Forget the “Good Old Days”; They Are Never Coming Back!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Daily reading assignment: Jeremiah 22-26

The prophet Jeremiah had prophesied against the people of Jerusalem, warning them the city would soon fall to the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 21:4-6) and king Zedekiah, his servants, and the people of the city would be taken captive (21:7).  Jeremiah counseled the people to surrender, but if they failed, they would die by the sword, famine, and some would be captives (21:9). Jeremiah warned, God had set Himself against the city (21:10-14).

Taking the warning of God’s judgment from the streets, the LORD commanded Jeremiah to go to the palace of king Zedekiah and warn the king his oppression of the poor and needy would end in God’s judgment and the devastation and destruction of Jerusalem would serve as a lasting testimony that the people had forsaken “the covenant of the LORD their God, and worshipped other gods, and served them” (22:1-9).

Jeremiah 22 mentions five kings of Judah.  King Josiah, who reigned for 31 years, had a heart for the LORD and longed to see the nation return to Him. Four kings followed Josiah’s reign; three of the four were the king’s sons: Jehoahaz or Shallum (22:10-11); Jehoiakim (22:18); Jehoiachin or Jeconiah, i.e. Coniah (22:24); and the fourth, Zedekiah, a grandson  (22:1-9).  Unlike Josiah, his sons and grandson were wicked kings whose transgressions led the nation inevitably to God’s judgment.  Led by wicked kings, Judah’s descent into sin and rebellion was swift and unabated (22:10-30).

As a pastor, I find the opening verses of Jeremiah 23 disconcerting for the prophet addresses “pastors”, men entrusted with the care and oversight of the people.  Numbered primarily among the “pastors” are most likely the king and the civil servants of his governorship; however, let us not exempt the failure of the spiritual leaders who failed to form a chorus, an alliance with Jeremiah and confront the sins of the king and nation.

Rather than benevolent men who shepherd the people in love and obedience to God’s Word, the “pastors” had failed to “visit” or care for the sheep, and had abused and scattered them (23:1-2).  Jeremiah prophesied the pastors would suffer the consequences of their sins against the people.

The LORD did not leave His people without hope, but promised the day would come when He would gather His people and bless them (23:3), promising to set over them a King like none other, “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (23:4-6).  Who is this LORD Who is of the “branch” or lineage of David (23:5) and is altogether righteous?   Only one man could fulfill this prophecy and it was Jesus the Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:21-5:11).  Already fulfilled in part in our day, Jeremiah 23:8 promises the day will come when the LORD will gather His scattered people to “dwell in their own land” (23:8).

Jeremiah confessed indignation and sorrow (23:9) when he realized the confusion affected by false prophets in the land.  Those false prophets (preachers and teachers) had become the curse of the land and, in a searing indictment of their sins; Jeremiah identified the ungodly character of the false prophets and the effect they had on the nation.  They were adulterers who walked in wickedness while hypocritically attending their public duties in the Temple (23:10-22).  Their error had already led Samaria, the northern ten tribes, to turn from the LORD and worship Baal (23:13).

The sins of the false prophets and the nation had become so egregious the LORD compared them to the wickedness of “Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah” (23:14).  Because of their wickedness, the people did not discern the false prophets were speaking things that were not from the LORD (23:15-32).

Jeremiah 24 records the captivity of Jeconiah, the second to last of the wicked kings before Babylon destroyed Jerusalem  (24:1).  Employing an illustration of two baskets of figs that represented the people of Judah, the LORD promised the “good figs” would be carried away by the Chaldeans, but would one day return to the land (24:2-7).   The bad or “evil” figs, representing the wicked king Zedekiah and his cohorts, would either be left in the land or flee to Egypt (24:8) but would eventually be scattered among the “kingdoms of the earth” (24:9-10).

Jeremiah 25 turns from prophecy to the immediate circumstances of Judah during the reign of Jehoiakim (25:1).  Jeremiah proclaims an indictment against the people for failing to hear the words of the prophets (25:2-7) and, calling “Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant”, warns, numbered among the nations that will “serve the king of Babylon seventy years” will be Judah (25:8-11).  However, when the seventy years of captivity end, the LORD promised Babylon would go the way of all nations and He would “make it a perpetual desolations” (25:12-14).

Because the LORD is jealous of His people, Jeremiah prophesied warning the Gentile nations of God’s judgment against them in eight images (25:15-38): A “wine cup of this fury” (25:15-29); the roaring of a lion (25:30a, 38); a wine-press (25:30b); a charge or “controversy with the nations” (25:31); a tornado or “whirlwind” (25:32-33); a broken vessel (25:34b); and a “slaughter” of the sheep (25:34-38).

Jeremiah, having suffered rejection, mocking, persecution and imprisonment, is again commanded to return to the Temple,  prophesy against the nation and “diminish not a word” (26:2).  While the “false prophets” entertained the nation with messages the people wanted to hear, God charged Jeremiah to unapologetically preach His Word (26:3-6).

Having finished his bold proclamation of God’s Word, the people rose up to kill Jeremiah (26:7-9).   When the leaders of Judah came to investigate the tumult (26:10), Jeremiah repeated the Word of the LORD against the nation (26:11-15).

Jeremiah was to “diminish not a word” (26:2); however, the majority of preachers and Bible teachers in the United States have done exactly that!  Some reading this devotional have told me their pastor is a great teacher, but also acknowledge he seldom preaches “against sin”.   Allow me to draw an analogy: When a physician fails to address cancer in the body we accuse him of a dereliction of duty and sue him for malpractice.  How is it when a beloved preacher fails to address the cancer of sin plaguing the homes, churches, institutions, and nation…you say, “He is a great teacher”.   Really?

If you abide a pastor who fails to “diminish not a word” (26:2) and refuses to address sin in the midst, how are you any different than Judah?  No wonder America is on a path of self-destruction; her churches have failed and the people have little tolerance for God’s Word!

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith