Judgment or Blessing Your Temple Won’t Save You

Rebecca Van Noord

They file in and repeat in rote, comforting words, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (7:4). The temple symbolizes God’s presence and protection in a tumultuous world. It makes Judah, subject to Babylonian homage, feel secure. However, while the people desire God’s protection, they don’t want it at the price of giving Him their devotion.

judgement.png

Standing at the gate of the temple, the prophet Jeremiah undermines Judah’s sense of security: “Look, you are relying for yourselves on deceitful words without benefiting” he says, calling out their sins against the law that was supposed to be written on their hearts (Jer 7:8; 31:31). Yet they rationalize stealing, murder, adultery and swearing falsely. In Jerusalem and beyond, justice is abandoned. Sojourners, widows and orphans are oppressed. The people whore after the gods of foreign nations (Jer 7:5). Yahweh says, “Will … you then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?” (Jer 7:9–10)

From their origin as a nation, Israel had enjoyed God’s favor. God promised Abraham his descendants would be blessed among the nations, and the nations through them (Gen 12:2–3). Israel, a nation of Abraham’s descendants, was His special heritage. God promised He would overwhelm His people with blessings (Deut 32:9; 28:1–14) and make them “the head and not the tail” among the nations (Deut 28:13). The opposite was also true. If Israel forgot Him, He would punish their disobedience—sometimes at the hands of those surrounding nations (Deut 28:25; see Isa 10:5–6). Yet Yahweh didn’t want mere submission, and He didn’t want empty religious motions. Obedience meant serving Yahweh “with joyfulness and gladness of heart” because of who He was (Deut 28:47).

Yet, in Jeremiah’s day, God’s favor is interpreted as entitlement and obedience is a head nod to the temple. All the while Judah, the remnant of God’s people, treat His goodness and protection as license for all types of evil. Instead of heeding Jeremiah’s words, they “have dug a pit for [his] life” (Jer 18:20). And instead of repenting, the nation flaunts itself through futile alliances with foreign nations (Jer 2:36– 37; 25).

The judgment brought upon God’s people, resulting in their demise and exile, is tragic—especially because they brought it on themselves. Yet even in the book of Jeremiah, we see His mercy. When the people are taken into Babylonian exile and experience the full judgment of their sin, God sends them hope. Stripped of their heritage and any semblance that they are Yahweh’s people, they are still promised better days: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11). It’s in this day that things will be set right: “You shall be my people, and I will be your God” (30:22).

God goes to extreme measures to ensure this happens—to the point that He will become a suffering servant, like Jeremiah, to redeem a people in spiritual exile (Isa 53). Such mercy is utterly unfounded based on His people’s actions. Such a testament of His love is beyond anything Abraham, Israel, scattered Judah, or you or I could ever expect. How do you respond to such love?

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3

The Mystery of God

Rebecca Van Noord

The Mystery of God
Jeremiah 3:1–4:18; Colossians 1:15–2:5; Proverbs 11:1–12

“God wanted to make known what is the glorious wealth of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).

Paul’s use of the word “mystery” in this passage may strike us as a bit strange. How is the person and work of Christ shrouded in secrecy? And why would Paul present Christ as a mystery if his point is that God wanted to make Christ known?

The answer is found in the culture of early Colossae, a city known for its infatuation with magic and the occult. Among the Gentile cults, “mystery” was often associated with a secret ritual that people must perform to create a relationship with a god. False teachers in the community at Colossae were promoting alternative ways to get to God—secret rituals that would lead to special knowledge for a select few. Paul contextualizes the gospel for the Colossians. He adopts this “mystery” language to show that Christ is the only way to God. The mystical path presented to the Colossians was a farce—a shell of what the Colossian believers had in Christ. It’s in Him that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden” (Col 2:3).

Paul wisely draws on language and tradition familiar to his audience to make the “mystery” of Christ known to all—not just a select few. Paul says he proclaims Christ so that “by admonishing every person and teaching every person with all wisdom … we may present every person mature in Christ” (Col 1:28).

Because he was familiar with the culture of Colossae, Paul was able to acknowledge the challenges the believers faced, and then present the gospel as they needed to hear it: Christ is the only way. How are you resting in Christ as the only way to God? How are you thoughtfully revealing this “mystery” to those in your church and community?

Do you look for other ways to get to God, like your own goodness or your own ability to earn favor?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Shelf Life Book Review: Holy War in the Bible

Matthew James Hamilton

Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem
InterVarsity Press, 2013

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 12.15.52 PM.png

Most of us have struggled to understand the biblical passages that depict a God of war. The editors of Holy War in the Bible address these Old and New Testament passages as well as the theological issues that result from common misinterpretations of the text.

This resource includes 14 essays divided into six categories. The first three address the challenge of holy war for Christian morality, as well as Old and New Testament perspectives on war. The last three categories address biblical-theological, ethical, philosophical, and theological perspectives on holy war. The volume also contains a useful list of selected references for further study.

Individual essays cover topics ranging from the crusades, interpreting the conquest narratives in Joshua, peacemaking in the 20th century, understanding divine justice in the book of Revelation, and dealing with the New Atheist understandings of a wrathful God. This is an excellent resource for the scholar, student, pastor, or Bible student who seeks to know more about the concept of holy war in the Bible.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 6

Hello, I’m God’s Voice

John D. Barry

Poetry often mixes metaphor with reality. At times it’s difficult to tell where realism ends and analogy begins; we’re not always certain if we’re reading spiritual vision or events in real time. Consider the opening lines of “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake:

“To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour. … The beggar’s rags, fluttering in air, does to rags the heavens tear. … We are led to believe a lie, when we see not thro’ the eye, which was born in a night to perish in a night, when the soul slept in beams of light. God appears, and God is light, to those poor souls who dwell in night; but does a human form display to those who dwell in realms of day.”

godsvoice.png

Blake mixes perspectives—juxtaposing the eternal (“see a world,” “heaven,” “infinity” and “eternity”) with humanity (“grain of sand,” “wildflower,” “palm of your hand” and “an hour”). He may be speaking on behalf of God, or he may be simply observing life and offering critique like God would. In this way, Blake is similar to the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah also mixes vision with reality and God’s perspective with his own:

“But you, O Yahweh … you see … that my heart is with you. … How long will the land mourn … because of the wickedness of those who live in it? … They have said, He does not see our future. If you run with foot soldiers and they have made you weary, then how will you compete with horses? … For even your relatives, and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you. … You must not trust in them. … I have forsaken my house, I have abandoned my inheritance. I have given the beloved one of my heart into the hand of her enemies (Jer 12:3–7).”

There are no “Thus sayeth the Lord” statements to guide us in this passage—we’re not sure when Jeremiah is speaking or when God is speaking. In this prophecy, the clues of who is speaking when have disappeared. Here’s why and what you can learn from it.

God’s Voice, the Prophet’s Voice—Same Voice
Step one: Discern the speaker and what they’re teaching in both words and actions.

There are no quotation marks in the original Hebrew—which is why I’ve removed them from this excerpt from Jeremiah. In prophetic narratives, when there are no “Thus sayeth the Lord” or “says the Lord” phrases, our only way to discern the speaker is interpretation. In this example, God begins speaking at “If you run with foot soldiers.” English Bibles often identify the speaker with headings (like the LEB’S heading “The Lord’s Reply”), but these aren’t original to the text—they’re inserted. We can tell that God begins speaking at this point because the words sound like a reply: “You must not trust them.” Additionally, the next phrase is something God often says: “my house” (being the temple).

It can be tricky to pick out a speaker on our own. However, if the speaker is identified for us, we can miss a major point of the biblical text: God’s voice and the prophet’s voice are one. The prophet is so united with God that there is little difference in his mind between what he says to the people and what God says to the people. This is, in part, what it means to be in God’s likeness (Gen 1:27).

But They Don’t Hear God
Step two: Examine the audience.

By living God’s calling, Jeremiah conveys the prophecies against God’s people in both his words and his deeds. The people have regularly disobeyed God, and God is fed up. The people believe that religion will save them, but the hammer is going to drop; Jeremiah is that hammer, a role that is especially difficult to bear when he receives orders that “you … must not pray for this people, and you must not lift up for them a cry of entreaty or a prayer, and you must not plead with me, for I will not hear you” (Jer 7:16). God has made His purposes known to Jeremiah, and now Jeremiah must follow through—even to the point of proclaiming divine retribution when he wants to plead for the people.

And They Still Don’t Hear God
Step three: Ponder parallels in the Gospels—see if Jesus says something similar or if He, as a person, provides a parallel.

Jeremiah’s way of life and prophetic voice can be seen in Jesus’ demeanor. And Jeremiah’s opposition—those who believe that religion will save them—is paralleled in the Pharisees. Jesus even says to His disciples, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness greatly surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20). However, there is a major difference between Jeremiah and Jesus: Unlike Jeremiah, Jesus actually is God. Jeremiah is living in God’s image, but Jesus is the living God (Gen 1:26; Jer 1; compare John 1:1). Jesus is the living Word itself (John 1:14)—He’s not just God’s voice, but God in person.

You All Shall Prophesy
Step four: Consider how the other New Testament books handle similar ideas. Use that message as a way to reflect on the meaning of the Scriptures for your life.

Since Jesus is the Word, the New Testament Church lives as the Word—the concept of living in God’s likeness. Paul even states, “Pursue love, and strive for spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. … The one who prophesies speaks to people edification and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor 14:1, 3). Jesus’—and by extension, Jeremiah’s—way of living manifests itself in their lives.

But this isn’t all fun and games: God takes prophecy seriously, even saying to a group of evil people in Jeremiah’s time, “You shall not prophesy in the name of Yahweh or you will die by our hand” (Jer 11:21). We shouldn’t ever claim to speak godly words unless we’re sure they’re actually godly. We must speak the truth and only the truth into others’ lives. In doing so, we experience what it means to bear God’s image like Jeremiah did—to be His voice to the world.

Jeremiah was both ordinary sinner and extraordinary voice of God. He lived to help the sinless and to glorify the only sinless one—God Almighty and, ultimately, Jesus. We must be both prophetic voices of truth and God’s living examples of it.


The High Definition New Testament and High Definition Old Testament identify ambiguous elements in the Bible and their purposes. Go to Logos.com/HDOT and Logos.com/HDNT

Faithlife Study Bible identifies audience. Download the app or go to FaithlifeBible.com

Biblical quotations from the Lexham English Bible (LEB).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3


John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.

God’s Puzzling Behavior

Robert B. Chisholm

Some parts of the Old Testament are familiar to us. The stories of Genesis have inspired the writers and artists of children’s Bibles—Adam and Eve in the garden, Noah and the ark, the Tower of Babel that confused languages and dispersed people. We can follow the comforting cadence of Psalm 23 and quote a pithy proverb that inspires us. However, some portions of the Old Testament—often those that raise uncomfortable questions we’re afraid to voice—remain unknown to us. While reading Jeremiah, we might be challenged to raise the following questions.

Can God be surprised?

godspuzzlingbehavior.png

In Jeremiah, God’s reaction to Israel’s unfaithfulness is that of a scorned spouse or parent: “Yet even after she had done all that, I thought that she might come back to me. But she did not” (Jer 3:7 NET). He laments, “I thought you would call me, ‘Father’ and would never cease being loyal to me. But, you have been unfaithful to me” (Jer 3:19–20 NET). We’re not surprised by Israel’s rebellion, but we don’t know how to respond to a God who seems surprised.

The Bible teaches that God knows everything—a trait known as “omniscience” (Psa 44:21; 139:1; Jer 17:10). Why then would He act surprised? The answer is that God seeks a relationship with His people. He relates to Israel like a husband to a wife or a parent to a child, and He plays out that role. He speaks as a husband or a parent would speak so Israel will understand the destructive effects of their actions. Not only does God express His pain—He makes it clear that He has been wronged and He has the right to punish Israel: “You have polluted the land with your vile whoredom. Therefore the showers have been withheld, and the spring rain has not come; yet you have the forehead of a whore; you refuse to be ashamed” (Jer 3:2–3).

Does God deceive people?

As Yahweh’s prophet, Jeremiah says things we wouldn’t expect: “Ah, LORD, you have surely deceived these people and Jerusalem by saying, ‘You will experience peace,’ when in fact a sword is even now at their throats” (Jer 4:10, author’s translation). Would the God of truth really deceive people?

The Bible teaches that God is truthful (Titus 1:1). His faithful people can rely on His word. But throughout the Bible, God enacts judgment on sinners by allowing them to be misled. In 1 Kings 21, Elijah tells King Ahab that God is ready to destroy him because he has committed himself to doing evil. God has used Ahab’s own prophets to confuse him: “Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you” (1 Kgs 22:23). Paul says that God will someday judge sinners by sending “a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess 2:11–12). However, those who are faithful to God can trust Him. The psalmist says to God, “with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous” (Psa 18:25–26).

Would God really tell a prophet not to pray for people?

God tells Jeremiah to stop praying for Israel because He is bent on destroying them. Their time of grace has ended—they have rejected God’s mercy: “The LORD said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence” (Jer 14:11–12). To emphasize His point, He says, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go!” (Jer 15:1). This certainly doesn’t sound like the God of mercy we see elsewhere in the Bible.

God takes no delight in the death of souls (Ezek 18:23, 32; 33:11). Over and over again, He accepts and forgives His people when they repent and turn to Him. Likewise, in Jeremiah’s day, God is willing to restore the people. However, the more He reaches out to them, the more they rebuff Him and harden their hearts. When Israel intentionally rejects God and His mercy, He decrees their demise: “You have rejected me, declares the LORD; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—I am weary of relenting” (Jer 15:6).

Would God really change His plans?

God seems to change His mind as He speaks to Jeremiah: “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it” (Jer 18:7–8). This raises another question: Would the unchangeable God seemingly change His mind and alter His plans?

God is patient. He gives people ample opportunity to turn from their sin. He teaches Jeremiah this truth by sending him to the potter’s house. At times, the clay will not “cooperate,” so the potter makes it into a different kind of pot than he originally designed. So it is with nations. God may announce judgment, but if people repent, He’ll alter His plan and show mercy. Or, He may intend to bless a nation, but if they reject Him, He’ll judge them instead (Jer 18:5–10). God is unchangeable—immutable—in His essence, but He is not inflexible. Because He is predisposed to mercy, He even grants people the freedom and dignity of contributing to their own destiny.

Jeremiah’s portrait of God might seem unfamiliar and puzzling to us. Although these questions reveal traits of God we’re uncomfortable with, they are, at the same time, encouraging to us. The portrait of God in Jeremiah shows us we shouldn’t take God’s mercy for granted; it also shows us that God offers His love and loyalty—He desires us to return to Him. While He is not a God to trifle with, He is also not a static force who will not listen to the cries of His people. If we are willing to encounter the God of Jeremiah, we will find that He desires to be in relationship with His people.

Unless otherwise noted, biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 3