In this post I transcribed a talk I gave to the Christian Fellowship at work from Isaiah, arising from my Bible reading which, having read through the Bible in a year, has taken me through the history of the latter part of the Old Testament (after King David) and onto the prophets. Well, I've been continuing on, recently finished going through Jeremiah with the help of the NIV Application Commentary, very conveniently available on the Kindle, a very valuable aid I've found.
So, Jeremiah is based at around 580BC, covering the period immediately before and after Jerusalem falls to the Babylonians. Once Jerusalem has fallen and most of the population of Judah have been sent to exile, Jeremiah stays with the remnant left behind initially, and then - having warned against going - goes to Egypt.
There were a couple of things I found particularly striking. One is the paradox of the role of Babylon, on the one hand acting as God's agent in punishing Judah for their lack of faithfulness to Him - yet on the other hand Babylon itself is subject to God's wrath for its actions, as is made clear in chapter 50. It would seem that there are parallels here with the role of Judas Iscariot, on the one hand having a key role in God's purposes being carried out but on the other hand committing great evil for which he is accountable. Any pointers to books / articles / commentaries which help explore this point gratefully received.
Another point which arises in Jeremiah which I found very striking is in chapter 28. This is immediately after Jerusalem has fallen, after Jeremiah has prophesised that the exile will last 70 years, advising the exiles to settle down in their not-so-temporary land. There then appears the false prophet Hananiah who says, very dramatically, that the exile will only last two years.
At the end of the chapter Hananiah dies as is prophesised again by Jeremiah. But what I found striking is the manner in which Jeremiah handles the situation. God has given him a very clear message about the nature of the exile which is contradicted by another prophet. One might imagine that Jeremiah is entitled, in the Name of our Lord, to rebuke Hananiah for spreading false messages. But he doesn't do this at first. Instead, in verses 5-9, he says how great it would be if Hananiah is correct, then giving a warning that, ultimately, one only knows whether this kind of future prophecy is correct by seeing what actually happens. It is only after God speaks with Jeremiah again (verses 13 and 14) that he rebukes Hananiah for the false message he is spreading.
As a model for handling a conflict situation Jeremiah's example is superb. He retains his full integrity as a servant of God chosen to speak on His behalf with a huge measure of humility in being prepared to accept that he may be wrong. As far as I am aware this is the only place in which this Hananiah (there are others in the Bible by this name) appears, it is possible that Jeremiah has had previous interactions with Hananiah which gives Jeremiah a reason for taking Hananiah seriously. In any eventuality, we are left with an account which encourages us to stay close to God, listening to Him, mindful that we are fallible human beings who can never fully understand God's purposes, and mindful also of the need to use discernment in listening to others in a respectful, supportive manner - initially at least!
So, now coming to the end of Lamentations, as we weep for the fall of Jerusalem. Whether or not 4:10 is to be taken literally - 'With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed' - it is an extremely graphic image of an appalling situation. Living in New Testament times, able to know the Son of God as our personal Saviour and Lord, we need to be reminded that we worship the same God whose righteous anger gave rise to these situations, humbly to bow down to Him accordingly.
Due to start Ezekiel on Tuesday, having read the NIV Application Commentary introduction this morning before going to the Cathedral. Pleased to say that I'm genuinely looking forward to engaging with this book from much the same time period as Jeremiah, not expecting it to be entirely easy, I'll let you know how it goes in due course.
Meanwhile, I'm looking forward in a future blog post to tell you about a small project I'm working on which I'm callng '366 prayers'. Not ready to do so just yet, but very happy to engage in private conversation on this if you'd like to get in touch.