Monday, January 31, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 3

    Ezekiel 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said, "Ezekiel, son of man, after you eat this scroll, go speak to the people of Israel."
  2. He handed me the scroll and said, "Eat this and fill up on it." So I ate the scroll, and it tasted sweet as honey.
  3. (SEE 3:2)
  4. The LORD said: Ezekiel, I am sending you to your own people.
  5. They are Israelites, not some strangers who speak a foreign language you can't understand. If I were to send you to foreign nations, they would listen to you.
  6. (SEE 3:5)
  7. But the people of Israel will refuse to listen, because they have refused to listen to me. All of them are stubborn and hardheaded,
  8. so I will make you as stubborn as they are.
  9. You will be so determined to speak my message that nothing will stop you. I will make you hard like a diamond, and you'll have no reason to be afraid of those arrogant rebels.
  10. Listen carefully to everything I say and then think about it.
  11. Then go to the people who were brought here to Babylonia with you and tell them you have a message from me, the LORD God. Do this, whether they listen to you or not.
  12. The Spirit lifted me up, and as the glory of the LORD started to leave, I heard a loud, thundering noise behind me.
  13. It was the sound made by the creatures' wings as they brushed against each other, and by the rumble of the wheels beside them.
  14. Then the Spirit carried me away. The LORD's power had taken complete control of me, and I was both annoyed and angry.
  15. When I was back with the others living at Abib Hill near the Chebar River, I sat among them for seven days, shocked at what had happened to me.
  16. Seven days after I had seen the brightness of the LORD's glory, the LORD said:
  17. Ezekiel, son of man, I have appointed you to stand watch for the people of Israel. So listen to what I say, then warn them for me.
  18. When I tell wicked people they will die because of their sins, you must warn them to turn from their sinful ways so they won't be punished. If you refuse, you are responsible for their death.
  19. However, if you do warn them, and they keep on sinning, they will die because of their sins, and you will be innocent.
  20. Now suppose faithful people start sinning, and I decide to put stumbling blocks in their paths to make them fall. They deserve to die because of their sins. So if you refuse to warn them, I will forget about the times they were faithful, and I will hold you responsible for their death.
  21. But if you do warn them, and they listen to you and stop sinning, I will let them live. And you will be innocent.
  22. The LORD took control of me and said, "Stand up! Go into the valley, and I will talk with you there."
  23. I immediately went to the valley, where I saw the brightness of the LORD's glory, just as I had seen near the Chebar River, and I bowed with my face to the ground.
  24. His Spirit took control of me and lifted me to my feet. Then the LORD said: Go back and lock yourself in your house!
  25. You will be tied up to keep you inside,
  26. and I will make you unable to talk or to warn those who have rebelled against me.
  27. But the time will come, when I will tell you what to say, and you will again be able to speak my message. Some of them will listen; others will be stubborn and refuse to listen.

    In chapter 2, Ezekiel was given his assignment which was to go "to the Israelites and to the rebellious nations who have rebelled against Me." (2:3) Chapter 3 prepares him for this task. The first step in his preparation was to eat the scroll with God's words written on it. God's word was "as sweet as honey in my mouth." (3:3) This is a necessary step for any of us to fulfill God's assignment for us. We are prepared for service to God by His word, and we are continually enabled throughout the task as we continually spend time in His word.

    Ezekiel had already been told that the Israelites were a rebellious people and would not likely listen to God's message that he was to deliver to them. This was reinforced in chapter 3. The greatest barrier to delivering God's word is not a language barrier, but is a heart barrier. If Ezekiel were to take God's message to a people of a "difficult language," they would no doubt listen to him, but this was not the case with the Israelites whose language Ezekiel spoke. It was important, however, for Ezekiel to be aware that the rejection by his people was not a rejection of him but of God. Though the Israelites were hardheaded and unwilling to listen to God's message, God was giving Ezekiel an even harder head to be even more persistent to deliver the message than the Israelites were to reject it.

    Next Ezekiel was told of the expectation God had for him to deliver His message. It was the expectation of a "watchman over the house of Israel." A typical watchman would be positioned on the city wall as a lookout for danger. If he should see danger and fail to report it, he was held accountable for the loss of life caused by his failure. So it was with Ezekiel. If he failed to deliver the message God gave him, he would be held accountable for the deaths of those he failed to warn away from their sin. But Ezekiel was held accountable only for delivery of the message. Acceptance or rejection of that message by those to whom he delivered it was not his responsibility. That responsibility lay with those to whom he delivered it.

    With this preparation for his task, Ezekiel was told to "shut yourself inside your house." (3:24) He was to wait there until God gave him a message to deliver. Unless he was confined to his house, he would be restrained from going out among the people to deliver God's message. Not only was Ezekiel to confine himself to his house, he was not to speak until God gave him His message to speak. Once commissioned by God for his assigned task, Ezekiel's life had only this one purpose. He was not to engage in life outside this purpose, for it would deter him from his purpose.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 2

    Ezekiel 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD said, "Ezekiel, son of man, I want you to stand up and listen."
  2. After he said this, his Spirit took control of me and lifted me to my feet. Then the LORD said:
  3. Ezekiel, I am sending you to the people of Israel. They are just like their ancestors who rebelled against me and refused to stop.
  4. They are stubborn and hardheaded. But I, the LORD God, have chosen you to tell them what I say.
  5. Those rebels may not even listen, but at least they will know that a prophet has come to them.
  6. Don't be afraid of them or of anything they say. You may think you're in the middle of a thorn patch or a bunch of scorpions. But be brave
  7. and preach my message to them, whether they choose to listen or not.
  8. Ezekiel, don't rebel against me, as they have done. Instead, listen to everything I tell you. And now, Ezekiel, open your mouth and eat what I am going to give you.
  9. Just then, I saw a hand stretched out toward me. And in it was a scroll.
  10. The hand opened the scroll, and both sides of it were filled with words of sadness, mourning, and grief.

    Chapter 1 described the vision Ezekiel had of God's majesty. Chapter 2 gives his commissioning telling to whom he is to go and the message he was to deliver. Before giving Ezekiel his assignment, the Lord had him stand up on his feet, then God's Spirit entered Ezekiel and helped him stand, providing Ezekiel a demonstration of how God will work with him, always making him able, with God's Spirit in him, to handle the assignments he is given. Ezekiel's assignment was to go "to the Israelites and to the rebellious nations who have rebelled against Me." (2:3) Why was he to go to these people? Because they had "transgressed against (God) to this day." They were "obstinate and hardhearted." (2:3-4)

    In going to these people Ezekiel was to deliver the Lord's message saying, "This is what the Lord GOD says." (2:4) Having delivered the Lord's message to the people, Ezekiel's responsibility was fulfilled. He was not responsible for how the people received the message. "Whether they listen or refuse to listen--for they are a rebellious house--they will know that a prophet has been among them." (2:5) God wanted the Israelites to have every chance to turn away from their sin and avoid judgment. This is how God relates to all people in all times. He is a loving and merciful God "who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4)

    Having received his assignment or commission, Ezekiel was encouraged not to be afraid of the people or their words. They will be like "briers and thorns are beside you" and it will be as if "you live among scorpions." Fulfilling this commission will be both uncomfortable and dangerous, but Ezekiel should not be afraid. Though it is not stated, the implication is that God will protect him from harm. With this word of encouragement, Ezekiel was then handed a scroll with the message written on it that he was to deliver. The words on the scroll were "words of lamentation, mourning, and woe." (2:10)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel 1

    Ezekiel 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I am Ezekiel--a priest and the son of Buzi. Five years after King Jehoiachin of Judah had been led away as a prisoner to Babylonia, I was living near the Chebar River among those who had been taken there with him. Then on the fifth day of the fourth month of the thirtieth year, the heavens suddenly opened. The LORD placed his hand upon me and showed me some visions.
  2. (SEE 1:1)
  3. (SEE 1:1)
  4. I saw a windstorm blowing in from the north. Lightning flashed from a huge cloud and lit up the whole sky with a dazzling brightness. The fiery center of the cloud was as shiny as polished metal,
  5. and in that center I saw what looked like four living creatures. They were somewhat like humans,
  6. except that each one had four faces and four wings.
  7. Their legs were straight, but their feet looked like the hoofs of calves and sparkled like bronze.
  8. Under each of their wings, these creatures had a human hand.
  9. The four creatures were standing back to back with the tips of their wings touching. They moved together in every direction, without turning their bodies.
  10. Each creature had the face of a human in front, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of a bull on the left, and the face of an eagle in back.
  11. Two wings of each creature were spread out and touched the wings of the creatures on either side. The other two wings of each creature were folded against its body.
  12. Wherever the four living creatures went, they moved together without turning their bodies, because each creature faced straight ahead.
  13. The creatures were glowing like hot coals, and I saw something like a flaming torch moving back and forth among them. Lightning flashed from the torch every time its flame blazed up.
  14. The creatures themselves moved as quickly as sparks jumping from a fire.
  15. I then noticed that on the ground beside each of the four living creatures was a wheel,
  16. shining like chrysolite. Each wheel was exactly the same and had a second wheel that cut through the middle of it,
  17. so that they could move in any direction without turning.
  18. The rims of the wheels were large and had eyes all the way around them.
  19. The creatures controlled when and where the wheels moved--the wheels went wherever the four creatures went and stopped whenever they stopped. Even when the creatures flew in the air, the wheels were beside them.
  20. (SEE 1:19)
  21. (SEE 1:19)
  22. Above the living creatures, I saw something that was sparkling like ice, and it reminded me of a dome. Each creature had two of its wings stretched out toward the creatures on either side, with the other two wings folded against its body.
  23. (SEE 1:22)
  24. Whenever the creatures flew, their wings roared like an ocean or a large army or even the voice of God All-Powerful. And whenever the creatures stopped, they folded their wings against their bodies.
  25. When the creatures stopped flapping their wings, I heard a sound coming from above the dome.
  26. I then saw what looked like a throne made of sapphire, and sitting on the throne was a figure in the shape of a human.
  27. From the waist up, it was glowing like metal in a hot furnace, and from the waist down it looked like the flames of a fire. The figure was surrounded by a bright light,
  28. as colorful as a rainbow that appears after a storm. I realized I was seeing the brightness of the LORD's glory! So I bowed with my face to the ground, and just then I heard a voice speaking to me.

    The first three chapters of the book of Ezekial are devoted to the commissioning of Ezekiel to be God's prophet. Ezekiel was a contemporary to Jeremiah and was already in captivity in Babylon at the time of his commissioning. He was among a group of Judeans to be deported prior to the fall of Jerusalem. Thus, Ezekiel's prophecies in the first one-half of the book are devoted to the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Once Jerusalem fell, his prophecies, coming in the second one-half of the book, centered on Judah's future restoration.

    The stage is set in this first chapter for Ezekiel's commissioning by a display of God's majesty which Ezekiel saw in visions. Although he states in the first verse he saw visions of God, the creatures described in verses 5 and following were cherubims. These are angelic beings who were bearers of God's throne. On the ark of the covenant, which was a part of the tabernacle, there were gold images of cherubim guarding the mercy seat where the glory of the Lord dwelt. Ezekiel gives considerable detail to his description of these cherubim, each detail, no doubt, having a particular meaning. The movement of the cherubim was directed by God's Spirit: "Wherever the Spirit wanted to go, the creatures went in the direction the Spirit was moving." (1:20)

    Then, in verses 25 and following, Ezekiel describes his vision of God. He was seated on a throne that Ezekiel saw in an expanse above the Cherubim: "A voice came from above the expanse over their heads . . . The shape of a throne with the appearance of sapphire stone was above the expanse." (1:25-26)  Ezekiel described this being as having the "appearance" and the "likeness" of God. No one can see God directly without it causing their death.  When Ezekiel saw "the appearance of the form of the LORD's glory," he "fell facedown and heard a voice speaking." (1:28) Chapter two will tell us what the voice said.

    Having seen such an amazing vision of God and His glory, Ezekiel will be compelled to submit himself to God's call to serve Him. It should also serve to compel us as well to give ourselves into God's service.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reflections on Lamentations 5

    Lamentations 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Our LORD, don't forget how we have suffered and been disgraced.
  2. Foreigners and strangers have taken our land and our homes.
  3. We are like children whose mothers are widows.
  4. The water we drink and the wood we burn cost far too much.
  5. We are terribly mistreated; we are worn out and can find no rest.
  6. We had to surrender to Egypt and Assyria because we were hungry.
  7. Our ancestors sinned, but they are dead, and we are left to pay for their sins.
  8. Slaves are now our rulers, and there is no one to set us free.
  9. We are in danger from brutal desert tribes; we must risk our lives just to bring in our crops.
  10. Our skin is scorched from fever and hunger.
  11. On Zion and everywhere in Judah our wives and daughters are being raped.
  12. Our rulers are strung up by their arms, and our nation's advisors are treated shamefully.
  13. Young men are forced to do the work of slaves; boys must carry heavy loads of wood.
  14. Our leaders are not allowed to decide cases in court, and young people no longer play music.
  15. Our hearts are sad; instead of dancing, we mourn.
  16. Zion's glory has disappeared! And we are doomed because of our sins.
  17. We feel sick all over and can't even see straight;
  18. our city is in ruins, overrun by wild dogs.
  19. You will rule forever, LORD! You are King for all time.
  20. Why have you forgotten us for so long?
  21. Bring us back to you! Give us a fresh start.
  22. Or do you despise us so much that you don't want us?

    Lamentations concludes with a prayer in which the people of Judah confess their sin and ask for God to restore them. Following 15 verses describing their condition under the oppression of the Babylonians, the people state, "The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, for we have sinned." (5:16) God had exalted Israel as a nation among nations, but the "crown" of that exalted position had fallen from their heads and they were now enslaved. The result was that their "inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our houses to foreigners." (5:2)  The land of Israel was a possession wrapped up in Israel's covenant relationship with God. It was considered her inheritance as part of the covenant. Having broken that covenant, it was only natural that Israel would lose the land which was her inheritance.

    Having lost her inheritance and become enslaved, the lingering question in the minds of the Israelites was "Why have You forgotten us forever, abandoned us for our entire lives?" (5:20) God hadn't forgotten them, but for every day they lived under the oppression of the Babylonians, the hope of His restoration seemed more and more a lost hope. But God had promised He would not forget them, of which Leviticus 26:40-45 is an example. In this passage the Lord states, "But if they will confess their sin and the sin of their fathers . . . then I will remember My covenant with Jacob." But this passage also says, "For the land abandoned by them will make up for its Sabbaths by lying desolate without the people, while they pay the penalty for their sin, because they rejected My ordinances and abhorred My statutes." (Lev 26:43)  If they would confess their sin, God would honor His covenant with them, but the restoration would not come until they had fully paid the penalty for their sin.

    God is always faithful to forgive when we confess our sin and turn from it. But that does not rid us of the consequences of that sin. It restores us to relationship with God and we have His help in working through the mess our sin has created, but the mess doesn't immediately go away once we confess.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Reflections on Lamentations 4

    Lamentations 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The purest gold is ruined and has lost its shine; jewels from the temple lie scattered in the streets.
  2. These are Zion's people, worth more than purest gold; yet they are counted worthless like dishes of clay.
  3. Even jackals nurse their young, but my people are like ostriches that abandon their own.
  4. Babies are so thirsty that their tongues are stuck to the roof of the mouth. Children go begging for food, but no one gives them any.
  5. All who ate expensive foods lie starving in the streets; those who grew up in luxury now sit on trash heaps.
  6. My nation was punished worse than the people of Sodom, whose city was destroyed in a flash without the help of human hands.
  7. The leaders of Jerusalem were purer than snow and whiter than milk; their bodies were healthy and glowed like jewels.
  8. Now they are blacker than tar, and no one recognizes them; their skin clings to their bones and is drier than firewood.
  9. Being killed with a sword is better than slowly starving to death.
  10. Life in the city is so bad that loving mothers have boiled and eaten their own children.
  11. The LORD was so fiercely angry that he burned the city of Zion to the ground.
  12. Not a king on this earth or the people of any nation believed enemies could break through her gates.
  13. Jerusalem was punished because her prophets and her priests had sinned and caused the death of innocent victims.
  14. Yes, her prophets and priests were covered with blood; no one would come near them, as they wandered from street to street.
  15. Instead, everyone shouted, "Go away! Don't touch us! You're filthy and unfit to belong to God's people!" So they had to leave and become refugees. But foreign nations told them, "You can't stay here!"
  16. The LORD is the one who sent them scattering, and he has forgotten them. No respect or kindness will be shown to the priests or leaders.
  17. Our eyes became weary, hopelessly looking for help from a nation that could not save us.
  18. Enemies hunted us down on every public street. Our time was up; our doom was near.
  19. They swooped down faster than eagles from the sky. They hunted for us in the hills and set traps to catch us out in the desert.
  20. The LORD's chosen leader was our hope for survival! We thought he would keep us safe somewhere among the nations, but even he was caught in one of their traps.
  21. You people of Edom can celebrate now! But your time will come to suffer and stagger around naked.
  22. The people of Zion have paid for their sins, and the Lord will soon let them return home. But, people of Edom, you will be punished, and your sins exposed.

    A rather graphic description is given in this chapter of the suffering of Judah's people due to their sin. These verses pinpoint the cause of the suffering as the sins of her prophets, priests, and the people in general, and their trust in Egypt to protect them from Babylon rather than trusting God. The result was that under the siege of Babylon's army for two years, the city of Jerusalem ran out of food and water and the people lay in the streets starving. But because the people had lost their compassion for one another, they cared for no one but themselves under the duress of starvation. Therefore, mothers were more concerned for their own welfare than that of their babies. "Even jackals offer their breasts to nurse their young," says 4:3, "but my dear people have become cruel like ostriches in the wilderness." 4:4 continues, "The nursing infant's tongue clings to the roof of his mouth from thirst. Little children beg for bread, but no one gives them any." Rather than nurse their infants as would a jackal, mothers instead fed off their children. "The hands of compassionate women have cooked their own children; they became their food during the destruction of my dear people." (4:10)

    If this dire situation is the result of sin, what is sin? We get the idea that sin is the committing of one or more acts from a list of forbidden acts. There are different ideas of what acts are on the list, but stealing and murder and a few other crimes against mankind are usually on the list. Many of us can legitimately claim not to have committed any of these acts and thus consider ourselves to be free of sin. But the Bible is clear in stating that no one is free of sin. Everyone is a sinner. It defines sin as trangression of the law of God. The ten commandments outline this law for us and was summarized by Jesus as consisting of two principles: (1) "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." (2) "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:30-31) In essence, then, any trangression against God or another person could be defined as sin.

    From this understanding of sin it is clear that none of us are without sin nor are we immune from God's judgment any more than was Judah. But none of us need suffer under that judgment as did Judah since by simply agreeing with God about our sin and repenting of that sin, that is, to turn away from that sin, He will forgive us and have compassion on us and will show mercy rather than judgment. This forgiveness of sin is made fully possible through Christ who took upon Himself the judgment for sin through His death upon the cross. This was necessary since "The wages of sin is death." However, "the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23)  Therefore, as John 3:18 explains, "Anyone who believes in Him (Jesus) is not judged, but anyone who does not believe is already judged, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God." But there is more. Having believed in Jesus as our salvation from the judgment for sin, God places His Spirit within us to help us avoid sin.

    It is not necessary to suffer from the outcome of sin as did Judah, which is lamented in this book of Lamentations. Instead, God has provided a means of escape from sin and its consequences, and that escape is Jesus Christ.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Reflections on Lamentations 3

    Lamentations 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I have suffered much because God was angry.
  2. He chased me into a dark place, where no light could enter.
  3. I am the only one he punishes over and over again, without ever stopping.
  4. God caused my skin and flesh to waste away, and he crushed my bones.
  5. He attacked and surrounded me with hardships and trouble;
  6. he forced me to sit in the dark like someone long dead.
  7. God built a fence around me that I cannot climb over, and he chained me down.
  8. Even when I shouted and prayed for help, he refused to listen.
  9. God put big rocks in my way and made me follow a crooked path.
  10. God was like a bear or a lion waiting in ambush for me;
  11. he dragged me from the road, then tore me to shreds.
  12. God took careful aim and shot his arrows
  13. straight through my heart.
  14. I am a joke to everyone-- no one ever stops making fun of me.
  15. God has turned my life sour.
  16. He made me eat gravel and rubbed me in the dirt.
  17. I cannot find peace or remember happiness.
  18. I tell myself, "I am finished! I can't count on the LORD to do anything for me."
  19. Just thinking of my troubles and my lonely wandering makes me miserable.
  20. That's all I ever think about, and I am depressed.
  21. Then I remember something that fills me with hope.
  22. The LORD's kindness never fails! If he had not been merciful, we would have been destroyed.
  23. The LORD can always be trusted to show mercy each morning.
  24. Deep in my heart I say, "The LORD is all I need; I can depend on him!"
  25. The LORD is kind to everyone who trusts and obeys him.
  26. It is good to wait patiently for the LORD to save us.
  27. When we are young, it is good to struggle hard
  28. and to sit silently alone, if this is what the LORD intends.
  29. Being rubbed in the dirt can teach us a lesson;
  30. we can also learn from insults and hard knocks.
  31. The Lord won't always reject us!
  32. He causes a lot of suffering, but he also has pity because of his great love.
  33. The Lord doesn't enjoy sending grief or pain.
  34. Don't trample prisoners under your feet
  35. or cheat anyone out of what is rightfully theirs. God Most High sees everything,
  36. and he knows when you refuse to give someone a fair trial.
  37. No one can do anything without the Lord's approval.
  38. Good and bad each happen at the command of God Most High.
  39. We're still alive! We shouldn't complain when we are being punished for our sins.
  40. Instead, we should think about the way we are living, and turn back to the LORD.
  41. When we lift our hands in prayer to God in heaven, we should offer him our hearts and say,
  42. "We've sinned! We've rebelled against you, and you haven't forgiven us!
  43. Anger is written all over you, as you pursue and slaughter us without showing pity.
  44. You are behind a wall of clouds that blocks out our prayers.
  45. You allowed nations to treat us like garbage;
  46. our enemies curse us.
  47. We are terrified and trapped, caught and crushed."
  48. My people are destroyed! Tears flood my eyes,
  49. and they won't stop
  50. until the LORD looks down from heaven and helps.
  51. I am horrified when I see what enemies have done to the young women of our city.
  52. No one had reason to hate me, but I was hunted down like a bird.
  53. Then they tried to kill me by tossing me into a pit and throwing stones at me.
  54. Water covered my head-- I thought I was gone.
  55. From the bottom of the pit, I prayed to you, LORD.
  56. I begged you to listen. "Help!" I shouted. "Save me!" You answered my prayer
  57. and came when I was in need. You told me, "Don't worry!"
  58. You rescued me and saved my life.
  59. You saw them abuse me, LORD, so make things right.
  60. You know every plot they have made against me.
  61. Yes, you know their insults and their evil plans.
  62. All day long they attack with words and whispers.
  63. No matter what they are doing, they keep on mocking me.
  64. Pay them back for everything they have done, LORD!
  65. Put your curse on them and make them suffer.
  66. Get angry and go after them until not a trace is left under the heavens.

    This chapter is in the middle of the five chapters of Lamentations and is the heart of the book, giving it a positive framework on which to form the other chapters.  In the first two chapters we hear the cry of the fallen Jerusalem but in this chapter it is the voice of the prophet Jeremiah that speaks. Some of it is personal while at times he speaks on behalf of all Israelites.

    The first 20 verses of the chapter describe the state in which Jeremiah and Israel find themselves under God's judgment.  Though Jeremiah did not partake in Israel's sin of idolatry and turning their backs on God, he suffered along with the rest when judgment came. Part of his suffering was the destruction he saw of his beloved Jerusalem. But with verse 21 he turned his thoughts to the Lord's faithful love and realized there is hope. First, he noted that because of the Lord's faithful love, He exercised mercy and did not totally destroy them. Also, he recalls that the Lord is good to those who wait on Him and seek Him. Calamity did not come on Judah because she had sought after the Lord but because she had not. The Lord does not "enjoy bringing affliction or suffering on mankind." (3:33)  Therefore, it was good to wait quietly for the Lord's deliverance. The question is raised, "Why should any living person complain, any man, because of the punishment for his sins?" (3:39) Rather than complaining over their plight, the people needed to accept it as a result of their own sins, seek after God, and wait patiently for His deliverance.

    In these verses (21-42) Jeremiah has outlined a good philosophy by which to live. Wait on the Lord and seek Him for He is good to those who do. However, if you have sinned and experienced the Lord's judgment, be silent and accept the Lord's discipline, and wait quietly for His deliverance. What if you have not sinned yet calamity has come upon you anyway, as in Jeremiah's situation? Do also as Jeremiah did, hope in the Lord anyway, remembering His faithful love and that "His mercies never end." (3:22) Life is not free of problems. How can it be when sin is rampant around us? Though we may be faithful to seek the Lord, the foolish and sinful lifestyle of others is bound to raise havoc in our environment, affecting not only those who cause it, but those as well who have faithfully sought after the Lord. But there is nothing to be gained by turning away from the Lord and blaming Him for the injustice that befalls us. Our hope, always, is in the Lord.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reflections on Lamentations 2

    Lamentations 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The Lord was angry! So he disgraced Zion though it was Israel's pride and his own place of rest. In his anger he threw Zion down from heaven to earth.
  2. The LORD had no mercy! He destroyed the homes of Jacob's descendants. In his anger he tore down every walled city in Judah; he toppled the nation together with its leaders, leaving them in shame.
  3. The Lord was so furiously angry that he wiped out the whole army of Israel by not supporting them when the enemy attacked. He was like a raging fire that swallowed up the descendants of Jacob.
  4. He attacked like an enemy with a bow and arrows, killing our loved ones. He has burned to the ground the homes on Mount Zion.
  5. The Lord was like an enemy! He left Israel in ruins with its palaces and fortresses destroyed, and with everyone in Judah moaning and weeping.
  6. He shattered his temple like a hut in a garden; he completely wiped out his meeting place, and did away with festivals and Sabbaths in the city of Zion. In his fierce anger he rejected our king and priests.
  7. The Lord abandoned his altar and his temple; he let Zion's enemies capture her fortresses. Noisy shouts were heard from the temple, as if it were a time of celebration.
  8. The LORD had decided to tear down the walls of Zion stone by stone. So he started destroying and did not stop until walls and fortresses mourned and trembled.
  9. Zion's gates have fallen facedown on the ground; the bars that locked the gates are smashed to pieces. Her king and royal family are prisoners in foreign lands. Her priests don't teach, and her prophets don't have a message from the LORD.
  10. Zion's leaders are silent. They just sit on the ground, tossing dirt on their heads and wearing sackcloth. Her young women can do nothing but stare at the ground.
  11. My eyes are red from crying, my stomach is in knots, and I feel sick all over. My people are being wiped out, and children lie helpless in the streets of the city.
  12. A child begs its mother for food and drink, then blacks out like a wounded soldier lying in the street. The child slowly dies in its mother's arms.
  13. Zion, how can I comfort you? How great is your pain? Lovely city of Jerusalem, how can I heal your wounds, gaping as wide as the sea?
  14. Your prophets deceived you with false visions and lying messages-- they should have warned you to leave your sins and be saved from disaster.
  15. Those who pass by shake their heads and sneer as they make fun and shout, "What a lovely city you were, the happiest on earth, but look at you now!"
  16. Zion, your enemies curse you and snarl like wild animals, while shouting, "This is the day we've waited for! At last, we've got you!"
  17. The LORD has done everything that he had planned and threatened long ago. He destroyed you without mercy and let your enemies boast about their powerful forces.
  18. Zion, deep in your heart you cried out to the Lord. Now let your tears overflow your walls day and night. Don't ever lose hope or let your tears stop.
  19. Get up and pray for help all through the night. Pour out your feelings to the Lord, as you would pour water out of a jug. Beg him to save your people, who are starving to death at every street crossing.
  20. Think about it, LORD! Have you ever been this cruel to anyone before? Is it right for mothers to eat their children, or for priests and prophets to be killed in your temple?
  21. My people, both young and old, lie dead in the streets. Because you were angry, my young men and women were brutally slaughtered.
  22. When you were angry, LORD, you invited my enemies like guests for a party. No one survived that day; enemies killed my children, my own little ones.

    Sin is ugly and destructive, destroying the lives of those who embrace it. Without any intervention by God, sin exacts its own punishment. Yet, when reading a passage such as this, seeing the lives that have been destroyed, including innocent children, who do we villainize? Where do we point the finger of blame? Is it God we blame for the plight of these people? Why do we not aim our righteous indignation at the destructive forces of sin and the foolish behavior of those who embrace it to their demise? Why would God allow such a thing to happen to these people, we ask, as if these people are innocents with no blame or responsibility for their plight?

    We do not look on such decimation of lives and property callously, but rather are saddened by it. But our sadness is not because they are innocent victims of God's anger but because they have blindly chosen a path leading to this outcome. Even in their blindness, though, they were not innocent. It was a self-imposed blindness. Sight was available, indeed it was thrust at them on many occasions, yet they refused it, choosing blindness instead. In their blindness they bouyed their egos and justified their actions with false information, listening to the prophecies of those who falsely claimed a word from the Lord.

    Yes, the Lord finally intervened with Judah, and in His anger orchestrated the events leading to her fall. He abandoned not only the city of Jerusalem and its leaders, but also His temple which the people looked to as their insurance against God's judgment. Surely He would not destroy the place where His place of worship dwelt, they thought. But He did, destroying this impressive structure as if it were a temporary "garden booth." (2:6) In addition, the LORD "abolished appointed festivals and Sabbaths in Zion." It was not just the place of worship that was torn down, but religious practice itself was abolished. It had become useless, a point that should be noted. Any religion that doesn't capture our hearts for God is useless. It is not our observances or rituals that God wants. It is our hearts! When God has our hearts, it will be observed not in ritual but in our lives living out His teaching and dedicated to His service.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Reflections on Lamentations 1

    Lamentations 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Jerusalem, once so crowded, lies deserted and lonely. This city that was known all over the world is now like a widow. This queen of the nations has been made a slave.
  2. Each night, bitter tears flood her cheeks. None of her former lovers are there to offer comfort; her friends have betrayed her and are now her enemies.
  3. The people of Judah are slaves, suffering in a foreign land, with no rest from sorrow. Their enemies captured them and were terribly cruel.
  4. The roads to Zion mourn because no one travels there to celebrate the festivals. The city gates are deserted; priests are weeping. Young women are raped; Zion is in sorrow!
  5. Enemies now rule the city and live as they please. The LORD has punished Jerusalem because of her awful sins; he has let her people be dragged away.
  6. Zion's glory has disappeared. Her leaders are like deer that cannot find pasture; they are hunted down till their strength is gone.
  7. Her people recall the good life that once was theirs; now they suffer and are scattered. No one was there to protect them from their enemies who sneered when their city was taken.
  8. Jerusalem's horrible sins have made the city a joke. Those who once admired her now hate her instead-- she has been disgraced; she groans and turns away.
  9. Her sins had made her filthy, but she wasn't worried about what could happen. And when Jerusalem fell, it was so tragic. No one gave her comfort when she cried out, "Help! I'm in trouble, LORD! The enemy has won."
  10. Zion's treasures were stolen. Jerusalem saw foreigners enter her place of worship, though the LORD had forbidden them to belong to his people.
  11. Everyone in the city groans while searching for food; they trade their valuables for barely enough scraps to stay alive. Jerusalem shouts to the LORD, "Please look and see how miserable I am!"
  12. No passerby even cares. Why doesn't someone notice my terrible sufferings? You were fiercely angry, LORD, and you punished me worst of all.
  13. From heaven you sent a fire that burned in my bones; you set a trap for my feet and made me turn back. All day long you leave me in shock from constant pain.
  14. You have tied my sins around my neck, and they weigh so heavily that my strength is gone. You have put me in the power of enemies too strong for me.
  15. You, LORD, have turned back my warriors and crushed my young heroes. Judah was a woman untouched, but you let her be trampled like grapes in a wine pit.
  16. Because of this, I mourn, and tears flood my eyes. No one is here to comfort or to encourage me; we have lost the war-- my people are suffering.
  17. Zion reaches out her hands, but no one offers comfort. The LORD has turned the neighboring nations against Jacob's descendants. Jerusalem is merely a filthy rag to her neighbors.
  18. The LORD was right, but I refused to obey him. Now I ask all of you to look at my sufferings-- even my young people have been dragged away.
  19. I called out to my lovers, but they betrayed me. My priests and my leaders died while searching the city for scraps of food.
  20. Won't you look and see how upset I am, our LORD? My stomach is in knots, and my heart is broken because I betrayed you. In the streets and at home, my people are slaughtered.
  21. Everyone heard my groaning, but no one offered comfort. My enemies know of the trouble that you have brought on me, and it makes them glad. Hurry and punish them, as you have promised.
  22. Don't let their evil deeds escape your sight. Punish them as much as you have punished me because of my sins. I never stop groaning-- I've lost all hope!

    The Book of Lamentations is a postscript to the Book of Jeremiah, and is traditionally attributed to Jeremiah. As the fall of Jerusalem is mourned in these chapters, reproof is given its survivors for their sin, along with instruction and hope. The philosophy, "Eat, drink, and be merry," has another side, and the plight of Judah, as mourned in this book, is that other side.

    While living out the "Eat, drink, and be merry" philosophy, one never considers its outcome nor acknowledges that there is a dark side to this lifestyle. They don't allow themselves to acknowledge it or they would not live the lifestyle. So it was with Judah, "She never considered her end." (1:9) It was not that she hadn't been told it would lead to her downfall. She had been told repeatedly. But she never took it seriously - never considered her end. Why? She enjoyed it too much. She prefered to trade the eternal blessings of God for fleeting moments of entertainment. When fully considered, few would make such a trade. But that is just it, it is seldom fully considered when one buys into the "Eat, drink, be merry" philosophy.

    After her fall, though, Judah was considering her foolish lifestyle more fully as she "remembers all her precious belongings that were hers in days of old." Judah's choice of lifestyle resulted in her being homeless and afflicted. While in this condition, she remembered a time in "days of old" when she had it good. Those were the days when she had God's blessings. Those were the days when Judah and Israel were at their pinnacle, enjoying world renown as a great nation among the nations of the world. But such an outcome is not attained with a philosophy of "Eat, drink, and be merry." Fallen and afflicted, Judah is forced to admit that her transgressions have become a yoke that has enslaved her to people she "cannot withstand." (1:14)

    In her fallen state, Judah pleads with God to deal with the wickedness of her adversaries "as You have dealt with me because of all my transgressions." (1:22) As a result of her fall, Judah had come to recognize her sin, but had she come to full repentance for those sins? It would seem that full repentance might bring one to acknowledge that all that matters is that their affliction is a just outcome of their sin, without the concern that others should also be held accountable for their sin.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reflections on Jeremiah 52

    Jeremiah 52 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he was appointed king of Judah, and he ruled from Jerusalem for eleven years. His mother Hamutal was the daughter of Jeremiah from the town of Libnah.
  2. Zedekiah disobeyed the LORD, just as Jehoiakim had done,
  3. and it was Zedekiah who finally rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. The people of Judah and Jerusalem had made the LORD so angry that he finally turned his back on them. That's why horrible things were happening.
  4. In Zedekiah's ninth year as king, on the tenth day of the tenth month, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia led his entire army to attack Jerusalem. The troops set up camp outside the city and built ramps up to the city walls.
  5. After a year and a half, all the food in Jerusalem was gone. Then on the ninth day of the fourth month,
  6. (SEE 52:5)
  7. the Babylonian troops broke through the city wall. That same night, Zedekiah and his soldiers tried to escape through the gate near the royal garden, even though they knew the enemy had the city surrounded. They headed toward the Jordan River valley,
  8. but the Babylonian troops caught up with them near Jericho. The Babylonians arrested Zedekiah, but his soldiers scattered in every direction.
  9. Zedekiah was taken to Riblah in the land of Hamath, where Nebuchadnezzar put him on trial and found him guilty.
  10. Zedekiah's sons and the officials of Judah were killed while he watched,
  11. then his eyes were poked out. He was put in chains, then dragged off to Babylon and kept in prison until he died.
  12. Jerusalem was captured during Nebuchadnezzar's nineteenth year as king of Babylonia. About a month later, Nebuchadnezzar's officer in charge of the guards arrived in Jerusalem. His name was Nebuzaradan,
  13. and he burned down the LORD's temple, the king's palace, and every important building in the city, as well as all the houses.
  14. Then he ordered the Babylonian soldiers to break down the walls around Jerusalem.
  15. He led away the people left in the city, including everyone who had become loyal to Nebuchadnezzar, the rest of the skilled workers, and even some of the poor people of Judah.
  16. Only the very poorest were left behind to work the vineyards and the fields.
  17. Nebuzaradan ordered his soldiers to go to the temple and take everything made of gold or silver, including bowls, fire pans, sprinkling bowls, pans, lampstands, dishes for incense, and the cups for wine offerings. The Babylonian soldiers took all the bronze things used for worship at the temple, including the pans for hot ashes, and the shovels, lamp snuffers, sprinkling bowls, and dishes for incense. The soldiers also took everything else made of bronze, including the two columns that stood in front of the temple, the large bowl called the Sea, the twelve bulls that held it up, and the movable stands. The soldiers broke these things into pieces so they could take them to Babylonia. There was so much bronze that it could not be weighed.
  18. (SEE 52:17)
  19. (SEE 52:17)
  20. (SEE 52:17)
  21. For example, the columns were about twenty-seven feet high and eighteen feet around. They were hollow, but the bronze was about three inches thick.
  22. Each column had a bronze cap over seven feet high that was decorated with bronze designs. Some of these designs were like chains and others were like pomegranates.
  23. There were ninety-six pomegranates evenly spaced around each column, and a total of one hundred pomegranates were located above the chains.
  24. Next, Nebuzaradan arrested Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah his assistant, and three temple officials.
  25. Then he arrested one of the army commanders, seven of King Zedekiah's personal advisors, and the officer in charge of gathering the troops for battle. He also found sixty more soldiers who were still in Jerusalem.
  26. Nebuzaradan led them to Riblah in the land of Hamath, where Nebuchadnezzar had them killed. The people of Judah no longer lived in their own country.
  27. (SEE 52:26)
  28. Here is a list of the number of the people of Judah that Nebuchadnezzar took to Babylonia as prisoners: In his seventh year as king, he took 3,023 people. In his eighteenth year as king, he took 832 from Jerusalem. In his twenty-third year as king, his officer Nebuzaradan took 745 people. So, Nebuchadnezzar took a total of 4,600 people from Judah to Babylonia.
  29. (SEE 52:28)
  30. (SEE 52:28)
  31. Jehoiachin was a prisoner in Babylon for thirty-seven years. Then Evil Merodach became king of Babylonia, and in the first year of his rule, on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month, he let Jehoiachin out of prison.
  32. Evil Merodach was kind to Jehoiachin and honored him more than any of the other kings held prisoner there.
  33. Jehoiachin was allowed to wear regular clothes instead of a prison uniform, and he even ate at the king's table every day.
  34. As long as Jehoiachin lived, he was paid a daily allowance to buy whatever he needed.

    This last chapter of Jeremiah's book gives a fulfillment to Jeremiah's prophecies. Jeremiah faithfully spoke what God gave him to say to the leaders and the people of Judah at risk of his own life. He was consistently contradicted by false prophets who had the ear of the kings and other leaders. This chapter vindicates Jeremiah, recording events that correspond to other historical records to show that Jeremiah's prophecies did come to pass. Everything in this chapter was foretold by Jeremiah.

    The chapter begins with King Zedekiah's attempted escape from the Babylonians, his capture, his treatment at the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar, and his deportation. Although Jeremiah had not foretold the details of these events he had told Zedekiah, "As for you, you will not escape from his hand but are certain to be captured and handed over to him. You will meet the king of Babylon eye to eye and speak face to face; you will go to Babylon." (34:3) Next, the destruction of Jerusalem is described. Of this event, Jeremiah had said, "I will make this temple like Shiloh. I will make this city an object of cursing for all the nations of the earth." (26:6) Verses 24-30 of this chapter tell of multiple deportations of Judeans to Babylon. Jeremiah had foretold this to an earlier king of Judah as if it had already taken place, "All of Judah has been taken into exile, taken completely into exile." (13:19)

    The closing verses of this chapter, and of Jeremiah, tell of a new king in Babylon acting kindly toward the captured King Jehoiachin of Judah. It was a hint of the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy that Judah would one day return to her land and be restored. Babylon's king, Nebuchadnezzar, who had acted so harshly toward Judah, was no longer on the throne. He was succeeded by Evil-merodach who took a more relaxed stance toward the Judean captives. This kindness toward King Jehoiachin gave hope to the exiles that God’s promised blessing and restoration would come.

    God has created us all and gives us the freedom to make our own choices. But God, who is sovereign and who knows what our choices will be, interweaves all of our  actions to the serving of His purposes.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reflections on Jeremiah 51

    Jeremiah 51 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I, the LORD, am sending a wind to destroy the people of Babylonia and Babylon, its capital.
  2. Foreign soldiers will come from every direction, and when the disaster is over, Babylonia will be empty and worthless.
  3. I will tell these soldiers, "Attack quickly, before the Babylonians can string their bows or put on their armor. Kill their best soldiers and destroy their army!"
  4. Their troops will fall wounded in the streets of Babylon.
  5. Everyone in Israel and Judah is guilty. But I, the LORD All-Powerful, their holy God, have not abandoned them.
  6. Get out of Babylon! Run for your lives! If you stay, you will be killed when I take revenge on the city and punish it for its sins.
  7. Babylon was my golden cup, filled with the wine of my anger. The nations of the world got drunk on this wine and went insane.
  8. But suddenly, Babylon will fall and be destroyed. I, the LORD, told the foreigners who lived there, "Weep for the city! Get medicine for its wounds; maybe they will heal."
  9. The foreigners answered, "We have already tried to treat Babylon's wounds, but they would not heal. Come on, let's all go home to our own countries. Nothing is left in Babylonia; everything is destroyed."
  10. The people of Israel said, "Tell everyone in Zion! The LORD has taken revenge for what Babylon did to us."
  11. I, the LORD, want Babylon destroyed, because its army destroyed my temple. So, you kings of Media, sharpen your arrows and pick up your shields.
  12. Raise the signal flag and attack the city walls. Post more guards. Have soldiers watch the city and set up ambushes. I have made plans to destroy Babylon, and nothing will stop me.
  13. People of Babylon, you live along the Euphrates River and are surrounded by canals. You are rich, but now the time has come for you to die.
  14. I, the LORD All-Powerful, swear by my own life that enemy soldiers will fill your streets like a swarm of locusts. They will shout and celebrate their victory.
  15. God used his wisdom and power to create the earth and spread out the heavens.
  16. The waters in the heavens roar at his command. He makes clouds appear; he sends the wind from his storehouse and makes lightning flash in the rain.
  17. People who make idols are stupid! They will be disappointed, because their false gods cannot breathe.
  18. Idols are merely a joke, and when the time is right, they will be destroyed.
  19. But the LORD, Israel's God, is all-powerful. He created everything, and he chose Israel to be his very own.
  20. Babylonia, you were my hammer; I used you to pound nations and break kingdoms,
  21. to shatter cavalry and chariots,
  22. as well as men and women, young and old,
  23. shepherds and their flocks, farmers and their oxen, and governors and leaders.
  24. But now, my people will watch, while I repay you for what you did to Zion.
  25. You destroyed the nations and seem strong as a mountain, but I am your enemy. I might even grab you and roll you off a cliff. When I am finished, you'll only be a pile of scorched bricks.
  26. Your stone blocks won't be reused for cornerstones or foundations, and I promise that forever you will be a desert. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  27. Signal the nations to get ready to attack. Raise a flag and blow a trumpet. Send for the armies of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz. Choose a commander; let the cavalry attack like a swarm of locusts.
  28. Tell the kings and governors, the leaders and the people of the kingdoms of the Medes to prepare for war!
  29. The earth twists and turns in torment, because I have decided to make Babylonia a desert where no one can live, and I won't change my mind.
  30. The Babylonian soldiers have lost their strength and courage. They stay in their fortresses, unable to fight, while the enemy breaks through the city gates, then sets their homes on fire.
  31. One messenger after another announces to the king, "Babylon has been captured!
  32. The enemy now controls the river crossings! The marshes are on fire! Your army has panicked!"
  33. I am the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, and I make this promise-- "Soon Babylon will be leveled and packed down like a threshing place at harvest time."
  34. The people of Jerusalem say, "King Nebuchadnezzar made us panic. That monster stuffed himself with us and our treasures, leaving us empty-- he gobbled down what he wanted and spit out the rest.
  35. The people of Babylonia harmed some of us and killed others. Now, LORD, make them pay!"
  36. My people, I am on your side, and I will take revenge on Babylon. I will cut off its water supply, and its stream will dry up.
  37. Babylon will be a pile of rubble where only jackals live. People will laugh, but they will be afraid to walk among the ruins.
  38. The Babylonians roar and growl like young lions.
  39. And since they are hungry, I will give them a banquet. They will celebrate, get drunk, then fall asleep, never to wake up!
  40. I will lead them away to die, like sheep, lambs, and goats being led to the butcher.
  41. All nations now praise Babylon, but when it is captured, those same nations will be horrified.
  42. Babylon's enemies will rise like ocean waves and flood the city.
  43. Horrible destruction will strike the nearby towns. The land will become a barren desert, where no one can live or even travel.
  44. I will punish Marduk, the god of Babylon, and make him vomit up everything he gobbled down. Then nations will no longer bring him gifts, and Babylon's walls will crumble.
  45. Get out of Babylon, my people, and run for your lives, before I strike the city in my anger!
  46. Don't be afraid or lose hope, though year after year there are rumors of leaders fighting for control in the city of Babylon.
  47. The time will come when I will punish Babylon's false gods. Everyone there will die, and the whole nation will be disgraced,
  48. when an army attacks from the north and brings destruction. Then the earth and the heavens and everything in them will celebrate.
  49. Babylon must be overthrown, because it slaughtered the people of Israel and of many other nations.
  50. My people, you escaped death when Jerusalem fell. Now you live far from home, but you should trust me and think about Jerusalem. Leave Babylon! Don't stay!
  51. You feel ashamed and disgraced, because foreigners have entered my sacred temple.
  52. Soon I will send a war to punish Babylon's idols and leave its wounded people moaning everywhere.
  53. Although Babylon's walls reach to the sky, the army I send will destroy that city. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  54. Listen to the cries for help coming from Babylon. Everywhere in the country the sounds of destruction can be heard.
  55. The shouts of the enemy, like crashing ocean waves, will drown out Babylon's cries as I level the city.
  56. An enemy will attack and destroy Babylon. Its soldiers will be captured and their weapons broken, because I am a God who takes revenge against nations for what they do.
  57. I, the LORD All-Powerful, the true King, promise that the officials and advisors, the governors and leaders and the soldiers of Babylon will get drunk, fall asleep, and never wake up.
  58. The thick walls of that city will be torn down, and its huge gates burned. Everything that nation worked so hard to gain will go up in smoke.
  59. During Zedekiah's fourth year as king of Judah, he went to Babylon. And Baruch's brother Seraiah went along as the officer in charge of arranging for places to stay overnight.
  60. Before they left, I wrote on a scroll all the terrible things that would happen to Babylon.
  61. I gave the scroll to Seraiah and said: When you get to Babylon, read this scroll aloud,
  62. then pray, "Our LORD, you promised to destroy this place and make it into a desert where no people or animals will ever live."
  63. When you finish praying, tie the scroll to a rock and throw it in the Euphrates River. Then say,
  64. "This is how Babylon will sink when the LORD destroys it. Everyone in the city will die, and it won't have the strength to rise again." Jeremiah's writing ends here.

    Babylon had served as "a golden cup in the LORD's hand making the whole earth drunk." (51:7) The nations of the earth at that time had drunk of God's judgment at the hands of Babylon's warriors. But the time had come for Babylon to drink of that same judgment. Judah was one of those nations that had drunk God's judgment through Babylon and her people had been scattered throughout Babylon and other places. This announcement of Babylon's destruction was to also serve as a notice for Judah to "Abandon her! Let each of us go to his own land, for her judgment extends to the sky and reaches as far as the clouds." (51:9) Babylon's destruction was to be extensive and Judah should abandon the country and go to her own land to avoid this destruction.

    Two reasons are given in this chapter for God's judgment against Babylon. The First is her treatment of "the inhabitant of Zion," in other words, Babylon's destruction of Jerusalem and its people. In verses 34-36, the inhabitants of Zion make an appeal to God for justice to be done to "Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon" who had "devoured me; he has crushed me." (51:34) God promised to plead the case of these inhabitants of Zion and "take vengeance on (their) behalf." (51:36) A second reason for God's judgment against Babylon given in this chapter is her worship of Bel. God says, "I will punish Bel in Babylon. I will make him vomit what he swallowed." (51:44) This speaks of Babylon's god vomiting up the wealth he swallowed at the destruction of Judah and the other nations. Furthermore, God says of Babylon, "Everyone is stupid and ignorant. Every goldsmith is put to shame by his carved image, for his cast images are a lie; there is no breath in them. They are worthless, a work to be mocked. At the time of their punishment they will be destroyed." (51:17-18)

    As mentioned in an earlier reflection, the destruction of Babylon described in chapters 50-51 is yet future, possibly intended for the period leading up to the millenial reign of Christ. The description of this chapter contrasts Babylon with God's people whom He will vindicate. Might it be that at the future time these events occur Babylon will be representative of all who are against God and His people and God's people will include not just the Jews, but all who are His through Christ?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Reflections on Jeremiah 50

    Jeremiah 50 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. * The LORD told me to say: Announce what will happen and don't leave anything out.
  2. Raise the signal flags; shout so all nations can hear-- Babylon will be captured! Marduk, Babylon's god, will be ashamed and terrified, and his idols broken.
  3. The attack on the Babylonians will come from the north; they and their animals will run, leaving the land empty.
  4. The LORD said: People of Israel and Judah, when these things happen you will weep, and together you will return to your land and worship me, the LORD your God.
  5. You will ask the way to Zion and then come and join with me in making an agreement you won't break or forget.
  6. My people, you are lost sheep abandoned by their shepherds in the mountains. You don't even remember your resting place.
  7. I am your true pastureland, the one who gave hope to your ancestors. But you abandoned me, so when your enemies found you, they felt no guilt as they gobbled you down.
  8. Escape from Babylonia, my people. Get out of that country! Don't wait for anyone else.
  9. In the north I am bringing great nations together. They will attack Babylon and capture it. The arrows they shoot are like the best soldiers, always finding their target.
  10. Babylonia will be conquered, and its enemies will carry off everything they want.
  11. People of Babylonia, you were glad to rob my people. You had a good time, making more noise than horses and jumping around like calves threshing grain.
  12. The city of Babylon was like a mother to you. But it will be disgraced and become nothing but a barren desert.
  13. My anger will destroy Babylon, and no one will live there. Everyone who passes by will be shocked to see what has happened.
  14. Babylon has rebelled against me. Archers, take your places. Shoot all your arrows at Babylon.
  15. Attack from every side! Babylon surrenders! The enemy tears down its walls and towers. I am taking my revenge by doing to Babylon what it did to other cities.
  16. There is no one in Babylonia to plant or harvest crops. Even foreigners who lived there have left for their homelands, afraid of the enemy armies.
  17. Israel is a flock of sheep scattered by hungry lions. The king of Assyria first gobbled Israel down. Then Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonia, crunched on Israel's bones.
  18. I, the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, punished the king of Assyria, and I will also punish the king of Babylonia.
  19. But I will bring Israel back to its own land. The people will be like sheep eating their fill on Mount Carmel and in Bashan, in the hill country of Ephraim and in Gilead.
  20. I will rescue a few people from Israel and Judah. I will forgive them so completely that their sin and guilt will disappear, never to be found.
  21. The LORD said: I have told the enemies of Babylonia, "Attack the people of Merathaim and Pekod. Kill them all! Destroy their possessions!"
  22. Sounds of war and the noise of destruction can be heard.
  23. Babylonia was a hammer pounding every country, but now it lies broken. What a shock to the nations of the world!
  24. Babylonia challenged me, the LORD God All-Powerful, but that nation doesn't know it is caught in a trap that I set.
  25. I've brought out my weapons, and with them I will put a curse on Babylonia.
  26. Come from far away, you enemies of Babylon! Pile up the grain from its storehouses, and destroy it completely, along with everything else.
  27. Kill the soldiers of Babylonia, because the time has come for them to be punished.
  28. The Babylonian army destroyed my temple, but soon I will take revenge. Then refugees from Babylon will tell about it in Zion.
  29. Attack Babylon, enemy archers; set up camp around the city, and don't let anyone escape. It challenged me, the holy God, so do to it what it did to other cities.
  30. People of Babylon, I, the LORD, promise that even your best soldiers will lie dead in the streets.
  31. Babylon, you should be named, "The Proud One." But the time has come when I, the LORD All-Powerful, will punish you.
  32. You are proud, but you will stumble and fall, and no one will help you up. I will set your villages on fire, and everything around you will go up in flames.
  33. You Babylonians were cruel to Israel and Judah. You took them captive, and now you refuse to let them go.
  34. But I, the LORD All-Powerful, will rescue and protect them. I will bring peace to their land and trouble to yours.
  35. I have declared war on you, your officials, and advisors.
  36. This war will prove that your prophets are liars and fools. And it will frighten your warriors.
  37. Then your chariot horses and the foreigners in your army will refuse to go into battle, and the enemy will carry away everything you treasure.
  38. Your rivers and canals will dry up. All of this will happen, because your land is full of idols, and they have made fools of you.
  39. Never again will people live in your land-- only desert animals, jackals, and unclean birds.
  40. I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and the nearby towns, and I will destroy Babylon just as completely. No one will live there again.
  41. Far to the north, a nation and its allies have been awakened. They are powerful and ready for war.
  42. Bows and arrows and swords are in their hands. The soldiers are cruel and show no pity. The hoofbeats of their horses echo like ocean waves crashing against the shore. The army has lined up for battle and is coming to attack you, people of Babylonia!
  43. Ever since your king heard about this army, he has been weak with fear; he twists and turns in pain like a woman giving birth.
  44. Babylonia, I will attack you like a lion from the forest, attacking sheep in a meadow along the Jordan. In a moment the flock runs, and the land is empty. Who will I choose to attack you? I will do it myself! No one can force me to fight or chase me away.
  45. Listen to my plans for you, people of Babylonia. Your children will be dragged off, and your country destroyed.
  46. The sounds of your destruction will be heard among the nations, and the earth will shake.

    In the previous four chapters Jeremiah prophecied against 8 other nations neighboring Judah. God's instrument of destruction upon theses nations was the nation of Babylon. Now comes the prophecy against Babylon. Her role as God's instrument of judgment was not one of innocence. She was unwittingly being used of God who took advantage of her thirst for conquest to serve His purposes. Babylon was merciless in her destruction of those she conquered and after conquering Judah and taking the people captive to Babylon had no plan of returning them to their homeland. God stepped in to free His people and to judge Babylon.

    Though the prophecies of this chapter are thought by some to have been fulfilled with the attack upon Babylon by the Persians, at the time of Daniel's exile in Babylon, many details of this chapter do not fit those events. For instance, this chapter repeatedly refers to Babylon being left uninhabited as a result of the "nation from the north." For instance, verse 3: "For a nation from the north will come against her; it will make her land desolate. No one will be living in it--both man and beast will escape." Persia was not to the north of Babylon nor did her defeat of Babylon leave the nation desolate and uninhabited. It would seem that the prophecies of this chapter are yet unfulfilled. Or, as some suggest, that these prophecies are a mixture of near future and far future events, some of which have been fulfilled and others that have not.

    The main point of the chapter, though, is that Babylon's judgment is coming, and with it she will experience the fear and the destruction of the nations she conquered. This nation, or the allied forces of multiple nations from the north, will cause Babylon to tremble in fear and will be as merciless in its destruction of Babylon as was Babylon with the nations she destroyed. As Babylon was God's instrument of judgment against the other nations, so will this nation or nations from the north be His instrument of judgment against Babylon - "Look, I am against you, you arrogant one--this is the declaration of the Lord GOD of Hosts--because your day has come, the time when I will punish you." (50:31)

    Parallel with the destruction of Babylon is the restoration of Israel. As with the destruction of Babylon described here, this restoration does not seem to coincide with Persia's conquering of Babylon during the time of Daniel or of Nehemiah's restoration of the walls of Jerusalem. The extent of Israel's restoration and return to the Lord is a strong indication that the timing of these events is yet future. Another indicator is the statement "In those days and at that time," which is often a reference to the Millenial period, and that is the period in which these events seem to be aimed, both for Israel and for Babylon.

    God allows man full freedom to choose his course, but man's destiny is in God's hands.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Reflections on Jeremiah 48

    Jeremiah 48 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, told me to say to the nation of Moab: The town of Nebo is doomed; Kiriathaim will be captured and disgraced, and even its fortress will be left in ruins.
  2. No one honors you, Moab. In Heshbon, enemies make plans to end your life. My sword will leave only silence in your town named "Quiet."
  3. The people of Horonaim will cry for help, as their town is attacked and destroyed.
  4. Moab will be shattered! Your children will sob
  5. and cry on their way up to the town of Luhith; on the road to Horonaim they will tell of disasters.
  6. Run for your lives! Head into the desert like a wild donkey.
  7. You thought you could be saved by your power and wealth, but you will be captured along with your god Chemosh, his priests, and officials.
  8. Not one of your towns will escape destruction. I have told your enemies, "Wipe out the valley and the flatlands of Moab.
  9. Spread salt on the ground to kill the crops. Leave its towns in ruins, with no one living there.
  10. I want you to kill the Moabites, and if you let them escape, I will put a curse on you."
  11. Moab, you are like wine left to settle undisturbed, never poured from jar to jar. And so, your nation continues to prosper and improve.
  12. But now, I will send enemies to pour out the wine and smash the jars!
  13. Then you will be ashamed, because your god Chemosh cannot save you, just as Bethel could not help the Israelites.
  14. You claim that your soldiers are strong and brave.
  15. But I am the LORD, the all-powerful King, and I promise that enemies will overpower your towns. Even your best warriors will die in the battle.
  16. It won't be long now-- disaster will hit Moab!
  17. I will order the nearby nations to mourn for you and say, "Isn't it sad? Moab ruled others, but now its glorious power has been shattered."
  18. People in the town of Dibon, you will be honored no more, so have a seat in the dust. Your walls will be torn down when the enemies attack.
  19. You people of Aroer, go wait beside the road, and when refugees run by, ask them, "What happened?"
  20. They will answer, "Moab has been defeated! Weep with us in shame. Tell everyone at the Arnon River that Moab is destroyed." *
  21. I will punish every town that belongs to Moab, but especially Holon, Jahzah, Mephaath,
  22. Dibon, Nebo, Beth-Diblathaim,
  23. Kiriathaim, Beth-Gamul, Beth-Meon,
  24. Kerioth, and Bozrah.
  25. My decision is final-- your army will be crushed, and your power broken.
  26. People of Moab, you claim to be stronger than I am. Now I will tell other nations to make you drunk and to laugh while you collapse in your own vomit.
  27. You made fun of my people and treated them like criminals caught in the act.
  28. Now you must leave your towns and live like doves in the shelter of cliffs and canyons.
  29. I know about your pride, and how you strut and boast.
  30. But I also know bragging will never save you.
  31. So I will cry and mourn for Moab and its town of Kir-Heres.
  32. People of Sibmah, you were like a vineyard heavy with grapes, and with branches reaching north to the town of Jazer and west to the Dead Sea. But you have been destroyed, and so I will weep for you, as the people of Jazer weep for the vineyards.
  33. Harvest celebrations are gone from the orchards and farms of Moab. There are no happy shouts from people making wine.
  34. Weeping from Heshbon can be heard as far as Elealeh and Jahaz; cries from Zoar are heard in Horonaim and Eglath-Shelishiyah. And Nimrim Creek has run dry.
  35. I will get rid of anyone who burns incense to the gods of Moab or offers sacrifices at their shrines. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  36. In my heart I moan for Moab, like a funeral song played on a flute. I mourn for the people of the town of Kir-Heres, because their wealth is gone. *
  37. The people of Moab mourn on the rooftops and in the streets. Men cut off their beards, people shave their heads; they make cuts on their hands and wear sackcloth.
  38. And it's all because I, the LORD, have shattered Moab like a jar that no one wants.
  39. Moab lies broken! Listen to its people cry as they turn away in shame. Other nations are horrified at what happened, but still they laugh.
  40. Moab, an enemy swoops down like an eagle spreading its wings over your land.
  41. Your cities and fortresses will be captured, and your warriors gripped by fear.
  42. You are finished as a nation, because you dared oppose me, the LORD.
  43. Terror, pits, and traps are waiting for you.
  44. If you are terrified and run, you will fall into a pit; and if you crawl out of the pit, you'll get caught in a trap. The time has come for you to be punished.
  45. Near the city of Heshbon, where Sihon once ruled, tired refugees stand in shadows cast by the flames of their burning city. Soon, the towns on other hilltops, where those warlike people live, will also go up in smoke.
  46. People of Moab, you worshiped Chemosh, your god, but now you are done for, and your children are prisoners in a foreign country.
  47. Yet someday, I will bring your people back home. I, the LORD, have spoken.

    Moab was next in line for destruction. Jeremiah's prophecies against the heathen nations surrounding Israel began in chapter 46 with Egypt, then included Philistia, and now we have Moab. We all are held accountable for the choice we make concerning our Creator, choosing to acknowledge Him in our lives, to worship Him, and to live by His teaching and guidance, or choosing to do otherwise.

    Choosing to do otherwise was the primary indictment against Moab. Adding further insult against God, their Creator, Moab credited His work of creation and other attributes to the god Chemosh. Thus, "Moab will be put to shame because of Chemosh." (48:13) But this supposed god would be proven impotent in God's action of destruction against Moab when Chemosh is taken into exile along with the Moabites. (48:7) Moab didn't stop at turning its back on God and crediting His work to Chemosh, she also displayed a contempt for God, demonstrated in her contempt for His people the Israelites. A further charge against Moab was the confidence she placed in her works and riches, "Because you trust in your works and treasures, you will be captured also." (48:7) This is not unlike placing one's trust in an idol. In either case, the trust that should be placed in God for one's wellbeing is instead placed in things that have no capacity to do what God can do. Though treasures or wealth can provide some benefit to a person, it is a limited benefit and is subject to loss.

    The people of Moab, as with those of the other nations named in Jeremiah's prophecies, will not escape the coming destruction. The saying, "you can run, but you cannot hide," applies to the Moabites in this situation. Those who try to flee the coming destruction will fall in a pit, and though they might climb out of the pit they will be captured in a trap. (48:44) There is no escape. But in a closing word of hope, God promises to "restore the fortunes of Moab in the last days." As with God's promises to fully restore Israel, this is yet future.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reflections on Jeremiah 47

    Jeremiah 47 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Before the king of Egypt attacked the town of Gaza, the LORD told me to say to the Philistines:
  2. I, the LORD, tell you that your land will be flooded with an army from the north. It will destroy your towns and sweep you away, moaning and screaming.
  3. When you hear the thunder of horses and chariots, your courage will vanish, and parents will abandon their own children.
  4. You refugees from Crete, your time has now come, and I will destroy you. None of you will be left to help the cities of Tyre and Sidon. *
  5. The Anakim who survive in Gaza and Ashkelon will mourn for you by shaving their heads and sitting in silence.
  6. You ask how long will I continue to attack you with my sword, then you tell me to put it away and leave you alone.
  7. But how can my sword rest, when I have commanded it to attack Ashkelon and the seacoast?

    Though various historical accounts record the events given in this chapter, they miss the true cause behind them as provided in 47:6-7 - the sword of the Lord. Following Jeremiah's prophecy against Egypt comes his prophecy against the Philistines. Though the fate of Philistia was brought about by Nebuchadnezzar ever-reaching conquests in the expansion of his borders, the true force behind it is the hand of the Lord. The Lord was wielding His sword through Nebuchadnezzar.  Though Nebuchadnezzar was a religious man, he did not worship Jehovah God, and thus was not His intentional servant.

    Philistia was caught in the middle of the struggle between Babylon and Egypt, as Egypt met the Babylonian forces on Philistine soil. The invasion by the Babylonians was likened to an overflowing wadi that flooded the land, destroying everything in its path. As they flooded the land of the Philistines, the onrush of the Babylonian force would be so swift and overpowering that Philistine fathers "will not turn back for their sons, because they will be utterly helpless." (47:3) The picture is given of a rushing flash flood that comes so quickly fathers are unable to turn back to save their sons, and must flee quickly to even save themselves.

    Let us not misunderstand, though. The fall of the Philistines was the result of God's judgment against them and not merely a victory in the Babylonian conquest. With the destruction of Philistia, the "sword of the Lord" was not silenced. It remained "restless" as we will see in the following chapters.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Reflections on Jeremiah 46

    Jeremiah 46 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD often told me what to say about the different nations of the world.
  2. In the fourth year that Jehoiakim was king of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia defeated King Neco of Egypt in a battle at the city of Carchemish near the Euphrates River. And here is what the LORD told me to say about the Egyptian army:
  3. It's time to go into battle! So grab your shields,
  4. saddle your horses, and polish your spears. Put on your helmets and armor, then take your positions.
  5. I can see the battle now-- you are defeated and running away, never once looking back. Terror is all around.
  6. You are strong and run fast, but you can't escape. You fall in battle near the Euphrates River.
  7. What nation is this, that rises like the Nile River overflowing its banks?
  8. It is Egypt, rising with a roar like a raging river and saying, "I'll flood the earth, destroying cities, and killing everyone in them."
  9. Go ahead, Egypt. Tell your chariots and cavalry to attack and fight hard. Order your troops to march out, with Ethiopians and Libyans carrying shields, and the Lydians armed with bows and arrows.
  10. But the LORD All-Powerful will win this battle and take revenge on his enemies. His sword will eat them and drink their blood until it is full. They will be killed in the north near the Euphrates River, as a sacrifice to the LORD.
  11. Egypt, no medicine can heal you, not even the soothing lotion from Gilead.
  12. All nations have heard you weep; you are disgraced, and they know it. Your troops fall to the ground, stumbling over each other.
  13. When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia was on his way to attack Egypt, the LORD sent me with a warning for every Egyptian town, but especially for Migdol, Memphis, and Tahpanhes. He said to tell them: Prepare to defend yourselves! Everywhere in your nation, people are dying in war.
  14. (SEE 46:13)
  15. I have struck down your mighty god Apis and chased him away.
  16. Your soldiers stumble over each other and say, "Get up! The enemy will kill us, unless we can escape to our own land."
  17. Give the king of Egypt this new name, "Talks-Big-Does-Nothing."
  18. Egypt, I am the true king, the LORD All-Powerful, and as surely as I live, those enemies who attack will tower over you like Mount Tabor among the hills or Mount Carmel by the sea.
  19. You will be led away captive, so pack a few things to bring with you. Your capital, Memphis, will lie empty and in ruins.
  20. An enemy from the north will attack you, beautiful Egypt, like a fly biting a cow.
  21. The foreign soldiers you hired will turn and run. But they are doomed, like well-fed calves being led to the butcher. *
  22. The enemy army will go forward like a swarm of locusts. Your troops will feel helpless, like a snake in a forest
  23. when men with axes start chopping down trees. It can only hiss and try to escape.
  24. Your people will be disgraced and captured by the enemy from the north.
  25. I am the LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel. Soon I will punish the god Amon of Thebes and the other Egyptian gods, the Egyptian kings, the people of Egypt, and everyone who trusts in the Egyptian power.
  26. I will hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar and his army. But I also promise that Egypt will someday have people living here again, just as it had before. I, the LORD, have spoken.
  27. Israel, don't be afraid. Someday I will bring you home from foreign lands. You and your descendants will live in peace and safety, with nothing to fear.
  28. So don't be afraid, even though now you deserve to be punished and have been scattered among other nations. But when I destroy them, I will protect you. I, the LORD, have spoken.

    Israel was God's covenant people who covenanted to follow God and be faithful to Him, and in return He covenanted to bless them. This covenant remained even after Israel split into two nations: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. It is not surprising that God would punish His covenant people when they were unfaithful to His covenant with them, as both Israel and Judah were. Neither should it be surprising that He would judge other nations as well for their evil and for going after other gods. Regardless of a people's relationship to God, He is the creator of us all. He is the only true God over all that exists. Our failure to acknowledge this reality and to adhere to the practices He established for His creation are bound to bring consequences. This book of Jeremiah has, to this point, been about God's judgment on Judah. Chapters 46-51 will address God's judgment of Judah's neighboring nations: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Arabia, Elam, and Babylon. Babylon will be used by God to bring His judgment on most of these nations, as He did with Judah, but Babylon will not escape the consequences of her actions any more than will the other nations.

    This chapter addresses the coming destruction of Egypt at the hands of Babylon. Most of the Judeans who escaped death and exile when Babylon overtook Judah went to Egypt, against God's instructions to them. There they met the fate at the hands of the Babylonians they had escaped in Judah. As for Egypt, Pharaoh, Egypt's king, envisioned himself a conqueror, amassing an army that included mercenaries from other countries. The nation was likened to the churning waters of the Nile as it attempted to churn and flow to "cover the earth." (46:8) But God had other plans for Egypt. Though she amassed her army of mercenaries against Babylon, her army turned and retreated in terror at the swift charge of the Babylonian army. In its terror, the Egyptian army stumbled and fell over each other, blocking their own warriors from retreat. Even the swift could not escape, blocked in their escape by their fellow soldiers. In Pharoah's prideful plans for conquest, he did not take into account God's involvement. As Jeremiah proclaimed, "That day belongs to the Lord, the GOD of Hosts, a day of vengeance to avenge Himself against His adversaries." (46:10) It was not the Babylonians with whom Pharoah should have been concerned. It was the Lord to Whom he needed to give his attention.

    It is no different for any of us. When we leave God out of our lives and our plans, we have left out the most important consideration. Though our plans made apart from God may appear to succeed for a time, they will eventually fall apart as did those of Egypt. As successful as was Babylon in her conquests at that time, her plans also fell apart.