Day 125: A Crime Against Humanity

Jeremiah 29:24-32

Concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite you shall speak, saying, “Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel, says, ‘Because you have sent letters in your own name to all the people who are at Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah, the priest, and to all the priests, saying, “Yahweh has made you priest in the place of Jehoiada the priest, that there may be officers in Yahweh’s house, for every man who is crazy, and makes himself a prophet, that you should put him in the stocks and in shackles. Now therefore, why have you not rebuked Jeremiah of Anathoth, who makes himself a prophet to you, because he has sent to us in Babylon, saying, The captivity is long. Build houses, and dwell in them. Plant gardens, and eat their fruit?” ’ ”

Zephaniah the priest read this letter in the hearing of Jeremiah the prophet. Then Yahweh’s word came to Jeremiah, saying, “Send to all of the captives, saying, ‘Yahweh says concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite: “Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, and I didn’t send him, and he has caused you to trust in a lie;” therefore Yahweh says, “Behold, I will punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his offspring. He will not have a man to dwell among this people. He won’t see the good that I will do to my people,” says Yahweh, “because he has spoken rebellion against Yahweh.” ’ ”

There are many sins that people commit, but there is one sin that Jesus characterized Satan as being the father of. Murder is horrible, but the sin of lying is capable of causing us to commit every other sin quite naturally, including murder. Today, people tend to believe that God is a myth and that molecules-to-man evolution is real. Evolution is a lie and out of it comes almost every imaginable sin. When a person who clams to talk for God, speaks lies to people, it is a very, very serious crime against humanity and this passage shows us the kind of thing it causes.

In this case, Shemaiah took it upon himself to speak for God and started telling priests what they should be doing. He even told them to lock up Jeremiah. By doing that, Shemaiah told the people who would follow him, that Jeremiah was wrong. Worse than that, it made the people think that God was lying and Shemaiah was telling the truth. They were slandering a prophet of God and even suggesting that he should be killed. So you can see that lying leads to slander and murder and because this lie made the people disobey God’s voice, it could have ended up condemning all of mankind to hell. If the people were not to listen to Jeremiah and were to try to oppose Babylon instead, God would have been obligated to destroy them and since the Jews were the only ones able to bring about the Messiah, the whole world would have been lost. So, we can see what is probably Satan’s most powerful tool: the lie.

If you think that Christians are obsessed with the truth, you are right. It is the truth about Jesus that sets people free. Without the truth, real faith would not be possible. In order to save mankind, God must stop those who speak lies in His name. In this case, God made sure that Shemaiah would be removed and have no offspring in Israel. May God continue to impress upon us the importance of the truth and may we continue to share that truth so that many will be saved.

Day 109: The Remnant

Jeremiah 24:1-10

Yahweh showed me, and behold, two baskets of figs were set before Yahweh’s temple, after Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and the princes of Judah, with the craftsmen and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon. One basket had very good figs, like the figs that are first-ripe; and the other basket had very bad figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad.

Then Yahweh asked me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”

I said, “Figs. The good figs are very good, and the bad are very bad, so bad that can’t be eaten.”

Yahweh’s word came to me, saying, “Yahweh, the God of Israel says: ‘Like these good figs, so I will regard the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans, for good. For I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them again to this land. I will build them, and not pull them down. I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am Yahweh. They will be my people, and I will be their God; for they will return to me with their whole heart.

“ ‘As the bad figs, which can’t be eaten, they are so bad,’ surely Yahweh says, ‘So I will give up Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the remnant of Jerusalem, who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will even give them up to be tossed back and forth among all the kingdoms of the earth for evil, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places where I will drive them. I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, among them, until they are consumed from off the land that I gave to them and to their fathers.’ ”

If you have been following along on my journey through the Old Testament, you may remember that several times, I have commented about the fact that there were Israelis who left Israel to go live in foreign lands. I usually mentioned that this was wrong. God told the people that they were to trust Him and occupy the land that He had given them to occupy. When they went out to foreign countries, they would also be influenced by their idolatry and bad behavior. They would also be subject to their pagan governments. We also saw how God protected those who remained in the land and eventually helped them to prosper again. What we have here is a significant departure from the past. God was now telling the people that they should leave. Is this an inconsistency? Well, we know that it isn’t because God is never inconsistent. When I think that there’s an inconsistency with God, it’s only a matter of time until God shows me the glaring inconsistency in my interpretation of His word and actions.

It turns out that this situation illustrates God’s constancy. God always expects us to listen to His word and obey without trying to lean on our own understanding. We may think that God wants us to never do something, but when He tells us to do it, then we must change our minds and not assume God is wrong. It’s obedience and faith in God’s word that should guide us, not our understanding of how things work. In this case, as in all other cases, when the people failed to obey God’s word, they were to be punished. God had told them to surrender to Babylon and here we read the difference between those who would end up in Babylon and those who would stay in Judah.

Those who were taken captive to Babylon were going to be given a heart for God and those who stayed were to suffer intensely until they were completely destroyed. Up to this point, Jeremiah has been describing the horrible judgment of God against Jerusalem and Judah. Now we get to see a little glimpse of His plan of salvation for Israel and ultimately for the world. God was going to preserve for Himself a group of His people in Babylon. I call this a remnant. This is a pattern we see in all of God’s judgments. Remember, God decided to destroy the world with a flood, but He protected Noah and his family. Ahab and Jezebel tried to destroy all of God’s prophets and Elijah thought that he was the only one left, but God had protected a remnant of His people even under those conditions. Here we see the pattern again. God had reserved for Himself a remnant of the Jewish people who were to return to Jerusalem in the future. God had not given up on Israel and He had not given up on His plan to save mankind.

Day 101: The Troubling Curse of Coniah

Jeremiah 22:24-30

“As I live,” says Yahweh, “though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet on my right hand, I would still pluck you from there. I would give you into the hand of those who seek your life, and into the hand of them of whom you are afraid, even into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of the Chaldeans. I will cast you out with your mother who bore you into another country, where you were not born; and there you will die. But to the land to which their soul longs to return, there they will not return.”
Is this man Coniah a despised broken vessel?
Is he a vessel in which no one delights?
Why are they cast out, he and his offspring,
and cast into a land which they don’t know?
O earth, earth, earth,
hear Yahweh’s word!
Yahweh says,
“Record this man as childless,
a man who will not prosper in his days;
for no more will a man of his offspring prosper,
sitting on David’s throne,
and ruling in Judah.”

This passage holds so many things that could be confusing and lead to criticism of the Bible that I don’t think I would be able to do it justice in a single devotional. First of all Coniah isn’t mentioned in the Bible anywhere but here. To make matters even more interesting, Jehoiakim’s son had two other names: Jeconiah and Jehoiachin. It appears that this person had three names. Not only that, we learn in 2 Chronicles 36:9 that he took the throne at 8 years old. He’s the guy that the Bible said did evil in God’s sight even at that young age.

The second thing we read here is that God says that even if Coniah were his special ring on His right hand He would still take it of and give it to Judah’s enemies. It might sound as if Coniah’s behavior wouldn’t matter; that even if he was a good king God would give him over to his enemies, but that would appear to be a wrong interpretation too. The Bible tells us that Jehoiachin was a bad king. The issue must be one of God’s desire to prize David’s family. God appears to be demonstrating the fact that no matter how much He wanted to help David’s kingly line, He was obligated to curse them because of sin.

Next, the curse appears to be saying that Jehoiachin was to never have children. We know that is wrong because we have a genealogy in the Bible that traces back to Jehoiachin. More on that later, but how can this not be an error? Well, just because someone has children doesn’t mean that God recognizes them as an heir to the throne. Notice that God carefully said: “Record this man as childless.” In context that would make sense. God was not going to recognize this man’s children as kings anymore.

Finally, this curse is a horrible prophetic dilemma. God both promised the kingdom to David forever and cursed his kingly line right here! How can that be anything but a discrepancy in the Bible? This is where you are going to have to do some study. The answer appears to be in another thing that looks like a discrepancy. There are two very different genealogies for Jesus given in the Bible. One in Luke and the other in Matthew. Scholars have come to see that one of the genealogies follows the line of Joseph and the other follows the line of Mary. Joseph’s line was the cursed line of Jehoiachin. He was the legal father of Jesus but not a physical father. Mary was also in the line of Judah but not in the line of Jehoiachin.

God really knows what He’s doing doesn’t He? There are many places in the Bible that are challenging to a critical mind. I believe that God expects us to address these things, but I also believe that He wants us to trust Him when we can’t see the answers yet. He allows the temptation to doubt to exist but our job is to believe with out wavering and wait for God to show Himself to be true when we don’t understand.

Day 95: The Way of Life and the Way of Death

Jeremiah 21:8-10

“You shall say to this people, ‘Yahweh says: “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who remains in this city will die by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence; but he who goes out and passes over to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he will live, and he will escape with his life. For I have set my face on this city for evil, and not for good,” says Yahweh. “It will be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he will burn it with fire.” ’

This may seem a bit philosophical but because of how important it is here in the Bible, I believe it’s something God expects us to consider. Do you have to believe in the Bible in order to believe in God? Obviously, we should believe in both, but the reason I bring it up is because it is possible to think you believe in God without really trusting in His word. The reality is that you really can’t know anything about God if you don’t believe His word because it is His word that tells us about God. When we start to think that, by our own intuition, we can simply trust God without His words, we are in a dangerous position. We may actually miss the way of life. That’s because we are placing our own intuition or tradition above God’s word. If this is true in your life, God may give you a life or death decision like He did to Judah here.

God set up a situation in which Judah had to simply trust God’s word instead of trusting everything they had come to know about God and Jerusalem. I am sure that most every Jew in Jerusalem knew that it was God’s city and that if they wanted protection they should stay as close to God as possible, yet, God’s word through Jeremiah was that they must flee to their enemies now and live. They probably knew the story of Hezekiah and Rabshakeh in 2 Kings 18 very well. At that time, King Hezekiah told the people to not defect to the enemy but to stay in the city. God’s word in the past was the exact opposite of what Jeremiah was telling them to do now! God set this situation up in such a way that they were not able to trust in their own intuition or in the events of the past. They were forced to either trust God’s word now and live or die by trusting their own beliefs about what God thinks.

This is the way it has always been for mankind. God has given us the choice. We either trust in His word and live or we die because of our lack of faith. The choice we have before us now is the option to trust that Jesus is God and that He really did die to take away the sins of the world. Everyone who believes in God’s word, no matter how intuitive or scientific they think it is, will live. Those who don’t will suffer. It may go against everything that we think is right. God wants us to stop trusting in ourselves and turn to faith in His word alone because only faith in God’s word will save us.

Day 74: It’s Getting Personal

Jeremiah 15:10-14

Woe is me, my mother, that you have borne me, a man of strife,
and a man of contention to the whole earth!
I have not lent, neither have men lent to me;
yet every one of them curses me.
Yahweh said,
“Most certainly I will strengthen you for good.
Most certainly I will cause the enemy to make supplication to you in the time of evil
and in the time of affliction.
Can one break iron,
even iron from the north, and bronze?
I will give your substance and your treasures for a plunder without price,
and that for all your sins,
even in all your borders.
I will make them to pass with your enemies into a land which you don’t know;
for a fire is kindled in my anger,
which will burn on you.”

We are entering one of the passages of the Bible that speaks to me in a very personal way. As a Christian, it’s easy for me to start looking at how I’m being treated by people for my obedience and to start to complain against God. It’s hard when you are being troubled by friends and enemies, because of your unwillingness to avoid your conscience. It’s hard when you are doing what is right and getting paid pain for it. These things are hard but it doesn’t mean that God is making a mistake or that He won’t make things better someday.

In this passage Jeremiah tells God what he feels about having to share a message that makes him unpopular with everyone. They treat him like a scoundrel even though he didn’t do anything that scoundrels do. He said that even his mother is cursed because she bore a son like this. These comments make it pretty obvious that Jeremiah was frustrated and I have been feeling things like this too.

After Jeremiah complains to God, God says some things that are pretty difficult for me to interpret. It’s as if God is telling Jeremiah that when he is taken captive, he will be treated with respect but his property and people are still going to be taken because of God’s anger against Jeremiah and Jeremiah’s people. Now why would God be angry with Jeremiah? That’s what seems confusing to me, but there does seem to be a thread of guilt that God is putting on Jeremiah here that appears to continue on in this chapter.

God was planning to protect Jeremiah as He had already told Him. Jeremiah’s duty was to believe and not doubt. It was good for Jeremiah to come to God with his complaint, but his complaint was still wrong. God was right to allow Jeremiah to be born and God had the right to use Jeremiah to do something difficult. God wasn’t doing anything worthy of his complaint. I need to remember that too. When things aren’t going right, I have the responsibility to trust in God’s choice and not be angered or frustrated by God’s way of doing things.

Day 26: A Teacher from God

John 3:1-8 :

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. The same came to him by night, and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Most certainly, I tell you, unless one is born anew, he can’t see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” Jesus answered, “Most certainly I tell you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he can’t enter into the Kingdom of God! That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but don’t know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus was an insider with the ones who were coming against both John the Baptist and Jesus. Notice that he came to visit Jesus at night. It appears that he was being secretive. He starts by telling Jesus that He must be from God. Still, Nicodemus came at night. Did He really believe that Jesus was from God?

Jesus answer is a sudden change of subject. He moves right onto teaching a kingdom topic and doesn’t waste any time with small talk. He tells Nicodemus that it is necessary for a person to be born again in order to get into God’s kingdom. What’s interesting is how Nicodemus answers. He immediately questions how being born again could be possible. That hardly seems like an answer to give a “teacher come from God” who created the entire universe. Then Nicodemus offers a strange metaphor by asking if Jesus is suggesting that we go back into the womb. This doesn’t sound like a question from a person who actually believes that Jesus is a “teacher come from God.”

The simple truth is that we need to trust what God says even if we don’t fully understand. Most likely, if we don’t understand something God says, it is because we need to apply simple faith in that which we already profess. The wind is sometimes compared to the Holy Spirit. It is true that God can go wherever He wants and do whatever He wants to do even if we can’t see Him, just like the wind. We don’t know where He comes from and we may not know where He is going, but those who are born again get to hear Him. His words may not come with a complete description of all the details. Often in John we hear Jesus is continually speaking in stories and metaphors. Perhaps this is what was frustrating Nicodemus, still, if Jesus is from God like He said, then His word should be accepted even if we don’t fully understand it.

In this passage, Jesus explains that He is talking about a Spiritual birth, but as we shall see next time, it still isn’t enough for Nicodemus.

Day 18: A True Minister

John 1:35-39 :Again, the next day, John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour.

In this part, we have John seeing Jesus on another day. He had already pointed Jesus out the crowd once. You could say that, technically, he had already done his duty before God the last time, but when John saw Jesus again, he again told people to look.

John actually convinced people to leave him and follow Jesus. This is the way of a true minister. A true minister does not attract attention to themselves. The whole point of Christian ministry is to point people to God. Once again, this shows the humility of John the Baptist. When the disciples left him and went to Jesus, he didn’t try to stop them. He urged them to go after Jesus. Sometimes, we see the opposite type of behavior in leadership today. The world teaches their leaders to take credit and get more people for themselves. A true minister is like John according to the Bible. You can read more on this topic in 1 Corinthians 3.

It is fascinating to me that Jesus asked these two followers what they were looking for. We know that Jesus is God and that He knew everything already. Why would he ask? In many instances, Jesus said things like this. When it seemed like the reasons were obvious, He still required people to say them out loud.

I see that this has a correlation with prayer. God already knows what you want before you ask, but, He wants you to ask. I notice that when we are forced to ask, we have to admit that we are taking something from someone; something that we don’t have. Jesus on many other occasions called for His disciples to have faith. Faith is believing that God will work things out. When we ask God to do something we admit out loud that we are not getting it from somewhere else and that we want Him to work it out.

When these two disciples answered Jesus, they called him: “Rabbi” which is a Jewish teacher. I am learning that there was quite a culture surrounding the duties of a Rabbi. It was not an unusual occupation as it would seem to be in our culture. There are still those who are called “Rabbi” today. I can see why the King James version of the Bible translated it to be “Master”. My understanding is that a teacher in that culture was more like a Master Craftsman in our American culture only it was in regard to God rather than learning a trade. You were supposed to be with them and learn their ways. You would do what they tell you and you would receive special education.

These two disciples were then invited to come over to where Jesus was staying. The time detail at the end has been difficult to determine. John calls it the 10th hour, I am not sure what clock that John was referring to. We believe that John was writing from Ephesus in 90 AD or so, so he might have been referring to 10:00 of Rome. Many believe he was referring to 14:00 using the clock other gospel writers used. I don’t have enough information to determine that yet, perhaps on a later post I will be able to find more evidence.