At least Jeremiah's message is consistent. He once again tells the king that the land will be taken over, the Babylonians will see the king eye to eye and they will take him off in exile along with the rest of the population. This is what he has consistently told the king. The king will see the invaders, he will meet the invaders, and the invaders will take him off away from the land. But today he adds another element to this prophecy.
He tells the king that not only will he meet his captors, but that he will not die as a result of the exile, but that he will live a long normal life and at the end of his life he will not die a scandalous death, but rather one of honor. Even spices will be burned in memory of him. So, now that we have that out of the way, we have a problem. Vs.8 begins a very different story from what we have heard so far.
So, the year of jubilee is a year when all the debts were supposed to be forgiven and all the slaves set free. This was supposed to happen every 7 years. Well, they set the slaves free, they were actually Hebrew slaves and the Scripture calls them neighbors and brothers and sisters, but then they backtracked and made them slaves once again. God was furious with this. You can't just do what I want when you think I am looking and then go back and redo everything again. It just added to the sins of the people. While in the past you could look at your ancestors and see how they had been unfaithful, you are exactly like them. You are equally, if not even more, unfaithful to me as they were.
Jeremiah finds himself again in captivity by the king of Judah. The king is trying to limit the damage of Jeremiah's words by keeping him under lock and key as the siege of the Chaldeans takes place. If you look at the previous chapter you will see in vs. 2 that as the king of Babylon was besieging the city of Jerusalem Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard. His own king puts him in prison even while the words that he is prophesying are coming true.
Today, as he is confined in the court of the guard, in this chapter he hears the Word of the Lord and God tells Jeremiah: "Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known." He again tells Jeremiah that the conquest will be complete. The reason it will be complete is because God has: "hidden my face from this city because of all their wickedness." But then he quickly transitions to a declaration that the fortunes will be restored.
Again, I see a parallel as he tells the people that in the streets of Jerusalem one day..."that are desolate, without inhabitants, human or animal, there shall once more be heard the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord."
I can't wait until the 18th of October. I so look forward to worshiping the Lord together in person and experiencing that return that is somewhat mentioned here in Jeremiah.
We find ourselves with another object lesson that God has told Jeremiah to take part in. First of all, the chapter begins with Jeremiah being called into the office of the principal. Zedekiah, the king of Judah, calls Jeremiah into the office and says: Why is everybody always picking on me?
Okay, that's not exactly how it went, but Zedekiah did ask Jeremiah why he was prophesying destruction against the land and specifically against the king himself. Jeremiah explains.
I really didn't want to do it, and I was looking for an opportunity to prophesy something different, but then the Word of the Lord came to me. This is an object lesson. Buy a field from your cousin and finish the deed. I know that the Chaldeans own the land, but by you buying this land then you will show to all that what you have said so far will come true. The Babylonians will take us all into captivity. But then the day will come, not soon, but it will come, when we will come back and inherit the land again. Look at vs.42. This is the basic gist of this chapter: "Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good fortune that I now promise them." Can we apply this to our current situation?
I was almost overwhelmed with points of contact and parallel as I read this chapter. There is a wonderful promise that the people will come back and inherit the land that had been abandoned. I can't help but think of the sanctuary that has been "abandoned" and is now ready to be inhabited, safely. Look at vs.10 and I sense a commonality as I read: "He who scattered FPC will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock."
Look at vs.7 and we see that the Lord is commanding his people to sing aloud with gladness. We read the words: "Save, O Lord, your people." These words, save, O Lord, in the Hebrew is literally Hosanna. They are the same words that we hear the people proclaim as they welcome Jesus into Jerusalem which propels him then in a few days to the cross. But it is on that cross where we find the culmination of what Jeremiah mentions later in this chapter beginning in vs.31.
In this chapter and starting at vs.31 we read about the new covenant that God will establish with His people and it is a covenant that is not written on stone like the 10 commandments, but it is written on our hearts. He will be our God and we will be God's people, and not as a result of us being reminded that we have to do the right thing but rather because God has placed in our hearts and in our lives his presence. The promise that we find in this covenant is that: "I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more." This is why we do what we do, because we are celebrating the fact that our sin has been forgiven and washed clean forever.
Keep in mind that this is being foretold from of old. The coming of Jesus in our hearts is being told by Jeremiah to a people who are living in captivity and bondage and are in desperate need of hearing words of hope. They were not able to worship God in the Temple, because they were in exile, so God allows us to remember that we can worship God in the family called the church which is found all over the world. We now are not able to worship in the church building, but that has not, and it should not ever, prevent us from worshiping God in person wherever we find ourselves, until that day when we can worship together in this building that we call a sanctuary with the people that we call the church.
There is a bit of a graphic image of men holding their "loins" as if they were women in labor that makes our "face turn pale". The question that is asked is: "Can a man bear a child?" There is so much distress in Babylon as people are in captivity that men are acting in ways that has never been seen before. But look at vs.8 and you see the promise of God comes as he says that he will break that yoke from off the neck of the Israelites. Remember the yoke that Jeremiah was wearing which was wooden but then was broken by the false priests and God replaced it with an iron one? He promises that this one shall also be broken and that even the Babylonians will serve God.
The rest of this chapter is one of assurance that even while there is pain in the evening, joy shall come in the morning. The restoration of the fortunes of Jacob is going to be coming, we hear in vs.18. I think I hear a little bit of a promise for us as we look forward to worshiping in person on October 18. Can these words apply to us as well? "Out of them shall come thanksgiving, and the sound of merrymaking. I will make them many, and they shall not be few. Their children shall be as of old, their congregation shall be established before me. You shall be my people and I will be your God." What a wonderfully assuring Scripture this is.
Jeremiah is given a message by God to speak to the people who are in exile. He tells them to basically get used to your surroundings. Do not pay attention to any priest or anyone who says that they come in the name of the Lord and then tells you that pretty soon this time of captivity where Babylon is your master and you are the slave, is going to be over. Rather, go ahead and build strong houses and gardens and plan on having kids and probably grandkids, and you will need to prepare a tombstone and just basically make this place your home. Also, say nice things about the people who are in power, even if you are their slaves. He says in vs.7: "Seek the welfare of the city."
Keep in mind this is the city in which they are currently living which is a strange and foreign city in a strange and foreign land. They are in Babylon and Jeremiah tells them that they are going to be there for at least another 70 years. As you would imagine the priests who were puppets back in Jerusalem hear about this and are furious because they think the time will pass quickly and want Jeremiah to be quiet about what he is saying. What gives him the right to preach doom and gloom?
Jeremiah has an adversary in the priestly ranks and that is Shemaiah of Nehelam who has prophesied that Jeremiah is a madman whose words should not be taken seriously. He has told the high priest, Zephaniah, to rebuke Jeremiah. Jeremiah, on his account, tells the high priest that God just told him that this Shemaiah and his descendants shall not have anyone living among his people. They will all die because he has lied that this time in Babylon will be short. It will not be short. Make yourself comfortable.
Now, the most popular words in this chapter are seen in vs.11 where we read: "For surely I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." Notice that they currently were in a position where their only future was on that was incredibly bleak. There was no hope as they were exiles. But God promises that their future will be one of hope.
Nothing like a little competition to grab your interest. Jeremiah is not the only prophet who was under the king's court, but it seems like he was the only prophet who was speaking the words of the Lord. Remember, Jeremiah's latest metaphor is the wooden yoke that he is carrying around Jerusalem to remind the people of Judah and the leaders of Judah that they are to succumb and yield to the king of Babylon and let him have his way.
Well along comes Hananiah who physically takes the yoke from the shoulders of Jeremiah and breaks it and says the word of the Lord came to me and said that in two years the king of Babylon will fall so rise up and turn against the king and God will be on your side. He will return the exiled king and make him rule over the land and he will return the ark of the covenant to the temple. Well, without his yoke Jeremiah turns away and walks away and is probably thinking, that certainly doesn't sound like what God told me. But this guy is a prophet of the king and so maybe, just maybe, God is going in a different direction.
In fact, God comes to Jeremiah again and tells him that in place of a wooden yoke God is now going to place an iron yoke that will not and cannot be broken. He speaks directly to Hananiah and calls him a liar for saying that he was speaking the words of the Lord. In fact, because he did that he would die within the year. That's how this chapter ends. Hananiah does end up dying before the end of the year. I guess Jeremiah won that battle. It does remind me of a bit of the battle between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. They also met their doom because they went against the Word of the Lord.
So, remember when Harrison Ford was looking for the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Well, this is our best guess as to where the ark ended up, in Babylon. We read in this chapter that all the instruments of the temple will be taken up to Babylon and then later one day returned. Well, it is thought that they made their way there, but they never returned. Look at vs. 18-22 where we see that some of the vessels of the temple had already gone, not all of them, but it is foretold that they would be going and then coming back.
We see another metaphor used in this chapter. The metaphor of the yoke where Jeremiah is told to give a very, very strange message to the surrounding countries. He was told to tell the surrounding countries, including Judah and Israel, that they should submit to Babylon as an ox submits to the yoke and that way they could remain in the land and not be destroyed. Can you imagine God telling his prophet that you need to allow a foreign country to come in and take you over and submit to them? In fact, it gets even worse. God calls the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, his "servant" in vs.6, and that he has given him not only all the land, but also all the wild animals as well.
But there is a bit of a silver lining. Look at vs.7: "All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave." Bide your time, for now allow him to rule and allow him to put you under this yoke. But the time will come when all of this will be reversed. If you fight it then it will only be worse for you and you will not survive to see the day when things are reversed. It is quite a message to give to the people of God. Let another nation take you over for that is God's will. Can you imagine that being the message today to the people of the US? Give up your land because it is God's will. Don't worry, you'll see a reversal soon enough. Yeah, I don't see that as being well received.
Jeremiah moves his setting from the king's palace, or at least from addressing the king and the people in the last chapter, to the temple gate. He spoke in public to all the people who were entering the temple and told them to repent or else God would strike them all down. He sounds a lot like John the Baptist who came preaching a Gospel of repentance. As a result of his speaking publicly in the temple all of the priests, the people, and the prophets of the king said that he should die. They all gathered around him in the temple looking to kill him.
As a result of this hub bub the king comes to hear what is going on. So now we move from the religious leaders condemning him to death to the political leader looking to see what the problem is. In front of the political leaders he tells them all the same story as before, but this time emphasizing that all that he is saying has been given to him by the Lord. Look at the change in heart that the people have in this chapter: vs.8 "all the people laid hold of him saying - 'You shall die!'" and then in vs. 16 "all the people said... 'This man does not deserve the sentence of death.'"
So what changed? A couple things. First of all he invoked the name of the Lord. Secondly, and for the first and only time in Scripture, we see another prophet invoked as someone who prophesied destruction and as a result turned the people and their hearts around back to the Lord. Look at Micah 3:12 and you see that this Scripture is quoted by the people as what changed the course of history and changed the relationship of God with God's people, at least in that day. But then we hear of another prophet who did exactly what Jeremiah did, preach against the city and the temple because of their unfaithfulness, who then fled from Egypt, was tracked down by the secret service and poisoned to death and died in Germany. Wait, no, that's Russia taking out their enemies of the state. But this prophet was tracked down, brought back from Egypt, and then killed by the current king Jehoiakim.
We see that Jeremiah is saved by a guy named Ahikam who had his back so he was saved.
We get a bit of biographical data in regards to when Jeremiah was ministering. We read, which we already knew from the beginning of this book of the Bible, that Jeremiah began in the 13th year of King Josiah and has served for 23 years since then all the way to the fourth year of King Jehoiakim, Josiah's son. So he had 19 years with Josiah and 4 years with Jehoiakim, which is when things started to go poorly. Josiah was an awesome king. Jehoiakim, not so much.
Today, this is the 4th year that he was with Jehoiakim, and he is giving a bit of a recap of why we find ourselves in this situation of deportation and exile. God said that if you would repent and turn away from the other gods then he would save you. Just like he saved Nineveh, do you not think that he would save you? (I added the whole Nineveh thing in there. But there is a stark parallel where we can see that God's word is true. If he says that He will save you if you repent, we have proof that he will save you even to a people who were so far removed from being "His" people in the Ninevites.
But since the people of God refused to turn away from their foreign gods then God was going to rain down destruction on them. "I will utterly destroy them." God always follows through. The object lesson that he uses is that of a cup of the wine of wrath. Jeremiah makes God's people drink from that cup because they were not faithful to God. As a result, what they thought would bring mirth actually brought destruction. Not a great image and not a great vision for us as we recognize that we also fall very short of the glory of God. But the difference for us is that we have one who even while we were yet sinners, died for us so that we would be saved in spite of our sin. Glory be to God for Jesus!