Peter Misselbrook's Blog
22/08/2019 - Jeremiah 30 – Promise of restoration

Jeremiah is told to write the words God has given him in a book or scroll (v.2). We are so thankful for this command. There are many prophets who came before Jeremiah of whom we read in the pages of Scripture but have little record of the word God gave them. Jeremiah's message to the people of his day was written in a book that generations to come, including ourselves, might read it. The Lord's word through Jeremiah that the exile would last seventy years was read and known by Daniel who turned it into prayer that the Lord would now rescue his people and bring them back from exile. In the same way, the passage we have read today looks beyond the immediate prospect of judgment to the day when God will again come to save his people.

Jeremiah's message concerning God's judgment had been rejected by the religious leaders in Jerusalem, but the people had begun to recognise that Jeremiah was bringing them a message from the Lord. Many, no doubt, were beginning to fear the power of the nations that dominated their region – particularly the growing threat from Babylon. Were they really about to be invaded?

Verses 5-7 and 12-15 of this chapter, describe what will shortly happen to the people of Judah. They have an incurable wound – a wound which no-one is able to heal (vv.12-13). God will allow them to be invaded and there will be no allies to rush to their defence. And all of this is because of a deeper wound which has been beyond healing; the wound of their many sins and great guilt (vv.14,15). Though judgment will come in the form of invasion by a foreign power it will be the Lord who will strike them (v.14). Verses 4-7 describe the fearful suffering of that day. Strong men will cry out in fear, turning deadly pale and clutching their stomachs like a woman who is going into labour. "It will be a time of trouble for Jacob" declares the Lord. But even as the Lord declares his judgment, he also adds a word of hope by adding, "but he will be saved out of it" (v.7).

Verses 8-11 and 16-24 describe what God will do to save his people after he has visited them in judgment. The Lord will break the powers of the nations that enslave his people, as he broke the power of Egypt long ago (vv.8, 16, 23-24). The Lord will gather to himself the people he has scattered in exile. He will raise up a new king to reign over them who is spoken of here as "David their king" (v.9). Under his rule, God's people will "have peace and security, and no one will make [them] afraid" (v.10). Even in the midst of judgment, the Lord wants his people to know, "I am with you and will save you" (v.11). In that day the Lord will heal their incurable wound and restore them to health, remaking them to be the people God created them to be (v.17).

In the short term, beyond the years of exile, the city of Jerusalem will be "rebuilt on her ruins" (v.18). But, as we shall see, that return to Judah and Jerusalem will fall far short of the freedom from captivity which the Lord here promises his people. The power of Babylon will be succeeded by Persia; the power of Persia by Alexander the Great and the Greek empire; the power of Greece by Rome. Israel / Jacob would remain in captivity to foreign powers, in exile in its own land.

But God's promise will not fail. In the fulness of his time he would send his own Son into the world as his Messiah, as David's greater son who would be king over his people. Jesus will be the demonstration that God is with us and will save us. He alone is able to cure the incurable wound of our sin and to draw people from every nation out of their captivity and gather them to be his people – one flock under one shepherd. By his death, resurrection and living presence he will give peace and security to his people. He continually addresses us saying, "do not be afraid" (v.10).

Father God, we thank you for these prophetic scriptures that point us to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the great salvation that is ours in him. Continue your work in us by your Spirit to release us from our captivity to sin and to self. Lord Jesus, help us to hear your voice telling us not to be afraid and assuring us of the peace and security which is ours in you.

21/08/2019 - Jeremiah 26:1-16 – Jeremiah threatened

False prophets were proclaiming a message the people wanted to hear – "Everything will be alright. You are God's chosen people; he would never raise his hand against you. God will not allow Jerusalem to be destroyed. You will continue to live at peace."

Jeremiah, however, had been called by God to deliver an unpopular but very necessary message. He was commanded to go and stand in the temple courtyard and declare:

This is what the Lord says: if you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city a curse among all the nations of the earth. (vv. 4-6)

Jeremiah was bringing them a warning and calling upon the nation to turn from its evil ways and return to singlehearted devotion to the Lord before it was too late.

But his message was not appreciated by his hearers. Instead of thinking carefully about what Jeremiah had said and considering their own ways, priests, prophets and all the people seized Jeremiah saying, "You must die!"

The apostle Paul warns Timothy that he will encounter times in his own ministry when people do not want to listen to the word of God. "Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Timothy 4:3). Nor is the situation any different today. Whenever people feel compelled to share an unsettling and uncomfortable message – whether that is the gospel message of sin and salvation or warnings about the dangerous effects of man-made climate change – there will always be others who will seek to gain a popular hearing by telling people not to worry, it will never happen.

The officials of Judah were summoned from the royal palace and assembled in the New Gate of the temple. The priests and prophets hauled Jeremiah before the officials saying, "This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!" (v.11). How would you have felt in Jeremiah's situation? How might you have responded to the charge being brought against you? I suspect that if it had been me, I would have sought to refashion my message in a way that might make it more acceptable to the city officials.

But Jeremiah, rather than becoming defensive, goes on the attack by repeating the same message:

"The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you." (vv.12-13).

He then adds that if they kill him they will sin further in shedding innocent blood. He has only spoken the words the Lord had given him to speak. This seems to have got through to some of his hearers for we read, "Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, ‘This man should not be sentenced to death! He has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.’" (v.16). The city officials and the ordinary inhabitants of the city seem to have drawn back from shedding the blood of one who has simply brought them the word of the Lord, but the religious leaders, priests and prophets, seem reluctant to let Jeremiah go free.

The same was true with the ministry of the Lord Jesus. The common people heard him gladly and even the Roman officials seemed reluctant to put him to death, but the priests and the Pharisees seized him and stirred up the crowds to join them in calling for his death.

Father God, we thank you for the message of your judgment and salvation that is to be found in the Lord Jesus. Keep us from trimming our message to please those to whom we speak. Help us to pass on faithfully the message you have given us in your word.

20/08/2019 - Jeremiah 25:1-27 – Seventy years of captivity

Jeremiah had begun his ministry in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah. At that time the threatening power to the north was that of Assyria. Now, some 23 years later during the reign of Jehoiakim, the even more powerful empire of the Babylonians had defeated the Assyrians and the Egyptians. Babylon, with its king Nebuchadnezzar, was now the threatening power to the north. Over all of these 23 years of his ministry, Jeremiah had warned the people that God would come in judgment upon them for their unfaithfulness, unless they genuinely turned back to the Lord in repentance. But the people had not listened (vv.1-3). So now Jeremiah tells the people:

Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: "Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon … and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years." (vv.8-11).

What a terrible message of judgment. But again, beyond judgment there is also a message of hope. After these 70 years of exile God will come to rescue his people. The Lord "will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt… They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands" (vv.12,14). The mighty Babylonian empire will in its turn fall to another power – to that of the Medes and Persians. Then the captive Israelites will begin to return to their own land.

The Lord used Nebuchadnezzar, his unwitting servant, to bring his judgment on the whole of the known world of his day: "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them.’" (vv.15-16). The following verses list these nations, some of which we cannot identify: Egypt, Uz, Philistia, Edom, Moab, Amon, Tyre and Sidon, Dedan, Tema, Buz, Arabia, Zimri, Elam and Media. The Lord, the God of Israel, is God over all the earth and will bring all nations and people to account.

We know that the whole world is still in rebellion against God to its own hurt and destruction. But Jesus came into this world to redeem and save it. There in the Garden of Gethsemane he faced the torment that lay before him and prayed that, if it were possible, this cup might be taken from him. But, in accordance with the Father's will, he was ready to take "this cup filled with the wine of [a holy God's] wrath" against sin and to drain it on our behalf.

O Christ, what burdens bow’d Thy head! Our load was laid on thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead, Didst bear all ill for me.
A victim led; Thy blood was shed; Now there’s no load for me.

Death and the curse were in our cup, O Christ, ’twas full for thee!
But thou hast drained the last dark drop – ’Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup – love drank it up; Now blessings’ draught for me.

Lord Jesus, we cannot fully understand the agonies you bore there at Calvary: not just the physical agonies of crucifixion, but the agony of spirit as you took our sins upon yourself and felt the rejection and wrath of God. Thank you that you fully drained that cup for us and we are now freed from condemnation and embraced by your love. Help us by your Spirit to tell a condemned world of the way in which they too may be reconciled to God.

19/08/2019 - Jeremiah 23 – False shepherds

In psalm 23, David the shepherd boy thinks of the way the Lord has been his shepherd. The Lord has cared for him, protected him and directed his paths. God's love and faithfulness has surrounded him all the days of his life. The Lord chose David, a man after his own heart, to be king over his people. God's plan was that the king, along with other leaders of his people, should be caring shepherds, reflecting God's own love and care for his people.

But Jeremiah is sent to declare that the leaders of God's people have abandoned God's calling:

"Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture! … Because you have scattered my flock … and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done," declares the Lord. (vv.1-2)

The prophets and priests in the land have turned away from the Lord so that even the temple has become a place of idolatry (v. 11). The prophets are not listening to the voice of the Lord but are making up words of their own or are copying one from another. They are preaching a message of peace, assuring the people that all will be well, when God is speaking words of warning and of judgment (vv.16-17). Prophets from Samaria are even prophesying in the name of Baal (v.13). Others are telling people of the dreams they have had, visions of purely human origin (vv.25-27). God declares that he will bring disaster upon them and on the people that have delighted in their soothing message. He calls the people not to listen to the voice of these false prophets with their continual message of peace.

But once again there is hope beyond judgment. "The days are coming" (vv.5,7) when God will come to rescue and restore his people. He will bring them back from the land of their captivity and will raise up a new king to rule over them. He will be from David's descendants yet will be a greater and better king than David, the best of their kings. He will reign wisely and justly and will be called "The Lord our righteousness [or righteous Saviour]" (vv. 5-6). The name "Lord" in verse 7 is the name of the living God; the one who comes to save and reign over God's people will be Yahweh himself. He will be the righteousness of his people.

This is what God declares through Jeremiah:

I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing. (vv.3-4)

And this new act of God's saving power will be more dramatic even than when he rescued Israel from Egypt all those years ago. That event was remembered and celebrated by God's people, especially at Passover time. But when God himself comes to save his people it will be this new act of redemption which will be continually celebrated by them (vv.7-8).

We know that Jesus is the one who came to fulfil this ancient prophecy. He is Emmanuel, God come among us to save us. He is the one who has rescued us from slavery to sin and to death through his own victory at the cross. He is the Messiah, God's anointed king, who reigns over us in wisdom and gracious power. He is the Good Shepherd. He is our righteousness and our peace. And he is the model for leaders among his people (v.4). They also are to be shepherds of God's people, caring for the flock of God, the church of God which he bought with his own blood.

Father God, we thank you for the Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep. We pray for all those who are called to be leaders among your people that you would fill them with your Spirit and make them like your Son. So may we be led in paths of righteousness and be used of you to continue your work of gathering a people for yourself from every nation under heaven.

18/08/2019 - Psalm 103 – He does not treat us as our sins deserve

Count your blessings, name them one by one…
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

So goes the chorus of an old hymn, perhaps inspired by this wonderful psalm.

The author of this psalm urges us not to forget all that the Lord has done for us. To assist us in not forgetting, he lists some of the blessings, or "benefits" which the Lord has lavished on us in his great love and compassion (v.4). Most precious of these is the assurance that he forgives us all our sins (v.3).

He does not treat us as our sins deserve
   or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
   so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
   so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (vv.10-13)

These blessings are given us freely, but we know that they have been purchased at great cost; they are ours only because of Jesus. He is the one who came from the heights of heaven to become part of this poor world because of the greatness of his love for us. In his sacrificial death upon the cross, God treated him as our sins deserved; he endured the wrath of God in our place. He is the one who has removed our transgressions from us – as far as the east is from the west – so that they can never again condemn us.

How should we respond to God's love and compassion? We should praise the Lord with all our being (v.1). If angels in glory never cease to sing God's praise, and all creation praises him in its own way (vv.20-22), praise should often be found on our lips and always be the keynote of our lives.

Fill Thou my life, O Lord my God,
In every part with praise,
That my whole being may proclaim
Thy being and Thy ways.
Not for the lip of praise alone,
Nor e’en the praising heart
I ask, but for a life made up
Of praise in every part! (Horatius Bonar)

Nor shall our praise last only for a lifetime. This psalm reminds us of our mortality (vv. 15-16), but assures us that the Lord's love stretches from everlasting to everlasting for those that fear him (v.17). So, to quote Isaac Watts:

I'll praise my Maker while I've breath;
and when my voice is lost in death,
praise shall employ my nobler powers.
My days of praise shall ne'er be past,
while life, and thought, and being last,
or immortality endures.

Father forgive me that I am sometime so preoccupied with the details of my daily life that I lose sight of the fact that I am truly and greatly blessed. Open my eyes to the wonders of your grace towards me in the Lord Jesus Christ; open my heart to love you as you have loved me; open my mouth to sing your praise; open my whole being to the life of your kingdom.

17/08/2019 - Jeremiah 19 – The shattered pot

Sometimes prophets were told to act out the message which the Lord had given them to take to his people. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this was when Hosea was told to take a woman to be his wife who would be unfaithful to him. God intended Hosea's domestic life to be a visible picture of his own relationship with, and love for, a faithless people. Jeremiah did not need to do anything quite so traumatic, but he also was called to dramatize his message by acting it out before the elders and priests of the people in Jerusalem.

In the previous chapter, Jeremiah 18, the Lord had told Jeremiah to go to the potter's house where he would be given a message for the people. Jeremiah went and watched the potter working at his wheel: "But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him" (18:4). Before he formed it into something else, the potter must have crushed it and moulded it afresh into a ball before centring it again on his wheel. Then the Lord told Jeremiah, "Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does? (18:6).

The Lord is preparing to crush his rebellious people. But beyond judgment there is the hope that God will take them again into his hands and will refashion them into something pleasing to him. This is the background to today's reading from Jeremiah 19.

Jeremiah was now told to buy a new clay jar from the potter and to summon the leaders of the people to meet him near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. Outside this gate seems to have been the place where old broken pottery was thrown. Unlike the clay in the potter's hand, the fired earthenware is no longer pliable and capable of being refashioned. This pot represents the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem who have hardened their hearts against Jeremiah's call for repentance and have even begun to plot against him.

Jeremiah declares that God is going to come in judgment against Judah and Jerusalem. He will judge them because of their detestable idolatry in burning incense to idol-gods and even burning "their children in the fire as offerings to Baal" (v.6). This valley which acted as a rubbish dump for the city would be filled with the bodies of those who would be slaughtered in the coming siege of the city. And in that siege, the people would even be forced to eat the bodies of their dead children!

Jeremiah then dashed the clay pot to the ground so that it shattered into pieces and was lost in the general mess of potsherds. Addressing the rulers of the city he declared, "This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired" (v.11). He then re-entered the city, went into the temple and declared, "This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Listen! I am going to bring on this city and all the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.'" (v.15).

We may not be eager to listen to passages of scripture which speak of God's judgments against his rebellious people, particularly when they are expressed in such violent terms. But this is a sign of our failure to understand the holiness of our God and the intensity of his anger against sin. It was also outside the city of Jerusalem that God's judgment fell on his own Son as Jesus died in our place. It was because he endured the fulness of God's wrath against sin that we are forgiven and need not fear the judgment to come; "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). For rebellious Judah also there was to be hope beyond judgment.

Father God we thank you that you are slow to anger and rich in mercy. Like a potter with the clay, you long to take what is spoilt and remould it into something beautiful and useful. Continue that remoulding work in our own lives as, by your Spirit, you make us more like your Son.

16/08/2019 - Jeremiah 10:1-16 – Idols are not like our God

Much of today's passage is devoted to describing idols. The craftsman takes a piece of wood from the forest and labours in shaping it to represent a god. It is then adorned with precious metals – hammered silver brought from Tarshish and gold from Uphaz – before being adorned with blue and purple garments made by skilled workers. Finally it is fastened to some sort of stand or plinth – without nails it would topple over. It's "like a scarecrow in a cucumber field," says Jeremiah (v.5). It cannot speak or move but is carried by those who worship it. You don't need to fear such 'gods'.

Jeremiah is addressing a people who have adopted the practices of the peoples around them (v.1). They are full of superstitious fears – that if they do not placate this or that god, if they do not offer right sacrifices then they will suffer bad harvests or disease. When they see "signs in the heavens" – perhaps gathering storms before the harvest is ripe – they are filled with fear and rush off to prostrate themselves to their scarecrow. There is no need to fear such things, says Jeremiah, these idols are worthless and helpless; they cannot bring blessing or trouble to those devoted to them.

But what a contrast there is with the Lord, the living and true God. He was not made by the hands of human craftsmen – or conjured up by the ingenuity of human priests or theologians.

He is the living God, the eternal King…
God made the earth by his power;
    he founded the world by his wisdom
    and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. (vv.10,12)

He is the God who made us and who has set his love on his foolish and wayward people (see v.16). He is a God who sees and hears and acts. He is a God to be feared for:

When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar;
    he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth.
He sends lightning with the rain
    and brings out the wind from his storehouses. (v.13)

The "signs in the heavens" are his signs, whether lightning and thunder or the darkening clouds that bring the longed for rain. He created the rainbow and sets it in the sky to assure us that in judgment he always remembers mercy. He is a God who keeps his covenant promises.

Many people today are enslaved by all sorts of superstitious fears. They follow their horoscopes, fearful of what the coming day or week may bring. Many still prostrate themselves before idols of their own making. The living God has freed us from such fears. He sent his Son into the world to show us the depth of his love and to win us back to himself. He is the God who alone sees and hears and acts. He is the God who stoops to save and who lifts us up.

Verse 11 of this passage has a message for the nations: "Tell them this: 'These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.'" The Book of Jeremiah was written in Hebrew, but this message is written in Aramaic, the common language of the empire in Jeremiah's day. It is the message from the living God for a world cowering in fear. It is the message entrusted now to us: "Put away your worthless idols and come to know the living God who has made himself known in the Lord Jesus Christ. Exchange his peace for your fear."

Father God, we thank you that you are not an idol of our own making but the living God who created all things and who made us that we should know and love you. Thank you for the Lord Jesus who has set us free from fear and, by his death and resurrection, forgiven us all our sins and given us life that even death cannot destroy. Help us by your Spirit to tell others, in words they can understand, of your great love that they too may turn to the living God from idols and live lives freed from fear.

15/08/2019 - Jeremiah 7:1-20 – Empty worship

Can you imagine the scene: Jeremiah standing at the gate into the temple berating those who were coming to worship? He tells them that the Lord is not happy with their superstitious worship. They are confident that since this is God's house, "the temple of the Lord", God will protect it from all harm and thereby keep them safe also. But Jeremiah points out that they are living in arrogant disregard for God's law. They are oppressing foreigners, exploiting the fatherless and widows and shedding innocent blood (vv.5-6). They have been stealing, committing adultery and perjury and offering worship to Baal and to the Queen of Heaven (vv.9,18). Their trust in the temple as if it were a religious talisman is "trusting in deceptive words that are worthless" (v.8). They have turned the temple of God into "a den of robbers" (v.11).

The Lord calls the worshipers in Jerusalem to go and take a look at Shiloh. Shiloh was situated in the northern kingdom of Israel. It was the place where the tabernacle was first set up after the conquest (Judges 18:1-10), and formed the centre of worship for God's people until David moved the tabernacle to Jerusalem. Shiloh had been a sacred site but, says the Lord through Jeremiah, go and look at it now. It has been utterly destroyed. The Lord calls those worshipping at Jerusalem to recognise that the same could easily happen to this temple and to Jerusalem if they continue to ignore God's word and to live in immorality and idolatry. Their conduct is not just provoking God's judgment, it is harming them (v.19).

When the Lord Jesus visited the temple in Jerusalem, he quoted Jeremiah 7:11, accusing the temple authorities of turning God's house into a den of robbers or thieves. He warned them that the clouds of God's judgment were gathering and that their temple would be destroyed – not one stone would be left on another. God takes no pleasure in empty worship where careful observance of external forms is not accompanied by a heart and life utterly devoted to God and his word.

What a contrast there is with the Lord Jesus Christ himself. He referred to himself as the temple for he was the one in whom the living God had made his dwelling among us. He was holy and his life was devoted to doing the will of his Father in heaven. His was a perfect obedience to the word of God. Yet this temple also was destroyed – it was destroyed by the concerted action of those who were the guardians of the temple in Jerusalem along with the Roman authorities. Yet this temple – the temple of his body – was also destroyed under the judgment of God. He bore the penalty for our sin and rebellion when he was nailed to that cross and left to die.

But Jesus had told the puzzled Jewish leaders, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days" (John 2:19, Mark 14:58). On the third day he rose again from the dead and lives for ever as the meeting place between humankind and God.

And now he calls us to learn of him and to follow him. He calls us to worship the living God not just in outward forms but in spirit and in truth. He calls us to devote our lives to him as living sacrifices, utterly given to pleasing God just as he devoted himself to doing the Father's will. He tells us that the path of obedience is the path of unimaginable blessing while the path of rebellion ends in hurt and in loss for ourselves.

Father God, keep us from thinking that your grace and goodness to us in the Lord Jesus means that we can live as we like and be assured of our acceptance with you – "Let us continue in sin that grace may abound." Rather, may your grace teach "us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." Make us like your Son and help us, by the character of our lives as well as the words we speak, to draw others to him.

Peter Misselbrook