This past Sunday marked our entrance into the Prophets of the Exile: Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Given that the defeat of Israel and Judah by the empires of the Assyrians and Babylonians was a devastating, horrific, and tortuous series of events, you would rightly expect that these are weighty, dark, somber, and serious writings. And they are, which is just part of the challenge in understanding them and gleaning current implications for our lives from them.
But as is true of each and every book found in the Whole Story of the Bible, they are worth the investment of our time and effort. And so we begin with Jeremiah.
Jeremiah is the longest in the Bible. And I will admit it can seem daunting and overwhelming, partly because of its length, and I think partly because of its narrative form, which is filled with a great deal of poetic language. But once you get inside of it for a little while, you come to find it is a very compelling story. It reads like a novel, because it has vivid characters and a powerful, highly contrastive, fast-paced storyline.
So here’s what we need to do, we need to get inside this book. I want you to imagine the four main characters of our story — Yahweh, Jerusalem-Judah (God’s people), Babylon (God’s hammer of justice), and Jeremiah (God’s messenger of judgment and grace)—as they move through the major scenes of this movie playing out in the theatre of your mind.
We will see Yahweh accusing, and warning, and judging both Israel, and then all nations, for the grave sins that they have committed. And friends, I mean grave. It will be hard to convey to you if you have not read this book, for the list of wickedness and darkness and ugliness and YUCK! is piled up, chapter after chapter, for over 30 chapters of material. And no one is getting out of this unscathed—priests, leaders, rulers, officials, prophets, parents, children, everyone—and it is a terrible and weighty and sobering scene set over decades.
Then, we will see Yahweh call a man, a priest, apparently the sole good man within all of Jerusalem-Judah, to be his messenger. To be his prophet, to proclaim to his own people, and to all people. We will see how this humbles him, tears at him, and in the end, exiles him.
And all of that will lead us to this climactic denouement and question—if people, even God’s people, can get this bad, can be this evil, if it be true that there is no one righteous, not even one, that every person like a wandering sheep has gone astray from the shepherd who loves them, if we are all still sinning sinners—what hope is there?
To find the answer to that question, and to explore the characters and scenes of this story, I invite you to watch or listen to my sermon on Jeremiah, which you can listen to here. And if you’d like to study it further, I commend the Jeremiah page over at the Bible Project.
And if you’d like to prepare for this coming Sunday at Calvary, please read the book of Lamentations, where we will explore how Jeremiah’s emotional response and plea in the midst of exile is a model for our own struggle in the midst of affliction and suffering.
Day Twenty-Six: A Morning Conversation With King Solomon
A conversation that happened this morning as I came upon a visitor in our fireplace room….
Day Nineteen: God Chose Her, Not You
The doctrine of God’s rule and reign in and over all things comes crashing into the human conception of the self-made man. We are tempted to think we have so much to do with our happinesses. But the wisdom found from James speaks a wakefulness into the pondering of our circumstances—the good gifts we have come not from our own hands, but by the grace and providence of our heavenly Father. And the wisdom of Solomon makes clear—one of man’s greatest gifts is something only God can give, an understanding wife.
Day Seventeen: The Great Gain Of Godly Contentment
We live in a world where the temptation is constant to believe the amount of our wealth and possessions directly translates to our joy and happiness. The Bible, once again, confronts our culture and holds out another possibility. Namely, “better” does not imply “more,” “bigger,” or “expensive.” It suggests that the reason you still haven’t found what you are looking for is because you’ve been searching in all the wrong places. Wisdom opens our eyes and hearts to deeper wells of contentment.
Day Fifteen: I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me
I always feel like somebody's watching me. And I have no privacy. Woh, I always feel like somebody's watching me. Tell me is it just a dream? So sang Rockwell in the dawning of my high school years back in 1984. All the cool kids were singing it at the time, and its the tune that sprang to mind when I read this similar sentiment this morning: Yahweh is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3, New Living Translation)
Day Fourteen: Death By Living
For those of us desirous to live a good life, we’ve known since the very beginning of this book that it begins with a healthy awe, reverence, and trembling before the God of the universe whose name is Yahweh (Proverbs 1:7). And here we are again reminded that this humble posture before the Holy One is a fountain overflowing with life.
Day Thirteen: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
One of the key assumptions we’ve been working with as we make our way through the wisdom literature is that God has hardwired wisdom into the way creation (and the creatures within it…us) operates. It was there at the beginning. It’s the inner logic of everything, and the secret code for how it works. (see Proverbs 8:22-31)
Day Eleven: A Pig Is Still A Pig
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion. (Proverbs 11:22, English Standard Version) “Well…I never!” she replied to the King. Reading this proverb, it seems highly probable to me, given the stories of King Solomon and all the women in his life (1 Kings 11:3), that this was probably a proverb born from experience. He comes along a beautiful woman, of high social standing, of influence and power; but in his interactions with her, he begins to see her true self shining through all her external adornments. She has no discretion—she is a woman of loose and dissolute conversation, her mind and conscience are defiled. There’s a beauty for the eye, but the corruption of her character slowly transforms how Solomon sees her, and no amount of jewelry will cover that up.
Day Twenty-Nine: Please—Quietly Hold Your Tongue
Anger. noun. “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) As I entered day twenty-nine of Proverbs this morning, and came to 29:11, it struck me that this book has quite a bit to say about anger, strife, wrath, quarreling, fights, and rage. It is a theme that Solomon keeps coming back to, probably because he knows that it is a theme woven through humanity and history. Sometimes the best way to see a theme is to pull on that string so all the wisdom he has offered comes together for our observation. The accumulation helps us feel the weight of it.