Friday, December 31, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 45

    Jeremiah 45 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. In the fourth year that Jehoiakim was king of Judah, Baruch wrote down everything I had told him.
  2. Then later, the LORD God of Israel told me to say to Baruch:
  3. You are moaning and blaming me, the LORD, for your troubles and sorrow, and for being so tired that you can't even rest.
  4. But all over the earth I am tearing down what I built and pulling up what I planted.
  5. I am bringing disaster everywhere, so don't even think about making any big plans for yourself. However, I promise that wherever you go, I will at least protect you from death. I, the LORD, have spoken.

    Though only five verses in length, this chapter conveys an important message both to Baruch, Jeremiah's scribe, and to any reader. That message is simply to be content with God's plans for life, for God alone is sufficient.

    In chapter 36, Jeremiah dictated a message from God for Baruch to write down. It was a message of destruction for Judah because of her sin. It was indeed a depressing message for any citizen of Judah. God, however, evidently thought Baruch's grieving over the message was excessive and wrongly motivated by personal aspirations. Hinting that Baruch thought Him unjust, God told Baruch that what He was about to demolish He had also built. It was His to do with as He chose. Next, God told Baruch to stop seeking great things for himself. God planned to spare his life "wherever you go." (45:5) This was reason to be thankful, not to grieve. He had God and he had life. That was enough.

    Do we find that God alone is sufficient? He spares our lives everyday and provides every day what we need. Is that not enough? If we grieve inordinately over losses in life, might we have our values misplaced? Rather than valuing the things of God, might we be placing too much value on less important things?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 44

    Jeremiah 44 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD told me to speak with the Jews who were living in the towns of Migdol, Tahpanhes, and Memphis in northern Egypt, and also to those living in southern Egypt. He told me to tell them:
  2. I am the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel. You saw how I destroyed Jerusalem and the towns of Judah. They lie empty and in ruins today,
  3. because the people of Judah made me angry by worshiping gods that had never helped them or their ancestors.
  4. Time after time I sent my servants the prophets to tell the people of Judah how much I hated their disgusting sins. The prophets warned them to stop sinning,
  5. but they refused to listen and would not stop worshiping other gods.
  6. Finally, my anger struck like a raging flood, and today Jerusalem and the towns of Judah are nothing but empty ruins.
  7. Why do you now insist on heading for another disaster? A disaster that will destroy not only you, but also your children and babies.
  8. You have made me angry by worshiping idols and burning incense to other gods after you came here to Egypt. You will die such a disgusting death, that other nations will use the name of Judah as a curse word.
  9. When you were living in Jerusalem and Judah, you followed the example of your ancestors in doing evil things, just like your kings and queens.
  10. Even now, your pride keeps you from respecting me and obeying the laws and teachings I gave you and your ancestors.
  11. I, the LORD All-Powerful, have decided to wipe you out with disasters.
  12. There were only a few of you left in Judah, and you decided to go to Egypt. But you will die such horrible deaths in war or from starvation, that people of other countries will use the name of Judah as a curse word.
  13. I punished Jerusalem with war, hunger, and disease, and that's how I will punish you.
  14. None of you will survive. You may hope to return to Judah someday, but only a very few of you will escape death and be able to go back.
  15. A large number of Jews from both northern and southern Egypt listened to me as I told them what the LORD had said. Most of the men in the crowd knew that their wives often burned incense to other gods. So they and their wives shouted:
  16. Jeremiah, what do we care if you speak in the LORD's name? We refuse to listen!
  17. We have promised to worship the goddess Astarte, the Queen of Heaven, and that is exactly what we are going to do. We will burn incense and offer sacrifices of wine to her, just as we, our ancestors, our kings, and our leaders did when we lived in Jerusalem and the other towns of Judah. We had plenty of food back then. We were well off, and nothing bad ever happened to us.
  18. But since the time we stopped burning incense and offering wine sacrifices to her, we have been dying from war and hunger.
  19. Then the women said, "When we lived in Judah, we worshiped the Queen of Heaven and offered sacrifices of wine and special loaves of bread shaped like her. Our husbands knew what we were doing, and they approved of it."
  20. Then I told the crowd:
  21. Don't you think the LORD knew that you and your ancestors, your leaders and kings, and the rest of the people were burning incense to other gods in Jerusalem and everywhere else in Judah?
  22. And when he could no longer put up with your disgusting sins, he placed a curse on your land and turned it into a desert, as it is today.
  23. This disaster happened because you worshiped other gods and rebelled against the LORD by refusing to obey him or follow his laws and teachings.
  24. Then I told the men and their wives, that the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, had said: Here in Egypt you still keep your promises to burn incense and offer sacrifices of wine to the so-called Queen of Heaven.
  25. (SEE 44:24)
  26. Keep these promises! But let me tell you what will happen. As surely as I am the LORD God, I swear that I will never again accept any promises you make in my name.
  27. Instead of watching over you, I will watch for chances to harm you. Some of you will die in war, and others will starve to death.
  28. Only a few will escape and return to Judah. Then everyone who went to live in Egypt will know that when I say something will happen, it will--no matter what you say.
  29. And here is how you will know that I will keep my threats to punish you in Egypt.
  30. I will hand over King Hophra of Egypt to those who want to kill him, just as I handed Zedekiah over to Nebuchadnezzar, who wanted to kill him.

    The true loyalty of those Jews who made their way to Egypt is seen in this chapter. Before going to Egypt to escape the Babylonians, they had Jeremiah inquire of the Lord on their behalf to determine "the way we should walk and the thing we should do." From this we might assume they had learned their lesson and were turning back to the Lord. The account of chapter 44 corrects any such assumptions. Whatever was their motivation for inquiring of the Lord about going to Egypt, they swiftly rejected the Lord's counsel to not go to Egypt and went anyway. Chapter 44 informs us that the Jews who went to Egypt returned to their practices of worshiping the queen of heaven.

    God sent Jeremiah to deliver a message to the "Jews living in the land of Egypt." (44:1) This message reminded the people of the disaster God brought on Jerusalem and all Judah because of their practice of burning incense to other gods. This they did even though God repeatedly sent them prophets to warn them against such practices. Now, here they were in Egypt, their homeland in ruins because they turned to other gods, and they were again worshiping other gods. As a result, God warned them through Jeremiah that "I am about to turn against you to bring disaster, to cut off all Judah." (44:11) They went to Egypt thinking they would be safe, but nowhere was safe as long as they were apart from God. They had not learned that it was their proximity to God, and not to external danger, that determined their safety.

    Our safety is not the only thing determined by our proximity to God. Our grasp on reality is also so determined. Apart from God our view of reality becomes distorted. The people to whom Jeremiah delivered God's message were convinced that their prosperity was determined by their burning incense to the queen of heaven. They insisted that while they burned incense to the queen of heaven they were prosperous "but from the time we ceased to burn incense to the queen of heaven and to offer her drink offerings, we have lacked everything, and through sword and famine we have met our end." (44:18) What did their minds do with the memory of repeated messages from God through His prophets that such practices were leading them to destruction? The fall of Jerusalem and Judah to the Babylonians had been clearly prophesied. What distortion did their minds make of this?

    Again, God was clearly foretelling, through His prophet Jeremiah, the result of their worship of other gods. The first result, God told them, was that He had "sworn by My great name, says the LORD, that My name will never again be invoked by anyone of Judah in all the land of Egypt." (44:26) Thus, they were cut off from God and could not turn to Him for help when disaster came. The second result of worshiping other gods was that God was "watching over them for disaster and not for good, and every man of Judah who is in the land of Egypt will meet his end by sword or famine until they are finished off." (44:27)

    Turning away from God is not unlike an addiction to drugs or other substances. It distorts our thinking and we cannot see the harm it causes us. Though the harm is obvious to those around us, we cannot see it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 43

    Jeremiah 43 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I told the people everything the LORD had told me.
  2. But Azariah, Johanan and some other arrogant men said to me, "You're lying! The LORD didn't tell you to say that we shouldn't go to Egypt.
  3. Baruch son of Neriah must have told you to say that. He wants the Babylonians to capture us, so they can take us away to Babylonia or even kill us."
  4. Johanan, the other army officers, and everyone else refused to stay in Judah in spite of the LORD's command.
  5. So Johanan and the officers led us away toward Egypt. The group that left Judah included those who had been scattered in other countries and who had then come back to live in Judah.
  6. Baruch and I and others in the group had been staying with Gedaliah, because Nebuzaradan, the Babylonian officer in charge of the guard, had ordered him to take care of the king's daughters and quite a few men, women, and children.
  7. The people disobeyed the LORD and went to Egypt. The group had settled in Tahpanhes,
  8. when the LORD told me:
  9. Jeremiah, carry some large stones to the entrance of the government building in Tahpanhes. Bury the stones underneath the brick pavement and be sure the Jews are watching.
  10. Then tell them that I, the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, have sent for my servant, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia. I will bring him here and have him set up his throne and his royal tent over these stones that I told you to bury.
  11. He will attack Egypt and kill many of its people; others will die of disease or be dragged away as prisoners.
  12. I will have him set Egypt's temples on fire, and he will either burn or carry off their idols. He will destroy the sacred monuments at the temple of the sun-god. Then Nebuchadnezzar will pick the land clean, just like a shepherd picking the lice off his clothes. And he will return safely home.
  13. (SEE 43:12)

    Johanan was one of the Judean army commanders who escaped the fall of Judah at the hands of Babylon by fleeing, along with a group of other commanders and soldiers, into the countryside. Once Gedaliah was established as governor of Judah and the Babylonian forces had withdrawn from the country, Johanan and the other soldiers went to Mizpah where the vassal government had been setup. When governor Gedaliah was assassinated by Ishmael, another of the army commanders who led a contingent of soldiers in this attack, Ishmael captured all the people and led them in a forced march toward Ammon. Johanan formed a small force of soldiers and went after Ishmael and rescued the people he took captive. After their rescue, Johanan's plan was to take them all to Egypt where he felt they would be safe from the Babylonians who he was sure would retaliate in response to Ishmael's rebellion.

    Before leaving Judah, Johanan went to Jeremiah and asked him to "pray to the LORD your God on our behalf . . . that the LORD your God may tell us the way we should walk and the thing we should do." (42:2-3)  Johanan added that they would do whatever the Lord told them to do. However, when Jeremiah gave them the Lord's answer, which was not to go to Egypt but to stay in Judah, we get Johanan's response in 43:2 and following. He accused Jeremiah of lying and of working in partnership with Baruch to hand them over to the Babylonians to be put to death or deported. Johanan's response raises a couple of obvious questions: If he suspected Jeremiah of conspiring to hand them over to the Babylonians, why did he go to Jeremiah in the first place? Also, why did he make such a point of inquiring of the Lord and following His instruction if he was not going to follow those instructions?

    A possible clue toward answering these questions might be found in his request of Jeremiah to pray for them. He asked Jeremiah to pray to the Lord that He "may tell us the way we should walk and the thing we should do." (42:3) This leads us to suspect that Johanan was not seeking God's guidance in general. In other words, he wasn't asking God to tell them whether to stay in Judah or go to Egypt. He was going to Egypt. Instead, he wanted to know the best route to take going to Egypt and how to approach the Egyptians when they got there. When Jeremiah told them they were not to go to Egypt, it was not an option Johanan had considered, nor did he think it a feasible option. The only reason he could imagine that Jeremiah would tell him to do this was that Jeremiah was conspiring to hand them over to the Babylonians.

    When we seek God's guidance with the perimeters already defined, we can back ourselves into a corner as did Johanan. There is no point in even going to God if we have already determined the perimeters within which God must confine His counsel. We see how ridiculous this was in Johanan's case. God's counsel to him was not to even go to Egypt. Thus, instead of asking God what the right things was to do, Johanan asked God how best to do the wrong thing. With his mind set on Egypt and no thought of staying in Judah - even before inquiring of God - the only reasonable conclusion to Johanan for Jeremiah's instructions to stay in Judah was that Jeremiah was lying. He had backed himself into a corner by cutting off all but one option even before he inquired of God.

    This was a costly mistake for Johanan and those he led. Having escaped death or deportation at the hands of the Babylonians in their defeat of Judah, they now faced that same fate when Babylon invaded Egypt. This time they would not escape that fate because they did not obey God's instructions. And they did not follow God's instructions because they had already eliminated as an option before inquiring of God the very instructions God gave them.

    Ishmael Ishmael 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 42

    Jeremiah 42 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Johanan, Jezaniah, the other army officers, and everyone else in the group, came to me
  2. and said, "Please pray to the LORD your God for us. Judah used to have many people, but as you can see, only a few of us are left.
  3. Ask the LORD to tell us where he wants us to go and what he wants us to do."
  4. "All right," I answered, "I will pray to the LORD your God, and I will tell you everything he says."
  5. They answered, "The LORD himself will be our witness that we promise to do whatever he says,
  6. even if it isn't what we want to do. We will obey the LORD so that all will go well for us."
  7. Ten days later, the LORD gave me an answer for
  8. Johanan, the officers, and the other people. So I called them together
  9. and told them that the LORD God of Israel had said: You asked Jeremiah to pray and find out what you should do.
  10. I am sorry that I had to punish you, and so I now tell you to stay here in Judah, where I will plant you and build you up, instead of tearing you down and uprooting you.
  11. Don't be afraid of the King of Babylonia. I will protect you from him,
  12. and I will even force him to have mercy on you and give back your farms.
  13. But you might keep on saying, "We won't stay here in Judah, and we won't obey the LORD our God.
  14. We are going to Egypt, where there is plenty of food and no danger of war."
  15. People of Judah, you survived when the Babylonian army attacked. Now you are planning to move to Egypt, and if you do go, this is what will happen.
  16. You are afraid of war, starvation, and disease here in Judah, but they will follow you to Egypt and kill you there. None of you will survive the disasters I will send.
  17. (SEE 42:16)
  18. I, the LORD, was angry with the people of Jerusalem and punished them. And if you go to Egypt, I will be angry and punish you the same way. You will never again see your homeland. People will be horrified at what I do to you, and they will use the name of your city as a curse word.
  19. I told the people: You escaped the disaster that struck Judah, but now the LORD warns you to stay away from Egypt.
  20. You asked me to pray and find out what the LORD our God wants you to do, and you promised to obey him. But that was a terrible mistake,
  21. because now that I have given you the LORD's answer, you refuse to obey him.
  22. And so, you will die in Egypt from war, hunger, and disease.

    It is difficult to understand what happens in this account of chapter 42. It is not the meaning that is difficult to understand, but why the people did what they did. Johanan, the army commander, and the group of people he rescued from the rebellious Ishmael had determined they would escape to Egypt, certain that they were in danger when the Babylonians learned of the assassination by Ishmael of the vassal governor, Gedaliah. Before leaving Judah, though, Johanan went to Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord. He said to Jeremiah, "pray to the LORD your God on our behalf . . . that the LORD your God may tell us the way we should walk and the thing we should do." (42:2-3) He also added, "As for every word the LORD your God sends you to tell us, if we don't act accordingly, may the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us." (42:5) It seemed that finally, after the destruction of their homeland, the Judeans "got it." They would seek the Lord and obey His instructions.

    Jeremiah agreed to pray on their behalf and tell them "every word that the LORD answers you." (42:4) It was 10 days before the Lord answered Jeremiah's prayer on their behalf. Why didn't God answer more quickly? Waiting on the Lord is a significant part of our faith journey, in fact, a significant part of our exercise of faith. Scripture tells us that if we pray believing, God will answer us. For instance, Matthew 17:20 tells us, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move." But what does this mean to have faith? Does it mean to agree mentally with no doubts? That is certainly a part of it, but I believe waiting is also a frequent part of it. Waiting on the Lord is both a demonstration and a testing of our faith. And the outcome, says Isaiah 30:18, is that "Happy are all who wait patiently for Him."

    When the Lord's reply came to Jeremiah's prayer, the message to Johanan was to stay in Judah and not go to Egypt. If they stayed in Judah the Lord promised to "rebuild and not demolish you, and I will plant and not uproot you." (42:10) However, if they went to Egypt as they planned to do, they would "die by the sword, famine, and plague. They will have no survivor or escapee from the disaster I will bring on them." (42:17) This was a very clear message and Jeremiah had a strong record of delivering true messages from the Lord. If Johanan meant what he said, he would not be going to Egypt. But according to the last three verses of the chapter Johanan did not keep his word. He went to Egypt anyway.

    As I said, this is difficult to understand. Why would Johanan enquire of the Lord, promise to obey it regardless of how unpleasant it might be, and then do the opposite? Johanan is not the last person to have done this, and I suppose the reasons for doing so are different for every situation and person involved. But at the root of it is the prideful idea that we know better than God. We enquire of God to have confirmation or approval of our plans, but we will carry out our plans regardless. These actions are the reverse of, but very closely related to, our tendency to ignore God when life is good and to blame Him when it isn't. In this case, we think favorably of God if He agrees with our plans, but are not sure if He hears our prayers if He does not agree with us.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 41

    Jeremiah 41 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. But in the seventh month, Ishmael came to Mizpah with ten of his soldiers. He had been one of the king's officials and was a member of the royal family. Ishmael and his men were invited to eat with Gedaliah.
  2. During the meal, Ishmael and his soldiers killed Gedaliah, the man chosen as ruler of Judah by the king of Babylonia.
  3. Then they killed the Jews who were with Gedaliah, and they also killed the Babylonian soldiers who were there.
  4. The next day, the murders had still not been discovered,
  5. when eighty men came down the road toward Mizpah from the towns of Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria. They were on their way to the temple to offer gifts of grain and incense to the LORD. They had shaved off their beards, torn their clothes, and cut themselves, because they were mourning.
  6. Ishmael went out the town gate to meet them. He pretended to be weeping, and he asked them to come into Mizpah to meet with Gedaliah, the ruler of Judah.
  7. But after they were inside the town, Ishmael had his soldiers kill them and throw their bodies into a well.
  8. He let ten of the men live, because they offered to give him supplies of wheat, barley, olive oil, and honey they had hidden in a field.
  9. The well that he filled with bodies had been dug by King Asa of Judah to store rainwater, because he was afraid that King Baasha of Israel might surround Mizpah and keep the people from getting to their water supply.
  10. Nebuzaradan, King Nebuchadnezzar's officer in charge of the guard, had left King Zedekiah's daughters and many other people at Mizpah, and he had put Gedaliah in charge of them. But now Ishmael took them all prisoner and led them toward Ammon, on the other side of the Jordan River.
  11. Johanan and the other army officers heard what Ishmael had done.
  12. So they and their troops chased Ishmael and caught up with him at the large pit at Gibeon.
  13. When Ishmael's prisoners saw Johanan and the officers, they were happy
  14. and turned around and ran toward Johanan.
  15. But Ishmael and eight of his men escaped and went to Ammon.
  16. Johanan and the officers had rescued the women, children, and royal officials that Ishmael had taken prisoner after killing Gedaliah. Johanan led the people from Gibeon
  17. toward Egypt. They wanted to go there, because they were afraid of what the Babylonians would do when they found out that Ishmael had killed Gedaliah, the ruler appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar. On the way to Egypt, we stopped at the town of Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem.
  18. (SEE 41:17)

    The account in chapter 41 is continued from chapter 40, though it is thought to have occurred perhaps 1-2 years after the events in chapter 40. Ishmael, one of the Judean army officers who had come to Mizpah after the Babylonian army pulled its main forces out of Judah, instigated an uprising. His motives are unclear, though. With a contingent of 10 other men, Ishmael went to the govenor's residence, supposedly on a mission of peace, and while dining with the govenor killed him, all the others at the dinner and the Babylonian soldiers. The next day Ishmael killed 70 men in a group of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to make offerings to the Lord at the ruins of the temple. Then he took captive all those remaining in Mizpah and started out for Ammon, Ishmael's ally.

    Among the Judean soldiers and officers that came out of hiding at the same time as Ishmael, following the withdrawal of the Babylonian army, was an officer by the name of Johanan. He was the officer who had warned the govenor of Ishmael's plot to kill him. When Johanan became aware of Ishmael's uprising, he gathered all of the other soldiers and went after Ishmael, overtaking him and all those with him at Gibeah. When Ishmael's captives saw Johanan and his group coming, they rejoiced and went over to Johanan. In the confusion of the skirmish that followed, Ishmael and 9 of his men escaped to Ammon. Fearing reprisal from the Babylonians for the uprising, Johanan led his men and the captives taken from Ishmael and set out for Egypt.

    The destruction of Judah at this point is complete and is now ready for God to begin new construction. As this account continues in succeeding chapters, we will see that the hearts of the people remaining in the land are ready to start listening to God. Seeking God's guidance and following it is the only way to assure a good life. We cannot see the future nor do we know what choices are best. Only by seeking God and His counsel can we chart the best course for life.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 40

    Jeremiah 40 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I was led away in chains along with the people of Judah and Jerusalem who were being taken to Babylonia. Nebuzaradan was the officer in charge of the guard, and while we were stopped at Ramah, the LORD had him set me free.
  2. Nebuzaradan said: Jeremiah, the LORD your God warned your people that he would bring disaster on this land.
  3. But they continued to rebel against him, and now he has punished them just as he threatened.
  4. Today I am taking the chains off your wrists and setting you free! If you want to, you can come with me to Babylonia, and I will see that you are taken care of. Or if you decide to stay here, you can go wherever you wish.
  5. King Nebuchadnezzar has chosen Gedaliah to rule Judah. You can live near Gedaliah, and he will provide for you, or you can live anywhere else you want. Nebuzaradan gave me a supply of food, then let me leave.
  6. I decided to stay with the people of Judah, and I went to live near Gedaliah in Mizpah.
  7. Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, together with Johanan and Jonathan, the two sons of Kareah, had been officers in Judah's army. And so had Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth, the sons of Ephai the Netophathite, and Jezaniah from Maacah. They and their troops had been stationed outside Jerusalem and had not been captured. They heard that Gedaliah had been chosen to rule Judah, and that the poorest men, women, and children had not been taken away to Babylonia. So they went to Mizpah and met with their new ruler.
  8. (SEE 40:7)
  9. Gedaliah told them, "There's no need to be afraid of the Babylonians. Everything will be fine, if we live peacefully and obey King Nebuchadnezzar.
  10. I will stay here at Mizpah and meet with the Babylonian officials on each of their visits. But you must go back to your towns and bring in the harvest, then store the wine, olive oil, and dried fruit."
  11. Earlier, when the Babylonians had invaded Judah, many of the Jews escaped to Moab, Ammon, Edom, and several other countries. But these Jews heard that the king of Babylonia had appointed Gedaliah as ruler of Judah, and that only a few people were left there. So the Jews in these other countries came back to Judah and helped with the grape and fruit harvest, which was especially large that year.
  12. (SEE 40:11)
  13. One day, Johanan got together with some of the other men who had been army officers, and they came to Mizpah and met with Gedaliah.
  14. They said, "Gedaliah, we came to warn you that King Baalis of Ammon hired Ishmael to murder you!" Gedaliah refused to believe them,
  15. so Johanan went to Gedaliah privately and said, "Let me kill Ishmael. No one will find out who did it. There are only a few people left in Judah, but they are depending on you. And if you are murdered, they will be scattered or killed."
  16. Gedaliah answered, "Don't kill Ishmael! What you've said about him can't be true."

    After the fall of Jerusalem, recorded in the previous chapter, captives were taken in chains to Ramah where Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, setup temporary headquarters after Jerusalem fell. From there prisoners met their fate or were dispersed to Babylon. Jeremiah was one of the prisoners brought in chains to Ramah. Nebuzaradan, captain of the Babylonian guard, was evidently handling the processing of prisoners, and dealt with Jermiah. He recognized, better than some of the Judeans, that "The LORD your God decreed this disaster on this place." (40:2) Therefore, he knew Jeremiah's role in this decree and that he had not rebelled against Babylon. Thus he set Jeremiah free to go where he wished. If he stayed in Judah, Nebuzaradan recommended he stay with Gedaliah who Nebuchadnezzar had appointed vassal governor over Judah. Nebuzaradan then gave Jeremiah "a ration and a gift and released him." (40:5) Jeremiah chose to stay in Judah, so he went to Mizpah, the administrative center for Judah after the destruction of Jerusalem, to stay with Gedaliah the governor.

    As word spread that Gedaliah had been appointed governor of Judah, remnants of Judah's army that had escaped the Babylonian takeover and other Judeans who had scattered to various places began to return. After several years under the threat of Babylon's attack on Judah, the Judeans who had survived and not be deported to Babylon had the opportunity to enjoy peace and try to rebuild and return their lives to a new normal. This opportunity, however, was dependent on their obedience to God which involved subservience to Babylon. To rebel against Babylon would destroy what was left of the people and the nation. Among the soldiers who returned to Mizpah was a commander by the name of Ishmael. Ishmael was not satisfied to enjoy this peace under Babylonian rule nor to heed God's instructions to do so. Therefore, he harbored a plot to kill Gedaliah, the governor. Word of this plot was brought to Gedaliah by another of the returned army commanders, but Gedaliah refused to believe it. Chapter 41 will continue the account of Ishmael's uprising.

    In previous reflections in the book of Jeremiah I have likened God's dealings with Judah and Israel to a building that has outlived its usefulness and must be torn down to allow for the construction of a new building in its place. The destruction of Judah was like the demolition of the outmoded building. But as with the demolition of the old building, the goal in Judah's fall was not her destruction, but the building of a new nation. For God to make of anyone the person He wants them to be, change is required. For some this change may be likened to a remodeling project, for others more extensive change is needed and is more like a complete makeover. For still others not even a makeover will suffice. The foundation and supporting structure are inadequate. A demolition is required and God must rebuild a completely new person to have what he intends for that individual.

    Judah required a total demolition for God to make of her the nation He intended. As destructive as was the Babylonian defeat of Judah, Judah's demolition was not complete. The nation could not yet be built that God intended for Judah. Though God had hoped further demolition of Judah would not be necessary, Judah was proving otherwise.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 39

    Jeremiah 39 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. In the tenth month of the ninth year that Zedekiah was king of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army began their attack on Jerusalem. They kept the city surrounded for a year and a half. Then, on the ninth day of the fourth month of the eleventh year that Zedekiah was king, they broke through the city walls. After Jerusalem was captured, Nebuchadnezzar's highest officials, including Nebo Sarsechim and Nergal Sharezer from Simmagir, took their places at Middle Gate to show they were in control of the city.
  2. (SEE 39:1)
  3. (SEE 39:1)
  4. When King Zedekiah and his troops saw that Jerusalem had been captured, they tried to escape from the city that same night. They went to the king's garden, where they slipped through the gate between the two city walls and headed toward the Jordan River valley.
  5. But the Babylonian troops caught up with them near Jericho. They arrested Zedekiah and took him to the town of Riblah in the land of Hamath, where Nebuchadnezzar put him on trial, then found him guilty
  6. and gave orders for him to be punished. Zedekiah's sons were killed there in front of him, and so were the leaders of Judah's ruling families.
  7. His eyes were poked out, and he was put in chains, so he could be dragged off to Babylonia.
  8. Meanwhile, the Babylonian army had burned the houses in Jerusalem, including the royal palace, and they had broken down the city walls.
  9. Nebuzaradan, the Babylonian officer in charge of the guards, led away everyone from the city as prisoners, even those who had deserted to Nebuchadnezzar.
  10. Only the poorest people who owned no land were left behind in Judah, and Nebuzaradan gave them fields and vineyards.
  11. Nebuchadnezzar had given the following orders to Nebuzaradan:
  12. "Find Jeremiah and keep him safe. Take good care of him and do whatever he asks."
  13. Nebuzaradan, Nebushazban, Nergal Sharezer, and the other officers of King Nebuchadnezzar
  14. sent some of their troops to bring me from the courtyard of the royal palace guards. They put me in the care of Gedaliah son of Ahikam and told him to take me to my home. And so I was allowed to stay with the people who remained in Judah.
  15. While I was a prisoner in the courtyard of the palace guard, the LORD told me to say
  16. to Ebedmelech from Ethiopia: I am the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel. I warned everyone that I would bring disaster, not prosperity, to this city. Now very soon I will do what I said, and you will see it happen.
  17. But because you trusted me, I will protect you from the officials of Judah, and when Judah is struck by disaster, I will rescue you and keep you alive. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  18. (SEE 39:17)

    The day Jeremiah had spoken of for over 40 years finally arrived. Nebuchadnezzar's army broke through the city walls of Jerusalem and captured the city. Under siege by the Babylonians for the last 2 1/2 years prior to the fall of the city, this outcome had become more and more apparent. But however apparent it may seem to us now, it was an outcome the leaders of Judah refused to acknowledge even when Jeremiah repeatedly told them it would happen. By the time Babylon had captured all of the fortified cities of Judah except Jerusalem and had laid siege to it, Jeremiah's prediction of Jerusalem's fall should have seemed obvious. But the leaders of Judah had made such a longtime practice of ignoring God and His word and the obvious outcomes of doing so, that they were unable to do any differently at this time. It is like watching the demise of an alcoholic whose destructive actions are obvious to everyone but himself.

    When the Babylonians finally broke through the city walls of Jerusalem, king Zedekiah of Judah and his remaining soldiers escaped the city at night and made a run for it. But the Babylonian army caught up with them just before they crossed the Jericho river and arrested the king, taking him back to Nebuchadnezzar to be sentenced. The horror and shame Zedekiah had feared and could have escaped by following Jeremiah's instructions, happened to him with his sentencing by Nebuchadnezzar. All of his sons and the officials of Judah were killed before his eyes. Then his eyes were put out and he was blinded and taken in chains to Babylon. As Jeremiah had also predicted, the city of Jerusalem was utterly destroyed. "The Chaldeans (Babylonians) next burned down the king's palace and the people's houses and tore down the walls of Jerusalem." (39:8)

    On a more positive note, Nebuchadnezzar treated Jeremiah well. Nebuchadnezzar apparently had knowledge of the prophet and when Jeremiah was brought before him, Nebuchadnezzar gave orders saying, "Take him, look after him, and don't let any harm come to him; do for him whatever he says." (39:12) Furthermore, God protected Ebed-melech the Cushite from being killed along with the other city officials because he helped Jeremiah escape from the pit as described in chapter 38.

    Though this account gives the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecies, it is not the end of the story, but only the first part of God's story for Israel and Judah. Tearing down is not an end God seeks. Rather than an end in itself, for God tearing down is a means toward an end. It is to build something new and better. With the fall of Judah, all of Israel had fallen and God had prepared the way to make a new Israel that would be faithful to Him and fulfill His purpose for her.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 38

    Jeremiah 38 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. One day, Shephatiah, Gedaliah, Jehucal, and Pashhur heard me tell the people of Judah
  2. that the LORD had said, "If you stay here in Jerusalem, you will die in battle or from disease or hunger, and the Babylonian army will capture the city anyway. But if you surrender to the Babylonians, they will let you live."
  3. (SEE 38:2)
  4. So the four of them went to the king and said, "You should put Jeremiah to death, because he is making the soldiers and everyone else lose hope. He isn't trying to help our people; he's trying to harm them."
  5. Zedekiah replied, "Do what you want with him. I can't stop you."
  6. Then they took me back to the courtyard of the palace guards and let me down with ropes into the well that belonged to Malchiah, the king's son. There was no water in the well, and I sank down in the mud.
  7. Ebedmelech from Ethiopia was an official at the palace, and he heard what they had done to me. So he went to speak with King Zedekiah, who was holding court at Benjamin Gate.
  8. (SEE 38:7)
  9. Ebedmelech said, "Your Majesty, Jeremiah is a prophet, and those men were wrong to throw him into a well. And when Jerusalem runs out of food, Jeremiah will starve to death down there."
  10. Zedekiah answered, "Take thirty of my soldiers and pull Jeremiah out before he dies."
  11. Ebedmelech and the soldiers went to the palace and got some rags from the room under the treasury. He used ropes to lower them into the well.
  12. Then he said, "Put these rags under your arms so the ropes won't hurt you." After I did,
  13. the men pulled me out. And from then on, I was kept in the courtyard of the palace guards.
  14. King Zedekiah had me brought to his private entrance to the temple, and he said, "I'm going to ask you something, and I want to know the truth."
  15. "Why?" I replied. "You won't listen, and you might even have me killed!"
  16. He said, "I swear in the name of the living LORD our Creator that I won't have you killed. No one else can hear what we say, and I won't let anyone kill you."
  17. Then I told him that the LORD had said: "Zedekiah, I am the LORD God All-Powerful, the God of Israel. I promise that if you surrender to King Nebuchadnezzar's officers, you and your family won't be killed, and Jerusalem won't be burned down.
  18. But if you don't surrender, I will let the Babylonian army capture Jerusalem and burn it down, and you will be taken prisoner."
  19. Zedekiah answered, "I can't surrender to the Babylonians. I'm too afraid of the Jews that have already joined them. The Babylonians might hand me over to those Jews, and they would torture me."
  20. I said, "If you will just obey the LORD, the Babylonians won't hand you over to those Jews. You will be allowed to live, and all will go well for you.
  21. But the LORD has shown me that if you refuse to obey,
  22. then the women of your palace will be taken prisoner by Nebuchadnezzar's officials. And those women will say to you: Friends you trusted led you astray. Now you're trapped in mud, and those friends you trusted have all turned away.
  23. The Babylonian army will take your wives and children captive, you will be taken as a prisoner to the King of Babylonia, and Jerusalem will be burned down."
  24. Zedekiah said, "Jeremiah, if you tell anyone what we have talked about, you might lose your life.
  25. And I'm sure that if my officials hear about our meeting, they will ask you what we said to each other. They might even threaten to kill you if you don't tell them.
  26. So if they question you, tell them you were begging me not to send you back to the prison at Jonathan's house, because going back there would kill you."
  27. The officials did come and question me about my meeting with the king, and I told them exactly what he had ordered me to say. They never spoke to me about the meeting again, since no one had heard us talking.
  28. I was held in the courtyard of the palace guards until the day Jerusalem was captured.

    Zedekiah, king of Judah, is considered to have been a puppet king, merely following the counsel of his advisors who did not give wise counsel. It was his advisors who kept advising him to rebel against Babylon, thus going against Jeremiah's prophecies. It was they, also, who wanted to kill Jeremiah. Though Zedekiah did not want to kill him, neither did he oppose his advisors to stop them from taking action against Jeremiah.

    It was in this environment of a weak king and his advisors who were hostile to Jeremiah's messages of surrender that led to the account in chapter 38 of Jeremiah being dropped into a cistern to die. As he had repeatedly done before, Jeremiah told the people that "whoever surrenders to the Chaldeans (Babylonians) will live." And that "This city will most certainly be handed over to the king of Babylon's army, and he will capture it."  (38:2-3) Because of this, the king's advisors told the king, "This man ought to die, because he is weakening the morale of the warriors who remain in this city and of all the people by speaking to them in this way." (38:4) The king, too weak to go against his advisors, told them Jeremiah was in their hands to do what they would with him. And what they did was to drop Jeremiah in a cistern where they left him to die. A concerned Cushite court official reported to the king what had been done with Jeremiah and received orders from the king to take some men and rescue Jeremiah.

    Following Jeremiah's rescue from the cistern, he remained under arrest in the guard's courtyard. Soon after, king Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah and met with him secretly wanting Jeremiah to tell him honestly what the Lord had to say to him. Jeremiah's word from the Lord was consistently the same, "If indeed you surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then you will live, this city will not be burned down, and you and your household will survive." But if the king did not surrender to the Chaldeans, "They will burn it down, and you yourself will not escape from them." (38:17-18) As consistently as Jeremiah delivered this message, the king ignored it. He remained in the city until the Babylonians captured the city.

    Zedekiah apparently had some respect for Jeremiah and his messages from the Lord. Indeed he should since everything Jeremiah had said was happening by this time. It is baffling, though, why the king would meet secretly with Jeremiah to hear what the Lord had to say and then ignore it. Though a number of possible reasons might be given for this, I suspect that at the core of it is the effects of sin on one's reasoning. In short, the further one goes away from God and the longer they stay away from Him, the more one loses the ability to reason logically.  It is similar to addictive thinking. One who is addicted to a substance, such as alcohol, becomes so enmeshed in justifying their addictive habits that they can no longer reason logically. They become unable to recognize even contradictory ideas in their reasoning. So it is when we are far from God. We are made to relate to our Creator, but when we go against that our reasoning for doing so becomes less and less logical.

    King Zedekiah's request to meet secretly with Jeremiah to hear a word from the Lord and then ignoring it was not logical, though the king undoubtedly reasoned that there was justification for what he did. What did he tell himself after ignoring Jeremiah's message from the Lord when the Babylonians captured the city as predicted and he was taken away in shame?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 37

    Jeremiah 37 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia had removed Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim from being the king of Judah and had made Josiah's son Zedekiah king instead.
  2. But Zedekiah, his officials, and everyone else in Judah ignored everything the LORD had told me.
  3. Later, the Babylonian army attacked Jerusalem, but they left after learning that the Egyptian army was headed in this direction. One day, Zedekiah sent Jehucal and the priest Zephaniah to talk with me. At that time, I was free to go wherever I wanted, because I had not yet been put in prison. Jehucal and Zephaniah said, "Jeremiah, please pray to the LORD our God for us."
  4. (SEE 37:3)
  5. (SEE 37:3)
  6. Then the LORD told me to send them back to Zedekiah with this message: Zedekiah, you wanted Jeremiah to ask me, the L(ORD )God of Israel, what is going to happen. So I will tell you. The king of Egypt and his army came to your rescue, but soon they will go back to Egypt.
  7. (SEE 37:6)
  8. Then the Babylonians will return and attack Jerusalem, and this time they will capture the city and set it on fire.
  9. Don't fool yourselves into thinking that the Babylonians will leave as they did before.
  10. Even if you could defeat their entire army, their wounded survivors would still be able to leave their tents and set Jerusalem on fire.
  11. The Babylonian army had left because the Egyptian army was on its way to help us.
  12. So I decided to leave Jerusalem and go to the territory of the Benjamin tribe to claim my share of my family's land.
  13. I was leaving Jerusalem through Benjamin Gate, when I was stopped by Irijah, the officer in charge of the soldiers at the gate. He said, "Jeremiah, you're under arrest for trying to join the Babylonians."
  14. "I'm not trying to join them!" I answered. But Irijah wouldn't listen, and he took me to the king's officials.
  15. They were angry and ordered the soldiers to beat me. Then I was taken to the house that belonged to Jonathan, one of the king's officials. It had been turned into a prison, and I was kept in a basement room. After I had spent a long time there,
  16. (SEE 37:15)
  17. King Zedekiah secretly had me brought to his palace, where he asked, "Is there any message for us from the LORD?" "Yes, there is, Your Majesty," I replied. "The LORD is going to let the king of Babylonia capture you."
  18. Then I continued, "Your Majesty, why have you put me in prison? Have I committed a crime against you or your officials or the nation?
  19. Have you locked up the prophets who lied to you and said that the king of Babylonia would never attack Jerusalem?
  20. Please, don't send me back to that prison at Jonathan's house. If you do, I will die."
  21. King Zedekiah had me taken to the prison cells in the courtyard of the palace guards. He told the soldiers to give me a loaf of bread from one of the bakeries every day until the city ran out of grain.

    Chronologically, chapter 37 comes before chapter 32 in which Jeremiah was under house arrest and in which he purchased property from a cousin. In chapter 37, Jerusalem is enjoying a short period of relative peace from the attacks of the Babylonians. Pharoah, with his Egyptian army, had come to Judah's aid and Babylon withdrew from Jerusalem to fight off the Egyptian threat. During this time king Zedekiah of Judah sent messengers to Jeremiah asking him to pray to the Lord on their behalf.

    The king was evidently hoping the Lord would intervene and use the Egyptian army to defeat Babylon and end their threat against Judah. Zedekiah did not ask Jeremiah for a word from the Lord at this time, but the Lord gave a message to Jeremiah for him anyway. The message was to "Watch: Pharaoh's army, which has come out to help you, is going to return to its own land of Egypt. The Chaldeans will then return and fight against this city. They will capture it and burn it down. (37:7-8) The Lord left no doubt that He was behind the attack of the Babylonian army, for He added, "Indeed, if you were to strike down the entire Chaldean army that is fighting with you, and there remained among them only the badly wounded men, each in his tent, they would get up and burn this city down." (37:10) The Babylonians might be defeated, but the Lord would not be defeated in His purpose of judgment against Judah.

    Why did Zedekiah ask Jeremiah to pray for them? Though we might hope he was coming to his senses and starting to turn to God, we know this did not happen. We can only guess that the king was covering his bases. He may not have had any more confidence in praying to the Lord than he did in praying to any other god or observing particular rituals that might appease the gods. By this time it should be very clear that God was orchestrating this attack by Babylon and that He was doing it because of Judah's sin of turning from the Lord to other gods. Jeremiah even asked the king, "Where are your prophets who prophesied to you, claiming, 'The king of Babylon will not come against you and this land'?" (37:19) The false prophets had been proven wrong and Jeremiah's prophecies had been fulfilled. The obvious question of why the king and others did not turn back to the Lord brings to mind a response from Paul's message to the church in Rome in Romans 1:21: "For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 36

    Jeremiah 36 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. During the fourth year that Jehoiakim son of Josiah was king of Judah, the LORD said to me, "Jeremiah,
  2. since the time Josiah was king, I have been speaking to you about Israel, Judah, and the other nations. Now, get a scroll and write down everything I have told you,
  3. then read it to the people of Judah. Maybe they will stop sinning when they hear what terrible things I plan for them. And if they turn to me, I will forgive them."
  4. I sent for Baruch son of Neriah and asked him to help me. I repeated everything the LORD had told me, and Baruch wrote it all down on a scroll.
  5. Then I said, Baruch, the officials refuse to let me go into the LORD's temple,
  6. so you must go instead. Wait for the next holy day when the people of Judah come to the temple to pray and to go without eating. Then take this scroll to the temple and read it aloud.
  7. The LORD is furious, and if the people hear how he is going to punish them, maybe they will ask to be forgiven.
  8. In the ninth month of the fifth year that Jehoiakim was king, the leaders set a day when everyone who lived in Jerusalem or who was visiting here had to pray and go without eating. So Baruch took the scroll to the upper courtyard of the temple. He went over to the side of the courtyard and stood in a covered area near New Gate, where he read the scroll aloud. This covered area belonged to Gemariah, one of the king's highest officials.
  9. (SEE 36:8)
  10. (SEE 36:8)
  11. Gemariah's son Micaiah was there and heard Baruch read what the LORD had said.
  12. When Baruch finished reading, Micaiah went down to the palace. His father Gemariah was in the officials' room, meeting with the rest of the king's officials, including Elishama, Delaiah, Elnathan, and Zedekiah.
  13. Micaiah told them what he had heard Baruch reading to the people.
  14. Then the officials sent Jehudi and Shelemiah to tell Baruch, "Bring us that scroll." When Baruch arrived with the scroll,
  15. the officials said, "Please sit down and read it to us," which he did.
  16. After they heard what was written on the scroll, they were worried and said to each other, "The king needs to hear this!" Turning to Baruch, they asked,
  17. "Did someone tell you what to write on this scroll?"
  18. "Yes, Jeremiah did," Baruch replied. "I wrote down just what he told me."
  19. The officials said, "You and Jeremiah must go into hiding, and don't tell anyone where you are."
  20. The officials put the scroll in Elishama's room and went to see the king, who was in one of the rooms where he lived and worked during the winter. It was the ninth month of the year, so there was a fire burning in the fireplace, and the king was sitting nearby. After the officials told the king about the scroll, he sent Jehudi to get it. Then Jehudi started reading the scroll to the king and his officials.
  21. (SEE 36:20)
  22. (SEE 36:20)
  23. But every time Jehudi finished reading three or four columns, the king would tell him to cut them off with his penknife and throw them in the fire. Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah begged the king not to burn the scroll, but he ignored them, and soon there was nothing left of it. The king and his servants listened to what was written on the scroll, but they were not afraid, and they did not tear their clothes in sorrow.
  24. (SEE 36:23)
  25. (SEE 36:23)
  26. The king told his son Jerahmeel to take Seraiah and Shelemiah and to go arrest Baruch and me. But the LORD kept them from finding us.
  27. I had told Baruch what to write on that first scroll, but King Jehoiakim had burned it. So the LORD told me
  28. to get another scroll and write down everything that had been on the first one.
  29. Then he told me to say to King Jehoiakim: Not only did you burn Jeremiah's scroll, you had the nerve to ask why he had written that the king of Babylonia would attack and ruin the land, killing all the people and even the animals.
  30. So I, the LORD, promise that you will be killed and your body thrown out on the ground. The sun will beat down on it during the day, and the frost will settle on it at night. And none of your descendants will ever be king of Judah.
  31. You, your children, and your servants are evil, and I will punish all of you. I warned you and the people of Judah and Jerusalem that I would bring disaster, but none of you have listened. So now you are doomed!
  32. After the LORD finished speaking to me, I got another scroll and gave it to Baruch. Then I told him what to write, so this second scroll would contain even more than was on the scroll Jehoiakim had burned.

Lord Acton's well-known dictum, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," seems to apply to king Jehoiakim of Judah.  The absolute power of a king insulated them from critical assessment. Rather than listening to criticism a king could deal harshly with any who were bold enough to offer any word seemingly critical. In fact, a king could come to believe that anyone critical of him was disrespectful and worthy of punishment. Carried to extreme, such thinking could also be extended to God Himself.

Such reasoning is at least one explanation for king Jehoiakim's rather unreasonable actions. God instructed Jeremiah to write on a scroll "all the words I have spoken to you concerning Israel, Judah, and all the nations from the time I first spoke to you during Josiah's reign until today." (36:2) God's intent in this was that the king would repent when the scroll was read to him. Instead, Jehoiakim had the scroll destroyed, bit by bit, as it was read to him. Then he sought to kill Jeremiah for writing the words on the scroll.

It seems unimaginable that the king would refuse to hear even a critical word from the Lord given the fact that Babylon had already captured Jerusalem and Jehoiakim was Nebuchadnezzar's vassal, a clear indication that Jeremiah's long-standing prophecies had been fulfilled. God was the author of Babylon's capture of Jerusalem. It would seem reasonable to hear what else God had to say through Jeremiah, particularly since it included further judgment unless there were repentance. Failure to repent had brought Judah and king Jehoiakim to its present circumstances. Further failure to repent would only lead to harsher circumstances. Unwillingness to hear from the Lord and respond to His word was and is foolish.

Repentance, by nature, requires one to admit they are wrong. Such an admission is more difficult than some people can accept. To admit that God is right and we are wrong is indeed difficult, especially when our actions are responsible for great loss, as was the case with king Jehoiakim. But is it any easier to hold onto our pride and expose ourselves to further defeat? Ignoring God and His instructions given for our benefit solves nothing. Our refusal to acknowledge God's existence doesn't make Him go away. Nor does our failure to accept His teaching make them untrue. And, our unwillingness to do either of these will not improve our lives. On the contrary, they inevitably complicate our lives.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 35

    Jeremiah 35 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. When Jehoiakim was king of Judah, the LORD told me,
  2. "Go to the Rechabite clan and invite them to meet you in one of the side rooms of the temple. When they arrive, offer them a drink of wine."
  3. So I went to Jaazaniah, the leader of the clan, and I invited him and all the men of his clan.
  4. I brought them into the temple courtyard and took them upstairs to a room belonging to the prophets who were followers of Hanan son of Igdaliah. It was next to a room belonging to some of the officials, and that room was over the one belonging to Maaseiah, a priest who was one of the high officials in the temple.
  5. I set out some large bowls full of wine together with some cups, and then I said to the Rechabites, "Have some wine!"
  6. But they answered: No! The ancestor of our clan, Jonadab son of Rechab, made a rule that we must obey. He said, "Don't ever drink wine
  7. or build houses or plant crops and vineyards. Instead, you must always live in tents and move from place to place. If you obey this command, you will live a long time."
  8. Our clan has always obeyed Jonadab's command. To this very day, we and our wives and sons and daughters don't drink wine or build houses or plant vineyards or crops. And we have lived in tents,
  9. (SEE 35:8)
  10. (SEE 35:8)
  11. except now we have to live inside Jerusalem because Nebuchadnezzar has taken over the countryside with his army from Babylonia and Syria.
  12. Then the LORD told me to say to the people of Judah and Jerusalem: I, the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, want you to learn a lesson
  13. (SEE 35:12)
  14. from the Rechabite clan. Their ancestor Jonadab told his descendants never to drink wine, and to this very day they have obeyed him. But I have spoken to you over and over, and you haven't obeyed me!
  15. You refused to listen to my prophets, who kept telling you, "Stop doing evil and worshiping other gods! Start obeying the LORD, and he will let you live in this land he gave your ancestors."
  16. The Rechabites have obeyed the command of their ancestor Jonadab, but you have not obeyed me,
  17. your God. I am the LORD All-Powerful, and I warned you about the terrible things that would happen to you if you did not listen to me. You have ignored me, so now disaster will strike you. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  18. Then the LORD told me to say to the Rechabite clan: I am the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel. You have obeyed your ancestor Jonadab,
  19. so I promise that your clan will be my servants and will never die out.

Events of chapter 35 preceed those of chapter 34 chronologically, but serve to contrast the events of that previous chapter. God had repeatedly warned the people of Judah that they must turn back to the Lord and obey His teachings, but they had not heeded these warnings. Thus the Babylon army was outside the walls of Jerusalem and the city was on the brink of falling into their hands.

Jeremiah was told to invite the Rechabites to "one of the chambers of the temple of the LORD to offer them a drink of wine." (35:2) This seems a rather strange request, especially when we learn that the Rechabites do not drink wine. It was a prohibition given to them by Jonadab, their ancester, which they obeyed faithfully, even when told to do otherwise by the Lord's prophet in the temple of the Lord. Jeremiah was instructed to go to the house of the Rechabites and then bring them to the temple. Why not offer them the wine at their house? Why at the temple? Possibly this approach was intended to lend weight to the request, suggesting, but not specifically saying, that it came from the Lord. Another possibility for going to the temple was to have the priests witness the event. Whatever the reason for going to the temple, the Rechabites politely refused to drink the wine, explaining that it was a prohibition from their ancestor.

Refusal by the Rechabites to drink the wine was the outcome expected and intended by the Lord. It provided the example He wanted. Following this exchange with the Rechabites, Jeremiah was sent to speak to the "men of Judah and residents of Jerusalem," and say, "Will you not accept discipline by listening to My words?" (35:13) Furthermore, Jeremiah was to tell the people, "Time and time again I have sent you all My servants the prophets, proclaiming: Turn, each one from his evil way of life, and correct your actions. Stop following other gods to serve them. Live in the land that I gave you and your ancestors. But you would not pay attention or obey Me. Yes, the sons of Jonadab son of Rechab carried out their ancestor's command he gave them, but these people have not obeyed Me. " (35:15-16)

Drinking wine is not the point of this account. It was not prohibited by the Lord, only by the Rechabite ancestors. Nor did the commands of the Rechabite ancestors take precedence over those of the Lord. The point was obedience. If the Rechabites could be obedient to the teaching of their ancestors, was it not even more important that the Judeans be obedient to the teachings of the Lord? In rebelling against the Lord's teachings, the Judeans were also rebelling against the teachings of their ancestors who handed down the commands given them by the Lord.

Each generation is arrogant enough to think it has discovered new truth that makes the truths of their parents outmoded. However, real truth does not change. This is the nature of truth. If a thing is true it does not suddenly become false, and vice versa. The issue, of course, is our perception of truth. Though we may believe the perception our parents or ancestors had regarding a certain truth may have been misguided we must not arrogantly assume our perceptions are any less misguided. Truth is like precious metals. When refined in the fires of time and trial, truth, like pure gold, will separate from impurities to be drawn away and put to excellent use.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 34

    Jeremiah 34 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. King Nebuchadnezzar had a large army made up of people from every kingdom in his empire. He and his army were attacking Jerusalem and all the nearby towns, when the LORD told me
  2. to say to King Zedekiah: I am the LORD, and I am going to let Nebuchadnezzar capture this city and burn it down.
  3. You will be taken prisoner and brought to Nebuchadnezzar, and he will speak with you face to face. Then you will be led away to Babylonia.
  4. Zedekiah, I promise that you won't die in battle.
  5. You will die a peaceful death. People will mourn when you die, and they will light bonfires in your honor, just as they did for your ancestors, the kings who ruled before you.
  6. I went to Zedekiah and told him what the LORD had said.
  7. Meanwhile, the king of Babylonia was trying to break through the walls of Lachish, Azekah, and Jerusalem, the only three towns of Judah that had not been captured.
  8. King Zedekiah, his officials, and everyone else in Jerusalem made an agreement to free all Hebrew men and women who were slaves. No Jew would keep another as a slave. And so, all the Jewish slaves were given their freedom.
  9. (SEE 34:8)
  10. (SEE 34:8)
  11. But those slave owners changed their minds and forced their former slaves back into slavery.
  12. That's when the LORD told me to say to the people:
  13. I am the LORD God of Israel, and I made an agreement with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, where they had been slaves.
  14. As part of this agreement, you must let a Hebrew slave go free after six years of service. Your ancestors did not obey me,
  15. but you decided to obey me and do the right thing by setting your Hebrew slaves completely free. You even went to my temple, and in my name you made an agreement to set them free. But you have abused my name, because you broke your agreement and forced your former slaves back into slavery.
  16. (SEE 34:15)
  17. You have disobeyed me by not giving your slaves their freedom. So I will give you freedom--the freedom to die in battle or from disease or hunger. I will make you disgusting to all other nations on earth.
  18. You asked me to be a witness when you made the agreement to set your slaves free. And as part of the ceremony you cut a calf into two parts, then walked between the parts. But you people of Jerusalem have broken that agreement as well as my agreement with Israel. So I will do to you what you did to that calf.
  19. I will let your enemies take all of you prisoner, including the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the royal officials, the priests, and everyone else who walked between the two parts of the calf. These enemies will kill you and leave your bodies lying on the ground as food for birds and wild animals.
  20. (SEE 34:19)
  21. These enemies are King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia and his army. They have stopped attacking Jerusalem, but they want to kill King Zedekiah and his high officials. So I will command them to return and attack again. This time they will conquer the city and burn it down, and they will capture Zedekiah and his officials. I will also let them destroy the towns of Judah, so that no one can live there any longer.
  22. (SEE 34:21)

The term "foxhole religion" might be applied to what occurs in chapter 34. Foxhole religion is a term coming from war when soldiers, crouching in foxholes and trembling with fear for their lives, make promises to God of what they will do if He saves their lives from the threat of battle. Jerusalem, and the only two other remaining fortified cities in Judah, were under heavy attack from the Babylonian army and defeat appeared imminent. In an attempt to appease God so He might rescue them from the Babylonians, king Zedekiah of Judah "made a covenant with all the people who were in Jerusalem to proclaim freedom to them, so each man would free his male and female Hebrew slaves and no one enslave his Judean brother." (34:9) One of many of the laws of Moses that Judah was breaking was the keeping of slaves from among their own people. Although the law allowed for Jewish people to sell themselves into slavery, it required that all slaves be released every seven years. But Judah was not releasing their slaves. In an attempt to appease God's anger, Zedekiah made this covenant with the people to release their slaves and abide by the law.

Promises made to God while crouching fearfully in a foxhole are often not kept once the danger is past. This was true of Zedekiah's covenant with the people. Judah was given a wonderful opportunity to escape total destruction at the hands of the Babylonians when king Nebuchadnezzar withdrew his troops from Jerusalem to repel an attack by the Egyptians.  With the threat removed and faced with the huge task of rebuilding their heavily damaged cities, the people reneged on their covenant and took back their slaves. What a huge mistake! What were they thinking? It was obvious that God's hand was involved in the attack by the Babylonians. Should it not be just as obvious that God had turned the threat away and the best response would be to sincerely return to God in thankfulness for His mercy?

Such actions reveal a view of God as a powerful but mindless being who one does not relate to but who rather is manipulated by one's actions. This view of God credits Him with only limited powers. It does not recognize Him as being all-knowing, for instance. Otherwise He would see through their schemes and manipulations to gain His favor. Well, God is all-knowing and He did see through their schemes, and considered their breaking of the covenant to release their slaves a personal affront, saying, "you have changed your minds and profaned My name." (34:16) The window of opportunity God gave them by withdrawing the Babylonian army was going to slam shut. Therefore, "You have not obeyed Me by proclaiming freedom, each man for his brother and for his neighbor. I hereby proclaim freedom for you"--this is the LORD's declaration--"to the sword, to plague, and to famine! I will make you a horror to all the earth's kingdoms."

Scripture refers to having "fear of the Lord." For those who seek to follow God and abide by His teaching, this is a reference of respect and reverence for God. However, sin turns this "fear of the Lord" into true fear. When we turn our backs on God and rebel against His teaching, we have reason to fear Him as did the people of Judah. They did not revere Him and thus did not respect His blessings. Therefore, they came to truly fear Him.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 33

    Jeremiah 33 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I was still being held prisoner in the courtyard of the palace guards when the LORD told me: I am the LORD, and I created the whole world.
  2. (SEE 33:1)
  3. Ask me, and I will tell you things that you don't know and can't find out.
  4. Many of the houses in Jerusalem and some of the buildings at the royal palace have been torn down to be used in repairing the walls to keep out the Babylonian attackers. Now there are empty spaces where the buildings once stood. But I am furious, and these spaces will be filled with the bodies of the people I kill. The people of Jerusalem will cry out to me for help, but they are evil, and I will ignore their prayers.
  5. (SEE 33:4)
  6. Then someday, I will heal this place and my people as well, and let them enjoy unending peace.
  7. I will give this land to Israel and Judah once again, and I will make them as strong as they were before.
  8. They sinned and rebelled against me, but I will forgive them and take away their guilt.
  9. When that happens, all nations on earth will see the good things I have done for Jerusalem, and how I have given it complete peace. The nations will celebrate and praise and honor me, but they will also tremble with fear.
  10. Jeremiah, you say that this land is a desert without people or animals, and for now, you are right. The towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem are deserted, and people and animals are nowhere to be seen. But someday you will hear
  11. happy voices and the sounds of parties and wedding celebrations. And when people come to my temple to offer sacrifices to thank me, you will hear them say: "We praise you, LORD All-Powerful! You are good to us, and your love never fails." The land will once again be productive.
  12. Now it is empty, without people or animals. But when that time comes, shepherds will take care of their flocks in pastures near every town in the hill country, in the foothills to the west, in the Southern Desert, in the land of the Benjamin tribe, and around Jerusalem and the towns of Judah. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  13. (SEE 33:12)
  14. The LORD said: I made a wonderful promise to Israel and Judah, and the days are coming when I will keep it.
  15. I promise that the time will come when I will appoint a king from the family of David, a king who will be honest and rule with justice.
  16. In those days, Judah will be safe; Jerusalem will have peace and will be named, "The LORD Gives Justice."
  17. The king of Israel will be one of David's descendants,
  18. and there will always be priests from the Levi tribe serving at my altar and offering sacrifices to please me and to give thanks.
  19. Then the LORD told me:
  20. I, the LORD, have an agreement with day and night, so they always come at the right time. You can't break the agreement I made with them,
  21. and you can't break the agreements I have made with David's family and with the priests from the Levi tribe who serve at my altar. A descendant of David will always rule as king of Israel,
  22. and there will be more descendants of David and of the priests from the Levi tribe than stars in the sky or grains of sand on the beach.
  23. The LORD also said:
  24. You've heard foreigners insult my people by saying, "The LORD chose Israel and Judah, but now he has rejected them, and they are no longer a nation."
  25. Jeremiah, I will never break my agreement with the day and the night or let the sky and the earth stop obeying my commands.
  26. In the same way, I will never reject the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or break my promise that they will always have a descendant of David as their king. I will be kind to my people Israel, and they will be successful again.

Chapter 33 is a continuation of chapter 32, giving greater detail to God's promise of restoration for Judah in particular and Israel as a whole. In chapter 32 Jeremiah had been imprisoned because of his prophecies of doom for Judah which were considered treasonous. He remained confined as further word came to him from the Lord. As an introduction to the message God gave to him for delivery to Judah, the Lord reminded the people of who He is. He is the one, "who made the earth, the LORD who forms it to establish it, the LORD is His name." (33:2)  In other words, the promises He was about to give them are as sure as creation itself. For the One who gives the promises is the same One who made the earth.

As if to assure the people that the promises He is about to give in no way change the reality of their destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, the Lord next gave a brief glimpse at what was about to happen to them. The houses and palaces that were torn down to provide materials for reinforcing the walls would be filled with the bodies of the men defending the city. Nothing had changed regarding God's judgment of Judah. However, the story does not end with the destruction of Judah. It is not complete without also telling of her healing and restoration.  As described in the reflections for chapter 32, what is happening to Judah might be likened to a building that has outlived its usefulness and must be torn down so a new and better building can be built on the same location. When the old building is demolished the project is not finished, nor do we describe that process as a demolition. Because the completion of the project is to have a new building we describe the whole project, even the demolition, as a construction project, not a demolition project. So it was with Judah. Judah's destruction was only the beginning of the process God had in mind for her. The completion of that process was a new nation.  God's plans for this new nation could not be fulfilled by simply making changes with the old Judah. God had tried that many times before and Judah was no better than before. The old had to be torn down completely if the nation God intended was to be built.

God's promises concerning the new nation that was to be rebuilt included three elements of blessing: 1- Judah, and all Israel, would be restored to the land, 2- All Israel would be restored to the Lord for He would cleanse them from their sin and forgive them of their rebellion, and 3 - Israel would again have a special place of honor among the nations.  As God further detailed His promises to Israel we realize that they transcend anything she had experienced throughout her history. But they will not have their ultimate fulfillment until the Millennial reign of the Messiah. Paramount among God's promises are the restoration of the monarchy continuing in the royal line of David, which was fulfilled with the coming of the Messiah, and restoration of Jerusalem as God's dwelling place. 

All of this is a picture of what God wants to do in the life of every person. He wants to reign in our lives as Lord and to dwell in us. The question we must consider is whether it is possible for God to have the place in our life He wants to have with a simple "remake" in our lives or whether it will require a total demolition of our old life to allow God to build a new life in which He can dwell and have reign?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 32

    Jeremiah 32 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD spoke to me in the tenth year that Zedekiah was king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year that Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylonia.
  2. At that time, the Babylonian army had surrounded Jerusalem, and I was in the prison at the courtyard of the palace guards.
  3. Zedekiah had ordered me to be held there because I told everyone that the LORD had said: I am the LORD, and I am about to let the king of Babylonia conquer Jerusalem.
  4. King Zedekiah will be captured and taken to King Nebuchadnezzar, who will speak with him face to face.
  5. Then Zedekiah will be led away to Babylonia, where he will stay until I am finished with him. So, if you people of Judah fight against the Babylonians, you will lose. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  6. Later, when I was in prison, the LORD said:
  7. Jeremiah, your cousin Hanamel, the son of your uncle Shallum, will visit you. He must sell his field near the town of Anathoth, and because you are his nearest relative, you have the right and the responsibility to buy it and keep it in the family.
  8. Hanamel came, just as the LORD had promised. And he said, "Please buy my field near Anathoth in the territory of the Benjamin tribe. You have the right to buy it, and if you do, it will stay in our family." The LORD had told me to buy it
  9. from Hanamel, and so I did. The price was seventeen pieces of silver, and I weighed out the full amount on a scale.
  10. I had two copies of the bill of sale written out, each containing all the details of our agreement. Some witnesses and I signed the official copy, which was folded and tied, before being sealed shut with hot wax. Then I gave Hanamel the silver.
  11. (SEE 32:10)
  12. And while he, the witnesses, and all the other Jews sitting in the courtyard were still watching, I gave both copies to Baruch son of Neriah.
  13. I told Baruch that the LORD had said: Take both copies of this bill of sale, one sealed shut and the other open, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time.
  14. (SEE 32:13)
  15. I am the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, and I promise you that people will once again buy and sell houses, farms, and vineyards in this country.
  16. Then I prayed:
  17. LORD God, you stretched out your mighty arm and made the sky and the earth. You can do anything.
  18. You show kindness for a thousand generations, but you also punish people for the sins of their parents. You are the LORD All-Powerful.
  19. With great wisdom you make plans, and with your great power you do all the mighty things you planned. Nothing we do is hidden from your eyes, and you reward or punish us as we deserve.
  20. You are famous because you worked miracles in Egypt, and you are still working them in Israel and in the rest of the world as well.
  21. You terrified the Egyptians with your miracles, and you reached out your mighty arm and rescued your people Israel from Egypt.
  22. Then you gave Israel this land rich with milk and honey, just as you had promised our ancestors.
  23. But when our ancestors took over the land, they did not obey you. And now you have punished Israel with disaster.
  24. Jerusalem is under attack, and we suffer from hunger and disease. The Babylonians have already built dirt ramps up to the city walls, and you can see that Jerusalem will be captured just as you said.
  25. So why did you tell me to get some witnesses and buy a field with my silver, when Jerusalem is about to be captured by the Babylonians?
  26. The LORD explained:
  27. Jeremiah, I am the LORD God. I rule the world, and I can do anything!
  28. It is true that I am going to let King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia capture Jerusalem.
  29. The Babylonian army is already attacking, and they will capture the city and set it on fire. The people of Jerusalem have made me angry by going up to the flat roofs of their houses and burning incense to Baal and offering wine sacrifices to other gods. Now these houses will be burned to the ground!
  30. The kings and the officials, the priests and the prophets, and everyone else in Israel and Judah have turned from me and made me angry by worshiping idols. Again and again I have tried to teach my people to obey me, but they refuse to be corrected. I am going to get rid of Jerusalem, because its people have done nothing but evil.
  31. (SEE 32:30)
  32. (SEE 32:30)
  33. (SEE 32:30)
  34. They have set up disgusting idols in my temple, and now it isn't a fit place to worship me.
  35. And they led Judah into sin by building places to worship Baal in Hinnom Valley, where they also sacrificed their sons and daughters to the god Molech. I have never even thought of telling them to commit such disgusting sins.
  36. Jeremiah, what you said is true. The people of Jerusalem are suffering from hunger and disease, and so the king of Babylonia will be able to capture Jerusalem.
  37. I am angry at the people of Jerusalem, and I will scatter them in foreign countries. But someday I will bring them back here and let them live in safety.
  38. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
  39. I will make their thoughts and desires pure. Then they will realize that, for their own good and the good of their children, they must worship only me. They will even be afraid to turn away from me. I will make an agreement with them that will never end, and I won't ever stop doing good things for them. With all my heart I promise that they will be planted in this land once again.
  40. (SEE 32:39)
  41. (SEE 32:39)
  42. Even though I have brought disaster on the people, I will someday do all these good things for them.
  43. Jeremiah, when you bought the field, you showed that fields will someday be bought and sold again. You say that this land has been conquered by the Babylonians and has become a desert, emptied of people and animals.
  44. But someday, people will again spend their silver to buy fields everywhere--in the territory of Benjamin, the region around Jerusalem and the towns of Judah, and in the hill country, the foothills to the west, and the Southern Desert. Buyers and sellers and witnesses will sign and seal the bills of sale for the fields. It will happen, because I will give this land back to my people. I, the LORD, have spoken.

When a building has outlived its usefulness and is torn down to build a new one in its place, would we not say, even during the demolition phase, that a new building is being built? So was the case with Judah at the time Jeremiah 32 was written. Babylonian siege ramps were about the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah was about to fall. This was happening because of God's judgment for Judah's idolatry. But as is illustrated in this chapter, this is not about the demolition of Judah, but about the building of a new Israel. The old must be torn down so that a new and better nation can be built in its place. The old was beyond restoration. God had tried to restore Judah and Israel numerous times and any improvement made was only temporary. Therefore, both nations must be torn down completely and one new and unified nation built in their place.

To illustrate God's intentions, he had Jeremiah buy his cousin's land. Jeremiah had been imprisoned by Zedekiah king of Judah because of his "treasonous" prophecies against Judah. Meanwhile, siege ramps had been built against the city for its capture. The fall of Jerusalem, and thus of Judah, was inevitable. With Jeremiah in prison, God told him his cousin Hanamel would come and ask him to redeem his land by buying it. And as predicted, the cousin came to him in prison making this request, and Jeremiah bought the land, going through the usual legal procedures of the time. At the time of Jeremiah's purchase, the land was useless. The cousin's land was in Anathoth which had already been taken by the Babylonians. Jeremiah could not take possession of the land he bought. But the point was that one day he would take possession of it. God said of this land that was being handed over to Babylon, "I am about to gather them (Israelites) from all the lands where I have banished them in My wrath, rage, and great fury, and I will return them to this place and make them live in safety. They will be My people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way so that for their good and for the good of their descendants after them, they will fear Me always. 'I will make with them an everlasting covenant: I will never turn away from doing good to them, and I will put fear of Me in their hearts so they will never again turn away from Me. I will rejoice over them to do what is good to them, and I will plant them faithfully in this land with all My mind and heart.'" (32:37-41)

God was tearing down the old so He might make a new covenant with Israel. Under this covenant all of the expectations of the old covenant that were never fulfilled would finally be realized. We are so prone to be angry with God when problems come into our lives. But whatever the problem and whatever God's role might be regarding the cause of the problem, one thing we can depend on. If we seek God and His purposes in our life, an even better life will replace whatever loss is brought on by the problems we encounter.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reflections on Jeremiah 31

    Jeremiah 31 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said: Israel, I promise that someday all your tribes will again be my people, and I will be your God.
  2. In the desert I was kind to those who escaped death. I gave them peace, and when the time is right, I'll do the same for you. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  3. Some time ago, the LORD appeared to me and told me to say: Israel, I will always love you; that's why I've been so patient and kind.
  4. You are precious to me, and so I will rebuild your nation. Once again you will dance for joy and play your tambourines.
  5. You will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria and enjoy the grapes.
  6. Someday those who guard the hill country of Ephraim will shout, "Let's go to Zion and worship the LORD our God."
  7. The LORD says: Celebrate and sing for Israel, the greatest of nations. Offer praises and shout, "Come and rescue your people, LORD! Save what's left of Israel."
  8. I, the LORD, will bring my people back from Babylonia and everywhere else on earth. The blind and the lame will be there. Expectant mothers and women about to give birth will come and be part of that great crowd.
  9. They will weep and pray as I bring them home. I will lead them to streams of water. They will walk on a level road and not stumble. I am a father to Israel, my favorite children.
  10. Listen to me, you nations nearby or across the sea. I scattered the people of Israel, but I will gather them again. I will protect them like a shepherd guarding a flock;
  11. I will rescue them from enemies who could overpower them.
  12. My people will come to Mount Zion and celebrate; their faces will glow because of my blessings. I'll give them grain, grapes, and olive oil, as well as sheep and cattle. Israel will be prosperous and grow like a garden with plenty of water.
  13. Young women and young men, together with the elderly, will celebrate and dance, because I will comfort them and turn their sorrow into happiness.
  14. I will bless my people with more food than they need, and the priests will enjoy the choice cuts of meat. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  15. In Ramah a voice is heard, crying and weeping loudly. Rachel mourns for her children and refuses to be comforted, because they are dead. *
  16. But I, the LORD, say to dry your tears. Someday your children will come home from the enemy's land. Then all you have done for them will be greatly rewarded.
  17. So don't lose hope. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  18. The people of Israel moan and say to me, "We were like wild bulls, but you, LORD, broke us, and we learned to obey. You are our God-- please let us come home.
  19. When we were young, we strayed and sinned, but then we realized what we had done. We are ashamed and disgraced and want to return to you."
  20. People of Israel, you are my own dear children. Don't I love you best of all? Though I often make threats, I want you to be near me, so I will have mercy on you. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  21. With rock piles and signposts, mark the way home, my dear people. It is the same road by which you left.
  22. Will you ever decide to be faithful? I will make sure that someday things will be different, as different as a woman protecting a man.
  23. The LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, said: I promise to set the people of Judah free and to lead them back to their hometowns. And when I do, they will once again say, "We pray that the LORD will bless his home, the sacred hill in Jerusalem where his temple stands."
  24. The people will live in Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah. Some will be farmers, and others will be shepherds.
  25. Those who feel tired and worn out will find new life and energy,
  26. and when they sleep, they will wake up refreshed.
  27. Someday, Israel and Judah will be my field where my people and their livestock will grow.
  28. In the past, I took care to uproot them, to tear them down, and to destroy them. But when that day comes, I will take care to plant them and help them grow.
  29. No longer will anyone go around saying, "Sour grapes eaten by parents leave a sour taste in the mouths of their children."
  30. When that day comes, only those who eat sour grapes will get the sour taste, and only those who sin will be put to death.
  31. The LORD said: The time will surely come when I will make a new agreement with the people of Israel and Judah.
  32. It will be different from the agreement I made with their ancestors when I led them out of Egypt. Although I was their God, they broke that agreement.
  33. Here is the new agreement that I, the LORD, will make with the people of Israel: "I will write my laws on their hearts and minds. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
  34. "No longer will they have to teach one another to obey me. I, the LORD, promise that all of them will obey me, ordinary people and rulers alike. I will forgive their sins and forget the evil things they have done."
  35. I am the LORD All-Powerful. I command the sun to give light each day, the moon and stars to shine at night, and ocean waves to roar.
  36. I will never forget to give those commands, and I will never let Israel stop being a nation. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  37. Can you measure the heavens? Can you explore the depths of the earth? That's how hard it would be for me to reject Israel forever, even though they have sinned. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  38. The LORD said: Someday, Jerusalem will truly belong to me. It will be rebuilt with a boundary line running from Hananel Tower to Corner Gate.
  39. From there, the boundary will go in a straight line to Gareb Hill, then turn toward Goah.
  40. Even that disgusting Hinnom Valley will be sacred to me, and so will the eastern slopes that go down from Horse Gate into Kidron Valley. Jerusalem will never again be destroyed.

Chapter 31 is a contrast to much of the book of Jeremiah in the tone of love and care God has for Israel it conveys. Much of the book is about God's anger with Judah over her sin, but here God's love for the nation is clearly revealed. Despite the sins of Judah and Israel, and despite God's anger over the turning of both nations to other gods, God had not stopped loving them nor had He forgotten His covenant with all of the tribes of Israel. However, Israel had broken the original covenant made during the time of Moses. This covenant outlined a series of curses that were to be invoked on Israel should she break the covenant. The final curse in this series would be the physical deportation of Israel from the land God had given her. This was completed with the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the people to Babylon.

The heart of this chapter and of God's plans for Israel's future is the making of a new covenant which was established with the shedding of Christ's blood in His crucifixtion. The old covenant was written on stones and had no power to help the people live out the covenant and keep its commands. But the new covenant is written in the hearts of people, and through the Holy Spirit power is given people to keep the covenant. Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who enter into the covenant, "No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying: Know the LORD, for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them" (31:34)

What was not possible under the old covenant is made possible under the new. Israel as a whole has not yet entered into this new covenant and as of yet does not enjoy the benefits it offers. Meanwhile, many non-Jews, or gentiles, enjoy the benefits of this new covenant through their acceptance of Jesus Christ, through whom the covenant is established. But a time will come when all Israel will enter into the covenant and fully enjoy its blessings. This chapter describes many of those blessings.