The liar

One of the few descriptions of the devil in the Bible is found in John 8:44. Differentiating between those who are true children of Abraham and those who are not, it says, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lust of your father ye will do .He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for his is a liar, and the father of it.” Satan’s reputation as the father of lies implies that all lies originate from him. In the book of 1 Kings, there is recorded an incident in which a lying spirit was sent to the king of Israel (1 Kings 22:23-24). A conversation between God and the host of heaven suggested that king Ahab could be persuaded by a lying spirit to do something that would result in his own death.

At the time of the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem, the people were being told lies about their safety inside the city walls. Ezekiel was told, “They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they made others to hope that they would confirm the word” (Ezekiel 13:6). “Divination was a pagan parallel to prophesying…it seems probable that the diviners conversed with demons…Divination was one of man’s attempts to know and control the world and the future, apart from the true God” (7080). Even king Zedekiah participated in the deception of God’s people. His consultation with Jeremiah revealed that surrender was the only way to avoid death, and yet, Zedekiah chose to keep the information from the people and tried to escape secretly by night (Jeremiah 39:4).

In an attempt to make the truth known to his people, Ezekiel was given advance warning of king Zedekiah’s plot (Ezekiel 12:6) and was told to warn the people against false prophets (Ezekiel 13:2). God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth? Tell them therefore, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision. For there shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 12:22-24).

The connection between idolatry and lying divination was found in a sacrificial system that promised peace and prosperity at a price. In a sense, the false prophets were bribed to tell the people what they wanted to hear. Sacrifices to pagan gods were used as a front for the business of organized crime. It was illegal for the Israelites to worship other gods, and yet, idols were kept in God’s own temple (Ezekiel 8:12). God’s condemnation of the false prophets showed that his people were under their control and needed to be delivered from their dangerous practices. He said, “Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life: therefore ye shall see no more vanity, nor divine divinations: for I will deliver my people out of your hand: and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 13:22-23).

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Repentance (Step 4)

Both the books of Isiah and Jeremiah contain illustrations of God as a potter and his chosen people as clay. Isaiah wrote, “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter, and we all are the work of thine hand” (Isaiah 64:8). Jeremiah was told a parable in which the clay was marred in the hand of the potter and had to be remade into another vessel (Jeremiah 18:4). The LORD said to Jeremiah, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6).

The process of repentance includes a willing relinquishment of the outcome of our lives. In order to get us to give up what we once thought to be essential for our happiness, God sometimes has to break our hearts. A broken heart is not about producing sadness, but about the view we have of ourselves that is central to our identity. The heart, according to Hebrew scriptures, is the whole inner man. “It includes not only the motives, feeling, actions and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man”  (3820). In one sense, you could say that a broken heart results in the person you are ceasing to exist.

God’s punishment of his people was intended to change their character. He wanted them to be free of the pride and arrogance that caused them to refuse his help. It says in Lamentations 4:1-2, “How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! The stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street. The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hand of the potter!

God had to use extreme measures to get his people to stop worshipping idols. It says in Lamentations 4:6, “For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughters of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.” Sodom’s quick destruction was considered a merciful act because there was no awareness of what was happening. When Israel and Judah were destroyed, not only did God tell them what was going to happen, but he also forced some of them to survive and go into captivity where the memory of what happened would haunt them for the rest of their lives.

It says in Lamentations 4:18, “They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.” This passage most likely came from someone that witnessed the destruction of Judah and saw first hand the Babylonian soldiers hunting down people as if they were animals to be killed in sport. This type of ruthless brutality no doubt had a lasting impact on those who survived. Through this experience, the hearts of God’s people were changed forever.

Disobedience

The disobedience of God’s people involved more than just breaking his commandments. At the heart of the Mosaic Law was an intent to establish a relationship between God and his people that involved ongoing communication. Many times, God’s people were encouraged to listen to the voice of the LORD and to pay attention to his instructions, but the people chose to ignore the God that had delivered them from bondage.

The final act of disobedience by the remnant of people left in Judah was leaving the Promised Land to live in Egypt, the place that they had been delivered from. It says in Jeremiah 43:7, “So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: thus came they even to Tahpanhes.” The residence of Pharaoh was in Tahpanhes, so most likely this was a city that catered to his needs, a place where jobs as household servants were abundant.

After the last remnant of people left Jerusalem, Jeremiah received a message from the LORD. He said, “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Ye have seen all the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, and upon all the cities of Judah; and behold, this day they are a desolation, and no man dwelleth therein” (Jeremiah 44:2). The lack of life in Jerusalem was a testament to the complete desolation that God had brought on his people. No one remained because there were none that had been faithful to his commandments.

In a final act of retaliation, God swore to destroy the remnant that had departed to Egypt (Jeremiah 44:14). If this weren’t bad enough, God’s people made it clear that their relationship with the LORD was over. They would worship the queen of heaven, Ishtar, instead. They said to Jeremiah, “As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil” (Jeremiah 44:16-17).

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.

Not too hard

While the city of Jerusalem was under siege from king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Jeremiah was kept in prison so he couldn’t speak to the people and discourage them from fighting (Jeremiah 38:4). About halfway through a two-year battle that was eventually lost, Jeremiah received a message from the LORD. “And Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth: for the right of redemption is thine to buy it…And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle’s son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver” (Jeremiah 32:6-7,9).

Jeremiah’s act of obedience to the Mosaic Law served two purposes. First, it was a sign of Jeremiah’s faith that he believed God would return his people to the Promised Land after their captivity was completed. Second, Jeremiah’s redemption of his cousin’s property demonstrated that normal economic activity was expected to resume after the exile. Judah’s captivity would not change the course of events. It was meant to reset, not alter the execution of God’s covenant with his people.

One of the main problems that existed at the time of Judah’s captivity was a lack of faith. No one really believed God could or would save his people. As a means of establishing his ability to do the impossible, God intended to destroy the city of Jerusalem, and then, to bring it back to life again. Jeremiah declared, “Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee” (Jeremiah 32:17). What was not too hard for God was to make his people want to obey his commandments. In other words, for God’s people to have faith in him.

One of the reasons the Israelites did not obey God was he had never punished them. In a sense, you could say, they had gotten away with their sins, and therefore, continued to do what they knew was not right. Also, there was probably a sense that God couldn’t or wouldn’t punish them, so there was no need for them to repent. In some ways, you could say God’s people were leading double lives. They offered sacrifices to God and continued to sin as if the two had nothing to do with each other; there was no connection in their minds.

God’s answer to the problem of disobedience or lack of faith was to give his people a desire to know  him, to have a personal relationship with him. God told his people they were to obey his voice (Exodus 19:5), but they had stopped listening. They were distracted by their sin and interest in accumulating wealth. God said to Jeremiah, “And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them” (Jeremiah 32:39). In essence, what God was saying was he would give his people only one option, they would obey him or they would not live in the Promised Land.

The wound

Jeremiah described the problem of sin as one of bondage, enslavement to a way of life that was contrary to God’s written laws. Referring to the restoration of Israel, Jeremiah said, “For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him: but they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them” (Jeremiah 30:8-9). God’s plan to deliver his people from sin began with their captivity. The only way God could convince them of their need for salvation was to let his people see what life was like apart from him, to experience the pagan culture of Babylon first hand.

Separation from God was a foreign concept to the people of Israel and Judah. The temple that stood in the midst of Jerusalem was a symbol of God’s constant presence. The people were unaware that their sin had caused God to turn away from them and that he was no longer paying attention to their sacrifices and prayers. The spiritual condition of the people living in Jerusalem was terrible. They thought they were doing well, but they were actually very sick. Jeremiah declared, “Thus saith the LORD; thy bruise is incurable and thy wound is grievous, there is none to plead thy cause, that thou mayest be bound up: thou hast no healing medicines” (Jeremiah 30:12-13).

Isaiah wrote about the good tidings of salvation that would be available in the future. He prophesied, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). The Hebrew word translated meek, ‘anayv refers to someone that has been humbled through affliction or difficult circumstances. The root word anah means to respond or to begin to speak. The idea behind these words is a situation that causes one to pray or cry out to God for help.

God’s promise to his people was that he would not allow them to perish or cease to exist as a nation. He said, “For I will restore health unto thee and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 30:17). The wound God was referring to was the breaking of their hearts. As with a blow that breaks a bone, the truth of God’s word can have a devastating effect on sinners. When the Israelites learned that Jeremiah had been right about Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem, they were crushed spiritually because they had not believed what he told them. After the initial group of captives were taken away to Babylon, those who remained in Jerusalem were left to fend for themselves and terror began to set in, “as a woman in travail” (Jeremiah 30:6).

Grace

God’s concern for the people that were taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar was evident when he told Jeremiah to write them a letter to remind them of his plan to bring them back to the Promised Land after their 70 years of captivity was completed. Jeremiah began by instructing the people to settle down and make the best of their difficult situation. He said, “Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished” (Jeremiah 29:5-6).

A key aspect of God’s plan for the remnant of his people that went into captivity in Babylon was the restoration of their relationship with him. Many false prophets, including Hananiah the son of Azur, were telling the people they would be brought back to Jerusalem shortly (Jeremiah 28:3-4). The false hope that was being instilled in their hearts made the captives vulnerable to disappointment and discouragement in the face of great trials. In his letter, Jeremiah told them specifically when they could expect to go home. He wrote, “For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10).

The period of seventy years represented the average person’s lifespan. By establishing that number as the length of their captivity, God was essentially assuring that none of those who left Jerusalem would actually return, unless he granted them an extension of their life on earth. The hope of a return to the Promised Land was really meant for the next generation, but they would only make it back if those who were taken captive believed in the LORD and followed his instructions. In order to stir up their faith, Jeremiah wrote these familiar words:

For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive. (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

An expected end is one in which the outcome has already been decided. Each person in his own heart had to know and believe the truth of Jeremiah’s message or God’s plan could not be carried out. Therefore, to say that the outcome was already settled and God could guarantee a certain result, meant the people’s faith had to be based on God’s decision, not their own. Although Jeremiah’s letter to the people exiled to Babylon did not specifically use the word grace, his message implied it. The only way God could cause his people to return to Jerusalem was to “grace” them, make them want to return by way of his divine influence upon their hearts.