John T. Willis

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Human Beings Cannot Direct Their Steps--Jeremiah 10:17-25

In the next paragraph in the Book of Jeremiah, Yahweh declares that he is about to punish his sinful people through the Babylonians: Jeremiah 10:17-25. This paragraph falls into two parts.

I. Yahweh is deeply troubled about the sins of his people and the punishment he must bring upon them. Jeremiah 10:17-22.
a. Right now, the people of Judah are "under siege." Yahweh through Jeremiah summons them to "gather up their bundle" of possessions, because they are about to go into exile. 10:17.
b. Like David "slung" a rock out of his sling to kill Goliah, Yahweh is about to "sling" his people Judah out of the land of Canaan to go into Babylonian exile. 10:18.
c. Yahweh is deeply upset because of the sins of the people of Judah and the punishment he must bring upon them. Yahweh expresses this same deep feelings in Jeremiah 4:19-22; 8:18-9:1. 10:19.
d. Yahweh compares the land of Judah with a tent stationed by cords with curtains. This tent will not endure. It will fall to the ground. The reason for this is because "the shepherds" are stupid: they do not inquire of Yahweh--they do not call upon Yahweh. And thus, the flock of Judah is scattered from the land of Canaan to Babylon. These shepherds are the wicked kings and officials and leaders of God's people--see Jeremiah 23:1-4; Ezekiel 34. 10:20-21.
e. Yahweh through Jeremiah cries out to the people of Judah: "A Noise! Listen, it is coming! The Babylonians are approaching "from the land of the north." The foe from the north is a recurring theme in Jeremiah--see Jeremiah 1:13-16; 4:6; 6:1, 22.

II. Jeremiah Pleads with Yahweh to understand the sinfulness of his people. Jeremiah 10:23-25.
a. This is a time of deep turmoil and sorrow and desolation. So, Jeremiah from his heart of hearts, pleads with Yahweh to understand the sinfulness of all human beings, including the chosen people of Judah. Human beings are "not in their control;" they "cannot direct their steps." Any time we human beings follow our own ways, disaster is just ahead. 10:23.
b. Jeremiah, evidently in behalf of his fellow-Judeans, asks God to "correct" him "in just measure," not in God's anger, otherwise God will bring him and all people to nothing. 10:24.
c. Finally, Jeremiah pleads with Yahweh to punish "the nations" who have devoured "Jacob"=Judah that do not call on Yahweh's name. This is a cry of desperation to soften the impending punishment of Yahweh on Judah. The truth is: All people, all communities of faith, all nations fall far short of Yahweh's desires and glory. We all need and desire Yahweh's mercy and grace. 10:25.

This is a moving paragraph. We all need to be empathize like Jeremiah when we recognize our own sins and distresses. These thoughts are sobering and awakening.

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

John Willis

Friday, December 24, 2010

God Makes His Face Shine on Us

One recurring assurance throughout scripture is that in all types of circumstances God makes his face shine on us. Notice a few of passages about this affirmation.

Numbers 6:24-26:
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.

Psalm 31:16:
save me in your steadfast love.

Psalm 44:3:
Not by their own sword did they win the land,
nor did their own arm give them victory;
but your right hand, and your arm,
for your delighted in them.

Psalm 67:1:
May God be gracious to us and bless us,

Psalm 80:3, 7, 19:
Restore us, O God of hosts;
LET YOUR FACE SHINE, that we may be saved.

Psalm 89:15:
Happy are the people who know the festal shout,

Psalm 119:135:
and teach me your statutes.

The expression "God makes his face shine upon a person or a community or a nation" means to bless or protect or support or encourage or improve those people. How marvelous it is to experience such a God as this.

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

John Willis

When Gods are Scarecrows--Jeremiah 10:1-16

The little words TRUE and FALSE are central in the Book of Jeremiah and throughout the Bible. In our journey through Jeremiah, we have already discussed these terms with regard to the people of God [e. g., Jeremiah 3:6-11], neighbors and friends [e. g., Jeremiah 9:2-9]. In the present passage, Jeremiah 10:1-16, there is a powerful contrast between false gods and the true God. This paragraph falls into three parts.

I. Jeremiah, as Yahweh's spokesman=prophet, summons "the people of Israel"=Judah= God's people "not to learn the way of the nations." Jeremiah 10:1-5.
a. Of course, God's people can and should learn very important things from the nations, from all people on earth. But Jeremiah is emphasizing that God's people must not trust in any god except Yahweh alone.
b. "The nations" are dismayed "at the signs of the heavens." Precisely what this means is uncertain. Generally, this refers to worshipping the sun, moon, and stars--see Deuteronomy 4:15-19. 10:2.
c. "The customs of the peoples" on earth are FALSE. What they do is: cut down a tree, shape it into some form with an ax by the hand of a skilled artisan, deck it with silver and gold, and fasten it with hammer and nails so it cannot move. They call this object a "god." But on the very surface, this is ridiculous. The maker is in control of that which is made. If anything at all, the object should "worship" the human being who makes the object. When a person makes an idol, he or she has to fasten it securely so a wind or a cat or someone or something else does not embarrass the idol when it falls over and cannot get up. The fallacy is that this "god" cannot "move." It cannot do anything. What kind of a "god" is this? See especially Isaiah 44:9-20. 10:3-4.
d. Jeremiah, speaking from Yahweh, compares "false gods" with "scarecrows" in a cucumber field. It is laughable when people see birds perched on the "arms" of scarecrows. False gods are like this. Jeremiah points out that false gods cannot "speak" or "walk" or "punish the wicked" or "encourage and bless the good." 10:5.

II. Now, Jeremiah speaks to Yahweh directly, clearly to instruct the people of Israel about the TRUE nature of Yahweh. Jeremiah 10:6-10.
*Jeremiah states seven important truths about Yahweh. Notice each one carefully and prayerfully.
a. Yahweh is INCOMPARABLE. "There is NO ONE like Yahweh." 10:6a,7e. Throughout history, human beings have tried to COMPARE God with someone or something. But this is impossible. Yahweh is ONE OF A KIND, IN A CLASS BY HIMSELF. The Latin term for this is "sui generis." See Exodus 15:11; 1 Samuel 2:2; 2 Samuel 7:22 and often in scripture.
b. Yahweh is GREAT. This is an "understatement." 2 Samuel 7:22. God's nature and deeds are inexplicable. 10:6b.
c. Yahweh is AWESOME. Who would not FEAR Yahweh? The word "fear" in this text is positive, meaning "high regard, honor, reverence, awe." 10:7a.
d. Yahweh is TRUE. All other gods "claim" or "profess" they are divine, but ONLY Yahweh "demonstrates" this by speaking and moving and acting in the world. 10:10a.
e. Yahweh is LIVING. Other gods have no life, and give no life to the rest of creation. Yahweh enlivens all that is. See 1 Samuel 17:26, 36; and often in scripture. 10:10ba.
f. Yahweh is EVERLASTING. Before all creation happened, he was, and after all creation comes to an end, he will be. Psalm 90:1-2 profoundly declares:
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God. 10:10bb.
g. Yahweh punishes hard-hearted sinful people. In his heart of heart, Yahweh is a God of love and mercy; but in order to attempt to save the lost, Yahweh loves people so much that sometimes he is compelled to punish them. 10:10c-d.
*By contrast, as in 10:3-4, Jeremiah reinforces the truth that human beings who worship false gods are stupid and foolish; their work is made of wood and gold and silver and blue and purple. 10:8-9.

III. Finally, Jeremiah addresses his fellow-prophets to emphasize that Yahweh alone is God. Jeremiah 10:11-16.
a. "You" in 10:11a is plural, and thus Jeremiah's fellows, who are to speak God's message through Jeremiah to the people of Israel="them." 10:11a.
b. The "proof in the pudding" is whether any "claimed god" has created the heavens and the earth. IF NOT, they are not divine. 10:11b-12, 16.
c. Yahweh sends rain and wind. Rain and wind "do not just happen" as a natural phenomenon. Rather, Yahweh does these intentionally. 10:13.
d. For the third time [see 10:3-4, 8-9], Jeremiah emphasizes that all worshippers of idols are "stupid and without knowledge." Their idols are FALSE. The proof of this is that there is no "breath" in them. Yahweh will soon punish them. 10:14-15.

We human beings quickly set up "gods" of all types. Their "falseness" is obvious. Yahweh alone is the true God. He created all that is. He breathes into everyone and everything life. He is invisible, and therefore he is genuine. I hope YOU accept this God.

Share YOUR ideas and concepts of others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cat Ba Langur

The Smithsonian Issue of 2010 calls attention to the Cat Ba Langur, stating that experts can find only 59 individuals of this species. It is very rare, and thus endangered.

Specialists have found these animals on Cat Ba Island in Vietnam and in Guangzi, China. The technical term is Trachypithecus poliocephalus.

This splendid monkey is overall blackish, but the crown, cheeks, and neck are yellowish or whitish. These animals are social and appear daily in limestone forests. Natives hunt these animals for "monkey balm," a traditional medicine in this region of the world. Most of these monkeys are females with little access to males. Some have concluded that these creatures are albinos, but this is quite uncertain.

God has put all creatures on earth for some reason, even when we human beings do not fully understand their purposes. We need to be respectful and protective of all animals in their proper setting. Above all else, rejoice and glorify the Creator of everything.

Share YOUR experiences and adventures with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Conflict over Two Lifestyles--Jeremiah 9:17-26

The next section of Jeremiah appears in Jeremiah 9:17-26. This falls into two parts, announcing that Yahweh is about to punish his sinful people because they follow their own desires rather than following Yahweh.

I. Yahweh through Jeremiah summons "skilled mourning women" to declare the wailing that is near because Yahweh is about to punish his sinful people. Jeremiah 9:17-22.
a. Throughout scripture, women play a major role in the worship and service of God. This is unique in the Bible, because many surrounding cultures seek to subordinate women in every way. Astute, committed, students of the Bible clearly understand the significance of women in every phase of life.
b. Yahweh through Jeremiah summons "the mourning women," "the skilled women" to come before God's people and "raise a dirge" over God's people. The worshippers should weep and wail and mourn as a result of these informative, motivating women of faith. When the Babylonians come, the people must cry out:
"How we are ruined!
We are utterly shamed,
because we have left the land,
because they have cast down out dwellings." (9:17-19).
c. Yahweh through Jeremiah commands the "women" of God to teach their daughters and their neighbors a lament:
"Death has come up into our windows,
it has entered our palaces,
to cut off the children from the streets
and the young men from the squares."
"Human corpses shall fall
like dung upon the open field,
like sheaves behind the reaper,
and no one shall gather them." (9:20-22).
This is not a pleasant picture, but is very realistic. Jeremiah uses graphic similes to communicate the devastation of the people of God by the Babylonians.

II. Yahweh through Jeremiah explains WHY he is about to punish his wicked people: they have rejected Yahweh to do their own selfish lifestyle. Jeremiah 9:23-26.
a. Human history demonstrates that THE ESSENTIAL PROBLEM in life is precisely the heart and life of human beings. Yahweh through Jeremiah describes two conflicting lifestyles: Godly Living and Wicked Living.
b. Yahweh through Jeremiah describes these two lifestyles as a triad.
1. Wicked Living consists of boasting in [trusting in]: (1) wisdom--here, human knowledge without God's truth; (2) might--here, human strength, whether physical, military, social, religious; (3) wealth--here, the amassment of money, possessions, land, etc. 9:23.
2. Godly Living consists of acting with: (1) steadfast love=unfailing love;
(2) justice; (3) righteousness--in essence, loving and caring for other people. In this way, people "understand and know [have an intimate, daily, personal relationship] Yahweh." 9:24.
c. Yahweh through Jeremiah observes that God's people are circumcised physically, but not in the heart. This same message occurs in Deuteronomy 10:16;
30:6; Jeremiah 4:3-4; Romans 2:25-29. Paul strikingly compares circumcision with baptism. Thus, for Christians, God's message is the same: God is not pleased with mere external baptism; God desires baptism of and in the heart. 9:25-26.

There are very sobering and uplifting messages in Jeremiah 9:17-26. Spend much time reflecting on this message. God can change each heart to accomplish this. The word of God is powerful, and can transform hearts and lives.

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

John Willis

Monday, December 20, 2010

To Us A Child of Hope is Born

History regularly repeats the story of humanity when the world becomes very wicked and then miraculously God sends a baby to save the world. God did this when he sent Seth and Noah and Abraham and Moses and Joshua and David and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Nehemiah and John the Baptist. His greatest gift is Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem in a manger. This simple, beautiful, powerful truth echoes through the years.

One song which celebrates this truth is: To Us A Child of Hope is Born. Here are the words:

To us a Child of hope is born,
To us a Son is given;
Him shall the tribes of earth obey,
Him, all the hosts of heaven.

His name shall be the Prince of Peace,
Forevermore adored,
The Wonderful, the Counselor,
The great and mighty Lord.

His power, increasing, still shall spread,
His reign no end shall know;
Justice shall guard his throne above,
And peace abound below.

Dwell often on these words. Let them be a blessing and support in your heart. Ponder on these thoughts often.

Share YOUR dreams and future with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Conniving Family, Friends, and Neighbors--Jeremiah 9:2-16

We live among people who are deceitful, conniving, fraudulent, hypocritical, scheming, two-faced, counterfeit, beguiling, untrustworthy. Unfortunately, many such persons and groups present themselves as "true Christians," "true people of God." Jeremiah was surrounded by just this type of people, and he addressed their duplicity, their falseheartedness. Previously, we discussed this issue dealing with Jeremiah 3:1-11. Now, once again, Jeremiah continues to discuss this problem in Jeremiah 9:2-16. This paragraph falls into three parts:

I. Jeremiah is distraught because God's people living around him daily live a deceitful life. Jeremiah 9:2-9.
a. Jeremiah wants to leave far away to avoid interacting with God's people each day. Jeremiah yearns to go deep into the desert, find a nice Holiday Inn[he calls this "a traveler's lodging place"], turn off all his phones and text-messages, and be alone with God. He can no longer stand the lifestyles of God's people: they are "all adulterery," "a band of traitors," full of "falsehood" and not for "truth." Each day, they manage to be more and more evil. They do not "know" [have an intimate, daily, personal relationship with] God [note that this word appears in
9:3, 6, and throughout Jeremiah and the entire Hebrew Bible]. 9:2-3.
b. Jeremiah warns everyone he meets to "beware" of their neighbors, "put no trust" in their kin; because all their family members and friends and neighbors are "supplanters," "slanderers," "liars." The Hebrew word for "supplanter" is ya`aqob, that is, "Jacob." This term goes back to the story of the birth of Jacob recorded in Genesis 25:26. Hosea uses this same term about the people of Israel=Jacob in Hosea 12:2-3. Jeremiah is simply borrowing this term from Genesis and Hosea, who greatly influenced his message. The people of God continue to increase their sins daily: "oppression upon oppression, deceit upon deceit." 9:4-6.
c. Yahweh through Jeremiah declares that he will punish such people who are so deceitful and hypocritical. People like this "speak friendly words" when they are in your presence, but "on the sly," when they are alone with their friends, "are planning to lay an ambush." 9:7-9. YOU may know people like this. Unfortunately, I have been among people like this and trusted them, only to learn they are very scheming and destructive. This message is so applicable today.

II. Yahweh through Jeremiah calls his audience to weep on the mountains because Yahweh is about to overthrow Jerusalem. Jeremiah 9:10-11.
a. When Yahweh's punishment comes, this will devastate not only the sinful people of God, but also the cattle, the birds, and the animals. There is a close connection between human beings and the rest of God's creatures and all creation. 9:10.
b. Yahweh through Jeremiah announces that he will make Jerusalem "a heap of ruins." Micah had made the very same announcement approximately 100 years earlier--Micah 3:12. Jeremiah borrows this language from Micah. 9:11.

III. The reason Yahweh will soon punish the people of God in Jerusalem is because they have forsaken Yahweh. Jeremiah 9:12-16.
a. Like all human beings, when punishment comes, many will try to "figure out" WHY this happened. Jeremiah declares that "the wise" cannot comprehend the reason. 9:12.
b. God often punishes sinful people for "theological," "spiritual," "religious" reasons. God's people have "forsaken God's law," "not obeyed God's voice," "stubbornly followed their own hearts," and "gone after the Baals" [other gods] rather than Yahweh. 9:13-14.
c. Therefore, Yahweh will "feed" his people "wormwood" and "poisonous water." Jeremiah borrows this very same language from Amos in Amos 5:7; 6:12 to communicate the idea of God's punishment when God's people sin against him. 9:15.
d. Yahweh declares that he will "scatter" his people into Babylonian exile, and "send the sword" to kill many of those who resist him through the Babylonians. 9:16.

This is a powerful, relevant, motivating message for God's people through time. May we listen to this message from God carefully and prayerfully.

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

John Willis