Jeremiah 14:17-22

17 “Speak this word to them:

“‘Let my eyes overflow with tears
    night and day without ceasing;
for the Virgin Daughter, my people,
    has suffered a grievous wound,
    a crushing blow.
18 If I go into the country,
    I see those slain by the sword;
if I go into the city,
    I see the ravages of famine.
Both prophet and priest
    have gone to a land they know not.’”

19 Have you rejected Judah completely?
    Do you despise Zion?
Why have you afflicted us
    so that we cannot be healed?
We hoped for peace
    but no good has come,
for a time of healing
    but there is only terror.
20 We acknowledge our wickedness, Lord,
    and the guilt of our ancestors;
    we have indeed sinned against you.
21 For the sake of your name do not despise us;
    do not dishonor your glorious throne.
Remember your covenant with us
    and do not break it.
22 Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain?
    Do the skies themselves send down showers?
No, it is you, Lord our God.
    Therefore our hope is in you,
    for you are the one who does all this.
(Jeremiah 14:17-22 NIV)

In yesterday’s passage, we see the Lord address the hearts of the people of Judah, calling out their feigned response of brokenness and confessions.  As soon as the drought were to go away, the Lord knew that the people would go right back to their idolatrous practices and turn their backs on Him.  The Lord also addressed the false prophets and the lies they were telling the people of Judah.

In today’s passage, we see God’s response to their calamity and the people’s response to the Lord.

Verses 17 – 18 show the Lord and Jeremiah expressed as one heart toward the people of Judah.  The Lord gives Jeremiah the words to express His heart toward His daughter Judah.  While He must discipline her for her wrongdoings, it breaks His heart that she will not respond and return to Him.  The prophecies of war, drought, and famine are now realities, and many are unaccounted for (probably either dead or carried off into exile due to the war).

Verses 19 – 22 are the cries of the people of Judah to the Lord.  The people start out with a seemingly simple question:  “Have you rejected Judah completely?”  At first, this seems like a genuine inquiry of repentance and desire for the restoration of their relationship with the Lord.

However, as we look at the larger context of verses 19 – 22, we see that the voice of the people is accusative rather than repentant.  Their cries are more like “Don’t You love us anymore, Lord?  Of all the nations on the earth, we thought we were Your favorite.”

The problem with their argument is that Judah was the one who turned their back on the Lord and walked away from Him, not vice versa.  For the people of Judah to claim innocence was to ignore God’s covenant and commands with His people and declare their standard as superior to the Lord’s.

In verse 19, the people referred to the false prophecies of peace and healing rather than the Lord’s words through Jeremiah of war, drought, and famine.  This reference to the false prophets’ words was further evidence that their hearts were not focused on the Lord, but on themselves.

Verse 20 is a recognition of their sins against the Lord; verse 22 is the admission that all good things come from the Lord.  Verse 21 is a reminder that the Lord promised in His covenant to care for His own, and that God’s reputation is at stake.

At first reading, this sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  The people of Judah are confessing their sins, admitting their dependence on God, and calling out to Him.  But with verse 21 thrown into the mix, we see their feigned repentance come out.  The people of Judah were admitting wrongdoing enough to “check the box”, but then immediately jumped to God’s promises in His covenant with His people, ignoring their responsibilities in their covenant relationship with Him.

Their connection with God had digressed from a vital, loving relationship with the God of the Universe to trying to hold the Lord accountable for His part of a contract which the Lord had kept but they had broken.  They were saying, “Yes, Lord, we may have stepped out of line, and yes, Lord, You provide all useful things like rain.  But You promised peace and prosperity, and we’re here to hold You to Your promise and collect what You owe us.”

May we learn a lesson from today’s passage.  When we sin, may we come before the Lord with broken, contrite hearts, confess our wrongdoing and ask only for His mercy, transformation, and restoration.of our relationship to Him.

May we know in the deepest part of our souls that the Lord loves us unconditionally, and He invites us to the dance of the Trinity, to connection with Him, invited into His family through His Son Jesus.

Blessings,
~kevin

Jeremiah 14:10-16

10 This is what the Lord says about this people:

“They greatly love to wander;
    they do not restrain their feet.
So the Lord does not accept them;
    he will now remember their wickedness
    and punish them for their sins.”

11 Then the Lord said to me, “Do not pray for the well-being of this people. 12 Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.”

13 But I said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! The prophets keep telling them, ‘You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed, I will give you lasting peace in this place.’”

14 Then the Lord said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds. 15 Therefore this is what the Lord says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name: I did not send them, yet they are saying, ‘No sword or famine will touch this land.’ Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine. 16 And the people they are prophesying to will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and sword. There will be no one to bury them, their wives, their sons and their daughters. I will pour out on them the calamity they deserve.
(Jeremiah 14:10-16 NIV)

From yesterday’s passage, the Lord acknowledged the drought taking place (verses 1 – 6).  The people responded in seeming repentance and humility but then demanded the Lord make the problem go away (verses 7 – 9).

In today’s passage, we see the Lord address the hearts of the people of Judah, calling out their feigned response of brokenness and confessions.  As soon as the drought were to go away, the Lord knew that the people would go right back to their idolatrous practices and turn their backs on Him.

In verse 11, the Lord tells Jeremiah not to pray for the people of Judah.  The Lord had told Jeremiah not to pray twice before (see 7:16 and 11:14) – this was the third time the Lord had told Jeremiah.  Was Jeremiah previously disobedient and prayed and the Lord was reminding him again?  Or was this another interim time when the Lord told Jeremiah to suspend his prayers on behalf of the people?  We don’t know, as Scripture does not say.

The Lord then reiterates the triple threats of war, famine, and plague in verse 12.  These three disciplinary measures were often used to bring God’s enemies to justice, and to humble His people to the point that they returned to their relationship with Him.

In verse 13, Jeremiah asks a question about the message of the other prophets.  Tender-hearted Jeremiah wants to know why the Lord is bringing such severe punishment on the people of Judah when the other prophets are saying “all is well.”  Did Jeremiah misunderstand the Lord and the other prophets were correct in their prophecies?

In verses 14 – 16, the Lord clears up Jeremiah’s doubts.  The Lord disavowed any association with either the prophets or their words.  In fact, the Lord said that these false prophets would be the first to perish by the very things they prophesied.  The people who falsely put their faith in the prophets instead of the Lord would then follow the same fate as the prophets.  Only when they saw the bodies of their loved ones tossed onto the streets like yesterday’s trash will they realize they have been deceived, and it is too late.

May we be so focused on the Lord that we stay His course and do not wander from the sound of His voice.

May we always seek the Lord and discernment from His Spirit, to know what is from Him and what is said in God’s name but is not from Him.

May we have the courage to live counterculturally, to resist the tidal wave of public opinion and the noise of modern culture and follow the Lord regardless of the consequences.

Blessings,
~kevin

Jeremiah 14:1-9

14 This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah concerning the drought:

“Judah mourns,
    her cities languish;
they wail for the land,
    and a cry goes up from Jerusalem.
The nobles send their servants for water;
    they go to the cisterns
    but find no water.
They return with their jars unfilled;
    dismayed and despairing,
    they cover their heads.
The ground is cracked
    because there is no rain in the land;
the farmers are dismayed
    and cover their heads.
Even the doe in the field
    deserts her newborn fawn
    because there is no grass.
Wild donkeys stand on the barren heights
    and pant like jackals;
their eyes fail
    for lack of food.”

Although our sins testify against us,
    do something, Lord, for the sake of your name.
For we have often rebelled;
    we have sinned against you.
You who are the hope of Israel,
    its Savior in times of distress,
why are you like a stranger in the land,
    like a traveler who stays only a night?
Why are you like a man taken by surprise,
    like a warrior powerless to save?
You are among us, Lord,
    and we bear your name;
    do not forsake us!
(Jeremiah 14:1-9 NIV)

Today’s passage moves from the threat of the armies of the north in previous chapters to something far more immediate – the peril of natural disaster, namely, drought.

Normally, I would provide some context for the passage, then walk through the verses to understand their meaning and application to our lives.

But today is different.  There is so much more going on here, and it has taken my heart by surprise.  In fact, it has taken two days to process and write about this passage.

The text is quite straightforward – that is not the issue.  This passage calls out the effects of the drought on man and beast (verses 2 – 6), followed by the confession of sin by the people of Judah and their appeals for God to intervene (verses 7 – 9).

Then what is the issue?  Why am I not able to write?  What is going on in my heart that made my hands too weighed down to type?

Putting myself back in the land of Judah, in Jerusalem, walking with Jeremiah, the enormity of the drought on top of the impending invasion by the armies of the north was overwhelming, almost too much to bear.

But even feeling the combination of war and drought was not the source of my writer’s block – it was bigger than that.

As prayers and meditation on what we have studied so far in Jeremiah slowly began to lift the weight of the fog, the bigger picture started taking shape:  The forthcoming captivity, the drought, everything that was happening to Judah and Jerusalem was the Lord’s hand to bring His people back to Himself.

Many of you are probably saying, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.”  Yes, we have talked about this as a theme of the very character and nature of God – no surprises here.

Seeing God’s Providence at work was what caught my heart by surprise.  There were no surprises here – only the Lord opening my eyes to what He had already said.  Let me walk you through just a few of the insights that the Lord weaved into what we’ve studied so far:

  • The drought (verse 2) and captivity are God’s way of taking His children back to the point of His covenant with their forefathers as they were coming out of Egypt (see 2:6).  He was taking them back to the same conditions that their ancestors experienced when they had no other choice to trust Him.  Sometimes the way back is the way forward.
  • The people searching for water in empty cisterns (verse 3) rather than searching for wells was telling of their spiritual condition of trying to provide for themselves independently of the Lord.  The Lord had brought this to their attention early on (see 2:12 – 13), and nothing had changed.  God longed to be their Patriarch and Provider, but they turned their backs on Him and went their selfish way.
  • Unless the nation of Judah changed its path in repentance and turned to the Lord, their eyes were glazing over in near death (verse 6) from spiritual dehydration just like the wild donkeys were from the physical drought.  The people were about to plunge themselves from the fading twilight of God’s guidance (see 13:15-16) back into the darkness of their selfish way, just like the captivity their forefathers had experienced in Egypt before the Lord rescued them (see 2:6).

But yet, as we see in verses 7 – 9 and shall witness in the next few passages, the nation of Judah’s heart was determined to follow its self-centered path.  Judah demanded that the Lord serve its needs by giving relief from the natural drought rather than turning from its wicked ways and seeking to end its spiritual drought.

May we, like Jeremiah, stand in the gap and pray for our particular nations before the spiritual darkness and drought become the norm rather than the exception.

May we pray, not in self-righteous judgment, but humbly, asking God to do whatever it takes to restore our respective nations to Himself.

This prayer request is not too hard for the Lord – but it starts in our broken hearts and on our bended knees, not for our comfort and convenience, but for His glory.

May we allow the Lord to use Jeremiah as our spiritual director and show us the way.

Blessings,
~kevin

Jeremiah 13:20-27

20 Look up and see
    those who are coming from the north.
Where is the flock that was entrusted to you,
    the sheep of which you boasted?
21 What will you say when the Lord sets over you
    those you cultivated as your special allies?
Will not pain grip you
    like that of a woman in labor?
22 And if you ask yourself,
    “Why has this happened to me?”—
it is because of your many sins
    that your skirts have been torn off
    and your body mistreated.
23 Can an Ethiopian change his skin
    or a leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good
    who are accustomed to doing evil.

24 “I will scatter you like chaff
    driven by the desert wind.
25 This is your lot,
    the portion I have decreed for you,”
declares the Lord,
“because you have forgotten me
    and trusted in false gods.
26 I will pull up your skirts over your face
    that your shame may be seen—
27 your adulteries and lustful neighings,
    your shameless prostitution!
I have seen your detestable acts
    on the hills and in the fields.
Woe to you, Jerusalem!
    How long will you be unclean?”
(Jeremiah 13:20-27 NIV)

In the previous two passages, we see the selfish pride of both the people and of their leaders being called out.  The focus is on the nation as a whole.

In today’s passage, we see the focus shifting from Judah as a nation to Jerusalem as a city.  The “you” reference throughout the passage is feminine in gender, reminiscent of the Lord referring to Jerusalem as His daughter.

Today’s passage begins by reminding the people of Jerusalem of their impending capture by the armies of the north.  Jerusalem was the capital city of Judah, and as such, ruled over all the land.  With the rest of the nation and its people already captured (the “sheep” and “flocks” in verse 20), Jerusalem’s pride was no more – she was all alone.

Verse 21 recalls the bad decisions that Jerusalem had made with its foes.  Rather than fight against its enemies, Jerusalem elected to make peace treaties and trade agreements with them and take up their religious practices, worshiping their false gods.  Because Jerusalem had turned her back on the Lord and disobeyed His commands, the Lord allowed these so-called “friends” to become Jerusalem’s captors.  This turn of events, from trusted friend to cruel captor, was devastating to Jerusalem, bringing on pain so intense that childbirth was its only comparison.

Verse 22 expresses the anticipated cry of Jerusalem against the Lord:   “Why has this happened to me?”  Jerusalem is assuming that this is all God’s fault – she takes none of the responsibility for her actions.  The Lord answers her complaint – it is because of her many sins.  And what has happened?  The trusted friend turned cruel captor has not only forced her into captivity but also shamefully exposed her nakedness and sexually molested and raped her.  Jerusalem had been sleeping with the enemy against her Father’s wishes, through her worship of the false gods.  Now her lovers turned on her and treated her like a common prostitute rather than the daughter of the king.

Verse 24 asks a question with a known negative answer.  The implication is that it would be easier for a dark-skinned person to change their skin color or a leopard to change its spots than for Jerusalem to do good rather than evil.

Verses 24 – 27b are the Lord’s disciplinary actions spelled out for Jerusalem because of her sinful worship of other gods and turning her back on the One True God.  Jeremiah mournfully asks Jerusalem how long she will continue in her wicked ways.  Jeremiah believed that Jerusalem would either a) repent and turn from her wicked ways, or b) the Lord would finish His discipline and then restore Jerusalem as His beloved child again.

May we remember that nothing is hidden from the Lord.  He sees everything that goes on in our lives and our hearts and minds, especially our motives – why we do what we do.

May we humbly ask the Lord to search our hearts, to remove any displeasing attitudes or actions from our being (Psalm 139, especially verses 23 – 24).

And when we do experience the Lord’s loving discipline, may we remember that “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10).

May we walk in sweet fellowship with the Lord, as with our best friend, the One who loves us unconditionally and desires our best, who relentlessly pursues us and loves us too much to give up on us.

Blessings,
~kevin

Jeremiah 13:18-19

18 Say to the king and to the queen mother,
    “Come down from your thrones,
for your glorious crowns
    will fall from your heads.”
19 The cities in the Negev will be shut up,
    and there will be no one to open them.
All Judah will be carried into exile,
    carried completely away.
(Jeremiah 13:18-19 NIV)

In the previous passage, Jeremiah begged the people of Judah to repent of their pride before the rest of the Lord’s disciplinary judgments fell on them.

In today’s passage, the Lord tells Jeremiah to call out the pride of the king and the queen mother.  While the king and queen mother are not specifically named, most scholars believe this is referring to King Jehoiachin and his mother, Nehushta.  Jehoiachin became king after the death of his father, Jehoiakim.  Jehoiachin was eighteen when he became king, but his reign only lasted three months when the Babylonians replaced him with one of their own. Jehoiachin and the queen mother were exiled to Babylon, held as a prisoner for 35 years, and then released. They were never allowed to return to Judah. You can read their story in 2 Kings 24:8-17.

To grasp the significance of this passage, we need to put ourselves in King Jehoiachin’s shoes. Psalm 137 gives a clear picture of the heartbreak of being an exiled king, stripped of his glory and forced to live as a prisoner in another man’s kingdom.

Verse 19 shows the extent to which the people would be exiled. The reference to the Negev meant all the towns of southern Judah. The phrase “carried completely away” refers to both those who were forced to leave their home and country and were sent to Babylon, as well as the poorest of the poor who were allowed to stay but were ruled by a local Babylonian overlord.

Commentator Derek Kidner sums up the application of these two verses:

“In short, no one is so high, nothing so venerable, nowhere so safe, as to be exempt when God sends in His agents of upheaval and destruction.  To say, ‘It couldn’t happen here’ is (as we are all finding out) not even plausible.”
(Kinder, Derek.  “Jeremiah” Commentary.  InterVarsity Press, 1987.  Page 65.)

May we live out our lives in humble obedience to the Lord, not letting our selfish pride come before our worship of Him, who created us and gives us life and breath each and every moment of every day.

May our hearts be moved by God’s heart.  May we hear His voice and unconditionally love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Blessings,
~kevin

Jeremiah 13:15-17

15 Hear and pay attention,
    do not be arrogant,
    for the Lord has spoken.
16 Give glory to the Lord your God
    before he brings the darkness,
before your feet stumble
    on the darkening hills.
You hope for light,
    but he will turn it to utter darkness
    and change it to deep gloom.
17 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.
(Jeremiah 13:15-17 NIV)

In the previous two passages, the Lord instructs Jeremiah to use two object lessons (a linen belt and wineskins) to show their waste and loss because of unrepentant sin.

In today’s passage, Jeremiah begs the people of Judah to repent before the rest of the disciplinary judgments fall on them.

And what is the primary issue Jeremiah addresses?  Their pride (“arrogant” – v. 15, “pride” – v. 17).  As we have studied before, the people of Judah thought they had progressed beyond serving the One True God; they were enlightened and modern.  However, their so-called enlightenment was a product of their deluded minds and darkened hearts.

Jeremiah uses the analogy of fading light (the evening twilight) on a mountain to illustrate his point (v. 16).  The twilight is not that of the breaking dawn as they had hoped, but of the fast onset of the inky darkness of the night.  Having lived in a mountain community for ten years and having spent a lot of time outdoors, I quickly learned to respect the value of light and planned my outdoor activities between sunrise and sunset times.  There are few things more disconcerting than having to hike out from a day trek after dark on an overcast, pitch-black night.

While Jeremiah called the people of Judah to repentance, he did not address them in scolding, self-righteous judgment or an attitude of hatred.  Rather, Jeremiah addressed the people of Judah with love and compassion, with bitter weeping and a river of tears for their impending plight.

Jeremiah loved the people of Judah and wanted God’s best for them.  Seeing their upcoming fall and captivity because of their pride broke Jeremiah’s heart.  He did not separate himself from his people, but stayed and endured the hardship with them,  begging them to repent and turn back to the Lord.  Jeremiah did not have sympathy for his fellow citizens (“I’m sorry life is hard for you”).  Instead, he had compassion and empathy (“I am experiencing your hurt and pain along with you”).  Jeremiah did not rejoice in the fact that the people of Judah were going to get what they deserved; rather, it broke his heart and was the source of his grief and tears.

May we learn much from Jeremiah’s heart expressed in today’s passage:

  • Letting God’s love for us overflow onto others, even when they don’t love us back
  • Moving from self-righteous judgment, to sympathy, to Jeremiah’s heart of empathy
  • To speak the truth in love (both truth and love, not one or the other)
  • To give glory to God in all things, even His just standards of discipline upon us
  • Never rejoicing over the calamity of others, but weeping at their fall (Prov. 24:17)

Blessings,
~kevin

Jeremiah 13:12-14

12 “Say to them: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Every wineskin should be filled with wine.’ And if they say to you, ‘Don’t we know that every wineskin should be filled with wine?’ 13 then tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to fill with drunkenness all who live in this land, including the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets and all those living in Jerusalem. 14 I will smash them one against the other, parents and children alike, declares the Lord. I will allow no pity or mercy or compassion to keep me from destroying them.’”
(Jeremiah 13:12-14 NIV)

Chapter 13 begins a series of symbolic acts that demonstrated the broken relationship between Judah and the Lord.  If the people of Judah and Jerusalem did not listen to Jeremiah’s words, they would hopefully pay attention to his object lessons.

Yesterday’s object lesson was a brand new linen belt that the Lord told Jeremiah to bury then dig up later.  The belt, of course, was destroyed and useless.  This ruined belt signified the uselessness of Judah and Jerusalem to bring the Lord praise and honor.

Today’s object lesson uses a different object (wine skins) but the same net effect – waste and loss because of blatant sin.

In verse 12, the Lord tells Jeremiah to quote a familiar proverb:  “Every wineskin should be filled with wine.”  The Lord also told Jeremiah what to say when the people mocked Jeremiah for quoting the familiar proverb.  The Lord knew the hearts of the people, and fully expected them to respond to Jeremiah with hurtful words like a snarky “Thank you, Captain Obvious” or its kid version of “duh.”

Like the linen belt example, the wineskins will be ruined in the process and will be unable to perform their intended function of holding wine.  Likewise, the people of Judah will be unable to perform their duty of carrying praise and honor and presenting them as an offering to the Lord.

The “wine” that the Lord referred to was not fermented grape juice in the literal sense, but rather it was God’s wrath poured out on His people for their blatant disobedience.  Like a drunken person, Judah and Jerusalem would not be able to control their actions and emotions.  From kings to priests to everyday citizens, young and old,  wealthy and poor, they would all smash into one another and destroy themselves.

In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus taught the Beatitudes, then followed them up with a similar message to Jeremiah’s object lessons:

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
(Matthew 5:13-16 NIV, Jesus speaking)

May we take both the privilege and responsibility of obeying the Lord seriously and seek to live our lives for His glory and honor, not our own.

Blessings,
~kevin