August 30, 2015
Scripture and Commentary, Aug. 30-Sept 5.
Ecc. 9, Mk. 9:30-50
Ecc. 10, Jude
Things happen to us in life that are beyond our control. Storms can destroy our homes and crops; economic recessions can destroy our savings. These things can happen to the wise and Godly, the foolish and wicked, the rich and powerful, and the poor and powerless. A faithful and dependable employee may be fired while a sluggard is promoted to a position of great power and influence. We see this often in America, where the selection of political, business, and church leaders is often more of a popularity contest than a search for qualified people. Thus, Solomon concludes, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, not yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to the man of understanding, but time and chance happeneth to them all” (11). In other words, there is an element of “chance” to life. Sometimes it is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, or having the right connections. Or, it could be a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and having the wrong connections. These things are in God’s hands, not ours. Yet the question remains, how can we live best in this kind of a world?
The answer is found in verses 7 through 10. We could summarise it by saying, enjoy the blessings you have, while you have them. Prodigal spending is never encouraged in the Bible. Hard work, frugal living, supporting the Church, and saving money is the financial advice given throughout the Scriptures. However, neither is miserly stinginess taught in Scripture. Wholesome, good food and wine, are to be enjoyed. Nice, practical clothing, is preferred over rags. Love and joy at home are part of the blessings of God and of our portion in this life. We are encouraged to enjoy these things in a godly manner, not as the goal of life, but as gifts of God.
Wisdom is better than fame or fortune, for these are fleeting, and, like all things, can be taken from us. Nor should we expect the world to always appreciate or reward our hard work, skill, or wisdom. It may, or it may not. But let us enjoy the blessings of God as he gives them and leave the rest to Him. Perhaps this is part of what Paul meant when he wrote, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil.4:11,12).
Chapter 10 is another collection of proverbs and short wisdom sayings. Knowing when to speak and when to be silent is the subject of several of these proverbs. “A fool also is full of words,” says verse 14. Verses 3, 13, and 20 also address this issue. The blessings of good government, and the sorrows of bad government are also addressed. A child king (16) is a ruler who is unqualified by age, inexperience, or foolishness. Woe to the nation that has such rulers. A land with qualified rulers who rule for the benefit of the people, rather than for their own enrichment (drunkenness) is a blessed and happy land (17).
Ecc. 11, Mk. 10:1-31
Ecc. 12, Romans 1
The uncertainties of life do not excuse sloth. We may not know whether the seeds we plant today will prosper or not, but we are to labour and plant anyway. Naturally, we try to make good decisions based on facts and evidence. It is foolish to try to plant seed in a high wind or gather the harvest in rain because the wind will blow the away, and the rain will rot the grain.
But even good decisions may not produce the results we want. It is common for us to look at the past and wish we had done something different. But we didn’t know the future then, anymore than we know the future now. Our task is to work, try to make good decision, enjoy what we have, and trust God to take care of us according to His will and His grace.
Solomon ends his book with a description of some of the problems of ageing. He himself is ageing as he writes this book, and he can't help comparing his own life to the maxims and proverbs in Ecclesiastes. Like most of us, he is aware of the years and energy he wasted chasing unimportant dreams and trinkets, while ignoring the things that really are important. Why didn’t he apply himself to wisdom and Godliness when he was young? Why didn’t he devote himself to learning the Law and the Prophets, not just intellectually, but devotionally? Why didn’t he devote himself to God, home and family, and country, instead of all the vanities he wasted so much time chasing? These are the kinds of things we ask ourselves, too, as we mature in mind as well as body. We may well echo his advice to the young, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.”
So Solomon brings us to the conclusion, not only of the book, but of the whole meaning of life: “Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13). He is saying, this is what life is about. This, alone, is the way to a full and meaningful life. “Fear,” means reverence unto God in recognition of His limitless power. It is not a cowering, paralysing fear; it is a recognition that your happiness, for now and eternity, depends completely on His good will toward you.
Obedience, likewise, is not the grudging, forced compliance of fear, but the loving and cheerful response of love. It involves the realisation that, this is why we were created, and it is the highest good which we can have. It alone will secure our contentment and happiness, now, and for all eternity (Ecclesiastes, Pulpit Commentary, vol. 9, p 306).
Jeremiah 1,, Mk. 10:32-52
Jer. 2:1-19, Rom. 2
We turn now to the great, weeping prophet, Jeremiah. He was a priest, the son of Hilkiah. He was born and raised about five miles north of Jerusalem in the town of Anathoth, and was called to be a prophet in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, king of Judah (ca. 627 B.C.). Josiah laboured to eradicate the idolatry which had almost completely eclipsed the worship of Jehovah. For a while, his efforts were successful, and a period of revival and reformation brought many of the Jewish people back to God. But the reformation was only partial, at best, and the idolatry, especially Baalism, continued to hold the hearts of most of the Jewish people. Jeremiah warned of God’s displeasure with idolatry, but his preaching was rejected, and he was persecuted and imprisoned. He was spared when the Babylonians finally demolished Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Later, when many Jews left the ruins of Jerusalem for refuge in Egypt, Jeremiah went with them. Some historians believe he died in Egypt, stoned to death by his own people between 580 and 570 B.C. Others believe he died in Babylon, being taken there by Nebuchadnezzar after he conquered Egypt. Jeremiah’s preaching was always unpopular, and he was hated and persecuted by the Jews during his life and ministry.
Verse 13 typifies the prophet’s preaching. The seething pot is tilted toward Jerusalem from the north, indicating that a foreign army will attack from that direction. The army was the Babylonian army, which was already conducting raids against the Assyrians. God would allow the Babylonians to harass Judah for years before finally crushing Jerusalem in 586. This would be the direct result of God’s punishment for the idolatry of the Jewish people. Naturally, the Jews hated this message, therefore they hated its messenger. They were deep in idolatry, and were not going to return to what they considered the stern requirements of the worship of God. They much preferred the self-indulgence and lax morality of Baal.
Jeremiah is commanded to preach in Jerusalem, the political and cultural centre of the Jewish people. His message recalls Israel’s faith after her release from Egyptian slavery (2). God brought Israel into Canaan, a plentiful country (7). But now Israel has turned away from God, and defiled the land with sin. Even the pastors have transgressed against God, and the prophets have prophesied by Baal (8). The pagan nations have not left their idols for God, but Israel has left God for idolas (10-13). “Be astonished, O ye heavens at this” God say to the sun and celestial bodies. This change of religion is so striking that even the stars must be shocked by it.
The Jews are trying to save their country by making alliances with other nations. Egypt, especially, which has always wanted to control the Jews’ land as a buffer zone between Egypt and the eastern empires, is sought as a defender. But Egypt has internal problems and will disappoint Judah when the battle comes. Nebuchadnezzar will actually conquer much of Egypt a short time after he takes Jerusalem.
Verse 37 pictures the conquered Jews, naked and with their hands tied above their heads, being taken as slaves and captives by the Babylonians.
Jer. 2:20-37, Mk. 11
Jer. 3, Rom. 3
God compares the Jews’ treatment of Him to that of an unfaithful wife. But the image soon turns to full prostitution. Israel has played the harlot with many lovers. The comparison is especially appropriate because the worship of Baal often included temple prostitution. The Jews openly participated in it, and sold their sons and daughters to serve as prostitutes. The high places of verse 2 are the altars of Baal and other idols. The whore’s forehead (3) refers to the prostitute’s practice of not covering her head, and dressing in ways that reveal her body. Refusing to feel shame for her behaviour and dress, she is proud of it.
Yet God calls the nation to return to Him. “Turn, O ye backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and will bring you to Zion” (14). The following verses promise good to Israel. Yet they look beyond Israel to Christ and His Church. The Church, which is the New Jerusalem, will be the throne of God and will be for all nations. Jew and Gentile will no longer be enemies there, nor will Jews be enemies to other Jews. Unity and peace will exist in the New Jerusalem. This era of peace will be initiated when the Messiah comes to Jerusalem. His advent is the beginning of the last days, or, final era of history before His Return. But the peace of the last era is only a foretaste of the final peace and victory of Christ, when the promises of God are fully and finally completed.
Jer. 4:1-18, Mk. 12:1-27
Jer. 4:19-31, Rom. 4
Judaism has become a culture and national identity, not a living faith in the true God. This can be seen in verse 4, which shows that the Jews still practiced ritual circumcision, and other rites of the Old Testament. But the rites had been emptied of their real significance and become mere cultural icons. In a similar way, people used to have their children, or themselves, baptized, but never intended to devote themselves to orthodox Christian faith or life.
God sees this as breaking the covenant He has with Israel. Since she has broken her end of the covenant, God is freed of His covenantal obligations. This essentially means He can treat
Israel as just another pagan nation. He is not bound to forgive their sins, provide for their needs, protect them from enemies, or bless them in any way. Like the Gentiles, the Jews are under His wrath and curse. Verses 5-18 foretell the coming judgment. And yet, God laments over the people. Here we see not the God of wrath, gleefully raining fire and brimstone on innocent people. Here we see the God of patience and love, who pleads for His people to return and be blessed, who feels the suffering of His wrath as fully and painfully as the people do. And did not our Lord take that very suffering upon Himself on the cross? Did He not feel the pain of every sin, and grieve over every lost sinner? The words of verse 29 could easily have been said by Christ himself: “My bowels, my bowels, I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.”
Jer. 5, Mk. 12:28-44
Jer. 6, Rom. 5
The prophet challenges the people to find a Godly person in Jerusalem. The challenge is rhetorical, for God always has His remnant, however small it may be. The challenge is not meant to be taken literally, but to prepare the way for the denunciation of the sins of the vast majority of the people. Instead of finding righteous people, the prophet is saying they will find people mired in wickedness. They lie and cheat in business (2), making promises in God’s name, which they never intend to keep. They reject God’s call to return (3), which comes through the law and the prophets. They are adulterers, in both the physical sense (8), and in the spiritual sense of swearing by false gods. Assembling by troops in the harlot’s houses refers primarily to masses of Jewish people worshiping idols in pagan temples, as well as to the sexual practices of pagan worship. They have rejected the word and the prophets of God (12), saying the Scriptures are not really from God, and the prophets do not really speak the truth. Even the priests deny the Scriptures (31), and most of the prophets do speak the lies the people want to hear, rather than the truth of God. Jeremiah, a true and faithful prophet, is a rare thing in Israel in his time.
God will not bear their wickedness forever. The lion, wolf, and leopard (6) probably refer to the Babylonians, though some see the lion as Babylon, the wolf as Persia, and the leopard as Greece. Babylon did use the lion as a, mascot, especially a winged lion with the head of a man. Greece also was known as the leopard because of the swift advance of their empire under Alexander. In either case, the beasts refer to foreign invasion, as verse 15 makes clear.
It is not surprising that the people will wonder why God is allowing this to happen to them (19). In their own minds, they are good people. They keep the ceremonies and festivals commanded by the law, and believe that should be enough for God. But the moral law is disregarded, as is the prohibition against idolatry. They do not realise God wants their full love and obedience, not just dead sheep and ceremonies. Why will God allow this to happen to them? They have forsaken God, therefore, He will forsake them
Ephraim is one of the 12 tribes of Israel. Its territory is north of Jerusalem, and the prophet is telling the people of that tribe to leave Jerusalem and flee to their own land. Why? Because “evil appeareth from the north, and great destruction”(1). This refers to the approaching Babylonian army. Israel is compared to a beautiful woman surrounded by suitors (3). In verse 4 the imagery changes from a beautiful woman to a desirable land over which the nations will fight. The destruction of Jerusalem is graphically detailed in the following verses.
Verse 14 was well known by the American founding fathers. Patrick Henry quoted it in his famous speech in Richmond Virginia. The verse means many in Israel called for peace, and believed the Babylonians would not attack Israel. Jeremiah tells them, “there is no peace.” The attackers will come, and Jerusalem will be conquered (22, 23).
Jer. 7:1-20, Mk. 13
Jer. 7:21-34, Rom. 6
At God’s command, Jeremiah takes a position at the Temple gate, and there begins to preach to those who come to worship and sacrifice there. The message is a promise of God’s mercy. “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place” (3). “Then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, forever and ever” (7). The sins of Israel are egregious. And the people have continued in them for generations, each generation going deeper into sin and becoming more hardened against the entreaties of God. Yet God offers mercy. God offers peace. God offers to accept the people back into the fullness of his love as Hosea accepted back his adulterous wife. They have broken every law. They have prostituted themselves to idols. They have lied and cheated and oppressed one another. Their priests and prophets have preached lies to them, and they have gladly believed them. They have persecuted the righteous and the true prophets. They have broken every covenant vow, and they have hated God. Yet He still offers peace. Truly He is the Father of all mercies, and His lovingkindness endureth forever.
He warns the people that they have believed the lies of the unfaithful priests and false prophets, who have told them that, as long as they offer the right sacrifices on the right days, according to the right liturgies of the Temple, God will keep them safe and prosperous no matter how idolatrous and immoral their everyday conduct may be (4). This makes the House of God a den of robbers (11). God did not save them from Egypt, and give them the land of Canaan so they could live as bad or worse than the pagans around them. He did not deliver them to enable them to commit such abominations (10).
He tells them to look at Shiloh, the former location of the Tabernacle and the home of Eli and Samuel, where the people of the northern tribes worshiped God. They, too, had given themselves to worldliness and idolatry, and they, also believed the sacrifices of sheep without sacrifices of the heart would appease God and keep them safe. Where are they now? Conquered, slaves in their own land, and almost completely devoid of any desire or evidence of being the people of God. Did their insincere sacrifices save them? Did their tabernacle save them? No, nor will the Temple save Jerusalem. A contrite heart is what God wants. Not monuments.
Now the message turns to judgement. Because they trusted in the Temple, not in God; and because they offered sacrifices, not holiness, God is going to destroy the Temple as He destroyed Shiloh (14). He is going to cast Judah out of His sight, just as He cast out those who trusted in their shrine in Shiloh (15). The remainder of the chapter describes the punishment and conquest of the Jews. The valley around Jerusalem will be called the valley of slaughter (32), and the voice of mirth and gladness will cease, because the land will become desolate (34).