John T. Willis

Saturday, August 21, 2010

We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you

In the days of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, a great multitude of Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunite went to battle against Jehoshaphat and Judah. Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast in Judah to seek help from Yahweh. Jehoshaphat then uttered this prayer, recorded in 2 Chronicles 20:6-12:

"O Lord, God of our ancestors, are you not God in heaven? Do you not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In your hand are power and might, so that no one is able to withstand you. Did you not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of your friend, Abraham? They have lived in it, and in it have built you a sanctuary for your name, saying, 'If disaster comes upon us, the sowrd, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house, and before you, for your name is in this house, and cry to you in our distress, and you will hear and save.' See now the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy--they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession that you have give us to inherit. O our God, will you not execute judgment upon them? For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you."

When Jehoshaphat uttered this prayer, Yahweh intervened and delivered Jehoshaphat and the Judeans against these enemies.

Read this prayer often and carefully. Many lines are insightful, encouraging, uplifting, inspirational, and deeply devoted to God. Here are a few "key line" thoughts.
1. God is in heaven.
2. God rules over the kingdoms of the nations. [Sometimes we either forget this, or actually do not believe this].
3. Power and might are in God's hand, and no one and no nation can withstand God.
Think of Paul's powerful assurances in Ephesians 6:10-18.
4. In the distant ancient days of Joshua, Yahweh drove the inhabitants of the land of Canaan so his chosen people could live in that land. This was the fulfillment that God gave to Abraham, God's friend.
5. All of us human beings are powerless against hostile enemies.

Like Jehoshaphat and the Judeans, we are faced with difficult problems, problems that overwhelm us and makes us fearful and anxious. And in such times, we do not know what to do. SO, we MUST turn to God ALONE to seek help from HIM. Our eyes are on God ALONE.

Share YOUR ideas and insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Major Themes in Jeremiah

Before working through the Book of Jeremiah, it might be helpful to attempt to SKETCH some of the major themes which appear throughout this important book.

The Septuagint (LXX)(Greek translation) of Jeremiah is quite different from the Masoretic Text (MT). The LXX is approximately one-eighth shorter than the MT. Most of these omissions are minor, representing individual verses or parts of verses. Jeremiah 39:4-13 and 51:44b-49a are clearly homoeoteleutons. The LXX omits several doublets in the MT. The LXX omits Jer. 33:14-26 for reasons unknown. The LXX puts the oracles concerning the nations in Jeremiah 46-51 immediately after Jer. 25:13, and the order of these oracles in quite different from the MT. Like most scholars, I follow the MT, and thus reject the order and omissions of the LXX. This is a technical issue, which only a few scholars spend many years attempting to reach a conclusion on this matter.

A careful study of the Book of Jeremiah leads one to understand several MAJOR THEMES in this book. This blog MERELY calls attention to SOME of these themes. Later, we will go into great detail as we work through this important book. HERE, we will only SKETCH SOME of these themes.

I. Yahweh is about to punish his people Judah. Jeremiah uses several metaphors to communicate this idea. Here are a few of these.
A. The Foe from the North=Babylon. 1:13-16; 4:5-6; 6:1, 22; 13:20; 25:1-14; and often.
B. Magor-missabib=Terror on every side. 6:25; 20:1-6, 10; 46:5; and often.
C. Lion. 4:7.
D. Hot wind. 4:11-12.
E. Woman in labor. 4:31; 13:21; 30:6; 49:24.
F. Blow the trumpet. 4:21; 6:1.
G. Heap of ruins. 9:11.
H. Drought. 14:1-6.
I. "Pestilence, Sword, Famine"--14:13; 15:2; 16:4; 18:21; 21:7, 9; 24:10; 27:8,
13; 28:8; 29:17; 32:36.
J. Broken potter's vessel. 19:1-20:6.

II. The REASON Yahweh is about to punish his people Judah is because of their sins.
A. The essential sin is PRIDE=SELF-CENTEREDNESS=INGRATITUDE. Jeremiah describes this in three major ways.
1. Unnatural [Inappropriate] Response to God's Love. Jeremiah uses NUMEROUS figures about this idea. Here are a few:
a. The thirsty traveler. 2:11-13.
b. The bride who forgot her attire. 2:32.
c. Sand as a barrier for the sea. 5:20-23.
d. The person who falls on the ice. 8:4-5.
e. Birds that do not migrate. 8:7.
f. Melting snow. 18:13-17.
g. The Rechabites. 35.
2. Trusting in things and people that are untrustworthy.
a. Foreign allies. 2:36-37.
b. Wisdom, power, wealth. 9:23-24.
c. Influential and powerful human beings. 17:5-8.
d. Strongholds and treasures. 48:7.
e. The temple [any place of worship]. 7:8-14.
3. Being false [counterfeit]. Pretending to be faithful to God, but not truly.
a. Changing one's heart and life. 7:1-11.
b. Treating other people unjustly. 9:2-9.
c. Serving "gods" other than Yahweh. 10:1-16.
B. Jeremiah often denounces specific EXPRESSIONS of this fundamental sin. Here are a few specific expressions.
1. Idolatry. 10:1-16; 44:1-30.
2. Adultery. 5:7-9; 7:9.
3. Oppressing the alien, orphans, and widows. 7:5-6.
4. Lying and slander. 9:4-6.
5. Breaking the sabbath. 17:19-27.

III. After punishing his sinful people Judah, Yahweh will redeem and restore a faithful remnant to carry on Yahweh's eternal purposes. Jeremiah gives at least FIVE specific HOPES for the future of the faithful people in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B. C.
A. Yahweh will bring a faithful remnant back to the land of Canaan to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. 29:10-14; 30:2-3.
B. Yahweh will "heal" the spiritual wounds of his people. 30:12-17.
C. Yahweh will raise up a "new David" to serve under God to guide his people.
23:5-8; 30:8-9, 21; 33:14-26.
D. Yahweh will re-unite North Israel and South Judah as the original unified people of Israel. 31:31-34; 32:36-44; 33:14-26.
E. Yahweh will build up and plant his people. 31:27-28.

IV. Following Hosea [and additional earlier prophets], Jeremiah uses SIX figures or metaphors to emphasize Yahweh's relationship to his people.
A. Yahweh is husband--Judah is wife. 2:1-3; 3:1-18; 31:31-34.
B. Yahweh is father or parent--Judah is child. 3:19; 31:9, 20.
C. Yahweh is shepherd--Judah is flock or sheep. 23:1-4; 31:10.
D. Yahweh is vinedresser--Judah is vineyard or vine. 2:21.
E. Yahweh is physician or doctor--Judah is patient. 8:18-9:1; 30:12-17.
F. Yahweh is potter--Judah is clay. 18-20.

V. It is important to realize that Jeremiah did not CREATE a new religion, but roots his message in the Law of Moses and the prophets. Note especially 6:16-20; 7:8-11, 16-26; 11:1-17; 17:19-27; and often.

Hopefully, these themes will highlight the specific texts to follow in the blogs ahead.

Share YOUR thoughts and ideas with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Status [Position] or Function?

Throughout human history, Individuals, Groups of People [secular and religious], States, and Nations have often decided to select certain people to be MORE IMPORTANT and MORE ELEVATED than other people. Repeatedly, the Bible consistently resists this idea, and EMPHASIZES the noble idea that GOD ALONE [through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit] is creator and sustainer and LEADER of all people. Human hierarchies [lower and higher ranks of people of all kinds] ALWAYS cause deep trouble among human beings and OPPOSE the truth and message of God proclaimed throughout scripture.

God USES human beings and communities and nations to carry out his purposes. It is very tempting and realistic that human beings TWIST the biblical idea to give human beings and institutions and secular and religious groups and nations STATUS when God intended that they have a FUNCTION for his service. Three examples [out of many] in the Bible illustrate this truth.

1. Jewish Scribes and Pharisees in the days of Jesus. Matthew 23:1-12. Jesus warned "the crowds" and "his disciples" not to think or act like the Jewish scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees "do all their deeds to be seen by others," "love to have the PLACE OF HONOR at banquets and the BEST SEATS in the synagogues," "be greeted WITH RESPECT in the market places and have people call them RABBI." Jesus specifically taught his follows to avoid these ideas and practices. Jesus' followers are ALL STUDENTS. They are to be SERVANTS. They are to BE HUMBLE.

2. The Kings and Military and Political Leaders of Israel and Judah. The ancient Near Eastern nations had kings and commanders and military leaders. Biblical composers and writers emphasize that this is NOT to take place among God's chosen people Israel. A few texts emphasize this point.
a. Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Read this passage carefully. To emphasize just one point, Verse 20 says specifically that a king of Israel "must NOT exalt himself above other members of the community."
b. When God chooses a king of Israel, he calls that person NAGID. This Hebrew term means "prince," not MELEK, "king." The reason for this is that Yahweh ALONE is actually KING over Israel. The earthly king [Saul, David, Solomon, Rehobom, or whoever else] is always subject to Yahweh, the real king. See 1 Samuel 9:15-16; 10:1; 13:14; 25:30; and often throughout the Old Testament.
c. Psalms 2; 89; 132 and many other psalms in the Old Testament portray Yahweh as the real king of Israel, while the earthly king is subservient of Yahweh to FUNCTION in the service of Yahweh.

3. Elders. Ezekiel 34; Acts 20:17-38; 1 Peter 5:1-5. Throughout Christian history, many religious groups and churches have EXALTED "elders" ABOVE others in the church. They have set up "hierarchies." The "pecking order" is Jesus Christ--THEN elders--THEN deacons--THEN teachers and selected ministers--THEN "regular members" of the church. One cannot find this idea ANYWHERE in the Bible. People have CREATED this idea in their minds. According to the Bible:
a. God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is the ONLY HEAD of the church. See Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18-20.
b. God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is the "chief shepherd" of the people of God (Ezekiel 34:11-16; 1 Peter 5:4; Hebrews 13:20). According to the Bible, God has never INTENDED that human "elders" have a STATUS or POSITION as "lords over" the flock of God, but RATHER "loving shepherds" who have a FUNCTION--to care for, support, lift up, encourage, help fellow-Christians to serve God. Peter spells this out clearly in 1 Peter 5:1-4.

Over time, NO nation, institution, community, or church can survive IF or WHEN human beings exalt themselves over others. Movements that exalt kings, presidents, leaders, elders and the like to make human beings to have a STATUS or POSITION are misguided from a godly and Christian perspective. Jesus Christ himself emphasized this in dealing with his own apostles, as stressed in passages like Mark 10:35-45; Matthew 20:20-28.

I hope YOU are a HUMBLE SERVANT of God, exalting God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in thought, word, and activity. Share YOUR thoughts and ideas with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis