Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Jeremiah 10

The Uselessness of Idols

Israel was to be holy to the Lord.  It was to be a nation called out from the nations of the world to be devoted to God. The Lord said “I am the Lord your God who have separated your from the peoples”. (Leviticus 20:24) They demonstrated this every day.  They dressed differently, wore their hair differently, ate different food and obeyed different laws.  They could not plant two kinds of seed in one field.  They could not plow with two different animals at one time.  They could not wear cloth woven of different kinds of thread. They were separate. They took the seventh day off from work.  They let the fields rest in the seventh year.  They were not to be “of the world”, but of God. They belonged to him and were to obey him.

Obviously, then, Israel was to worship on the Lord.  The first commandment was “you shall have no other gods before me”. (Exodus 20:3) The next commandment was not to make idols or images. (Exodus 20:4)

Israel was not to adopt the religions of the people of Canaan and the surrounding area.  In Leviticus 20:23, the Lord said “and you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things and therefore I detested them.”  The Canaanites worshipped Baal, the storm god, and Ashtoreth, the goddess of fertility.  They had many gods, but these were the principal ones at the time of the Israelite invasion. 

The Canaanite gods and goddesses were worshipped through physical images.  Baal was often represented by a large stone pillar.  Ashtoreth was represented by a pole, often carved with a female image at the top.  The Israelites had to break two commandments to worship these gods.

So, Jeremiah reached back to these early covenantal instructions and updated them to the current time in which he lived.  He said “do not learn the way of the nations” (10:2) Israel had moved beyond worship of the Canaanite gods to include many others from the nations around them.  Jeremiah attempted to call them back to true and undefiled worship. 

Christians face this same temptation.  We want to add things from the culture to church life. We want to re-define God into one who fits the morality of our culture.  We want to blend in with the world rather than be called out of it.

Jeremiah also condemned astrology.  He did not want them to be dismayed at the signs in the heavens.  Comets or eclipses were fearful events.  Astrology is still part of our culture.  You can read your chart in the newspaper.  Someone you meet might ask you what your sign is.  You might sing “I thank my lucky stars” or say “the planets must be aligned just right”.

God says “stop it”. In verses 4-5, he points out how silly it is that you can make your own idol and then fear it or worship it.

The Unique God
Jeremiah 10:6-16

Jeremiah contrasted the idols with the one true God.  What did he say about God?

First, God is unique.  In verse 6, he said “there is none like you”. He repeated it in verse 7. 

Second, God is entitled to our worship.  Verse 6 says that he is great and his name is great.  He is not just another guy or a local god.  Verse 7 says the fear of God is his due. He deserves our worship.  When John had his first vision in Revelation, it was of the throne of God. (Revelation 4) All around the throne were worshippers, 24 elders on thrones representing the saved of Old Covenant Israel and the New Covenant Church. There were other creatures, too, surrounding God’s throne.  And all together they worshipped God all day and all night saying “Worthy are you, Our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” (Revelation 4:11)

Then in chapter 5 of Revelation, they say the same thing of Jesus, God the Son.  Every creature in heaven and on earth worshipped saying “worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing”. (Revelation 5:12)

Third, God is the true God.  He is living, not a piece of wood or stone.  He is the everlasting king. (10:10) God is eternal.  There is no point at which he did not exist and no point in the future where he will cease to exist.  And during all the time of his existence, even when there is no time, he is in control of his creation.  He is king. He reigns over all creation, including mankind.

Jeremiah said God can make the earth quake. (10) He reigns and controls the physical world.  He demonstrated that in creation, separating water from land.  He demonstrated it during the time of Noah by bringing a great flood to destroy the world.  He demonstrated it when he freed Israel from Egypt, by bringing plague and pestilence to Egypt, by stopping the river so the Israelites could cross, by bringing water from a rock and by driving quail to the camp for the Israelites to eat meat. 

In contrast, the idols did not make the earth and they will perish. 

God, on the other hand, made the earth. (10:12) In verse 16, Jeremiah says God is the one who formed all things. There is a fair amount of criticism of Genesis 1-3 and the story of God creating the earth.  Some people want to treat it as myth or metaphor.  The problem is, the Bible credits God with creation in many places.  Here is another one.  He created it by his power, his wisdom and his understanding. (12)

John the apostle also credits creation to Christ.  He said “all things were made through him and without him was not any thing made that was made”. (John 1:3) The Bible presents God as the one who created the earth and everything on it and who, therefore, owns it and has a right to control it.  He constantly says this is mine.  Paul answers an argument in Romans 9 by saying “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder ‘why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay…” 

God controls the weather (13), making rain and storms and lightening. 

And at the end of the age, God controls the creation again in a sovereign way.  He will say “Behold, I am making all things new”. (Revelation 21:5) He will make a new heavens and new earth and dwell with his people there.  Amen!

This is the God who took Israel as his inheritance (16).  The creator and controller of all the universe made a covenant with Israel, but Israel turned its back on God.

Slinging Israel From the Land

The Lord repeats his judgment.  He will sling Israel out of the land of Canaan and bring distress on them for what they have done.

Jeremiah’s Lament

Jeremiah again grieved the destruction of his nation.  That is what he means by “my tent is destroyed”. (20) Their leaders were stupid and did not seek the Lord.

Jeremiah Acknowledged God’s Sovereignty

Jeremiah acknowledged that God controlled his steps.  God determined man’s way, both the individual and the nation.  Proverbs 16:9 says “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps”.  Therefore, if the Lord directed Israel toward destruction, Israel would be destroyed.  If the Lord directed Babylon to invade Israel, it would do so. 

On that basis, Jeremiah asked for mercy.  He submitted to the Lord’s correction, but he did not want to experience the Lord’s wrath as Israel would experience it. 

Jeremiah Understood God’s Wrath

Rather than experience God’s wrath, Jeremiah asked that God pour it out on the nations that did not worship the Lord and that attacked Judah.  The Lord later did promise to punish those who destroyed Judah.  But they still served his purpose.

Of course, the ultimate expression of God’s wrath will come at the Judgment.  Revelation 19:15 says that Jesus will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty”.  His punishment is so bad it is called the “second death”.  The second death is the “lake of fire”. (Revelation 20:14)

We escape God’s wrath through faith in Christ and his bearing of the Father’s wrath.  Christ is the wrath bearer.  Romans 5:9 says “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God”.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Jeremiah’s Lament
Jeremiah 8:18-9:16

Although Jeremiah was ignored by his people, subject to assassination attempts, maligned and imprisoned, he mourned for them. He knew how they would suffer and he grieved for them even though they treated him badly.

In verse 8:18, he said his joy was gone and replaced by grief. It was as if he could hear them cry before the crying actually started. Even as he recited their sins, he mourned their punishment.

Chapter 9 is the reason Jeremiah is sometimes referred to as “The Weeping Prophet”. (9:1)

Paul felt this way about the Jews of his time.  In Romans 9:2, he said he had great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart for them.  He would be cut off from Christ if it would mean their salvation.

Jesus expressed sorrow over Israel and its coming judgment as well.  See Matthew 23:37-38.

We should remember this.  We are surrounded by sinful, mocking and depraved men and women.  We know their end.  While it will be a vindication of our faith, we should grieve their lostness.  They do not have the love of God in their heart. Ephesians 2:12 says they are without hope and without God in this world.

There is also grief in God over the infidelity of Israel.  Certainly his wrath and fury against sin are evident.  But God is also grieved by the rejection of his people. For example, in Ezekiel 6:9, God said “I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that that go whoring after their idols.”

In Ephesians 4:30, Paul told us not to grieve the Holy Spirit in whom we are sealed.  We grieve the Holy Spirit when we live according to the flesh rather than the Spirit.  It means to sin, which is rebellion against the Holy Spirit, rather than to submit to him.

Here is part of an old hymn by William Cowper:
What peaceful hours I once enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void,
The world can never fill.
Return, thou sacred dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest,
I hate the sins that made thee mourn,
And drove thee from my breast.
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate'er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from its throne,
And worship only thee."

The Wise Man Understands

The Lord says only a wise man understands the cause of Israel’s problems. And by that he means wise with spiritual wisdom.  Obviously few understood the problem.  The Lord spelled out in verse 13 that Israel broke the covenant (forsaken my law) and now must suffer the consequences set out in the covenant. 


Here the call is for professional mourners.  These were usually women.  They would sit around and cry and wail, then accompany the body to the tomb singing dirges.  The Lord is saying Jeremiah’s lament is not sufficient for the grief and loss that is to come. They needed more mourners. Israel is about to lose everything and so the mourning should be in proportion to the loss.

What Is Important

This is a great passage, for in it God tells us what is important.  He also tells us things about himself and what pleases him.  What more could you want from a passage of scripture?

First, the Lord said not to boast in our own abilities. You may be wise, but you are not to boast in your wisdom.  You may be strong (mighty) but should not boast of your strength.  That pretty much would kill professional sports, wouldn’t it?

The Bible tells us that praise is our response to a great God who has saved us solely through his grace.  Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us no one can boast.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:28-29 that God in fact chose the lowly, the weak and the despised in the world, not the great, so that no person could boast in God’s presence. 

Instead, we are to boast in the Lord.  Those words appear in Psalm 34:2 and are quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:31.  Boasting in the Lord is praise.

God taught that principle through Jeremiah in 9:24. We may boast, if we boast at all, that we understand and know God.  Since God is the greatest, knowing him and understanding him is the greatest thing we can do.  So, Jesus taught us to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.  We pay more attention to the last part of Matthew 6:33, for we want assurance that God will supply all the things we want.  But the verse gives us an instruction: see God’s kingdom and righteousness before you seek anything else.  Give knowing God and serving him priority in you life. 

Next, God graciously reveals part of his character to us.  He described himself as the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth.  (24)

So, here are 3 traits of God:
1.  steadfast love
2.  justice and
3.  righteousness.

Why is it important for us to know these traits?  First, just because they tell us who God is and what he is like.  For you to know God, you have to know what he is like, what his character is.  You must love him for who he is, not for some figure you invent.  That is idolatry. 

Notice also that God does not have just one character trait.  People argue as if he does.  They will say, how can a loving God do a particular thing.  The response often is that God is also a just God.  Justice requires punishment for sin and reward for righteousness.  Justice is right judgment. 

Finally, God is righteous.  That is somewhat hard to distinguish from just.  But it basically means God acts according to his character at all times.  He is not inconsistent in his actions.  Accordingly, we are righteous when our actions are consistent with God’s character and actions. Righteousness is right behavior. 

Not surprisingly, God says he delights in those 3 things (24). He delights in his own perfection when he evidences them.  This is part of his glory, the shining forth of his perfect nature.  But he also delights in us when we do them. That is because we reflect his character.

Micah 6:8 expresses the same thought.  He asked the question: “what does the LORD require of you?” Then he gave the answer: “to do justice and to love kindness (or steadfast love)  and to walk humbly with your God”.

Jesus said whoever does what is true comes to the light so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:21)

Ephesians 5:17 tells us not to be foolish, but to know what the will of the Lord is.  Here are three things that are his will.  Do them and know his delight.  How great would that be, to know the Lord delights in you because you reflect his glorious nature!

What Matters Most

What matters most is the heart.  God will punish all who are uncircumcised in heart even if circumcised in the flesh.  Every person whose heart is not submitted to God by faith in Christ will suffer this punishment.  Unfortunately, Israel is lumped in with the pagan Gentiles in this judgment.

This theme of circumcision of the heart will continue throughout Jeremiah.  Paul took it up in his writings also. Jesus, in Revelation 2:23, described himself as “he who searches mind and heart”. 

This week, submit yourself to the gospel.  Live by grace through faith.  Reflect your savior and heavenly father in your conduct.  Practice steadfast love, justice and righteousness. 

Then know God’s delight.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Jeremiah 8
The Hardened Refuse to Repent

Israel Refused to Repent
Jeremiah 8:4 –7

The natural thing to do is to change direction when you realize you are going the wrong way. Or if you fall down, you do not stay on the ground, you get up and get going.  If you are a guy you say “I’m good” and get going. (4) 

But Israel did not do this. (5) They kept going their own way.  In fact, they went at it so hard it was like they charged into battle.  (6)

They were dumber than animals.  Even birds know when to go a certain direction. (7) We have all seen birds migrate across the sky in fall, flying in a giant “V” going to their next nesting spot.  God says they are smarter than the Israelites.

What causes this kind of dumbness?  It is sin.  Sin darkens the mind.  It prevents you from thinking God’s way.  Paul explained it in Romans 1:21-23. They became futile in their thinking. Their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools.

In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul explained it further.  He said the natural person cannot accept the things of the Spirit of God. They are folly to him or her because they are spiritually discerned.  But those who have the mind of Christ understand the mind of God. 

If you want to understand God, you must learn about Him in his word and obey him.  The book of the Bible devoted to wisdom is Proverbs.  It tells us that in the second verse.  Proverbs 1:7 tells us “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction”.  Psalm 1:2 tells us the blessed person is one who delights in the law or instruction of the Lord and meditates on it all day long.  This person does not listen to the counsel of the wicked. (Psalm 1:1)

Yet, the Israelites kept pressing forward in their own path, rejecting God’s covenant, wisdom and warning.  We do it, too.  Man’s heart is rebellious and we must bring it under the will of God. 

Scott Underwood wrote a song called “Take My Life”.  The chorus says this:
Take my heart and form it
Take my mind, transform it
Take my will, conform it
To Yours, to Yours, Oh Lord.

Again, Paul summed up the idea nicely.  Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” And why should we do that?  Because, Paul said, “that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”.

The Bible Is Not a Lucky Charm
Jeremiah 8:8-9

The Israelites thought they were special and wise because they had the law.  But, God said the law is not a luck charm.  Putting your Bible on the dashboard of your car does not prevent wrecks.  It is the living word tucked into your mind to understand and your heart to obey that changes you into a person who pleases God and is pleased to do so.

People in our denomination sometimes refer to themselves as “People of the Book”.  Yet they read the Bible as a collection of neat sayings and inspirational thoughts, rather than as God’s revelation of himself to us.  There is even a pastor in our state who holds up his Bible at the beginning of each sermon and proclaims to follow it, then preaches a lot of positive thinking pop psychology.

Verse 9 contains the first Biblical reference to the “scribes” as a professional religious class.  It is not a flattering reference.  God says the scribes had lying pens and made the word into a lie.  No one has the right to change the meaning of the Word, or to discount its applicability to their time or to tell others not to obey it.  Jesus condemned that practice in the Sermon on the Mount.

The Result: Destruction
Jeremiah 8:10-13

The Lord repeats that he will punish and overthrow them because they broke the covenant and would not repent.

Accepting Their Fate
Jeremiah 8:14-15

These verses seem to say the Israelites accepted their fate.  They would not repent, but knew they would fall as a result. They want to retreat behind the walled city, but know they will die there because God has doomed them. (14)

The poisonous water may be a reference for the test of adultery in Numbers 5:11-3. Here, the Lord tested them for spiritual adultery, worshipping other gods, and found them guilty. 

God Does Not Relent
Jeremiah 8:16-17

Again the Lord states he will send an enemy from the North, that the tribe of Dan can already hear the horses.  This enemy will devour Judah.  They are like serpents which bite and cannot be stopped.

The metaphor of serpents for the Babylonians might be an allusion to the plague of serpents that befell the Israelites in the wilderness.  On that occasion, Moses intervened for them and God provided relief in the form of the bronze serpent. (Numbers 21:4)  When anyone looked at the bronze serpent, they were healed of the snake bite.  This time God says that will not happen.  No relief will come from this attack.  And none did. 

Jesus picked up this thought in John 3:14-16, comparing himself to the bronze serpent. He would be lifted up so that all who believe in him can have eternal life. In a sense they are healed from their sins.   

As Isaiah wrote, “with his stripes we are healed”. (Is. 53:5)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Praise God For Spiritual Blessings



Paul was not only a great theologian, who could write with deep meaning and complexity.  He was also one who had a great love for the Lord and could burst into praise while writing.  That is what we have in these verses today.   Paul bursts into praise to God for the spiritual blessings he has bestowed on us. 

Paul praises God’s wisdom, his forethought, and purpose.  He tells us we were not only saved for our own benefit, but also to exalt Christ and bring glory to God.  The end of God’s purpose is to bring everything together under Christ. 

Paul celebrates God’s accomplishment in Christ of his eternal purpose.  God incorporated Jews and Gentiles into one divine society.

Verses 3-14 are all one long sentence in the Greek.  Paul just poured it all out without stopping.  The English translations add punctuation to help us understand it. 

Most of us would separate theology from praise.  Baptists have often treated theology as boring or intellectual and, therefore, bothersome.  But, Paul’s praise here is built on theology.  He praises God for his purpose and his fulfillment of it, using theological terms so packed together it can take a long time to sort it all out and understand it. 

You could divide this passage into three sections.  In verses 3-6, the work of the Father is described; in 7-10, the work of the Son and in 11-14, the work of the Spirit.  I love it when we find a Trinitarian structure to Scripture.

What are the blessings for which Paul praises God?  They are:  election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness of sins, wisdom and understanding, unification of all things in Christ and the seal of the Holy Spirit.

So, think of this passage first as a doxology, a song of praise.  Remember the song we used to sing all the time in church that we just called “The Doxology”? 

Read the passage.

1:3              Blessed Be God

Let’s look at verse 3, the first verse in this passage.  It has this nice repetition of the word “bless”, using it 3 times.  He says “Blessed be God” and “who has blessed us” and “with every spiritual blessing”. 

The first thing we should note is that it is different when we bless God than when he blesses us.  When he blesses us, he gives us something we need.  He blesses us with grace.  He blesses us with peace.  But, when we bless him, we do not add to him, since he is complete.  What we do is ascribe to him his character or the things he has done.  It is praise to him.  I think that is why the NIV says “praise be to God” rather than “blessed be God”.  It is conveying this very idea.  It just loses some of the poetry.

Second, these blessings all come in Christ.  God blesses us “in Christ”.  God has chosen to extend his blessings to the world through Christ.  Only those who are united with Christ receive them. 

Third, these are spiritual blessings.  Paul says God “blesses us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.  I think what he means by “spiritual blessings” are in contrast to “material blessings”.  This new kingdom is spiritual.   

This spiritual blessing is in contrast to many of the promise of material blessings in the Old Testament.  For example, look at Deuteronomy 28:11.  If Old Testament Israel obeyed God and kept his covenant, he would make their crops and livestock increase.  God does not promise the church its members’ salaries will increase or their cars will multiply.  That is why prosperity preachers tend to quote Old Testament promises to Israel to say believers will receive wealth and health if they believe and give.

These blessings come in the “heavenly places” according to the ESV, or the “heavenly realms” in the NIV.  I take this to again mean the spiritual realm.  This phrase appears 5 times in Ephesians.  Christ ascended to the heavenly realm.  Later on, in verse 20, Paul speaks of Christ raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places.  Psalm 110:1 starts it off with a prophecy that the Lord would do this.  Jesus, in Matthew 22:44,  applied it to himself.  Several other New Testament verses speak of this. 

In Ephesians 2:6, Paul said God raised us up with Christ and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ.  So, even though we live here in this physical realm in our mortal bodies, in Christ we enter into spiritual life and blessings of God.      

1:4              He Chose Us

The first blessing for which Paul praises God is his choosing us.  He says God chose us in Christ.  God had a purpose.  He had a purpose for Christ and he had a purpose for us. 

His purpose for Christ was to redeem a people for himself.  1 Peter 1:18-20 says “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”    Revelation 13:8 says “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast-all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” 

God chose us before the foundation of the world.  He chose us before creation.      So, before the world was created, the Father chose the Son to be the redeemer, and chose those who would be the redeemed, all to be his people.  Revelation 17:8 says “the inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast…” 

There are many passages that speak of God’s choosing.  Romans 9 is one of the major ones.  Paul says that God chose Jacob over Esau before they were born  and before they had done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose in election might stand (Romans 9:11). 

Not only did God choose us before the foundation of the world, he did it for a purpose.  The purpose was to be holy and blameless in his sight.  Peter put it this way:  “…just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written:  Be holy, because I am holy.”  1 Peter 1:15.  Peter was quoting the words spoken to Israel in Leviticus 11:44-45.  This was totally an act of grace, because we, in our natural state were unholy and blameworthy.

Since God is holy, the only way we can witness to him is to be holy also.  When we do not appear holy to the world, we profane God’s name. 

The second spiritual blessing for which Paul praises God is that, in love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.  Paul says we were predestined for this privilege, meaning again that this was determined before hand.  Adoption means becoming God’s sons and daughters through Christ, becoming part of God’s family, with all the privileges of children.  Romans 8:17 says we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.  Romans 8:29 says “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”