Sunday, August 28, 2011

Scripture Sunday: The Book of Jeremiah

Jeremiah is a long, sad book. Jeremiah is God's prophet, talking to the nation of Israel and telling them to turn away from their sins, but as per usual, they want nothing to do with repentance.

God calls Jeremiah to be a prophet when he's still very young. God says to him (1:5), "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations". This verse is often partially quoted in order to support a pro-life stance, and though the message is intended specifically for Jeremiah, I definitely agree with the general idea of applying it to other situations. If we believe that God created the world and created us, it is no stretch to believe that he knew what we'd be like before we were born, or that he had a special plan for us. God has picked Jeremiah out to be his personal messenger to Judah, but this is not a position of ease and delight for Jeremiah--just the opposite, in fact.

Jeremiah had a hard job on many levels. For one thing, he's one of the few righteous men in the whole kingdom, and he's delivering a very unpopular message to the rest of the folks: Change your ways, or God will send enemies to conquer this kingdom. And as in the book of Isaiah, it's not as if the people of Judah have just broken a few religious/cultural rules, like working on the Sabbath or failing to keep kosher. They're doing things like burning their children as human sacrifices. In chapter 19:5, God says of his people, "They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind." That is a big deal for the Lord to say that such a thing didn't even occur to him, because it means that killing children as part of worship is such a disgusting, abominable thing that the divine omniscience didn't even consider it. Humans are capable of great perversity, and the people of Judah have certainly twisted the gifts God has given them.

So Jeremiah's message is unpopular, and besides that, he has to do some really odd things, like acting out particular parables. It's hard to mention the parables out of context and not have them sound silly, but things like wearing an ox yoke to show how the Lord's people will become slave laborers in Babylon might have come close to actually reaching his audience at the time. Unfortunately, no one ever really listens to Jeremiah. Even after their nation is conquered and most of their population is either slain or carried away to Babylon, God's people are bent on doing their own thing. So was Jeremiah's life completely futile? If God picked him out for this job even before he was born, does it prove that God made a mistake in his choice or that God was sadistic in making Jeremiah go through all the pain of fruitless preaching? I don't think Jeremiah's ministry was a mistake. God doesn't promise that if we do what he says, the world will suddenly fall into line. Just because Jeremiah preached, it didn't mean that the people were going to change their ways, but by preaching, Jeremiah gave them an opportunity to hear the truth. That makes him a hero in my view, regardless of his "success" or the lack thereof, in convincing his people to love the Lord.

Trivia: Jeremiah is originally from the city of Anathoth in the tribe of Benjamin, but he's not a Benjamite. Anathoth is one of the special priest-cities that belonged to the Levites. The descendants of Levi didn't get an actual parcel of land to settle down on, so instead they were given several cities throughout Israel. This makes Jeremiah a Levite.

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