Monthly Archives: August 2014
God is a patient God. As we see in Jeremiah, He warned the people of Judah over and over again that they had to straighten out, and they simply refused to listen for years. It is even more interesting because it was not like they had to guess what God wanted them to do.
Jer 25:4 And the LORD hath sent unto you all his servants the prophets, rising early and sending them; but ye have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear.
Jer 25:5 They said, Turn ye again now every one from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land that the LORD hath given unto you and to your fathers for ever and ever:
Jer 25:6 And go not after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, and provoke me not to anger with the works of your hands; and I will do you no hurt.
God was not some kind of tricky and deceptive deity who wanted to intentionally cause the people to fall apart. He gave them specific directions, and when you consider that they also had the Torah which outlined the law, they should have known how to accomplish everything in the passage above.
God could have decimated them right at the beginning, but He didn’t. He is patient. That is what amazes me about people who point to the Old Testament and argue that God was unjust or excessively brutal.
Let’s try to draw a modern-day parallel. If I broke the law of the United States, our justice system would see that I was punished appropriately for my deeds. We call that right and proper because we innately know that if there is an offense, people need to receive the punishment for what they have done. This has happened in every culture that I am aware of for all of recorded history. There has always been punishment for crimes.
God is similar. The people of Israel and in this case Judah had the law, and they had broken the law. Why is it so hard to believe that if God is just, then people need to be accountable for the deeds that they have done? We call justice right and good when it takes place on earth, but some people seem to be of the mindset that God should not have justice as well.
However, now we are in an interesting predicament because by definition, the Christian God is a perfect being. Therefore, if justice is something good, then it seems reasonable to me that it would be part of the character of a perfect God. After all, wouldn’t a perfect being have every good trait?
Now, I do want to step back for a second because just because we are humanity believe that something is good does not make it so. For example, if all humanity decided that murder was good, that would still be prohibited by the Bible and therefore acceptable to God. We don’t define what God thinks.
Nevertheless, I think that we can view it from the other perspective. God created an objective sense of right and wrong, and CS Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man, humanity does seem to share the Tao, a general set of objective moral truths. I would argue that a sense of justice would fall into that Tao. Therefore, why would they be an objective moral law that says that justice is a good if there was not a moral lawgiver who says that justice is a good?
People might try to deconstruct what I have just written and argue that justice isn’t necessarily good, but we have found that it works out well for society, so we promote that behavior. However, all that does is move the argument one step higher. Why do we have this idea that we want our communities to function well together? Why is it not better for us to take whatever we want and forget about the consequences that affect anyone else? We fall into an infinite regression of why certain values are promoted if we continue on this track. At some point, there has to be a bottom-line where something is actually right simply for the reason that it is right or because something external dictated that it was right. Neither of these are preferred in some circles today, but it is hard to find a way around it.
Anyway, to get back to the original thought I opened with, God is a lot more patient than most of us are. However, God is also just, and as a result, I don’t know why be surprised when the people had to be punished for violating the law. That is what justice, an objective moral good, is after all.
I think that Jeremiah 24 must have been somewhat comforting to at least a portion of the people of Judah. There were national problems particularly among the leadership that ensured that the people were going to be taken captive. However, there were some people in Judah who had been faithful to God, and there was going to be a sense of justice for those people.
God presents Jeremiah with a vision of two baskets of figs. One basket was good, and the other was bad. Jeremiah asked what they were representative of, and here is the response regarding the good basket which is what I want to focus on today.
Jer 24:5 Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good.
Jer 24:6 For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up.
Jer 24:7 And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.
I think is interesting. We have prophecy here, and it is a prophecy that we know was fulfilled. The people of Judah were taken captive, but one generation later when Babylon was overrun by Persia, the people began to return to their homes.
At the time, the people must have been wondering what was going on. After all, if God really loved them, why was He allowing this captivity take place? Even with the promise of a future return, some people must have wondered if God is really going to follow through or if He had just abandoned them. Maybe Judah as a nation had fallen away for the final time.
However, God was faithful.
This ought to be evidence for us as to the character of God. God will do what He says, and He has the ability to do what He says. Even though it was would be hard to predict that within one lifetime the mighty Babylonian Empire would have fallen, God knew that it would be so. It is not as if the fact that they were a mighty empire stopped God from fulfilling His promise whatsoever.
I think that we need to live like this more often. There are also promises in the Bible that relate to us as modern-day believers (since I don’t think that many of us are looking to be rescued from Babylon except for perhaps in a figurative sense). As much as God was in the business of fulfilling promises and prophecies in the past, His character has not changed, and that ought to give us confidence as we read the Bible.
Jeremiah 23 provides us with God’s opinion of the false prophets who have been leading His people astray. They say that they are speaking for God, but God tells Jeremiah that He truly never sent these people.
Jer 23:30 Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.
Jer 23:31 Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that use their tongues, and say, He saith.
Jer 23:32 Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the LORD, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD.
False prophets are rampant today. In a world where ideas can spread so easily on the Internet, it is not hard for someone to gain a following simply by having access to a self-created website. Obviously, we need to be careful about who we are following and what teaching we are taking in.
That being said, this is difficult to do. We might come across a pastor or teacher who says a lot of things that we agree with. They might sound good, and they might be fabulous, inspiring speakers. However, you want to be very careful about what they are teaching. Just like in the times of Jeremiah, not everyone who claims to be preaching the word of God is really doing it.
How do we protect against this? Unfortunately, we don’t always have God coming down like He came to Jeremiah to specifically point out that certain, specific things are blatantly wrong. That being said, we do know about God. We have a Book that tells us a wide variety of things about God, and when we hear things that don’t fit with that image as it is purely portrayed by the Book, we know we are dealing with a false prophet on some level. If not a false prophet, at least we are talking about a false teaching that ought to be corrected.
Implicit in this is that we have a responsibility to be Biblically literate. One of my favorite pastors always mentions the Bereans. Even though Paul and Silas had great reputations as Bible teachers, they did not go by that authority alone.
Act 17:10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.
Act 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
Act 17:12 Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.
We need to have a similar commitment to the word of God. It is one of the major ways that God reveals Himself to us, and it has a higher authority than any teacher we might run into who deviates from it. The Bible trumps in these types of situations.
I am going to spend our discussion on Jeremiah 22 responding to something I wrote the other day. The other day, I wrote about how God knows the future, and He doesn’t change. However, I also mentioned in that article that I do believe in the free will of humanity. We see a little bit of backing for that today.
Jer 22:3 Thus saith the LORD; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.
Jer 22:4 For if ye do this thing indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house kings sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, he, and his servants, and his people.
Jer 22:5 But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.
These are words that God told Jeremiah to speak to the King, and they certainly seem to imply that there is still a choice to be made. There is still a chance to save Judah apparently.
However, it is worth mentioning that earlier in this book, the fall of Judah and Jerusalem had already been prophesied, so this actually might be a testimony to God knowing the future. This statement would be entirely true given that it is from God, but He already knows that the words will be ignored. As a result, this could just be God explaining what they had given up or what they would be giving up because of their bad decisions. God already knew that they were not going to choose to follow Him, but He is telling them now so that when the actually experience the things that come from their own rebellion, they will recognize that they had made a wrong decision.
Regardless, that isn’t really my main concern. How do we reconcile God telling people that we have a choice to make while simultaneously understanding that God knows everything and the future already has happened from the perspective of God? If the future is already written in His mind, do we really have free will at all?
On some level, I think that this question is beyond human comprehension. I say that because God exists outside of time, but everything we understand is based in time. Therefore, it is incomprehensible for us to think about everything being in the present. For God, since He is timeless, His foreknowledge is of an entirely different sort than we would consider foreknowledge in linear time. That makes it almost like comparing apples and oranges.
However, that being said, I don’t think that this fact that God knows the future ultimately removes our human free will either. Mainly, I say that because of the wide variety of New Testament passages that refer to receiving the gift of salvation. It seems incredibly clear from the text that there is a choice to be made here, and by being responsible for making that choice, you have your own will.
There is obviously tension here, but I don’t think that it is irreconcilable. Yes, God does know everything, and He does have a plan. He knew that even when Jeremiah spoke the words above, the people would still not listen. However, at the same time, we also have a responsibility to make choices that honor God and are the objectively right choices. The King and people were responsible for ignoring the words of God, and they were punished accordingly. It would not be just if they were punished for things that they had no control over. We know that God is just, so it seems to point towards human responsibility on some level.
I probably did not provide you with any type of answers today, but I also do not think that we need to be afraid of engaging with this question. It might be the case that we cannot humanly understand how this works. We do not know very much about ruling universes set in linear time from outside of time, so from that perspective, it might not be surprising whatsoever that we don’t have a perfect grasp on the exact nature of this relationship. However, we do know facts, and those ought to influence our behavior. God knows everything from the beginning to the end. He holds all the world and all time. At the same time, as beings that exists inside of that system, we have the ultimate obligation to follow God based on a choice and commitment that we make freely.
In Jeremiah 21, the King of Judah, Zedekiah, called on Jeremiah to pray for the people as the Babylonians put them under siege. They wanted God to protect them from this imminent threat, but part of me has to wonder if the leadership was entirely oblivious because here is the response of Jeremiah.
Jer 21:3 Then said Jeremiah unto them, Thus shall ye say to Zedekiah:
Jer 21:4 Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the king of Babylon, and against the Chaldeans, which besiege you without the walls, and I will assemble them into the midst of this city.
Jer 21:5 And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath.
Throughout this entire book, Jeremiah has been talking about how wrong the people had been and how they needed to come back to God. You have to wonder if the leadership disregarded everything that Jeremiah had ever said. It is possible. After all, don’t we all kind of disregard news that we don’t agree with?
I think there is an important lesson here though. The people of Israel and Judah were the people of God, but they were not immune from sin. God, being a God of justice, gave them the consequences of their actions. They did not get some kind of free pass because they were the chosen people.
I think that we can develop a similar attitude today as Christians. We live however we want, and we think that we can come to God whenever we want and all of the consequences to our actions will disappear. I am not saying that God will not forgive us because God will forgive anyone of anything when they come to him with sincere repentance. However, let’s say that I was addicted to gambling, and I really hit rock bottom. I am entirely out of money, and I realize that what I had been doing was wrong. God would forgive me, but God did not be obligated to put all kinds of money back into my bank account. I would still have the consequences of my actions while simultaneously receiving forgiveness.
I think that this is a hard concept for many people because we just want to say sorry and move on. We want to be like Zedekiah and come to God when we need Him to take away our consequences. It doesn’t quite work that way though, and because God is a God of justice, we might have to deal with the issues that we have created ourselves.
We knew that it was coming for Jeremiah. Throughout this entire book, he has been saying controversial things, and it could not have made him very popular among the political leadership at the time. In Jeremiah 20, he is arrested.
Jer 20:1 Now Pashur the son of Immer the priest, who was also chief governor in the house of the LORD, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things.
Jer 20:2 Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the LORD.
Jer 20:3 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Pashur brought forth Jeremiah out of the stocks. Then said Jeremiah unto him, The LORD hath not called thy name Pashur, but Magormissabib.
Jer 20:4 For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends: and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies, and thine eyes shall behold it: and I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall carry them captive into Babylon, and shall slay them with the sword.
I thought that this is interesting because it must not have been easy for him to be arrested. As you read through the end of chapter 20, you get a taste of the depression that Jeremiah was sinking into. This would not have been something that most of us would be excited to live through.
However, Jeremiah had a very interesting sense of a higher calling. Remember that he was in jail for basically prophesying against those in power and exposing their wrongdoing. When he had his audience referenced above, he keeps on doing what he was doing. He told them that God was going to judge them.
These two images are important. On one hand, he definitely was not thrilled to be in jail. However, on the other hand, he knew what he had to do. He knew that he was there as a prophet of God, and no matter what happened, he could not shirk that responsibility.
I wish I could say that I would have this type of dedication. I don’t know; I have never been in a situation where my life has been literally in danger because of my faith. However, I think that we can learn a lot from Jeremiah. Even though the easy thing to do would have been to take it easy and not create any more attention, he knew what God called him to do, and he was faithful.
If you read the Old Testament, it is pretty obvious that God demands obedience. There are so many times when people violate the commands of God, and they get punished for it. In Jeremiah 19, we see more of the same, and I guess it raises the question as to why God is so concerned with obedience.
Jer 19:14 Then came Jeremiah from Tophet, whither the LORD had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the LORD’S house; and said to all the people,
Jer 19:15 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words.
It is a basic cause-and-effect relationship. The people are not following the directions that they had been clearly given, so they are going to receive all of the consequences of their actions.
I guess that raises the question as to why God is so worried about obedience. After all, He is always talking about forgiveness, so why is there all this talk of punishment. Can’t God simply forgive?
There are a few points to take on this one. Notice that in this passage in Jeremiah, the punishment is a consequence for breaking the law of God. It is similar to a basic judicial system. When you break the law, you receive punishment because that is justice. There is a difference between justice and forgiveness.
If someone committed a crime against me, I ought to be willing to forgive them. As hard as that is, we are called to forgive. However, that does not mean that we immediately abandon justice. We might forgive a murderer, but that does not mean that we argue for him to be released from prison. There are still consequences to previous actions.
I think that is what we see a lot in the Old Testament that explains why there was a lot of talk about obedience and punishment. It seems to me that the justice comes as the consequence of what the people had done. It doesn’t mean that they are beyond forgiveness whatsoever, and we see that God does forgive the people of Israel many times throughout the Old Testament. However, when the law has been broken, justice is called for.
Why don’t we dive into some controversy today? That is always fun, and Jeremiah 18 gives us a very good opportunity to begin to think about the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity.
Jer 18:3 Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
Jer 18:4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
Jer 18:5 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
Jer 18:6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.
Jer 18:7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
Jer 18:8 If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
Jer 18:9 And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
Jer 18:10 If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
I think that this is a complicated issue on a few levels. A very basic reading of this passage almost implies that we as humans define the actions of God. If we act a certain way, then God will change His mind. One could argue that this is almost what you see in the story of Nineveh. God was going to destroy the city, but when the people repented, He decided not to. In the opposite direction, in the cases of Sodom and Gomorrah, if there was one righteous person to be found, God said that He was willing to call off His imminent destruction. Obviously the destruction came, but it does seem to imply that perhaps there was room for negotiation in that based upon the choices that humans made.
This is a difficult passage because at the same time, the clay of the world is entirely in the hands of God. God has control over what He does, so there is an interesting balance here. On one hand, He seems to take human actions into consideration, but He also holds the freedom of being the one who ultimately makes the decision.
However, there is another level to this discussion as well that needs to be taken into consideration. God is omniscient. He knows all things, and He even those things that have happened yet.
Isa 46:9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
Isa 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
Now we have a little bit of a dilemma. On one hand, God is indeed in charge of the world. He holds the world in hand, and He makes decisions that impact the world. On the other hand, He knows what is going to happen according to Isaiah, and that would include knowledge of who was going to repent and who was not going to repent. For example, God would have known that the people of Nineveh were going to repent. Even though Jonah did not know that, God would have. Therefore, God also knew that He was not going to destroy the city of Nineveh. I guess that raises the question then why He continually told Jonah that He was going to, and did God really change His mind?
It seems to me that an important way to look at this is to remember that the ways of God are not the ways of man. For us, it seems like God changes His mind. In the case of Nineveh, all indications were that God was going to destroy them, but then He did not. However, God knew all along that He would not destroy Nineveh because they would repent. In that sense, He did not change His mind whatsoever.
You might say that God was dishonest then. Why did He tell Jonah all of that about destruction if it really wasn’t necessary?
Dishonesty is not part of the equation here because God was not dishonest. If they did not repent, then they would have been destroyed. That is true. Their conduct deserved punishment as much as today we talk about people needing to come to the cross and be reconciled through the saving work of Jesus Christ. God was not dishonest about the consequences of disobedience.
Also, in the case of Jonah, God knew that He was going to use Jonah as the one to deliver the message of repentance to the people in Nineveh. Jonah was part of the metanarrative that God has written. Sure, God could have brought the people of Nineveh to repentance in a different way. He could have used a different messenger or method, but again we come back to this image of the master potter in Jeremiah. This was part of the plan.
I have already written more words then you probably want to read, and I don’t want to drag on forever, but I think the next step of the equation is to define this relationship between human free will and predestination. Today, we only scratched the surface by looking at how, whether or not humans have free will, God does not change. Even though it might seem that way from our human perspective, God is indeed sovereign. He is ultimately in charge of the universe, and even if humans do have free will (which I believe we do), we do not define His actions. He does not change His mind.
Recently, I have been particularly interested in this idea of worldview studies. I have been thinking a lot about how we seriously ought to consider the presuppositions and assumptions that influence the way we interpret the world around us. Once we have established which way of interpreting the world is most valid, then we are able to move beyond that and think about how and why things happen the way that they do.
This came to mind again as I was reading Jeremiah 17. There are basically two alternative choices presented. You can put your trust in God, or you can put your trust in man.
Jer 17:5 Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.
Jer 17:6 For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.
Jer 17:7 Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.
Jer 17:8 For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.
Again, this all comes back to a very basic level of human understanding. No one is arguing over global warming for example at this level. Your worldview is not based on your understanding of specific issues; your worldview defines your understanding of specific issues. When you are deciding whether to trust in God or trust in man, you are basically putting on a pair of glasses that influence the way that you view the world. This metaphor is not perfect though because I can choose to take off my literal glasses I am wearing right now, but I cannot take off a worldview. I might change my worldview, but I cannot be without one.
In Jeremiah, we hear from God, and not surprisingly, He did not think that is wise to put your trust in man. He compares it to being in the desert where you have no ability to grow. In other words, you have no potential, and you have no hope. You are as much as you are ever going to be.
That is one major area where the Christian worldview differentiates. It is expounded in verse eight, but in summary, the Christian worldview provides the opportunity for growth and hope. From a secular worldview, the world is evil, and that is about all there is to it. Our greatest hope is in the potential of humanity to become more moral. Maybe we can all learn to get along after all.
Christians have an understanding as to why the world is imperfect but also the assurance that everything will be made right in the end. The greatest hope in that worldview is found in God Himself. With the understanding that humanity has been evil for a very long time because of the fall and doesn’t seem to be getting any nearer to perfection as time advances, in order to find that moral improvement, it is best not to look into this human heart but rather look externally to One who actually is perfect. In other words, we have reason to hope that things can and will get better.
Worldviews are important. Everyone has one, and it is important for all of us to look at which one provides the most accurate depiction of the world as we know it. Does it appear that humanity is very good at acting morally? It does not seem so. Does it make sense to assume that humanity is going to become better at acting morally? Human nature doesn’t seem all that much different than ever has. The preferred violations have changed, but it seems that there has always been crime and evil throughout recorded history. Does human potential seem like a reasonable place to put our moral hope? It doesn’t
As we have been hearing about for a while now, the people of Israel had really messed up. They had abandoned God even though they had sufficient evidence to believe that He was indeed the one true God. They started following other gods, and God Himself was understandably not thrilled about this.
In chapter 16, it is incredibly interesting that God built in a supplementary plan. The people rejected Him, and He was going to punish them. However, while that might not seem like the ideal situation, God had another purpose for this as well. I think that His sense of justice would have been more than enough to go through with the punishment, but I am just pointing out that there was another level that God was operating on as well.
Jer 16:19 O LORD, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit.
Jer 16:20 Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they are no gods?
Jer 16:21 Therefore, behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know mine hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is The LORD.
God and Jeremiah understood that when people saw the power of God, even when exercised in punishment, it would be undeniable. People would recognize that maybe there was something to this God that the Israelites claimed to worship but then drifted away from.
I find this kind of exciting. The children of Israel had wandered away from God, and I am sure that Satan was thrilled. This would have been a big deal for him. The people of God were drifting away and worshiping false gods. Satan’s game plan has not changed. He was still trying to get people away from God back then.
However, he did not count on this side effect. Yes, the people had drifted away for a time, but even because of that sin and accompanying punishment, the knowledge of God would actually become even more widespread than it had before. God, being omniscient, also knew that the people of Israel would return to Him, so even though this season required punishment because of disobedience, the ultimate result of this episode would become greater knowledge of God.
There are things that happen in life that we don’t understand. However, we always have to remember that God does indeed have a plan even if we cannot understand that. At the time, the people of Israel probably were not thinking about how their disobedience would actually increase the kingdom of God, but God did that. Remember, because God is a just God, He did need to punish the people of Israel to be consistent with His character so it is not as if He only created this punishment to achieve the growth of His kingdom, but He was also operating on other levels beyond just the punishment that we might not always understand.