Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 38)

38Chapter 38 continues the narrative begun in the previous chapter by telling us what transpired after Jeremiah was accused of desertion and imprisoned in the courtyard of the guard.  Things go from bad to worse for Jeremiah and for king Zedekiah.  Yet in the midst of the mire, there are glimmers of God’s grace in the way God preserves the life of his faithful, suffering prophet.  There are also glimpses of the inner workings of Zedekiah’s heart, especially the dynamics that keep him from trusting and obeying God.

Though under arrest and imprisoned in the courtyard, Jeremiah is not silenced.  Evidently, he continues to proclaim a message of impending destruction for the city, encouraging people to surrender to the Babylonians (“whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live”—2).  This message doesn’t sit well with some of the king’s officials; they complain to the king that Jeremiah is “discouraging the soldiers . . . as well as the people by the things he is saying to them” (4).  Jeremiah is branded as a traitor, one who aids the agenda of the adversary.  The officials contend he is “not seeking the good (שָׁלוֹם) of these people but their ruin” (4).  Actually, the reverse is true.

Four officials are mentioned as petitioning the king to put Jeremiah to death for what they see as treasonous words.  One of the men (Gedaliah) may have been the son of the Pashhur who had earlier punished Jeremiah (20:1-6).  The king’s response to their request reveals his pattern of weak, unprincipled leadership.  “‘He is in your hands,’ Zedekiah answered.  ‘The king can do nothing to oppose you’” (5).  He abdicates his role as leader; like Pilate, he washes his hands and claims to be innocent of the outcome.

jeremiahliftedGod’s grace and fidelity to His promise to protect Jeremiah’s life (1:18-19) are seen in what happens next.  First, the officials do not kill Jeremiah (though evidently given tacit permission to do so); instead, they lower him, Joseph-like, into a pit.  Second, another court official, Ebed-Melech, takes it on himself to approach the king, accuse the other officials of acting “wickedly” (9), and plead for Jeremiah’s removal from the cistern.  A third evidence of God’s preserving grace is seen in Zedekiah’s response:  he uses his rediscovered royal authority to have Jeremiah extricated from the cistern and held (once again) in the courtyard of the guard (10-13).  Fourth, he grants Jeremiah favour with the vacillating king so that Zedekiah uses his power to protect Jeremiah from the officials who are still seeking his life (16).

This chapter presents a contrast between Jeremiah and Zedekiah.  Both are confined:  Jeremiah in a courtyard; Zedekiah in a besieged city.  Both have enemies who are (or at least may be) seeking to kill them:  for Jeremiah, it’s some of the royal officials (4, 16); for Zedekiah, it’s (at least in his mind) some of the Jews who surrendered to the Babylonians (19).  Both receive the word of the Lord: Jeremiah through revelation; Zedekiah through proclamation.  The big difference between the two is their response to God’s word:  Jeremiah trusts and obeys it; Zedekiah does not (20). For his courageous faith in God’s word, Jeremiah was lowered into a cistern and literally “sank down into the mud” (6).  For his fearful disobedience to God’s word, Zedekiah would figuratively have his “feet . . . sunk in the mud” (22).  Jeremiah would be lifted out of the “mud and mire” (Psalm 40:2), where Zedekiah would remain mired in a terrible situation.  He would be captured, his city burned, his “trusted friends” would desert him (22) and his family killed before his eyes.

Zedekiah’s fear of man (“I am afraid of the Jews who have gone over to the Babylonians, for the Babylonians may hand me over to them and they will mistreat me”—19) trumps his fear of God.  He swears by God’s name (16) but won’t trust and obey God’s word.  He wants to hear what Jeremiah has to say (14) but won’t commit to doing what he hears.  He leans on his “trusted friends” (“men of peace”—22) instead of trusting in the Lord.  When faced with a binary choice to obey or disobey, he chooses to disobey by choosing not to obey.  Sadly, his disobedience as a leader proves terribly costly, both for him and those he leads.  The city, which could have been spared (17), is demolished.  His family members, who could have lived (17), are killed before his eyes (39:6).  Where Jeremiah is pulled out of the mud, Zedekiah and his people sink into it.

ebedOne touching aspect of this episode is the courageous action taken by Ebed-Melech to rescue Jeremiah from death in the cistern (7-13).  Ebed-Melech (“servant of the king”) is one of the king’s officials (perhaps a eunuch) and was a foreigner (a Cushite—person of colour from the Upper Nile region). He approaches the king as he is “sitting in the Benjamin Gate” (7).  Authorities often administered justice in the city gates, so perhaps Zedekiah was judging internal matters that day.  Ebed-Melech publically accuses his fellow officials of “acting wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet” (8).  The king orders Ebed-Melech to take thirty men (perhaps expecting resistance) and pull Jeremiah out of the pit (in spite of his earlier decision to allow the officials to punish Jeremiah—5).

Ebed-Melech is the Old Testament equivalent of the Good Samaritan, a foreigner who shows compassion when others will not.  God uses an unlikely hero to fulfill His promise of protecting Jeremiah’s life.  Because of Ebed-Melech’s courageous support of Jeremiah and his “trust” in the Lord (39:17), God promises to protect his life when the city falls (39:15-17).  Here is another example that those from any nation who trust in the Lord and take action to live out their faith (in spite of the personal risk) are noticed and blessed by “the Lord Almighty” (39:16).  God is no respecter of persons and desires to bless all who trust in Him.

One interesting side note relates to how Jeremiah answers the officials who want to know about his conversation with the king (24-27).  Zedekiah tells Jeremiah to hide some of their private conversation from the officials for his safety’s sake.  Jeremiah complies:  “he told them everything the king had ordered him to say” (27)  Though he regularly and fearlessly proclaims God’s message, he uses discretion as well.

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 37)

37Beginning with chapter 37 and continuing through chapter 44, we read the account of Jeremiah’s life and ministry during the siege of Jerusalem, the destruction of the city, the ensuing chaos and eventual flight to Egypt by the Jews who were not deported to Babylon.  This is the darkest section of the book, set in the darkest period of Israel’s history.  The book of Lamentations would have been written within the time period covered by chapters 37-44.

Tlistenhroughout this terrible time, the leaders and people continue to dismiss or flatly deny Jeremiah’s messages from God; they do not “listen”—a keyword in the entire book but especially in chapters 37-44.  They do not listen to Jeremiah’s words even though the words of the false prophets had already proven false.  A half dozen years prior, in the fourth year of Zedekiah’s reign, Hananiah had predicted that within two years the Babylonian’s power would be broken (28:10-11).  Ahab, Zedekiah (the prophet, not the king) and Shemaiah had predicted similar, sunny outcomes (29:20-32). Their prophetic words had not come true, while Jeremiah’s words had.  In spite of this, Jeremiah is ignored, attacked, falsely accused, beaten, imprisoned, starved and ultimately taken to Egypt.  Through it all, he continues to faithfully and courageously proclaim God’s word at great personal cost.

The events of chapter 37 must be integrated into those recorded in chapters 21 (Zedekiah’s inquiry) and 32 (Jeremiah’s purchase of property).  The precise chronology of these events is challenging to reconstruct, but the main events include Jeremiah’s reply to Zedekiah’s two inquiries when the Babylonians are laying siege to the city (21:1; 37:3), Jeremiah’s imprisonment and purchase of property in Anathoth (32:9), the temporary withdrawal of the Babylonian armies to fight the Egyptians (37:6-10), Jeremiah’s release from confinement and his attempt to visit the property in Anathoth (37:12), his arrest for the false charge of “desertion” and re-imprisonment (37:13-21).

leadershipZedekiah’s life provides a sad case study of a failed leader. He’s a king who asks Jeremiah to pray for the nation (3) and privately inquires about God’s messages (19; 21:1-2; 38:14).  However, he does not listen to/obey God’s word:  “Neither he [Zedekiah] nor his attendants nor the people of the land paid any attention [listened] to the words of the Lord had spoken through Jeremiah the prophet” (2). He intervenes to spare Jeremiah’s life by moving him to a “better” prison (“courtyard of the guard”—21) and orders that Jeremiah receive bread until it runs out (21); however, he still leaves him imprisoned for no good reason (“What crime have I committed . . .?”—18). Zedekiah is a living example of the truth of Proverbs 29:25:  “The fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”  (See my notes on chapter 34).

The chapter opens with Zedekiah sending an official (Jehucal) and a priest (Zephaniah) to ask that Jeremiah “pray to the Lord our God for us” (3).  The king still sees the LORD as the God of the Israelites even though none of them “paid any attention” to God’s words through Jeremiah (2).  Initially, it seems as though God answers their cries for help; the Babylonian armies withdraw from Jerusalem to face off against the Egyptians who have come to Israel’s support (8).  But God is not delivering his people as He had done earlier in the days of Hezekiah.  He has Jeremiah tell the king:  the Babylonians will dispatch the Egyptians and return to capture and burn Jerusalem (8).

What strikes me as especially poignant is one particular line in the message Jeremiah sends Zedekiah:  “Even if you were to defeat the entire Babylonian army that is attacking you and only wounded men were left in their tents, they would come out and burn this city down” (10). When God purposes to bring defeat, there is no way to be victorious.  Even what would normally be a resounding victory (defeating and wounding the entire Babylonian army) would not be enough.  As God had used Gideon’s tiny band of troops to defeat a host of Midianites (Judges 7), He could, if He chose to, easily use a small band of wounded Babylonians to defeat Israel.

Here is the sobering reminder that if God is fighting against us, we have no hope of winning.  To invert a well-known verse from Romans (8:31):  “If God is against us, who can be for us?”  No amount of strategy or skill can bring success.  As Proverbs 21:30 says,  “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord.” We can’t disregard His Word and then expect Him to favorably answer our prayers (3).  Instead, we need to be “paying attention” (listening/obeying) to His Word at all times.  For as Ezra said to the king of Persia:  “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him” (Ezra 8:22).

While the Lord protects Jeremiah’s life (1:17-19), He does not spare Jeremiah from misunderstanding; Jeremiah was accused of deserting to the Babylonians when he was actually going to see the land he had purchased in Anathoth (11-14; see 32:6-15).  Further, the Lord does not spare Jeremiah from mistreatment; he is beaten, imprisoned, locked up and starved (15, 21—the king had to order that he be fed).  While ostensibly he was punished for attempting to desert to the enemy, the real reason for the anger and attacks against him was his persistent pronouncement of Israel’s guilt and God’s coming judgment.

In spite of all the hardships he experiences as an unpopular prophet, Jeremiah does not abandon his calling to speak God’s message.  Even when brought from his cell to the palace to speak to the king, he still emphasizes God’s coming judgment rather than telling Zedekiah what he wanted to hear (17).  Jeremiah fits the example of the faithful prophets spoken of in James 5:10:  “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”  Jeremiah understood that the Lord’s servant and spokesman must be able to “suffer long”.  The same quality is expected of those who speak for God today:  “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).

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Yearly Reeder 2018

For many years, Linda and I have sent out a “year-in-review” letter to family and friends.  In it, we give a brief update on our family along with a few pictures.  We call our newsletter The Yearly Reeder. Here’s a version of our 2018 edition. 


This past year had amazing firsts, family events, and finishes.

space needleIn January 2018, we had our “first” grandchild.  What a blessing!  Jonathan Maynor Reed is also the first great-grandchild on Rick’s side (the 17th on Linda’s).  We’ve just returned from the West Coast and had a great time with all four generations together at Christmas (see photos below).

Other “family” times included trips to the Jersey area to see both of our sons and their wives. Ryan and Jenny are living in Princeton, New Jersey where Ryan serves in student ministry. Michael and Elena have moved to Trenton, New Jersey to plant a church and care for the poor.  Lindsey is currently working for two hospitals as a social worker.  A highlight this fall was a trip back to Ottawa to speak at the Metropolitan Bible Church and to see Lindsey graduate.

This year also had several “finishes.” Michael graduated in May from Princeton (Master of Divinity).  Lindsey graduated in November from Carleton University (Master’s in social work) and Ryan has just completed his Ph.D. (to graduate in May) from the University of Toronto.  We are so thankful for these celebrations!

Rick continues to enjoy serving as the president of Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario.  He speaks on weekends at various church and conferences and teaches Homiletics (preaching) courses.  Watch for his soon to be published book – The Heart of a Preacher.  In his free time, he’s digitizing old family home movies.

Linda had the opportunity to teach in a new TESOL course (Teaching English as a Second Language) for Heritage College students.  God has revealed again to us His perfect ways in using her linguistics studies from years ago.  Through TESOL, an Alpha study in a coffeeshop, and airplane trips, we’ve had wonderful opportunities to share the gospel this year with people from around the world.

This year had its challenges as well.  Health was a huge concern as Linda passed through significant medical tests in January and September.  A car accident for Linda during a January ice storm (the same night Jonathan was born) reminded us God is gracious, and life is precious.

We’re so grateful for the friends like you around the globe who pray for us and keep in touch.  We’d love to stay connected as we move into the years ahead.  This year, may we all “draw near to God, and He will draw near to us.”  Immanuel.

With gratitude,

Rick and Linda Reed


Four Generations:  Grandma Honcoop, Linda, Jenny Reed and Jonathan


Four Generations:  Grandma Reed, Ryan, Jonathan and Rick

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 36)

36In contrast to the Rechabites, who listened and obeyed the words of their forefather Jonadab (chapter 35), this chapter highlights the callous and defiant attitude of king Jehoiakim and some of his officials (not all!) to the word of the Lord.

Jeremiah is instructed to compile all the words the Lord had spoken to him in his ministry as a prophet (2, 4).  Since this command was given in the “fourth year of Jehoiakim” (1), Jeremiah would have been speaking God’s message for around 22 years (1:1).   He enlists the help of Baruch, son of Neriah (4) to write the words “in ink on the scroll” as he dictated themscrolls (18).  How long the process took, we aren’t told.  However, we know that it’s not until the “ninth month of the fifth year of Jehoiakim” that Jeremiah dispatches Baruch to read the scroll in the temple (9).

The reason Jeremiah doesn’t go proclaim the message himself is that, by this time, he had been barred from entering the temple (5). This information helps us determine the chronology of other chapters in the book. For example, chapter 26—which tells of Jeremiah being arrested and threatened with death—is said to occur “early in the reign of Jehoiakim” (26:10).  This near-death experience must have happened earlier than the fourth year of Jehoiakim as Jeremiah was still permitted in the temple.  Perhaps this was the event that led to his banishment from the temple grounds.

Several other episodes in the book are dated during the “fourth year of Jehoiakim”:  the message about a seventy-year subjugation to Babylon (25), Baruch’s lament (45) and the message about Egypt’s defeat at the hands of the Babylonian armies (46).

Jeremiah, with the help of Baruch, records all the messages he had given during his two-decades of prophetic ministry.  We don’t know if he remembered them all or had written notes; we do know he “dictated all the words the Lord had spoken to him” (4).  Some months later, he dispatches Baruch to read the scroll in the temple on a day set aside for fasting (9).  Historians note that the fast day may have been in response to the news that the Babylonian armies had overrun the nearby Philistine city of Ashkelon.  Fear would have gripped the Jews who had been looking to Egypt to assist them (in spite of Jeremiah’s prophetic word against Egypt—chapter 46).

The Lord’s goal in having Jeremiah compile all the previous messages was to give the king and the people another chance to repent and be rescued:  “Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, each of them will turn from his wicked ways; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin” (3).  Jeremiah echoes the same thought when dispatching Baruch:  “Perhaps they will bring their petition . . .” (7).  Here is another evidence of the truth that the Lord is “slow to anger and rich in mercy” (Exodus 34:6).  Further, it shows that even when the Lord’s “anger and wrath” are “great” (7), He still is rich in mercy!

God’s mercy and faithfulness to Jeremiah and Baruch is shown in the way He protects them and keeps His promise to Jeremiah (1:19; 15:21) and Baruch (“I will let you escape with your life”—45:5).  God’s providential protection of His messengers is seen in the surprising response of the king’s officials who hear Baruch read the scroll (12).  One of the officials—Elnathan son of Acbor—had been responsible for extraditing Uriah the prophet from Egypt and delivering him to Jehoiakim’s death sentence (26:20-23).  Evidently, Elnathan’s heart has changed, perhaps by seeing what happened to Uriah or by the recent advance of the Babylonian armies.  Elnathan (and the other officials) reacts to the scroll’s message with “fear” (16; Isa. 66:2) and warns Baruch and Jeremiah to “go and hide” (19).  While Jeremiah and Baruch do make efforts to hide, the reason they are not found is given in verse 26: “But the Lord had hidden them.”

The chapter contrasts the response to God’s Word by two groups of leaders:  the first group of government officials and that of the king has his attendants.  Both groups hear the same words read.  Both groups know the scroll contains the words Jeremiah dictated to Baruch.  However, the two groups respond in opposite ways:

Court Officials                                              King and attendants

“looked at each other in fear” (16)              “showed on fear” (24)

told Baruch/Jeremiah to hide (19)              called for Baruch/Jeremiah’s arrest (26)

urged king not to burn scroll (25)               burned the scroll (23)

listened to the Lord’s word (15)                  did not listen (31)

burnThe king’s callous disregard for God’s Word is highlighted in the way he burns the “entire scroll” piece by piece (“three for four columns” at a time—23).  In other words, he makes multiple decisions to reject and destroy the message God sent through Jeremiah.  Rejecting the message, he calls for the arrest (and likely the death) of the messengers (26).  He hears the message, but “did not “listen” to it (31).

God’s Word is received or rejected based on the condition of the hearer’s heart.  When the heart is like hard soil, the seed of Scripture does not penetrate; Satan quickly takes it away (Matthew 13:19).  When the heart is receptive, the seed begins to grow.  Time will tell whether it will germinate and bear fruit (good soil versus rocky or weed-infested soil—Matthew 13:20-23).  Clearly, Jehoiakim was hard soil.  The first group of court officials was more responsive. Whether they truly “listened” (i.e. obeyed) would be revealed by their ongoing responses to the message they heard.  The same is true for us.

For his brazen attitude and actions, God would judge Jehoiakim and his family line.  He would “have no one to sit on the throne of David” (30); his dead body would be mistreated (“thrown out and exposed”—30); his children would experience “every disaster” predicted in Jeremiah’s message.  These prophecies were fulfilled, albeit in unexpected ways:  his son, Jehoiachin, reigns for three months before being deported; after his death, his bones exhumed and exposed (8:1-2; 22:18-19); his children experience the horrific fall of Jerusalem.

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 35)

35aChapter 34 focused attention on the fickle king and people of Jerusalem; chapter 35 introduces the faithful Rechabites.  Where Zedekiah, his officials and people vacillated in keeping their covenant promises, the Rechabites were faithful to their covenant promises.  Where the Jews in Jerusalem did not obey the commands of the Lord; the Recabites obeyed the command of Jonadab, their forefather (16).  Where the disobedient Jews would experience “every disaster . . . pronounced against them” (17), the Rechabites would “never fail to have a man serve me” (19).  In these two chapters, we see the contrast between the way of death and the way of life.

The account in chapter 35 takes place during the reign of wicked king Jehoiakim (1).  It centers on a nomadic group of Jews known as the “Recabite family” (2).  They are a clan descendant from Recab (6) and shaped by a command given by Jonadab, one of his descendants:  “Neither you nor your descendants must ever drink wine” (6). Additionally, Jonadab commanded them to live as nomads, living in tents and shepherding flocks.  If they did this, Jonadab promised a blessing:  “you will live a long time in the land where you are nomads” (7).

Over the ensuing years, the descendants of Recab kept the command of Jonadab.  They lived a nomadic life, never settling down to farm.  The only reason they were inside the city walls of Jerusalem was because of the danger posed by the “Babylonian and Aramean armies” (11).

wineJeremiah is instructed by the Lord to invite the leaders of the Recabite clan into a side room in the temple and offer them wine. Whether or not Jeremiah knew they did not drink wine is not stated. Jeremiah obeys the Lord’s instructions and sets “bowls full of wine and some cups before the men of the Recabite family and said to them, ‘Drink some wine’” (5).

The distinctives followed by the Rechabites were not required by God’s law for all of God’s people.  Aspects of their lifestyle were similar to what was required of Nazarites (total abstaining from wine) and of priests (no inheriting property).  But the average Israelite would drink wine and own farmland.  So the Recabite lifestyle may have seemed to them like the Amish lifestyle seems to us: admirable but somewhat austere.

The response of the Recabite men is clear and definitive. They speak of the command given by Jonadab and assert they have followed it completely in the past and have no intention of violating it in the present or future (6-11).  There is no hint that they expected other Israelites to imitate their distinctives; they realize they had been set apart due to their family heritage and command of their patriarch, Jonadab.

After the Rechabites refuse the wine, the Lord gives Jeremiah another message (12-16).  This whole event had been set up by God to send a message to the rest of the nation. There was a “lesson” (13) to be learned about obedience.  God’s word to Israel follows the logic of the lesser to the greater.  If the Recabites would obey the command of their forefather, Jonadab, though it came without divine sanction, why would the Israelites not listen to and obey the words of the “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel” (a phrase used four times in this chapter—13, 17, 18, 19).  If human commands are to be followed, how much more should divine commands be obeyed? If there is a blessing for keeping the traditions of one’s ancestors (“you will live a long time in the land where you are nomads”—7), how much more blessing will come from keeping the covenant decrees of the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel (“you will live in the land I have given to you and your fathers”—15)?

faithfulness 2The Rechabites’ faithfulness to Jonadab served as an indictment of the nation’s infidelity to their God.  They had not obeyed the Lord even though He had sent the prophets to remind and rebuke them (15).  They had not turned from their “wicked ways” or reformed their rebellious actions (15). Instead, they had disobediently followed other gods in direct violation of His commands (15).

The Rechabites’ faithfulness to the commands of their forefather contains at least two major lessons for Christians today.  The first relates to whether we have the courage to be modern-day versions of this ancient clan.  In our culture, obeying God’s commands will make us look like Rechabites, or like the Amish. There was a time when our lifestyle as Christians was quite similar to cultural norms.  No longer. In twenty-first century North America, a lifestyle that seemed normal in the 1950’s now looks strange, either quaint or crazy.  So the question becomes whether we will remain faithful to God when we look odd and outdated? Will we be ashamed of our distinctives and apologize or adapt them?  Will we remain faithful to our God when we stand out and stand alone?

The second lesson from this passage is the primary message of the passage:  Will we be faithful to God’s instructions like the Rechabites were to their family traditions?  Will we show Him the respect and reverence that some show their forefathers? Will we listen and obey Him or ignore His repeated (“again and again”—14, 15) calls for obedience?

The disobedience of the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem was going to bring judgment on their heads:  “I am going to bring on Judah and on everyone living in Jerusalem every disaster I pronounced against them” 17).  “Everyone living in Jerusalem” would include the Rechabites.  They were not spared from living through the trauma of the siege (which drove them into the city) or conquest (which drove them out). So the promise of Jonadab (“you will live a long time in the land”—7) seemed to be coming to an end (unless they were some of the poor people left behind to live off the land—52:16).  But God had a promise for them:  “Jonadab son of Recab will never fail to have a man to serve me” (19).  Their family line would not only survive physically, but it would also survive spiritually. God would ensure they still had a “future and a hope” in Him (29:11).


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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 33)

33Chapter 33, which marks the final section of the “Book of Consolation” (30-33), contains a second message from the LORD given to Jeremiah while he was imprisoned in the courtyard (1).  This indicates the message was given in the tenth or eleventh year of Zedekiah (32:1), just before the city would fall to the Babylonians.

The message is prefaced by a reminder that it comes from the LORD (YHWH) “who made the earth . . . who formed it and established it” (2). God is powerful, able to create what doesn’t exist and fashion beauty from chaos (Genesis 1:1-2).  He is able to recreate a decimated nation and city; He can remake them into something that brings him “renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations” (9).

call to meThe Lord invites Jeremiah to call on Him and ask Him to reveal “great and unsearchable things you do not know” (3).  In context, this promise relates to God’s plans to restore and re-establish Israel after the impending destruction.  God will indeed “slay” the inhabitants of Jerusalem in his “anger” and “wrath” (7).  But His plans still give Israel a “hope and a future” (29:11).  The reminder of chapter (33:6-26) details what this hopeful future looks like; God reveals great and unsearchable things that expand Jeremiah’s understanding of a bright national future for Israel.

The opening promise in verse 6 serves as a summary of the rest of the coming blessings:  “I will bring health (אֲרוּכָה) and healing (מַרְפֵּא) to it; I will heal (רָפָא) my people and let them enjoy abundant peace and security.”  Here is a promise of the coming revitalization and rebuilding of the nation, spiritually and nationally. That the healing is a spiritual restoration is evidenced in God’s promise to “forgive all their sins of rebellion against me” (8).  The reversal of Israel’s condition is so dramatic that “all the nations of the earth” will hear of it and be “in awe” of what God has done for His people (9).  He will receive praise and honour.

Throughout the chapter the Lord highlights the despairing “word on the street” from the people in Jerusalem who are besieged by the Babylonians:  they are bemoaning Israel’s desolation (“without men or animals”—10) and concluding that “the Lord has rejected the two kingdoms he chose” (23).

God contradicts their gloomy conclusion (that He has rejected them) with glorious promises of future blessing.  The desolate city will again be populated and resound with “the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and groom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings” (11).  The countryside (now overrun by Babylonian armies) will once again be “pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks” (12-13).  [This includes “the territory of Benjamin” and the “villages around Jerusalem” (13)—the very area where Jeremiah recently purchased land!] A descendant of David will rule over the nation (14-16, 17, 21, 26) and the Levites will be both numerous and busy in their sacred work of bringing offerings to the Lord (18, 22).

i willAgain, I’m struck by how the Lord is clearly the One accomplishing all this on behalf of His people:  “I will bring them health and healing” (6); “I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity” (7); “I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed” (8); “they will be in awe and tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I will provide for it” (9).  God is the prime mover: the healer, the restorer, the forgiver, the provider.

The nation will respond to His lavish goodness by echoing words spoken in David’s day:  “Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good, his love endures forever” (11; 1 Chronicles 16:34).  In this reiteration of national thanksgiving we find the addition of the word “Almighty”; God is not only good and loving, but “Almighty”; He is able to fulfill His grand plans. The Hebrew term for “Almighty” (צְבָאוֹת)speaks of “armies” (the LORD of heavenly armies), a fitting description for the God who overpowers the most powerful nations to accomplish the humanly impossible.

The city of Jerusalem itself—presently barricaded and stripped (4) and soon to be burned and decimated (5)—will be restored to safety and shalom (16).  Even more importantly, it will be a centre for true worship of God—sacrifices will be offered (18) by Levitical priests.  Using very similar wording to 23:5-6, Jeremiah says the city will go by the name “The Lord Our Righteousness.”  This title was applied to the Branch in chapter 23; here it applies to the city over which he will reign.

In verses 14-26, the Lord emphasizes His lasting promises to David and the Levites.  From David’s line will come the Branch who will “do what is just and right in the land” (15).  David will “never fail to have a man to sit on the throne or the house of Israel” (17). Similarly, the Levites will never “fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer offerings . . . ” (18). Both David and the Levites will have descendants as numerous as the stars and sand (22).  God emphasizes these promises by citing His covenant with “day and night” (20-21).

branchI see the promise to David as fulfilled in the coming of Jesus—the Branch of Jesse’s root who is called “our righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30).  The Branch is said to “sprout from David’s line” in the future (“in those days”—15). This could imply there is a “dormancy” in the root, a time when nothing seems to be growing (i.e. exile to Christ). But once the Branch comes, David will “never fail to have a man sit on the throne” (17).  Jesus reigns forever.

The promise to the Levites is more difficult to understand. The book of Hebrews argues that the coming of the New Covenant brings a change in priesthood and sacrifices.  So how can Levites be said to continue in their priestly roles, becoming as numerous as the stars in the sky?  The two possible answers I see are as follows: 1. In the Millennium, a restored and purified Levitical priesthood will offer memorial sacrifices (not sin offering). 2. The New Testament fulfills this promise in the priesthood of believers who offer spiritual sacrifices to God under the New Covenant.

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Wise Men (and Women) Still Worship

wise men 1

This Christmas I’ve been reflecting on Matthew’s account of the Magi who came to worship the infant Christ.  Worship was the sole purpose of their long journey:  “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?  For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

The Magi have much to teach us about worshiping Christ at Christmas (and all year long).  Here are three lessons I take away from their story.

Worship Bothers

“When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled. . . .” (2:3).

It’s not surprising Herod was troubled when he heard the Magi had come to worship the newborn “king of the Jews” (2:2)  Herod immediately saw Jesus as a threat.   After all, Herod currently held the position of king of the Jews and wasn’t looking to relinquish his throne.

Jesus still comes as a threat to all who would be their own kings and queens.  For that reason, we can expect some to be bothered by our worship of Christ.  Those who are unwilling to relinquish their little kingdoms don’t want to be reminded of a rival King.

Worship Bows

“And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him” (2:11).

The Greek word for worship (proskyneo) literally means to prostrate or bow down.  The Magi understood that bowing down expresses humility in the presence of greatness.

Worship still bows down before Jesus.  Sometimes this bowing down will involve physical kneeling.  Always it will involve a heart posture that bows to Christ’s authority and kingship.

Worship Brings

“Then, opening their treasure, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense, and myrrh” (2:11).

The Magi brought gifts that were precious to them and fitting for Jesus:  gold (for a king); frankincense (for deity) and myrrh (for his burial –see John 19:39).

Worship involves bringing gifts that matter to us and mirror our hearts.  Often at Christmas, I select a gift to bring to Jesus in the coming year.  It might be some special times in his presence or specific service in His name. What will you bring to the King this Christmas?

Several years ago I wrote this song that seeks to capture my desire to bring gifts of worship to the Lord Jesus.


Gifts for the King 

I’ve learned from the wise to bring gifts to you
and I’m told there are gifts you prefer
But I realize that my gifts are few
No gold, no incense, no myrrh.

So I will bring you my few golden dreams,
the incense of repentance; I will come clean.
And a heart filled with mercy, fragrant and sweet;
these are the gifts I will bring to the King.

These gifts I present, these gifts I impart,
may not seem like much, I agree.
But they represent and they mirror my heart,
and each one is costly to me.

So I will bring you my few golden dreams,
the incense of repentance; I will come clean.
And a heart filled with mercy, fragrant and sweet;
these are the gifts I will bring to the King.

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