Even though this is a catch up day it seems as if James is not covered in any other location. James is one of those books that has some of the most powerful verses in all of Scripture. It is also a book of the Bible that Martin Luther, the great reformer, said that it was probably a mistake that this book of the Bible be included in the canon. One of the reasons why he said so is that he did not want people to believe theologically that one has to perform works in order to be justified. For all intents and purposes that is not what James states, but he does say that your faith ought to be reflected in your actions. That is pretty much common sense. You can't just say that you are a believer and not have the actions to back that up.
The prophet Jeremiah gives a series of oracles, or prophecies, agains the nations that had abused Judah. We see him speak against Ammon and Edom and Damascus. But then he starts to speak out against Babylon, and he doesn't stop.
As I was reading through this section it became clear what trauma the people of Israel had experienced that the total and complete destruction of Babylon was required. It made me think of what perspective would those who had been in slavery have for the nation that took them into slavery. I had to think of our own national history. Why do we expect people of color to move on with their lives and forget what happend to their ancestors when we have in Scripture a very clear indication that Jeremiah prophecied destruction for the nation that took his people into slavery.
It makes me wonder why some see our nation as blessed over other nations when we have been the Babylon that is reflected in Scripture that has taken captive the people of the Lord. I know, it was a hundreds of years ago, but the prophecies of Jeremiah speak to the nation as a whole and speak about its destruction. It should put us on guard.
In Proverbs we read something that appears in Romans as well. Look at Proverbs 25:21 - "If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on their heads, and the Lord will reward you." That should remind us of Romans 7:17-21.
We see the people of Judah choose to leave Jerusalem as it is begin burned down to the ground and go south to Egypt as opposed to being carted off by the Babylonians into exile. Jeremiah had warned them that this was not the plan. Do not choose to go into Egypt, but rather, allow the Babylonians to capture you. If you go into Egypt you will be slaughtered and killed for the Babylonians will conquer Egypt. If you allow yourself to be taken into exile, who knows, some day you may return, and if not you, then at least your progeny would return. They did not listen. They went to Egypt and took Jeremiah with them.
God then gives warning to the Philistines and those in Moab that God would bring down his wrath on them as well. They were, after all, people who did not follow the Lord and were content and smug in their status thinking that they were safe. They were not safe and God was about to show them how unsafe they were. Keep in mind Babylon is not an ally of the Lord, they do not worship the God of Israel. But even in that state God is still able to use them to carry out His purposes.
Psalm 56 is interesting especially if you pay attention to the prescript. There is a specific tune to which it ought to be sung and it describes a time in the life of David when he was seized by the Philistines in Gath. He asks for God to protect him. We know that God does absolutely protect him.
Babylon finally breaches the wall and enters the city. Once that happens a number of things take place. A remnant of the people flee toward Egypt even though Jeremiah had told them that those who go with the invading Babylonians will be saved. We see the assassination of Gedaliah who was put in power by the Babylonians. What that happens then all chaos breaks loose. There are those who stay in the land as placed there by the Babylonians. They are specified as the poor who had nothing before, and now are given land and the opporturtinity to plant and reap their own crops. That's a bonus.
There are some interesting events in Jeremiah's life that take place that remind us that he is in the midst of a war zone and that he is prophesying against his own nation. God will come and destroy Jerusalem is not a message that any ruler over Jerusalem wants to hear, but that is the message that he was given. Jeremiah begins with a message of restoration, and then a strange, but significant, reference to a nation that lives in tents.
These would be the Roma people, folks that are called pejoratively gypsies. They were commanded not to drink and to live in tents and to be nomads. In Jeremiah's day they continued to live in the way that they had been commanded to live since their ancestors walked on the earth. Jeremiah uses them as an example of how God wants the people of Israel to live. They are given a way of life: be circumcised, do not follow other gods etc, and yet they disobeyed and quickly did not follow that way of life. These nomads serve as an object lesson for the people of God.
An object lesson that is well known because Jeremiah used it is the wooden yoke. He uses it to describe the captivity of the people of Israel. Another prophet comes along and says, yes, we will be captive, but it will only be for two years, so here, let me take that wooden yoke and break it. Jeremiah comes along and this time he has a steel, metal yoke for he tells the prophet and the king that the captivity will last at least 70 years, which we read in the Psalms is the length of a lifetime. He basically tells the king that it will be the next generation that will be able to leave captivity. This is very similar to the wandering in the wilderness where it is the next generation that will be able to inherit.
The key verses in this section are found in 31:31-34 where we read that God will establish and create a new covenant in the heart of his people. It will be a covenant where the people do not have to try to obey and follow the Lord simply because they will want to follow him and love him. God tells Jeremiah about the people: "For I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more." We know that this covenant was realized in Jesus.
Psalm 53 is a lament which has as its content the recognition that no one is worthy to be called a child of God. But then it ends with another recognition, one that is dramatically different and yet a result of the completion of the years of captivity. We find the ending of this Psalm a promise of deliverance and restoration. That's a great way to end.
I have to admit that the beginning of these chapters follow along in the same discourse as the previous chapters with the prophet warning the people of the wrath to come. But the last two chapters are very interesting. The prophet of the Lord is telling His people that they are to subject themselves to the Babylonians. Allow yourselves to go into exile. Do not fight back against the invading powers. If there is a prophet that tells you to fight back, well, they are not of the Lord.
Again, that is not what we are used to. We are used to God saying: I am on your side, you can go up against anyone even if the numbers are skewed and you will win. The difference is that the people had perpetually turned their back on God and now it was time for a break for them. In fact, God says that those who remain in Jerusalem and in Judah and do not bow down in service to the Babylonians will have no part in God's future. Only those who went into Babylon as captives will return one day and carry out God's plans. Strange to see God tell the people to accept defeat.
We find mentioned for the first time the name of the northern country that is going to come down and take over Jerusalem and all of Judah and lead its people into captivity. The name of that nation is Babylon and the name of the ruler, who is also mentioned, is Nebuhadnezzar.
At the beginning of this chapter we have the classic metaphor of the potter and the clay and the ability for God to use the clay as he sees fit because He is, after all, the potter and we are the clay. It is well within God's ability and right to use the clay in any way shape or form that God wants to use the clay.
We find the scene of Jeremiah arrested and beaten by the officer of the gate. When Jeremiah is finally released he tells the officer that one day he and all of his family will go into exile in Babylon and they will experience the same thing that Jeremiah had just undergone.
Twice we read Jeremiah tell the rulers of Judah what God wants them to do. So it is not focused so much on obeying God and God alone, which is the primary command of God, but also, and this is important and mentioned twice in these 5 chapters: "Do what is just and right, rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood." This list of moral imperatives seem to follow the people of God both in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.
I can't help but feel a bit depressed as we make our way through Jeremiah. He continues his consistent message of laying out the deception and the infidelity of Judah all the while promising that the day will come when the people will be either destroyed or carried off to the North to a foreign land. Throughout these chapters we read Jeremiah prophesying against the people of God.
We do find a bit of a caveat in chapter 17 where Jeremiah is now no longer speaking to the people about the destruction to come, but rather starting in vs.14 where he asks God for help and not to be included in that number to whom he is preaching. He is asking for help to not be destroyed or carried off like everyone else. It then ends with a reminder about the Sabbath.
Remember when Jesus enters into Jerusalem after the triumphal ride on a donkey and the first thing that he does is go into the temple and clear it and he says there: "It is written, my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers." Matthew 21:13. Well, that comes from Jeremiah 7:11, the whole den of robbers thing. He is warning the people of Judah that they are not to try to take refuge in the temple as if God would somehow save them from the destruction that is to come. They have already chosen other idols and it is too late to ask for God to come and save them. They have already made the temple something other than what it was intended.
You have probably heard about the balm in Gilead as well? Well, we find that in Jeremiah 8:22 that asks the rhetorical question whether there is going to be healing or not. The Balm in Gilead was supposed to be able to heal all things. But the land is too sick to be healed. There is then a plot against Jeremiah in 11, but the good news is that God said that not a one of them will survive. So Jeremiah had that going for him. Thought you might want to hear the hymn: There is a balm in Gilead.