The exile has begun. Judah is under siege. It’s time for some tough questions. Are you ready?
DAY ONE – Jeremiah 21-24
Are leaders held accountable? Does it make any difference how they live and what they believe? In fact, the chapters of today’s reading are directed specifically to kings, priests and prophets. They held privileged positions within the life and government of Judah, so they were accountable to God for their privileges and perks which attended their positions. In any society, rules are given and applied by those who lead, hopefully for the common good. What happens then, when the rules of law uphold evil and punish righteousness? What happens when leaders use their advantaged status to enrich themselves and guarantee a comfortable future, while oppressing and taxing the ordinary folks without providing protection and relief? What happens when leaders lead away from God instead of toward Him? What happens when we ‘separate’ our religion from everyday life and use that as an excuse to forget God and drive Him from our conscious existence? What happens when finally, we have isolated an entire generation who now know next to nothing about Creator God, and who rather believe that every person’s rights and privacy are inviolate? Read history. The answers are in plain view! The siege has already begun. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is already at the door. Leading citizens have already been put in chains and led away, and people with advanced skills will never see Judah again. The ravaging of their homeland is underway, and neither king, priest nor prophet can do anything about it. Is this a time to call out to God? By all means! Even those going into captivity have a choice. The two baskets of figs in Jeremiah’s vision reveal a distinction between the good and evil that God sees, no matter where we are. God is God in Babylon as much as in Judah. When He sees goodness and justice and heart response, that person is marked for protection and future blessing. But to those who will be as bad in the Lord’s eyes in Babylon as they were in Judah, there is simply no hope. It’s essentially over. When God’s protection is removed, all bets are off.
We have choice. We can blame others for our conditions all we want, but we still get to choose righteousness and justice; goodness and faith; life over death. God offers life. We can still choose life, even when Damocles’ sword hangs directly overhead. Creator God is Savior God. His love, mercy and grace are unchanging, and the messages He is sending to us are filled with invitation and pleading. How about we make today count for good?
DAY TWO – Jeremiah 25-28
Twenty-three years. That is a good chunk of anyone’s life. And it is the length of time that Jeremiah had been bringing God’s messages to Judah and Jerusalem. And that’s how long the people had hardened their hearts, closed their ears and refused to hear God’s messages. Twenty-three years. And now the hammer is about to fall. So Yahweh sends a kind of final warning with strong pleas for the people to stop their wickedness and turn from their evil ways. Now the prophecy is very specific–the king of Babylon is being raised up to conquer the entire region of nations, to bring the Lord’s judgment against evil. Nebuchadnezzar, his son, and his son’s son will reign until God’s judgment is complete–a period of seventy years. Only then will the nations find relief from Babylonian repression; and only then will Judah be restored to her land. This is now history. It happened exactly the way Yahweh said it would. And in the process the heart of every man was judged righteously by the Lord. You see, when calamity and disaster strike, we all reflexively look inward to our ways. We ask the ‘what if…’ What if this is directed at me? What if the disaster had reached me personally? Where would I be right now? What if I’m not paying attention? What if the Lord is trying to get my attention? That’s if we are smart; that’s if we are listening. The process had already begun in Judah. The yoke of servitude was already prepared and being put into place. Even though God’s final challenges were being given, it was evident that, for the people, it was too little and too late. Seventy years is a long time, and it was just beginning.
What are we to make from all this? First, conditions surrounding us are similar to those in that time in Judah. In spite of our auspicious beginnings–the flight from Europe and Britain, the new colonies, God’s apparent blessings on the founding of our nation, the periods of spiritual awakening that have followed, and the current partisan persuasions that divide our country–we may indeed stand at a crossroad between blessing and judgment. Which way will the pendulum swing? And then there is Israel to consider as well. Today, as I write these words, the United States is opening the new US Embassy in Jerusalem–the first time we have officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital! It’s HUGE! We are literally confessing that Yahweh is God, that Israel is His special envoy in this world, and that He, God, is in charge of the nations. If ever there was a time for every one of us to acknowledge our need of relationship with the Lord, it is now. The world is changing dramatically, and our God is calling… calling us all.
DAY THREE – Jeremiah 29-32
One of the most oft-quoted ‘Christian’ verses is from this chapter: “I know the thoughts that I have toward you, says the Lord…” Interestingly, that promise was made to a group of Jews sent to Babylon to live in captivity. Everything that Jeremiah had prophesied for over two decades was now coming to pass, and the captives were trying to figure out how to live in their new ‘home.’ The prophets and priests with them in Babylon were lying to them, saying that Yahweh would bring them back to Judah within two years and fully restore them. But in a letter from Jeremiah to the captives God revealed the details of His plans and purposes for the captivity: settle down, build houses, keep your society, marry off your children. In other words, live in the place of your captivity as you would if you were back in Judah. It’s going to be seventy years before this reverses. And stuck in the middle of these instructions was the verse we like to quote: “I know the plans I have for you…” And there’s more… This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NLT)
Later, in the eighteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah was a political prisoner in the palace in Judah. He was still receiving messages from God and passing them to the people. And now Judah was under siege, a process that often took months or years before a city would fall. Inside the city, famine, death and disease were consuming increasing numbers. Outside, Nebuchadnezzar’s army was about to take their prize and capture Jerusalem. The consuming fire was near, and the end of Judah was imminent. Yet God talked unceasingly of future hope, future blessings and future glory. And as always, the Lord was encouraging the Jews to turn away from their idolatrous ways to serve Him and give Him the opportunity to bless them. Our Lord’s plans stretch far into the future, having come from the distant past and His dealings with nations from then until now. In all of this, He doesn’t change; His character and attributes are impeccable. Yahweh God is reaching and touching us… He receives us into the fellowship of worshipers as we turn to Him.
DAY FOUR – Jeremiah 33-37
Can anyone fathom or describe the limits of Yahweh God’s patience? Do we actually understand that ‘patience’ is…
- tolerant and even-tempered perseverance…
- the capacity for calmly enduring pain, trying situations, etc… (Dictionary Pro)
If that is true, do we ascribe even-tempered perseverance and the capacity for calmly enduring pain, trying situations and so forth, to God? Is that how you would describe our Lord to someone? Is that how you even see God? How many paint the human race as victims of the Lord’s anger, or caprice, or even deliberate negligence when it comes to things that happen to all of us in life? How often do we hear “Why did the Lord allow…” followed by whatever it is we think He allowed? Did He allow a terrible situation to happen? Did He allow a loved one to die? How about this one? “If He is a loving God, why is there war, evil and so suffering in life? Why doesn’t this loving God DO SOMETHING about it?” Stop. Just stop and pay attention. The messages we are reading from Yahweh God through Jeremiah clearly demonstrate the Lord’s ‘tolerant and even-tempered perseverance,’ His ‘capacity for calmly enduring pain, trying situations, etc.’ We make our gracious and patient God OUR VICTIM when we go our own way and close our ears to His pleas to love and serve Him; when we harden our hearts against His plans, to serve our own interests. Our Lord has plans to help us, not hurt us; to save us, not destroy us. Jeremiah’s messages persisted over several decades to multiple kings who determinedly lived idolatrous and rebellious lives against the Lord’s words. How is that different from today? Is our world turning to God, listening to His Word, seeking to follow Him, to love Him, serve Him? Many of us are. You may be one of us. If you are, then let’s band together as a fellowship of believers who SEEK FIRST God’s rule and righteousness, no matter what it costs us. Let us agree to trust Him and believe in His eternal plans to fulfill every promise He made until He has finished what He started. Let us encourage each other and pray for each other and our world until there is no breath left in us! Only then, when we have glimpsed the eternity in which our God lives, will we fully understand the great cosmic conflict which has engulfed all of humankind. This is not a time for the faint-hearted and weak-willed. Jeremiah was tortured and imprisoned in a dungeon, but he remained faithful to the message. He is one of heaven’s heroes, along with his brothers the prophets of every age who stand against popular opinion or political correctness. Who are your company? With whom will you stand?
DAY FIVE – Jeremiah 38-40, Psalms 74, 79
One day King Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah and had him brought to the third entrance of the Lord’s Temple. “I want to ask you something,” the king said. “And don’t try to hide the truth.” Jeremiah said, “If I tell you the truth, you will kill me. And if I give you advice, you won’t listen to me anyway.” So King Zedekiah secretly promised him, “As surely as the Lord our Creator lives, I will not kill you or hand you over to the men who want you dead.” Jeremiah 38:14-16 (NLT) This is what it finally comes to. No matter what we say, it won’t change anyone’s mind. Incredible as that may sound, it is too often true. And that is exactly what resulted when Jeremiah once again explained what would happen to Jerusalem and to the king and his family. Sure enough, when the city fell to the Babylonians, Zedekiah and his family tried to escape by night but were overtaken. And when brought to King Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah had to stand and watch his sons killed in front of his eyes, which were then gouged out, leaving him in darkness for the trip to Babylon, where he would live out his days with only his memories. What’s done is done. The tragedy is that options remained right up to the end. Mercy was ever at hand, though it went unclaimed. So Asaph the musician asks the inevitable question: “Why? Where are you, and why have you deserted us for so long?” He then points to the ruined city, the ashes left from the burning of the temple. He recounts the cries of the warriors with their battleaxes destroying the beauty of God’s house of worship, the frenzy that took hold of them to then go out and tear down everything. It is no more. No city, no prophets, no future, apparently. Is this it? Is that all there is?
Humankind in every period of history have viewed the rubble of destruction and wondered if there is a future. Will the world survive and, if so, for how long? If it ends, how will it end? So we get up again, and we start each new day with a basic belief in the future, unpredictable as it appears to be. Where is the sense in any of this? There is NO SENSE, unless we have a solid point of BEGINNING. “In the beginning God…” If that is your beginning point then it must also be your ending point. If God IS God, if He IS Creator, and if He IS true to His words, then that is our trajectory–from beginning to end, our reference point, our place of origins, our track to follow through this life. Can the Lord be believed? Can He be trusted? If you believe so, then DO IT! If you believe not, then your options have just been essentially eliminated. Live your life, do what you can do, for without God there is NO HOPE of a future. So we look up today with a worshipful and thankful heart, willing to be a child of God and live with the hope of His mercy and grace.