Jeremiah 44:24-47:7

Jeremiah tells the refugees from Judah that he’s with in Egypt to go ahead and do what they’ve vowed to do: to burn incense and pour out drink offerings to the Queen of Heaven, an idol of Egypt. But they should be prepared that God will do what he’s vowed to do as well, which is this:

“For I am watching over them for harm, not for good; the Jews in Egypt will perish by sword and famine until they are all destroyed. Those who escape the sword and return to the land of Judah from Egypt will be very few. Then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will stand–mine or theirs.” Jeremiah goes on to say that this will be the sign that God’s threats against them will stand: Pharaoh Hophra of Egypt will be overthrown by his enemies, 44:27-30.

It’s a sobering word from God, one that might have been hard to hear, were it not for their hardened rebellion. They’ve just fled their homeland of Judah after being defeated by Babylon, afraid that a coup in the newly formed government put in place by Babylon makes them not safe living there. They’ve decided to hideout in Egypt, where God has pointedly said not to go, and the women are boldly worshipping other gods again. When Jeremiah confronts the group, the men defend their wives and say they will continue to worship whoever they please (for the whole story, see “Jeremiah” in October 23 post).

Chapter 44 ends here. Chapter 45 is a short chapter of only five verses, out of chronological order with the events of chapter 44. It’s a flashback to something that happened many years before, and as far as Baruch is concerned, the scribe who writes Jeremiah’s words and organizes them, it is well placed here.

The earlier event is this: after a day of dictating to Baruch, Jeremiah turns to him and says something like, “I’ve been giving you words to write down for God’s people, but here are God’s words just for you, Baruch. You’ve said that your life is hard and that God’s only made it harder. You’re worn out with suffering. You can’t rest and find relief,” 45:1-3, paraphrased.

And I think how true that must have been for him. For all of Jeremiah’s rejection and suffering, Baruch must have experienced it, too. Jeremiah wasn’t respected by his community, friends, or even family. They’d decided long ago that he was a lunatic, a lone voice crying out “Repent!” while everyone else was partying. Such a loser.

Working for Jeremiah couldn’t have been easy for Baruch; he would have faced his own persecution and rejection for teaming up with God’s prophet. And there were death threats. King Jehoiakim sent his nobles to kill both Jeremiah and Baruch after he’d been read the scroll they’d written.

As a scribe, Baruch was a well educated man. He likely could have found work elsewhere since his brother was a high ranking official in the king’s government (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/jeremiah-45/). But he was a man of faith, like Jeremiah. And like Jeremiah, he chose to suffer for God’s words.

Jeremiah wept over the prophecies he spoke from God against Judah and Jerusalem. He also wept over the unbelief and suffering of God’s people. Lamentations is full of his own lamenting, as well as God’s. I’m guessing that though Baruch kept himself on the down- low in Jeremiah’s books and didn’t include his own thoughts or feelings, he would have felt very deeply about what he was hearing and writing, too.

Jerusalem’s destruction was his own. He lived there. The prophecy that folks would be forced to eat one another to survive during the coming siege had to have been shocking, Jeremiah 19:9. I’m guessing Baruch wept plenty of his own tears. Certainly, he faced his own fears of death along with the everyday reality of being despised. Another loser.

There also had to have been times when he wondered if he’d made the right choice to serve Jeremiah and God. Maybe Jeremiah was a lunatic, like everyone else believed. Maybe Baruch wondered if he was a crazy man himself to pass up other jobs, where he could work at a desk that wasn’t tear stained, where his heart wasn’t wrenched with every word.

In his private moments, he’s at least once believed that God is to blame for his lot in life, “Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.” God hears these words and gives some back for Baruch. It is a rare moment when the prophet turns to his scribe with personal words straight from God, 45:1-3.

God tells Baruch that he’s about to tear down what he’s built and pull up what he’s planted, all over Judah, his Promised Land. In effect, he says, “You think you’re the only one suffering? There are precious lives at stake, lives I’ve created and established, lives I’ve loved and nurtured. I’ve poured myself into these people, and I’m about to destroy it all. I’m absolutely heartsick. You’re bemoaning your lot in life? I’m bemoaning a whole nation’s lot in life.

“Open your eyes! This is not about you. It’s not a time to wish you had a different life of fame and fortune. The goal for you shouldn’t be getting ahead, it’s surviving what’s ahead. I’m bringing disaster on everybody, including you! But take heart: wherever you go, whatever situation you’re in, I’ll save you. I have my eyes on you. You will live,” 25:4-5, paraphrased.

And while it might have been humbling to have been called out like that in front of Jeremiah, I’m thinking it would also have felt enormously comforting to have been given direct words from God Almighty, just for him. He’s been the man-behind-the-mouth all this time Jeremiah’s been in ministry, after all. The books he’s written down aren’t named for him. He’s just been Jeremiah’s word processor. It would be easy to brood about his lowly, unsung life, particularly if his brother, the king’s official, is a bragger at Sunday lunches at mom’s house.

From what God’s said to Baruch, it sounds as if he’s wondering when his star will rise. “Maybe there’s a scribe position open at the bank? Or maybe even at the palace? I’m tired of weeping while I work. I shouldn’t have to stay in the shadows. Jeremiah’s life doesn’t have to be mine!”

Maybe Baruch had started down the woe-is-me trail and couldn’t find his way back. If so, God’s rebuke was just the wake-up call he needed. But it was more than that. God also told him he wasn’t unknown and unsung. God knows Baruch and will remember him. “When all hell breaks loose, and it will,” God told him, “You will be saved out of it,” 45:5, paraphrased. That’s a retirement plan the bank downtown can’t offer.

God sees. God knows. God saves. These are the truths that had to have made Baruch’s own heart sing that day. As a man of faith, he would have been deeply touched by them. How do I know? Because he places this scene in chapter 45 right after chapter 44, when Jeremiah has predicted that Egypt, their current haven from Babylon, will fall down around their ears, just like Judah did. Another disaster is coming, and it will be very like the one they just survived.

It would be tempting at a time like this to give up and go home. But where is home? Where can anyone go to be safe? When God is against you, there’s no where to hide. No where is home.

Jeremiah and Baruch didn’t choose to disobey God and go to Egypt. They were part of a group that chose to go, and it’s likely they were forced. But as they had in Jerusalem, they would suffer God’s judgment, right along with the people who deserve it. What hope do they have?

Baruch has God’s words. Baruch remembers them just at the moment when he might be tempted with “Woe is me!” all over again. But it’s not woe for Baruch. It’s “Whoa! God’s got me! I’ll be saved no matter where I am, no matter what happens!” While going through another disaster wouldn’t be his idea of a comfortable retirement, surviving it sure beats the alternative.

I’m thinking Baruch puts his promise from God right here on purpose to say, “Look at how great God is! He’s the God who saves people like me–a doubter, a blamer, a moper and whiner, one who dreamed of greater things for myself than the life God’s given me. This God says, ‘Get over yourself and trust me! I see you. I’ll save you. I’ll give you a greater life than you can dream of. I won’t forget you, because you are mine.'”

Baruch might not have been famous in his day, but he’s become famous to millions of people ever since as the pen-behind-the-prophet, the one who let’s us see God’s sturdy lovingkindness through human weakness, his weakness. It would take a very strong man of faith to admit the truth of who he is in his only chapter, his only chance to shine, of the many he writes for Jeremiah and for God. If yearning to be well thought of was his passion, the only way he could have laid his passion down would have been because he got caught up in passion for God.

I love seeing how you humbled Baruch and then gave him the glory he sought, God, greater glory than he could have then imagined. In his mind, he was the refugee writer, following Jeremiah around with pen-and-ink. But Baruch’s name means “blessing.” I’m sure feeling blessed by him.

And I see how laying aside his desire for greatness and focusing on yours instead actually made him great. It’s so kind of you, sharing your glory with him, giving him what he wanted after he decided your glory was better.

It’s crazy town, isn’t it? Greatness is arrived at through humility and weakness. Who’da thunk? But now that I think about it, it was Jesus’s way, too,

“who being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness…
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow
and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 2:6-11

God, this is really ringing my bell today. I’ve got my own desires for greatness and to be known. But I see through Baruch’s and Jesus’ stories that the only two things really worth writing about are stories of your glory and of the human weakness that displays it. I’m really not a fan of weakness. Especially mine.

Will you show me your glory?

2 Timothy 2:22-3

Paul warns Timothy that “there will be terrible times in the last days,” 3:1. Rather than describing events, he describes what people will be like then. This is telling, I think. The events ahead come from the people who are living them. Paul’s warning is to not be like these “last days people.”

Paul’s list of character flaws is disturbing: it sounds very much what people in general are like everywhere today. Are these the last days? And if they are, how long will it be before these days are done and The Very Last Day comes? No idea.

Here is the “last days people” list.

They will be…
-lovers of themselves
-lovers of money
-boastful
-proud
-abusive
-disobedient to their parents
-ungrateful
-unholy
-without love
-unforgiving
-slanderous
-without self control
-brutal
-not lovers of the good
-treacherous
-rash
-conceited
-lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God
-having a form of godliness, they will deny its power
-men who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women
-women who are loaded down with sins
-women who are swayed by all kinds of evil desires
-women who are always learning but unable to find the truth
-men who oppose the truth
-men of depraved minds who are unbelievers

I don’t need to describe the ways I see these things in the people all around me. Paul’s list gives me a sign for knowing if I’m living in the “last days,” not a checklist of condemnation for my neighbors. Jesus’ command to “love my neighbors as myself” isn’t canceled. Love is my posture, not judgment. If I’m going to use this as a checklist for anyone, I’ll have to start with me.

My heart is heavy, God. And sad. I need some good news.

I read back over the verses before these about the “last days people,” and my heart squeezes at 2:22. “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” That’s surprising. Can sinful people, even forgiven sinful people, call on God from anything but a wicked heart?

If Paul’s right, they can. He says it right here, and the qualification is simple: they’re people who call on God. Period. Having the capacity for a pure heart doesn’t equal having one, but it’s encouraging to me to believe it’s at least possible. I’m also encouraged that it isn’t reserved for monks and mystics or just for Presbyterian pastors. It’s for anyone who calls on God. That’s wonderful news.

I’m remembering what John Eldredge, author of lots of books about walking with God, has said about the heart. He says we’ve bought into the lie that our hearts are always-and-only deceitful and desperately wicked, like Jeremiah once said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” 17:9.

Eldredge says that once we have faith in Jesus, we have a “ransomed heart,” one that’s redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. “You have a new life–the life of Christ. And you have a new heart. Do you know what this means? Your heart is good.” Waking the Dead, chapter 4. ( https://www.amazon.com/dp/0718080874/?ref=exp_ransomedheart_dp_vv_d)

Of course what God says about it matters most. Paul prays that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” How can perfect Christ live in a wicked, deceitful heart? Something has had to happen in it to clean it up. Repentance and faith are what’s happened. And forgiveness.

After telling a story about soils, Jesus said that seeds scattered on good soil stood for those “with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop,” Luke 8:15. There it is. What has repentance, faith, and forgiveness done for a deceitful heart? They’ve made it good, and it produces crops of good, even Jesus says so.

When I read the very next verse of Jeremiah, 17:10, I see that he answers the question of who can understand the heart. God can, and he does, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” If all that a heart is capable of is wicked, then good deeds can’t come out of it. Briars don’t grow blueberries.

God’s provided the cure in Jesus for my deceitful heart. I’m no longer defined by sin. I’m dead to sin but alive in Christ. I have a new heart, and it’s good. One day, I’ll even have a new name. New life starts the moment I first believed, not later in the hereafter, Ro 6:11, 2 Cor 5:17. Now.

Case closed.

After all this, it’s not hard to believe that a good heart can be pure. If it produces good fruit, if it is indwelled by God’s Holy Spirit, if it calls out to God, of course it can!

Thank you, God. This is wonderful news. It gives me a lot to rethink for myself. And for my family. How differently I’d have parented if I’d really believed we were capable of having good hearts. I’d have relaxed and enjoyed those days more. And I’d have stopped trying to root out all the bad I was afraid of. That’s your job anyway.

Forgive me and give me chances to re-love my kids here. And thank you for grandkids that I get to love better.

Psalm 94

Avenger-God

Guard your turf,
Avenger-God,
Judge of earth.
Pay back the proud
for their loud mouths.
How long, O Lord,
will the wicked be glad?
How long will their words
boast and brag?
They pummel your people;
they crush your kids.
They kill widows and orphans
and immigrants.
They believe you don’t see.
Well, listen up, fools!
Get a clue!
God makes the rules.
Give him his due.
Ear creator hears.
Eye designer sees.
Knowledge maker knows.
Wicked plans get trashed,
but God’s plans stand.
And we’re blessed.

Psalm 94:1-12
from Simple Psalms, #232, by me

My take away today is your plans that stand, and the blessings that come through them. Baruch was blessed beyond his wildest dreams by going with your plans for him, ones that in his day looked more like disaster and death to his community and culture, to his ambition. How could he have dared hope that his experience would still be read about and valued more than 2400 years later?

I’m grateful that your glory became more dear to him than his own. The plan to save your people was opened to me precisely because your people were rebellious. The only way I know about your salvation plan is because of men like Jeremiah and Baruch who told the stories of your goodness despite your people’s badness. Only you could bring about so much good for the world from so much sin.

Paul reveals more about your plans that stand, your salvation plan to give me a good heart, capable of purity, a beauty that only you could bring about from its birthplace of deceit. Beauty from ashes. Joy from sorrow. Life from death.

And thank you for your words in Psalm 94 that teach me that regardless of the wicked and their plans, yours are the ones that stand. That’s a great comfort as I look back over the list of “last days people” from Paul. It’s easy to feel discouraged by the world around me, but I’m encouraged when I see your plan to give me and all your people good hearts to do good things.

Keep my eyes fixed on you today. Thank you for so many blessings along the way and for those with me on my journey, “who call on [you] out of a pure heart,” 2 Tim. 2:22.

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