Compassion

Unfortunately, it’s true that we sometimes don’t cry out to God until it’s too late. The destruction of God’s temple in Jerusalem had a devastating effect on his people. For those people that believed it was necessary for them to worship God in his temple, they saw the destruction of the temple as the end of their relationship with God. At the very least, the temple was a place for God’s people to gather together. It was a representation of the community of believers being united as one. Without the temple, there was no way for believers to connect with each other.

Psalm 74 was written some time after the Babylonians destroyed everything in Jerusalem, including the temple that was built by king Solomon. The Psalmist prayed that God would come to the aid of his people and pleaded with him to “remember thy congregation, which thou has purchased of old, the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, where in thou hast dwelt” (Psalm 74:2).

In Psalm 74:2, the Psalmist’s reference to “thy congregation” meant the people that had been delivered from slavery in Egypt. The Psalmist was reminding God of the work he had done to bring the nation of Israel into existence. The Psalmist was disturbed because it looked like all God had done was ruined and his enemies had succeeded in destroying God’s kingdom. He said, “Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations; they set their ensigns for signs” (Psalm 74:4).

What the Psalmist was implying was that God’s people no longer belonged to him. Because Nebuchadnezzar had taken the captives of Jerusalem to Babylon, it seemed as if they were no longer citizens of God’s kingdom, but God promised to visit or look after them until the time when he would return them to the Promised Land (Jeremiah 27:22).

Psalm 79 opens with a description of the wasteland that Jerusalem had become after the Babylonians destroyed it. It says in Psalm 79:1-5:

O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps. The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth. Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them. We are become a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us. How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry for ever?

It is likely Psalm 79 was written at the same time or shortly after the fall of Jerusalem. The Psalmist requested that God would show compassion to his people and declared, “for they have devoured Jacob, and laid waste his dwelling place. O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us” (Psalm 79:8).

The Hebrew term translated as tender mercies, “racham expresses a deep and tender feeling of compassion, such as is aroused by the sight of weakness or suffering in those who are dear to us or in need  of help (7356). At the time the citizens of Jerusalem were taken into captivity, they didn’t know if they were going to live or die. The  Psalmist asked that God would “preserve thou those that are appointed to die” (Psalm 79:11).

God’s compassion toward his people was evident in his repeated warnings to them that destruction was coming. Even though Jeremiah made it clear that all who surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar would be kept alive (Jeremiah 15:11), the people didn’t believe him, and as a result, many were slain when Nebuchadnezzar’s army entered and destroyed Jerusalem (Psalm 79:3). Ultimately, the Psalmist’s prayer was answered because God did prevent the nation of Judah from being destroyed permanently and he did preserve the remnant or congregation of his people that were taken into captivity.

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Forgiveness

God identified himself to Jeremiah as “the God of all flesh” (Jeremiah 32:27) and asked him the question, “Is there any thing too hard for me?” What God was implying was that because he had created mankind, he had the power to do whatever was necessary to save his people, if he wanted to. In his role of creator, God sought to accomplish a specific outcome related to his promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation (Genesis 12:2). In its most basic sense, nation refers to a group of people with something in common (1471). In Abraham’s case, the nation God wanted to make of him was a group of faith filled believers that would worship only the LORD. Of this nation, God told Jeremiah, “Thus saith the LORD the maker thereof, the LORD that formed it, to establish it;  the LORD is his name; Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not (Jeremiah 33:2-3).

God’s plan of salvation for his people was revealed before they went into captivity because it was necessary for them to believe their captivity was a part of God’s plan, not an end to God’s involvement in their lives. One of the things that God decided to do was to demonstrate his power through the return of his people to the Promised Land. He told Jeremiah, “Behold, I will bring it health and cure and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth. And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return and will build them, as at the first and I will cleanse them from all their iniquity whereby they have sinned against me, and I will pardon all their iniquities whereby they have sinned” (Jeremiah 33:6-8).

The Hebrew terms translated health and cure suggested that after their captivity was completed, the lives of God’s people would return to normal. The only way that could happen was for God to not only cleanse, but to pardon all of his chosen people from their sins. The Hebrew word translated pardon, calach means to forgive. Forgiveness “is the Divine restoration of an offender into favor, whether through his own repentance or the intercession of another” (5545). In the case of all the Israelites that went into captivity, they were forgiven because of the intervention of another, Jesus Christ. Jeremiah was told, “In those days, and at that time will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name where with she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:15-16).

God’s restoration of the nation of Judah would ultimately make it possible for Jesus to be born. Were it not for God’s preservation of the royal bloodline, the Messiah could not fulfill both the old and the new covenants that promised an eternal kingdom to God’s people (Jeremiah 33:17). The assurance of forgiveness was a key provision in God’s plan. If it were up to the people to repent and request forgiveness, none of God’s people might have been saved. Because of his divine capabilities, Jesus was able to intercede on behalf of the Israelites, even before he was born on earth. Jesus’ kingdom was established the moment God promised Abraham he would make of him a great nation (Genesis 12:12), but it wasn’t until Abraham believed in the LORD, that his sins were forgiven and he became the first member of that nation.

The nation of Israel

God’s promise to Abraham to make a great nation of his descendants was only partially fulfilled when the twelve tribes of Israel settled in the Promised Land. Abraham’s grandson Jacob was the father of the twelve men from whom the twelve tribes became established. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel after he was overpowered by him in an all-night wrestling match (Genesis 32:28). The name Israel means “he will rule (as) God” (3478). When the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyria and its people sent into exile, it appeared that God’s effort to establish a nation from Abraham’s descendants had failed, but the nation of Israel was never intended to be a political institution. God wanted his spiritual kingdom to be manifested physically on earth.

A nation is similar to a body in that its individual members are considered to be a single unit that functions interdependently. The real purpose of a nation is to give its people a shared identity. When God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, he was giving him a new identity, one that would remain in tact until God’s kingdom was manifested on earth. In order for the nation of Israel to look like God’s kingdom, all of the twelve tribes had to be included. Speaking of the final outcome he was working towards, God told Jeremiah, “The fierce anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have done it, and until he have performed the intents of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it. At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 30:24-31:1).

The issue that had to be resolved in order for Israel to be restored to a single united kingdom as it had been in king David’s day was its people had to turn away from their practice of idolatry. Isaiah described the situation as a covenant with death (Isaiah 28:15). God’s remedy was Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. He said, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation…And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand” (Isaiah 28:16,18). God’s love for his chosen people was so powerful that his grace became a way for him to turn them away from their idols. He said, “For I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow… And my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:13-14).

God’s restoration of the nation of Israel was identified as a “new thing.” Isaiah declared on behalf of the LORD, “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you them” (Isaiah 42:9). The voluntary return of God’s people to their homeland was considered a new thing because they had rejected him over and over again. The only way to adequately describe the difference between the former things and the new that was expected to take place was a transformation of the heart. The once proud and rebellious people of the northern kingdom of Israel would become like an adoring bride (Jeremiah 31:22). All of Israel will one day embrace with tender and unfailing love the one they crucified.

The true king

A mistake the Israelites made in interpreting God’s promise to give them an eternal kingdom was thinking a mortal man could rule such a kingdom. Jeremiah spoke of the true king that would one day fulfill God’s promise to king David. He said, “Behold, the days come saith the LORD that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth” (Jeremiah 23:5). Even though Jesus was the man spoken of in Jeremiah’s prophecy, his death on the cross was a clear demonstration of his mortal limitations. God’s reference to days to come was meant to convey a time period that was beyond Jesus’ earthly existence.

Perhaps a clue to the unique nature of the true king and his kingdom was the title or position he would be known by. Jeremiah referred to him as a righteous Branch and said, “this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jeremiah 23:5-6). Jesus did not need to be made righteous, he was the only man without sin, but in order for him to be our righteousness Jesus had to pay the penalty for every sin committed against God. When Jesus died on the cross, the penalty was paid for sins that had not yet be committed, therefore, the delay of his reign on earth is due to the continued conversion of sinners.

At some point, the last person to accept God’s free gift of salvation will signal the end of the age we currently live in. Only God knows when that will happen. Afterward, God will pick up where he left off in his plan of salvation for his chosen people. The Messiah’s reign on earth, also known as the Millennial reign of Christ, will be characterized by a return of the nation of Israel as it existed before the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles. Referring to the Messiah’s reign, Jeremiah said, “In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely” (Jeremiah 23:6). God’s goal of regathering his people and establishing a permanent kingdom on earth will then be accomplished. Jeremiah  declared, “Therefore behold, the  days  come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them, and they shall dwell in their own land.

 

The Living God

Jeremiah exposed the trade of idolatry as a worthless pursuit of self glorification. He spoke of those who practiced idolatry as being vain. He said, “For the customs of the people  are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold, they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must be borne, because they cannot go” (Jeremiah 10:3-5).

Idols were nothing more that inanimate objects that were portrayed as having superhuman powers that could harm people unless sacrifices were made to them. Jeremiah said, “Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good” (Jeremiah 10:5). At the heart of idolatry was a superstitious belief that a person could control his own destiny and did not need help from God to be successful in life.

Jeremiah pointed out that God’s role in the universe was to control the final outcome of his creation. He said, “But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king; at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation” (Jeremiah 10:10). The Hebrew word translated everlasting, ‘ôlâm (o – lawm´) refers to something that is concealed or the vanishing point when time no longer exists (5769). Another interpretation of olam is eternity. In the context of an everlasting king, it refers to the God who always has and always will rule over the earth.

Jeremiah’s reference to the LORD as the true God, the living God, was meant to emphasize the fact that God is alive and is a divine being with real superhuman powers. Jeremiah said, “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion” (Jeremiah 10:12). Jeremiah’s use of the words power, wisdom, and discretion to describe God indicate that he is an intelligent being with the ability to create a world that is stable in the midst of a chaotic universe.

Jeremiah acknowledged that there is no comparison between man’s ability and God’s ability. As much as we want to think we can control our own destiny, it is impossible. Without God, there is no way to know how our lives will change over the course of 40 – 50 years. Jeremiah said, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O LORD, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing” (Jeremiah 10:23-24).

 

Uncircumcised heart

Jeremiah’s assessment of the situation in Judah revealed that the people were not following God’s commandments because they didn’t really know the LORD, they didn’t have a relationship with him (Jeremiah 9:3). Beginning with Abraham, God had made it clear that faith was the only way to enter into a relationship with him. Abraham believed in the LORD and God counted it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

God’s people thought the most important things in life were for them to be wise, powerful, and rich (Jeremiah 9:23). They wanted material success rather than a godly life. They didn’t realize that having a relationship with God was the only way for them to be truly happy. God had to explain to them that his way of life was the opposite of what they were trying to achieve. He said:

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

One of the ways Jeremiah described being committed to the LORD was to have a circumcised heart. He told the people of Judah to “circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart” (Jeremiah 4:4). Taking away the foreskin was symbolic of being stripped or to go naked (6188). In reference to the heart, it meant you would bare your soul or confess all your sins to God.

The LORD warned his people of a day when the entire world would be punished for sin. Previously, the Israelites expected God to pardon all their sins and establish an eternal kingdom for them in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:13). Because of their unfaithfulness, God would only pardon those of his chosen people who repented of their sins and received salvation through Jesus Christ. He said, “Behold the day cometh, saith the LORD, that I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart” (Jeremiah 9:25-26).

One language

After the flood that wiped out all living creatures on earth (Genesis 7:21), it says in Genesis 11:1 “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” What that meant was that not only did everyone speak the same language, but also used the same jargon or slang words. Therefore, everyone understood each other perfectly. The descendants of Ham, the son of Noah’s that was cursed by God, worked together on a building project known as the tower of Babel. When God discovered what they were doing, he said, “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:6-7).

The Hebrew word translated confound, balal means to mix (1101). Literally, what this meant was that words began to have mixed meanings. For instance, today a guy might say a girl is hot, which means he thinks she’s attractive. Anyone that didn’t know the slang meaning of the word hot would be confused by what he said. With each generation, words take on new meanings, therefore our speech is no longer pure. The prophet Zephaniah spoke about a time in the future when God would “turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9). Essentially, what he was saying was there would come a time when God would  clarify the meaning of words so that everyone would understand each other again, so that the world could operate as a single, unified kingdom.

Throughout the Old Testament, God called his people to be separated from the rest of the world. Israel stood apart as the one righteous nation among all the wicked nations. Because Israel failed in keeping God’s commandments and even the holy city Jerusalem turned to idolatry, God decided to create a new world order under which all the people of the world could be united to serve him (Zephaniah 3:8-9). Rather than save only his chosen people, God would purge the world of evil and save all who would humble themselves and put their trust in the LORD (Zephaniah 3;11-12). Among those who would be saved would be a remnant of the nation of Israel that would also accept Jesus Christ as their Savior (Zephaniah 3:13).