September 27, 2015

Scripture and Commentary, September 27- October 3

September 27

Jer. 48:25-47, Lk. 11:1-28
Jer. 49:1-22, 1 Cor. 12


Jeremiah 49

Ammonites were  also conceived through the incest of Lot’s daughters (Gen. 19:38).  At this point in Jeremiah, they have sent Ishmael to murder Gedaliah and enslave other Jews (Jer. 40:14).  This is only one  of many aggressive acts toward Israel.  1 Samuel 11 records an Ammonite attack in which they would allow the Israelites to surrender only if they allow the Ammonites to “thrust out” their right eyes.”  They were idolaters, and led Israel into idolatry with them (Judges 10:6).

Therefore God will drive them out of their land (Jer. 49:5)  The Babylonians will conquer them, as they take the entire area around the Jordan and the Dead Sea.  Yet God promises to allow them to return (6).

Edom is the subject of verses 7-22.  Descendants of Abraham through Esau, their king refused to allow Israel to pass through Edom on their journey to Canaan (Num. 20:14-20).  They continued to be aggressive toward Israel, and also enticed the Jews toward idolatry. God will make their land a desolation (17) through the Babylonian invasion.

Damascus (23-27) is a city-state north and east of the Sea of Galilee.  After the battle of Carchemish, the Babylonians continue to push the Egyptians southward toward the Nile, intending to invade Egypt itself. They are forced to abandon the invasion when many of the city-states in Canaan attempt to reassert themselves.  Jerusalem is among them, as is Damascus.  These city-states could band together into a powerful army and attack the Babylonians from behind. This would trap the Babylonians between two armies, which they would have to fight on two fronts simultaneously. The Babylonians cannot afford to risk this, so they temporarily stop fighting Egypt to return to Canaan.  It takes several campaigns and many battles, but the rebellious city-states are ruthlessly crushed and nearly annihilated, including Damascus. God, through Jeremiah warns that the city’s young men will fall in her streets and her men of war will be cut down (26).  When the Jews see this happening they should realise Jeremiah’s words are true.  This will give them yet another opportunity to repent.  But they will say it is just coincidence, and continue in their sin.

Many today take this passage out of context, believing it predicts an event that will occur near  the “rapture.”  In reality, it refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Damascus. All of the prophecies in chapters 46-49 centre around, and are fulfilled in the Babylonian invasion and conquest of the area in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C.  Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar are even named as the means by which these prophecies will be fulfilled (Jer. 49:28).  Chapter 49 ends with similar prophecies about other peoples in the area.  Kedar and Hazor are south east and south west of Damascus, respectively.  Elam is on the north east bank of the Tigris River, and may refer to Assyria, which was crushed in 605 B.C.

September 28

Jer. 49:23-39, Lk 11:29-54
Jer. 50,  1 Cor. 13


Jeremiah 50

Even mighty Babylon will not last forever.  Chapters 50 and 51 foretell the empire’s demise and fall.  As Jeremiah writes these words,  Babylon is the master of a vast empire.  But soon Babylon will be a subject in another nation’s empire.  Chapters 50 and 51 go to great lengths to describe the devastation and destruction of the city.  “A sound of battle is in the land, and of great destruction.  How is the hammer of the whole earth cut asunder and broken! how is Babylon become a desolation among the nations” (22, 23).  “Therefore shall her young men fall in the streets, and all her men of war shall be cut off in that day, saith the Lord” (30).  You will remember  that this is exactly what God said Babylon would do to Damascus (Jer. 49:26).  What Babylon has done to others will also be done unto her.

A nation, and a coalition of nations will rise up against Babylon (9).  These nations will come from the north (3, 9), and their invasion will punish Babylon for destroying God’s heritage, Israel (11).  God used Babylon to punish the Jews, but their invasion and crimes were still horrible sins and wickedness, for which they will pay by being conquered as they conquered others.

By contrast, God will bring Israel again to Jerusalem and Judah (19).  The sins of the Jews will be forgiven (20).  “Weeping they shall go, and seek the Lord their God” (4).  “They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be broken” (5).  These verse describe the Jews being released from Babylon and returning to Israel, determined to keep the Covenant of God.

Here again, we must clarify the meaning of this passage due to a popular misunderstanding of them that is very prevalent today.  This misunderstanding interprets the formation of the modern state of Israel as the fulfilment of the prophecies about Israel returning to her home (see vss. 4 and 5).  People holding this view have various interpretations of the identities of Babylon, and of  kings of the north who conquer it.  Russia and China have often been named as the kings of the north.  Iran is the current popular recipient of Babylon’s identity, though some people also believe Babylon is the United States.

In reality, the kings of the north are the Medes (Jer. 51:11).  In Jeremiah’s time, the Medes are part of the Babylonian Empire.  But, in the very near future, they will gain power as Babylon declines.  In 70 years from the time of the Jewish deportation to Babylon, Cyrus will rule the former Babylonian Empire.  Cyrus will give the Jews freedom, and money to return to Jerusalem and re-establish their nation.  This, not modern Israel, is the fulfilment of verses 19 and 20.  As an added note, the “Babylon” of Revelation 17-19 is ancient Rome, the city on seven hills (Rev. 17:9), not the literal Babylon.

September 29, Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels
Revelation 12:7-12, Mt. 18:1-10
1 Cor. 14

There is an unseen realm that both permeates and lies beyond the physical universe.  It is populated by those who have lived and died before us, and by supernatural creatures we know as angels.  In some cases, the angels in the Old Testament seem to be appearances of God (Gen. 22:15-18), but usually they are supernatural creatures sent by God.  “Angel,” in both Hebrew and Greek, means messenger, and the Bible often shows angels bearing messages to people from God (Lk. 1:26-37).  In Revelation, angels often execute the judgements of God.

They are clearly not the cute, cuddly creatures, or voluptuous figures that decorate Christmas trees and bookshelves today.  Michael is a fierce warrior.  People who saw angels were stricken with fear.  Yet, angels are often charged with caring for, and watching over us (Ps. 91:12).  Therefore, the Collect for today prays:

“O Everlasting God, who hast ordained and and constituted the services of Angels and men in a wonderful order; Mercifully grant that, as thy holy Angels always do thee service in heaven, so by thy appointment, they may succour and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” 

September 30

Jer. 50:21-46, Lk. 13
Jer. 51:1-34, 1 Cor. 15


Jeremiah. 51

This chapter continues the threats against Babylon.  The city will be punished for its cruelty and bloodshed against others, especially Israel (24).  Therefore, Babylon will will become heaps of rubble, as the Babylonians made Jerusalem rubble (37).  “The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, and her high gates shall be burned with fire; and the people will labour in vain, and the folk in the fire, and they shall be weary” (58).

October 1

Jer. 51:35-64  , Lk. 14
Jer. 52,  1 Cor. 16


Jeremiah 52

The book of Jeremiah closes with a summary of all the events addressed in the prophecies given to Jeremiah by God.  This summary shows how the prophecies were truly and literally fulfilled. Beginning with Zedekiah (1-3), it makes the two points: that Zedekiah did that which is evil in the sight of the Lord, and that he rebelled against the king of Babylon.  Zedekiah was only a puppet king.  The real ruler of Jerusalem, humanly speaking, was Nebuchadnezzar, to whom Zedekiah had vowed fidelity and obedience.  Instead of keeping his treaty with Babylon, he attempted to make an alliance with Egypt to fight the Babylonians.  It was this action by Zedekiah that brought the Babylonians to Jerusalem, and ended in the conquest and destruction of the city and Temple, and the deportation of the Jews to Babylon.

The fall of Jerusalem, often predicted by Jeremiah and other prophets, and the capture, punishment, and death of Zedekiah, are recounted in verses 4-22.  The destruction of the Temple (17-22) is a particularly telling event.  The Jewish people had allowed pagan idols to be placed in it, and worshiped alongside God.  They trusted in the Temple, thinking that doing the sacrifices and feasts and fasts in the proper way at the proper times would be enough to please God, who would then be honour bound to defend and prosper Israel, according to His promises to Abraham and his descendants.  But God makes it clear many times that He wants the whole person, not just sacrifices and ceremonies.  He also warned Israel many times that He would not continue to bless them if they continued to break the Covenant.  Finally the day arrives when God turns them over to their enemies.  The destruction of the Temple shows God’s disgust with the polluted and insincere faith and worship offered there.  It also signifies His withdrawal from Israel.  He no longer maintains His house because He no longer dwell in it.

Verses 24-27 recount the Babylonian revenge on the leaders and people of Jerusalem.  Many of these people were simply executed after Jerusalem surrendered.  28-30 tells of some of the people deported to Babylon.  The count probably only includes the heads of families, so many thousand more were actually deported.  Thousands more probably died in the journey to Babylon, but those who lived eventually made homes in Babylon, and many of them refused to leave it when Cyrus released them in 536.

Though Zedekiah died in prison, Jehoiachin, who had been taken to Babylon prior to Jerusalem’s fall, was released from prison and treated well in Babylon.  Of course, he spent 37 years in prison, but as a king, his prison was probably a house arrest in the palace.  He is given his freedom, but not allowed to return to Israel.  He dies in Babylon.

Thus, the things Jeremiah prophesied happened, just as he said they would.  But all the suffering and killing could easily have been avoided, if only the Jews had heeded the real message of the book, repent of sin and love God with your whole heart.

October 2

Lamentations 1, Lk. 15
Lamentations 2, 2 Corinthians 1


Lamentations 1

This short book is Jeremiah’s lament for Israel.  It is his expression of grief for the suffering, deportation, and death of  hundreds of thousands of the people, and for the destruction and devastation of Jerusalem and the Temple.  But the prophet weeps for more than just the people and the buildings that have suffered in the conquest.  The entire social/theological structure that made Israel who and what she was has died.  It will be resurrected, but, as Jeremiah writes Lamentations, it is dead.  It has been dying for generations and hundreds of years.  It died, not because it was killed by the Babylonians, but because the people drove the soul out of it by turning away from God.  They let the spirit of the Covenant get away from them, thus they were left with only the shell, the exterior body of ceremonies and sacrifices.  In other words, they had only the corpse of the faith.  The Babylonians did not kill it, they only destroyed the corpse, like vultures.

Jeremiah laments not only the destruction of the corpse, but also the loss of the life of the faith.  He regrets that the people have become so vile that the Lord has left His sanctuary, and allowed evil people to destroy it.  The nation that was created to be a peculiar people unto God and a light unto the Gentiles, has become so filthy, that God willingly destroys the outward forms of His worship and the social organisation of His people.  It is for this that the weeping prophet weeps most (see Dr. E. J. Young’s comments in An Introduction to the Old Testament, p 345).

Chapter 1 describes Jerusalem, and through her, the entire nation and fabric of Israel, as without friends or help, as solitary.  She is deserted (3) and naked (8).  Her lovers (2) are the pagan idols with whom she became a spiritual harlot.  Her friends are the nations around her to whom she attempted to form alliances, and from whom she learned the ways of idolatry and sin.  Where are they now?  Did they help her at any time?  Can they help her now?  No.  They are gone, fallen under the same people God used to punish Israel.  They, too, are under the wrath and punishment of God.

Verse 13 assures us that Israel’s condition is from God, not fate or accidents of history and other people. They are “from above.”  God put the consuming fire in her bones. God spread the net that captured her.  God made her desolate and faint. “For these things I weep” (16) Jerusalem says through the literary technique of personification.

We could easily look at our own world and weep for its current condition, all of which we suffer because we collectively fail to keep the commandments of God.  Western culture once attempted to build itself on Biblical values and ideals.  It was from the Bible that we learned about justice and equality and freedom.  It was from the Bible that we learned about government of, by, and for the people, rather than of, by, and for dictators or elites and their cronies.  We cannot claim perfection by any means.  But all of our failures are due to our lack of following the values, ideals, and faith of the Bible, not by following them.  Today we are seeing our culture crumble like ancient Jerusalem.  Why?  For the very same reasons Jerusalem fell; because we have turned away from our founding faith and values, and the further we go from them, the more our culture crumbles.  Our problems are not political, they are spiritual.

Verses 18 and 20 give a hint of repentance in the Jewish people.  Jeremiah has Jerusalem say, “I have rebelled against [God’s] commandments.”  How we wish all of Israel would say these words from the heart.  How we wish all people, especially in the Church, would do likewise.

Lamentations 2

Even the very Temple of the Lord is fallen and destroyed.  God has “cast off His altar” and abhorred His sanctuary (7).  His anger is so great that He no longer accepts the sacrifices and offerings of the people. He despises even the place where they were offered.  This destruction also signifies God’s withdrawal from Israel.  They have broken the Covenant, therefore, God is no longer bound by it.  Therefore, He removes His house from the city.  He has moved His home, so that He no longer dwells with Israel.

October 3

Lam. 3:1-36, Lk. 16
Lam. 3:37-66, 2 Cor. 2


Lamentations 3

Jeremiah continues to write of Israel as a person.  Thus, “the man” in verse 1 is all of the people of Israel collectively.  It is the nation.  “[T]he rod of his wrath” is Israel’s conquest and captivity, which comes to them as Divine chastisement.  The chapter encourages Israel to repent, and to wait patiently on the Lord.  Jeremiah knows the day of deliverance will come, but many of the Jews either do not know, or do not believe it will happen.  Jeremiah urges all to seek God, have hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.

This is good advice for God’s people in any era.  Troubles will come and go.  Evil people will often prosper while the Godly suffer.  God may even put troubles on us to chastise us, or to grow our faith.  We must not give up hope.  We must repent of our sin and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.