September 22, 2015
Scripture and Commentary, September 20-26
Jer. 36, Lk.7:36-50
Jer. 37, 1 Cor. 5
In the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign Jeremiah is commanded to record the words of God in a book (2). This is accomplished by dictating them to the scribe, Baruch (18), a fearless and faithful man of God, who reads them in the Temple (10), and to the princes of Judah (11-19). The warnings in the book cause fear in the princes, who take it to the king. But the king is not moved by the words. At least some parts of the scroll are burned by the king (23), though some may have been saved (25). The king orders Jeremiah and Baruch to be found and brought before him, probably to have them executed (26). But God saves the king the trouble of finding Jeremiah, sending him to the king (27), with another copy of the book.
Zedekiah is the final king to reign before the sack of Jerusalem in 586. Shortly after the Babylonians besiege Jerusalem an Egyptian army arrives in Judah to fight against Babylon (5). The Babylonians leave Jerusalem to meet the Egyptians, and many in Jerusalem probably believe this battle will end in in an Egyptian victory and deliver Jerusalem from Babylonian domination. But the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah and contradicts their hope. Egypt will be defeated, and the Babylonians will return to Jerusalem and destroy the city (7-9).
In verse 12, Jeremiah attempts to leave Jerusalem. He probably does not want to see the horrors of pestilence and disease that will accompany the siege of Jerusalem. Nor does he want to see the systematic execution of thousands of his people after the fall of the city. But he is stopped at the gate of Jerusalem and accused of attempting to get to the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to aid them in their war against Jerusalem (13). He is taken before the princes, who have him flogged and imprisoned (15).
The king secretly has Jeremiah brought to him, to ask him if he has received any word from the Lord. The king hopes Jeremiah will prophecy the defeat of the Babylonians and the freedom of Jerusalem. But the prophet simply repeats his message of doom. Afterward he asks the king to set him free, lets he die in the prison. Jeremiah is probably very sick and weak from the beating and ill treatment in prison. The king refuses. He sends Jeremiah back to prison, and even increases the prophet’s suffering by putting him on bread and water, essentially intending to starve him to death.
Lk. 1 Cor. 6
In place of the reading from Jeremiah we look today at Matthew 9:9-13. Though less well known than Paul and Peter, Matthew was a Godly man who gave up wealth and ease to follow Christ. Many of the early Christian writers believe he was the first to write a Gospel, and that he wrote it in Aramaic, and translated it into Greek later. His desire was that his own people would know and love the Messiah as he did. To that end he lived, and wrote, and preached in and around Jerusalem during a time when some Jews hated and persecuted Christians. He was probably still in Jerusalem when Paul appeared before the Apostles around A.D. 50 (Acts 15). At some time after this, Matthew traveled to take the Gospel to Jews outside of Jerusalem. It is not known exactly where he went, but many believe it was eastward into the Tigress Euphrates valley, where he died a martyr.
Jer. 38, Lk. 8:26-56
Jer 39, 1 Cor. 7
Jeremiah is nearly dead. Severely flogged, his untreated wounds from the beating are probably, infected and painful. He is on starvation rations and in solitary confinement in a deep cistern, where no little or no light enters unless it is opened by the guards to throw a scrap of bread and swallow of water to him. Ebed-melech pleads with the king for his release, and finally, the king agrees. By this time, the king must realise that the Babylonians are not going away, and Jerusalem is in real danger. If it falls to the invaders, it means Jeremiah is right and a true prophet. The king is probably afraid of being punished by God because of his mistreatment of Jeremiah. There is no sign of repentance in the king. He does not turn to God, nor does he make any attempt to help Jeremiah, nor is the prophet released from the prison; he is merely let out of the cistern. The king is very sorry for himself, and fears what lies ahead for him, but he is not sorry for his sins. He is like many people who are sorry they may go to hell, but not at all sorry for their sins against God and humanity.
It is in this frame of mind that Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah and asks what will happen to him. The words of Jeremiah are not comforting. Surrender to the Babylonians, and you will live, and you will save the city from being sacked and burned. This will save tens of thousands of lives, and will save the city and Temple. Much suffering will be relieved or avoided. But the king, like many others in similar situations and positions, is willing to sacrifice all of his people and his city on the slight chance that he may escape from the Chaldeans. Such self-serving cowardice is often seen in people with influence or power.
As God said, Jerusalem finally falls to the Babylonians. The devastation and suffering in the city is horrifying. Disease and famine have already killed thousands. The Babylonian soldiers entering the city kill thousands more. After the surrender, Nebuchadnezzar systematically executes the civil and religious leaders, the wealthy, the educated, and anyone with influence or power in the city. The king is forced to watch this, including the execution of his sons. After this, his eyes are burned out with a hot iron, and he is bound in chains for the journey to Babylon.
Jeremiah’s treatment is entirely different. “Look well to him” (11) refers to caring for his wounds and nursing him back to health. At first, Jeremiah attempts to make the journey with his people, in chains as they are. But he is too weak, so he is released after a few miles. He is sent with Gedaliah, whom the Babylonians appoint as governor of the territory. The chapter ends with God’s promise to the man who talked the king into releasing Jeremiah from the cistern.
Jer. 40, Lk. 9:1-36
Jer. 41, 1 Cor. 8
Ramah is about 6 miles north of Jerusalem on the road the Babylonians used to take their prisoners to Babylon. Jeremiah, bound in chains, is among the prisoners, apparently by choice, identifying with his Jewish brethren (39:11-14). There, the captain of the guard releases the prophet with the freedom to go wherever he chooses (4, 5). Jeremiah goes to Mizpah, where Gedaliah has made his base of operations because Jerusalem is in ruins. Thousand of its citizens are dead; thousands more are on their way to Babylon in chains, including the priests and higher government who were not executed after the battle. Jeremiah probably intends to help Gedaliah by preaching and ministering to the people, who are still in terrible shock and mourning, in addition to their hunger and poverty.
Gedaliah is an able leader. Soon, Jews in neighbouring areas return to Israel and begin to do the work necessary to survive (12). The Lord grants them a bountiful harvest, thus securing their food supply and ending their devastating hunger (12). Ishmael, king of Ammon, which, though also conquered by the Babylonians, did not suffer as much devastation and killing as Jerusalem, plans to kill Gedaliah, probably intending to take control of the farms and produce. Gedaliah is warned, but believes the warnings are false reports.
Ishmael comes to Mizpah under the guise of friendship. He is warmly welcomed by Gedaliah, and they share a bountiful meal together. But the warnings about Ishmael are true. During the meal, he kills Gedaliah, and all Jews presents at the meal.
Two days later, men from cities in central Israel arrive in Mizpah with the intention of offering sacrifices in what is left of the Tabernacle, which once stood at Shiloh. Their cuttings show they have been deeply affected by pagan theology and rituals (5), but their arrival in Mizpah may also show their intention to return to the Covenant and worship God again. Their sacrifices are never offered. Ishmael, again feigning friendship (6) murders many of the men, and takes the rest to be be slaves in Ammon.
Johannon, who had warned Gedaliah about Ishmael, gathers a coalition of warriors together, which meets Ishmael in Gibeon. Their arrival alarms the Ammonites, and allows the captives to escape. But Ishmael and his men also escape, causing the Jews to fear an Ammonite invasion of Israel, along with a punitive strike by the Babylonians for being involved in the fight against the Ammonites. The chapter closes with Johanan and his people camped near Bethlehem planning to flee into Egypt.
Jer. 42, Lk. 9:32-62
Jer. 43, 1 Cor. 9
Johannon is the natural choice to lead the remnant of Israel. His warning to Gedaliah, and daring rescue of the Jews held by Ishmael show skill and courage. In this chapter, he seeks the word of God from the prophet Jeremiah. This is both an intelligent, and a natural thing to do. He knows Jeremiah foretold the fall of Jerusalem, and that he continued to warn the Jews of the impending disaster, even when they beat and tortured him, and even when they put him in a dark and solitary cistern on starvation rations. And, his predictions came true. Any wise person would now consult Jeremiah to know the word of God.
Jeremiah promises to pray, and to speak what God reveals, just as he has always done. And the word of the Lord is, stay in Judah. God will protect them from Babylon if they stay. But Egypt will be conquered by the Babylonians, and if Johanan and his band of Jews go there, they will suffer through yet another brutal war and conquest, and they will die in it.
When the word of God counters the desires of Johanan and the people, they call Jeremiah a false prophet. Their minds were probably already made up to go to Egypt before they asked Jeremiah’s prayers and words. They did not really want him to tell them the truth, they wanted him to endorse their plans and desires. Things haven’t changed much in the last 2600 years. People still want ear tickling sermons that endorse their preconceived ideas about God and their choices in life. They still honour the entertaining crowd pleasers, and deny those who attempt to preach the word. “Make me feel good about myself,” seems to be their motto. “Don’t warn me about hell; promise me peace on earth, and Heaven forever.”
“So Johannan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces, and all the people, obeyed not the voice of the Lord, to dwell in the land of Judah” (4). “So they came into the land of Egypt” (7).
Jeremiah goes with them. He does not go in disobedience to God. He goes because it is his calling to preach the word to the people. While in Egypt, the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah again (8-13). The message is not about inner peace, or feeling good about themselves, nor does it promise health and wealth. It is an announcement of the coming doom of Egypt. The king of Babylon will come to Egypt, and will smite it, and “deliver such as are for death to death; and such as are for captivity to captivity; and such as are for the sword to the sword” (11). The very thing the Jews hoped to escape by going to Egypt, will happen to them there. And they could have escaped, if only they had trust God instead of Egypt; if only they had stayed in Judah.
How very contemporary this sounds to us. We run from God’s commandments because they require faith, self control, and the denial of the desires of the flesh. We run to fulfil the desires of the flesh because we believe there is happiness and peace in them. But, instead of happiness, we find sorrow and meaninglessness. The very thing we seek to escape becomes our fate forever.
Jer. 44 Lk. 10:1-24
Jer. 45, 46, 1 Cor. 10
When Johanan and the other Jews went to Egypt, they not only turned away from God’s prophet, they also turned away from God. Though it appeared for a while that they wanted to turn from their idolatry and sin (42:1-6), in Egypt they continued their idolatry, and may even have expanded it to include Egyptian idols (8). The first 14 verses of this chapter are an indictment of their sins, and an announcement of the coming judgement of God on Egypt, and them, at the hands of the Babylonians.
We would think such predictions from the mouth of the prophet who predicted the fall and captivity of Jerusalem, would move the people to fall to their knees in true and humble repentance. But such is not the case. Instead they boast about their intention to continue in sin. “We will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her” (17). Such are many today who mock the Bible and wish to be free of its outdated and “hateful” morals and values. They boast about their sins. They call sin “good’ and holiness “evil.”
Johanan and his followers even believe that when they worshiped the “queen of heaven” they had peace and plenty, but when they stopped worshiping her they were conquered and consumed by sword and famine (17,18). It wasn’t the God of Abraham who brought this calamity upon them, they claim. It was the queen of heaven, and she did it because they stopped worshiping her. This is essentially the same as saying their idol brought them out of Egypt, gave them the land of Canaan, and blessed them in it. It was her, not God.
Verse 26 begins God’s response. It is well stated in verse 27, “all the men of Judah that are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by the famine until there be an end of them.” As for Egypt, “I will give Pharaoh-hopra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies, and into the hand of them that seek his life; as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchdrezzar king of Babylon, his enemy and that sought his life” (30). The Jews have come to Egypt for protection from the Babylonians. But Egypt will be conquered by them, and the Jews in Egypt will die with the Egyptians. Only a few will be left alive to return to Judah (28).
This short chapter is addressed to one person, Baruch, who worked as a scribe for the prophet Jeremiah, and read the words of Jeremiah to the people. His association with the prophet placed him in constant and grave danger. This chapter is written to cheer and encourage him, and to relay God’s promise to protect him in time of danger. The heart of the message is in verse 5. The man is told not to seek great things for himself. At the same time, God promises to preserve his life. Great things for himself would be things like fame and fortune, the respect of others, and the wealth that accompanies great success. All of this would be gladly given to him by the people of Judah if he would renounce Jeremiah. Poverty, derision, and suffering could be his fate if he remains with the prophet. The message of this chapter is that it is enough to serve God faithfully. Wealth and the praise of men will fade, but the grace of God endures forever.
Chapters 46-51 contain prophecies of judgement on the Gentile nations in the area around Israel (1). Most of them are enemies of Israel. The prophecy against Egypt begins with the Egyptian defeat at Carchemish in 605. There, Egypt, allied with the Assyrians, met the Babylonian army on battle on the banks of the Euphrates River, about 300 miles north of Jerusalem. The Jews tried to prevent the Egyptians from getting there by meeting them in battle near the Mediterranean coast. This was a mistake because an Assyrian/Egyptian victory at Carchemish may have prevented the Babylonians from advancing their empire. It was also a mistake because Israel lost the battle, and their king, Josiah, who died in the war. After defeating Israel, the Egyptians advanced to Carchemish, where they were defeated by the Babylonians. Thus, the Babylonians gained control of the area, and Jerusalem was left open to a Babylonian invasion.
The Babylonians would not stop at Jerusalem. Egypt was too rich and powerful to ignore, and Nebuchadnezzar intended to make it part of his empire. Verses 13-26 predict the Babylonian invasion and conquest of Egypt.
Jer. 47, Lk. 10:25-42
Jer. 48:1-25, 1 Cor. 11
The Philistines were some of Israel’s fiercest enemies, and competitors for the land of Canaan. They controlled most of the Mediterranean coast, especially Gaza. They were wealthy traders and powerful warriors. Goliath was a Philistine. The word of the Lord foretells their defeat, which probably happens just after the Egyptians defeated Judah and killed Josiah on their advance toward Carchemish around 605 B.C. This prophecy is given before the Philistines are defeated. This means the people of Judah knew of this word through Jeremiah. They knew his prediction that Gaza would be conquered by Egypt, and they saw it happen. Yet they refused to believe God and repent. And they still persecuted Jeremiah.
The same things still happens today. The Bible is more available than ever before in history. People in most of the world have at least some knowledge of it. We hear it quoted in TV shows and movies. Even politicians quote it regularly. Yet few act on it, and many blatantly deny and hate it. And yet, the truth of one of the Bible’s most basic doctrines is undeniable; man is a sinner. As the Bible itself says, “all have sinned.” The evidence of this truth is everywhere there is, or ever has been a human being. Sin has not been educated out of people. It has not been ameliorated by charity. Politics and utopian political dreams have not eradicated it. None of our attempts to perfect mankind have removed sin because sin is part of human nature. Therefore, only a change in human nature can remove sin, and only God can do that. Yet we persist in rejection of the word of God, just like the Jews who saw Egypt crush Gaza.
Moabites were descendants of Lot. Conceived through incest (Gen.19:38), they owned the area on the southeast coast of the Dead Sea, but their influence and control extended far beyond their borders. Fearful of, and aggressive toward Israel from the time of the Exodus, Moab will also fall to the mighty Babylonians.