September 5, 2015

Scripture and Commentary September 6-12

September 6

Jer. 8, Mk. 14:1-25
Jer. 9, Rom. 7


Jeremiah 8

Bringing out the bones, in verses 1-3 shows the totality of destruction of Jerusalem, and the insatiable violence of the invaders.  Even the dead are not safe from them.  They will dig up their bodies and rob them of any valuables buried with them.  Nor will they be reinterred; their bones will be left where they fall.  This is intended as an enormous insult and humiliation to the Jewish people.

The hardness of the people’s hearts is shown in verses 4-16.  They refuse to repent.  They rush into sin like a cavalry charge (6). Unlike migrating animals, which return to their homes and birthplaces, Israel has left God, and not returned (7).  They reject the law of God (8, 9), yet they claim to be wise.  Those who reject the wisdom of God often claim to be wise and knowledgeable.  They dismiss the faithful with distain, and consider us fools.  We can hear their arrogance in their voices.  The same was true in Jerusalem, but God’s foolishness is wiser than their wisdom, and their sins will not go unpunished (10).

The priests and prophets, who held the word of God in equal distain, and even conducted pagan ceremonies in the Temple of God, also come under God’s wrath.  They have healed the people lightly (11), meaning they have not preached the truth or called the people back to God.  Instead they have endorsed their sin, and proclaimed God’s blessings upon it.  It is as though they are physicians treating potentially terminal illness with band aids.

These same sins plague us today.  The sensual indulgences, the rejection of God’s word, the arrogance of thinking ourselves wiser than the Bible, and welcoming into the Church those things which the Bible forbids are common in the “Church” today.  Should we think we will not answer for these sins?

The chapter closes with a warning of the coming invasion.  It will come as the judgement of God.  The snorting of horses (16) signifies armies of chariots with horses snorting and stamping their feet as they wait for the signal to charge.  Dan is about 25 miles north of the sea of Galilee, and marks the northern boundary of Israel.  As Jeremiah writes, it has already fallen to invaders, who now prepare to charge toward Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 9

While Jeremiah weeps for his people (1, 2) and for their sins (3-8), God justifies His actions toward them.  “Shall I not visit them for these things? [sins] saith the Lord; shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” (9).  He details their sins again in verses 10-22.  The chapter closes with a call to return to God (23, 24), and with a warning that the Jews, though the chosen people of the Old Testament, will be punished as though they are unbelievers, which is exactly what they were at that time (25, 26).  Note that it is possible to outwardly appear Godly, yet inwardly be as lost as any other unbeliever.  Nor is this simply something found in the Old Testament Israel.  It abounds in the “Church” today.

September 7

Jer. 10,  Mk. 14:26-72
Jer. 11,  Rom. 8


Jeremiah 10

Israel is warned not to follow the ways of the heathen in their idolatry.  Their gods are made by human hands, therefore they are unable to do harm or good (5).  They will perish from the earth (11).  The Lord, the God who has called and blessed Israel, who is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who gave the law through Moses, He is the true God, He is the living God (10).  He created all things (12). He can cause drought or storms (13), but the idols are vanity and the work of errors.  They will perish in the visitation, meaning, in the coming invasion.  It was common for conquerors to destroy the “gods” of their enemies, for war and conquest was viewed as the battle of one people’s gods against another’s.  Victory meant that the conqueror’s gods had defeated the gods of the vanquished.  So the victors gleefully destroyed the idols of the vanquished.  It is this kind of thing that is pictured in verses 14-16.

Verses 17- 23 warn the Jews to gather up their belongings because God is going to fling them out of their homeland.  The Babylonians will take the Jews out of Judah into Babylon, and scatter them throughout their empire.  Some will escape to Egypt and other areas.  Only a few will be allowed to remain in Judah and Jerusalem.  Jeremiah begs God to correct Israel, but not to judge Israel in His anger.  Instead let His anger be vented on the heathen for their part in making Israel desolate.  This desolation may be spiritual as well as physical.  The heathen have led Israel astray, and that sin will not be forgotten.  Let those who lead and entice others away from the ways of God tremble at this knowledge.  But Israel followed the pagans.  Israel willingly accepted their gods and their morals.  No matter how guilty the heathen may be, Israel is also guilty.  The Jews bear their own guilt; they cannot blame the Gentiles.

Jeremiah 11

God  reminds the people of His Covenant which He made with their  ancestors when He brought them out of Egypt.  The Covenant actually goes back much further.  The deliverance from Egypt is part of the Covenant with Abraham.  It continued through his descendants, including the people of Jerusalem and Judah, to whom the prophet Jeremiah was sent.  The Covenant was all of grace.  That means God, in grace, called His chosen people back into the relationship all of mankind was originally created to have with God.  In this relationship, God would forgive their sin, and bless them with His presence and love.  He would instruct them in the ways of peace and justice and true happiness.  He would be their joy and their protector - their Saviour.  In return, they would love Him, and live with Him as God of them.  They would be holy.  They would be righteous.

But they were like an unfaithful wife, chasing after things that are not gods, oppressing their Covenant brothers and sisters, and intentionally adopting the ways of the pagan peoples around them.  As God often chastised them, He will also chastise the people of Jeremiah’s time.  As He allowed the pagan peoples to rule over Israel during the era of the Judges, He will also allow another pagan people to conquer them during the time of Jeremiah.  They will cast Israel out of Jerusalem, and scatter them among the nations.

This is the message of chapter 11.  But the people are already tired of hearing this from Jeremiah.   The men of Anathoth forbid him to preach in their village.  “Prophesy not in the name of the Lord, that thou die not by our hand” (21).  These are the angry words of a violent mob.  Justice is irrelevant to them.  Truth matters not to them.  Righteousness matters not to them.  They only want Jeremiah out of their town.  They are so angry they threaten to kill him.  But it is they who will die.  God says He will not even leave a remnant of them when the Babylonians conquer them in the visitation (23).

The world has been trying to silence the word of God from the beginning.  Even many inside the Church, like the men of Anathoth,, want false gospels and lies rather than the Bible.  There is a reason why God warns us not to tamper with or change His word (Rev. 22:18, 19), for the false gospels are really not Christianity.  They are other christs and other gospels.  In other words, they are idols as surely as the Baals of ancient Jerusalem.  But God’s word will not be silenced, and His enemies will not win.  Let the men of Anathoth be warned, a visitation of God is coming, and He will deal with the ungodly.  But with the warning comes an invitation.  The whole point of the book of Jeremiah is to warn the people of their peril and call them to return to God and live in His love and blessings.  The whole point of the Gospel of Christ is that Jesus bore our sins on the cross, and call us to return to God and live in His love and blessings.  He tells us the life of sin is really a living death, leading to an eternal living death.  But He has come that we may have life and have it in abundance.  When Moses preached to the Hebrews in Deuteronomy, he said he had set before the people life, and death.  Obedience to the vows they had taken was the way of life.  Breaking them was the way of death.  He urged the people to choose life.  God grant us wisdom that we too may choose life.

September 8

Jer. 12, Mk.15
Jer 13,  Rom. 9


Jeremiah 12

Chapter 12 is a conversation between God and Jeremiah. Jeremiah is confused and depressed.  He has just been run out of Anathoth, probably barely escaping being stoned to death.  Evil people control Israel, and God has revealed that He will bring more evil people to conquer Israel with much suffering and death.  The thought of such suffering drives the prophet to his knees in prayer.  This is no short or half hearted prayer.  It is probably a prolonged time of prayer and fasting.  His question is no mere philosophical speculation.  It is the heartfelt cry of a man who is broken in spirit, and deep in sorrow.  Jeremiah raises a question we have already heard in Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, why do the wicked prosper?  There is discouragement in the prophet’s question, too.  He has preached and prayed and given his heart to the people of Israel.  He wants nothing from them, he wants only to do good for them.  He asks not fame or fortune, or even love from them.  He asks only that they repent and be saved from the coming disaster.

In verse 5, God begins to answer.  He tenderly asks the prophet how he will survive the coming holocaust if he is so downcast over the events in Anathoth (5).  If he cannot keep up with the foot soldiers, he will not be able to race with the horses.  If he cannot keep the faith while the land is in peace, how will he survive when the Jordan floods?  Both of these images refer to the relative peace Jeremiah now enjoys, compared to the coming storm of persecution, invasion, and conquest.

In verse 6 God agrees that evil people control Israel. The prophet’s own people have forsaken him.  But Jeremiah’s people are God’s people, too, and they have forsaken Him more than they have forsaken Jeremiah.  Therefore, God has forsaken them (7).  “I have given the dearly beloved of my soul [Israel] into the hand of her enemies,” He says.  These words convey the broken heart of God.  He has loved Israel with an everlasting love, yet she has spurned His love and abandoned His house.  He goes on to mourn over the pastors who have destroyed His vineyard, Israel.  “They have made [the land and people] desolate, and being desolate it mourneth unto me,” God says in verse 11.  We can see that the passage is not a declaration of wrath; it is the eulogy of a Father mourning over His wicked, yet beloved son.

But all who repent will be accepted back into God’s favour (15).  Even the Gentile invaders, “if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, The Lord liveth, as they taught my people to swear by  Baal, then shall they be built into the midst of my people” (16).

Jeremiah 13

This chapter gives three object lessons and a call to repent mixed with a prophecy of what will happen if Israel continues in its sin.  First is the object lesson of the linen girdle, or, sash.  The prophet was told to bury an expensive and beautiful girdle in the mud beside the Euphrates River.   The Euphrates flows through the growing Babylonian Empire, and even beside the city of  Babylon.  Thus it represents the Babylonian invaders.  It also represents the route by which the invaders will come to Israel.  Rather than traveling directly to Jerusalem from Babylon, which would take them through hundreds of miles of desert, they will follow the River north from Babylon, and sweep to the south via long established caravan routes.  The girdle represents Israel.  In its pristine state, it was clean and pure, like Israel when she walked with God’s grace.  Dug out of the mud, it was filthy, rotted, and ugly, like Israel in her sin and idolatry.  It was fit only to be  discarded, burned, as God was going to burn Israel.

Second is the lesson of the wine bottles.  The Jews are like the bottles, full of the wine of their sin.  Dashing them together (14) causes them to burst.  Their wine is then spoiled, and they are destroyed.

Third is the image of the leopard and the Ethiopian.  This image speaks of the inability of the Jewish people to change themselves.

Because of her sin, God will strip Israel of her clothing and expose her nakedness to all (26, 27).  She has played the part of the adulteress, so God will treat her as a prostitute.

September 9

Jer. 14, Mk. 16
Jer. 15,  Rom. 10


Jeremiah 14

Dearth (1) refers to a prolonged drought in Israel.  The drought is both physical, in the lack of rain, and spiritual, in the lack of true Godliness. The people believe the false prophets who say, “Ye shall not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine” (13).  But their sermons are lies and their visions are self induced (14).  Israel’s destruction is sure, and false penance (20-22) will not avert it. 

Jeremiah 15

Moses and Samuel were known for intercessory prayer.  But God now says He will not turn His mind (favour) toward Israel if they would both stand before Him and entreat Him.  Rather than mercy, God will send the sword to slay, the dogs to tear, and fowls (vultures) and beasts, (scavengers) to devour and destroy their dead bodies.  Manasseh was a particularly evil king, remembered for building altars to idols in the Temple, burning his own son alive as an offering to Baal (2 Kings 21:4, 6, 7), and shedding “innocent blood very much” (2 Kings 21:16).  The implication here is that the people of Israel have continued in these same sins, and no one will have pity on them when their destruction comes.  But Jeremiah cannot help lamenting and interceding for Israel (15-18).  God tells him to stop: “return not thou unto them” (19).  Stop taking their part.  Take God’s part.  Return unto Him, and He will deliver the prophet out of the hand of the wicked and the terrible (21).

September 10

Jer. 16.  Lk.1:1-38
Jer. 17,  Rom. 11


Jeremiah 16

The prophet is now commanded to live in preparation for the impending invasion.  He is not to marry, for families and children will die grievous deaths when the Babylonians come (4).  Not having a wife and children will spare him much grief. The shock and horror of the conquest, and the brutality and imprisonment of the Babylonians will be so great that there will no time or opportunity to care for the bodies of the dead.  Nor is Jeremiah to participate in any mourning for the deceased (5-7).  This is partly due to the pagan funeral practices that have become prevalent in Israel.  Cutting, shaving the head, and tearing themselves were common features of pagan mourning, and would be done by the survivors, even if they are unable to bury their dead. Such practices were forbidden to Israel (Lev. 19:28).  It is also partly due to the fact that participation in such funerals and practices is to participate in the very idolatry that brought God’s judgement in the first place.  It would be inconsistent for Jeremiah to preach against such practices prior to the invasion, yet participate in them after it.  It would negate his entire ministry and message.  The primary reason is found in verse 5.  God has taken away peace from Israel.  Therefore Jeremiah is not to lament for the people.

Neither is Jeremiah to participate in the celebrations of the people (8,9).  Weddings and feasts will include pagan prayers and practices, in which Jeremiah cannot participate.  More importantly, his presence would seem to indicate that life is going on as usual, and there is no real reason for alarm or change.  His absence is a sign that it is time to prepare for calamity.  It is especially a sign that God is displeased with their pagan revelry.

The people are incredulous at this.  “What is our iniquity? or what is our sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?” (10).  Sinners seldom see themselves as sinners.  They usually see themselves as good people who are completely worthy of any good God can bestow upon them.  They justify their sins by saying they aren’t sins, just natural and innocent human inclinations, and the indulgence of them is good and appropriate behaviour.  The lawyer who asked Christ what he must do to inherit eternal life, did not repent; he attempted to justify himself (Lk. 10:29).  The proud, self righteous Pharisee thanked God that he was not a sinner like other people (Lk. 18:9-14). The people to whom Jeremiah speaks attempt to justify themselves.  Their response accuses God of being wrong, and cruel, and unjust.  If there is a problem between themselves and God, they reason, the fault must be in God, not themselves.  Thus, they continue in their sin, and harden themselves in their unbelief. 

The remainder of the chapter is God’s response to their refusal of Him.  Their fathers forsook God (11), but they have done worse than their fathers.  They “walk every one after the imagination of his evil heart, that they may not hearken unto me” (12).

Jeremiah 17

Verses 1-4 are like charges against Judah presented in court.  Judah, at this time, is all that is left of the 12 tribes of Israel,  The 10 northern tribes have been conquered and scattered, and the remaining people have intermarried with Gentiles, and essentially lost their identity as the people of God.  When the northern tribes seceded after the death of Solomon, they took the name “Israel.”  During that time, the remaining southern tribes were Benjamin and Judah.  Eventually, Benjamin was absorbed into Judah, and the people became known as Judah.  After the fall of Israel, Judah reclaimed the name, and is often called Israel again.

In verse 5 God shows the foolishness of relying on man instead of on God.  Israel cannot save herself from the Babylonians by the strength of her arm to wield the sword.  Nor can alliances with other nations save her.  There is no power in man to save anyone from the wrath of God.  This is true spiritually, also. No person can live without sin, nor can any person atone for his sin.  No person can earn God’s favour, or earn his way into Heaven by his own works.  God accepts us because He chooses to, and He makes us acceptable to Himself through the merits of Christ given to us in grace and received by us in faith.  No man comes to the Father but by Him.

Verses 12 and 13 are worshipful affirmations of Jeremiah’s faith.  They are followed by a prayer for deliverance (14-18).  The deliverance desired is from the persecution of the Jews who hear and hate him and his message, and from the devastation and death coming with the Babylonians.  But there is a deeper deliverance desired.  “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved” (14) seems to desire spiritual healing.  It is as though the prophet realises that he is not without sin.  It is as though he realises that every word of condemnation spoken against the Jews, could also be spoken against him.  Perhaps he has not committed the same sins as the others.  He has not followed other gods, or joined in the sensual indulgences of the pagan lifestyle, but neither is he without sin.  He knows the law of God, and with the law comes the knowledge of sin, so Jeremiah seeks the healing of his soul that can only come from God by grace.  He is doing what his sermons entreat his people to do.  He is repenting of sins, and turning to God more fully.

The chapter closes with a lengthy admonition to keep the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath symbolises returning to God and keeping the whole law of God.  To remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, is to remember God and honour Him.  There is great meaning in this for God’s people in all times.  Those who cannot make themselves keep the Lord’s Day show themselves to be very far from God in their hearts. 

 September 11

Jer. 18, Lk. 1:39-80
Jer. 19, Rom. 12


Jeremiah 18

This chapter begins with one of the most important and fundamental teachings in the entire Bible.  It encompasses many doctrines and gathers them all into one.  It asserts that God is the creator and owner of all things.  Therefore, all things exist for His pleasure and His purpose (Rev. 4:11).  This includes man, in both the individual context of an individual person, and in the collective context of mankind.  He created us, and for His pleasure we exist and were created.

It asserts the sovereignty of God.  He is sovereign over all things.  He has the right to do with them as He pleases.  He has the right to make some stars bright and others dim.  He has the right to form some molecules into asteroids, some into planets, some into plants and animals, and some into people.  He has the right to put some people in wealth, and others in poverty.  He even has the right to take some to Heaven and send others to hell.

This is the fundamental meaning of the lesson of the potter in verses1-6.  Just as a potter has the right to form and use the clay according to his purpose and will, God has the right to form and use man according to His purpose and will.  This is part of the meaning in Romans 9:19-21, which uses the same image of a potter and clay.  “Hath not the potter power over the clay; of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?”

Israel has a long history of impenitent sin.  Her people do not merely sin, they seek sin.  They excuse sin.  They call sin righteousness.  They do not confess their sin and ask God’s help to live a “Godly, righteous, and sober life.”  They revel in sin.  They intentionally dwell in it.  So the question arises, does God have the right to punish them?  Because His people have forgotten Him, and given themselves to gods that do not exist, with their indulgent sexuality and oppression of the weak and poor (15), doesn’t God have the right to punish them?  The answer implied is, “Yes.”  He has the right to pluck up nations and pull down nations, and to build a nation and to plant it like a tree or flower (7-10).  He has the right to punish the wicked, and  to have mercy on the righteous (10,11), as the potter has the right to destroy a faulty vessel and reshape the clay into a vessel he likes.  This view of God as the potter and us as the clay has almost disappeared from the contemporary Church.  Today people view God as the Great Enhancer, making life more pleasant for them, or at least making them able to cope with problems in a way that causes them the very least inconvenience possible.  But to see themselves as clay in His hands, to be shaped and formed, or reshaped and reformed, according to His will and purpose is both foreign and repugnant to many “Christians.”

Jeremiah now asks God to deliver him from those who oppose him in Israel.  We can surmise that the opposition is growing.  There has already been one death threat, and the people in verse18 “devise devices against Jeremiah.”  These devices could be mere rejection of his message, or they could be plots to harm or kill him.  Jeremiah has, at this point, lost his compassion for the people.  His prayer is like some of the Psalms, asking God to let His wrath fall on them.

Jeremiah 19

The Rev’d. Matthew Henry gives a particularly accurate appraisal of what God is doing in this passage, and, indeed, in the entire book of Jeremiah.  “Thus were all likely means tried to awaken this stupid, senseless people to repentance, that their ruin might be prevented; but all in vain.”  The means used in this chapter include a very direct sermon which specifically names the sins of the people.  The constant sin of idolatry is the primary sin.  It runs so deeply in the souls of the people they have even built altars on which they burn their children alive as sacrifices to Baal (5). Such sacrifices seem to be a common practice, and pagan altars on which they are burned are very numerous in Israel.  We can only imagine the suffering endured by the children, and the sorrow of God as His chosen children are burned on the altars of Baal.

Jeremiah calls the ecclesiastical and civil leaders together in a small valley that runs around the southern and western sides of Jerusalem.  In the Old Testament, it is called Hinnom.  In the New Testament it is often called Gehenna.  Jeremiah tells the people it will be called the valley of slaughter.  These leaders, both religious and civil, have all participated in the pagan sacrifices, and they receive a fiery and scathing sermon from Jeremiah.

The second means is the earthen bottle of verse 1.  It is a simple vessel, made of the clay soil around Jerusalem, like the Jews, part of the land.  Jeremiah breaks the bottle at the end of the sermon.  This is a violent action.  He does not just drop it.  He raises it high and hurls it to the ground, so that it shatters into small fragments that cannot be repaired.  Then Jeremiah says, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again” (11).

Jeremiah then moves inside the Temple (14), where he again announces the coming destruction of Israel.  “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words” (15).  A horse may harden its neck and ignore the directions given by the rider through the reins.  God is saying Israel is like a runaway horse, ignoring the reins and the bit.

September 12

Jer. 20,  Lk. 2:1-39
Jer. 21. Rom. 13


Jeremiah 20

Pashur appears to be a title rather than a personal name.  It refers to the chief governor in the house of the Lord, a position that appears to combine police and judicial powers in one officer.  He would be considered the head of the Temple guards, the same body of men that arrested Jesus and took Him to the High Priest prior to turning Him over to the Romans.  Jeremiah is horribly abused by this angry man.  “Smote” in verse 2 probably refers to being beaten with a whip or stick, much like the Apostle Paul was beaten in the New Testament.  The stocks are instruments that force and hold a person in an unnatural and painful position.  They have been used for millennia to punish minor offences, and the offenders’ time in the stock was usually very brief.  But they could also be used as instruments of torture, putting a person in more severe positions for longer periods of time.  Beaten and bleeding, Jeremiah was left in the stocks over night, so this is no mild affliction, it is horrible and painful punishment, and it is probably increased and intensified throughout the night in a kind of torture chamber.  It is designed to break Jeremiah so he will never preach again.  It is incredible that such things were even used in Israel, and that such torture was inflicted on a man of God by a priest.  Truly Israel has forgotten the purpose and meaning of the Temple and the priest.  “When the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Prov. 29:2).

Jeremiah is released the following day.  If the Pashur thinks he has broken the prophet’s spirit, he is shocked at Jeremiah’s words to him.  The Pashur and his friends (fellow governors and their henchmen) will see the fall of their city and the destruction of the Temple.  They will endure the death march to Babylon, and there, stripped of their power and broken in spirit, they will die (6).

Jeremiah 21

Zedekiah is the king of Israel, and has heard of Jeremiah.  He sends the Pashur to Jeremiah, this time in a much humbled position, to ask the prophet to tell him if Nebuchadrezzar (a more Babylonian spelling of Nebuchadnezzar) will  conquer Jerusalem.  The new respect for Jeremiah is due to the advance of the Babylonian army.  The siege of Jerusalem has already begun (4), and the king and people fear that Jeremiah’s prophecies may be true after all.  Zedekiah hopes the word from Jeremiah will be good news; that God will deal with Jerusalem “according to all his wondrous works” will miraculously cause Nubuchadnezzar  to leave the country.  It is amazing how these people, who had hated and tortured Jeremiah before, now come to him so humbly.  People, even today, ignore or despise the Church and her ministers while they are well and untroubled, yet humbly seek sanctuary within her doors when trouble rises against them.  Most such people return to despising the Church as soon as the trouble ends.  Their penance and prayers are false.  They only want God to help them for the moment; they don’t want God Himself.  Such is the humility of Zedekiah and the Pashur.  If God were to turn the Babylonians away, they would laugh Jeremiah to scorn, and continue in their sinful ways.

But Jeremiah’s message does not change.  He does not predict relief or deliverance.  He says God Himself will fight against Jerusalem (5, 6).  The king and people have two choices.  They can resist and die in the horrors of conquest, or they can surrender and face enslavement.  Either way, horror and death await the majority.

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