Posts Tagged 'destruction of jerusalem'

Jeremiah Was a Prophet, Part 1

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The Old Testament prophets were a strange lot. They had to be. Life was hard enough back then, but add into the mix having to preach messages that put you on the wrong side of most people, and you’ve got men with few friends and fewer supporters. Here’s a very brief description of the last Old Testament prophet, John the Baptist:

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4. TNIV)

But no Old Testament prophet is so misunderstood as Jeremiah. What most Christians know about Jeremiah they know from sound bites. He was “the weeping prophet.” He was “temperamental and neurotic.” But if that’s all you know about him, you’ve missed the essence of Jeremiah. He was, in fact, a prophet of hope.

He messages were hard but not unique to him. Jeremiah’s messages of warning were really restatements of what his predecessors had preached; they were messages of the sure final doom of the nation he loved so much, yet he was able to see beyond the coming judgment to a new and better day. Reading the sermons of Jeremiah, I can’t help but think of the words of Mote’s classic hymn, The Solid Rock:

When darkness hides his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace,
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

No matter how dark, depressing, and distressing his circumstances had become, Jeremiah was absolutely convinced that there was a light just ahead. His was not an empty hope, but a hope built on his faith in God and God’s promises.

People who are filled with confidence in themselves and their own abilities worship at the altar of “the god of immediate success” and tend to avoid reading Jeremiah. Their immaturity forbids them reading what a realist wrote. And yet, Jeremiah stands today as the greatest figure of his generation. He wasn’t appreciated back then, but his messages resonate with a new generation of believer, looking for the hope Jeremiah was convinced of that is so needed today.

Jeremiah the prophet began his ministry around 627 BC and continued for some 40 years until his nation dissolved around him in 586 BC. He lasted through the final five kings of Judah, and while Isaiah also preached during the reigns of a number of kings, Jeremiah was never welcomed anywhere near the royal courts as Isaiah was.

God knows whom He calls

The message the prophet was never some kind of nebulous theory, a figment of his over-active and deranged imagination, but rather the prophet’s message came out of the history of his time. Jeremiah was a real man who lived during a real time in history. The opening words of Jeremiah’s book of prophecy nail down this man’s history:

The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile. (Jeremiah 1:1 – 3 TNIV)

Jeremiah was born in a town about three miles northeast of Jerusalem. His father was a priest, and we may be sure Hilkiah had high hopes that his son would follow in his priestly footsteps. He didn’t. Jeremiah, whose name means “Jah is high” or “Whom Jah appoints” would, instead, become one of those weirdo prophets.

Jeremiah was a young man when he began his ministry in the 13th year of Josiah’s reign. His years of ministry occurred during a tumultuous time in history for the Jews. There were great social and political upheavals going on which Jeremiah witnessed firsthand. From Judah’s last righteous King (Josiah) to its last actual King (Zedekiah), Jeremiah lived long enough to experience a glorious revival and to witness Jerusalem’s utter destruction by Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon. This latter event came as no surprise to the citizens of Judah, as Jeremiah warned them for decades the day was coming because of their stubborn obsession with idolatry.

This prophet was a man for his times. Just a quick survey of the kings he ministered under will give you an idea of Jeremiah’s temperament. Josiah, the first king mentioned, came to power at eight years of age! At that time, Judah had fallen so far from God that there was not a single copy of the Law in the land. And yet, when he was 26 years old, Josiah began a Temple reconstruction project. The high priest at that time –  Hilkiah – found a copy of the Law hidden away in the rubble of the Temple! When the young king read it, he was overcome with fear and conviction and instituted a number of religious reforms that led Judah into an incredible spiritual revival that lasted until Josiah left the throne.

In spite of that, Josiah entered into a deal with the devil, specifically, Josiah got involved in the convoluted world of international politics and went to war against Neco, the Egyptian King. Jeremiah did his best to dissuade Josiah from this course of action, but Josiah was determined. Sadly, this godly King was killed in battle and the army of Judah trounced. Jehoahaz, Josiah’s third son, was chosen to be king. Judah quickly degenerated to a mere vassal to Egypt. Jehoahaz managed to hang on to the throne for three months before Neco had him deported to Egypt.

Another son of Josiah, Jehoiakim, was chosen to replace Jehoahaz. Jehoiakim was one evil king. He was greedy, dishonest, and treated his people mercilessly. During his reign, Babylon defeated Egypt in battle, and they soon took notice of Judah. It was during Jehoiakim’s reign that Nebuchadnezzar first invaded Judah. It was then that Daniel and the best and brightest of Hebrew children were taken captive back to Babylon. King Jehoiakim tried to have Jeremiah killed but was unsuccessful. He sat on the throne for eleven years, and was eventually taken by Nebuchadnezzar captive during a failed revolt against Babylon.

Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, succeeded his father. After only three months the mighty Babylonian army came and carried him off to Babylon. It was during this invasion that Ezekiel, another prophet, was taken captive as well. Ezekiel lived in exile for some 40 years. He never saw Judah again, dying in exile.

Zedekiah was Judah’s final king. He ruled for eleven years, but by then Judah was literally falling apart. Jeremiah had given Zedekiah some sound advice, which the king disregarded. Instead of living in peace with his Babylonian overlords, Zedekiah joined in a doomed rebellion against them. Nebuchadnezzar, by this time, had no more patience with the Hebrews and in a final siege against Jerusalem which last two years, he breached the walls and entered the city only to find its citizens starving and dying. With no more resistance, the forces of Babylon destroyed the Temple and much of the city. Jerusalem was left almost empty and decimated.

This was what the world was like when Jeremiah was ministering. Martin Luther observed:

Next to faith this is the highest art – to be content with the calling in which God has placed you.

Jeremiah was called to preach at a horrible time in history. But he kept on, never stopping, and fulfilled God’s calling.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. “. (Jeremiah 1:4, 5 TNIV)

Jeremiah was probably in his late teens or very early 20’s when the Lord spoke these words to him. Verse 5 is really a phenomenal verse for a couple of reasons. First, it says God actually knows us. Jeremiah isn’t unique, God knows all people this well. That’s either very comforting or terrifying depending on your spiritual state! There’s just no way to misinterpret what God is saying here. He KNOWS people. Nothing is hid from Him. That’s why this is such a powerful verse for those of us who view abortion as an abomination. When an unborn child is aborted, regardless of when, a person is being killed – a person God knows personally. But, second, we can see how well God knows people; His knowledge isn’t just passive. In the case of Jeremiah (and others mentioned in the Bible), God had definite plans in store for him. The unborn Jeremiah was “set apart” for a very specific task: to be a prophet. Theologically, this “setting apart” by God is how the Old Testament views sanctification. For a person or even a nation to be “holy” means that God had chosen them to be His own to be used for His purposes. In the case of Jeremiah, God had chosen him for a very specific purpose.

God provides the message

Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:6 – 8 TNIV)

God commanded him to be a prophet, but Jeremiah was worried. He was young. He felt completely under qualified. But whom God calls, God equips. The Lord didn’t care about Jeremiah’s age or his inexperience. He promised to be with the prophet and to protect him. The Lord’s personal and abiding presence would be forever accompany Jeremiah.

This exchange reminds us of another conversation:

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”. (Exodus 4:10 – 12 TNIV)

We really should learn to relax and stop being so self-centered and live more God-centered lives. Nothing is impossible for God! God always implements His own plans.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:9 TNIV)

That’s the essence of prophecy; a person speaking God’s word. When a Christian tries to speak using his own words – or, as we might also say, using his own talents and abilities – his message must necessarily be suspect. Remember what James wrote:

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by human beings… (James 3:6, 7 TNIV)

The true prophet; God’s genuine ministers, will be like Moses and Jeremiah and be humble enough to realize their shortcomings. Paul did. And that’s why he wrote this:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 TNIV)

That’s not an insignificant sentence of self-realization: “When I am weak, then I am strong.” That’s because when a person finally realizes their genuine weaknesses or shortcomings, he will finally start trusting in God. Self confidence is a wonderful thing, but it can work against the Christian unless self confidence is viewed as having confidence in your position in God.

God’s message to the people through Jeremiah was a depressing one. There was no “light at the end of the tunnel.” The die had been cast and there was no way to avoid the coming judgment. This was Jeremiah’s message. Jeremiah was given the job nobody would have applied for. But even though the message was a tough one, God consoled His prophet with this:

Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.” (Jeremiah 1:17 TNIV)

 

EZEKIEL AND THE HYPOCRITES

hypocrite

Ezekiel 33:30-33

It is December, 586 BC and Jerusalem has lain in ruins for three months.  It took that long for a lone fugitive to reach the exiled Jews in Babylon with the news.  The fall of Jerusalem was the pivot point in Ezekiel’s ministry and his book.  Up to the end of chapter 32, Ezekiel had been prophesying the end of Israel as a nation and explaining to the exiles why this had to happen.  It was because of their continual disobedience to the Covenant.  It’s not like they hadn’t been warned, because they had been.  For generations, prophets came warning the people to smarten up and start abiding by the terms of the Covenant.  But the more they were warned, the more stiff-necked they became; determined to go their own way, doing their own thing.

Verses 21 and 22 set the scene for what we are looking at in this study:

In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen!”  Now the evening before the man arrived, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he opened my mouth before the man came to me in the morning. So my mouth was opened and I was no longer silent.  (Ezekiel 33:21-22 NIV84)

So what we are reading is a message Ezekiel gave the evening before this fugitive arrived with the news.  It was a long series of messages, actually, that took a day to deliver.  Part of his sermon included a message to the small remnant of Jews that had survived the destruction of Jerusalem and was now living among its ruins.  And God’s message to these people was not good:

“Say this to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, those who are left in the ruins will fall by the sword, those out in the country I will give to the wild animals to be devoured, and those in strongholds and caves will die of a plague.'”   (Ezekiel 33:27 NIV84)

There is no escaping God’s judgment!  The people of God needed to judged – all of them – even those who had cleverly hid out in caves when Nebuchadnezzar’s army rolled over Jerusalem.  He didn’t find them, but others would – other armies, animals and sickness.  God’s judgment would be complete and it would be obvious to the exiles that He had spoken; that He had kept His Word.

But what about these exiles in Babylon?   They had escaped death and Ezekiel had been doing his best to set the record straight:  they were in exile because they had been rebellious; they had turned their collective backs on the Lord, and they were being punished.  They were spared death because they needed to see firsthand that when God promises He will do something, He does it.  But the truth is these exiles in Babylon were no better than any other Jew.  They were, as Bunyan said, “a saint abroad and a devil at home.”  In other words, at this point in Ezekiel’s ministry, he’s not dealing with out-and-out idolaters and obviously wicked people.  No, they’re worse than that.  The people Ezekiel is dealing with now actually seemed like him!  But they’re hypocrites.

Let’s look at them.

1.  How they treated Ezekiel

“As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’   (Ezekiel 33:30 NIV84)

There isn’t a pastor or minister who hasn’t experienced exactly what is being described here.  These people crowded around the prophet; they put on a form of Godliness as long as it served their own personal interests.   They assumed the role of God’s people; they did what God’s people would do.  But in secret the made fun of Ezekiel and mocked God’s Word.  The only time they exposed themselves God’s Word was when Ezekiel was preaching.  The only time they fellowshipped with God’s people was when Ezekiel was preaching.

This sounds a lot like modern Christianity.  How many Christians, do you suppose, flock to church on a Sunday, are entertained by their pastor, glad-hand all the members and talk to them like “best friends,” but have virtually nothing to do with them during the week?  The only Bible teaching they get comes from their pastor, whom they support when they are in church, but the rest of time is the object of their scorn or mockery.  They hear the Word but do nothing with it.

Given the state of the Church of Jesus Christ today, it seems like there are is a majority of “Christians” that behaves just like that.  They’re saved, but going nowhere.  They look the part, but lack the power.  And they are befuddled when their prayers seem to go unanswered.

The reality is, if Christians took their faith seriously, churches would be full.  If Christians took their faith seriously, their marriages would work and their children wouldn’t be all mixed up.  If Christians took their faith seriously, they’d elect officials with at least a Biblical worldview.  If Christians took their faith seriously they’d have peace, joy, contentment, a positive outlook, and all the things that “mysteriously” elude them.

Christian, you either believe the Bible or you don’t.  You either crave good Christian fellowship or you don’t.

2.  How they treated God’s Word

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.  (Ezekiel 33:31 NIV84)

These exiles put on a good show.  They did and said everything that was expected of them.  If it were possible to look back in time, you’d probably be very impressed with how these exiles were behaving.  They hear that Ezekiel is going to preach, and they tell their friends and neighbors and they hurry over to hear him.  They hung on his every word.  Ezekiel must have been an attractive preacher!

Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.   (Ezekiel 33:32 NIV84)

What a stinging indictment of God’s people.  But God sees into the hearts of His people.  Nobody can put on the dog-and-pony-show and expect God to buy it.  God is looking into your hearts right now.  He knows what you really think about the Bible, your church, your pastor, and He knows the true state of your soul.

These exiles seemed to be impressed with Ezekiel.  His wholly Scriptural messages sounded like music in their ears.  They just didn’t take them (or him) seriously.  They heard it with their ears, but rejected it in their hearts.  The prophet Isaiah said something very similar:

The Lord says:  “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”  (Isaiah 29:13 NIV84)

Isaiah is describing Israel, but he could easily be describing the modern Church of Jesus Christ.  How many denominations make up rules and change their own rules at the drop of a hat?   What was once unacceptable for a Christian is now acceptable.  What was once called a sin is now called anything but.   How many denominations try to appeal to the worst in sinful man rather than demanding the best?

Something you won’t hear from a lot of church pulpits today is that the Word of God never tries to accommodate your sin.  The Word of God insists that YOU change; that you conform to IT, not the other around.  When you treat the Bible like that you set yourself up as a hypocrite.  Jesus had a low opinion of hypocrites:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”  (Matthew 23:27-28 NIV84)

If you are a Christian, you’d do well to remember these words spoken by Samuel:

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.  (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV84)

The exiles needed to know the truth.  Jerusalem had fallen.  Ezekiel had been proven to be a genuine prophet of God.   Yet still the people refused to obey the Word of the Lord he gave them.  You don’t get tricked into unbelief; it’s wilful.  It’s not that you cannot accept what God says, it’s that you will not act on it.  The real problem that plagued the Jews is the real problem that plagues the church today:  we prefer our sin; we’d rather not change; we choose to hear the Word, but then choose to do nothing with it.

With God, it’s all about the choice.  God saves you, but then it’s up to you; you must choose to live for God.  God gave each of us a rational, thinking mind, capable to making the right choice.  Do it!  Use your God-given rational, thinking mind to make the only rational choice possible:  choose to devote yourself 100% to God.  Enjoy His blessing.  Enjoy the promises of God reaching their fulfilment in your life.

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24:15 NIV84)


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