John T. Willis

Friday, April 22, 2011

Surrender to Babylon or Perish--Jeremiah 21:1-10 and Jeremiah 24:1-10

God ways and God's messages are often very different from what we human beings anticipate or expect or desire. One striking example of this is God's message through Jeremiah to instruct the people of God to surrender to Babylon, and if they did not do this, they would perish. Jeremiah 21:1-10 and Jeremiah 24:1-10 contain exactly that same message, using two different figures. The events recorded in Jeremiah 24:1-10 occurred approximately 10 years earlier than those recorded in Jeremiah 21:1-10. But the composers of the Book of Jeremiah have arranged these texts in a different order for theological reasons.

I. The Figure of the Two Ways. Jeremiah 21:1-10.
a. In the period when Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon and his army were besieging Jerusalem between 589 and 587 BCE, King Zedekiah of Judah sent a message to the prophet Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord in behalf of Judah. Jeremiah 32 is also the historical time frame for the events described in Jeremiah 21:1-10. 21:1-2.
b. In Yahweh's name, Jeremiah tells Zedekiah and the Judeans that Yahweh will "turn back" the weapons of Judah, and fight against the people of God. Then, Yahweh will give Zedekiah and his servants and Judah into Babylonian exile with "pestilence, sword, and famine." See 14:13; 15:2; 16:4; 18:21; 24:10; 27:8, 13; 28:8; 29:17; 32:36. 21:3-7.
c. Then, Yahweh through Jeremiah proclaims that he is setting before God's people "the way of life and the way of death." The way of life=the way to say alive is to surrender to Babylon. The way of death=the way to die or perish is to fight against Babylon. 21:8-10.

II. The Figure of the Two Baskets of Figs. Jeremiah 24:1-10.
a. Shortly after King Nebuchadrezzar and the Babylonians took Jehoiachin and 10,000 of the leading citizens of Judah and Jerusalem, Yahweh showed Jeremiah a vision of two baskets of figs: one basket had very good figs, but the other basket had very bad figs. 24:1-3.
b. Then, Yahweh explains that these good figs are the exiles that Jehoiachin and his comrades went into Babylon. Yahweh will eventually bring their descendants back into the land of Canaan to give them a heart to know that Yahweh is God, to be his people and they to be their God, and to return to God with their whole heart. 24:4-7
c. By way of contrast, Yahweh explains that the bad figs are Zedekiah and his officials and the people of Judah who insist on living in the land of Canaan and fighting against Babylon. God will send "sword, famine, and pestilence" upon them until they are utterly destroyed. See 21:7, 9. 24:8-10.

In the Book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah 21:1-10 and 24:1-10 function as "bookends" around oracles concerning kings and prophets in Jeremiah 21:11-23:40, which we will discuss in future blogs.

We human beings need to listen to God's message, even when that message is unexpected and contrary to our wishes and desire.

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

John Willis

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Parables as Powerful Speech

As we continue our study of the Power of Speech, Parables plays a major role. Speakers and composers of the Hebrew Bible used parables. Jesus was a master of parables. Parables are not abstract, but very pointed and direct, intended for a particular audience.

The fundamental purpose of a parable is: (a) to remove the hearers or the audience from their own situation and presuppositions and beliefs; (b) to draw the hearers or the audience into the story; (c) to convict the hearers or the audience of their sins or their incorrect ideas or their ignorance or their traditional understandings; (d) to bring the hearers or the audience to return to God.

Here are a few examples:

1. The Little Ewe Lamb--2 Samuel 12:1-4. The prophet Nathan presents this parable to David as a court case. There were two men in a certain city: one man was rich, the other was poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds; the poor man had only one little ewe lamb. An unexpected traveler came to the house of the rich man. The rich man wanted to prepare a meal for the traveler, but he did not want to kill one of his sheep or cattle, so he took the poor man's lamb and killed her to prepare a meal for the traveler. This parable drew David into this story. David became very angry about the ungodly way the rich man mistreated the poor man. Knowing God's law in Exodus 22:1, David declared that the rich man who has done this is worthy to die, and must pay the poor man four sheep in place of the little ewe lamb. As soon as David committed himself to this story, Nathan declared: "YOU [David] are that rich man." David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and had murdered Uriah on the battlefield at Rabbah.

2. The Two Sons--Luke 15:11-32. Jesus presents this parable to the Pharisees and the scribes who complained: "This fellow [Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them." [Luke 15:1-2]. A man had two sons. The younger son asked his father to give him his share of his estate. His father agreed, and the younger son went into a foreign country and squandered all his property. When he got into trouble, in desperation he returned to his father. When he arrived, his father showered him with gifts, declaring he WAS lost, but NOW is found. The older brother became angry. He complained that his father did not give him a great celebration. The father responded that the older father was always with him, but it was necessary to celebrate the return of the younger son. THE POINT of this parable is clear. The younger son represents tax collectors and sinners who come to Jesus. The older son represents the Pharisees and the scribes. Jesus drew the Pharisees and the scribes into this story. Now it was too late for them. THEY are the ungodly guilty ones whom the father [God] rebuked them.

3. The Disappointed Vineyard--Isaiah 5:1-7. Isaiah presents this parable to the people of Israel and Judah. "My beloved" had a very fertile vineyard. The vinedresser did everything possible to make this vineyard prosperous and fruitful. But when harvest time appeared, the vineyard yielded wild grapes rather than good grapes. What was the vinedresser to do? His only option was the prune and cut back the corrupted vineyard. THE POINT of this parable is that Yahweh is "my beloved"= the vinedresser, and Israel [the people of God] is the vineyard. Yahweh expected to receive justice and righteousness; but instead, this vineyard yielded bloodshed and a cry, making Yahweh very disappointed. Now it is too late. Isaiah has drawn his audience into the story, and now they will suffer the consequences.

Speech is very powerful. One type of speech is parables. PLEASE study each parable in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. They can change our hearts and lives.

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

John Willis