No King.

Thus says the Lord: “Go down to the house of the king of Judah and speak there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people. But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation. For thus says the Lord concerning the house of the king of Judah:

“‘You are like Gilead to me,
    like the summit of Lebanon,
yet surely I will make you a desert,
    an uninhabited city.
I will prepare destroyers against you,
    each with his weapons,
and they shall cut down your choicest cedars
    and cast them into the fire.

“‘And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, “Why has the Lord dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and worshiped other gods and served them.”’”

Weep not for him who is dead,
    nor grieve for him,
but weep bitterly for him who goes away,
    for he shall return no more
    to see his native land.

For thus says the Lord concerning Shallum the son of Josiah, king of Judah, who reigned instead of Josiah his father, and who went away from this place: “He shall return here no more, but in the place where they have carried him captive, there shall he die, and he shall never see this land again.” Jeremiah 22:1-12 ESV

There is no king in Judah, and there has not been since Zedekiah was taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. From that moment on, the only king Israel would know would be the puppet-king, Herod, who reigned during the time of Christ. He had been given the title of king by the Romans, even though he was actually an Edomite and not a Jew. He was not a rightful heir to the throne of David and so, was not respected or accepted by the Jews. But other than Herod, there had been no one to carry the title of King of Israel since the days of Jeremiah. And it would appear that the covenant God had made with David had been broken. God had made a promise to David to give him an everlasting dynasty, a lineage of kings who would sit on his throne and rule from and over Jerusalem. When God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel, He had told him:

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” – 2 Samuel 7:12-16 ESV

But the kings of Israel had proven to be corrupt, immoral and unfaithful. Only a handful of them in both the northern and southern kingdoms could be deemed to have been good kings. And even during the decades that Jeremiah prophesied over the nation of Judah, all the kings were evil except for Josiah. He was the only one who attempted to bring Judah back into line by instituting religious, social and civil reforms designed to reestablish the nation’s dependence upon Yahweh. But his efforts would prove futile. The people’s hearts would be far too stubborn to accept his changes. And his successor to the throne would reverse many, if not most, of his reforms. Which is why God gave Jeremiah instructions to go to the palace of the king of Judah and deliver a message:

Listen to this message from the Lord, you king of Judah, sitting on David’s throne. Let your attendants and your people listen, too. This is what the Lord says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent! – Jeremiah 22:2-3 NLT

God was making it clear exactly what the problem was. As we saw yesterday, it was a case of injustice. Their idolatry and sinful behavior was causing them to neglect the needs of the poor and oppressed in their midst. And in doing so, they were revealing that they had forgotten how they had once been poor and oppressed themselves. They had been slaves in Egypt, but God had shown them mercy. He had brought about justice and freed them from their captivity. And He had not done this because they had somehow deserved it. It was purely an act of grace and mercy on the part of God. Which is why God expected them to show grace, mercy and justice to all those around them – especially to the poor and helpless. And God told them:

“If you obey me, there will always be a descendant of David sitting on the throne here in Jerusalem. The king will ride through the palace gates in chariots and on horses, with his parade of attendants and subjects.” – Jeremiah 22:4 NLT

God said He would fulfill His covenant and continue placing kings on the throne of David. But He reminded them what would happen if they refused to obey Him.

“But if you refuse to pay attention to this warning, I swear by my own name, says the Lord, that this palace will become a pile of rubble.” – Jeremiah 22:5 NLT

And because the kings of Judah did not obey God, their dynasty would come to an end. The great palace constructed by Solomon would be destroyed and reduced to rubble. The power, wealth and fame of the Davidic dynasty would become a thing of the past. And it remains so to this day. There is no king in Israel or Judah and the once great palace of Solomon is nothing more than an archeological site on a map. It’s glory is gone. And God describes how people will wonder what happened to the former city of David.

“People from many nations will pass by the ruins of this city and say to one another, ‘Why did the Lord destroy such a great city?’ And the answer will be, ‘Because they violated their covenant with the Lord their God by worshiping other gods.’” – Jeremiah 22:8-9 NLT

Even the pagan nations will answer their own questions, knowing that unfaithfulness was the cause of Israel’s downfall. They knew that the breaking of a covenant was cause for revenge, especially a covenant with a deity. So, it would be no surprise to them that Israel and Judah fell because of the failure to remain faithful to their own God. They had witnessed the incredible rebellion of Israel against their own God, something the pagan nations would never have thought of doing. The idea of abandoning their own gods was unfathomable to them. But they had watched Israel and Judah do that very thing.

And God tells the people not to weep over those kings who are gone, either through death or as a result of captivity to the Babylonians. Because of God’s anger, the king of Judah would end up a slave in Babylon and die there. He would never return to the land of Judah or sit on the throne of David again. His fate would be in keeping with his faithlessness. The king, as a representative of the people, had spurned the pleas of God to repent and return and, as a result, he and his people would face the judgment of God.

But the one thing we must remember is that, while there is currently no king in Israel, that does not mean God has broken His covenant. He is the covenant-keeping God. He is faithful and true, and one day His Son will return to earth to sit on the throne of David and rule from the city of Jerusalem. In the very next chapter, we will see the words of the Lord, promising to fulfill His covenant to David.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” – Jeremiah 23:5 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Justice and Mercy.

“And to the house of the king of Judah say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O house of David! Thus says the Lord:

“‘Execute justice in the morning,
    and deliver from the hand of the oppressor
    him who has been robbed,
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
    and burn with none to quench it,
    because of your evil deeds.’”

“Behold, I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley,
    O rock of the plain,
declares the Lord;
you who say, ‘Who shall come down against us,
    or who shall enter our habitations?’
I will punish you according to the fruit of your deeds,
declares the Lord;
    I will kindle a fire in her forest,
    and it shall devour all that is around her.” Jeremiah 21:11-14 ESV

God gave Jeremiah a message to deliver to the king of Judah. Actually, it was addressed to the house of David, signifying that this was intended for any and all kings who sat on the throne of David. They were to be men who administered justice, just as God does. They were to operate on His behalf, dispensing justice and mercy to the people of God. They were to care for the oppressed and needy, to protect the innocent and punish the wicked. God had ordained them to stand in His place, holding positions of power and authority, but doing so in righteousness and holiness. These men, like David, Solomon, Josiah, and Zedekiah, were to have been icons of virtue. They occupied their places of authority because God had made it possible. But they were to have represented His desires and mirrored His character.

As for the Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are just.
He is a reliable God who is never unjust,
he is fair and upright. – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

The King in his might loves justice.
    You have established equity;
you have executed justice
    and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God;
    worship at his footstool!
    Holy is he! – Psalm 99:4-5 ESV

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed,
    who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
   the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
    he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. – Psalm 146:5-9 ESV

But the kings of Judah were not the only ones whom God expected to dispense justice. Through the prophet Micah, He had given the people of God a clear indication of His expectation of them.

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:6-8 ESV

For God, the sacrifices and offerings they made to Him meant nothing if those who made them did not do justice, love kindness and walk in humility before Him. Going through the motions of offering sacrifices to God were meaningless if your daily actions did not reflect a love for Him as evidenced by your love for His people. The apostle John is quite blunt about those who claim to love God but fail to love others. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:20 NLT). And in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave a similar admonition. “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24 NLT).

What good did it do to offer sacrifices to God if you were living out of step with His will? God wanted to see a change in their behavior. He wanted more than just ritualistic obedience. He wanted to see behavior in keeping with their faith. And when His people showed justice and mercy to one another, they were living as He would have them live. They were acting as His children, giving outward evidence of their relationship with Him as His sons and daughters.

But the kings of Judah had failed to obey God’s command. They had not dispensed justice. They had not cared for the oppressed. And their disobedience had been infectious, spreading throughout the nation and creating an epidemic of injustice among the people. So, God warned them, “my anger will burn like an unquenchable fire because of all your sins” (Jeremiah 21:12 NLT). The pride and arrogance of the people had become unbearable and God could no longer allow it to increase. They had become cocky, believing that their great walled city, occupying a prominent place on Mount Zion, was impenetrable and unconquerable. They believed they were divinely protected from defeat because they were God’s people living in the city that bore God’s name and held God’s temple. “No one can touch us here. No one can break in here” (Jeremiah 21:13 NLT).

But God had news for them. He said, “I myself will punish you for your sinfulness” (Jeremiah 21:14 NLT). He would personally oversee their destruction. And while idolatry and immorality would be major contributing factors to their demise, it was really a case of their injustice and refusal to care for the poor and needy that sealed their fate. They had become an overly religious people, but lacked a tangible expression of having been changed by their religion. They worshiped all kinds of gods, but failed to love their fellow men. Their lives did not reflect the character of God. They didn’t love like He loved. They failed to show mercy as He did. They refused to dispense justice to the poor, needy and oppressed. And their failure to do so led to their ultimate destruction by God.

It was the great king David who wrote:

“With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you deal purely,
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
You save a humble people,
but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.” – 2 Samuel 22:26-28 ESV

God expects His people to emulate His ways. They are to express His character and reflect His heart in the way they live their lives. As His children, we are His representative on this earth, modeling and exhibiting His love, grace, mercy and justice to all those around us. We are to love others as we have been loved. We are to show mercy to others as He has shown mercy to us. We are to love justice as He does. Because we are His children.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When God Turns His Face.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchiah and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying, “Inquire of the Lord for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the Lord will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us.”

Then Jeremiah said to them: “Thus you shall say to Zedekiah, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands and with which you are fighting against the king of Babylon and against the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside the walls. And I will bring them together into the midst of this city. I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath. And I will strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast. They shall die of a great pestilence. Afterward, declares the Lord, I will give Zedekiah king of Judah and his servants and the people in this city who survive the pestilence, sword, and famine into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of their enemies, into the hand of those who seek their lives. He shall strike them down with the edge of the sword. He shall not pity them or spare them or have compassion.’

“And to this people you shall say: ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have his life as a prize of war. For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the Lord: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.’” Jeremiah 21:1-10 ESV

Towards the end of Jeremiah’s ministry and Judah’s existence as a nation, Zedekiah become the king of Judah. He would be their final king. He was only 21-years old when he became king, placed on the throne of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. By this time in Judah’s history, Babylon had made significant inroads into their territory, having conquered many of its cities and laying siege to Jerusalem itself. In order to spare the city, Zedekiah was forced to sign a vow of allegiance to King Nebuchadnezzar, but he proved to be an obstinate and hard-headed vassal. The book of 2 Chronicles gives us further insight into Zedekiah and his reign.

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he ruled for eleven years in Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of the Lord his God. He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, the Lord’s spokesman. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him vow allegiance in the name of God. He was stubborn and obstinate, and refused to return to the Lord God of Israel. All the leaders of the priests and people became more unfaithful and committed the same horrible sins practiced by the nations. They defiled the Lord’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 36:11-14 NLT

Under increasing pressure from the Babylonians and feeling the impact of the constant siege against Jerusalem, Zedekiah sends a couple of dignitaries to Jeremiah in order to get his help. And interestingly enough, Zedekiah sends two priests, Pashtur and Zephaniah, to plead with the prophet. The first priest is familiar to us, because he was the one who had beaten Jeremiah and thrown him in the stocks for his constant threats of destruction against Judah. And with a certain sense of irony, it is this very same man who is chosen by the king to humbly plead with Jeremiah to pray to God on behalf of the city. By this late state, everyone had realized that Jeremiah’s prophecies had come true. The Babylonians had came just as God had said they would. Their armies were already wreaking havoc and destruction throughout Judah, and they were camped outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was just a matter of time now. So King Zedekiah sends his two emissaries to Jeremiah with the following words:

“Please speak to the Lord for us and ask him to help us. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is attacking Judah. Perhaps the Lord will be gracious and do a mighty miracle as he has done in the past. Perhaps he will force Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw his armies.” – Jeremiah 21:2 NLT

Now, they were calling on God. When the enemy was at the gate, they suddenly decided to turn to God and ask for His help. But notice what is missing in Zedekiah’s statement to Jeremiah: There is no sign of repentance. No confession of guilt. No admission of sin. He just expects God to show them grace and do a miracle on their behalf. But Jeremiah gives the king a message that he is not going to like. He tells them that God is angry with them and will not only give them over to the Babylonians, but will play a significant role in their destruction. Repeatedly we see God say, “I will”.

I will make your weapons useless…” – vs 4

I will bring your enemies right into the heart of this city…” – vs 4

I myself will fight against you with a strong hand and a powerful arm… – vs 5

“I will send a terrible plague upon this city, and both people and animals will die.” – vs 6

“I will hand over King Zedekiah, his staff, and everyone else in the city who survives the disease, war, and famine…” – vs 7

I will hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and to their other enemies…” – vs 7

The Babylonians were simply pawns in the hands of God. They were His agents of judgment against the people of Judah. And God gives the dire warning that Nebuchadnezzar would “slaughter them and show them no mercy, pity, or compassion” (Jeremiah 21:7 NLT). There would be no grace. There would be no miracle of deliverance. In fact, God gives the people two choices: Either life of death. They could stay in the city and try to wait on the Babylonians. But if they did, they would suffer death by famine, disease or the sword. Their second choice would be surrender. If they simply gave themselves up, they would be spared, but end up as slaves in Babylon. Either way, the people of Judah were going to suffer God’s wrath against their sinful behavior against Him. The only reward they would get from God would be life. The once great city of Jerusalem, the city of David and the home of the temple of God, would be reduced to rubble and ashes. God makes it clear that He was going to do to Jerusalem: “For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good” (Jeremiah 21:10 ESV). Which brings to mind the words God gave to Moses to have Aaron share with the people of israel, centuries earlier:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” – Numbers 6:24-27 ESV

Rather than God’s shining face and gracious countenance, the people of Judah were going to endure the wrath of God as He turned His face against them. There would be no blessing, no peace, no grace. God had given them ample opportunities to repent and return to Him. But they had rejected His messages and repeatedly spurned the prophets He had sent to them. Now, it was too late. Their fate was sealed. Their destruction was a foregone conclusion. And the two options God gave the people of Jerusalem are still the only options men and women face today. If we refuse to turn to God, we will die as a result of our sins, because the penalty for sin is death. We can choose to try and fight our sins on our own, but we will die. We will discover that we have no capacity to stand against our sinful nature. Or we can choose to surrender to our sin and be taken captive by the enemy. We will live, but only as slaves to the prince of this world. And that life will be nothing like the one God has offered to us through simple faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. The citizens of Jerusalem were doomed either way, because they chose to reject God and His offer of salvation – on His terms. They weren’t willing repent or give up their false gods. They simply wanted His salvation, but refused to submit to His sovereign rule over their lives.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Fear of Losing Focus.

O Lord, you have deceived me,
    and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
    and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
    everyone mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I cry out,
    I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
    a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, “I will not mention him,
    or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
    shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
    and I cannot.
For I hear many whispering.
    Terror is on every side!
“Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
    say all my close friends,
    watching for my fall.
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
    then we can overcome him
    and take our revenge on him.”
But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior;
    therefore my persecutors will stumble;
    they will not overcome me.
They will be greatly shamed,
    for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
    will never be forgotten.
O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous,
    who sees the heart and the mind,
let me see your vengeance upon them,
    for to you have I committed my cause.

Sing to the Lord;
    praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
    from the hand of evildoers.

Cursed be the day
    on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
    let it not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father,
“A son is born to you,”
    making him very glad.
Let that man be like the cities
    that the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
    and an alarm at noon,
because he did not kill me in the womb;
    so my mother would have been my grave,
    and her womb forever great.
Why did I come out from the womb
    to see toil and sorrow,
    and spend my days in shame? Jeremiah 20:7-18 ESV

This particular section of chapter 20 reflects a kind of spiritual schizophrenia that Jeremiah was undergoing. In just a few short verses he goes from accusing God of deceiving him to praising God for delivering him. Then he goes back to the emotional low point of wishing he had never been born. This reflects a man under extreme pressure. He is stressed out. His emotional battery is running is dangerously low and the daily responsibilities of his life as a prophet of God are catching up with him. He faces constant mocking from the people. They view him as a laughing stock and nobody takes him seriously. So, part of Jeremiah wants to just keep his mouth shut and give up his duties as a prophet. He feels a strong desire to never mention the name of the Lord again. But that feeling gets overwhelmed by an even greater, more pressing sense of responsibility and accountability. He describes it as “a fire in my bones” (Jeremiah 20:9 NLT). His God-given job is too much to bear, but it’s also impossible to walk away from. And when Jeremiah attempts to ignore the role God has given him, he finds it impossible and states, “I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it” (Jeremiah 20:9 NLT).

One part of him wants to give up. But another part of him can’t help but continue to speak up, despite the fact that he is losing friends left and right. Everyone wants him to fail. Nobody wants him to be right. Because if he is right, then they are all in trouble. His accusations of sin and pending judgment are not anything anybody wants to hear. But he knows in his heart that this is the word of God and it must be shared. It is the truth and it cannot be ignored, even if it is costly. Stuck on this emotional roller coaster, Jeremiah does the only thing he can do: Call out to God. He expresses his feelings to God. He shares his frustrations, but he also conveys his trust in God. He refers to God as his dread warrior.

But the Lord stands beside me like a great warrior.
    Before him my persecutors will stumble.
    They cannot defeat me.
They will fail and be thoroughly humiliated.
    Their dishonor will never be forgotten. – Jeremiah 20:11 NLT

Even though Jeremiah is despondent and frustrated with his lot in life, he knows he can turn to God. In a way, Jeremiah is simply reminding himself that his God can be relied upon. In spite of the circumstances of his life and his feelings of abandonment and failure, he keeps rehearsing his long-held beliefs about God.

O Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
you test those who are righteous,
    and you examine the deepest thoughts and secrets.
Let me see your vengeance against them,
    for I have committed my cause to you. – Jeremiah 20:12 NLT

Jeremiah was practicing a bit of self-motivation, but based on the character of God. His God was the warrior, the Lord of Hosts. His God was all-knowing and all-seeing. His God was fully capable of seeing into the hearts of men, including Jeremiah’s, and determining who was right and who was wrong. Based on that knowledge, God would do the right thing. Of that, Jeremiah was confident. Well, as confident as any human being can be. Jeremiah was just a man and susceptible to the doubts and fears we all face. But he knew the key to overcoming his despair and despondency was concentrating his thoughts on the character and nature of God. So he reminds himself:

Sing to the Lord!
    Praise the Lord!
For though I was poor and needy,
    he rescued me from my oppressors. – Jeremiah 20:13 NLT

He speaks in the future tense, as if God’s deliverance of him has already taken place. He is still in the same spot he was in before. Nothing has really changed about his circumstances. But he is attempting to change his perspective, by focusing on what he knows and believes about God. The key to overcoming our times of despair is not always immediate deliverance by God, but increasing reliance and trust in God. The reality of Jeremiah’s less-than-pleasant situation was going to have to be replaced by what he knew to be true about God. The apostle Paul had a similar expectation regarding God and His Son.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. – Romans 8:35-37 NLT

Earlier in the same chapter, Paul asks the rhetorical question: “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” And the answer is an obvious, “No one.” Oh, don’t misunderstand, there will always be those who are against us. Jeremiah had plenty of opposition, including people like Pashtur. But they were no match for God. They can hate us and even attack us, but in the end, God is for us and we will experience His will for us – despite them. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. That doesn’t guarantee us a trouble-free life. It simply means that we have someone on our side who will never leave us or forsake us. And Paul reminds us:

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

But how easy it is to forget all that. How quickly we can find ourselves taking our eyes off of God and putting them back on our circumstances. In a way, that is exactly what we see Jeremiah doing in this passage. Right after praising God for His coming deliverance, Jeremiah resorts to wishing he had never been born.

Yet I curse the day I was born!
    May no one celebrate the day of my birth. – Jeremiah 20:14 NLT

Why was I ever born?
    My entire life has been filled
    with trouble, sorrow, and shame. – Jeremiah 20:18 NLT

Like Peter, when he stepped out of the boat in the midst of the storm and began walking on the water toward the outstretched arms of Jesus, Jeremiah took his eyes off of God. And when he did, he began to sink under the waves of despair. The gospel of Matthew records what happened to Peter when he took his eyes off of Jesus.

But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. – Matthew 14:30 NLT

When he stopped trusting Jesus and started believing his circumstances were greater and more powerful than his God, he sank. And it was only when he cried out to Jesus that he was saved. Jeremiah was going to continue to experiencing rough days. His job was far from finished. There were going to be more threats and increasing resistance to his message. And to survive, he was going to have to keep his eyes on God. He was going to have to constantly remind himself of the power and presence of God, even in the midst of the storms of life.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Payback.

Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord. The next day, when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, “The Lord does not call your name Pashhur, but Terror on Every Side. For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon. He shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall strike them down with the sword. Moreover, I will give all the wealth of the city, all its gains, all its prized belongings, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah into the hand of their enemies, who shall plunder them and seize them and carry them to Babylon. And you, Pashhur, and all who dwell in your house, shall go into captivity. To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely.” Jeremiah 20:1-6 ESV

Pashtur was the priest in charge of the temple of God. And when he heard Jeremiah spouting his dire warnings against the people of Judah, he couldn’t let it go unchallenged. After all, Jeremiah had been warning the priests and civic leaders of Judah that they would be suffering for their role in the moral failure of the people of Judah. So, Pashtur beat Jeremiah and placed him in stocks. Now, whether Pashtur delivered the beating himself or had someone do it for me is not clear. But he was the one behind it. He was punishing Jeremiah and sending a not-so-subtle message to the people that Jeremiah was not in charge. He was subject to the spiritual leadership of Israel, and as chief officer in the house of the Lord, Pashtur saw himself as a keeper of the spiritual status quo in Judah.

After keeping Jeremiah in stocks for a day, Pashtur had him released, probably hoping that Jeremiah had learned his lesson and would refrain from prophesying doom and gloom on Judah any longer. But Pashtur was in for a surprise. Immediately upon his release, Jeremiah let Pashtur have it. First, he gave Pashtur a new name: Magomassabib, which meant “Terror on Every Side.” In a culture where a man’s name was highly significant and held special meaning, this was a particularly offensive statement from Jeremiah. But he wanted Pashtur to know that he would not escape God’s wrath. Just because he was a priest and the chief officer in charge of God’s house, did not mean he was going to have a get-out-of-jail-free card. He stood guilty, just like all the other people. When the Babylonian invasion began, he would find himself surrounded by terror. And he would stand back and watch in horror as the magnificent temple that Solomon had built was demolished and left in rubble. His nation would be devastated. His cushy job as chief officer would be a thing of the past. No more temple. No more sacrifices. No more priests. All Pashtur would be able to do is look on as the devastation took place all around him. He could deny Jeremiah’s words and attempt to shut him up through intimidation, but God’s would ultimately be done. And there was absolutely nothing Pashtur or anyone else could do about it. And the very man Pashtur tried to shut up had a few choice words directly from the Lord – just for him:

“As for you, Pashtur, you and all your household will go as captives to Babylon. There you will die and be buried, you and all your friends to whom you prophesied that everything would be all right.” – Jeremiah 20:6 NLT

He had bound Jeremiah in stocks, but God would have Pashtur bound in chains and taken captive to Babylon, where he would end his days. All his attempts to contradict the words of Jeremiah and paint a much more rosy picture for the people of Judah would prove futile and empty. He didn’t speak for God. He hadn’t heard from God. And He would be judged by God, just all the rest of the people.

Just because you carry a title that labels you as a representative of God doesn’t mean you speak for God. A man or woman who claims to speak on behalf of God, but who contradicts His word will be exposed as what they are: A liar and a false prophet. Telling people what they want to hear may make you popular with the people, but it won’t win you favor with God. Pashtur represented the rest of the spiritual leadership of Judah who had snubbed their nose at God and determined to present their on view of things. They sounded good. Their words were encouraging and exactly what everyone wanted to hear. All would be well. God was not going to punish them. But they were wrong. Seriously and sinfully wrong. And they were going to suffer for it. God will not be mocked – by priests, pastors, religious leaders, evangelists or anyone else who claims to be His spokesperson. Jeremiah may have found himself short of friends, hated by everybody in his community, and occasionally locked in stocks, but he knew he was doing what God had called him to do. He was speaking truth – the truth of God. And no other brand of truth was going to cut it. The people needed to repent, not be told they were okay. They needed to be confronted with their sins so they could repent of them. Not be encouraged to believe that they were God’s chosen people and therefore, exempt from His displeasure.

Pashtur may have thought he was in charge, but Jeremiah would have the last laugh. He would be proven true in the long run. Like Elijah and the prophets of Baal, only one would be left standing when all was said and done. False prophets, even those who claim to represent the one true God, will not be tolerated. Their destruction will be sure. It may not happen immediately. They may appear to have the hand of God on them for a time, but eventually their sins will catch up with them.

As believers, we must always stick to the Word of God and not attempt anyone to sell us another version of His Word. We have a responsibility to take what we hear preached or taught concerning the Word of God and compare it directly with the source. Just because someone claims to have a direct line to God doesn’t mean they do. If they are manipulating Scripture in order to force on it their own interpretations or expectations, they are wrong and deadly dangerous. They must be exposed and avoided at all costs. Give it time, and God will deal with them. Don’t dismay. Don’t get discouraged. Payback is coming.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Reshaped Or Shattered.

Thus says the Lord, “Go, buy a potter’s earthenware flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you. You shall say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind—therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem, and will cause their people to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life. I will give their dead bodies for food to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the earth. And I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its wounds. And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.’

“Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you, and shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended. Men shall bury in Topheth because there will be no place else to bury. Thus will I do to this place, declares the Lord, and to its inhabitants, making this city like Topheth. The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah—all the houses on whose roofs offerings have been offered to all the host of heaven, and drink offerings have been poured out to other gods—shall be defiled like the place of Topheth.’”

Then Jeremiah came from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy, and he stood in the court of the Lord’s house and said to all the people: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, behold, I am bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the disaster that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their neck, refusing to hear my words.” Jeremiah 19 ESV

In chapter 18, God referred to Judah as a lump of clay in His hands, that he could reshape and refashion as He saw fit. But in this chapter, God uses a slightly different metaphor, referring to Judah as a clay pot, but one that has been baked in the sun and hardened beyond repair or reshaping. Like a clay pot that has been contaminated and polluted in some way, Judah was unsalvageable. Their sins were so repulsive and repugnant to God that He determined to destroy them. And God sets out the strong and irrefutable evidence of their many sins:

“For Israel has forsaken me and turned this valley into a place of wickedness.”

“The people burn incense to foreign gods—idols never before acknowledged by this generation, by their ancestors, or by the kings of Judah.”

“…they have filled this place with the blood of innocent children.”

“They have built pagan shrines to Baal, and there they burn their sons as sacrifices to Baal.”

“…you burned incense on the rooftops to your star gods, and where liquid offerings were poured out to your idols.”

They stood before God as guilty. The charges against them were many and the nature of their sins for which they were charged were appalling. They weren’t just guilty of your garden variety, everybody’s-doing-it kind of idolatry. And it wasn’t just one or two gods they worshiped. They had managed to find gods to worship that their ancestors had never even heard of. On top of that, they had added human sacrifice to their list of despicable practices. They were sacrificing their own sons and daughters to Baal. And God makes it clear that none of this had been His idea. That kind of deplorable act had never even crossed His mind. But they did it anyway. They worshiped false gods at shrines in their homes. They would go up to their rooftops and make offerings to the gods of the planets and stars. They had set up high places or altars all around Judah to their various gods. Their’s was not a minor infraction. It was serious and deserving of deadly serious treatment by God.

To drive home His point, God had Jeremiah buy a piece of pottery and go the Valley of Hinnom, just outside the walls of Jerusalem through the Potsherd’s Gate. He was to drag along some of the leaders of the people as well as some of the priests. They were there to act as witnesses to what God was going to have Jeremiah do. The Valley of Himmon had a less-than-ideal reputation. It was where people disposed of their garbage, Back in the days of King Solomon, he had erected an altar to Molech. Kings Ahaz and Manasseh had both practiced child sacrifice in this very same place during their reigns. It was King Josiah, in an attempt to institute reforms in Judah, who had the Valley of Hinnom defiled by spreading human bones over the area, rendering it ceremonially unclean. From that point on, it had become more or less a city dump.

It was there that God had Jeremiah enact his mini-drama before the representative leadership of Judah. God made it clear that He was going to deal with the sins of the people and in a dramatic manner. It would be so bad that the Valley of Hinnom would be renamed the Valley of Slaughter. And you can only imagine the shock and anger felt by the leaders of Judah when they heard Jeremiah speak these words on behalf of God:

“For I will upset the careful plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will allow the people to be slaughtered by invading armies, and I will leave their dead bodies as food for the vultures and wild animals. I will reduce Jerusalem to ruins, making it a monument to their stupidity.” – Jeremiah 19:7-8 NLT

When the Babylonians eventually laid siege to the city of Jerusalem, trapping the people inside its walls, the people would resort to cannibalism in an attempt to survive. They would go from sacrificing their children as offerings to appease non-existent gods to eating them in order to extend their own lives. Their depravity would reach an all-time low and be “driven to utter despair” (Jeremiah 19:9 NLT).

And as a shocking crescendo to his speech, Jeremiah was instructed to take the clay pot he had purchased and smash it on the ground right in front of his audience. The sound of the impact and the flying shards of pottery would make a lasting impression on the priests and leaders of Judah. And the words of Yahweh added an extra measure of soberness to the scene.

“As this jar lies shattered, so I will shatter the people of Judah and Jerusalem beyond all hope of repair.” – Jeremiah 19:11 NLT

Having delivered his message as commanded, Jeremiah’s next stop was the temple, where he stood before the people and spoke to them the words of God.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will bring disaster upon this city and its surrounding towns as I promised, because you have stubbornly refused to listen to me.’ – Jeremiah 19:15 NLT

Now everybody knew. – the civic leaders, the religious leaders and the everyday man on the street. The message of God had been delivered. So, how would the people respond? We will see in the very next chapter, that all Jeremiah got for his efforts was a beating at the hands of the priest who was in charge of the temple. Evidently, Jeremiah’s little demonstration with the pottery had not been appreciated. News of God’s displeasure with them was not something the people of Judah wanted to hear, especially the religious leaders. They knew they were particularly culpable for the state of affairs in Judah. They were supposed to be God’s shepherds, caring for His flock, assuring their spiritual well-being. But they had played a significant role in the spiritual decline of the nation. And because nobody likes to get called out and exposed, they reacted harshly to Jeremiah.

This chapter presents us with a comparison and a choice. As was revealed in chapter 18, Judah was still like a lump of clay in the hands of God. They were still moldable and malleable in His hands. But they had to submit to His divine will and come to Him in contrition and brokenness. Or, they could choose to be hardened by their sin, becoming like a sun-baked piece of pottery whose flaws and imperfections were permanent and irremediable. That decision would result in their destruction, a shattering of their lives because of the unrepentant nature of their hearts. God’s desire is always repentance and restoration. He takes no pleasure in bringing judgment upon His people. But when they stubbornly refuse to admit their guilt and return to Him in brokenness and repentance, He is obligated by His very nature to deal with them in righteousness and with justice.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Petersoz

When Things Get Personal.

Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words.”

Hear me, O Lord,
    and listen to the voice of my adversaries.
Should good be repaid with evil?
    Yet they have dug a pit for my life.
Remember how I stood before you
    to speak good for them,
    to turn away your wrath from them.
Therefore deliver up their children to famine;
    give them over to the power of the sword;
let their wives become childless and widowed.
    May their men meet death by pestilence,
    their youths be struck down by the sword in battle.
May a cry be heard from their houses,
    when you bring the plunderer suddenly upon them!
For they have dug a pit to take me
    and laid snares for my feet.
Yet you, O Lord, know
    all their plotting to kill me.
Forgive not their iniquity,
    nor blot out their sin from your sight.
Let them be overthrown before you;
    deal with them in the time of your anger. Jeremiah 18:18-23 ESV

There is a fine balance that each follower of Christ must maintain while living in this fallen world. We are surrounded by the presence of sin and by those who commit sin. It’s impossible to go a single day without being exposed to the reality of sin’s pervasive presence in our society. It is everywhere. And one of the risks we face is becoming immune to it. In essence, we become anesthetized to all the sin from our constant exposure to it and our failure to confess its presence in our own lives. So, we find ourselves complacent about sin and adopt the attitude: “Boys will be boys”. In our hearts, we know that God hates sin, but we can find ourselves developing a soft spot in our hearts for it. We watch TV shows that glorify and glamorize sinful behavior. We get exposed to a daily avalanche of news graphically describing and depicting sinful activity in our community and world, leaving us numb and desensitized to its gravity. News footage of wars, bombings, murders, and violence of all kinds are a normal part of our day. And it no longer shocks or grieves us. It doesn’t impact us. And it doesn’t seem to bother us that all the sin in our world, including our own, is a frontal assault against God. It is an orchestrated attempt by the prince of this world, Satan, to undermine and overthrow the sovereign rule of God over His creation. Sin bothers God, but why doesn’t it seem to bother us? And why is it that we can’t seem to grasp the concept that all sin flies in the face of God’s authority as creator. It is rebellion against Him. It is lawlessness – a willful breaking of His ordained will for mankind. But far too often, believers find themselves living in self-imposed silence, refusing to speak up about the sin in the camp. We are called to expose sin, not tolerate it. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible… – Ephesians 5:11-13 ESV

God warned his prophet, Ezekiel:

“If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths.” – Ezekiel 3:18 NLT

God held Ezekiel to a high standard. He was God’s spokesman, commissioned to deliver the word of God to the people of God. His job was not an easy one. He suffered with the same struggles as Jeremiah, finding himself living as a social outcast and pariah. No one wanted to hear what he had to say. They loathed him and his message. But as God’s prophet, Ezekiel was obligated to speak up. So was Jeremiah. And so are we. Paul reminds us of our God-ordained responsibility to act as His representatives and mouthpieces in the midst of this sin-filled world.

And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NLT

It’s difficult to be a reconciler and confront people with their sin if you’re constantly conforming to sin yourself. And an attitude of complacency about sin makes it hard to convince others of the need for a Savior from sin.

So, there is always the problem of not taking sin seriously. But then, there is another risk of taking all sin personally. That seems to be what Jeremiah is wrestling with in this passage. He expresses a heart-felt prayer to God revealing his very real and intense desire that the people of Judah get exactly what they deserve, and he pulls no punches.

let their children starve! (vs 21 NLT)

Let them die by the sword! (vs 21 NLT)

…Let their wives become childless widows. (vs 21 NLT)

…Let their old men die in a plague… (vs 21 NLT)

…let their young men be killed in battle! (vs 21 NLT)

…Let screaming be heard from their homes as warriors come suddenly upon them. (vs 22 NLT)

…Don’t forgive their crimes and blot out their sins. (vs 23 NLT)

…Let them die before you. (vs 23 NLT)

…Deal with them in your anger. (vs 23 NLT)

Wow! I would say it’s safe to say that Jeremiah was taking things a bit personally. He was calling down the judgment of God on the people of Judah. But it’s important to note why he was doing so. Listen to what he says:

They have dug a pit to kill me,
though I pleaded for them
    and tried to protect them from your anger. – Jeremiah 18:20 NLT

For they have dug a pit for me
    and have hidden traps along my path. – Jeremiah 18:22 NLT

Lord, you know all about their murderous plots against me. – Jeremiah 18:23 NLT

Things had gotten a bit too personal for Jeremiah. And his calls for judgment seem to have had less to do with their sins against God than their sins against him. He was angry and upset with all the personal threats. He reminded God that he had just been doing his job. He self-righteously claims, “I pleaded for them and tried to protect them from your anger” (Jeremiah 18:20 NLT). And how had they responded to his good efforts? By repaying him with evil. So, he was done with them. He was ready for God to do every single thing He had threatened to do and, as far as Jeremiah was concerned, the sooner, the better. Wipe them all out.

But wait a minute. When had this become all about Jeremiah? At what point did the sins of the people become transgressions against the prophet of God rather than God Himself? Jeremiah had let this all become personal. And it began when the sins of the people started affecting him personally. As long as their sins were against one another, Jeremiah was far more tolerant. He was content to keep speaking on behalf of God and warning the people about God’s pending judgment. But when their attention was turned on him and he began to feel the white-hot rage or their resentment, he suddenly became God’s champion for righteous judgment. Gone were his pleas for mercy. He was no longer interceding on behalf of the people, asking God to forgive them for their sins. Once it got personal, Jeremiah demanded judgment. He wanted payback.

And the two extremes we’ve just looked at are ones we must avoid at all costs as Christ-followers. We cannot afford to become complacent with sin, in our lives or in the world around us. Sin is a personal affront against God. And we know what the outcome of all sin is: Death. Eternal separation from God. So, as Paul told us, we are to always keep in mind that we have been given a task by God to reconcile lost people to Himself. We have been given this wonderful message of reconciliation: that God is no longer counting people’s sins against them. Instead, when they accept His Son as their Savior and the one who paid their sin debt, they are made right with God. Their sins are forgiven and they become like we are: children of God. So, we are to constantly spread the message: Come back to God! We are to call people to repentance. Rather than complacency, we are to show compassion.

And instead of taking the sins of others personally, we are to recognize that their sin is against God. While we may suffer personally as a result of the sins of others, we are not to seek vengeance. Instead, Paul reminds us:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:21-32 NLT

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. – Romans 12:17-19 NLT

Jeremiah was angry, and his anger had become personal. He wasn’t upset with how the people were treating God. This had become all about him. He wasn’t interested in reconciliation. He wanted revenge and retribution. But all sin is ultimately against God. And all sinners are equally rebellious to God. It does no good to ignore their sin. But it also does no good to take their sin personally. Their sin is the result of a broken relationship with God. They need reconciliation and restoration with God. And like Jeremiah, we have been given the only message that counts: Come back to God!

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Petersoz

Unprecedented and Unnatural.

“Therefore thus says the Lord:
Ask among the nations,
    Who has heard the like of this?
The virgin Israel
    has done a very horrible thing.
Does the snow of Lebanon leave
    the crags of Sirion?
Do the mountain waters run dry,
    the cold flowing streams?
But my people have forgotten me;
    they make offerings to false gods;
they made them stumble in their ways,
    in the ancient roads,
and to walk into side roads,
    not the highway,
making their land a horror,
    a thing to be hissed at forever.
Everyone who passes by it is horrified
    and shakes his head.
Like the east wind I will scatter them
    before the enemy.
I will show them my back, not my face,
    in the day of their calamity.”
Jeremiah 18:13-17 ESV

Even by pagan standards, what Judah had done was abnormal and a bit difficult to defend. Even they would consider it absurd for an entire nation to turn their backs on their national deity. It just wasn’t done. The kind of unfaithfulness Judah had exhibited to their God, Yahweh, was shocking. And that is God’s point in His message to Jeremiah. He describes what Judah has done as “horrible”. It is a word that conveys the idea of shock and dread at the thought of something. Seeing what Judah has done should cause the viewer to bristle with horror. He will use this same word again when He describes the sins of the false prophets of Judah.

“But in the prophets of Jerusalem
    I have seen a horrible thing:
they commit adultery and walk in lies;
    they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
    so that no one turns from his evil;
all of them have become like Sodom to me,
    and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.” – Jeremiah 23:14 ESV

Judah’s treatment of God has the equivalent shock value of you or I stumbling into the scene of a brutal murder. We would have to turn away in horror and disgust. It would be totally unexpected and abnormal, an assault on our senses. And this is how God portrayed Judah’s treatment of Him. Even by nature’s standards, it was abnormal and unnatural.

“Does the snow ever disappear from the mountaintops of Lebanon? Do the cold streams flowing from those distant mountains ever run dry?” – Jeremiah 18:14 NLT

These two rhetorical questions have the same answer: No. There is always snow on the mountaintops of Lebanon. And as a result, there is always melting snow providing the people of Judah cold, refreshing water. They can count on it. It is always there. It is a normal and natural occurrence that happens season after season. If the snow failed to show up, it would be shocking. If the streams dried up, it would be horrific. But, even in nature, there is a faithfulness exhibited that was missing among God’s people.

“But my people are not so reliable, for they have deserted me;
    they burn incense to worthless idols.
They have stumbled off the ancient highways
    and walk in muddy paths.” – Jeremiah 18:15 NLT

The people of Judah could rely on the streams to be filled with refreshing water. They could count on the sun coming up every morning and setting every evening. They had grown accustomed to the crops growing in their fields and their vineyards producing grapes. The blessings of God had become common place to them and they took them for granted. Had the rains ceased, the crops failed, the grapevines shriveled up and their herds and flocks died in the fields, the people of Judah would have been the first to complain. They would have demanded God fix the problem and put things back the way they were supposed to be. But for some reason, they were unable to see the unnatural and abnormal nature of their treatment of God. But He saw it. And He was going to deal with it.

“Therefore, their land will become desolate,
    a monument to their stupidity.
All who pass by will be astonished
    and will shake their heads in amazement.
I will scatter my people before their enemies
    as the east wind scatters dust.
And in all their trouble I will turn my back on them
    and refuse to notice their distress.” – Jeremiah 18:16-17 NLT

They had chosen to turn their back on God. It was unnatural and abnormal. It made no sense. It was shocking to witness. But even more shocking would be God’s judgment of them. Their once fruitful and productive land would become desolate. It would be a veritable ghost town, devoid of human life, leaving all those who see it shaking their heads in astonishment and wondering how it happened. The people of Judah would scatter to the four winds, in their vain attempt to escape the wrath of the Babylonians. And when things get tough, they will cry out to God, expecting Him to deliver them, just like He has done so many times before. They will offer sacrifices and make offerings to God in the hopes that He will intervene and spare them. But He will refuse to notice their distress. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God lets the people of Judah know how He views their attempts at pacifying Him with last-minute sacrifices designed to save them from a fate worse than death.

“Your acts of worship
    are acts of sin:
Your sacrificial slaughter of the ox
    is no different from murdering the neighbor;
Your offerings for worship,
    no different from dumping pig’s blood on the altar;
Your presentation of memorial gifts,
    no different from honoring a no-god idol.
You choose self-serving worship,
    you delight in self-centered worship—disgusting!
Well, I choose to expose your nonsense
    and let you realize your worst fears,
Because when I invited you, you ignored me;
    when I spoke to you, you brushed me off.
You did the very things I exposed as evil,
    you chose what I hate.”   – Isaiah 66:3-4 MSG

It will all be too little, too late. And God will know that their hearts are not in it. It was King David who wrote the following words after he had been exposed by the prophet Nation regarding his sin with Bathsheba. Convicted by the prophet, David responded in confession and contrition.

“You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

That’s what God wanted from Judah. He wanted brokenness over their sin and hearts that reflected a desire to turn away from their pattern of unfaithfulness and idolatry. David knew that God’s greatest desire was that His people turn to Him, but they must do so in true repentance, accompanied by broken spirits, crushed by the staggering weight of their own sin against Him.

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. – Psalm 34:17-18 NLT

But the people of Judah were not yet crushed. Their spirits were not yet broken. They were filled with pride and consumed with their own self-importance. They didn’t really need God, but that would change when the Babylonians showed up on their doorstep. But even then, they would only come to God to get what they wanted from Him. They would demand rescue by Him, but refuse to pledge allegiance to Him. They were in for a rude awakening. And the devastating results of their unfaithfulness will linger long after they are gone, acting as a permanent “monument to their stupidity”. The people who had enjoyed the blessings of God will become those who bring upon themselves the judgment of God. Unprecedented and unnatural, but not unexpected. God had warned them. He had given them ample opportunity to repent and return to Him. He had been patient with them. But His patience had run out.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Petersoz

Vessels of Clay.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’

“But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’” Jeremiah 18:1-12 ESV

God determined to provide Jeremiah with a visual lesson to help the prophet understand what was happening to the people of Judah. So, He sent Jeremiah on a field trip to a local pottery maker. There Jeremiah witnessed the potter crafting a pot out of clay, but something went wrong and the pot didn’t turn out quite like the potter had intended. The pot was not yet finished and had not been hardened in the sun, so, the potter simply began again. He took the still pliable clay, molding and shaping it into His original design. As Jeremiah watched this all unfold before his eyes, God spoke to him and gave him a message.

“O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. – Jeremiah 18:6 NLT

The clay was subject to the plans of the potter. He had every right to do with it as he wished. He had a vision in mind for the clay. But it would require careful shaping and molding, according to the potter’s skilled hands, for the clay to be transformed into the final end product the potter had in mind. And the same was true for Judah. They had been chosen by God, but were still like unbaked clay in His hands. They were a work in process, with flaws and blemishes that the potter (God) was faithfully and patiently working out.

But unlike lifeless clay, the people of Judah had opinions. They felt they had a say in the matter. They weren’t content letting God have the only input into what they became. And the prophet Isaiah had a few choice words for them.

How foolish can you be?
    He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
    “He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
    “The potter who made me is stupid”? – Isaiah 29:16 NLT

The real issue at hand here is the failure of human beings to recognize and respect God’s position as the Creator-God. We tend to see ourselves as somehow more worthy and deserving of special treatment at the hands of God. We believe we should have a say in how our lives turn out. We should get to choose what we become and how we spend our days. But Isaiah would argue the case.

“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.
    Does a clay pot argue with its maker?
Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying,
    ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’
Does the pot exclaim,
    ‘How clumsy can you be?’ – Isaiah 45:9 NLT

And the apostle Paul would pick up on Isaiah’s thoughts generations later.

Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? – Romans 9:20-21 NLT

The sovereignty of God is the primary issue here. He alone is God. He has the right to do with His creation as He sees fit. And Isaiah recognized God’s sovereign prerogative to determine the fate of Judah, especially in light of their open rebellion against Him.

Therefore, you have turned away from us
    and turned us over to our sins.

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.
    We are the clay, and you are the potter.
    We all are formed by your hand. – Isaiah 64:7-8 NLT

God reminded Jeremiah that there was an option for the people of Judah. It was called repentance. Unlike lifeless clay, they had been responsible for their flaws because of their sins. And God was going to “remake” them in order to eventually rid them of their glaring imperfections. But there was another way, an easier way.

“If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned.” – Jeremiah 18:7-8 NLT

Repentance. A change of mind that revealed itself through a change in behavior. That was the message of Jeremiah and all the other prophets. Return to God and renounce your evil ways.  And God will spare you. But the people of Judah had treated that message with disdain. So, God reminds Jeremiah:

“…if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.” – Jeremiah 18:9-10 NLT

Israel had been that nation. They had been chosen by God and told that they would be His possession. He would make them a great and powerful nation. And He had held up His end of the bargain. He had made them great. He had blessed them beyond measure. And they had responded to His grace and love with disobedience and unfaithfulness. So, He had determined to start over. But God gave them yet another change to repent. He told Jeremiah to give the people the following message:

“This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’” – Jeremiah 18:11 NLT

Rather than waste their time criticizing God for His craftsmanship, they could repent. they could confess their sins and return to Him in contrition. But God knew their hearts and was not surprised by their response to His compassionate call to repentance.

“Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.” – Jeremiah 18:12 NLT

They rejected God’s call to repentance. They turned up their noses at His accusations of sin and wrongdoing. And in doing so they revealed that they had no understanding of God’s sovereignty over them. He was the Creator-God. He had made them. He had chosen them. And He could do with them as He saw fit. They were not the masters of their own fate. They were not in control of their own destinies. They could argue with or even ignore God, that did not change the outcome or make Him go away. His will was going to be accomplished, whether they liked it or not. They were like clay in His hands. He had a plan for them. He had a purpose in store for them. He had chosen them for a reason. And He would do what was necessary to accomplish His will for them – as it seemed good to the potter to do.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Petersoz

What We Really Need Is God.

Thus said the Lord to me: “Go and stand in the People’s Gate, by which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem, and say: ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers. Yet they did not listen or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck, that they might not hear and receive instruction.

“‘But if you listen to me, declares the Lord, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but keep the Sabbath day holy and do no work on it, then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings and princes who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And this city shall be inhabited forever. And people shall come from the cities of Judah and the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the Shephelah, from the hill country, and from the Negeb, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and frankincense, and bringing thank offerings to the house of the Lord. But if you do not listen to me, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched.’” – Jeremiah 17:19-27 ESV

When God created Adam and placed him in the garden of Eden, He gave him one prohibition. There were trees of all kinds from which he could eat and enjoy their fruit. But there was one tree he was to avoid at all costs.

But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden —  except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 NLT

And we know what happened. He and Eve, tempted by Satan, ate of the one tree that God had declared off limits, and the rest, as they say, is history. And here, in this little vignette recorded in the book of Jeremiah, we have yet another case of God issuing a command: Keep the Sabbath holy, and the people refusing to obey. One day. that’s all God had asked of them.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” – Exodus 20:8-11 NLT

They had six other days to work and play. All God asked was that they dedicate one day to Him. It was to be a holy day, set apart for remembering God and resting in His provision. Ceasing from labor on that one day was to be a sign of their commitment to Him and their dependence upon Him. He would meet all their needs.

Adam and Eve didn’t think all the trees in the garden would be enough, so they disobeyed God and ate of the one tree He had prohibited. They didn’t trust God. And when the people of Judah refused to obey God’s command to rest on the Sabbath, they too were exhibiting a lack of trust in God. We see this illustrated all the way back in the story of the Exodus. When God had delivered the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt and led them into the wilderness, the people began to complain about the lack of food.

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.

“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” – Exodus 16:1-3 NLT

One month. That’s all the time it had been. And they were already complaining and whining. In spite of all God had done to deliver them from Egypt, they didn’t trust Him. So, God told Moses what He was going to do.

“Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they will gather food, and when they prepare it, there will be twice as much as usual.” – Exodus 16:4-5 NLT

God told them,“‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will have all the bread you want. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.” (Exodus 16:12 NLT). The people were instructed to gather a specific amount per person in their tent; no more, not less. And when they did, all had enough. No one went without. And they were told:

“Do not keep any of it until morning.” But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. – Exodus 16:19-20 NLT

Day after day, God provided them with quail in the evening and manna in the mornings. But there was one stipulation: On the sixth day, they were to gather twice as much as usual. And when the people questioned Moses about this, he responded:

“This is what the Lord commanded: Tomorrow will be a day of complete rest, a holy Sabbath day set apart for the Lord. So bake or boil as much as you want today, and set aside what is left for tomorrow.” – Exodus 16:23 NLT

It’s important to note that God had not yet given them His commandments. There was no Sabbath day to keep at this point. And yet, God was telling them to observe a Sabbath day set apart to Him. On that one day, there would be no quail or manna. They would have to trust God. And Moses told the people:

“Eat this food today, for today is a Sabbath day dedicated to the Lord. There will be no food on the ground today. You may gather the food for six days, but the seventh day is the Sabbath. There will be no food on the ground that day.” – Exodus 16:26 NLT

But you can probably guess what happened next.

Some of the people went out anyway on the seventh day, but they found no food. – Exodus 16:27 NLT

They had gathered enough for two days. God had provided for all their needs. But they didn’t trust Him. So, they went out anyway, looking for more quail and manna. And God asked Moses a question to which He already knew the answer.

“How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you.” – Exodus 16:28-29 NLT

The Sabbath was God’s gift to them. No work. No gathering. Just rest. And a day designed to remind them of God’s provision for them. He was to be their focus, not the quail and manna. They were to concentrate on the Giver, not the gift. They were to put their hope in the invisible God, not the visible food that fell out of heaven.

But back to Jeremiah. God told him to stand at the gate of Jerusalem and declare to every single person, rich and poor, young and old, king and peasant:

“Listen to my warning! Stop carrying on your trade at Jerusalem’s gates on the Sabbath day. Do not do your work on the Sabbath, but make it a holy day. I gave this command to your ancestors, but they did not listen or obey. They stubbornly refused to pay attention or accept my discipline.” – Jeremiah 17:21-23 NLT

One day was all God had asked of them. Set aside a single 24-hour period in which no work would be done. During that time they were to rest in God, trusting Him for all their needs. But like their ancestors, they refused to obey. They were doing business on the Sabbath, treating it just like any other day. They were buying and selling, trading and bartering. They were treating the Sabbath, God’s gift to them, with disrespect. They were putting their trust in material things instead of the God of the universe. And God reminds them what will happen as a result of their failure to obey Him.

“…if you do not listen to me and refuse to keep the Sabbath holy, and if on the Sabbath day you bring loads of merchandise through the gates of Jerusalem just as on other days, then I will set fire to these gates. The fire will spread to the palaces, and no one will be able to put out the roaring flames.” – Jeremiah 17:27 NLT

So, what’s the point of all this? Why did God have Jeremiah focus his attention and message around the fourth of the Ten Commandments? What was it about the Sabbath that God felt it was necessary to emphasize. Go back to the garden. God put one tree off limits: The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And yet, this became the one tree that Adam and Eve coveted more than all the others. Why? Because Satan told them that God was holding out on them. When God had told them that death would be the outcome of eating the fruit of that one true, Satan countered:

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” – Genesis3:4-5 NLT

They would be like God. Self-autonomy and self-rule. That was the real temptation. Rather than obeying God, they could run their own lives. Instead of having to trust God, they would have the knowledge to manage the affairs of life on their own. And what about the Sabbath? That one day was to be reserved for resting in God. It was to be a weekly reminder of their dependence upon Him. But self-preservation is a powerful force in the life of every human being. We want to be our own god. We want to run our own lives. God’s emphasis on the Sabbath and their refusal to observe it was an indictment of their failure to trust Him. Rather than seeing the Sabbath as a gift from God, they saw it as nothing more than a prohibition. Adam and Eve had thousands of trees to enjoy, but they couldn’t take their eyes off the one God had denied them. And yet, His denial of that one tree had actually been a gift to them. He would be their source of all knowledge. He would care for them and provide them with all the wisdom they would need for life. But somehow, we end up thinking that what God has prohibited is the one thing we have to have. When what we really need is Him.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson