Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 24

    Jeremiah 24 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD spoke to me in a vision after King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia had come to Judah and taken King Jehoiachin, his officials, and all the skilled workers back to Babylonia. In this vision I saw two baskets of figs in front of the LORD's temple.
  2. One basket was full of very good figs that ripened early, and the other was full of rotten figs that were not fit to eat.
  3. "Jeremiah," the LORD asked, "what do you see?" "Figs," I said. "Some are very good, but the others are too rotten to eat."
  4. Then the LORD told me to say:
  5. People of Judah, the good figs stand for those of you I sent away as exiles to Babylonia,
  6. where I am watching over them. Then someday I will bring them back to this land. I will plant them, instead of uprooting them, and I will build them up, rather than tearing them down.
  7. I will give them a desire to know me and to be my people. They will want me to be their God, and they will turn back to me with all their heart.
  8. The rotten figs stand for King Zedekiah of Judah, his officials, and all the others who were not taken away to Babylonia, whether they stayed here in Judah or went to live in Egypt.
  9. I will punish them with a terrible disaster, and everyone on earth will tremble when they hear about it. I will force the people of Judah to go to foreign countries, where they will be cursed and insulted.
  10. War and hunger and disease will strike them, until they finally disappear from the land that I gave them and their ancestors.

Things are not always as they seem, and with God things are often upside down or opposite to what we might expect. Such is the case with the message of chapter 24. Babylon had defeated Judah and taken many of its leaders captive, deporting them to Babylon. The expectation of those at that time and even our expectation now might be that those deported were worse off, or even cursed, compared to those who survived Babylon's destruction of Judah and remained in their homeland. But God's message to Jeremiah indicates that the opposite was true.

God showed Jeremiah two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the Lord. One basket contained good figs and the other bad figs. The vision may have represented the offering of firstfruits before the Lord in which case the basket of bad figs would be unacceptable to the Lord.  The interpretation given by God to Jeremiah was surprising. The good figs represented the exiles from Judah whom God regarded as good, not bad as might be expected, and the bad figs represented those "remaining in this land (Judah) and those living in the land of Egypt." Those living in Egypt had disobeyed the Lord and fled to Egypt for safety. But there is no safety apart from the Lord. We are safer in proximity to danger but in God's care than away from apparent danger and also away from God's care.

Those living in exile, who were represented by the good figs, were regarded as good by God. He had sent them away from Judah for their good rather than for their harm. Thus He would protect them in their exile and "give them a heart to know Me (God)" and "I will be their God because they will return to Me with all their heart." (24:6-7) But as for those who remained in Judah and in Egypt, who were represented by the bad figs, God said He would "make them an object of horror and disaster to all the kingdoms of the earth." (24:9) They were the ones who would truly be banished from the land and from God. (24:10)

Those who trust in the Lord will demonstrate their trust by waiting on Him to fully reveal His work in their lives. God exiled to Babylon those He was protecting from what was to happen to those "bad figs" remaining in Judah. What seemed bad was really good. If we are to understand what God is doing in our lives we will have to withhold judgments based on our own perceptions and simply wait on God to see what He has in store, trusting that it is good. Otherwise we can miss out on what He has for us.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 23

    Jeremiah 23 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. You leaders of my people are like shepherds that kill and scatter the sheep.
  2. You were supposed to take care of my people, but instead you chased them away. So now I'll really take care of you, and believe me, you will pay for your crimes!
  3. I will bring the rest of my people home from the lands where I have scattered them, and they will grow into a mighty nation.
  4. I promise to choose leaders who will care for them like real shepherds. All of my people will be there, and they will never again be frightened.
  5. Someday I will appoint an honest king from the family of David, a king who will be wise and rule with justice.
  6. As long as he is king, Israel will have peace, and Judah will be safe. The name of this king will be "The LORD Gives Justice."
  7. A time will come when you will again worship me. But you will no longer call me the Living God who rescued Israel from Egypt.
  8. Instead, you will call me the Living God who rescued you from the land in the north and from all the other countries where I had forced you to go. And you will once again live in your own land.
  9. When I think of the prophets, I am shocked, and I tremble like someone drunk, because of the LORD and his sacred words.
  10. Those unfaithful prophets misuse their power all over the country. So God turned the pasturelands into scorching deserts.
  11. The LORD told me to say: You prophets and priests think so little of me, the LORD, that you even sin in my own temple!
  12. Now I will punish you with disaster, and you will slip and fall in the darkness. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  13. The prophets in Samaria were disgusting to me, because they preached in the name of Baal and led my people astray.
  14. And you prophets in Jerusalem are even worse. You're unfaithful in marriage and never tell the truth. You even lead others to sin instead of helping them turn back to me. You and the people of Jerusalem are evil like Sodom and Gomorrah.
  15. You prophets in Jerusalem have spread evil everywhere. That's why I, the LORD, promise to give you bitter poison to eat and drink.
  16. Don't listen to the lies of these false prophets, you people of Judah! The message they preach is something they imagined; it did not come from me, the LORD All-Powerful.
  17. These prophets go to people who refuse to respect me and who are stubborn and do whatever they want. The prophets tell them, "The LORD has promised everything will be fine."
  18. But I, the LORD, tell you that these prophets have never attended a meeting of my council in heaven or heard me speak.
  19. They are evil! So in my anger I will strike them like a violent storm.
  20. I won't calm down, until I have finished what I have decided to do. Someday you will understand exactly what I mean.
  21. I did not send these prophets or speak to them, but they ran to find you and to preach their message.
  22. If they had been in a meeting of my council in heaven, they would have told you people of Judah to give up your sins and come back to me.
  23. I am everywhere-- both near and far,
  24. in heaven and on earth. There are no secret places where you can hide from me.
  25. These unfaithful prophets claim that I have given them a dream or a vision, and then they tell lies in my name.
  26. But everything they say comes from their own twisted minds. How long can this go on?
  27. They tell each other their dreams and try to get my people to reject me, just as their ancestors left me and worshiped Baal.
  28. Their dreams and my truth are as different as straw and wheat. But when prophets speak for me, they must say only what I have told them.
  29. My words are a powerful fire; they are a hammer that shatters rocks.
  30. These unfaithful prophets claim I give them their dreams, but it isn't true. I didn't choose them to be my prophets, and yet they babble on and on, speaking in my name, while stealing words from each other. And when my people hear these liars, they are led astray instead of being helped. So I warn you that I am now the enemy of these prophets. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  31. (SEE 23:30)
  32. (SEE 23:30)
  33. Jeremiah, when a prophet or a priest or anyone else comes to you and asks, "Does the LORD have news for us?" tell them, "You people are a nuisance to the LORD, and he will get rid of you."
  34. If any of you say, "Here is news from the LORD," I will punish you and your families, even if you are a prophet or a priest.
  35. Instead, you must ask your friends and relatives, "What answer did the LORD give?" or "What has the LORD said?"
  36. It seems that you each have your own news! So if you say, "Here is news from the LORD," you are twisting my words into a lie. Remember that I am your God, the LORD All-Powerful.
  37. If you go to a prophet, it's all right to ask, "What answer did the LORD give to my question?" or "What has the LORD said?"
  38. But if you disobey me and say, "Here is news from the LORD,"
  39. I will pick you up and throw you far away. And I will abandon this city of Jerusalem that I gave to your ancestors.
  40. You will never be free from your shame and disgrace.

In the midst of messages of doom for Judah comes this prophecy in the opening verses of chapter 23 of God's restoration of all Israel. It is a promise of the coming Messiah who will "gather the remnant of My flock from all the lands where I have banished them." Once gathered, "They will become fruitful and numerous." This gathering of Israel will overshadow Israel's exodus from Egypt. Instead of references to the exodus they will refer to this gathering of Israel from "the land of the north and from all the other countries" where they had been banished by God. (23:7-8)

Beginning with verse 9, the remainder of the chapter addresses Judah's false prophets. Both prophet and priest in Judah were ungodly, but the focus in these verses is on the prophets who "commit adultery and walk in lies. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, and none turns his back on evil." (23:14) Rather than turn the people from their evil ways, the prophets kept proclaiming that the Lord had said, "You will have peace." and "No harm will come to you." (23:17) In other words, they could continue their evil ways without fear of reprisal. But God made it clear, "I did not send these prophets, yet they ran with a message. I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied." (23:21)

These false prophets evidently had the idea that they could hide from God, giving their false messages in secret. But God reminded them that He fills the heavens and the earth. There is nothing He does not know, including their false prophecies. Therefore, they should take note that "I am against those who prophesy false dreams . . . telling them and leading My people astray with their falsehoods and their boasting. " (23:32 Because they have led the people astray, God says of these false prophets, "I will bring on you everlasting shame and humiliation that will never be forgotten." (23:40)

Those to whom leadership responsibility is given are held to greater accountability, and even greater accountability will be given those who presume to be leaders.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 22

    Jeremiah 22 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD sent me to the palace of the king of Judah to speak to the king, his officials, and everyone else who was there. The LORD told me to say: I am the LORD, so pay attention! You have been allowing people to cheat, rob, and take advantage of widows, orphans, and foreigners who live here. Innocent people have become victims of violence, and some of them have even been killed. But now I command you to do what is right and see that justice is done. Rescue everyone who has suffered from injustice.
  2. (SEE 22:1)
  3. (SEE 22:1)
  4. If you obey me, the kings from David's family will continue to rule Judah from this palace. They and their officials will ride in and out on their horses or in their chariots.
  5. But if you ignore me, I promise in my own name that this palace will lie in ruins.
  6. Listen to what I think about it: The palace of Judah's king is as glorious as Gilead or Lebanon's highest peaks. But it will be as empty as a ghost-town when I'm through with it.
  7. I'll send troops to tear it apart, and its beautiful cedar beams will be used for firewood.
  8. People from different nations will pass by and ask, "Why did the LORD do this to such a great city as Jerusalem?"
  9. Others will answer, "It's because the people worshiped foreign gods and broke the agreement that the LORD their God had made with them."
  10. King Josiah is dead, so don't cry for him. Instead, cry for his son King Jehoahaz, dragged off to another country, never to return.
  11. Jehoahaz became king of Judah after his father King Josiah died. But Jehoahaz was taken as a prisoner to a foreign country. Now I, the LORD, promise that he will die there without ever seeing his own land again. *
  12. (SEE 22:11)
  13. King Jehoiakim, you are doomed! You built a palace with large rooms upstairs.
  14. You put in big windows and used cedar paneling and red paint. But you were unfair and forced the builders to work without pay. *
  15. More cedar in your palace doesn't make you a better king than your father Josiah. He always did right-- he gave justice to the poor and was honest.
  16. That's what it means to truly know me. So he lived a comfortable life and always had enough to eat and drink.
  17. But all you think about is how to cheat or abuse or murder some innocent victim.
  18. Jehoiakim, no one will cry at your funeral. They won't turn to each other and ask, "Why did our great king have to die?"
  19. You will be given a burial fit for a donkey; your body will be dragged outside the city gates and tossed in the dirt. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  20. People of Jerusalem, the nations you trusted have been crushed. Go to Lebanon and weep; cry in the land of Bashan and in Moab.
  21. When times were good, I warned you. But you ignored me, just as you have done since Israel was young.
  22. Now you will be disgraced because of your sins. Your leaders will be swept away by the wind, and the nations you trusted will be captured and dragged to a foreign country.
  23. Those who live in the palace paneled with cedar will groan with pain like women giving birth.
  24. King Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, even if you were the ring I wear as the sign of my royal power, I would still pull you from my finger.
  25. I would hand you over to the enemy you fear, to King Nebuchadnezzar and his army, who want to kill you.
  26. You and your mother were born in Judah, but I will throw both of you into a foreign country, where you will die,
  27. longing to return home.
  28. Jehoiachin, you are unwanted like a broken clay pot. So you and your children will be thrown into a country you know nothing about.
  29. Land of Judah, I am the LORD. Now listen to what I say!
  30. Erase the names of Jehoiachin's children from the royal records. He is a complete failure, and so none of them will ever be king. I, the LORD, have spoken.

Good or bad, our actions return to either bless us or curse us. Unfortunately, the actions of Judah's kings were returning to curse them. In the remainder of the book, Jeremiah is sent with his messages to the leaders of the nation and no longer to the people. That is the case in chapter 22. Jeremiah was sent to king Zedekiah with the message to act justly. Otherwise he and his fine palace would come to ruin.

Three other kings, who preceded Zedekiah chronologically, are also addressed in this chapter. However, the fates of the other three were already set. No word of hope was offered them. Since these other kings preceded Zedekiah and were already in exile, might they have been mentioned here as an example to Zedekiah? None of them had been just or godly kings, and their actions had cursed them. Zedekiah could still turn away his own destruction.

The simple answer to be given the question of why any of these kings were punished is that "they abandoned the covenant of the LORD their God and worshiped and served other gods." (22:9) The other ills addressed by Jeremiah, the unjust acts of these kings, was an outcome of their abandoning the Lord and turning to other gods.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 21

    Jeremiah 21 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. King Zedekiah of Judah sent for Pashhur son of Malchiah and for a priest named Zephaniah son of Maaseiah. Then he told them,"Talk with Jeremiah for me." So they came to me and said,
  2. "King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia has attacked Judah. Please ask the LORD to work miracles for our people, as he has done in the past, so that Nebuchadnezzar will leave us alone."
  3. I told them that the LORD God of Israel had told me to say to King Zedekiah: The Babylonians have surrounded Jerusalem and want to kill you and your people. You are asking me to save you, but you have made me furious. So I will stretch out my mighty arm and fight against you myself. Your army is using spears and swords to fight the Babylonians, but I will make your own weapons turn and attack you. I will send a horrible disease to kill many of the people and animals in Jerusalem, and there will be nothing left to eat. Finally, I will let King Nebuchadnezzar and his army fight their way to the center of Jerusalem and capture everyone who is left alive, including you and your officials. But Nebuchadnezzar won't be kind or show any mercy--he will have you killed! I, the LORD, have spoken.
  4. (SEE 21:3)
  5. (SEE 21:3)
  6. (SEE 21:3)
  7. (SEE 21:3)
  8. Then I told them that the LORD had said: People of Jerusalem, I, the LORD, give you the choice of life or death.
  9. The Babylonian army has surrounded Jerusalem, so if you want to live, you must go out and surrender to them. But if you want to die because of hunger, disease, or war, then stay here in the city.
  10. I have decided not to rescue Jerusalem. Instead, I am going to let the king of Babylonia burn it to the ground. I, the LORD, have spoken. *
  11. Pay attention, you that belong to the royal family.
  12. Each new day, make sure that justice is done, and rescue those who are being robbed. Or else my anger will flame up like a fire that never goes out.
  13. Jerusalem, from your mountaintop you look out over the valleys and think you are safe. But I, the LORD, am angry,
  14. and I will punish you as you deserve. I'll set your palace on fire, and everything around you will go up in smoke.

Circumstances have changed considerably from chapter 20 to chapter 21. Chapter 20 records an account of Pashhur the priest, who was the chief officer in the temple, having Jeremiah beaten and placed in stocks overnight for his message of doom against Judah and its leaders. Chapter 21 records an account of a different Pashhur who was sent by King Zedekiah to enquire of Jeremiah. By this time Babylon had laid siege to Jerusalem. Now instead of Jeremiah going to the king or the people with a message from the Lord and being ridiculed or beaten because of that message, the king went to Jeremiah to seek a message from the Lord, hoping it would be favorable. Does this mean the king recognized Jeremiah as a true prophet of God? It would seem so. In that case, why did he not take seriously the messages Jeremiah had been giving him prior to this time? Maybe the king didn't recognize Jeremiah as a true prophet until he saw the Babylonian army outside the city gates and realized that what Jeremiah had been telling him had come to pass? Whatever the case, the tables had turned and the king was taking Jeremiah seriously.

The message Jeremiah gave the king's messengers is not what the king wants to hear. Instead of God fighting against Judah's enemy, God was going to fight against Judah, turning their own weapons against them. With the city under siege, plague would break out among the people killing many. Many others who escaped the plague would die from lack of food. But those who survived both plague and famine will not rejoice for the Babylonians will either put them to the sword or take them into captivity. However, the Lord offered a choice between life and death. If they chose life, they would have to leave the city and surrender to the enemy. Those choosing death would stay in the city. All staying in the city would die. Some would boast that the city was impenetrable, but God told them He was against them and the city was not safe.

Even as hopeless as the situation seemed, it appears that God held out a ray of hope. To the king, referring to him as "House of David," the Lord said, "Administer justice every morning, and rescue the victim of robbery from the hand of his oppressor, or My anger will flare up like fire and burn unquenchably because of their evil deeds." (21:12) This seems to be an offer of hope that God would yet turn away their destruction if the king would start doing what was right.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 20

    Jeremiah 20 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Pashhur son of Immer was a priest and the chief of temple security. He heard what I had said,
  2. and so he hit me. Then he had me arrested and put in chains at the Benjamin Gate in the LORD's temple.
  3. The next day, when Pashhur let me go free, I told him that the LORD had said: No longer will I call you Pashhur. Instead, I will call you Afraid-of-Everything.
  4. You will be afraid, and you will bring fear to your friends as well. You will see enemies kill them in battle. Then I will have the king of Babylonia take everyone in Judah prisoner, killing some and dragging the rest away to Babylonia.
  5. He will clean out the royal treasury and take everything else of value from Jerusalem.
  6. Pashhur, you are guilty of telling lies and claiming they were messages from me. That's why I will have the Babylonians take you, your family, and your friends as prisoners to Babylonia, where you will all die and be buried.
  7. You tricked me, LORD, and I was really fooled. You are stronger than I am, and you have defeated me. People never stop sneering and insulting me.
  8. You have let me announce only destruction and death. Your message has brought me nothing but insults and trouble.
  9. Sometimes I tell myself not to think about you, LORD, or even mention your name. But your message burns in my heart and bones, and I cannot keep silent.
  10. I heard the crowds whisper, "Everyone is afraid. Now's our chance to accuse Jeremiah!" All of my so-called friends are just waiting for me to make a mistake. They say, "Maybe Jeremiah can be tricked. Then we can overpower him and get even at last."
  11. But you, LORD, are a mighty soldier, standing at my side. Those troublemakers will fall down and fail-- terribly embarrassed, forever ashamed.
  12. LORD All-Powerful, you test those who do right, and you know every heart and mind. I have told you my complaints, so let me watch you take revenge on my enemies.
  13. I sing praises to you, LORD. You rescue the oppressed from the wicked.
  14. Put a curse on the day I was born! Don't bless my mother.
  15. Put a curse on the man who told my father, "Good news! You have a son."
  16. May that man be like the towns you destroyed without pity. Let him hear shouts of alarm in the morning and battle cries at noon.
  17. He deserves to die for not killing me before I was born. Then my mother's body would have been my grave.
  18. Why did I have to be born? Was it just to suffer and die in shame?

Jeremiah had previously experienced ridicule from the people of Judah because of his prophesying, but on the occasion of this chapter the abuse is physical. His abuse comes at the hand of Pashhur, the chief officer in the temple, who had Jeremiah beaten and put in stocks overnight. What reason might Pashhur have conjured up in his mind to justify his actions? Obviously he did not like Jeremiah's message, especially since he spoke out against leaders of the nation, including religious leaders. But what reason might he have used to give justification to what he did? Did he accuse Jeremiah of being a false prophet against whom he needed to defend God's honor? Whatever the reason, one who feels compelled to use abuse against those with whom they disagree or even those who are obviously opposed to God, needs to examine their own heart and motives. God does not need nor desire us to protect Him. He is quite capable of protecting Himself and can do so in true justice.

Following this experience Jeremiah seems to have been emotionally vulnerable. First, he complained to God about having to act as His prophet to deliver this message of doom to Judah because of the ridicule it brought on him. The word of the Lord he delivered was for him a "constant disgrace and derision." (20:8) He had considered not delivering these messages from the Lord, but when he tried to hold back the message, it became "a fire burning in my heart, shut up in my bones. I become tired of holding it in, and I cannot prevail." (20:9)

Following his complaint to the Lord, Jeremiah then praised the Lord. He knew that the Lord was his personal warrior, providing protection for him, and so his persecutors had not succeeded in killing him. Thus he sang praise to the Lord for rescuing "the life of the needy from the hand of evil people." (20:13) But then Jeremiah's emotions swung back to the depths of despair and he cursed "the day on which I was born." (20:14) The reason for this cursing of his birth is given in verse 18, "Why did I come out of the womb to see only struggle and sorrow, to end my life in shame?"

Jeremiah seemed to be legitimately thankful to God for protecting him in the mission or calling God had given him, but was not particularly thankful for the calling itself. The message he had to deliver was constantly one of doom and brought continual ridicule to Jeremiah, and, it was obvious the mission he was given would not succeed. It would be only "struggle and sorrow" as he watched Judah persist in her defiance of God resulting in her demise. Since we are prone to measure success on outward signs, we would all, no doubt, feel similar to Jeremiah if given a mission by God that saw no outward positive results. But is that failure? Is it failure when we have faithfully carried out the calling God has given us even when we can see no positive outcome? I think not. I think God measures our success on our faithfulness to Him and the task He gives us. After all, if it is His mission to which we are called, then the outcome is dependent on Him and not on us.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 19

    Jeremiah 19 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said: Jeremiah, go to the pottery shop and buy a clay jar. Then take along some of the city officials and leading priests
  2. and go to Hinnom Valley, just outside Potsherd Gate. Tell the people that I have said:
  3. I am the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, and you kings of Judah and you people of Jerusalem had better pay attention. I am going to bring so much trouble on this valley that everyone who hears about it will be shocked.
  4. The people of Judah stopped worshiping me and made this valley into a place of worship for Baal and other gods that have never helped them or their ancestors or their kings. And they have committed murder here, burning their young, innocent children as sacrifices to Baal. I have never even thought of telling you to do that.
  5. (SEE 19:4)
  6. So watch out! Someday this place will no longer be called Topheth or Hinnom Valley. It will be called Slaughter Valley!
  7. You people of Judah and Jerusalem may have big plans, but here in this valley I'll ruin those plans. I'll let your enemies kill you, and I'll tell the birds and wild animals to eat your dead bodies.
  8. I will turn Jerusalem into a pile of rubble, and every passerby will be shocked and horrified and will make insulting remarks.
  9. And while your enemies are trying to break through your city walls to kill you, the food supply will run out. You will become so hungry that you will eat the flesh of your friends and even of your own children.
  10. Jeremiah, as soon as you have said this, smash the jar while the people are watching.
  11. Then tell them that I have also said: I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I warn you that I will shatter Judah and Jerusalem just like this jar that is broken beyond repair. You will bury your dead here in Topheth, but so many of you will die that there won't be enough room.
  12. I will make Jerusalem as unclean as Topheth, by filling the city with your dead bodies. I will do this because you and your kings have gone up to the roofs of your houses and burned incense to the stars in the sky, as though they were gods. And you have given sacrifices of wine to foreign gods.
  13. (SEE 19:12)
  14. I went to Topheth, where I told the people what the LORD had said. Then I went to the temple courtyard and shouted to the people,
  15. "Listen, everyone! Some time ago, the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, warned you that he would bring disaster on Jerusalem and all nearby villages. But you were stubborn and refused to listen. Now the LORD is going to bring the disaster he promised."

Jeremiah was directed by God to deliver a direct and unadorned message to the leaders and people of Jerusalem and Judah using imagery.  He was to take elders of the people and elders of the priests out with him to the Valley of Hinnom just outside the Potsherd Gate of the city to deliver this message from the Lord. In advance he was to buy a potter's clay jug to use for this occasion. The message Jeremiah was to deliver was this: "This is what the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on this place that everyone who hears about it will shudder." (19:3) Three reasons were given for this disaster: They abandoned God, they burned incense to other gods, and they filled the place with the blood of the innocent, namely they sacrificed their own children as burnt offerings to Baal. (19:4-5)

Having delivered this message, Jeremiah was to then imprint it on their minds through imagery. Taking the clay jug he had bought, he was to shatter it before them and say: "This is what the LORD of Hosts says: I will shatter these people and this city, like one shatters a potter's jar that can never again be mended. They will bury in Topheth until there is no place left to bury." (19:11) When Jeremiah had delivered God's message to the leaders at the Valley of Hinnom, he went back into the city and went directly to the temple where he gave much the same message to the people gathered there.

The tone of this message to Judah was immanent and final. Having heard the message and given it heed, I would have expected to see the enemy army arriving the next day. However, the fact that a message was given Judah at all suggests that there was yet a chance to repent and turn away the disaster. In earlier chapters of Jeremiah God stated that He had given up on Judah because she was so ingrained in her sin that she was not capable of repentance, but the opportunity for repentance remained open right up to the time of the disaster. The same is true for everyone. Regardless of the nature of our sin, our opportunity to repent, and God's willingness to receive us, remain open until death closes our window of opportunity.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 18

    Jeremiah 18 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD told me,
  2. "Go to the pottery shop, and when you get there, I will tell you what to say to the people."
  3. I went there and saw the potter making clay pots on his pottery wheel.
  4. And whenever the clay would not take the shape he wanted, he would change his mind and form it into some other shape.
  5. Then the LORD told me to say:
  6. People of Israel, I, the LORD, have power over you, just as a potter has power over clay.
  7. If I threaten to uproot and shatter an evil nation
  8. and that nation turns from its evil, I will change my mind.
  9. If I promise to make a nation strong,
  10. but its people start disobeying me and doing evil, then I will change my mind and not help them at all.
  11. So listen to me, people of Judah and Jerusalem! I have decided to strike you with disaster, and I won't change my mind unless you stop sinning and start living right.
  12. But I know you won't listen. You might as well answer, "We don't care what you say. We have made plans to sin, and we are going to be stubborn and do what we want!"
  13. So I, the LORD, command you to ask the nations, and find out if they have ever heard of such a horrible sin as what you have done.
  14. The snow on Lebanon's mountains never melts away, and the streams there never run dry.
  15. But you, my people, have turned from me to burn incense to worthless idols. You have left the ancient road to follow an unknown path where you stumble over idols.
  16. Your land will be ruined, and every passerby will look at it with horror and make insulting remarks.
  17. When your enemies attack, I will scatter you like dust blown by an eastern wind. Then, on that day of disaster, I will turn my back on you.
  18. Some of the people said, "Let's get rid of Jeremiah! We will always have priests to teach us God's laws, as well as wise people to give us advice, and prophets to speak the LORD's messages. So, instead of listening to Jeremiah any longer, let's accuse him of a crime."
  19. Please, LORD, answer my prayer. Make my enemies stop accusing me of evil.
  20. I tried to help them, but they are paying me back by digging a pit to trap me. I even begged you not to punish them.
  21. But now I am asking you to let their children starve or be killed in war. Let women lose their husbands and sons to disease and violence.
  22. These people have dug pits and set traps for me, LORD. Make them scream in fear when you send enemy troops to attack their homes.
  23. You know they plan to kill me. So get angry and punish them! Don't ever forgive their terrible crimes.

What activity comes to mind when one thinks of evil? Does failing to listen to God and be obedient to His Word come to mind? It would probably not be among the more common thoughts that come to mind. But this is God's reference to evil in this passage - "However, if it (a nation) does what is evil in My sight by not listening to My voice." (18:10) Judah had a long list of other activities that might be considered evil, but failure to listen to God is the root evil that leads to other evil acts. Although failure to listen to God may not seem like such a terrible thing, we should put it in the context of a child not listening to or responding in any way to their parents. What would we think of such a child? We would fear that something was terribly wrong with such a child. Maybe even something sinister. Only something sinister would cause a child to respond in such a way to those who gave him life and sustenance. It is no different between us and God. Though one may think of God as a being unrelated to mankind, a being that man might objectively choose to worship or not, this is not the case at all. God is our Creator who has made us and everything that exists. Would it not be something sinister that keeps us from acknowledging Him and listening to Him and following His instructions? If nothing else, at least a sinister heart.

This is Judah's status as a people who turned away from God and would not listen to His voice. God illustrated the situation by sending Jeremiah to the house of a potter where he watched the potter working on a clay jar. When the design became flawed, the potter pressed the clay back into a ball and started over to make a different jar. This is the true situation between man and his Creator. God shapes us as He chooses and is free to change his mind and make us into something else. However, we play a role in what He chooses to make of us. In the application of this illustration to Judah God said, "At one moment I might announce concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will uproot, tear down, and destroy it. However, if that nation I have made an announcement about, turns from its evil, I will not bring the disaster on it I had planned." On the other hand, God said, "At another time I announce that I will build and plant a nation or a kingdom. However, if it does what is evil in My sight by not listening to My voice, I will not bring the good I had said I would do to it. (18:7-10) God makes of us what He will, but we play a part in what He does. We have a choice in the matter to either acknowledge God and be obedient to Him or to do otherwise. This choice establishes what our lives will be and what God chooses to make of us.

Earlier Jeremiah had asked God not to bring judgment on Judah, but he now finds himself the object of Judah's wrath, striking out at him as God's messenger of His judgment. Jeremiah realizes Judah will not be turned from her evil ways and now asks God to go ahead with His judgment.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 17

    Jeremiah 17 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. People of Judah, your sins cannot be erased. They are written on your hearts like words chiseled in stone or carved on the corners of your altars. *
  2. One generation after another has set up pagan altars and worshiped the goddess Asherah everywhere in your country-- on hills and mountains, and under large trees.
  3. So I'll take everything you own, including your altars, and give it all to your enemies.
  4. You will lose the land that I gave you, and I will make you slaves in a foreign country, because you have made my anger blaze up like a fire that won't stop burning.
  5. I, the LORD, have put a curse on those who turn from me and trust in human strength.
  6. They will dry up like a bush in salty desert soil, where nothing can grow.
  7. But I will bless those who trust me.
  8. They will be like trees growing beside a stream-- trees with roots that reach down to the water, and with leaves that are always green. They bear fruit every year and are never worried by a lack of rain.
  9. You people of Judah are so deceitful that you even fool yourselves, and you can't change.
  10. But I know your deeds and your thoughts, and I will make sure you get what you deserve.
  11. You cheated others, but everything you gained will fly away, like birds hatched from stolen eggs. Then you will discover what fools you are.
  12. Our LORD, your temple is a glorious throne that has stood on a mountain from the beginning.
  13. You are a spring of water giving Israel life and hope. But if the people reject what you have told me, they will be swept away like words written in dust.
  14. You, LORD, are the one I praise. So heal me and rescue me! Then I will be completely well and perfectly safe.
  15. The people of Judah say to me, "Jeremiah, you claimed to tell us what the LORD has said. So why hasn't it come true?"
  16. Our LORD, you chose me to care for your people, and that's what I have done. You know everything I have said, and I have never once asked you to punish them.
  17. I trust you for protection in times of trouble, so don't frighten me.
  18. Keep me from failure and disgrace, but make my enemies fail and be disgraced. Send destruction to make their worst fears come true.
  19. The LORD said: Jeremiah, stand at each city gate in Jerusalem, including the one the king uses, and speak to him and everyone else. Tell them I have said: I am the LORD, so pay attention.
  20. (SEE 17:19)
  21. If you value your lives, don't do any work on the Sabbath. Don't carry anything through the city gates or through the door of your house, or anywhere else. Keep the Sabbath day sacred! I gave this command to your ancestors, but they were stubborn and refused to obey or to be corrected. But if you obey,
  22. (SEE 17:21)
  23. (SEE 17:21)
  24. (SEE 17:21)
  25. then Judah and Jerusalem will always be ruled by kings from David's family. The king and his officials will ride through these gates on horses or in chariots, and the people of Judah and Jerusalem will be with them. There will always be people living in Jerusalem,
  26. and others will come here from the nearby villages, from the towns of Judah and Benjamin, from the hill country and the foothills to the west, and from the Southern Desert. They will bring sacrifices to please me and to give me thanks, as well as offerings of grain and incense.
  27. But if you keep on carrying things through the city gates on the Sabbath and keep treating it as any other day, I will set fire to these gates and burn down the whole city, including the fortresses.

I often hear the advice given a person to "follow your heart," given in a tone as if one is giving wise, sage advice. But when I hear such counsel I wonder what it really means and if the one giving this counsel really knows what it means. Does it mean simply to "follow the desires of your heart?" Or maybe to "let your conscience be your guide?" Neither is particularly sage advice to the one who has little conscience or the one for whom the desires of their heart are evil. Or what real help does it offer the one whose heart's desire is good and whose conscience is well honed? Maybe it means, then, just to do what you want to do and don't be confused by the counsel of others. But that doesn't sound like such wise advice either. So what is it supposed to mean?

Jeremiah's assessment of the heart is that it is "more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick--who can understand it? " (17:9) Nor is Jeremiah the only writer in scripture to give such an assessment of the heart. If the heart, then, is "more deceitful than anything else," the advice to "follow your heart" doesn't seem like such good advice after all.  Jeremiah makes his statement concerning the heart after extoling the benefits of trusting in the Lord compared to trusting in mankind and in idols. To the implied question as to why a person would choose to trust in man and in idols rather than the Lord when the outcome is so much better for the one who trusts in the Lord, Jeremiah's response is that the "heart is more deceitful than anything else." In other words, it is the heart that deceives one into trusting other things rather than the Lord when trusting the Lord is the only means to real blessing.

It was the deceitful heart that caused Judah to turn to idols and to reject God, even though it was God who had blessed them so richly in the past. It was God who miraculously delivered them from Egypt and led them through the wilderness then repeatedly gave them victory over their enemies in giving them the land of promise. It was God who prospered them bringing them to the pinnacle in their history under the reign of king David and king Solomon. But it was their choice in turning away from God that took them down from that pinnacle and eventually led them to the plight they were in at the time of Jeremiah in which they faced total destruction and exile in a foreign land. And yet they persisted in this choice. This "following of their hearts" was leading them to their destruction. It was their deceitful hearts, also, that led them to taunt the prophet Jeremiah about his predictions of coming destruction, asking when it was to come as if it would not come at all.

To highlight Judah's sin and her rejection of God and His teaching, Jeremiah was instructed to focus on the most basic teaching of the Mosaic Law - observance of the Sabbath. Following and worshipping God involves one's whole life, but the most basic element is the practice of public worship, which for the Jews was the Sabbath observance and for the Christian is the observance of Sunday worship. If this most basic element of worship is not present it is not likely one will worship God in any other part of their life.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 16

    Jeremiah 16 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said to me:
  2. Jeremiah, don't get married and have children--Judah is no place to raise a family.
  3. I'll tell you what's going to happen to children and their parents here.
  4. They will die of horrible diseases and of war and starvation. No one will give them a funeral or bury them, and their bodies will be food for the birds and wild animals. And what's left will lie on the ground like manure.
  5. When someone dies, don't visit the family or show any sorrow. I will no longer love or bless or have any pity on the people of Judah.
  6. Rich and poor alike will die and be left unburied. No one will mourn and show their sorrow by cutting themselves or shaving their heads.
  7. No one will bring food and wine to help comfort those who are mourning the death of their father or mother.
  8. Don't even set foot in a house where there is eating and drinking and celebrating.
  9. Warn the people of Judah that I, the LORD All-Powerful, will put an end to all their parties and wedding celebrations.
  10. They will ask, "Why has the LORD our God threatened us with so many disasters? Have we done something wrong or sinned against him?"
  11. Then tell them I have said: People of Judah, your ancestors turned away from me; they rejected my laws and teachings and started worshiping other gods.
  12. And you have done even worse! You are stubborn, and instead of obeying me, you do whatever evil comes to your mind.
  13. So I will throw you into a land that you and your ancestors know nothing about, a place where you will have to worship other gods both day and night. And I won't feel the least bit sorry for you.
  14. A time will come when you will again worship me. But you will no longer call me the Living God who rescued Israel from Egypt.
  15. Instead, you will call me the Living God who rescued you from that country in the north and from the other countries where I had forced you to go. Someday I will bring you back to this land that I gave your ancestors.
  16. But for now, I am sending enemies who will catch you like fish and hunt you down like wild animals in the hills and the caves.
  17. I can see everything you are doing, even if you try to hide your sins from me.
  18. I will punish you double for your sins, because you have made my own land disgusting. You have filled it with lifeless idols that remind me of dead bodies.
  19. Our LORD, you are the one who gives me strength and protects me like a fortress when I am in trouble. People will come to you from distant nations and say, "Our ancestors worshiped false and useless gods,
  20. worthless idols made by human hands."
  21. Then the LORD replied, "That's why I will teach them about my power, and they will know that I am the true God."

People are not too prone to be very reflective about their lives - particularly concerning spiritual things. But when a person even gives thought to themselves spiritually, they are prone to compare themselves to other people. Our judge, however, is God, and the standard by which we are judged is His standard and not that of other people. Although we might consider ourselves a good person compared to other people, we are looking at the wrong standard.

When God brought disaster upon Judah, He anticipated that they would ask, "Why has the LORD declared all this great disaster against us? What is our guilt? What is our sin that we have committed against the LORD our God?" (16:10) By comparison to everyone else, their lifestyles were the norm, but that was not the standard by which God was judging them. He had established a clear standard with the Israelites when He formed them as a nation, and it was this standard, a standard they had long forgotten, by which God was judging them. Jeremiah was instructed to answer these questions by saying, "Because your fathers abandoned Me"--the LORD's declaration--"and followed other gods, served them, and worshiped them. Indeed, they abandoned Me and did not keep My law. You did more evil than your fathers. Look, each one of you was following the stubbornness of his evil heart, not obeying Me." (16:11-12)

To provide an object lesson for the people of Judah concerning their coming punishment, God placed some restrictions on Jeremiah. He was not to marry or raise a family. He was not to mourn with people in their loss of loved-ones. And he was not to enter a house where there was feasting and joy. Each of these prohibitions on Jeremiah would cause people to ask questions of him as to why he did not do them. His answers to these questions provided God's message to them. As for raising families, they would be lost to diseases, to the sword, and to famine. The prohibition against mourning with people was because God had withdrawn His faithful love and compassion from them and so death would become so prominent none of the dead would be mourned or mourners comforted. Jeremiah was not to enter houses where there was feasting and joy because God was "about to eliminate from this place, before your very eyes and in your time, the sound of joy and gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the bride." (16:9)

In the midst of a message of judgment, though, God gave a message of hope and forgiveness. Even though Judah would be destroyed and the survivors thrown out of the land and taken into exile, the day would come when the Lord would return them to the land. This return would be so noteworthy in the life of Judah that it would become the new exodus in their memories and celebrations.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 15

    Jeremiah 15 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said to me: Even if Moses and Samuel were here, praying with you, I wouldn't change my mind. So send the people of Judah away.
  2. And when they ask where they are going, tell them that I, the LORD, have said: Some of you are going to die of horrible diseases. Others are going to die in war or from starvation. The rest will be led away to a foreign country.
  3. I will punish you in four different ways: You will be killed in war and your bodies dragged off by dogs, your flesh will be eaten by birds, and your bones will be chewed on by wild animals.
  4. This punishment will happen because of the horrible things your King Manasseh did. And you will be disgusting to all nations on earth.
  5. People of Jerusalem, who will feel sorry for you? Will anyone bother to ask if you are well?
  6. My people, you abandoned me and walked away. I am tired of showing mercy; that's why I'll destroy you
  7. by scattering you like straw blown by the wind. I will punish you with sorrow and death, because you refuse to change your ways.
  8. There will be more widows in Judah than grains of sand on a beach. A surprise attack at noon! And the mothers in Jerusalem mourn for their children.
  9. A mother is in deep despair and struggles for breath. Her daylight has turned to darkness-- she has suffered the loss of her seven sons. I will kill anyone who survives. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  10. I wish I had never been born! I'm always in trouble with everyone in Judah. I never lend or borrow money, but everyone curses me just the same.
  11. Then the LORD replied, "I promise to protect you, and when disaster comes, even your enemies will beg you for help."
  12. People of Judah, just as you can't break iron mixed with bronze, you can't defeat the enemies that will attack from the north.
  13. I will give them everything you own, because you have sinned everywhere in your country.
  14. My anger is a fire that cannot be put out, so I will make you slaves of your enemies in a foreign land.
  15. You can see how I suffer insult after insult, all because of you, LORD. Don't be so patient with my enemies; take revenge on them before they kill me.
  16. When you spoke to me, I was glad to obey, because I belong to you, the LORD All-Powerful.
  17. I don't go to parties and have a good time. Instead, I keep to myself, because you have filled me with your anger.
  18. I am badly injured and in constant pain. Are you going to disappoint me, like a stream that goes dry in the heat of summer?
  19. Then the LORD told me: Stop talking like a fool! If you turn back to me and speak my message, I will let you be my prophet once again. I hope the people of Judah will accept what you say. But you can ignore their threats, *
  20. because I am making you strong, like a bronze wall. They are evil and violent, but when they attack,
  21. I will be there to rescue you. I, the LORD, have spoken.

Judah had reached a point of no return. Her sin was so ingrained that her confession, recorded in the previous chapter, was of no use. At best, it was an insincere attempt to gain God's help. It might be termed a "foxhole religion," so-called in regard to soldiers, hunkered down in a foxhole and under siege from their enemy, who are fearful for their lives and call out to God to save them, promising to reform their life if He will but save them. But when danger is past, they revert to their old ways. This was at the heart of Judah's confession and God knew it. The nation was faced with destruction by Babylon and promised reform in return for God's salvation. But God had seen them quickly return to their sin too many times in the past and knew this time was no different. Not even a plea from Moses or Samuel would stir God's compassion toward them. These two men of old had petitioned God in times past for Israel's salvation and God had responded. But He would not respond this time.

Four options lay before the people of Judah: death, likely by plague, death by the sword, death by starvation brought on by famine, or the option of captivity. Which option fell upon an individual was by God's choice and not that of the individual. Judah had already made her choice, thus God was making His choice. No one but God had ever shown sympathy toward Israel and she had rejected even Him. His compassion toward her was exhausted. So the question at that point was, "Who will turn aside to ask about your welfare?" (15:5) And the answer was, without God's compassion no one else would show concern.

The prophet Jeremiah was also at a low point at this time and was questioning God. He had delighted in God's word, had not participated with Judah in her reveling, and had therefore sat alone as a lonely follower of God. So now he asks, "Why has my pain become unending, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?" Not only was Jeremiah suffering as God's servant, he felt God had abandoned him, "You truly have become like a mirage to me--water that is not reliable." (15:18) Evidently Jeremiah was not altogether innocent in these feelings, for God said to him, "If you return, I will restore you; you will stand in My presence. And if you speak noble words, rather than worthless ones, you will be My spokesman." (15:19) Although Jeremiah felt like God had "become like a mirage," it wasn't because God was distant to Jeremiah, but because Jeremiah had become distant to God. And in his distance from God he had come to speak "worthless" words. If Jeremiah returned to God, God promised not only to use him as His spokesman, but also to deliver him from the attacks of the people. But now Jeremiah was not to go to the people with God's message. If they were to receive it, they must come to Jeremiah asking for it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 14

    Jeremiah 14 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. When there had been no rain for a long time, the LORD told me to say to the people:
  2. Judah and Jerusalem weep as the land dries up.
  3. Rulers send their servants to the storage pits for water. But there's none to be found; they return in despair with their jars still empty.
  4. There has been no rain, and farmers feel sick as they watch cracks appear in the dry ground.
  5. A deer gives birth in a field, then abandons her newborn fawn and leaves in search of grass.
  6. Wild donkeys go blind from starvation. So they stand on barren hilltops and sniff the air, hoping to smell green grass.
  7. Our terrible sins may demand that we be punished. But if you rescue us, LORD, everyone will see how great you are.
  8. You're our only hope; you alone can save us now. You help us one day, but you're gone the next.
  9. Did this disaster take you by surprise? Are you a warrior with your hands tied? You have chosen us, and your temple is here. Don't abandon us!
  10. My people, you love to wander away; you don't even try to stay close to me. So now I will reject you and punish you for your sins. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  11. The LORD said, "Jeremiah, don't ask me to help these people.
  12. They may even go without eating and offer sacrifices to please me and to give thanks. But when they cry out for my help, I won't listen, and I won't accept their sacrifices. Instead, I'll send war, starvation, and disease to wipe them out."
  13. I replied, "The other prophets keep telling everyone that you won't send starvation or war, and that you're going to give us peace."
  14. The LORD answered: They claim to speak for me, but they're lying! I didn't even speak to them, much less choose them to be my prophets. Their messages come from worthless dreams, useless fortunetelling, and their own imaginations.
  15. Those lying prophets say there will be peace and plenty of food. But I say that those same prophets will die from war and hunger.
  16. And everyone who listens to them will be killed, just as they deserve. Their dead bodies will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem, because their families will also be dead, and no one will be left to bury them.
  17. Jeremiah, go and tell the people how you feel about all this. So I told them: "Tears will flood my eyes both day and night, because my nation suffers from a deadly wound.
  18. In the fields I see the bodies of those killed in battle. And in the towns I see crowds dying of hunger. But the prophets and priests go about their business, without understanding what has happened."
  19. Have you rejected Judah, LORD? Do you hate Jerusalem? Why did you strike down Judah with a fatal wound? We had hoped for peace and a time of healing, but all we got was terror.
  20. We and our ancestors are guilty of rebelling against you.
  21. If you save us, it will show how great you are. Don't let our enemies disgrace your temple, your beautiful throne. Don't forget that you promised to rescue us.
  22. Idols can't send rain, and showers don't fall by themselves. Only you control the rain, so we put our trust in you, the LORD our God.

A non-reflective people, people who do not reflect on their actions, motives, spiritual condition, etc, seem to assume God is no more aware of these things than are they. Such lack of personal awareness also reveals a faulty perception of God. Is it not obvious that the Creator God is all-knowing, even to the extent of knowing our own thoughts and motives? Judah seemed oblivious to this.

God struck Judah with a drought so severe they were running out of drinking water. Even the animals were in distress for lack of food and water. This condition got their attention and they began to call out to God for help. Why didn't they call out to the gods to which they are turned instead of the God they had rejected? Finally they admitted that those other gods were worthless. So why did they turn to them at all? They were in trouble now so they turned to the true God that they knew could help them. Their plea sounded sincere: "Though our guilt testifies against us, LORD, act for Your name's sake. Indeed, our rebellions are many; we have sinned against You." (14:7) They confessed their sin and based their plea for help on God's honor rather than their own worthiness. This is good. So what was God's response? God said to Jeremiah, "Truly they love to wander; they never rest their feet. So the LORD does not accept them. Now He will remember their guilt and punish their sins. Then the LORD said to me, 'Do not pray for the well-being of these people.'" (14:10-11)

God knew their hearts and knew the shallowness of their confession. As He said, "They love to wander." Had God taken away the drought and restored their water, the people would have soon returned to other gods. But the people were either so shallow and unreflective of their own motives that they did not recognize the shallowness of their confession, or they were foolish enough to try to "con" (defraud or exploit) God. Again God told Jeremiah not to pray for the people. He was going to carry through with His plans to judge His people.

Complicating Judah's situation was the deception of her religious leaders. While Jeremiah delivered God's message of judgment, hoping to bring the people to true repentance and a return to God, other prophets, who had not been sent by God, were telling the people, "You won't see sword or suffer famine. I will certainly give you true peace in this place." (14:13) Thus, these false prophets were not only telling the people what they wanted to hear and bringing favor to themselves, they were also keeping the people from truly turning to God and bringing real peace.

God knows us better than we know ourselves. "Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart." (16:7) Though we may not examine our own hearts and know our real motives, God knows, and it is useless for us to make insincere confessions or promises. We do better to fall at His feet in submission and let Him reveal the condition of our hearts, then allow Him to give us new hearts.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 13

    Jeremiah 13 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD told me, "Go and buy a pair of linen shorts. Wear them for a while, but don't wash them."
  2. So I bought a pair of shorts and put them on.
  3. Then the LORD said,
  4. "Take off the shorts. Go to Parah and hide the shorts in a crack between some large rocks."
  5. And that's what I did.
  6. Some time later the LORD said, "Go back and get the shorts."
  7. I went back and dug the shorts out of their hiding place, but the cloth had rotted, and the shorts were ruined.
  8. Then the LORD said:
  9. Jeremiah, I will use Babylonia to destroy the pride of the people of Judah and Jerusalem.
  10. The people of Judah are evil and stubborn. So instead of listening to me, they do whatever they want and even worship other gods. When I am finished with these people, they will be good for nothing, just like this pair of shorts.
  11. These shorts were tight around your waist, and that's how tightly I held onto the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. I wanted them to be my people. I wanted to make them famous, so that other nations would praise and honor me, but they refused to obey me.
  12. Jeremiah, tell the people of Judah, "The LORD God of Israel orders you to fill your wine jars with wine." They will answer, "Of course we fill our wine jars with wine! Why are you telling us something we already know?"
  13. Then say to them: I am the LORD, and what I'm going to do will make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem appear to be full of wine. And the worst ones will be the kings of David's family and the priests and the prophets.
  14. Then I will smash them against each other like jars. I will have no pity on the young or the old, and they will all be destroyed. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  15. People of Judah, don't be too proud to listen to what the LORD has said.
  16. You hope for light, but God is sending darkness. Evening shadows already deepen in the hills. So return to God and confess your sins to him before you trip and fall.
  17. If you are too proud to listen, I will weep alone. Tears will stream from my eyes when the LORD's people are taken away as prisoners.
  18. The LORD told me to tell you that your king and his mother must surrender their thrones and remove their crowns.
  19. The cities in the Southern Desert are surrounded; no one can get in or out. Everyone in Judah will be taken away.
  20. Jerusalem, you were so proud of ruling the people of Judah. But where are they now? Look north, and you will see your enemies approaching.
  21. You once trusted them to help, but now I'll let them rule you. What do you say about that? You will be in pain like a woman giving birth.
  22. Do you know why your clothes were torn off and you were abused? It was because of your terrible sins.
  23. Can you ever change and do what's right? Can people change the color of their skin, or can a leopard remove its spots? If so, then maybe you can change and learn to do right.
  24. I will scatter you, just as the desert wind blows husks from grain tossed in the air.
  25. I won't change my mind. I, the LORD, have spoken. You rejected me and worshiped false gods. *
  26. You were married to me, but you were unfaithful. You even became a prostitute by worshiping disgusting gods on hilltops and in fields.
  27. So I'll rip off your clothes and leave you naked and ashamed for everyone to see. You are doomed! Will you ever be worthy to worship me again?

Jeremiah was instructed to illustrate to Judah the significance of their situation. God told him to buy a linen article of clothing. The article is variously translated as: underwear, belt, girdle, shorts. Whatever the article of clothing was specifically, it was worn about the waist. It was a rather intimate article of clothing signifying the intimate relationship Judah and Israel were intended to have with God. The fact that it was linen, the material used for the priestly garments, signified the priestly role Judah was intended to have to all people. As God told them during their exodus from Egypt, "you will be My kingdom of priests and My holy nation." (Exodus 19:6) This was the picture Jeremiah was to portray through the symbolism of this linen garment he bought.

But then Jeremiah was to take this garment to a river location. Some say the Euphrates, which was a trip of about 700 miles round trip, and others say the Parah, which was close by in Judah. Both names are the same in Hebrew. At the river, Jeremiah was to hide the garment in a rocky crevice. Then he was to return a long time later and retrieve it. When he retrieved it, it was ruined - "of no use whatsoever." (13:7) As a garment worn around a person's waist, it held a position of renown and honor, but once removed and buried it became completely useless. So it was with Judah. As God's priestly nation, she held a position of renown and honor, but once she left God to serve false gods, her usefulness, her purpose, was gone. She may as well be discarded as was the case with the linen garment.

Judah, having become useless because she had turned to other gods, would be discarded as was the linen garment. "All of Judah has been taken into exile, taken completely into exile." (13:19) If Judah were to repent and turn back to God, she would avoid this exile, but she was so ingrained in her sin that repenting was for her about as likely as a leopard changing its spots. (13:23) It would not happen and so neither would the exile be avoided. It is a sobering thought that should give us pause before taking a step away from God and toward any form of sin. As mentioned before, it is addictive like a drug, and will not turn us loose easily. Thus we will find ourselves powerless to turn from the sin and back to God. Furthermore, it causes us to lose perspective, becoming unable to recognize truth any longer. No longer do we grasp the significance of right and wrong or good and bad. God defines all of life for us, including what is right or wrong or just or unjust. Without Him there is no standard other than one person's opinion over another's. Remove God from a society and that society is headed for chaos.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 12

    Jeremiah 12 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Whenever I complain to you, LORD, you are always fair. But now I have questions about your justice. Why is life easy for sinners? Why are they successful?
  2. You plant them like trees; you let them prosper and produce fruit. Yet even when they praise you, they don't mean it.
  3. But you know, LORD, how faithful I've always been, even in my thoughts. So drag my enemies away and butcher them like sheep!
  4. How long will the ground be dry and the pasturelands parched? The birds and animals are dead and gone. And all of this happened because the people are so sinful. They even brag, "God can't see the sins we commit."
  5. Jeremiah, if you get tired in a race against people, how can you possibly run against horses? If you fall in open fields, what will happen in the forest along the Jordan River?
  6. Even your own family has turned against you. They act friendly, but don't trust them. They're out to get you, and so is everyone else.
  7. I loved my people and chose them as my very own. But now I will reject them and hand them over to their enemies.
  8. My people have turned against me and roar at me like lions. That's why I hate them.
  9. My people are like a hawk surrounded and attacked by other hawks. Tell the wild animals to come and eat their fill.
  10. My beautiful land is ruined like a field or a vineyard trampled by shepherds and stripped bare by their flocks.
  11. Every field I see lies barren, and no one cares.
  12. A destroying army marches along desert roads and attacks everywhere. They are my deadly sword; no one is safe from them.
  13. My people, you planted wheat, but because I was furious, I let only weeds grow. You wore yourselves out for nothing!
  14. The LORD said: I gave this land to my people Israel, but enemies around it have attacked and robbed it. So I will uproot them from their own countries just as I will uproot Judah from its land.
  15. But later, I will have pity on these nations and bring them back to their own lands.
  16. They once taught my people to worship Baal. But if they admit I am the only true God, and if they let my people teach them how to worship me, these nations will also become my people.
  17. However, if they don't listen to me, I will uproot them from their lands and completely destroy them. I, the LORD, have spoken.

Jeremiah questioned God's justice. It is the flipside of the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people. In this case, Jeremiah asked why good happens to bad people. Specifically, his question is, "Why does the way of the wicked prosper?" (12:1) Jeremiah knew before asking the question that regardless of his case against God, that God is righteous, which further means that He is just. So Jeremiah realized that he could not bring a valid case against God, nevertheless, he didn't understand why God does what He does. He is not alone. None of us fully understand God's ways. Jeremiah conceded that even if he didn't understand, he still knew that God is righteous and just. Many who question God are prideful enough to think that it is God who is wrong. He simply doesn't measure up to their sense of justice.

Our problem is that we cannot see the whole picture. We see our own small piece of the picture and judge the rest by it. Nor do we have a concept of eternity. We are only concerned with now. Therefore, the fact that at some point God will judge the wicked escapes our understanding for we do not want them to prosper at all. It does not fit our sense of justice. That God, in His mercy, might be allowing the wicked an opportunity to turn from their wicked ways does not satisfy us, even though we want God to exercise His mercy on our behalf.  What was God's response to Jeremiah's questioning? In effect, He told Jeremiah he hadn't seen anything yet. "If you have raced with runners and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?" (12:5) Speaking metaphorically, God told Jeremiah he had only been racing other runners to this point and already he was worn out, thus his questioning. How, then, was he to compete with horses. In other words, things were going to get worse. How was Jeremiah going to handle it?

Then, as if to answer Jeremiah's question concerning His justice, God explained what was about to happen to Judah. He says, "I have given the love of My life into the hand of her enemies." (12:7) With this explanation we are given a glimpse of God's compassion along with His judgment. Yes, Judah had become wicked, and yes, God was going to punish her, but the punishment brought pain to God. It is similar to the parent who is about to disciple his child and tells the child that the punishment will hurt him, the parent, more than it will hurt the child. But it is not only Judah's wickedness that God will address. He will also judge the wickedness of all people. It was not only Judah that would be uprooted from her land, so would the other nations be uprooted because of their wickedness. But the chapter ends on a note of compassion. Any of the nations that will turn to God will be built up and restored.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 11

    Jeremiah 11 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD God told me to say to the people of Judah and Jerusalem: I, the LORD, am warning you that I will put a curse on anyone who doesn't keep the agreement I made with Israel. So pay attention to what it says.
  2. (SEE 11:1)
  3. (SEE 11:1)
  4. My commands haven't changed since I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, a nation that seemed like a blazing furnace where iron ore is melted. I told your ancestors that if they obeyed my commands, I would be their God, and they would be my people.
  5. Then I did what I had promised and gave them this wonderful land, where you now live. "Yes, LORD," I replied, "that's true."
  6. Then the LORD told me to say to everyone on the streets of Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah: Pay attention to the commands in my agreement with you.
  7. Ever since I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, I have been telling your people to obey me. But you and your ancestors
  8. have always been stubborn. You have refused to listen, and instead you have done whatever your sinful hearts have desired. You have not kept the agreement we made, so I will make you suffer every curse that goes with it.
  9. The LORD said to me: Jeremiah, the people of Judah and Jerusalem are plotting against me.
  10. They have sinned in the same way their ancestors did, by turning from me and worshiping other gods. The northern kingdom of Israel broke the agreement I made with your ancestors, and now the southern kingdom of Judah has done the same.
  11. Here is what I've decided to do. I will bring suffering on the people of Judah and Jerusalem, and no one will escape. They will beg me to help, but I won't listen to their prayers.
  12. Then they will offer sacrifices to their other gods and ask them for help. After all, the people of Judah have more gods than towns, and more altars for Baal than there are streets in Jerusalem. But those gods won't be able to rescue the people of Judah from disaster.
  13. (SEE 11:12)
  14. Jeremiah, don't pray for these people or beg me to rescue them. If you do, I won't listen, and I certainly won't listen if they pray!
  15. Then the LORD told me to say to the people of Judah: You are my chosen people, but you have no right to be here in my temple, doing such terrible things. The sacrifices you offer me won't protect you from disaster, so stop celebrating.
  16. Once you were like an olive tree covered with fruit. But soon I will send a noisy mob to break off your branches and set you on fire.
  17. I am the LORD All-Powerful. You people of Judah were like a tree that I had planted, but you have made me angry by offering sacrifices to Baal, just as the northern kingdom did. And now I'm going to pull you up by the roots. *
  18. Some people plotted to kill me. And like a lamb being led to the butcher, I knew nothing about their plans.
  19. But then the LORD told me that they had planned to chop me down like a tree-- fruit and all-- so that no one would ever remember me again.
  20. I prayed, "LORD All-Powerful, you always do what is right, and you know every thought. So I trust you to help me and to take revenge."
  21. Then the LORD said: Jeremiah, some men from Anathoth say they will kill you, if you keep on speaking for me.
  22. But I will punish them. Their young men will die in battle, and their children will starve to death.
  23. And when I am finished, no one from their families will be left alive.

In light of Judah's idolatry, God had Jeremiah remind them that they had a covenant with Him, the Lord God, and not with the idols to which they had turned. It was on the basis of this covenant that they had been given the land in which they lived. A land "flowing with milk and honey, as it is today." (11:5) They had agreed with God that they would be His people and He would be their God. But they had not kept this covenant to be God's people and had persisted through many generations in turning away from God to numerous idols. In fact, God told them "Your gods are indeed as numerous as your cities, Judah, and the altars you have set up to Shame--altars to burn incense to Baal--as numerous as the streets of Jerusalem. (11:13)

Why would a people who have had a long history of God's blessing and protection turn away from Him to idols - objects of man's own creation? Objects that obviously have no powers of any kind. Objects that are dependent on those that worship it to be moved from place to place or to be picked up should it fall over. Possibly these people would have had difficulty answering that question themselves. Why indeed? Though I don't have an answer, I know man's drive to do what he wants to do regardless of the claims of his Creator is strong. It is not unlike the draw of drugs on one who is addicted to them. It is this strong draw of sin on man to which Jesus referred when He said, "Therefore if the Son sets you free, you really will be free. (John 8:36) Jesus is man's only remedy to the addictive power of sin. And at the core of it is man's desire to live his life apart from his Creator, the very one who gave him this life and knows best how it can be lived with purpose and meaning and fulfillment. But man thinks he knows better.

So, for whatever reason, Judah persisted in her march away from God. So persistent were the people in separating themselves from God that they threatened Jeremiah saying, "You must not prophesy in the name of the LORD, or you will certainly die at our hand." (11:21) God instructed Jeremiah in verse 14,  "Do not pray for these people. Do not raise up a cry or a prayer on their behalf, for I will not be listening when they call out to Me at the time of their disaster." Judah would have to depend on the gods to which they had turned to save them from the coming disaster, but it was a foregone conclusion that these gods, "certainly will not save them in their time of disaster." (11:12)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 10

    Jeremiah 10 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. * The LORD said: Listen to me, you people of Israel.
  2. Don't follow the customs of those nations who become frightened when they see something strange happen in the sky.
  3. Their religion is worthless! They chop down a tree, carve the wood into an idol,
  4. cover it with silver and gold, and then nail it down so it won't fall over.
  5. An idol is no better than a scarecrow. It can't speak, and it has to be carried, because it can't walk. Why worship an idol that can't help or harm you?
  6. Our LORD, great and powerful, you alone are God.
  7. You are King of the nations. Everyone should worship you. No human anywhere on earth is wiser than you.
  8. Idols are worthless, and anyone who worships them is a fool!
  9. Idols are made by humans. A carver shapes the wood. A metalworker hammers out a covering of gold from Uphaz or of silver from Tarshish. Then the idol is dressed in blue and purple clothes.
  10. You, LORD, are the only true and living God. You will rule for all time. When you are angry the earth shakes, and nations are destroyed.
  11. You told me to say that idols did not create the heavens and the earth, and that you, the LORD, will destroy every idol.
  12. With your wisdom and power you created the earth and spread out the heavens.
  13. The waters in the heavens roar at your command. You make clouds appear-- you send the winds from your storehouse and make lightning flash in the rain.
  14. People who make idols are so stupid! They will be disappointed, because their false gods are not alive.
  15. Idols are merely a joke, and when the time is right, they will be destroyed.
  16. But you, Israel's God, created all things, and you chose Israel to be your very own. Your name is the LORD All-Powerful.
  17. I said to the people of Judah, "Gather your things; you are surrounded.
  18. The LORD said these troubles will lead to your capture, and he will throw you from this land like a rock from a sling."
  19. The people answered, "We are wounded and doomed to die. Why did we say we could stand the pain?
  20. Our homes are destroyed; our children are dead. No one is left to help us find shelter."
  21. But I told them, "Our leaders were stupid failures, because they refused to listen to the LORD. And so we've been scattered like sheep.
  22. "Sounds of destruction rumble from the north like distant thunder. Soon our towns will be ruins where jackals live."
  23. I know, LORD, that we humans are not in control of our own lives.
  24. Correct me, as I deserve, but not in your anger, or I will be dead.
  25. Our enemies refuse to admit that you are God or to worship you. They have wiped out our people and left our nation lying in ruins. So get angry and sweep them away!

The absurdity of idolatry was pointed out to the whole house of Israel, including Israel, the Northern kingdom, that was already in exile, and Judah, the Southern kingdom that God was about to send into exile in Babylon. Both nations had turned to idolatry, the sin that raised God's ire more than any other. How absurd to stake one's future on a piece of wood that a craftsman had cut from a tree, chiseled to the desired shape, decorated with silver and gold, and fastened to a base so it wouldn't totter. Once fashioned, the idol then had to be carried to its destination. How could anyone believe such objects, crafted by man, could have any powers for good or for bad? Neither were the signs in the heavens, such as eclipses or comets, to be feared as did people of other nations, who thought them to signify terrible events that were to come.

It is amazing what absurd notions and ideas people will accept while rejecting God as the Maker of all things and the only true God. Whether a piece of wood that one bows down to or signs in the heavens that supposed signify bad things to come, they are all creations of man's imagination. But God is not a figment of anyone's imagination and has revealed Himself to us in many ways if we will but give them heed. Though it is difficult for those who grow up in traditions that reject God for other forms of religion to take notice of God's revelations of Himself and acknowledge Him, Judah did not have that obstacle to overcome. She had, instead, rejected her tradition of worshiping God and turned away to other gods. This made her sin more onerous to God.

Judah, therefore, was to prepare to be 'slung' out of the land of her heritage. (10:18) Her failure to seek the Lord is referred to as stupid. Her only hope at this point is to place herself at God's mercy, and Jeremiah prays to God, on behalf of Judah, for this very thing. "Discipline me, LORD, but with justice--not in Your anger, or You will reduce me to nothing. (10:24)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 9

    Jeremiah 09 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I wish that my eyes were fountains of tears, so I could cry day and night for my people who were killed.
  2. I wish I could go into the desert and find a hiding place from all who are treacherous and unfaithful to God.
  3. The LORD replied: Lies come from the mouths of my people, like arrows from a bow. With each dishonest deed their power increases, and not one of them will admit that I am God.
  4. Jeremiah, all your friends and relatives tell lies about you, so don't trust them.
  5. They wear themselves out, always looking for a new way to cheat their friends.
  6. Everyone takes advantage of everyone else, and no one will admit that I am God.
  7. And so I will purify the hearts of my people just as gold is purified in a furnace. I have no other choice.
  8. They say they want peace, but this lie is deadly, like an arrow that strikes when you least expect it.
  9. Give me one good reason not to punish them as they deserve. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have spoken.
  10. I weep for the pastureland in the hill country. It's so barren and scorched that no one travels there. No cattle can be found there, and birds and wild animals have all disappeared.
  11. I heard the LORD reply, "When I am finished, Jerusalem and the towns of Judah will be piles of ruins where only jackals live."
  12. I said to the LORD, "None of us can understand why the land has become like an uncrossable desert. Won't you explain why?"
  13. The LORD said: I destroyed the land because the people disobeyed me and rejected my laws and teachings.
  14. They were stubborn and worshiped Baal, just as their ancestors did.
  15. So I, the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, promise them poison to eat and drink.
  16. I'll scatter them in foreign countries that they and their ancestors have never even heard of. Finally, I will send enemy soldiers to kill every last one of them.
  17. The LORD All-Powerful said, "Send for the women who are paid to weep at funerals, especially the women who can cry the loudest."
  18. The people answered, "Let them come quickly and cry for us, until our own eyes are flooded with tears.
  19. Now those of us on Zion cry, 'We are ruined! We can't stand the shame. Our homes have been destroyed, and we must leave our land.'
  20. "We ask you women to pay attention to what the LORD says. We will teach you a funeral song that you can teach your daughters and friends:
  21. 'We were in our fortress, but death sneaked in through our windows. It even struck down children at play and our strongest young men.'
  22. "The LORD has told us the ground will be covered with dead bodies, like stalks of ungathered grain or like manure."
  23. The LORD says: Don't brag about your wisdom or strength or wealth.
  24. If you feel you must brag, then have enough sense to brag about worshiping me, the LORD. What I like best is showing kindness, justice, and mercy to everyone on earth.
  25. Someday I will punish the nations of Egypt, Edom, Ammon, and Moab, and the tribes of the desert. The men of these nations are circumcised, but they don't worship me. And it's the same with you people of Judah. Your bodies are circumcised, but your hearts are unchanged.
  26. (SEE 9:25)

If being religious were pleasing to God Judah had nothing about which to be concerned. Such was the thinking of the people of Judah and of many people throughout the ages. They practice religion on the one hand and go about doing whatever they choose on the other. Judah thought she was safe from punishment because the temple was in Jerusalem and the people observed many of the religious practices. And to cover the bases, they also worshipped other gods as well. If being religious was pleasing to God, they had it covered. But their religious practice did not influence their lifestyle and practice. Their mouths were full of lies. Deception was so prevalent "Everyone has to be on guard against his friend. Don't trust any brother, for every brother will certainly deceive, and every friend spread slander." (9:4) But it went deeper, "In their deception they refuse to know Me (God)." (9:6)

At the root of their deceptive practices were hearts that were far from God. And therein lay the real issue. There was a disconnect between their religious activities and their relationship with God. What good are religious observances from a people who want nothing to do with the God they purport to worship? God was not deceived by such religiosity. Only those who practiced it were deceived, thinking they were pleasing God. To correct this behavior and gain Judah's attention, God was going to punish, refine, and test them. (9:7) In fact, this punishment was already upon them. As noted in the previous chapter, the Babylonian army had invaded Judah and in hopelessness, the people fled to the fortified cities to await their deaths.

Now was the time for weeping and lamenting over the devastation that was brought on them by their sin. God instructed them to summon the professional mourners to lament their plight. The lesson to be learned in their plight was that their boasts should not be in their own wisdom or might or riches, but in that they understand and know the Lord, the One who shows "faithful love, justice, and righteousness on the earth." (9:24)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 8

    Jeremiah 08 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Then the bones of the dead kings of Judah and their officials will be dug up, along with the bones of the priests, the prophets, and everyone else in Jerusalem
  2. who loved and worshiped the sun, moon, and stars. These bones will be scattered and left lying on the ground like trash, where the sun and moon and stars can shine on them.
  3. Some of you people of Judah will be left alive, but I will force you to go to foreign countries, and you will wish you were dead. I, the LORD God All-Powerful, have spoken.
  4. The LORD said: People of Jerusalem, when you stumble and fall, you get back up, and if you take a wrong road, you turn around and go back.
  5. So why do you refuse to come back to me? Why do you hold so tightly to your false gods?
  6. I listen carefully, but none of you admit that you've done wrong. Without a second thought, you run down the wrong road like cavalry troops charging into battle.
  7. Storks, doves, swallows, and thrushes all know when it's time to fly away for the winter and when to come back. But you, my people, don't know what I demand.
  8. You say, "We are wise because we have the teachings and laws of the LORD." But I say that your teachers have turned my words into lies!
  9. Your wise men have rejected what I say, and so they have no wisdom. Now they will be trapped and put to shame; they won't know what to do.
  10. I'll give their wives and fields to strangers. Everyone is greedy and dishonest, whether poor or rich. Even the prophets and priests cannot be trusted.
  11. All they ever offer to my deeply wounded people are empty hopes for peace.
  12. They should be ashamed of their disgusting sins, but they don't even blush. And so, when I punish Judah, they will end up on the ground, dead like everyone else.
  13. I will wipe them out. They are vines without grapes; fig trees without figs or leaves. They have not done a thing that I told them! I, the LORD, have spoken.
  14. The people of Judah say to each other, "What are we waiting for? Let's run to a town with walls and die there. We rebelled against the LORD, and we were sentenced to die by drinking poison.
  15. We had hoped for peace and a time of healing, but all we got was terror.
  16. Our enemies have reached the town of Dan in the north, and the snorting of their horses makes us tremble with fear. The enemy will destroy Jerusalem and our entire nation. No one will survive."
  17. "Watch out!" the LORD says. "I'm sending poisonous snakes to attack you, and no one can stop them."
  18. I'm burdened with sorrow and feel like giving up.
  19. In a foreign land my people are crying. Listen! You'll hear them say, "Has the LORD deserted Zion? Is he no longer its king?" I hear the LORD reply, "Why did you make me angry by worshiping useless idols?"
  20. The people complain, "Spring and summer have come and gone, but still the LORD hasn't rescued us."
  21. My people are crushed, and so is my heart. I am horrified and mourn.
  22. If medicine and doctors may be found in Gilead, why aren't my people healed?

It is natural that if a person falls down or turns away from a thing that they get up again or return to what they left. But Judah had turned away from the Lord and had fallen but had not returned or gotten back up. She remained in her condition with no regrets. Even nature, such as the birds, know the seasons and observe them with their migratory patterns, but Judah had not the wisdom to observe "the requirements of the Lord." She claimed to be wise in that she had the "law of the Lord" with her, but in fact had obscured that law through the "Lying pen of scribes." (8:7-8) There seems to be a common attitude among those who boldly pursue their own way apart from the Lord, in that they presume to have a superior wisdom to those who are naive enough to follow the Lord. Or, as many say, are weak enough to require a crutch upon which to lean, the crutch being a dependence on God.

Whatever pleasure there might be in sin, it is short-lived, and whatever suffering might come to those who follow God is also short-lived. Rather than being wise, Judah was instead foolish in her choice of short-lived pleasure over long-term suffering by choosing her own way over God's way. The foolishness of this choice would soon be exposed when God sent the Babylonian army to destroy the nation. When this occurred, Judah would see the inadequacy of those things she had chosen to depend upon to defend her against the attack of the Babyloians. Life attacks us from time to time. It happens to both good and bad people. These attacks inevitably expose the wisdom, or lack of wisdom, of the choices we have made. Upon what or whom have we chosen to depend. In what or whom do we trust to take us through these difficult times in life?

Those things Judah had turned to in place of God, and upon which she had placed her trust, would prove inadequate in the face of the Babylonian onslaught. At that time the people would only be able to retreat to the fortified cities to await their fate at the hands of the Babylonians. There would be no salvation from the destruction. None of the supposed gods or other things Judah had turned to would come to her aid.