Bethany Bible Reading for week of April 18
Monday – April 19 Jeremiah 18
This chapter takes me back to my very first year of
teaching, I was all of twenty-two years old and had no experience other than
student teaching in college. Early on in the semester Peter, one of the
brightest students I ever taught, raised his hand and asked me if I thought it
was ok to use anthropomorphisms when talking about God. I was not about to admit I had no idea what
he just asked, so I asked him what definition he was using, (unfortunately,
when I looked it up, there really only is one.)
Anthropomorphism is attributing human characteristics to God, or a
god. It is when we talk about God’s eye,
ear, heart, hands, knowing God is Spirit.
I also have a beautiful clay pot on my shelf from this time, my cousin
made it in art class, he was (maybe still is) a skilled potter.
Jeremiah went to the potter’s house to watch him make something with a lump of clay. It was an object lesson for Jeremiah, it is for us as well. The potter was making something, but in the middle of make it he found the clay was “marred in his hands,” so he changed his mind and made something else. God taught Jeremiah something with this, in his teaching he used anthropomorphism, he said that He, like the potter, can change His mind. God can determine to punish a nation for its sin, but if that nation repents, he will change his mind. God can determine to bless a nation, but if that nation falls away from him, God can change His mind. Of course, that is anthropomorphism, God knows everything, but in human terms, God can change His mind. Believers will argue about this until Jesus returns, can prayer change God? When any or even every kind of evil takes place, was that God’s intention? This passage surely seems to say God will respond to our behavior, He may and even does “change His mind.”
Tuesday April 20 Jeremiah 19,20
Jeremiah is full of object lessons, he returned to the potter’s house and bought a pot, he smashed it to show what will happen to the nation of Judah. The people of Judah refused to repent, they refused the invitation to come back to God. Instead, they were complicit in destroying the lives of innocent people, they put their trust in idols, and they were willing to sacrifice their children. There is more than one way to sacrifice children. Judah had an altar to Moloch in the Hinnom Valley, some people sacrifice their children to the corporate ladder, others snuff out their lives before they are born, others neglect them after they are born. These things still bother God.
Jeremiah 20 is a vivid portrayal into the heart of a prophet charged with the prophecy of warning and judgment. No one wants to be the bearer of such bad news! Jeremiah complained to God about this, and yet, he has full trust in God. I wish everyone charged with bringing a message from God would have the same feelings as those expressed in verse 9 “But if I say, "I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” There will always be people who do not want to hear the whole counsel of God, they love the nice stories, the major holidays, but not the messages that contain a warning or even a call to holiness. Followers of Jesus cannot help themselves, the Word of God will burst out of them if they try to hold it in.
Wednesday April 21 Jeremiah 21, 22
I’ve written that the prophecy of Jeremiah is not in chronological order, this chapter is an example as Zedekiah is the last king of Judah. We are in the middle of Jeremiah but at the end of the book chronologically.
Zedekiah knows he is in trouble; the city is under siege by the king of Babylon and he wants a good word from Jeremiah. There is no good word. Zedekiah is relying on two things, God has always delivered his people in the past and he can do it again, and, the city of Jerusalem is very well fortified. Jeremiah has a message for Zedekiah, the city will fall, but any people who surrender to the Babylonians will live.
Chapter twenty-two is another chapter that needs context. Josiah was a God-fearing king, he was killed by the Egyptians. Josiah’s son was Jehoahaz, also called Shallum in verse eleven, he was taken captive by the king of Egypt. The next king was Jehoiakim, he too was very wicked, he was taken captive to Babylon. Then came Jehoiachin, he too was taken to Babylon but was treated very well by the Babylonian king. The last King was Zedekiah, the Babylonians killed all his sons in front of him, blinded him, and took him to Babylon. One of my students remembered the order of these kings by saying, “Josiah Haz Kim’s Chin Zedekiah.” In this chapter we read about the kings Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Jehoichin; they were all wicked, all captured, all under judgment from God. But note what Jeremiah told them, they were not like Josiah who, “defended the cause of the poor and needy,” they only cared about building big palaces and accumulating wealth.
Finally, note the patience of God in this passage, he still calls them back, he begs them to return to him. God does not want to punish them, he wants them to repent. Scripture tells us God is the same yesterday, today, and forever; repentance is still his desire.
Thursday April 22 Jeremiah 23
Today we will read about the “shepherds” who are leading the people away from God, they made up messages claiming they were from God when they were not. They prophesied by Baal, they committed adultery, they lied, and God will punish them. But then Jeremiah prophesied about one who would be different, a descendant from David, one who will do what is just and right; Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd,” he fulfilled this passage. Shepherds take care of sheep, they find food and water and protect them; the “shepherds” of Israel did not do that for their “sheep,” they invited disaster.
How relevant is this chapter to our context, does it say anything to the “shepherds” living today? The shepherds of Jeremiah’s day were making false promises, they told the people they were secure, no foreign enemy could destroy them. The false shepherds of today make wild political predictions, they promise healings and wealth and forget the Word of God. In Jeremiah’s day the “shepherds” were involved in adultery, today we hear of sexual scandals among our “shepherds” over and over; think of how many pastors at the height of a terrific career feel hard with a sexual scandal, there are too many to count! God’s Word continues to be relevant, it continues to call us back to Him. Today, remember the Good Shepherd, He laid down His life for His sheep, He is the Shepherd you want to follow!
Friday April 23 Jeremiah 24
Today we read about another object lesson, the lesson from baskets of figs. To fully understand the lesson, we need to be reminded of the context; Zedekiah is already the king, that means the Babylonians have already taken captives to Babylon two times. The first lesson came from the good figs, they represented God’s people in Babylon. God will watch over His people in Babylon and He will give them a heart to return to Him. The bad figs represent Zedekiah and those aligned with him, they are a disappointment to God.
What do we do with this piece of history? We can learn something about God’s feelings towards two kinds of people around 590 BC, we know God continued to care for those who were taken into captivity, He wanted a renewed relationship with them. We also know those who dug in and continued to reject God were like rotten figs to Him, they are not going to fare well at all. I wonder, to what kind of fig would God compare me? Can you imagine what it takes to be considered a rotten fig by God, the God who is slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness; the God who desires a renewed relationship with you? I don’t want to just learn a bit of history when I read Jeremiah, I want to know God’s heart, and I want Him to have my heart.
Saturday April 24 Jeremiah 25, 26
You will see that yesterday Jeremiah was talking about people in captivity and the reign of Zedekiah, today he is prophesying during the reign of Jehoiakim who was two kings before Zedekiah. There is a lot of reading in these two chapters but it all centers around one theme, God is calling his people to repent, the people will not listen, and the people will surely go into captivity for seventy years. Jeremiah told the people he had been giving them this message for twenty-three years and they refused to listen. Jeremiah gave them a visual image of a person drinking from the cup of the wrath of God, and they wanted to kill him for it. We have an expression, “don’t shoot the messenger,” Jeremiah was the messenger and the people wanted to punish him for his message. We have access to God’s message every day, we have pastors on the radio, television, millions of books, and more importantly, we have God’s Word in print. Sometimes we hear God’s Word and, like the people of Judah we choose to ignore it, other times we choose to not listen in the first place. According to the Barna research team, (the folks who conduct poles and other types of research on religious issues,) most Christians in the USA have chosen to ignore God’s Word, and like Judah too many get upset when a “Jeremiah” proclaims it.