Monday, September 3. Obadiah and Habakkuk

    It was unjust of God, Habakkuk thought, for God to use sinners worse than Judah to punish Judah.  Frankly, Habakkuk believed God had gotten himself in a moral bind on this one and Habakkuk was determined to hold God accountable.

    In a lengthy reply (chapter two), God speaks to the arrogance of Habakkuk, which is very much like the arrogance of Judah and Babylon.  It is very much like our own arrogance. Habakkuk is a product of his times.  God affirms that he will hold both Babylon and Judah responsible for their sins.  No one is getting a pass.  The Lord ends his speech with a proclamation of His sovereignty.

    Habakkuk, properly rebuked, spends chapter 3 of his book in prayer.  He reviews God’s power, but also God’s faithfulness to his people.  Habakkuk understands Judah must be punished for her sins.  He knows the punishment will be inevitable.  No matter who does it, however, God will not desert his people, and in that, Habakkuk can find hope. “I heard and my heart pounded,  my lips quivered at the sound;  decay crept into my bones,  and my legs trembled.  Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud  and there are no grapes on the vines,  though the olive crop fails  and the fields produce no food,  though there are no sheep in the pen  and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD,  I will be joyful in God my Savior.

    God has no problem with His people questioning Him, or even disagreeing with Him.  But he insists, that at the end of the day, His people trust Him.  He is God.  We are not God.  Those who stand “right” in the sight of God are those who, in the end, trust God and demonstrate it with the life they live.  Being “right” with God is supremely a matter of trusting that Lord, and His way, is right – and acting accordingly.

Sunday, September 2. Lamentations 2 – 5

    I am reminded today again how important it is to read all the Bible.  The Word of God reveals to us the nature of God, and that becomes important in understanding the will of God.  One Christian blogger wrote recently that the Bible should be understood “as the story of God and God’s interaction with the world. Through reading (and living!) this story we come to know the character of God, and are drawn into imitation of that God.”

    It sounds good, until you begin to understand that he means God doesn’t really have any specific will for us at all.  We read God’s word and come to conclusions that fit us in our time and place.

    If that sounds good to you too, it’s why today’s reading is so important.  Lamentations is full of the anger of God.  Just notice the repeated references to his anger and wrath in Lamentations 2.  Then, take a close look at the results of His anger in chapter three.  Who is this one whose bones have been broken, who has been surrounded with bitterness and hardship and whose teeth have been broken?  It is, of course, Jeremiah, the prophet of the Lord.  His life, however, is but a sample of the punishment God has meted out to His people.

    Why?

    Because they have been disobedient.

    Why does good guy Jeremiah suffer so?

    Because God’s people stand or fall as a community.  It is why Jeremiah, suffering with and because of his people, weeps not for himself, but for them – but I digress.

    God has a will.  That will is determined, specific, revealed, and knowable.  It’s not whatever you want it to be, or whatever suits you or your life situation.  It is what suits God.  And persistent disobedience has brought great ruin.  God is, to use an expression of an aunt now long passed, “mad as fire.”

    Can God get this way?  What makes Him this way?  The devotional reader who looks only for texts that will paint God as a doddering old grandfather who will let his grandchildren get away with murder will end up not knowing God at all, and likely suffering God’s wrath.

    On the other hand, God has another side: “Because of His great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.”

    Reading all the Bible gives us the balance we need to understand God.

Saturday, September 1. Jeremiah 50 – Lamentations 1

    For two long chapters, Jeremiah proclaims the end of Babylon, and it would be hard to find more words that would announce so complete a destruction.  Notice that Jeremiah, in order to make his point about Babylon’s through decimation, uses at least three names to describe her: “Leb Kamai”, “Babylonia” and “Sheshach” and (if you are reading the footnotes in your Bible), “Chaldea.”  No matter what you call her, God will destroy her.

    But who is listening?

    Probably no one.

    The message, however, was not one meant to be announced in Judea.  It was to be written down and given to a relative of Baruch (Seraiah) and read to God’s people in Babylon.

    Why?

    To give them direction and hope.

    While the Lord had urged them to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce,” as well as to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile,” (in other words, get on with your lives in Babylon), the Lord never intended that His people think of Babylon as “home.”  The time would come to leave, and leaving was not an option.

    This world is never to be home for us.  We are exiles.  Pilgrims.  Ready and willing to move whenever the Lord calls us home.

Friday, August 31. Jeremiah 47 – 49

    The Moabites, of course, are descendants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot.  They lived in an especially fertile plain between the Arnon and Zered rivers and, because of the fertility of the soil, were always prosperous.  The Moabites became known for their wine making, and, for whatever reason, are always described as a prideful people.  Despite the fact that God had given them their land, and secured it by forbidding Israel to possess it, the Moabites chose the god Chemosh as their national diety.

    Because of her location, Moab had seldom been carried into exile, though she had been conquered several times.  For that reason, she is described like wine left in a bottle.  She will not, however, be gently decanted.  Her bottles will be smashed and wine poured out.

    The oracles against the nations should remind us that God Himself has no patience for the idea of a “separation of Church and State.”  And yet, this union is a difficult one to think through.  Moab was not called to worship at the temple of God in Israel.  She was not under the Sinai covenant.  And yet, she was expected to recognize that her position and prosperity in the world was due to the hand of God.  Her value system was to mirror the Lord’s, she was to respect God’s people, and she was to acknowledge no other god but the God of Israel.

    Our money bears the phrase: “In God We Trust.”  It’s a reminder of an old and Christian ethic.  We don’t trust in our wealth.  We trust in God.  It’s not just any god.  It is the God of the Bible.  The removal of that phrase from our currency is an insignificant controversy, but the removal of that idea from our society is anything but insignificant.  It is, however, the direction our culture is headed.  How do we combat that?  Not with letter-writing campaigns and protests and hate speech, but with the gospel, bringing our neighbors to God.  We care not what is written on our currency; we care what is written on our hearts.

Thursday, August 30. Jeremiah 44 – 46

    God wants me to be happy.  So . . . whatever makes me happy must be the will of God.

    Tell that to Baruch.

    The secretary who spent so much time writing down God’s words given to Jeremiah was tired of the gloom and doom and in chapter 45 voices his discontent.  If Jeremiah felt the pain of God over his people, Baruch was no less pained with his work as a scribe.

    Notice God’s reply: “If I am tearing up my own creation, do you really think this is time to be thinking about your career?  Be grateful I’m going to let you live.”  I’m paraphrasing of course, but that’s fundamentally what God said.

    God is not so concerned that you be happy.  God has greater things on His mind than your happiness.  He calls you to be faithful to Him and find happiness in His service.  If you can’t, well, things will not go well for you.

    This is also basically what the Jews in Egypt were saying (chapter 44): ‘When we followed the Lord, our lives were miserable.  But now that we follow Egyptian gods, we’re doing better.  We’re going to follow them.’  And so, seeking happiness, they followed their pleasure all the way to destruction.

    The Lord’s road is not always level and smooth.  But it’s the only road that leads to where any of us really want to go.

Wednesday, August 29. Jeremiah 41 – 43

    Not everybody in Judah was evil.

    Certainly Jeremiah was not.

    And the destruction of the temple and deportation of nearly everyone was not all bad.  In fact, either group (those taken or those left behind) could have seen it as an opportunity.  After all, had not Isaiah talked about a faithful remnant?  Had not Ezekiel and Jeremiah?  Either group could have claimed the title and acted in faithfulness – but neither did.

    When the Babylonians left the smoking hulk that was Judah, they knew they’d not captured everyone.  Some would be left behind, hiding in caves, self-exiled to the surrounding nations.  They left Gedaliah, a good man, son of Ahikam (protector of Jeremiah – 26:24) and descendant of Shaphan (secretary to Josiah), to watch over and administer the province.  People came out of the woodwork and Gedaliah told them to settle down, be obedient to the Babylonians and work together.  Crops remained in the fields and if they were to eat, the crops must be harvested.  Gedaliah brought them all under the protection of the king of Babylon.  All they had to do was be obedient and work.  Things would go well for them.

    Perhaps because of the trials of the time, Gedaliah wanted to believe the best about everyone and ignored the rumblings that Ishmael was plotting to kill him.  It was, of course, a mistake, but it reminds us of just how evil the people of Judah had become.  Not everyone, of course, but enough of them that the tide of civility, and all hope of being the remnant was lost.

Tuesday, August 28. Jeremiah 38 – 40

    As you read chapter thirty-eight, you will ask if yourself if you haven’t read this account before –  in chapter thirty-seven perhaps.  There are a lot of similarities.

    But there are differences too, which lead us to believe they are accounts of different events and showcase two things: the trials of Jeremiah, and the insecurity of Zedekiah.  The king and his noblemen are determined not to listen to the word of the Lord.  They despise Jeremiah.  But the King believes Jeremiah speaks the truth, and so, under cover, has him brought to the king’s private entrance to the temple (called “the third entrance”) for an interview.

    Zedekiah can read the writing on the wall, but he is afraid of the shame he will endure when the Babylonians overcome the city.  They will accuse him of being indecisive, paralyzed with fear (“your feet are sunk in the mud”).

    Jeremiah knows something about being in the mud, and he urges the king to be obedient to the Lord.  Rescue will come.

    It certainly had for Jeremiah.

    I’ve wondered about that cistern Jeremiah was stuck in.  I’ve wondered how deep it was (the mud that is).  It would be one thing to stand (or sit) on slimy mud.  It would be another entirely to be up to your knees or waste in it.  How could you sit?  If that deep, how long could you stand?  You certainly couldn’t lie down.  It had to be deep enough to apply considerable pressure on Jeremiah to lift him from the muck – using over thirty men no less.

    And I’ve wondered if Jeremiah wondered: “Where is God?”

    Faithfulness will not exempt one from paralyzing situations, from being at times stuck in the muck that is often life.  What it does guarantee is that deliverance will come.  Without faithfulness, hope is lost.  That’s what Jeremiah is saying to Zedekiah.

Monday, August 27. Jeremiah 35 – 37

    Moses’ father-in-law was Jethro, a member of a nomadic tribe of people who lived in the land of Midian.  When Moses brought the children of Israel near, some of Jethro’s descendants went with Israel in their journey to Canaan.  They lived in the southern part of the land with the people of Judah and Benjamin and were devoted to the Lord.  Later, one of their descendants, Recab, was a leader in Saul’s army, then in David’s army.  (So devoted were they that when the kingship passed from Saul to David, they switched sides.  When Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth claimed the throne, Recab was a part of an assassination plot against him – a fact which cost Recab his life.)  Later, Jonadab, a descendant of Recab, was part of Jehu’s efforts to stamp out Baal worship in Israel.  Though the Recabites were a nomadic people, by the days of Jeremiah they had taken up the occupation of scribes.

    What makes all of this relevant in chapter 35 is that the Recabites are not really Israelites.  They have maintained their family and ethnic distinction, even though they have been absorbed into Israel – and that makes them even more important in this story.

    Here are a group of people, known for their devotion to the Lord, who know how to be obedient.  Their ancestor, Jonadab, gave a command to his family not to drink wine – and the family followed it!  To the days of Jeremiah they followed it; nearly four hundred years.  These people knew how to be obedient to their “father,” but Israel didn’t know how to be obedient to their’s (God).  It is one of those times when God uses the faithfulness of non-Israelites to shame His own people.

Sunday, August 26. Jeremiah 31 – 34

    It’s hard to be the favored child.  If you don’t believe it, ask any favored child.  Because of favored status, allowances are made for transgressions, but much much more is required and expected.

    Israel is God’s favored child.  You will see it over and over in our readings.  The Psalmist wrote: He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws. Praise the Lord”  (147:19-20).  Isaiah wrote: 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life” (43:3-4).  Through Jeremiah God says: “I am with you and will save you.  Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only in due measure; I will not let you go entirely unpunished’” (30:11).

    Being God’s favored child has been an accident of birth.  Israel did not get to choose to be God’s people.  They were born into that covenant as descendants of Jacob.  But chapter 31 speaks of a time when that will no longer be true, when becoming God’s child will be a matter of choice.  Notice it plainly in verse 34: No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

    One could be a part of the covenant of Abraham and Sinai by just being born – with no knowledge at all of God, but that would not be true with the new covenant, the one Jesus came to make.  That covenant would require a prior knowledge of God, and a choice to be a part of it.

    God’s people, Christians, are the favored people.  They are permitted this status by God’s grace, receive it through Christ’s sacrifice, and enter it through choice.  But having entered it, we must all recognize that much more is expected of us, because the promises available to us are much much greater.

Saturday, August 25. Jeremiah 27 – 30

    I’ve mentioned this before.

    When you have a variety of people telling you conflicting things, but all claiming to speak for the Lord, how do you know who to follow?

    It’s a perennial problem.  It’s why we have so many religious groups claiming to be Christian.  They can’t all be right if they are teaching conflicting things.

    Christianity is not made up of obscure laws that are open to varieties of interpretations.  Most of it is cut and dried.  The problems come with those few areas that don’t seem so nailed down.  Sometimes, things are nailed down, but folks want to discount them as irrelevant.  You are responsible for knowing the will of God, and knowing it well enough to know when someone is focusing on the wrong thing, out of balance, or just teaching something contrary to God’s word.  The main thing is the plain stuff.

    Where we get off track is when things are not so plain.  Hananiah says God will break the domination of Babylon in two years.  He was only half right.  Babylon’s domination would continue for seventy years – not two.  There was no reason to believe Hananiah.  The lives of the people which had brought God’s punishment had not changed.  The people should have seen that and thought about it.  Had they done that, they would have paid no attention to Hananiah.

    In the prophecy business, it doesn’t pay to be “half” right.  You’ve got to be all right.  Jeremiah demonstrates which of them is the true prophet by prophesying of Hananiah’s death – which comes true in the time frame Jeremiah predicts.

    Jeremiah is the true messenger of the Lord.

    Remember that when you come to a crossroads and someone begins to speak for the Lord.  If they are not speaking according to His written word, they must be 100% accurate in their pronouncements to be worthy of your time.