It’s about fifteen years later. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, has come a second time and taken away captives from Judah. Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoachin, held the throne for a few months but was captured and taken to Babylon. He was replaced by his father’s brother, Zedekiah, another son of the good king, Josiah. The prophecy that Jehoiakim’s sons won’t reign because he burned God’s words is fulfilled (see October 20). Zedekiah is left as a kind of puppet-king who reports to Babylon.
Jeremiah continues to prophesy that the Babylonians will return and utterly defeat them. If they want to live, they must surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, or they’ll die when the city is burned. Despite the fact that Babylon has already come twice, laid siege to Jerusalem, and carried off groups of people, just as Jeremiah has said all along, still no one “paid attention to the words the Lord had spoken through Jeremiah the prophet,” 37:2.
When chapter 37 opens, Egypt had marched out to help Judah and had drawn Babylon away from them, but Jeremiah says Babylon will be back and the city will be burned in a final collapse. The king and the people are no doubt relieved for this reprieve and are hopeful the unpopular prophet is wrong.
Jeremiah is arrested for trumped up charges, beaten, and put in prison where he remains a long time before Zedekiah eventually sends for him and asks if there’s any more word from the Lord. I’m guessing that Zedekiah is hoping for different words than the one’s he’s been getting from him. Evidently while Zedekiah won’t repent, he still wants to know what God’s saying.
It’s a strange game the king plays, refusing to take God’s words to heart while wanting to get the heads’ up on them, too. Three separate times in these two chapters, he asks Jeremiah what’s the latest word from God, while ignoring all the words Jeremiah has already said. Every time, Jeremiah repeats what he’s said all along: Surrender. Babylon will prevail.
While Zedekiah is conflicted about God’s words, he’s also conflicted over what to do with Jeremiah. At Jeremiah’s request, he moves him to a more humane prison where he gets bread daily, but then gives Jeremiah’s enemies permission to kill him, and then gives someone else the word to rescue him.
He finally confides in Jeremiah that he’s afraid those who surrender to Babylon will eventually mistreat him for mismanaging the kingdom and getting conquered. Jeremiah tells him that if he obeys God in this 11th hour and surrenders to Babylon, his life will be spared and his people won’t retaliate.
For all of Zedekiah’s weakness and waffling, God still offers him his life for obedience in the end. Though he’s been in denial about Babylon and has refused to listen to Jeremiah, in the end Zedekiah protects Jeremiah’s life, and God protects Zedekiah’s. God’s goodness is surprising to me. Why bother to keep offering the king what he keeps refusing? But this is who God is: the One who never closes the door to his love.
I’m interested to see how deeply committed someone can be to their own perspective. Even with enemies coming over the wall of the city and taking his people away, Zedekiah holds out hope that things will turn out well. He’s broken his agreement with Babylon and turned to Egypt, but he never thinks to turn to God himself or lead his people to do the same.
Other kings before him in similar circumstances have called for national fasting and repenting and averted disaster. But Zedekiah hides out and asks Jeremiah secretly for a different word of the day, any word but the ones he’s already heard.
Denial is a powerful delusion. Who wants to pay attention to a lone voice crying out bad news? All the rest of the prophets have said the city will be saved. Only Jeremiah keeps saying the opposite, and everyone wants to shut him up. Like Jehoiakim who burned the scroll, they want to silence God’s voice and believe a different ending for their story, a fantasy they have to reckon with on the way to Babylon in chains.
I love how God protects Jeremiah’s life, even though he’s not given deluxe accommodations. Jeremiah suffers for speaking God’s words and standing by them, unwaveringly. He’s falsely accused, beaten, despised, thrown in a dungeon, consulted secretly by the king, and then put in a muddy cistern without food and water for days. Everything he’s said has come true, and yet he’s still in prison as an enemy of the state when Jerusalem finally falls.
It would be much easier to tell the people what they want to hear, to be well liked, to enjoy free breakfast at the local Hampton Inn at the king’s expense rather than starvation and dehydration and rejection at the bottom of a well. God’s words haven’t made Jeremiah popular. They haven’t changed anyone’s heart or produced revival. They’ve only marked him as public enemy number one in his country. Even his own friends and family have rejected him.
How does he bear it?
Jeremiah has already answered that question in chapter 20. The text says there that everyone is against him, even his friends are waiting for him to slip up so they can hurt him. When he’s tried to be silent because of their “insult and reproach all day long,” he’s found that God’s “word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot,” 8-9. He cannot help but speak the words God’s given him to say, regardless of what it costs him.
And it’s here that Jeremiah lets us in on his rejection survival secret,
“But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior;
so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will fail and be throughly disgraced;
their dishonor will never be forgotten.
Lord Almighty, you who examine the righteous
and probe the heart and mind,
let me see your vengeance on them,
for to you I have committed. my cause.”
And in the very next verse, he sings praise to God,
“Sing to the Lord!
Give praise to the Lord!
He rescues the life of the needy
from the hands of the wicked,” 13
“But the Lord is with me.” God’s presence with Jeremiah is enough support to withstand the rejection of everyone else. He’s sure of God’s nearness. He knows God is a “mighty warrior” who will prevail. He’s been examined and probed by God, and he knows he can count on God to vindicate him and payback his enemies. He asks God to let him see his vengeance on them, because he’s committed his cause to God.
“Sing to the Lord!” Because he’s given his situation to God, Jeremiah can let go of the burden of it. It’s in God’s hands, and God is faithful, so Jeremiah is freed up to praise and sing. He’s on the winning side, and he has nothing to fear. However his situation goes down, he’s tucked in behind Almighty God who avenges. A heart freed from fear and rejection is freed to praise. I bet he rocked it.
God’s presence and praising. These are the things that withstand rejection and fear, insults and reproach, hatred and strife. Jeremiah’s situation was more dire than any I’ve ever faced, but still, I’m rejected, too. There are plenty of fair weather friends to be found, like Zedekiah, who support and then don’t, who pledge loyalty and let me down.
God, you alone are the one on whose words I can stand, who’s always faithful, even when I’m not. Your kindness to Zedekiah at the very end warms my heart. Thank you for never shutting the door to mercy, regardless of how little we deserve it. These words encourage me. Thanks.
1 Timothy 6
Paul instructs Timothy about the grief that comes from pursuing wealth versus the contentment that comes from pursuing godliness. Since we’ve “brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it,” wanting to get rich doesn’t even make good sense. It’s a dead end. Literally.
I’ve just returned from helping my brothers empty out our mother’s home since her death and its recent sale. I have nine boxes of dishes around me this morning, begging to be unpacked, and I already had more than we ever used before these showed up. I’m freshly aware that we take absolutely nothing with us, and that everything we leave behind, from dishes to shopping lists to laundry, must be dealt with after we die.
“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Paul says it’s not the money (or dishes) that’s the problem; it’s loving it most that seduces me away from my first love, 6-10. He says to flee from the love of money and to “fight the good fight of faith” instead, to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness,” 11-12. These are the things that bring contentment in life. Not dollars and the stuff it buys.
So what do I do with an inheritance of nine boxes of china I don’t need?
Paul says to command those with wealth not to be arrogant about it (surely, it’s a gift) and not to put their hope in it, because it’s never a sure thing, but to put their hope in God, who gives them everything they need to enjoy life. He further commands that they do good, are rich in good deeds, and are generous and willing to share, so that they can “take hold of the life that is truly life,” 17-19.
Wealth can’t buy “the life that is truly life.” In fact, loving money robs us of that life. It pierces us with many griefs. It’s a trap that tempts us “into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge [us] into ruin and destruction,” 9-10. The thing that grabs my attention the hardest here is its ability to turn me away from my faith.
I’m listening, God. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on this subject, more shows up that I have to wrestle with and ask you about. I love my mama’s china. There are other gifts she left behind for us. I don’t think it’s wrong to have any of it, but don’t let me delight in it more than I delight in you.
Let me hold it loosely. Let me share it freely. Let me remember that having food and clothing is enough for anyone to be content, me included, 8. Wedgwood isn’t required. In fact, Wedgewood takes up a lot of dang room.
Give me wisdom as I decide what to pass along to my kids and their kids and what to give away.
These last verses of this long psalm of Ethan the Ezrahite aren’t ones I like.
While the first 37 verses describe God’s power in creation and his promise to be faithful to David’s family forever, “I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail,” these last verses say God has rejected and spurned his people and renounced his covenant to David.
At the time of writing, God’s people are reeling from defeat by their enemies. Their walls are broken through, their strongholds are gone. Everyone who passes by steals from the city; their enemy neighbors make jokes about it. It seems as if God’s forgotten his promise to them, 38-46.
Ethan asks, “where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David?” 49. He asks God to remember how they’re mocked and insulted. And then he does something strange, he praises in the last verse. How can he praise after all of the above?
I’m guessing it’s because regardless of how things look in the moment, he knows that God doesn’t go back on his promises. God’s already said that even if David’s sons forsake his law and don’t obey him, he’ll punish them, but he’ll never take his love away or break his covenant of love with David, 30-33.
So while Ethan is disheartened and tempted to believe God’s forsaken them, “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” 46, he knows that God’s promise is a sure thing, as dependable as the sun that rises and the moon that waxes and wanes, 36-37. So he can end his psalm with praise for what God will do. Regardless of how bad things look, Ethan’s faith holds.
“Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen,” 52.
While I didn’t like these words at first, now I’m glad you’ve included them in the Bible. Ethan’s sorrow for their situation and his doubts about you are honest. You don’t expect him to hide how he really feels, how hurt and let down he is with you, how you seem to have forgotten them and broken your promise to be their God. Including this psalm in your holy word invites me to bring everything I’m bothered by to you to talk about, even my disappointment in you.
This psalm ends in praise, but there are some psalms that just end with questions and despair. You don’t minimize our feelings or require us to end on a high note of faith when we come to you. You let us flail against you with anger and sorrow and doubts. Just knowing that I can be my real self with you gives me relief I can feel this morning down the back of my neck.
My take away today is God’s presence and praise as the anti-despair shots for the hard-knock life. His presence and praise vaccinate me against being rocked by rejection and fear (Jeremiah), against despair and doubt (Ethan), and against the ruin of riches (Paul).
God, root out my love of money with a greater love of you. Protect me with your loving presence from the wounds of my enemies. Surely you are as dependable as the sun and moon. Thank you for being a safe place where I can talk out my doubts. Thank you for accepting all of me, even when all I give back to you is my need.
You are the God who was kind to Zedekiah, the coward, and spared his life. You never miss a chance to show mercy, and if you’ll do that for him, well, I can be sure you’ll do that for me, too. You are the God who protected Jeremiah and the words he wrote down for me to read. Thank you for teaching me who you are in them.
I can depend on your promise never to forsake David’s line; never to forsake the Savior, Jesus, who was eventually born through it; and never to forsake me because of my faith in him. I’m connected to you because your love holds me, even when mine is minimal.
This is especially heartening when so much around me in the world is shaking. And also when my tasks of the day are relatively light, like unpacking china. Because you are the mighty warrior, I get to be the beloved daughter, come what may.
Praise God, from whom all these blessings flow. Amen and Amen.