John T. Willis

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Risk of Generosity

By the way God has created all of us, we MUST take risks of all types. Any time we eat food, drink liquids, drive a car, get married, have children, get a job--the works--we are taking risks. Depending on one's inner feelings, each individual constantly confronts various levels of uncertainty and anticipations as a person lives every day of her or his life.

Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 addresses this reality of life.

Send out your bread upon the waters,
for after many days you will get it back.
Divide your means seven ways, or even eight,
for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.
When clouds are full,
they empty rain on the earth;
whether a tree falls to the south or to the north.
in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
Whoever observes the wind will not sow;
and whoever regards the clouds will not reap.
Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother's womb,
so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything.
In the morning sow your seed,
and at evening do not let your hands be idle;
for you do not know which will prosper, this or that,
or whether both alike will be good.

At least three significant truths appear in this challenging text.

1. It is absolutely essential that EVERY PERSON attempt to DO SOMETHING if she or he EVER expects to make progress through life. There is NO WAY to avoid this DILEMMA. God has made us this way.

2. God assures us that when we DO make attempts to serve him, he will bless us. Making an investment of any kind is a risk, but God promises us that he will provide more for us than we ever dreamed. Jesus says in Luke 6:38:
"Give, and it will be given to you.
A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put in your lap;
for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
When we are generous, we NEVER KNOW FOR SURE that God will bless us. And actually, we SHOULD NOT be generous IN ORDER TO be blessed. But God works this way whether we like it or not.
Deuteronomy 15:7-11 contains this powerful message:
If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, 'The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,' and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, 'Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.'

3. God's work is mysterious, but powerful. God causes a child to conceive in the mother's womb, gives birth to the child, and causes the child to breathe and live on earth. We all observe this wonderful event, but there is much mystery in HOW this happens and works. At the same time, there can be no doubt that GREAT POWER is at work in the life of every person.

We tend to be FEARFUL and ANXIOUS. God summons us to TAKE RISKS with conviction and confidence. God has made us this way. Step out into the air, into the darkness, into the future. God will be there and bless you.

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

John Willis

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Thirsty Traveler--Jeremiah 2:1-19

One theme holds Jeremiah 2:1-19 as a unified paragraph: the people of God [Israel, Jacob, Judah] has FORSAKEN Yahweh. Note the words: Israel [Jacob, Judah, the people of God] "were held guilty"--2:3; "went far from" God--2:5; "went after worthless things"--2:5, 8, 11; "defiled my [God's] land"--2:7; "transgressed against" God--
2:8; "changed their glory"--2:11; "forsook" God--2:13, 17, 19. Jeremiah presents this in three shorter sub-paragraphs.

I. The people of God rejected Yahweh after they settled in the land of Canaan. Jeremiah 2:1-3.
a. Jeremiah himself in the first person [note "me" in 2:1] reports that "the word of the Lord came" to Jeremiah. 2:1. Jeremiah does not explain HOW the word of the Lord came to him. This could have been by a vision or a dream or a voice or a message from another prophet. The Bible just does not say.
b. Yahweh tells Jeremiah to go and proclaim Yahweh's message to Jeremiah in the hearing of Jerusalem. 2:2a. Jeremiah does not specify WHERE he was to do this. This could have been at the Jerusalem temple or in the city gate of Jerusalem or near Jeremiah's house. The Bible just does not say.
c. First, Yahweh commends his people for their DEVOTION to Yahweh as a YOUTH to a loving parent, for their LOVE to Yahweh as a BRIDE shows her love for her newly married GROOM. 2:2b. The statements here assume the figure of Yahweh as a parent, and Israel or Judah as a child; AND the figure of Yahweh as a groom or husband, and Israel or Judah as a bride.
d. Further, Yahweh commends his people for FOLLOWING Yahweh during the forty years when the Israelites were in the WILDERNESS from the crossing of the Red Sea to the stay at Shittim just before the crossing of the Jordan in the days of Joshua.
e. In the wilderness period, Israel was HOLY to Yahweh, the FIRST FRUITS of Yahweh's harvest. 2:3a.
f. BUT, when the Israelites came into the land of Canaan and began living there, they changed. Their HEARTS turned from Yahweh to profitless pursuits. Those who ATE of the land of Canaan WERE HELD GUILTY, and DISASTER came upon them. 2:3b. Israel or Judah forsook Yahweh.

II. In response to Yahweh's charge to Jeremiah in 2:1-3, Jeremiah now proclaims Yahweh's message to the people of God in Jerusalem. Now, Yahweh through Jeremiah denounces God's people because they have forsaken Yahweh. Jeremiah 2:4-13.
a. First, Jeremiah addresses "the house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel"--2:4. In context, this refers to the people of Judah.
b. Yahweh ironically asks his people: What WRONG did I [Yahweh] do to cause your ancestors to "go away from" Yahweh? 2:5. Yahweh is saying: I MUST have done something wrong, otherwise YOUR ANCESTORS and you yourselves would not have forsaken Yahweh. 2:5. God's people "went after" worthless things--here idols or false gods, and became worthless themselves. Any time we forsake the true God, and go after other gods of any kind, we become worthless ourselves.
c. God's people FORGOT all the mighty acts of Yahweh to deliver and sustain them: Yahweh brought them out of Egypt, led them in the wilderness forty years, and brought them into the land of Canaan. 2:6-7a.
d. BUT, when the Israelites settled in the land of Canaan, they "defiled" this land by forsaking Yahweh and worshipping the gods of the land: Baal, Dagon, and other gods. 2:7b.
e. The "priests," "rulers"--literally "shepherds," and "prophets" of Judah "transgressed against" Yahweh and "went after things that do not profit"--in this context, "Baal," the god of the Canaanites. 2:8.
f. In response, Yahweh "accuses" the people of God of their sins. 2:9.
g. Yahweh declares that no other nations has ever acted at the people of God have acted. Other nations have not "changed" their gods, BUT "MY PEOPLE" [Israel, Jacob, Judah] have "changed" "their glory" [Yahweh] for "something that does not profit"--in this context--foreign gods, especially Baal. 2:10-12.
h. "My people" [Judah] have commited TWO EVILS [sins]. 2:13.
1. They have FORSAKEN Yahweh, "the fountain of living water."
2. They have "dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water."
Here, Yahweh through Jeremiah compares the people of God with A THIRSTY TRAVELER. The traveler has been on a very long journey. He has run out of water, and is very thirsty. Suddenly, he comes to a fork in the road. Before him are two paths. One path goes to a gushing fountain with flowing water. The other path goes to some broken cisterns that can hold no water--foreign gods, especially Baal. Which path will the thirsty traveler choose to pursue? EVERYONE will NATURALLY take the path to the foundtain with flowing water. BUT NOT GOD'S PEOPLE. Unlike everyone else, God's people will take the path to the broken cisterns.

III. Yahweh denounces the people of God, BECAUSE they have deliberately decided to FORSAKE Yahweh and trust in EGYPT and ASSYRIA, which they view as powerful and dependable. Jeremiah 2:14-19.
a. Historically, this paragraph seems to refer to the time when Josiah king of Judah fought against Pharaoh-Neco and the Egyptians as they were going to fight against the Babylonians at Carchemish--609 B. C. This story appears in 2 Kings 23:28-30; 2 Chronicles 35:20-27. Jeremiah 2:16 apparently specifically refers to this event. "The people of Memphis and Tahpanhes" are the Egyptians. "The crown of your 'Judah's' head" is the king, namely, Josiah.
b. Israel [Judah] is not a slave or a homeborn servant. 2:14. But because of Judah's sins, Yahweh is treated them as if they were a slave or a homeborn servant.
c. "Lions"--a symbol of the enemies of Judah [see Jeremiah 4:7] have "roared against" the people of Judah. 2:15. Jeremiah seems to be using the language of Amos in this text--see Amos 1:2; 3:8, 12. See also Hosea 13:7-8.
d. Yahweh is about to punish his people BECAUSE "they brought this upon themselves" as a result of their sins. 2:17.
e. The people of Judah sent to Egypt and Assyria for help rather than trusting in Yahweh. 2:18. One may think of Ahaz sending to Tiglath-pileser III for help--Isaiah 7:1-17; 8:1-18; and of Hezekiah sending to Egypt for help--Isaiah 30:1-7; 31:1-3.
f. Judah's "wickedness" and "apostasies" cause Yahweh to "punish" and "convict" them. They have "forsaken" Yahweh. "The FEAR [awe, respect, reverence] of Yahweh is not in them. 2:19.

When the people of God forsake God and turn to anyone or anything else, God inevitably will punish them. This is Yahweh's message through Jeremiah in Jeremiah 2:1-19.

Share YOUR thoughts and insights to others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Biblical Metaphor of God as Mother

It is well known that the Bible portray Yahweh or God as Father--to cite only a few examples, see Deuteronomy 32:6; Psalms 68:5; 103:13; Jeremiah 3:19; 31:9 in the Old Testament, and Matthew 6:9; 7:11; Luke 15:11-32; John 17:1, 5, 24; 1 Corinthians 15:24. This is a METAPHOR. There certain ways that God is LIKE an earthly Father. The Bible makes it very clear that God is NOT SEXUAL. God is NOT MALE. God is SPIRIT, not flesh--see John 4:24.

The Bible equally teaches that God is like a MOTHER. There are certain aspects of God's nature that are more appropriate for the nature of a woman than for a man. God is NOT SEXUAL. God is NOT FEMALE. God is SPIRIT, not flesh. Here are just a FEW of the texts in the Bible which portray God as MOTHER.

1. Numbers 11:12. When the Israelites complained because they had only manna in the wilderness when they desired meat and fish and cucumbers and melons and leeks and onions and garlic, Moses replied to God: "Did I CONCEIVE all this people? Did I GIVE BIRTH to them, that YOU [Yahweh=God] say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, AS A NURSE CARRIES A SUCKLING CHILD,' to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors?" This statement assumes that Moses is thinking of Yahweh's role of CONCEIVING and GIVING BIRTH to the Israelites when God brought the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage.
2. Deuteronomy 32:18. In the Song of Moses, the composer addresses Jacob or Jeshurun:
You were unmindful of the Rock that BORE you;
you forgot the God who GAVE you BIRTH.
Giving birth to a child is the domain of a female, not a male. This verse portrays God as a mother who gave birth to a child.
3. Isaiah 49:15: The prophet asks:
Can A WOMAN forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of HER WOMB?
Even these may forget,
yet I [Yahweh=God] will not forget us.
Here, the prophet of God portrays God as a woman who gave birth to and sustains a child.
4. Isaiah 66:13: Yahweh says:
As a MOTHER comforts her child,
so I [Yahweh=God] will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
God compares herself with a mother, not with a father in this text.
5. Luke 13:34: On one occasion, Jesus cries out:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together AS A HEN [not a rooster] gathers HER brood under HER wings, and you were not willing!
Jesus, the divine Son of God, compares his being with a MOTHER HEN that protects and cares for her little chicks.
Biblical composers and speakers and writers embrace the metaphor of God as mother just as much as they embrace the metaphor of God as father. A metaphor is a comparison, used by speakers to proclaim a message. It would be a serious error to think of God as a male or a female. God is not sexual. God is neutral.

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

John Willis

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Yahweh Commissions Jeremiah to be a Prophet--Jeremiah 1:4-19

The first section of the Book of Jeremiah is Yahweh's Commission of Jeremiah to be a Prophet, as recorded in Jeremiah 1:4-19. Jeremiah presents this in the FIRST PERSON, as indicated by the use of the words "I" and "me" and "my." Jeremiah 1:1-3 indicates that Jeremiah received this commission in the thirteenth year of Josiah king of Judah, therefore, 627 B. C.

Yahweh's Commission to Jeremiah is CHIASTIC or INVERTED in structure. The organization is ABBA. In the two A sections, Yahweh intentionally commissions Jeremiah to be a prophet. In the two B sections, Yahweh gives Jeremiah two visions. These two visions communicate the same thought. Let us follow the flow of the text in this way.

I. Yahweh Commissions Jeremiah. Jeremiah 1:4-10.
a. Yahweh speaks to Jeremiah first. Yahweh says FIVE things to and about Jeremiah in a certain order. 1:4-5.
1. I [Yahweh] knew you [Jeremiah]. The verb "knew" [know] means to have an intimately, daily, personal relationship with some individual. Yahweh had an intimate, daily, personal relationship with Jeremiah.
2. I [Yahweh] formed you [Jeremiah] in the womb. Human beings do not just happen accidentally. Yahweh deliberately and intentionally "forms" an individual in the womb of that person's mother. See 1 Samuel 1:5-6, 19-20; Psalm 139:13-16.
3. I [Yahweh] consecrated you [Jeremiah]. Yahweh intentionally set Jeremiah apart to do a certain job or task or responsibility.
4. You [Jeremiah] was born. First, Jeremiah was conceived in the womb of his mother, and nine months later, he was born.
5. I [Yahweh] appointed you [Jeremiah] a prophet to the nations. Now, Jeremiah's specific job or task or responsibility to be function as a prophet to the nations. NOTE: Yahweh did not commission Jeremiah to be a prophet to Judah or Israel or groups of Israelites only, but to all the nations. This is very important in understanding the function and work of Jeremiah.
b. Jeremiah responds negatively. 1:6. Like Moses, Jeremiah attempts to reject Yahweh's commission. Jeremiah gives two excuses so that he does not have to do this.
1. Jeremiah does not know how to speak. Moses gave this same excuse at the burning bush (Exodus 4:11) and later in speaking to Pharaoh in Egypt (Exodus 6:30). We often assume that a GOOD or GREAT SPEAKER is the kind of person God seeks. This is frequently not the case. Many significant servants of God were not really good speakers. But God used them powerfully to carry out HIS purposes.
2. Jeremiah is too young. He says: "I am ONLY a BOY." Apparently, Jeremiah was between 15 and 20 years of age when Yahweh gave Jeremiah this commission. Again, we often assume that God cannot use YOUNG PEOPLE. We have to wait until we are in our forties or fifties or later. But history has shown that God frequently uses YOUNG PEOPLE to carry out his purposes. A sterling example is Timothy, as we all know. Paul instructs Timothy: "Let no one despise your YOUTH, but set the believers and example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 3:12). I personally want to verify the fact that YOUNG PEOPLE are important, vital individuals for the service of God, with whom I have worked for over fifty-five years. Let us all support our YOUNG PEOPLE.
c. Yahweh refuses to accept Jeremiah's excuses. 1:7-10.
1. First, Yahweh specifically tells Jeremiah: Do not say, "I am only a boy." Age has nothing to do with it. The REAL ISSUE is whether GOD is there to support you and sustain you. Yahweh instructs Jeremiah to do two things: 1. GO to all of the audiences to whom Yahweh sends him. Some people think that in the Old Testament, God's people were not called to GO to the lost. READ the Old Testament. There are abundant, numerous passages which declare that God's people are suppose to GO to the lost to try to bring them to God. 2. SPEAK whatever Yahweh commands him. The message of God is powerful. The person speaking is insignificant.
2. Then, Yahweh tells Jeremiah NOT TO BE AFRAID. This assumes that the REAL reason Jeremiah did not want to obey Yahweh's commission is that he was afraid of the opponents, the responsibilities, the future, and many other things. ALL OF US constantly struggle with the problem of FEAR.
3. Then, Yahweh assures Jeremiah that Yahweh is WITH him to deliver him out of all possible situations. The word "WITH" is a very powerful, important term. Often, the Bible calls out: God is WITH us. The very word Immanu-el means: "WITH us is God." See Isaiah 7:14.
4. Then, Yahweh touched Jeremiah's mouth to symbolize that Yahweh has put Yahweh's words in Jeremiah's mouth. The message of Jeremiah is NOT Jeremiah's own message, but Yahweh's message.
5. Then, Yahweh tells Jeremiah that Yahweh appoints Jeremiah OVER nations and kingdoms--through the message of Yahweh.
6. This message is two-sided.
a. Negatively: to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow.
Part of Jeremiah's message is doom, condemnation, destruction. But this NOT the entire or full or balanced message.
b. Positively: to built and to plant.
After Yahweh punishes his people, Yahweh will redeem and restore the faithful remnant. Note that this theme recurs often throughout the book of Jeremiah: see
12:15, 17; 18:7, 9; 24:6; 31:4-5, 28.

II. Yahweh's First Vision: The Almond Branch. Jeremiah 1:11-12. In both visions, Yahweh asks Jeremiah: "What do you SEE?", indicating this is a VISION. Probably, Jeremiah was doing something and saw these things, then Yahweh appeared to Jeremiah, and jarred him to thought to reflect on what each thing he had seen.
a. There is a Hebrew word play. All peoples use word plays. In English, a person might say: "I see that you have a BLUE shirt." The other person responds: "Yes, and I am very BLUE" [meaning, sad]. The reason for this is that I took a test yesterday, and I "BLEW" it [meaning, I did very poorly on this test]. Here the word "BLUE" or "BLEW" is a word play.
b. The Hebrew word for "almond" is shaqed. Yahweh's response is: "You have seen well, for I am watching [the Hebrew word here is shoqed] over my word to perform it." In Hebrew, the words for "almond" and "watch" are very similar, and thus form a word play. In this context, Yahweh is saying that he is going to "watch" over his word of punishment against Judah.

III. Yahweh Second Vision: The Boiling Pot tilted away from the North. Jeremiah 1:13-16.
a. Here is a major theme throughout the book of Jeremiah. Yahweh is announcing that A FOE FROM THE NORTH will soon some and overthrow Judah. That FOE is Babylon.
b. The symbol is that of a boiling pot tilted away from the north. The boiling water spills southward to scalding everyone in its path. The Babylonians come from the north to devastate Judah.
c. The Babylonians and their allies are not coming against Judah on their own. Rather, Yahweh himself deliberately, intentionally sends the Babylonians to punish Judah because of Judah's sins. Yahweh specifically highlights one specific sin here: idolatry. The Judeans were making offerings or sacrifices to other gods and worshipping the works of their own hands.

IV. Yahweh commissions Jeremiah. Jeremiah 1:17-19. Now, Yahweh concludes by repeating his commission to Jeremiah uttered in Jeremiah 1:4-10. Note much repetition between these two paragraphs.
a. Yahweh instructs Jeremiah to "gird his loins" to go into service. This was a common practice in ancient times. See 1 Kings 18:46; 1 Peter 1:13.
b. Then, Yahweh repeats his command to Jeremiah to tell his audiences everything that Yahweh had commanded Jeremiah, and not to break down before his audiences.
c. Then, Yahweh assures Jeremiah that Yahweh would give him all the strength he needs to carry out Yahweh purpose. Yahweh has made Jeremiah "a fortified wall, an iron pillar and a bronze wall" against the whole land.
d. The opponents of Jeremiah are his own people: the kings of Judah, the princes of Judah, the priests of Judah, the people of the land of Judah. One wishes that these might be foreign people. But this is not the case. Throughout history, often the opponents of God and true godly people are the chosen leaders of God's people.
e. Yahweh concludes that the opponents of Jeremiah will FIGHT against him, but they will NOT PREVAIL against Jeremiah--for ONE REASON: Yahweh is WITH Jeremiah to deliver him. This promise in verse 19 is a repetion of verse 8.

Yahweh's Commission to Jeremiah recorded in Jeremiah 1:4-19 contains the major themes found throughout the book of Jeremiah. Hence, this paragraph is very important, and one should keep reading and reflecting and meditation on this chapter.

I hope this chapter will CHANGE YOUR HEART AND LIFE. Share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis