Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 49)

49bWhere each of the three previous chapters was a message from God for a specific nation (46—Egypt, 47—Philistia, 48—Moab), chapter 49 contains messages for at least six nations or people groups:  Ammon (1-6), Edom (7-22), Syria (23-27), Kedar and Hazor (28-33) and Elam (29-39).  The messages begin with those closest in proximity to Judah (both geographically and relationally) and extend to those quite distant and removed from them.  Together these pronouncements demonstrate God’s sovereignty over all nations—near and far. (These messages are referenced in Jeremiah 25:15-26).

nationsEach of the messages announces the coming of a severe judgment that will ruin their cities and devastate their populations.  This coming judgment will be carried out by the Babylonian armies:  “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has plotted against you; he has devised a plan against you” (30).  However, the Lord makes it unmistakably clear, that this judgment is His doing:  “I will set fire to the walls of Damascus” (27); “’I will scatter to the winds those who are in distant places and will bring disaster on them from every side,’ declares the Lord” (32); “I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them” (37).

In some instances, the Lord explains the reason for this decimation.  The Ammonites are rebuked for occupying land that was given to Israel (1).  The Edomites are reproved for their pride and trust in their natural fortifications (16).  However, in the case of Syria, Kedar, Hazor and Elam, no specific sins are mentioned as the reason for their downfall at the hands of the Babylonians.  While this doesn’t mean they were innocent (all ancient peoples were idolatrous and wicked—see 25:31), God does not specify their sins.  In fact, there is a curious verse tucked in the midst of the message to Edom that implies not all nations were equally guilty before God:  “If those who do not deserve to drink the cup must drink it, why should you go unpunished?” (12).  God is not obligated to explain or defend His actions.  We do not sit in judgment of His judgments; instead we acknowledge Him as “the judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25).

Here again we see God working His will for nations and people through the seemingly natural and unprompted choices of human leaders.  Nebuchadnezzar devised plans against these nations (30).  He had his own empire-building reasons for each of the attacks.  For a time, he saw himself as large and in charge (see Daniel 4).  Yet, behind these royal and national decisions was God’s decree.  God determined the course of history before it played out on earth (see Psalm 33:10-11) For an interesting discussion on how to talk about God’s providence when writing about human history, see this article on Justin Taylor’s Gospel Coalition blog:  http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2014/12/04/should-christian-historians-appeal-to-providence-in-their-interpretations/

As noted above, Jeremiah 49 contains prophecies against six nations or people groups (two of which are combined so that the chapter breaks into five sections).  Here is a brief summary of the distinctives of each message:

The Message about Ammon (1-6)

Like the Moabites, the Ammonites were descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot and so were distant relatives of the Israelites.  And like the Moabites, they had a history of hostility with Israel.  God’s message to them through Jeremiah begins by questioning why they had occupied land given to Israel (1).  God warns that “days are coming” when Ammon will be attacked, destroyed and driven out.  Israel will then regain the land in Gad that they had lost to the Ammonites (2).  In addition to Ammon’s encroachment on Israel’s land, their sin of pride is mentioned as a reason for the coming judgment (4).  In spite of God’s determination to decimate Ammon, He promises a future flourishing of its people (6).

The Message about Edom (7-22)

The longest message in this chapter is directed to Edom.  In wording similar to Obadiah, God declares that Edom will be invaded and stripped bare (10).  While they will try to hide in their mountain fortresses, God will bring them down (8, 16).  The Lord describes the nation as deserving punishment (12) and mentions their pride as blinding them to the possibility of coming judgment (16).  Here again God speaks of the judgment as coming from Him:  “Therefore, hear what the Lord has planned against Edom” (20).  Judgment comes from the Lord but comes through an invading nation (likely Babylon):  “Look! An eagle will soar and swoop down” (22).

The Message about Damascus (23-27)

The brief message about the coming judgment on Syria focuses on the fall of Damascus.  No reason is given for God’s judgment, but the Lord does speak of Damascus as “the town in which I delight” (25).

The Message about Kedar and Hazor (28-33)

This proclamation of coming judgment is directed to two people groups living “east” of Judah (28).  The nomadic peoples of Kedar and Hazor felt secure because of their isolation and mobility (“a nation at ease, which lives in confidence”—31).  No reason is given for their decimation at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar (28).

The message about Elam (34-39)

Elam was a distant people from Judah (in modern day Iran).  While it was an ancient civilization, it was a nation with little impact on Israel.  The fact that God would have Jeremiah pronounce coming judgment on this distant people underscores his role as a prophet to the nations (1:10) and highlights God’s sovereign control over all peoples.  As in the case of the Ammonites (6), this message ends with a promise of future restoration (39).  God has a heart for people groups far from the heart of His people Israel.


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What’s So Good About Good Friday?

Yesterday at the Good Friday service at Grandview Baptist Church, they showed this video reflection on “What’s So Good About Good Friday?”  I was impacted by it’s message.  I hope you will be as well.

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 48)

48The third nation addressed, after Egypt (46) and Philistia (47), is Moab, a nation on the eastern side of the Dead Sea.  Jeremiah’s message to the people and cities of Moab is lengthy, longer than pronouncement against Egypt and exceeded only by the prophecy against Babylon (50-51).  Perhaps this is due to the fact that the Moabites were descendants of Lot (and the nation from which Ruth came); consequently, their hostility against Israel less expected and more heinous than that of many other nations.

moabAnother unusual feature of the prophetic word to Moab is the number of cities mentioned (about twenty-five).  God is making it clear that the judgment will come against “every town, and not a town will escape” (8).  If Jeremiah had wanted to do so, he could have easily shortened the message by omitting the names of Moabite cities (no other nation has as many of its cities singled out for impending judgment).  The fact that God moved Jeremiah to list them indicates both an extensive knowledge of Moab and an extensive judgment on Moab.

The instrument of Moab’s destruction is not specifically mentioned, although in historical context, the usual suspect would be the Babylonians.  Indeed, historical records from Josephus claim that Moab lost independence to Babylon in 582.  After this, Moab soon ceases to be known as a nation.

As in other prophecies, Jeremiah pictures the distress, devastation and shame that will accompany God’s judgment.  Jeremiah speaks of the “anguished cries” of the people (5), the frantic fleeing of its inhabitants (19), the helplessness of its defenders (“the hearts Moab’s warriors will be like the heart of a woman in labour”—41) and the mourning of the surviving remnant (shaved heads and beards, slashed hands and sackcloth—37).

Jeremiah makes it clear that Moab has not experienced this kind of widespread judgment in its past.  The people of Moab had been “at rest from youth.” (11).  Jeremiah compares Moab to a jar of “wine left on its dregs, not poured from one jar to another” (11).  In the coming days, God would send “men who pour from jars” to empty her (take her into exile—11) and “smash her jugs” (12).

Why the coming, catastrophic judgment on Moab?  Jeremiah’s prophecy identifies several significant reasons:  Moab’s pride, scorn for Israel and idolatry.

pridePride (towards self): Moab’s pride had become overt and obvious to others:  “We have heard of Moab’s pride—her overweening pride and conceit, her pride and arrogance and the haughtiness of her heart” (29).  Having enjoyed years of peace and security (11), having become wealthy (7, 36) and built fortified cities (18), Moab had become a proud people.  Twice (26, 42) we are told that Moab “defied the Lord” (Hebrew: magnified against the Lord). Since “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6), He judges Moab.

scornScorn (towards others):  An expression of Moab’s pride was its scorn for Israel.  There should have been a natural affinity for Israel since Moab descended from Lot.  Instead, Moab joined those who rejoiced in Israel’s downfall:  “Was not Israel the object of your ridicule?” (27).  Instead of compassion, there was only contempt (Prov. 24:17).  God took this ridicule of His people personally and dealt with Moab severely.

idolIdolatry (towards God):  The judgment on Moab is a judgment on Chemosh, Moab’s chief god (7, 13,46).  The worship of this false god had been brought to Jerusalem by Solomon (1 Kings 11:7) and officially put to an end by Josiah (2 Kings 23:13).  However, since Josiah’s sons tolerated the resurgence of idolatry, there may have been Jews who still worshiped the “detestable god of Moab” (1 Kings 11:7).

The application of all this is not hard to see.  God brings shattering trouble on those who sin through pride (reliance on my own resources or reputation), scorn (disgust mixed with derision) or idolatry (exchanging the true God for a counterfeit).

What strikes me with most force from this chapter is the unexpected combination of fierce judgment and deep lament that we see within God’s attitude and actions.  He unapologetically brings “shattering” (39) judgment on an entire nation—including the “little ones”(4).  He brings in a conquering army, calling them to execute His judgment with deadly force:  “A curse on him who is lax in doing the Lord’s work!  A curse on him who keeps his sword from bloodshed” (10).  Yet, at the same moment, His heart is filled with sadness and lament for the Moabites He is judging:  “Therefore I wail over Moab, for all Moab I cry out” (31); “So my heart laments for Moab like a flute” (36).  Oh, the deep love and fierce wrath of God!  We humans cannot contain both emotions in our heart at the same time.  We toggle between the two.  Yet God simultaneously and eternally delights in “kindness, justice and righteousness” (9:24).

Many people in the West are reinterpreting or simply rejecting the “war texts” of Scripture (especially the conquest in Joshua) as barbaric and unworthy of God.  Some say that the events described in Joshua never happened—they claim that God did not (and would not) command the widespread annihilation of the Canaanites.   They see themselves as rescuing God’s reputation, as defending His image as a God who is love (1 John 4:7-8).  What they miss is that God’s nature remains loving even as he executes righteous judgment.   He laments over the devastation that He brings upon the wicked (including those we would call the innocents or “little ones”).  Conversely, He shatters those who defy Him even as He weeps over their destruction.

One of the most remarkable features of this prophetic message is its ending:  “’Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in the days to come,’ declares the Lord” (47).  Here again we see the compassionate heart of God for all peoples—even an arrogant, idolatrous nation like Moab.  While some see a historical resurgence for Moab, my sense is that the promise finds its fulfillment in the promise that people from every “nation, tribe, people and language” will be included in the heavenly company of believers (Rev. 9:7)

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 47)

47When Jeremiah was called to his prophetic ministry, he was appointed “over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10).  In chapter 47, Jeremiah delivers a message of destruction to the Philistines.

The Philistines, historic enemies of Israel, lived in towns along the Mediterranean coast.  Jeremiah warns of the coming of an army to fulfill God’s judgment on the nation.  The Philistines were caught in the crossfire between the superpowers of their day—Babylon and Egypt.  The coming invasion predicted by Jeremiah could refer to either of these two nations.  When verse 2 refers to “waters are rising in the north” it could be speaking of Egypt moving north (compare similar language about Egypt in 46:7-8) or the Babylonians coming from the north.  Since both countries attacked the Philistines, either one could be in view.  I would see the most natural reading of the phrase “waters are rising in the north” (2) as referring to the Babylonians—the pot of boiling water poured out from the north (see 1:13-14).

The coming attack would bring demolition to the major cities—two of the five major Philistine cities are mentioned by name (Gaza–1, 5) and Ashkelon—5). The coming carnage would be like an “overflowing torrent” that covered the “land and everything in it” (2).  The destruction would be both widespread and deep (4).

PhilistineThe Philistines will be helpless to stop the attack.  “Fathers will not turn to help their children; their hands will hang limp” (3).  Those who survive will lament and “cut” themselves (5)—cutting being a long-standing way for people to self-inflict suffering.  The grieving remnant would cry out to the Lord, asking how long He would allow His judgment (“the sword of the Lord”—6) to bring death?  The people understood God was behind the devastation of the population.  He “commanded it” and “ordered it” (6).

The message Jeremiah delivers concerning the Philistines is devoid of any promising postscript.  In the previous chapter, the message to Egypt concluded with a ray of hope:  “Later, however, Egypt will be inhabited as in times past” (46:26).  There is no such glimmer of grace at the end of chapter 47.

The chapter raises the issue of God’s judgment on nations by means of other nations.  In our culture, there is a great deal of discussion related to Israel’s conquest of the Canaanites under Joshua.  Many argue that God must be a moral monster to have instructed Israel to destroy the Canaanite populations.  Some, like Peter Enns, contend this bloody conquest was never ordered by God and never really happened; Israel simply used conventional ANE language (exaggeration and war-time hyperbole) to describe their entry into Canaan and their belief that God wanted them to be victorious.

But Jeremiah 47 shows the problem for those who decry Israel’s conquest of the Canaanites is bigger than they imagine.  God didn’t just instruct Israel to destroy cities and populations; He moved other nations to be the instrument of his lethal judgment.  And not just godly, virtuous ones, but nations like Egypt and Babylon.

lessonsA close look at the text gives us a better sense of how to understand passages that predict or prescribe the invasion and destruction of whole cities or nations.

  1. The language of totality (“destroy all the Philistines and cut off all survivors who could help Tyre and Sidon”—4) is used as a way of emphasizing widespread destruction rather than complete extinction. I say this because verse 5 speaks of a “remnant” of Philistines who survive to “shave” their heads and “cut” themselves in mourning (5).  So “all” Philistines (4) is not meant to be understood as “as every last one.” The use of language in a specific text must be interpreted in light of contextual clues and cultural conventions of language use.  Historians have observed that ANE war texts often employ “totality” language to describe a “complete” victory or defeat.  Scriptural writers utilized linguistic conventions; This is why we must interpret the Bible with a grammatical/historical hermeneutic.  This can be called a “literal” hermeneutic as long as we allow for the use of figures of speech and conventions of language.
  2. The Lord accomplishes His purposes on earth through the choices of people, armies and nations that do not acknowledge Him or seek to do His will. Both the Babylonians and Egyptians worshipped an array of false gods.  Both would be severely judged by the Lord (Egypt—Jeremiah 46; Babylon—Jeremiah 50-51).  However, both are used as instruments of God’s judgment on other nations.  From their perspectives, they were attacking the Philistines for their own political and economic reasons.  On a deeper level, they were unknowingly obeying the Lord’s “command”:  “the Lord has commanded it . . . he has ordered it” (7).  Theologians call this compatibilism:  the belief that human choices and God’s decrees are compatible and not contradictory.
  3. As the sovereign and righteous ruler of the world, God uses military invasions as one of the ways He judges people and whole populations. While we humans resist the notion that brutal military invasions, which bring death to young and old (3), could be “ordered” (Hebrew:  “appointed”) by God, the Scriptures teach this to be true.  While we tend to see ourselves as “innocents” (at least our children), the Bible sees all of us as sinful, guilty and deserving of death (Romans 3:23; 6:23).  God has both the right and responsibility to exercise “justice and righteousness on earth” (9:24).  While His mercy gives time for repentance (2 Peter 3:9), judgment ultimately comes upon all who fail to respond to Him with an “obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5).  Jeremiah’s messages show that even those who belong to Israel are not exempt from judgment if they continue to stubbornly rebel!  God can use floods (Gen 6), droughts (Deut. 28), natural disasters (Joel 1) or invading armies to bring temporal judgment.  Ultimately, hell is God’s final judgment on all who refuse to believe Him, receive His grace and surrender to His Lordship.
  4. God brings righteous judgment on the wicked but desires to show mercy and grace to those who deserve punishment.  Ezekiel, a prophet contemporary with Jeremiah, records these words from the Lord:  “‘As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn back from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?'” (Ezekiel 33:11).
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Prayer Update April 5, 2019

answered 2Before I get to the prayer requests, let me start with a praise report.  Last week I asked you to pray for 1) increased spring/summer enrollment, 2) increased fall admissions for the college and 3) my (Rick) Sunday speaking ministry at several churches.

The Lord gave some encouraging answers to our prayers!  Our spring/summer enrollment looks to be an all-time high, 2) we have just accepted over a dozen new college students for the fall semester and 3) I sensed God’s empowerment and I preached in Hamilton last Sunday.  Thank you for praying.

May God’s answers encourage us to keep praying.  Here are several requests for this week.

1 Linda and I both teach all day tomorrow (Saturday).  She teaches a class for women on writing Bible Study Curriculum.  I teach a course on pastoral leadership.  Linda will actually join me for an hour as we talk to these men and their wives about merging marriage and ministry.  Please pray both classes would be used by the Lord to prepare these men and women for more fruitful ministry.

2 Next Tuesday I am giving an update on Heritage at a conference for pastors and ministry leaders.  Pray that God will continue to give us favour with pastors and deepen our partnership with local churches.  As I often say, “Heritage exists for the Church and we can’t exist without the Church.”

3 Fall Enrollment.  Please continue to ask the Lord to direct more stellar men and women to Heritage for the coming year.  I would love to see more young men and women get at least a year of solid Bible training in our college.


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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 46)

46Chapter 46 begins a lengthy section of the book in which we see Jeremiah living out his original calling to be a prophet “over nations and kingdoms” (1:10).  While the primary recipients of his prophetic messages were the kings, leaders, prophets and people of Judah and Jerusalem, Jeremiah was also given messages for surrounding nations.  A summary list of the nations addressed in chapters 46-51 is given in chapter 25:15-36.  A natural reading of Jeremiah 25:1, 36:1 and 45:1 would indicate that these messages were contained on the scroll that Jeremiah dictated to Baruch.

egypt3The first nation to be addressed is Egypt (46:1-26; also listed first in 25:19).  The “message against the army of Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt” (2) comes in two parts (2-12, 13-26), both of which make the same point:  Egypt will suffer a devastating defeat at the hands of the Babylonians.

The first of the two pronouncements is given after the Egyptian army “was defeated at Carchemish on the Euphrates River by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son on Josiah king of Judah” (2).  The fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s (25:1).  Jehoiakim had been appointed as a vassal to Pharaoh Necho in 608 BC after the Egyptians had defeated the Israelites and killed king Josiah who tried to stop their northern advancement.  Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, reigned for three months after his father’s untimely death, only to be exiled to Egypt and replaced by his brother Jehoiakim.

In 605 the Egyptians again marched north to aid their allies the Assyrians against the upstart Babylonians.  Egypt was soundly defeated at Carchemish, a city on the northern border of Syria, along the Euphrates river (2).  The Babylonians marched down to Judah and forced Jehoiakim to pay heavy taxes, exiling some of the elite young leaders (Daniel and his three friends).  When Babylon seemed unable to maintain control of the region, Jehoiakim switched allegiances to Egypt.  Nebuchadnezzar, angered by this change, would march against Jerusalem; Jehoiakim’s eleven-year reign would end with his death.

Jeremiah’s message is addressed to Egypt before they are defeated at Carchemish.  While verse 2 indicates the outcome of the battle, the prophetic word in verses 3-12 seems to be predictive, as it speaks of Egypt’s coming defeat “in the land of the north by the River Euphrates” (10).   In this case, verse 2 is a summary of the following message.

egyptThe message opens with a call to Egypt to prepare for battle with the Babylonians (3-4).  Jeremiah speaks of Egypt rising “like the Nile”—a picture of the nation’s surge in strength and it’s ambition to regain its place of power among the nations (7-8).  But Egypt’s plans will be shattered.  Their warriors will be “terrified” and “flee in haste”(5).  Their allies (mercenaries from Cush, Put and Lydia—9) will “fall down together” in death (12).

The reason for the defeat is that God is sovereignly ruling over the nations.  The battle belongs to the Lord:  “But that day belongs to the Lord, the LORD Almighty—a day of vengeance for vengeance on his foes” (10).  The defeat of Egypt is pictured as a “sacrifice” where God offers up Egypt and her allies to death (10).

Verse 13 begins a second and subsequent message to Egypt.  That this is a different (and later) message is indicated by the fact that it concerns an invasion by Babylon into Egypt (13).  The first message described Egypt’s battle with Babylon up in the north (6); this battle will take place in Egypt itself.  Historically, this battle would have occurred when Egypt reasserted its independence over Babylon, perhaps in 568 BC, the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (according to a clay tablet housed at the British Museum).

Egypt is pictured as a “beautiful heifer” attacked by a “gadfly . . . from the north.” (20).  Here hired mercenaries are described as “fattened calves” that flee back to their homelands (21) and badmouth Pharaoh as a “loud noise” and one who “missed his opportunity” (17).  The picture of a “gadfly” nipping (the Hebrew word means “to nip”) a calf would indicate this battle would be painful but not a slaughter (like Carchemish). However, the result of the fight would be that Egypt is “handed over to the people of the north” (24), with many of the people taken into exile (19).

Once again, the reason for Egypt’s defeat at the hands of the Babylonian armies is due to the fact that the Lord is once again fighting against Egypt:  “Why will your warriors be laid low?  They cannot stand, for the Lord will push them down” (15).  He is punishing Egypt for their idolatry:  “I am about to bring punishment on Amon god of Thebes, on Pharaoh, on Egypt and her gods . . .” (25).  As in the Exodus, God was demonstrating His supremacy over the false gods of the nations.  But while He was punishing Egypt and shaming their confidence in false gods, He still had future plans for the nation:  “Later, however, Egypt will be inhabited as in times past” (26).  Jeremiah’s message to Egypt echoes the earlier word from Isaiah in pointing to a brighter future for the Egyptians (Isaiah 19:25; see also Ezekiel 29:13-16).

Israel would suffer defeat for their foolish reliance on Egypt.  When Egypt regained power and rebuffed the Babylonians after the Battle of Carchemish, Jehoiakim switched allegiances from Babylon to Egypt.  He should have remembered Jeremiah’s message that Babylon would be supreme for seventy years (25:11).  By banking on Egypt, he would suffer the fate of the nations who “rely on Pharaoh” (25).  Nebuchadnezzar would return and punish the city in 597, the year of Jehoiakim’s death.

The message to Egypt ends with a word of hope for “Jacob” (27-28).  The Lord still sees them as His “servant” (27, 28) in spite of their disobedience.  He pledges to be with them and to bring them back to their own land on the far side of disciplining them through exile.  He will not desert or destroy them.  This is amazing grace; this is unfailing love.

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Prayer Update March 29, 2019

prayerLast Friday I asked you to pray for our Heritage Leadership Team as we met for prayer and planning.  I also requested prayer for several speaking opportunities (marriage conference, Sunday sermon).  Throughout the weekend, we sensed God’s grace, guidance, and empowerment.  It was a fruitful time!  Thank you for supporting us with your prayers.

This week, I would invite you to join in praying for several important requests.

1   Spring/Summer Course Registration.  Students are currently signing up for courses that run during the months of May and June.  Once again this year, we have an excellent array of choices (click here to see the list).  Pray that many more students would be able to take advantage of a course this spring.  (Perhaps you would consider taking one of these modular courses–either for credit or as an audit).

2   College Admission for the Fall.   We are in the midst of registering students for the fall semester.  At this point, we are encouraged by the good number of students who have indicated they will be coming to Heritage.  Pray that the Lord would send us many more stellar men and women to train for life and ministry.

3   Preaching Ministry.  This Sunday, I (Rick) and preaching at Hughson Street Baptist Church in Hamilton in the morning and at the Karen Baptist Church in the afternoon.  The Karen church is made up of a people group coming to Canada from Myanmar.  Pray that I will speak God’s Word faithfully, clearly and effectively.

Thank you for your ongoing prayer support!

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