John T. Willis

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Babylonians Destroy Jerusalem and Set Jeremiah Free--Jeremiah 39

The last chapter in Jeremiah 34-39 relates two very important events in the life of Jeremiah. Hence, Jeremiah 39 naturally falls into two paragraphs.

I. The Babylonians destroy Jerusalem, carry many Judeans into exile, and leave many poor people near the remains of the city in rubble. Jeremiah 39:1-10.
a. The composer of the Book of Jeremiah reminders his hearers [readers] that the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem in the ninth year, tenth month, tenth day of the month of Zedekiah's reign [589 BCE], and made a breach in the wall in the eleventh year, fourth month, ninth day of the month of Zedekiah's reign (587 BCE]. The same dates appear in Jeremiah 52:4-6; 2 Kings 25:1-4. 39:1-2.
b. When the Babylonians break through the wall into the city, the officials of Judah are in the middle gate. Zedekiah and his soldiers flee at night by way of the king's garden through the gate between the two walls toward the Arabah going south. 39:3-4.
c. But the Babylonians pursue Zedekiah and apprehend him in the plains of Jericho. They bring Zedekiah to Nebuchadrezzar II at Riblah, slaughter the sons of Zedekiah, put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bind him in fetters to take him to Babylon. 39:5-7.
d. Then the Babylonians burn Zedekiah's palace and the houses of the people and break down the walls of Jerusalem. Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carry the rest of the Judeans who were left in Jerusalem. 39:8-9.
e. Nebuzaradan allows some of the poor people around Jerusalem to stay in the land of Israel if they wished, and give them vineyards and fields to sustain them there. 39:10.

II. The Babylonians set Jeremiah and Ebed-melech free. Jeremiah 39:11-18.
a. Nebuchadrezzar II commands Nebuzaradan to treat Jeremiah well and allow Jeremiah to do whatever he wished. Nebuzaradan takes Jeremiah from the court of the guard and entrust Jeremiah to Gedaliah, the governor of Judah. Jeremiah decides to stay in the land of Israel near fallen Jerusalem. 39:11-14.
b. When Jeremiah was in the court of the guard, Yahweh told Jeremiah that Yahweh would save Ebed-melech because Ebed-melech had trusted in Yahweh and pulled Jeremiah out of the cistern of Malchiah. Yahweh through Jeremiah tells Ebed-melech that Yahweh will overthrow Judah and Jerusalem in the eyes of Ebed-melech. Yahweh assures Ebed-melech that the Babylonians will not kill him or carry him into exile, but will be set free. 39:15-18.

What a turn of events. Just as Yahweh had promised, the Babylonians overthrew Jerusalem, burned the city, destroyed the temple and the walls, and carried many people into Babylonian exile. But Yahweh spared many poor people near fallen Jerusalem, including Jeremiah and his secretary Baruch.

Yahweh was also faithful to Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian eunuch, because Ebed-melech was courageous and delivered Jeremiah from the cistern of Malchiah. These accounts about Ebed-melech in Jeremiah 38:7-13; 39:15-18 call to mind the striking similarities about the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. In both cases, an Ethiopian eunuch interacted with Jeremiah and Philip. In both cases, an Ethiopian eunuch behaved in a very godly way toward Jeremiah and Philip. This is just another reminder that frequently "non-Christian people" have better hearts and lives than "Christian people." Christians can help non-Christians, and non-Christians can help Christians. This is God's world. Let us open our eyes to all people whom God created in his own image.

Share YOUR insights and experiences with others. Let me hear from YOU. May God bless YOU richly today.

John Willis

Friday, June 24, 2011

Without God through Jesus I could do nothing

The heart, center, core, kernel of life is human relationship to God. All other concerns and issues and problems are insignificant if God is not with us.

The Bible repeatedly reminds us that God is WITH us. Here are a few of many texts.

1. At the burning bush, Yahweh told Moses to return from Midian to Egypt to guide the Israelites out of bondage.
"But Moses said to God, 'Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?' He [God] said, 'I WILL BE WITH YOU; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.'" (Exodus 3:11-12).
Yahweh did not give Moses any logical reasons or arguments, but ONLY Yahweh's assurance that Yahweh will be WITH him.

2. After Moses' death, when Joshua and the Israelites were preparing to cross the Jordan River to conquer the Canaanites west of the Jordan, Yahweh gave Joshua this assurance:
"No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was WITH Moses, so I will be WITH you; I will not fail your or forsake you. Be strong and courageous. . . I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is WITH you wherever you go." (Joshua
1:5-6a, 9).
Human strength and strategy and vision amount to little other than Yahweh's presence WITH us.

3. The familiar words of Psalm 23:1-4 assure us:
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
your rod and your staff--they comfort me."
It is not our skills, our wisdom, our strength, our plans that sustain us, but ONLY that God is WITH us.

4. In Jesus' final commission to his disciples before he ascended into heaven, he declares:
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20).
In all our insights, in all our prayers, in all our efforts, in all that we do, what really counts is that God is WITH us.

In 1963, Mylon R. LeFevre wrote this motivating song:

Without Him I could do nothing;
Without Him I'd surely fail.
Without HIM I would be drifting
Like a ship without a sail.

Without Him I would be dying,
Without Him I'd be enslaved.
Without Him life would be hopeless,
But with Jesus, thank God, I'm saved.

Jesus, oh, Jesus,
Do you know him today?
You can't turn him away.
Oh, Jesus! Oh, Jesus!
Without Him, how lost I would be!

I hope and pray that this assurance will lift your heart and embolden your life. God is WITH you. Trust in HIM.

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

John Willis

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Ethiopian Eunuch Ebed-melech rescues Jeremiah--Jeremiah 38

Jeremiah 38 relates two events in the life of Jeremiah during the time he was imprisoned during the year and half when the Babylonians were besieging the city of Jerusalem (589-587 BCE)[see further Jeremiah 34; 37; 39; 2 Kings 25:1-21].

I. Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian eunuch, rescues Jeremiah from the cistern of Malchiah. Jeremiah 38:1-13.
a. Four Judean officials [Shephatiah, Gedaliah, Jucal, and Pashhur] hear an oracle of Jeremiah in which he declares that the Babylonians will overthrow Yahweh's people in Jerusalem and carry them into exile. Those who stay in the city of Jerusalem will die, while those who surrender to the Babylonians will live. Here Jeremiah clearly alludes to the picture of the way of life and the way of death in Jeremiah 21:1-10. 38:1-3.
b. The officials go to king Zedekiah and tell him Jeremiah ought to be put to death because Jeremiah is discouraging the Judean soldiers and people. Zedekiah turns Jeremiah into the hands of the officials. The officials take Jeremiah to the court of the guard and let Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern of Malchiah, the king's son. There Jeremiah sank in the mud. 38:4-6.
c. Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian eunuch, learns that the officials had lowered Jeremiah into the cistern, where Jeremiah had no bread. So Ebed-melech goes to king Zedekiah and tell him that these officials have done wickedly to leave Jeremiah to die of hunger. 38:7-9.
d. King Zedekiah commands Ebed-melech to take three men with him and pull Jeremiah out of the cistern before Jeremiah dies. Ebed-melech and his three comrades go to the king's storehouse and get a wardrobe, take old rags and worn out clothes, and let down Jeremiah in the cistern by ropes. Ebed-melech tells Jeremiah to put the rags and clothes between his armpits and the ropes, and they draw Jeremiah up by the ropes and pull him out of the cistern. Jeremiah then remains in prison in the court of the guard. 38:10-13.

II. Zedekiah meets with Jeremiah secretly. Jeremiah 38:14-28.
a. King Zedekiah meets Jeremiah secretly "at the third entrance of the temple of the Lord." Zedekiah assures Jeremiah that Zedekiah will not kill him if Jeremiah will give Zedekiah Yahweh's message. 38:14-16.
b. Jeremiah tells Zedekiah that if the Judeans will surrender to the Babylonians, they will be kept alive, but if they fight against the Babylonians, the Babylonians will overthrow them, burn Jerusalem, and carry the people into exile. 38:17-18.
c. Zedekiah tells Jeremiah that Zedekiah is afraid of the Judeans who have deserted to the Babylonians, because he might be handed over to them and they will abuse him. 38:19.
d. Jeremiah assures Zedekiah that this will not happen. But if Zedekiah will not surrender to the Babylonians, Yahweh has shown Jeremiah a vision that the women remaining in the house of the king of Judah will be led out to the officials of the king of Babylon and say that their feet are stuck in the mud. All the women and children of Judah will be led out to the Babylonians and Zedekiah will not escape, and will burn the city of Jerusalem. 38:20-23.
e. Zedekiah warns Jeremiah not to tell anyone of this conversation or Jeremiah will die. Zedekiah tells Jeremiah that if the officials confront Jeremiah about this meeting, Jeremiah is to tell them that Jeremiah was presenting his plea to King Zedekiah not to send him back to the house of Jonathan to die there. The officials did confront Jeremiah, and Jeremiah told this lie contrived by Zedekiah. Thus, the officials quit questioning Jeremiah, and Jeremiah remains in the court ofthe guard until the day Jerusalem was taken by the Babylonians. 38:24-28.

Jeremiah was repeatedly abused and oppressed by Judean leaders and people in Jerusalem. But Yahweh sustained him through all those terrible days of danger and warning. This should encourage all of us when church people threaten and endanger our lives and reputations. God will always sustain faithful people.

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

John Willis

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

You are ALWAYS welcome at God's Table

Matthew 9:9-13 relates this very important story:

"As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, 'Follow me.' And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, 'Why does you teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' But when he heard this, he said, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. God and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.'"

God's people ALWAYS welcome everyone, because God FIRST welcomes everyone. ALL of us are sinners. ALL of us have serious faults. But because of God's mercy, he welcomes ALL of us.

1. The true church of God ALWAYS welcomes everyone. If and when we BAN people, we do not feel or act like God our Father. One time when this must happen is at the Lord's Table. At God's table, EVERYONE is welcome. Thus, at our church, everyone is welcome.

2. True Christians openly welcome everyone. This may be in the home or at the grocery store or at a meal in a restaurant. When we encounter people, as Christians we should always make each person feel comfortable and welcome.

This is a heart issue. Of course, by the very nature of life we will have more time with some people than others. But in all circumstances, we must strive to make all people welcome and comfortable. This is God's attitude and God's way. Make all of those around YOU comfortable and welcome.

Share YOUR experiences about welcoming and being welcomed. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Zedekiah Imprisons Jeremiah--Jeremiah 37

As a reminder, Jeremiah 34-39 contain events and oracles presented back and forth in the reigns of Jehoiakim (609-598 BCE) and Zedekiah (598-587 BCE). Jeremiah 34 relates events in the reign of Zedekiah (589-587 BCE), and Jeremiah 35 and 36 relate events in the reign of Jehoiakim (609-605 BCE). Now that we move forward into Jeremiah 37, the composer relates two events in the reign of Zedekiah while the Babylonians were besieging Jerusalem in 589-587 BCE. This blog contains brief discussions of these two events in Jeremiah 37.

I. Yahweh through Jeremiah insists that the Babylonians will overthrow the Judeans and Jerusalem in spite of the brief withdrawal of the Babylonians on Jerusalem. Jeremiah 37:1-10.
a. The composer of the Book of Jeremiah reminds his hearers [readers] that Zedekiah succeeded Jehoiachin [Coniah]. Jehoiachin reigned for three months in Jerusalem (598 BCE). Nebuchadrezzar II carried Jehoiachin and 10,000 leading citizens into Babylonian exile, and then made Zedekiah, another son of Josiah, king. In spite of Babylon's overthrow of 10,000 citizens of Jerusalem into Babylonian exile, Zedekiah and the remaining Judeans in and around Jerusalem still did not listen to=obey Yahweh's message through Jeremiah. 37:1-2.
b. The composer explains that Zedekiah sent two men, i. e., Jehucal and the priest Zephaniah to Jeremiah to ask Jeremiah to pray to Yahweh for Yahweh's people. At this point, Jeremiah was living in Jerusalem. The Egyptians moved from the southwest to advance against the Babylonians, and the Babylonians withdrew from Jerusalem. 37:3-5.
c. Yahweh comes to Jeremiah and commands him to tell Jehucal and Zephaniah that the Egyptians are going to go back to Egypt, and the Babylonians will return to Jerusalem, defeat the Judeans, and burn the city of Jerusalem. 37:6-10.

II. Zedekiah puts Jeremiah in prison, first in the cistern house, then in the court of the guard. Jeremiah 37:11-21.
a. When the Babylonian army withdrew from Jerusalem, Jeremiah went to go to Anathoth in the tribal territory of Benjamin to receive his share of the property. [Note: It may well be that this action is connected with the account in Jeremiah 32, when Jeremiah bought a field at Anathoth in the encounter with his cousin Hanamel]. 37:11-12.
b. When Jeremiah got to the Benjamin Gate at Jerusalem, a sentinel [watchman] named Irijah accused Jeremiah of leaving Jerusalem to desert to the Babylonians. Jeremiah responded, saying he had no intention of deserting to the Babylonians. But Irijah did not believe Jeremiah was telling the truth and arrested him. Irijah took Jeremiah to the officials of Jerusalem, and the officials became very angry about Jeremiah. They beat and imprison Jeremiah in the house of the secretary Jonathan, and put Jeremiah in the cistern house in the cells. Jeremiah stayed there many days. 37:13-16.
c. Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah while Jeremiah was in the cistern house. Zedekiah asked Jeremiah: "Is there any word from the Lord?" Jeremiah said: "YES!!!" Yahweh's message is the same: Yahweh will deliver Zedekiah and the Judeans into Babylonian exile. Jeremiah rebukes Zedekiah for putting Jeremiah in prison. Other prophets had assured Zedekiah that the Babylonians will not overthrow Jerusalem. But this has not happened. 37:17-19.
d. Jeremiah implores Zedekiah not to put Jeremiah back in the house of the secretary Jonathan. Zedekiah accepts Jeremiah's plea, and put Jeremiah in the court of the guard, and gives Jeremiah a loaf of bread daily from the bakers' street. Jeremiah remains in the court of the guard many days. 37:20-21.

During the year and a half that the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem, all the Judeans were in great distress, including Jeremiah. But Yahweh miraculously sustained Jeremiah during this time. When we are faced with times of distress, let us trust in Yahweh even when the situation is dismal.

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

John Willis

Monday, June 20, 2011

Timeless Divine Assurances

Of course, originally ALL oral and written words which now appear in the Bible were declared to some audience to address issues and problems which that audience was encountering. Many Biblical texts apply to a time [date], an event or occasion, a person or persons, a historical or social or religious concern, and the like. But even when all this is true, there are numerous "timeless divine truths or assurances" which may be relevant to every parallel situation. One of many texts which fits this scenario is James 4:6b-10. Consider these great religious teachings and assurances. ALL of these teachings are "counter-cultural" or in opposition to "common sense":

1. "God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble." 4:6b.
Proud or arrogant people dismiss, oppress, harm other people. They treat other people as "second-class" Christians. They assume they are better than other people. Godly people respond in respect and honor and love when the arrogant mistreat them. God assures such people that he will eventually humble the proud and exalt the humble.

2. "Submit yourselves therefore to God." 4:7a.
Let's face it--We all WANT to be in control. God declares that HE is in control and therefore he desires that ALL OF US submit ourselves to God. We may assume this will hurt or shame or degrade us. But God says the best way to live to submit ourselves to God.

3. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." 4:7b.
The Bible openly declares that the devil is very powerful. In fact, the devil is actually much more powerful than human beings. But, through God's grace and power in Jesus Christ, when the devil attacks us, if we will RESIST the devil, God will make sure that the devil will flee from us.

4. "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." 4:8a.
Careful study and meditation of the word of God, prayer, association with fellow-Christians and many other resources help us "draw near" to God. When we do this, God will draw near to us and strengthen and protect us.

5. "Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded."
4:8b. Every aspect of human life has to do with the heart and the hand. It is a major mistake to go anywhere for help other than to the heart. Out of the heart come words and actions. Hence, by the blood of Jesus, we constantly need to turn to God through Jesus Christ to "cleanse" and "purify" our hearts and lives.

6. "Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejections." 4:9.
Many people assume and declare that crying, weeping, mourning shows weakness, fear, lack of courage, lack of faith, and the like. But, according to God's word, weeping and mourning are very healthy, powerful, important activities in life. In times of death, divorce, losses, failures, and disappointments, the godly reaction is weeping and crying and mourning.

7. "Humble yourselves before he Lord, and he will exalt you." 4:10.
4:6b and 4:10 are an "inclusio." Humility is the first letter in the Christian alphabet. God is all powerful. He is our creator and sustainer. He is our rock, our refuge, our deliverer, our salvation. Thus, the ONLY natural response to God's existence and presence and activity is humility.

Ponder over these "timeless divine assurances." Deep faith in God sustains us in all times of trouble and peace.

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

John Willis