Well, today we start a new book, and I decided that I wasn't going to spend the whole time whining that I didn't get it, like I did with Isaiah. Instead, I was going to do a little research up front, so I read the lengthy intro to Jeremiah in my NIV Study Bible, and then I read what Harris had to say in Understanding the Bible. And I'm sooo glad I did, for a couple reasons:
1. Word-count wise, Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible. I seriously would not want to be confused for that long a period of time!
2. Jeremiah is not written in chronological order. That is very good to know ahead of time. Also, style-wise, it is pretty confusing. Harris calls it "a bewildering collection of poetic prophecies and prose narratives, intermixed with introspective monologues, lamentations, messianic oracles, declarations of imminent disaster, and intimations of future hope."
(Sidenote: For the nerds among us--you know who you are--here is how Jeremiah would be if it were written in chronological order: 1:1-7:15; ch. 26; 7:16-20:18; ch. 25; chs. 46-51; 36:1-8; ch. 45; 36:9-32; ch. 35; chs. 21-24; chs. 27-31; 34:1-7; 37:1-10; 34:8-22; 37:11-38:13; 39:15-18; chs. 32-33; 38:14-39:14; 52:1-30; chs. 40-44; 52: 21-34. See? It's all clear, now:).)
The basic background to the book is that Jeremiah's ministry spanned from 626 BC to about 586 BC. It began during the reign of Josiah, where Jeremiah does not seem incredibly impressed with the result of Josiah's reforms. Apparently, though the reform was very needed, it did not extend to the hearts of the people and to their treatment of the poor and unfortunate among them. During Josiah's reign, Babylon gained power and captured the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. Egypt marched out to stop Babylon, and for some odd reason, Josiah tried to stop them, resulting in his death. Jeremiah's prophetic career continued through the reigns of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. I won't rehash it all here, but you may remember how Judah was conquered by Egypt and then Babylon at this time, and these kings were set up as puppet kings, with varying relationships with their conquerors. The bottom line is that Judah was carried off into Babylonian exile during this time. Jeremiah understood this tragedy as just punishment for Judah's sins, and so he advises the first wave of exiles to submit, and to settle in to Babylonian life for the long haul. For this stance, he is branded as unpatriotic. Because he chooses to stay behind with the poor in his country, he is eventually carried off to Egypt, where he dies, apparently by stoning.
There is a lot more to tell, but a lot of it will probably come up as we read. Speaking of which...on to today's reading:
Well, I could have spared you some of that historical background b/c it is covered in the first three verses! Oh well. We also learn that Jeremiah comes from a priestly family (my study Bible says that he might have been a descendant of Abiathar, from back in Solomon's day). We also learn that he received his calling to prophecy as a child. Thinking about Jeremiah's message and future, it occurs to me that a man would have to be totally certain that his purpose came directly from God in order to embark on such a painful path. The job of telling bad news to a hostile audience is not one to be envied, to say the least.
During this time, God tells Jeremiah to pass along a message to His people. The message is that His people have rebelled and turned to worthless idols. Instead of worshiping God, they have been worshiping their own efforts. To sum it up,
"My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that have no water" (2:13).
This pronouncement reminds me of two passages in Isaiah. One is positive:
"Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare" (Is. 55:1-2).
And one is negative:
"Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on his God.
11 But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment" (Is. 50:1-b-11).
The idea that runs through all three of these verses is that God and God alone can meet the needs of man. When we rely on ourselves to meet our needs, we are 1) wasting our time, b/c we can't, and 2) committing idolatry, which will be punished. Apparently, Judah is about to experience these results firsthand.
NT: Philippians 4:1-23
As he closes a letter in which he has pleaded for unity in the church, Paul begs two of his women friends to get along with each other (2-3). It is clear that both these women are godly women who are trying to advance the gospel, and yet it is still hard for them to be united the way the church is supposed to be. That situation reminds me that unity does not come naturally. We must work toward it and fight for it (not with each other, though:)).
Of course, verses 4-8 are wonderful and very well known. I have benefited greatly from the reminder to "not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (6). I have a ways to go before I attain the level of faith that banishes all worry and stress, but I have experienced the "peace of God, which transcends all understanding," and it is marvelous.
I love the way that verse 8 sounds, but I have a hard time understanding how to apply it. See, I would love nothing more than to only focus on happy thoughts, on the beauty in the world and on the love of God. Yet, I also strongly believe that I am not to turn away from the pain and suffering of others around me. In short, as I minister to others, I often have to think about sin, suffering, pain, darkness, and despair. After all, people go through many struggles that are in no way noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. And often, helping them means to open my heart and mind up to that pain. I know the verse isn't saying that that's wrong. I guess it is saying not to indulge your thoughts in sinfulness on your own time.
Lastly, I love Paul's talk about finding the secret of contentment in any and every situation in me. Whenever I read about that, part of me screams, "So what is it??? Tell me the secret!" And yet, I know that the secret can be found throughout his writings. If I had to sum it up, the secret to contentment is found in recognition of God and reliance on Him to meet all our needs. And by that, I don't mean needs like food and money and clothes, though I don't mind asking Him to do so. Rather, I think that Paul relied solely on God to meet his true needs, to be that living water that Jeremiah talks about, that wine and milk and light that Isaiah describes.
I also think, though, that Paul learned these lessons through practice. In my life, no matter how prepared I think I am, I tend to freak out when I get into a new, stressful situation. After God brings me through it once, I am better prepared to handle it when it happens again. By the third or fourth time going through the same situation, it's no big thing. I'm sure that as much as Paul went through, he had plenty of opportunity to build up his resistance to fear, worry, and stress. Thus, he probably really had learned the secret to contentment in all situations. Even though I know it in my head, I don't think I've really learned it yet.
A praise psalm from Asaph. It mentions the idea of God making people drunk on His wrath, which is apparently a pretty common form of imagery in the OT.
I love the picture that these proverbs give us of appropriate behavior. We are not to fear wicked men, but neither are we to rejoice when our enemies fall. I like that. We are not to fear, nor gloat.