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“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 26: AUGUST 17
JEREMIAH 50 – EZEKIEL 19:14
Today we say goodbye to Jeremiah and hello to Ezekiel. Theirs are thunderous voices. Both prophets lived during a time when God’s mercy came to an end and his judgement began. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, God is patient, but when time is up, it’s up. There’s no wiggle-room after that. God’s judgement is without mercy. We will not be standing before him on Judgement Day expecting mercy, because there will be none. The time for mercy will be over, just as it was for the children of Israel during the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
- The final chapters of Jeremiah talk about the prophecy against Babylon. Remember that Jeremiah had earlier prophesied that the Israelites should surrender to the Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, and live in Babylon as captives. Now we see the prophet foretelling the punishment that God will mete out to Babylon for destroying his people. God used the resources of Babylon to punish his people but also to care for them during their 70 years of exile; but that doesn’t mean that Babylon gets off the hook and is free to loot, sack and slaughter with impunity. Nor does it mean that Babylon can sin with impunity. All are punished according to the measure of their sins, even the people God uses to punish others.
- So when God tells you to flee to Babylon, however morally repugnant it is to you, flee there. But when he tells you to get out of Babylon or get caught up in the punishment due it, get out. We’ll read more about Babylon in the books of Daniel and Revelation. For us born-agains living in the Kingdom, Babylon is the earthly realm of sin and plenty that sadly also includes churches. God will support us and sustain us with Babylon’s plenty for a time, but he expects us to keep ourselves separate from its sin and to flee before he finally destroys it.
- The book of Lamentations was written during Jeremiah’s exile from the Promised Land. Remember that Jeremiah, too, was in exile. The whole remnant was in exile. Even so, God fed them and provided for them physically and spiritually, giving them hope of returning to their home if they turned back to him with their whole heart.
- Ezekiel picks up where Jeremiah leaves off. He is also in exile. But unlike Jeremiah, he is not embedded within the powers-that-be in Jerusalem, because the powers-that-be have all been slaughtered and Jerusalem has been all but destroyed. Instead, Ezekiel prophesizes through visions.
- Ezekiel heard first-hand the horrors that were inflicted on the unrepentant Israelites, particularly during the siege of Jerusalem. Out of starvation, fathers ate their sons, sons ate their fathers, and mothers cooked their own babies. How far from God would you have to be to do those things? THESE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE GOD’S PEOPLE, and yet they were indistinguishable from the demon-worshipers around them; in fact, they did worse than them. When those who are genuinely God’s people are hungry, God provides for them, as he did for Jeremiah and Elijah and David. God always finds workarounds and resources for those who are genuinely his people. The rest are left to take matters into their own hands, and what we get are fathers eating their sons, sons eating their fathers, and mothers cooking their own babies.
- How indistinguishable are Christians today from the demon-worshipers around them? All those who worship anything but God and follow anyone but Jesus are demon-worshipers. This is the world. How indistinguishable are most Christians today from the world? It’s hard not to see, in the description of the lead-up to the destruction of those who definitively turned from God, exactly what is happening in former Christian nations today: “Wherefore I will bring the worst of the heathen, and they shall possess their houses: I will also make the pomp of the strong to cease; and their holy places shall be defiled. Destruction cometh; and they shall seek peace, and there shall be none” (Ezekiel 7:24-25).
- I met a man the other day who introduced himself as a born-again Christian. He then went on to say that God had asked him to preach but he had said no, and that he hadn’t read the Bible in years – HE’D DEFIED GOD AND HADN’T READ THE BIBLE IN YEARS, AND YET HAD NO PROBLEM INTRODUCING HIMSELF AS A BORN-AGAIN CHRISTIAN! This is the absolute state of where we are as a people – Christians today are no different than the Israelites just before the destruction of Jerusalem. They are indistinguishable from the heathens around them.
- As Ezekiel repeats several times: “Neither shall mine eye spare, neither will I have pity.” God’s judgement is without mercy and perfect. During the time of mercy, God’s judgement is mitigated. That means he doesn’t give us the full measure of what we have coming; he softens it, taking into consideration all the factors that made us do what we did or say what we said. But at some point, time is up. And when time is up, mercy is removed from judgement; all that remains is an eye for an eye. May you never experience God’s judgement without mercy, because if you do, you are condemned. There is no longer any hope for you. There is no Paradise. There is only the hell of your own making, forever.
- God doesn’t want us to end up in Hell. He wants us to go to Heaven. He takes no pleasure in punishing us or in our condemnation. In Ezekiel 18:32, God says: “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth… wherefore turn, and live ye.” Until time is up, God is constantly extending his invitation to turn back to him and live. A few chapters earlier, God describes through the prophet how he will bring the dead back to life: “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. And I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh; that they may walk in my statutes and keep mine ordinances, and do them; and they shall be my people, and I shall be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20).
- I don’t know about you, but every time I read the words “and they shall be my people, and I shall be their God”, I hear such longing in God’s voice as well as a promise and a statement of fact. He wants to give us everything, if we would only do those things that are right in his eyes. He’s longing for us to do those things. He’s saying: Here, I have everything waiting for you. Everything that you’ve ever wanted. It’s all right here. All you have to do is say “yes” to me and then keep your promise, and I will keep my promise to you.
One of the early chapters in Ezekiel describes a mark that is given to those who are horrified by the rampant sin they see around them. The mark identifies them as God’s people. All those who don’t have the mark are later slaughtered without pity.
Do you think you have that mark? Do you think that God identifies you as one of his, or is the identification only coming from you? Do you claim to be a Christian but live indistinguishable from the world? Do you claim the blood of Jesus as your justification, even while you continue to do what you know isn’t right in God’s eyes? There are many such Christians, even self-professed born-again Christians, just as there were many such Israelites who considered themselves God’s people simply because they were Israelites.
A label is just a label. You can call yourself whatever you want. But a mark is a mark. Better pray that you have God’s.
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.
“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 25: AUGUST 16
JEREMIAH 23 – 49:39
From a 21st century perspective, Jeremiah was like an embedded journalist in war-torn Jerusalem. He was always in the thick of things when reporting God’s Word, but few wanted to hear what God had to say. They preferred tuning into the fake news from the false prophets, as they promised continued prosperity and peace. As we see in today’s reading, only those who heeded Jeremiah’s warnings survived.
- Like Isaiah and other prophets before him, Jeremiah was also given a word from God about Jesus. Through the prophet, God called Jesus a “righteous Branch” of the house of David, a King who would not only reign but prosper (unlike evil kings) and be known as “The Lord Our Righteousness”. During his reign, Israel will be safe from all its enemies. This, of course, is yet another reference to God’s Kingdom on Earth, which exists here and now and is currently being ruled over by none other than The Lord Our Righteousness himself – Jesus. If you’re genuinely born-again, you’re a citizen of that Kingdom and The Lord Our Righteousness is your King. Amen!
- Lovely line a few chapters later, also in reference to the Kingdom: “I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel….” If any of you have spent time walking by a river, you’ll know that the lushest greenery is next to it, the freshest air is next to it, and a natural pathway is next to it, forged by erosion over the centuries. God promises to be a father to us, protecting and guiding us, fighting off our enemies, and correcting us through appropriate punishment when we need it. Note that Jeremiah says that God will “cause” us to walk by the river. That means he’ll make it so that we end up there; it will be his doing – not ours – that we walk along this naturally-forged path in the freshest of air and lushest of greenery, with abundant fresh water for the taking. This is life in the Kingdom for the converted. God always delivers on his promises.
- Much of today’s reading centers on the political intrigues and behind-the-scenes plots involving the kings that immediately succeeded Josiah and also on the problems caused by the false prophets. Recall that Josiah was the only king during Jeremiah’s time that “did right in the sight of the Lord”; all the rest did evil. (Check out 2 Chronicles, last page, for a run-down of the final kings before the 70-year exile to Babylon.) We read about Jeremiah getting arrested and imprisoned in various places, his papers confiscated and burned, and his reputation dragged through the mud, all for speaking God’s Word to God’s people. God doesn’t promise his servants an easy time of it, but he does promise them that they will be renewed and refreshed by his Word and protected by his Spirit. We see this in Jeremiah, in that he continually gets rescued from whatever’s thrown at him. Even the enemies of the Israelites rescue him. God uses every resource he has at hand to protect and support those who are loyal to him.
- Jeremiah told the people that God wanted them to leave Jerusalem and the surrounding cities, go to Babylon, and put themselves under the authority of Nebuchadnezzar, whom God called his “servant”. To the Jews in positions of power in Judah and Israel, this was treason. In their view, Jeremiah was aiding and abetting the enemy by telling the Israelites to cut their losses and surrender to the Chaldeans and Babylonians. Why would God tell his people to desert Jerusalem, knowing that when they did that, the temple would be looted and the city destroyed?
- Jeremiah is very clear that God needs to punish Judah and Israel for their centuries of sins. The punishment is to live in Babylon as captives for a period of 70 years, after which, if they repented and turned back to God with all their hearts, they could return to their lands. God would then punish Babylon. God always has a plan, and God’s plan is always best. Too bad that so few people go along with it.
- The remainder of today’s reading shows that those who refused to obey God’s guidance, as given by Jeremiah, either died in Jerusalem, died fleeing Jerusalem, or died shortly after if they went to Egypt instead of Babylon. God is always very clear about his directives; he doesn’t leave room for misinterpretation. The people were told to surrender and go to Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar’s authority and all would be reasonably well with them. However, they chose not to heed the advice. They saw surrender as losing face, and they couldn’t conceive that God wanted them to live as captives under their enemies. They took a position of pride and refused to budge, and it was their downfall. Jeremiah survived and actually thrived as a stranger in a strange land.
- The story of the machinations of the evil kings and their princes, priests, advisors, and false prophets is meant for us to learn from. It is a cautionary tale. Sometimes the right way forward is directly into the arms of the enemy, if that’s where God tells you to go. Always go where God tells you to go, not where human reasoning or pride dictate. God makes use of all the world’s resources to support his children, including resources belonging to enemies. What’s theirs, in some cases, is also ours, if God says so.
The book of Jeremiah shows us the day-to-day life of a prophet of God in ancient Israel. Of all the OT prophets, it probably provides the most details, other than for the book of Daniel. The NT, on the other hand, is full of intimate day-to-day details of lives lived in accordance with God’s will, as we’ll see starting next week. The details are important not only to flesh out the people being described and draw us deeper into their story, but to serve as a guide for what to do (or not to do) under different situations.
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.
“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 24: AUGUST 15
ISAIAH 55 – JEREMIAH 22:30
The book of Isaiah, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly over the past few days, has Jesus written all over it. Most of the book is about Jesus as God’s servant. The final few chapters of Isaiah in today’s reading are more about the fruit of Jesus’ labours, which is God’s Kingdom on Earth, otherwise known as spiritual Zion, the holy mountain, and spiritual Israel. These are all the same place, and their establishment was foretold in scripture, including and foremost in Isaiah.
If you’re born-again, you live in God’s Kingdom on Earth (i.e., spiritual Zion, the holy mountain, spiritual Israel). Establishing this Kingdom is what Jesus came to accomplish by offering himself as the final and perfect redeeming sacrifice. He aced it, and is now seated at the right hand of God, ruling over us born-agains as our King and High Priest. Being redeemed enables us, as Jesus’ followers, to have the same relationship with God as he had, and as Adam once had (before the fall), and as all true prophets have had throughout the ages.
- Isaiah 61:1-2 is the famous verse that Jesus quoted in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth when he came out as the Messiah. In case anyone in the synagogue was dozing off that day, Jesus forcefully and unequivocally stated that he was the fulfillment of that scripture. He left no room for misinterpretation. Then he went on to castigate the hometown crowd for their spiritual blindness and lack of faith, and in so doing incited a lynch mob against him. But Jesus just calmly walked through the midst of them and left.
- In this reading, the “Great Invitation” that was initially given only to the children of Israel is being extended to everyone else who chooses God’s way over the world’s way. What we essentially see here is God petitioning for new believers outside the 12 tribes of Israel. At the same time, Isaiah gives us a run-down of why God is looking for new spiritual blood – the spiritual leaders are blind and greedy and leading the people astray, and the people themselves are unrepentantly following the demon-worshiping practices of the heathens around them. This, as we’ve seen in previous readings, is nothing new for the children of Israel, but God has reached the end of his patience. If his chosen don’t want what he’s offering, maybe someone else will. As for his children who reject him, “the Lord God shall slay [them] and call his servants by another name”.
- Hence, “Christians”.
- I’m sad to see the last of Isaiah in this read-through. I could scour that book every day, never tiring of it and still finding something I hadn’t noticed before, still hearing an echo from something written elsewhere in the Bible. Jesus, I suspect, knew Isaiah by heart. It was, after all, his script. Note that it even mentions the kings, the shepherds, and the angels (Isaiah 60:1, 2 and 3, respectively) coming to worship him. God laid it all out for Isaiah, and Jesus soaked it up.
- Jeremiah is considered by some Jewish historians as a “failed prophet” solely because his warnings failed to turn the children of Israel (particularly Judah) back to God. But that’s not the job of a prophet, to force people to worship God. A prophet speaks God’s Word; he/she doesn’t twist arms and coerce people into doing what they don’t want to do. Even God doesn’t do that. Is God, then, by the measure of these same Jewish historians, a failed God?
- Jeremiah is anything but a failed prophet (and God is anything but a failed God!). On the contrary, and even despite being imprisoned for preaching God’s Word, Jeremiah never swerved from speaking God’s Truth. There were other prophets also prophesying at the time who lied to the people and told them “everything’s going to be OK”, but Jeremiah warned the Israelites that unless they turned back to God wholeheartedly, “OK” was the last thing everything was going to be.
- For me, Jeremiah’s is the voice of this present age. I think the times we’re in now, with so-called formerly Christian nations collectively turning their backs on God and adopting demonic lifestyles and laws, is much like Israel just before the destruction of Jerusalem and their captivity in Babylon. Jeremiah was singular in his message, but pretty much universally ignored, as are all people who speak God’s Truth today. In fact, speaking God’s Truth today can get you arrested, just like in Jeremiah’s day.
- I particularly relate to Jeremiah’s lack of a bedside manner. When there’s plenty of time, you can be soft-spoken, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya; but when time is almost up, you speak plainly and bark orders. Those who want what God is offering will gratefully accept it; those who object to how the message is being delivered are lost anyway, so don’t waste your time on them. Let them go.
- It might be helpful to take note of the kings under which both Isaiah and Jeremiah were prophesying (you can check the list of kings in 2 Chronicles, towards the end of the book). Isaiah prophesied mostly under kings who “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord”, whereas Jeremiah was stuck with the short stick, except for Josiah. After Josiah, all the kings Jeremiah endured “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord”. This in large part explains both the trouble Jeremiah had (arrests, imprisonment, etc.) and also the spiritual disaster state that was the children of Israel. We get the leaders we’ve earned through our thoughts and actions, and the Israelites at that time had earned some real doozies. So have we.
What are your thoughts about the final chapter of Isaiah and the opening chapters of Jeremiah? Do you object to Jeremy’s lack of bedside manner, or do you find it refreshing? He certainly doesn’t mince his words, and those who prefer to see themselves as victims rather than as getting back what they put out would obviously object. This is so much like today’s society, where perceived (that is, false) victimhood has been elevated to a new form of secular sainthood by the social justice crowd. Don’t give into them and don’t go along with them. Be like Jeremiah, who stood alone on God’s Truth
For a full schedule of the BIBLE READ-THROUGH, click on the links below.