Day 161: First Things First

Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”

The Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you would tell this sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. But who is there among you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say, when he comes in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down at the table,’ and will not rather tell him, ‘Prepare my supper, clothe yourself properly, and serve me, while I eat and drink. Afterward you shall eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded? I think not. Even so you also, when you have done all the things that are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants. We have done our duty.’”

Jesus displayed a remarkable amount of patience when He lived with us here on earth. When the apostles spoke about these things to Luke, we see that they didn’t hold back the parts of the story that demonstrated their foolishness and how it was offset by the wisdom and righteousness of Jesus. It’s easy to think that the simple request to “Increase our faith” would be a righteous request, and in once sense it is, but it appears to me here that Jesus saw it as asking for steak before baby teeth had been formed. To Jesus, we were all like foolish children and it must have taken more patience for the Son of God to live here with us than we will ever know.

The problem here appears to be that faith isn’t really something you need a lot of as much as it is something simply need to have. It’s a “have or don’t have” sort of thing. I believe that is what Jesus is communicating here when He talks about uprooting the tree by faith, but then He immediately goes on to tell a parable. The parable describes a situation in which servants who were responsible for the meal are asked to sit and eat without having first done their job of making and serving the food.

Could Jesus be telling this parable in response to their request to increase their non-existent faith? It’s a bit ridiculous to ask God to increase that which you don’t have. The first step would be to believe the simple things that God says in His word and act upon those things first. After we act upon those things, then an “increase” might be more meaningful. I am not sure if this is what Jesus intended to communicate by this parable, but I do believe it is a good lesson. It isn’t very consistent for us to seek a special “message from the Lord” without first reading the Bible, believing it, and obeying it. When we accomplish the basic tasks that God already expects, then we can continue on to special privileges that come with an “increase.” I believe that God has already given us what we need to have faith and we just need to believe the simple things He has already told us. After that, He may choose to tell us other things as needed for the good of His household.

Day 216: The God of Justice and Mercy

Jeremiah 52:31-34

In the thirty-seventh year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, in the twenty-fifth day of the month, Evilmerodach king of Babylon, in the first year of his reign, lifted up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah, and released him from prison. He spoke kindly to him, and set his throne above the throne of the kings who were with him in Babylon, and changed his prison garments. Jehoiachin ate bread before him continually all the days of his life. For his allowance, there was a continual allowance given him by the king of Babylon, every day a portion until the day of his death, all the days of his life.

Evidently, it took two days for king Evilmerodach to get Jehoiachin out of jail. I’m not sure about that but what we do know is that King Jehoiachin was released from jail on both the 25th and the 27th of the month. That’s because in 2 Kings 25:27 we read that Jehoiachin was actually released on the 27th. Perhaps it was officially decided on the 25th and ultimately executed on the 27th. I don’t believe that there is an error in the original text. It could be that the translation that we have of the original has an error but it appears to be more likely that the writers are writing from two different perspectives. One is probably talking about when the degree was issued, and the other is probably talking about the actual day that Jehoiachin walked out of jail. An accusation against the Bible, built on this alone, would be pretty pathetic since there isn’t enough information to prove that there is an error here. Still, I like to mention it so that no one is surprised when they see or hear about it.

The bigger thing to see here is the mercy and grace of God. Even here at the end of a book about the horrors of God’s judgment against sin, we read that mercy and grace was extended to Jehoiachin. This wasn’t just mercy toward this king. It was also mercy toward the nation of Israel. God had not forgotten them and He intended to do everything He said He would do

We have been following God’s story of the salvation of the human race. It’s no surprise that these events are followed by this amazing little passage. God is making it perfectly clear that He is a God of salvation. No one is beyond His mercy. Even after all of the sin and all of the prophesy that God performed against Judah, His grace came through in the end. This is the God that we have. I think that we know this in our hearts. God has put the truth in us that our God must be both a good judge and a merciful person. As a result we all have the same choice today. Either we will accept God’s mercy, or receive the judgment we deserve.

Day 215: A Small but Important Example

Jeremiah 52:24-30

The captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest, and Zephaniah the second priest, and the three keepers of the threshold, and out of the city he took an officer who was set over the men of war; and seven men of those who saw the king’s face, who were found in the city; and the scribe of the captain of the army, who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land, who were found in the middle of the city. Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them, and brought them to the king of Babylon to Riblah. The king of Babylon struck them, and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath.

So Judah was carried away captive out of his land. This is the number of the people whom Nebuchadnezzar carried away captive:

in the seventh year, three thousand twenty-three Jews;

in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, he carried away captive from Jerusalem eight hundred thirty-two persons;

in the twenty-third year of Nebuchadnezzar Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive of the Jews seven hundred forty-five people.

All the people numbered four thousand six hundred.

One thing I realized as I read this, this time, is that there were only 4,600 people who went into exile. That sure is a small number. It sounds to me like a lot of people must have been killed in the process. We also know that this only represented two tribes of Israel. The rest had been taken away many years earlier by Assyria. Even if the number was multiplied by 10 it would only be 46,000, though. It causes me to realize that God intends for us to focus our attention on Israel, even though they are small. The Bible also tells us why in the New Testament.

As we consider the history of this small nation up to this point, it may seem futile. Why would God save these people out of Egypt with such power and have them build a grand and beautiful Temple, only to have the temple destroyed and the people sent back into slavery? God told them that He already knew that this was going to happen. Doesn’t it seem strange that a God who knew it all ahead of time would do it anyway?

The Bible tells us in the New Testament, that Israel is an example to us. That means that instead of saying to ourselves: “Shame on Israel for the way that they acted,” we are supposed to be putting ourselves in their place. It tells us that Israel’s behavior is the same as that of everyone else. When we attempt to stand on our own righteousness before a Holy God, we all fail. We all end up being taken back into slavery because we can’t do the good that we think we can. Israel’s example is set up for all of us to watch. This is the low part of their story. It’s where we see the futility of mankind. The great part of the story was yet to come as Jesus brought Salvation to them and to the whole world. We get a little reminder of that in our last passage of Jeremiah.

Day 214: A Couple of Things to Remember

Jeremiah 52:12-23

Now in the fifth month, in the tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, who stood before the king of Babylon, came into Jerusalem. He burned Yahweh’s house, and the king’s house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, even every great house, he burned with fire. All the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down all the walls of Jerusalem all around. Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive of the poorest of the people, and the rest of the people who were left in the city, and those who fell away, who defected to the king of Babylon, and the rest of the multitude. But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left of the poorest of the land to be vineyard keepers and farmers.

The Chaldeans broke the pillars of bronze that were in Yahweh’s house and the bases and the bronze sea that were in Yahweh’s house in pieces, and carried all of their bronze to Babylon. They also took away the pots, the shovels, the snuffers, the basins, the spoons, and all the vessels of bronze with which they ministered. The captain of the guard took away the cups, the fire pans, the basins, the pots, the lamp stands, the spoons, and the bowls; that which was of gold, as gold, and that which was of silver, as silver.

They took the two pillars, the one sea, and the twelve bronze bulls that were under the bases, which king Solomon had made for Yahweh’s house. The bronze of all these vessels was without weight. As for the pillars, the height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits; and a line of twelve cubits encircled it; and its thickness was four fingers. It was hollow. A capital of bronze was on it; and the height of the one capital was five cubits, with network and pomegranates on the capital all around, all of bronze. The second pillar also had the same, with pomegranates. There were ninety-six pomegranates on the sides; all the pomegranates were one hundred on the network all around.

It’s pretty obvious that the Chaldeans wanted the gold, silver and bronze more than they wanted the presence of the God of Israel to be near to them. That’s what I discern when I consider the fact that they broke the columns up into pieces. It says here that they took “that which was of gold, as gold, and that which was of silver, as silver.” It’s as if the gold and silver were more important than the God whose temple the gold and silver was used for.

There is an apparent difference between the numbers of pomegranates on the capitals on the columns between Jeremiah 52 and 2 Chronicles 4. Jeremiah says that there were only 100 pomegranates per network and Chronicles says that there were twice as many. I believe that the problem is solved when you consider the difference between “rows” and “networks” in the two passages. Jeremiah may have been referring to each row as a network, whereas Ezra may have been referring to two rows as a network. So, there would have been 200 in Ezra’s network and 100 in Jeremiah’s. This is actually a powerful confirmation of the perspectives of two witnesses. It’s unclear to me what Jeremiah meant by saying that there were 96 pomegranates on a side. That depends on how much you could see from any one side. I am not willing to worry about doing a computer model of the column to see how much could be seen, but I would imagine that someone in Jerusalem has. It may tell us more about the curvature of the column than anything else.

I see to things to remember from this. First, God is always more important than any earthly thing. Materialism is a serious form of idolatry, especially here in the United States. Remember what Jesus said:

Matthew 23:16-17

“Woe to you, you blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?

The second is to remember that the Bible claims to define the truth. Before we assume that there is a mistake in it, we must consider it as a standard, which means that we need to see if there is a way in which apparent differences actually fit together. In this case, it would make sense for there to be two separate perspectives of the same information from two witnesses. This may give us a better understanding of the facts when we put the two testimonies together. If you have watched or read a court case mystery before, you probably know what I’m talking about. Missing information is often the thing that causes us to make a poor assumption based on mere evidence.

Day 213: A Lesson from King Zedekiah’s Life

Jeremiah 52:1-11

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign. He reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. He did that which was evil in Yahweh’s sight, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. For through Yahweh’s anger this happened in Jerusalem and Judah, until he had cast them out from his presence.

Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. In the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, and encamped against it; and they built forts against it round about. So the city was besieged to the eleventh year of king Zedekiah.

In the fourth month, in the ninth day of the month, the famine was severe in the city, so that there was no bread for the people of the land. Then a breach was made in the city, and all the men of war fled, and went out of the city by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, which was by the king’s garden. Now the Chaldeans were against the city all around. The men of war went toward the Arabah, but the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho; and all his army was scattered from him. Then they took the king, and carried him up to the king of Babylon to Riblah in the land of Hamath; and he pronounced judgment on him. The king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. He also killed all the princes of Judah in Riblah. He put out the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him in fetters, and carried him to Babylon, and put him in prison until the day of his death.

Zedekiah’s story is a sharp rebuke to all of us. He was the one who allowed Jeremiah to be thrown in jail, only to secretly let him out when no one was looking. He was more afraid of men than of God. Here we see where that kind of behavior took him in his life. He ended up being the king who went down in history as the one that lost Jerusalem. He is the one that God brought down His final judgment upon.

While Zedekiah was in Jerusalem, Jeremiah was afflicted. Remember that he was thrown into a muddy well and then confined in jail. When we read those things it seemed so unfair and it was, but in the end, Jeremiah won. Zedekiah was taken captive into Babylon and Jeremiah was allowed to go wherever he wanted and He chose to stay there in Judah. Zedekiah’s punishment was severe. His eyes were put out after watching his children be put to death. This shows us what God thinks of it when His prophets are mistreated. Zedekiah was always expecting God to save Him, but refused to listen to or believe in God’s words.

Even if you are sometimes nice to Christians and pray, it doesn’t mean that you will be saved from Hell. The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God. Zedekiah did some good things but the most important thing was missing and that was faith in God’s word. God warned him over and over that Babylon was coming. He even told him that it was possible to surrender and avoid destruction, but Zedekiah would not believe God. He chose to do things his own way. May unbelievers be given eyes to see and turn to the truth and be saved, and may we as Christians continue in faith every day and avoid being foolish like Zedekiah was.

Day 212: A Messenger is Sent to Babylon

Jeremiah 51:59-64

The word which Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah the son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, when he went with Zedekiah the king of Judah to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign. Now Seraiah was chief quartermaster. Jeremiah wrote in a book all the evil that should come on Babylon, even all these words that are written concerning Babylon. Jeremiah said to Seraiah, “When you come to Babylon, then see that you read all these words, and say, ‘Yahweh, you have spoken concerning this place, to cut it off, that no one will dwell in it, neither man nor animal, but that it will be desolate forever.’ It will be, when you have finished reading this book, that you shall bind a stone to it, and cast it into the middle of the Euphrates. Then you shall say, ‘Thus will Babylon sink, and will not rise again because of the evil that I will bring on her; and they will be weary.’ ”

Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.

One thing that I noticed as I read through Jeremiah’s prophesies concerning Babylon is that he frequently mentions water and flooding. This can be a reference to many people coming to attack, but it could also be a reference to an actual flood. Here we read that God is comparing water to the evil that God brings on Babylon that causes her to never rise again. I do wonder if a flood will be involved too though. It could be that in the very end, when the topology of the earth is rearranged, causing Jerusalem to rise high above everything else, that water may flood the land of Babylon. It would make quite an end to the “tale of two cities” theme that I mentioned before.

Here we read about a man named Seraiah who was to take a book of Jeremiah’s prophesy about Babylon, to Babylon with him when he was taken into exile with the Israeli king. This man was instructed to take the book and read it, presumably out loud to the people, and then tie a rock to it and throw it into the Euphrates river. This was to be an example of how God was going to bring evil on Babylon and cause her to never become a city again.

The end of this chapter seems like it would be the end of the book. We know that it was written by Jeremiah because the book is “signed” by Jeremiah in a way, by telling us that these were the words of Jeremiah. There are books in the Bible that don’t tell us who wrote them, but books like this one make it pretty easy. There is one more chapter of this book, however, and another whole book after it that was also written by Jeremiah. I am told that the Jews left both of these books in a single one. It must have been divided by Gentiles in our Bible. It’s good to know that because it makes it clear that the two books do belong together.

Day 211: The God of Retribution

Jeremiah 51:54-58

“The sound of a cry comes from Babylon,
and of great destruction from the land of the Chaldeans!
For Yahweh lays Babylon waste,
and destroys out of her the great voice!
Their waves roar like many waters.
The noise of their voice is uttered.
For the destroyer has come on her,
even on Babylon.
Her mighty men are taken.
Their bows are broken in pieces,
for Yahweh is a God of retribution.
He will surely repay.
I will make her princes, her wise men,
her governors, her deputies, and her mighty men drunk.
They will sleep a perpetual sleep,
and not wake up,”
says the King, whose name is Yahweh of Armies.
Yahweh of Armies says:
“The wide walls of Babylon will be utterly overthrown.
Her high gates will be burned with fire.
The peoples will labor for vanity,
and the nations for the fire;
and they will be weary.”

It should be pretty obvious by now to everyone who has been following along with me as I read through the Bible that God is a God who pays people back for what they have done. The Bible clearly teaches that forgiveness is not the act of ignoring evil. It teaches that retribution and forgiveness can coexist. Once you become a Christian, you understand this. God is only able to forgive us because Jesus took our punishment. When we look to Jesus, our punishment, which is death for failing to keep God’s law, was paid back to us.

I honestly believe that had Babylon stopped worshiping idols and started sacrificing to the God of Israel, they too would have been forgiven. God would have put their sin on The Sacrifice, but they didn’t accept that. I believe that this is one reason why the destruction of Babylon is repeated over and over again here in Jeremiah. God expects us to understand that retribution has to happen one way or the other. We have the same choice. We can either turn to The Sacrifice required by the God of Israel, or we can receive His retribution ourselves.

We also need to avoid being influenced by the world’s idea of “forgiveness.” Forgiveness that allows sinners to go free without punishment is not really forgiveness. It’s a corruption of justice. It’s treating the wicked as if they are good and treating the good as if they should just accept harm that they didn’t deserve. Some people believe that the Bible teaches this, but it doesn’t. When God tells us to not take revenge, He also tells us that we should expect revenge to happen. Let’s look at that:

Romans 12:19

Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.”

God commands us, here, to “give place to God’s wrath.” If we take revenge, we will actually corrupt it. Perhaps that’s because we, as sinners ourselves, don’t have any right to be giving out punishments. God is the perfect One and He’s the one who alone has the right to punish people. He is also the only One who knows which ones will accept His Sacrifice first.