going bad we want to turn to God and want to get right with Him and we want to attend church.  When things level out we tend to forget the most important things and drift away.”

The citizens who were huddled inside the walls of Jerusalem were in the midst of a crisis.  The Babylonians were on the other side of those walls besieging them.  The Jews had a rush of obedience towards God.  It was, however, short-lived.  When they thought the crisis had passed they picked back up right where they had left off disobeying God.

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.  God uses it to draw you to, or back to, Himself.  He doesn’t just want to get you through it; He wants you to walk with Him long after it is over.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 There Is Delight In Obeying God In Your Crisis, and #2 There Is Danger In Disobeying God After Your Crisis.

#1    There Is Delight In Obeying God In Your Crisis

While they were under siege the Jews were told by God through Jeremiah to release their slaves.  They obeyed but soon after something happened that made them change their minds. Hearing that the Egyptian army was on the march, the Babylonians withdrew from Jerusalem.  Thinking the crisis was over, the Jews quickly reclaimed their slaves and returned to disobeying God.

Jeremiah 34:1    The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army, all the kingdoms of the earth under his dominion, and all the people, fought against Jerusalem and all its cities, saying,
Jeremiah 34:2    “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and tell him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.
Jeremiah 34:3    And you shall not escape from his hand, but shall surely be taken and delivered into his hand; your eyes shall see the eyes of the king of Babylon, he shall speak with you face to face, and you shall go to Babylon.’ ” ‘

The fall of Jerusalem, and the deportation and captivity of its citizens, was certain.  Nothing could change it.  When the Jews heard that Egypt was on the move, and when they saw that the Babylonians withdrew, they ought not to have thought the crisis was averted.  It was merely postponed and prolonged.

Jeremiah 34:4    Yet hear the word of the LORD, O Zedekiah king of Judah! Thus says the LORD concerning you: ‘You shall not die by the sword.
Jeremiah 34:5    You shall die in peace; as in the ceremonies of your fathers, the former kings who were before you, so they shall burn incense for you and lament for you, saying, “Alas, lord!” For I have pronounced the word, says the LORD.’ ”

Zedekiah would have a rough go of it but, uncharacteristically, he would not be put to death by his conquerors.  His exile and relatively peaceful death and memorial would serve as a sign that despite their being conquered by Babylon, God was overseeing all these things for their good and His glory.

Jeremiah 34:6    Then Jeremiah the prophet spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem,
Jeremiah 34:7    when the king of Babylon’s army fought against Jerusalem and all the cities of Judah that were left, against Lachish and Azekah; for only these fortified cities remained of the cities of Judah.

All the other cities had fallen; only these three fortified cities remained.  While the Jews may have held out hope they might outlast the Babylonians, Jeremiah was telling them otherwise.

Their physical defenses were inadequate and since they had refused to repent of their sins, their spiritual defender – God – had become their discipliner.

Jeremiah 34:8    This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were at Jerusalem to proclaim liberty to them:
Jeremiah 34:9    that every man should set free his male and female slave – a Hebrew man or woman – that no one should keep a Jewish brother in bondage.

There were different categories of slaves under Jewish law.  Prisoners of war became slaves of the government (Numbers 31:25-47; Joshua 9:23).  They were used in building projects and other more regular duties alongside other laborers (1Kings 9:21).

If you were a Hebrew slavery was something very different.  You could sell yourself into slavery temporarily to pay off debts.  The servitude was initiated by the slave and he was the one who received proceeds of the sale.  He was also to be treated well and not like a slave, but as a hired worker or a temporary resident (Leviticus 25:35-43).
Hebrew slaves were to be released after six years of service (Deuteronomy 15:12).  The slave had the option of remaining in his masters house; however, this must be completely voluntary.  To ensure that the slave was not being coerced, he and his master would have to go before the judge prior to the slave becoming a lifetime servant (Exodus 21:5; Deuteronomy 15:16).

When released, the slave was provided with goods so that he wouldn’t be poor (Deuteronomy 15:13-14).

It should also be noted that forced slavery was punishable by death (Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7).

In light of the coming captivity in Babylon God through Jeremiah ordered all Hebrew slaves to be immediately released.

Jeremiah 34:10    Now when all the princes and all the people, who had entered into the covenant, heard that everyone should set free his male and female slaves, that no one should keep them in bondage anymore, they obeyed and let them go.

There it is.  In their time of crisis they heard the Word of The Lord and immediately, seemingly wholeheartedly, obeyed.

We have a tendency to think of crisis-obedience as convenient.  It’s been said, “there are no atheists in foxholes.”  Men and women who are incarcerated often have jailhouse conversions that we are skeptical about.

While it is sadly true that crisis-obedience (or crisis-conversions) can be short-lived and false, that isn’t always the case.  We should encourage crisis-obedience.

For the most part we do encourage it.  We see every crisis as an opportunity for God to be revealed to individuals who previously had no thoughts about God.

If you are in a foxhole, or incarcerated, or in some other crisis, you need The Lord.  Who am I to withhold the Good News about Jesus just because your conversion might not be real?  Or to assume that once the crisis is passed you will revert to disobeying God?

Bring God into the crisis; preach the Gospel.  It’s the power of God unto salvation at all times and a crisis might be the best time for it.

Listen carefully.  Don’t tell people God brought the crisis upon them so that He could save them.  It portrays God as one of those crazed caregivers who create a medical emergency just so they can save the person and get all the glory.  It’s sick.

God doesn’t create crises to save people from.  We live in a ruined, fallen world in which sin abounds and, therefore, crises abound.  When the inevitable crisis comes God can make His presence known to those who are suffering through it.  He can save them from what mankind’s sin has wrought.  He can save them from the ultimate crisis – death and Hell.

#2    There Is Danger In Disobeying God After Your Crisis

At some point after the Jews released their slaves the Babylonian armies retreated.  Do you think they might have thought it was on account of their obedience?  That God was blessing their obedience?

Surprisingly, I think that they did; which is what makes their subsequent disobedience so illogical.

Sin makes you illogical.  It makes you say and do stupid things that make no sense.  Your life becomes full of contradictions.

Jeremiah 34:11    But afterward they changed their minds and made the male and female slaves return, whom they had set free, and brought them into subjection as male and female slaves.

Before I was a Christian I had a few negotiations with God.  I was in a couple (at least) of real crises in which I promised to obey God if He would get me through them.  When I emerged from the crises I thought I had outsmarted God and went right back to my old life – the one that put me in the crises to begin with.

In my years of pastoring I’ve seen crisis-Christians.  Months or years – even decades – go by and you don’t see them anywhere near the church.  Then they return and you find out it’s because they are in the midst of a crisis.  They want to meet… To call… To be prayed for… To be visited… To get counsel.  We do all of that; gladly, as unto The Lord.

When the crisis passes, they’re gone again.  Not necessarily into sin but certainly they are no help to the body of Christ.
The real tragedy is on them because they are not staying close to God.  They are not learning about Him, growing in Him.  He’s just there if and when they need Him.  They’re like the relative who only comes around when he or she needs something.

Jeremiah 34:12    Therefore the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
Jeremiah 34:13    “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying,
Jeremiah 34:14    “At the end of seven years let every man set free his Hebrew brother, who has been sold to him; and when he has served you six years, you shall let him go free from you.” But your fathers did not obey Me nor incline their ear.
Jeremiah 34:15    Then you recently turned and did what was right in My sight – every man proclaiming liberty to his neighbor; and you made a covenant before Me in the house which is called by My name.
Jeremiah 34:16    Then you turned around and profaned My name, and every one of you brought back his male and female slaves, whom he had set at liberty, at their pleasure, and brought them back into subjection, to be your male and female slaves.’

For many decades, maybe even centuries, the Jews had failed to obey The Lord by freeing Hebrew slaves after their six years of service.  God had been merciful, slow to anger – even though they were breaking His law in a particularly grievous way.

It’s a little off our subject but I’d offer this as a devotional thought for you to consider.  When we put burdens upon other believers or when we fail to encourage the work of grace in their lives we are treating them like slaves rather than freed men and women.

Jeremiah 34:17    “Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘You have not obeyed Me in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and every one to his neighbor. Behold, I proclaim liberty to you,’ says the LORD ‘to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine! And I will deliver you to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth.

They would not let freed slaves have their liberty so God would give them the ‘liberty’ of being enslaved by their enemies.  It was a ‘liberty’ because it resulted from their own free decision to disobey God.  They freely chose slavery.

Anytime we sin we are freely choosing slavery. Jesus has conquered sin and we can choose to not sin. Sin binds and enslaves.

Jeremiah 34:18    And I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not performed the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between the parts of it –
Jeremiah 34:19    the princes of Judah, the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf –
Jeremiah 34:20    I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. Their dead bodies shall be for meat for the birds of the heaven and the beasts of the earth.

If you’ve ever bought a house you know there are tons of contracts to sign.  It’s super tedious.

But it beats the way they ratified contracts in Old Testament times.  The parties agreeing to the terms of the covenant – in this case the Jews – would pass between the parts of a slaughtered calf.  It signified that if they reneged they would become like that calf – slaughtered!

Jeremiah 34:21    And I will give Zedekiah king of Judah and his princes into the hand of their enemies, into the hand of those who seek their life, and into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army which has gone back from you.
Jeremiah 34:22    Behold, I will command,’ says the LORD, ‘and cause them to return to this city. They will fight against it and take it and burn it with fire; and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant.’ ”

The Babylonians had “gone back from” the Jews but would “return” to complete God’s judgment.

Obedience would not stop the Jews from being conquered and deported and held captive for seventy years.  But it would have lessened the severity of their punishment.

Disobedience brought upon them severe consequences – as it always does.

There is obviously danger in disobeying God after your crisis is ended.

If you are not yet a believer in Jesus Christ, the crisis brought you face-to-face with your need for God.  If you refuse to receive Him, and return to your old ways without Him, you don’t know how much longer you have to live.  You are in danger of death and Hell.  It’s a pretty big one as far as danger goes.

If you are a Christian, you don’t want to be a crisis-Christian, do you?  You certainly wouldn’t want anyone to treat you that way – showing up on rare occasions with an emergency and asking for help and not a relationship.  It’s lame on a human level so how much lamer is it towards God.

Even solid believers, who give and who serve, can go through seasons where they draw back from The Lord and from His people.  It’s not healthy for you or for others in the body of Jesus Christ.  We need each other – all the more as we see things deteriorating all around us.

The world we live in is in a constant state of crisis.  All creation is groaning as it awaits its final and complete redemption by Jesus Christ at and then after His return.

People all around you – believers and nonbelievers – are in specific crises.  They need you to represent God’s love to them.  You don’t have the luxury of disobedience if you want to be used by God.

And you are either in or will be in a crisis… And another… And another as you await The Lord.  Disobedience will only make your crises heavier, sadder, and more lasting.
Obedience will delight your heart and mind with the knowledge you are in a love relationship with the living God Who is able to keep you and to present you faultless before the throne of His Father in Heaven.

It’s always crisis season. Let’s put Christ back in the crises of life – for our good and for His glory.

Might As Well Face It, God’s Predicted To Love (Jeremiah 33v1-26)

They have titles like, “Why Do Bad Things Happen to God’s People?,” and “Where is God When it Hurts?,” and “The Problem of Pain.”

They are books by Christians which attempt to explain or defend the love of the omnipotent God of the Bible in light of the reality of human suffering.

There’s an entire branch of theological study dedicated to the subject called theodicy.

My own attempt to answer the problem of pain is summed up in two words: Sin and Longsuffering.
Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden ruined the world God created.
God immediately acted to redeem what Adam had ruined and has been longsuffering throughout human history, allowing bad things to continue because He is not willing any should perish but rather come to eternal life.

Whether you like my answer, or have one of your own, people suffer.  You are probably suffering in some way right now.  It’s not an academic subject for you; it’s intensely personal.  You need God to respond, and you need Him to respond today.

Our text will help.  Jeremiah was suffering quite intensely.  He was a mostly despised prophet who was under house arrest for nothing more than obeying God.  Worse, he was under house arrest in a Temple that was soon to be set on fire, in a city that was under siege, among a people who would be taken captive.

If anyone could ask, “Where is God when it hurts?,” it would be Jeremiah.

God answered His prophet especially powerfully in verse three, but really the whole chapter speaks to why bad things happen to God’s people.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 There Are Things You Don’t Know That God Wants To Show You For The First Time, and #2 There Are Things You Do Know That God Wants To Show You All The Time.

#1    There Are Things You Don’t Know That God
    Wants To Show You For The First Time

Verse three jumps out at you and offers comfort on a grand scale.

Jeremiah 33:3    ‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’

It’s one of those awesome, stand-alone verses that we like to pull-out in times of trouble.  But what does it really say?

Most of the time we read it as a guarantee God hears and answers prayer.  While it is true that God hears and answers prayer, that isn’t exactly what these words say.

God was encouraging Jeremiah to “call” on Him, for sure; but God didn’t promise to answer any particular prayer or prayers.  He said He would “show” some things to Jeremiah – things Jeremiah did “not know.”

The particular word for “show” is important.  It’s a word that means to show for the first time.  It is used of something unknown and unknowable until it is told to you for the first time.

While we are talking words, “mighty” is another important one.  It literally means inaccessible or impossible.

Keep in mind the context – Jeremiah was under arrest in a doomed Temple in a city about to fall among a people soon to be deported.

God invited Jeremiah to call upon Him in his time of trouble and He promised He would answer him by showing him things for the first time that were inaccessible and impossible to know apart from the unique suffering he was enduring as a servant of God.

What kinds of things would God show Jeremiah?  We might be tempted to think the rest of the chapter are the “things” God showed him; but I think we’d be wrong.  There’s really nothing new in the rest of the chapter.  It’s a reiteration of the ultimate restoration of Israel that God had already revealed.

It leads me to the conclusion that the inaccessible, impossible knowledge that God wanted to show Jeremiah for the first time had to do with God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s presence even in the darkest moments of life.  God wanted to show Jeremiah things about Himself.

Bad things happen to God’s people.  When they do, and you call out to Him, He shows you things – intimate things, wonderful things – that are impossible to convey intellectually, that are inaccessible by any other means.

Job was shown these things.  Job suffered immensely.  He questioned God about it.  In the end God gave him no real answer; God didn’t tell Job why He permitted the devil certain freedoms to afflict him.  But Job arrived at a knowledge that was previously inaccessible and impossible to achieve without suffering.  He said to God, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You” (42:5).

Jeremiah 33:1    Moreover the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah a second time, while he was still shut up in the court of the prison, saying,
Jeremiah 33:2    “Thus says the LORD who made it, the LORD who formed it to establish it (the LORD is His name):
Jeremiah 33:3    ‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’

The words for “made” and “formed” are words from the Genesis account of creation.  God reminded Jeremiah that He was, in fact, omnipotent.  Any good theodicy starts with the all-powerful God of the Bible.

God is also love.  The ruin of His creation by mankind doesn’t cancel out either His omnipotence or His love.

All great love stories portray the lovers as enduring incredible hardships to be with one another, or to get back to one another.  In a ruined world God lets you know you are a character in the greatest love story ever told – that God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son and that in His longsuffering He waits for more people to respond to His Son and be saved.

While His longsuffering waits He comes to us in our suffering when we call.  And in those intimate moments He shows us that we have in Him a Savior and a friend who understands our pain and who did something about it by dying on the Cross to defeat sin once and for all.

Let me put it like this.  If you are sick, God can heal you.  But what would you know about Him other than His omnipotence?  He wants you to know things impossible to know and inaccessible.

God doesn’t just want to do things for you; that’s easy.  He wants to be Someone to you – your intimate friend and companion.

#2. There Are Things You Do Know That God
    Wants To Show You All The Time
You live in a world ruined by sin, redeemed by God’s Son.  You need to understand that the whole creation currently groans waiting for the Son to return and claim what He conquered on the Cross.

In that broad context there are things God wants to show you all the time, e.g., how it’s all going to work out in the end.

Since God was talking to Jeremiah about Israel and Judah, a lot of the remaining verses look at their ultimate future when God restores them.

Jeremiah 33:4    “For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the houses of this city and the houses of the kings of Judah, which have been Pulled down to fortify against the siege mounds and the sword:
Jeremiah 33:5    ‘They come to fight with the Chaldeans, but only to fill their places with the dead bodies of men whom I will slay in My anger and My fury, all for whose wickedness I have hidden My face from this city.

The people were huddled inside the walls of Jerusalem as the Chaldeans laid siege.  To reinforce the walls, the Jews tore down the palace and their houses that were adjacent to the walls.

What a powerful dramatization of what sin does to you.  It causes you to pull down your own house with your own hands.  God wants to build; the devil always has in mind only to destroy.

With that awful scene in mind we can thrill in the next set of verses.  Nothing new is revealed but what a wonderful future they establish for Israel.

Jeremiah 33:6    Behold, I will bring it health and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth.
Jeremiah 33:7    And I will cause the captives of Judah and the captives of Israel to return, and will rebuild those places as at the first.
Jeremiah 33:8    I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me.
Jeremiah 33:9    Then it shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise, and an honor before all nations of the earth, who shall hear all the good that I do to them; they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and all the prosperity that I provide for it.’
Jeremiah 33:10    “Thus says the LORD: ‘Again there shall be heard in this place – of which you say, “It is desolate, without man and without beast” – in the cities of Judah, in the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast,
Jeremiah 33:11    the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who will say: “Praise the LORD of hosts, For the LORD is good, For His mercy endures forever”- and of those who will bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the LORD. For I will cause the captives of the land to return as at the first,’ says the LORD.
Jeremiah 33:12    “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘In this place which is desolate, without man and without beast, and in all its cities, there shall again be a dwelling place of shepherds causing their flocks to lie down.
Jeremiah 33:13    In the cities of the mountains, in the cities of the lowland, in the cities of the South, in the land of Benjamin, in the places around Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, the flocks shall again pass under the hands of him who counts them,’ says the LORD.
Jeremiah 33:14    ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah:

It’s a description that looks beyond our own time to the Second Coming of Jesus to establish the kingdom of God on the earth.

Jeremiah 33:15    ‘In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David A Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.
Jeremiah 33:16    In those days Judah will be saved, And Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’
Jeremiah 33:17    “For thus says the LORD: ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel;
Jeremiah 33:18    nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually.’ ”

We know from Scripture that there will be a Temple in the kingdom and that sacrifices will be offered.  If that troubles you I’d refer you to our studies from Wednesday night in Ezekiel.  The sacrifices will be a memorial to show unsaved people born during the one thousand years of the kingdom on earth what it cost for Jesus to save them.

Jeremiah 33:19    And the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying,
Jeremiah 33:20    “Thus says the LORD: ‘If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season,
Jeremiah 33:21    then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levites, the priests, My ministers.
Jeremiah 33:22    As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured, so will I multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.’ ”

These are serious future prophecies.  God must, and He will, keep His promises to the physical descendants of Abraham.  The Jews are back in the land never to be displaced again.

Jeremiah 33:23    Moreover the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying,
Jeremiah 33:24    “Have you not considered what these people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the LORD has chosen, He has also cast them off’? Thus they have despised My people, as if they should no more be a nation before them.
Jeremiah 33:25    “Thus says the LORD: ‘If My covenant is not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth,
Jeremiah 33:26    then I will cast away the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his descendants to be rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will cause their captives to return, and will have mercy on them.’ ”

The suffering was so severe, so intense, that the Jews themselves believed God had abandoned His promises to them.  Not possible.

The Jews had God’s Word to show them their future.  It was something The Lord could show them all the time.

We have God’s completed Word.  We know the outline for earth’s future and we have general but certain promises regarding our own futures as believers.  It’s stuff The Lord can show us all the time – whenever we refer to His Word.

We know how it’s all going to end for us.  It’s either rapture or death and resurrection followed by reward and eternity.

While we await the end that never ends, we’re called upon to endure.  All of us endure some suffering since the world is ruined awaiting redemption.
When we do, we can call upon God knowing He wants to show us impossible, inaccessible things about His love that we could never know any other way.

Are you in some trial, in the midst of suffering?  Feel like you’re failing?  Can’t hold on much longer?  Ready to give up?

If nothing else God is showing you that it isn’t up to you but it is on Him to keep you and bring you safely home.  That He will never leave you nor forsake you.  That nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

You might ‘know’ all that by the hearing of the ear.  God wants you to see Him with the eyes of faith.

Tell God How You Field (Jeremiah 32)

“I have some prime swampland in Florida to sell you” is an expression people once used whenever someone was swindled on a purchase of so-called lucrative land that turned out to be worthless.

No one has really used the expression much since the 1960’s and 1970’s when Walt Disney did purchase worthless swampland in Florida and transformed it into Walt Disney World.

In our text Jeremiah is told by God to purchase a plot of land in his hometown of Anathoth.  It was currently worthless in that the invading armies of King Nebuchadnezzar were already occupying it.  Its value would decline even more when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and deported the population of Judah.

It seemed by all natural indicators to be downright foolish to buy land in Anathoth… But that is exactly what Jeremiah did.

When Jeremiah questioned Him, God declared how He was going to transform the land in the future into something wonderful.

God asks His followers to do a lot of seemingly foolish things that He transforms into something wonderful in the future.

Noah was asked to build the ark even though the rain was a thing “not yet seen” (Hebrews 11:7).
Abraham was asked to set out for the Promised Land “not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

Fools for Christ – that’s what they were and that’s who we are supposed to be.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Are You Foolish Enough To Buy A Worthless Field For Jesus?, and #2 Is Jesus Faithful Enough To Bless A Worthless Field For You?

#1    Are You Foolish Enough
    To Buy A Worthless Field For Jesus?

Perhaps it would be better to ask, “Are you willing to seem foolish for Jesus?”  What He asks of you is never truly foolish; it only seems that way at the time – like building a boat when it had never rained or starting out on a journey not knowing your destination.

You answer the question when God asks you to do something that seems foolish – like buying a worthless field.

Jeremiah 32:1    The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD -in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar.
Jeremiah 32:2    For then the king of Babylon’s army besieged Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the prison, which was in the king of Judah’s house.
Jeremiah 32:3    For Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying, “Why do you prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it;
Jeremiah 32:4    and Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape from the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face, and see him eye to eye;
Jeremiah 32:5    then he shall lead Zedekiah to Babylon, and there he shall be until I visit him,” says the LORD; “though you fight with the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed” ‘?”

Jeremiah was under a sort of house arrest.  Jerusalem was already under siege.  Anathoth had already been deserted by its inhabitants and was in the possession of Babylonian troops.  The last thing on your mind was buying ‘swampland’ in Anathoth.

Unless you were God.

Jeremiah 32:6    And Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me, saying,
Jeremiah 32:7    ‘Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you, saying, “Buy my field which is in Anathoth, for the right of redemption is yours to buy it.” ‘
Jeremiah 32:8    Then Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the prison according to the word of the LORD, and said to me, ‘Please buy my field that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin; for the right of inheritance is yours, and the redemption yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.

Jeremiah may have initially thought he was making this up; that it wasn’t really from The Lord.  I’m sure he was hoping it was a bad dream.  That’s how outrageous an idea it was.  It wasn’t until  Hanamel came that Jeremiah knew “this was the Word of The Lord.”

Hanamel doesn’t come across as being very spiritual.  Shrewd, by worldly standards, but not spiritual.  Cash, in the form of silver, might prove valuable during a captivity, but not real estate.  He must have thought that cousin Jeremiah was just foolish enough to buy the land.

You see the worldly, shrewd man; and you see the heavenly, spiritual man.  It’s clear which one we want to be, but which one are we most of the time?

For example. How much am I investing in the work of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  I’m not talking about throwing money at something that seems foolish.  I’m talking about investing in the kingdom by regular, sacrificial giving that God has promised to bless both now and in eternity.  The majority of believers give very little money to the work of The Lord.  I think the national average is less than 3% of their income.  And that’s among those who give regularly.  Quite a lot of believers give nothing of their money to God’s work.

If you’re not already giving when it makes sense, out of love, to further godly projects you can see with your own eyes, then it’s going to be a hard sell for you to give when it may seem foolish.

Jeremiah 32:9    So I bought the field from Hanamel, the son of my uncle who was in Anathoth, and weighed out to him the money -seventeen shekels of silver.
Jeremiah 32:10    And I signed the deed and sealed it, took witnesses, and weighed the money on the scales.
Jeremiah 32:11    So I took the purchase deed, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open;
Jeremiah 32:12    and I gave the purchase deed to Baruch the son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my uncle’s son, and in the presence of the witnesses who signed the purchase deed, before all the Jews who sat in the court of the prison.
Jeremiah 32:13    “Then I charged Baruch before them, saying,
Jeremiah 32:14    ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Take these deeds, both this purchase deed which is sealed and this deed which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may last many days.”

There is a lot of interesting legal and historical information in these verses.  For our purposes I would note that Jeremiah made a big deal out of this transaction.  It wasn’t something he tried to keep quiet.  He went through all the normal channels and involved lots of other folks – who must have thought him a fool being taken advantage of.

One thing about being a fool for Jesus. God let’s people know; He puts you on display.

Jeremiah 32:15    For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land.” ‘

It seemed foolish but it had a spiritual spin.  It was symbolic.  Because God was promising the eventual return to the land, what seemed worthless was actually a steal.

If he believed his own prophecies, that God would one day restore the Jews to the land, then Jeremiah should be willing to buy the field for his descendants.

We like to say, “Your walk needs to match your talk.”  It’s a nicer way of saying, “Put up or shut up.”  Or, in this case, “Put your money where your mouth is.”
We are never going to be perfect this side of Heaven but we are called upon to have integrity and to be consistent between what we say we believe and how we behave.

Jeremiah 32:16    “Now when I had delivered the purchase deed to Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed to the LORD, saying:
Jeremiah 32:17    ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.
Jeremiah 32:18    You show lovingkindness to thousands, and repay the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them – the Great, the Mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts.
Jeremiah 32:19    You are great in counsel and mighty in work, for your eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings.
Jeremiah 32:20    You have set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, to this day, and in Israel and among other men; and You have made Yourself a name, as it is this day.
Jeremiah 32:21    You have brought Your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and with great terror;
Jeremiah 32:22    You have given them this land, of which You swore to their fathers to give them – “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Jeremiah 32:23    And they came in and took possession of it, but they have not obeyed Your voice or walked in Your law. They have done nothing of all that You commanded them to do; therefore You have caused all this calamity to come upon them.

What a great read that was.  What an awesome God we serve.  Jeremiah seemed to be on a spiritual high – until you realize this was a preface to him saying “But…” and wondering why he was being asked to act like a fool.

He said,

Jeremiah 32:24    ‘Look, the siege mounds! They have come to the city to take it; and the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans who fight against it, because of the sword and famine and pestilence. What You have spoken has happened; there You see it!
Jeremiah 32:25    And You have said to me, O Lord GOD, “Buy the field for money, and take witnesses”! – yet the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’ ”

Jeremiah knew it was God’s will he buy the field; he was willing to be a fool for The Lord.  Still, he struggled with it all.

It’s hard to look foolish.  To be building a boat when it had never rained.  To be headed toward a promised land and not know where you were going.

Or, in our cases, to hold on to biblical values of marriage and family while the rest of the country is immersed in immorality.  Or any number of other things that constitute the normal Christian life that seem foolish by the world’s lowered standards.

Supreme Court Justice Atonin Scalia on April 9, 1996, addressed a prayer breakfast in Jackson, Michigan, sponsored by the Southern Baptist-affiliated Mississippi College School of Law’s Christian Legal Society.  Justice Scalia told the audience that Christians must proclaim their biblical faith and belief in miracles and ignore the scorn of the “worldly wise.”

Summing up, Justice Scalia declared, “We must pray for the courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world.  We are fools for Christ’s sake.”

We must therefore ask, “Is there a field Jesus has shown me that I ought to buy but would look foolish doing so?”

I can’t even begin to guess what field The Lord might be showing you.  It’s a very personal question.

I can say this.  If you never do anything for the Lord that makes you look foolish, then you’re passing on the fields He is asking you to buy – because every one of His followers must be a fool for Christ.

#2    Is Jesus Faithful Enough
    To Bless A Worthless Field For You?

The field Jeremiah bought was only worthless from a temporary, worldly perspective.  From God’s vantage point it was priceless and the Babylonian invasion was the perfect time to invest in His promises.

Jeremiah 32:26    Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying,
Jeremiah 32:27    “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?

Ah… No.  God is not just powerful, however.  He is faithful – and He will keep His promises.

Jeremiah 32:28    Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall take it.
Jeremiah 32:29    And the Chaldeans who fight against this city shall come and set fire to this city and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs they have offered incense to Baal and poured out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke Me to anger;

Jeremiah 32:30    because the children of Israel and the children of Judah have done only evil before Me from their youth. For the children of Israel have provoked Me only to anger with the work of their hands,’ says the LORD.
Jeremiah 32:31    ‘For this city has been to Me a provocation of My anger and My fury from the day that they built it, even to this day; so I will remove it from before My face
Jeremiah 32:32    because of all the evil of the children of Israel and the children of Judah, which they have done to provoke Me to anger – they, their kings, their princes, their priests, their prophets, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 32:33    And they have turned to Me the back, and not the face; though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not listened to receive instruction.
Jeremiah 32:34    But they set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to defile it.
Jeremiah 32:35    And they built the high places of Baal which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.’

God again reiterated exactly what was happening and why.  It was discipline on His children.  When you are a nation then discipline takes on the form of being conquered by another nation.

They certainly deserved the captivity that was coming.  Which is worse – God allowing Jerusalem to be burned, or the Jews offering children as sacrifices in the fires of the god Molech?

Jeremiah 32:36    “Now therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence:
Jeremiah 32:37    Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely.
Jeremiah 32:38    They shall be My people, and I will be their God;
Jeremiah 32:39    then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them.
Jeremiah 32:40    And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.
Jeremiah 32:41    Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.’

If you are God you can skip over huge periods of time when you are talking.  The things God promises in these verses have still not yet happened.  Enough has occurred to know that He is God and that He will perform what He has promised.  Israel is a nation again, in her promised land, never to again be displaced.

But as a nation they have not embraced Jesus as their Savior so they are still awaiting the fulfillment of the New Covenant alluded to in these verses.

The New Covenant was a major focus of our last study so I won’t go over it again.  Only I will say that today, as we await the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, Jews and Gentiles who trust Jesus for salvation are partaking of the New Covenant – having their sins forgiven once and for all, with immediate access to God’s throne, and with the permanent indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

Jeremiah 32:42    “For thus says the LORD: ‘Just as I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will bring on them all the good that I have promised them.
Jeremiah 32:43    And fields will be bought in this land of which you say, “It is desolate, without man or beast; it has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans.”
Jeremiah 32:44    Men will buy fields for money, sign deeds and seal them, and take witnesses, in the land of Benjamin, in the places around Jerusalem, in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the mountains, in the cities of the lowland, and in the cities of the South; for I will cause their captives to return,’ says the LORD.”

Yes, Jeremiah; you look foolish now.  But there is coming a time when the investment you made in the field in Anathoth will pay off.  It will be the beachfront property of its day when Jesus returns in His Second Coming to establish God’s kingdom on the earth.
In that day all the Hanamel’s who seemed so shrewd will be exposed as worldly men who lived for today rather than for eternity.

When Walt Disney started buying swampland in Florida he did so under different names so no one would realize what he was doing.  He knew that land values would skyrocket once folks understood he wanted the land.  Don’t you wish you had had bought a few acres to resell to Disney?
Well, that opportunity has passed, but any investment you make for The Lord will, in the future, be the Orlando of its time.  You can’t go wrong investing with The Lord.

I asked, “Is Jesus faithful enough to bless a worthless field for you?”  Yes; of course; without question.

His promised blessing may not come today… or tomorrow… or this year… or in your lifetime.

The foundation of your life is His faithfulness – ultimately.  The only variable is your willingness or unwillingness to look foolish as various fields are offered to you.

Buy the field; build the boat; take the journey.  You’ll be in great company.