Thursday, July 27, 2017

Singing The Blues (Lamentations)

Most of us remember where we were and what we're doing on 9/11, 2001. The images and emotions are seared into our memory. This would be much more so for the Jews living in 586 BC, the year Babylon destroyed Jerusalem. The book of Jeremiah closes with a graphic description of siege, famine, terror, plunder, killings, cruelty and public executions. But far more traumatic was the glaring reality that:
  • Jerusalem was destroyed (52:13b-14).
  • The throne of David was empty. The last king of Judah was captured, blinded and improsoned for the rest of his life (52:9-11).
  • The temple of God was in ruins (52:13a).
  • The people of God were deported into exile in Babylon (52:15).
The greatest sufferings in life are not material losses or physical pain but the emotional and spiritual trauma of abandonment and despair. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1).

Singing the blues. Lamentations (Latin Vulgate translation: lamenta) consists of five laments or lamentations. A lament is a sad, agony-filled cry of mourning, usually in poetic form. There are numerous laments in Psalms with cries to God in pain and suffering. These laments in Psalms almost always end with a strong affirmation that God will indeed provide deliverance or with a vow of praise to God because of his great deliverance. Lamentations, by contrast, has statements of hope, but these are somewhat tentative and faint. In the lament psalms the affirmations of faith in God's deliverance are central, while in Lamentations the cry of pain and suffering is central. In our culture today it may be akin to "funeral dirge" or the American blues music. Thus, Lamentations is about singing the blues.

Central message and purpose. Lamentations is a cry of agony and suffering. But this cry is also a confession that this terrible suffering is very much deserved, a result of repeated disobedience, defiance of God and rejection of his word. It is a graphically horrific first-person testimony to the real consequences of sin.
  1. No Comfort for the Grieving Widow Jerusalem. Rebellion and sin against God result in sorrow, tragedy and pain.
  2. The Anger of God. Even as the anger of God brings judgment, he still listens for the cry of repentance.
  3. The Faithfulness of God in the Midst of Judgment. Because of God's faithful loyal love, there is always hope.
  4. Sin and its Tragic Consequences for Children. The sin of adults can lead to terrible and tragic consequences for children.
  5. Woe to Us, for We Have Sinned. God is always on his throne; thus we should confess our sins and trust him for deliverance.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

God Guarantees Salvation Amid Punishment (Jeremiah 46-52)

"Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant; do not be dismayed, Israel. I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid. 28 Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant, for I am with you," declares the Lord"Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only in due measure; I will not let you go entirely unpunished" (Jer 46:27-28).
  • Ch. 46 (Judgment and Salvation): God in his sovereignty will bring judgment on prideful nations, but he will provide salvation for the remnant that truly believes.
  • Ch. 47-49 (Judgment on the Nations): God is at work throughout the world, judging and restoring.
  • Ch. 50-51 (The End of Babylon and the Future of Israel): The end of Babylon is contrasted with the everlasting restoration of God's people.
  • Ch. 52 (The End of Jerusalem, Yet Hope for the Future): Even in the context of imminent and well-deserved judgment, God offers hope.
Jeremiah, as the prophet to the nations (Jer 1:5, 10), prophesies judgment on some of Judah's neighbors. Thus, Jeremiah 46-51 is appropriately referred to as the Judgment on the Nations. The nations are: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazor, Elam and Babylon. Starting with Egypt provides continuity with Jeremiah 43-44. Ending with Babylon is appropriate because Babylon is the most powerful nation in the region, the one that brings judgment on the other nations, including Judah, and the nation whose future most affects that of the remnant of Israel.

Oracles against other nations are a common feature in the prophetic books (Isaiah 13-23; Amos 1-2; Ezekiel 25-32). Jeremiah's oracles, in general, make the point that the coming of Babylon is God's judgment on all the nations -- but that in the end Babylon too will be judged, and Judah saved from its oppression (Jer 25:15-19).

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Most Difficult Instrument to Play is Second Fiddle

Leonard Bernstein, the late conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, was once asked to name the most difficult instrument to play. Without hesitation, he replied: "The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that's a problem; and if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony."

"Humility is a strange thing: the moment you think you have it, is just the moment you have lost it. Only the proud will speak of their humility: the humble confess to having a problem with pride. Until a man is nothing, God can make nothing of him." Anon.

Am I thrilled, zealous and full of enthusiasm to play second fiddle to my Lord (and any others that he chooses)?

In the KJV of the Bible, the word 'leader' is mentioned only six times. The word 'servant' is mentioned more than 900 times. Serving seems to be thought of more highly by Jesus.

In his brilliant book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells the strangest story about a guy called Christopher Langan – a genius with a staggering IQ of 195 (Einstein's was 150). In school, Langan could ace any foreign language exam just by skimming the textbook two to three minutes before the test. But Langan never made the most of his amazing ability and ended up working on a horse farm in rural Missouri. According to Gladwell, Langan never had a second fiddler – a community to help him capitalise on his gifts. Gladwell summarises his story in one sentence. "Langan had to make his way alone, and no one – not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires and not even geniuses – ever makes it alone."

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How Foolish to Reject God's Gracious Second Chance (Jeremiah 40-45)

Jeremiah 40-44 is a postscript of sorts, narrating the events that take place in Judah in the aftermath of the Babylonian invasion. The point, however, is to explain how those who remained in Judah rejected God's offer of blessing and restoration, and thus removed themselves and their descendants as candidates to participate in the great restoration promised in Jeremiah 30-33, where God gives his people a new heart, one heart and one way.

Ch. 45 is the "deliverance oracle" concerning Baruch, which relates to a lament by Baruch about the burden of his task (Jer 45:3), since he shared firsthand in the grief and frustration of Jeremiah. It contains both a gentle rebuke and a great encouragement.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jeremiah Chapter 1-52 Outline

  • 1: The Call of Jeremiah.
  • 2-29: Judgment (Prediction)
  • 30-33: Salvation (Comfort, Consolation)
  • 34-52: Judgment (Actual)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Like a Gentle Lamb Led to the Slaughter (Jeremiah 11:19)

 A Weeping Gentle Lamb

  • "I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughterI did not realize that they had plotted against me, saying, 'Let us destroy the tree and its fruit; let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more'" (Jer 11:19, NIV).
  • "I was like a (docile, pet, HCSB) lamb being led to the slaughter. I had no idea that they were planning to kill me! 'Let's destroy this man and all his words,' they said. 'Let's cut him down, so his name will be forgotten forever'" (Jer 11:19, NLT).
  • "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth" (Isa 53:7, NIV). "Unjustly condemned, he was led away (He was humiliated and received no justice - Greek). No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream (For his life was taken from the earth - Greek). But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people" (Isa 53:8, NLT).
  • "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain (slaughtered, NLT), standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders" (Rev 5:6a, NIV).
  • "Then the people said, 'Come on, let's plot a way to stop Jeremiah. We have plenty of priests and wise men and prophets. We don't need him to teach the word and give us advice and prophecies. Let's spread rumors about him (attack him with our tongues, NIV; strike him with the tongue, ESV; denounce him, HCSB) and ignore what he says (pay no attention to anything he says, NIV)'" (Jer 18:18, NLT).
  • "You, Lord, took up my case; you redeemed my life. 59 Lord, you have seen the wrong done to me. Uphold my cause! 60 You have seen the depth of their vengeance (all their malice, HCSB), all their plots against me. 61 Lord, you have heard their insults (taunts, ESV; vile names they call me, NLT), all their plots against me—62 what my enemies (assailants, ESV) whisper and mutter (slander and murmuring, HCSB) against me all day long" (Lam 3:58-62).
  • "Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people" (Jer 9:1, NIV).
  • "If you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the Lord's flock will be taken captive" (Jer 13:17, NIV).
  • "Let my eyes overflow with tears night and day without ceasingfor the VirginDaughter, my people, has suffered a grievous wound, a crushing blow" (Jer 14:17, NIV).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Broken Covenant (Jeremiah 11-12)

"If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?" (Jer 12:5).

Ch.1-29 deals primarily with the broken covenant and the consequent judgment. Ch.1 is the call. Ch.2 is the charge--the formal, legal lawsuit. Ch.3 is the unsuccessful call for Judah to repent and return to the covenant. Ch.4-6 describes the consequent judgment: the Babylonian invasion. Ch.7-10 indicts their false religion (primarily idolatry) and its punishment. Idolatry is at the heart of the broken covenant the the broken relationship with God.

Ch.11--which continues to ch.29--focuses on Jeremiah's role as God's prophet in conflict with the kings of Judah and their false prophets, who oppose God's word and prophesy lies in God's name. In 11:1-17 God instructs Jeremiah to proclaim to the people of Jerusalem that they have shattered the covenant, and thus their relationship with God is over. This results in one of the central themes in these chapters: the conflict and hostility that Jeremiah will face from all the leaders (kings, prophets, priests--even his own family and clan).