Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Illustrations from Jeremian and Lamentations

Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. He cried for Israel who had turned away from God and for the punishment that was coming. He ministered for forty years. He delivered very pessimistic messages. A warning for the people to turn from sin and turn back to God. But the people hated the message, ignored Jeremiah’s warnings and punished him for it. He had death threats. He was attacked and persecuted. He saw his fellow prophets murdered and the people listening to false prophets proclaiming peace (Jeremiah 6:14b). No wonder he’s called the weeping prophet. There are many lessons and illustrations used in Jeremiah. I will discuss three of my favorites as well as a ray of hope among the severe messages.

First, God used the ruined linen belt to illustrate the uselessness of Israel. In Jeremiah 13:1-11, God asked Jeremiah to wear a linen belt and told him not to allow it to touch water. He then told Jeremiah to take the belt to a rock crevice and leave it. After many days, God told Jeremiah to retrieve the belt from the crevice and examine it. The belt had been ruined and completely useless from the elements. The Lord then says to Jeremiah, “In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follows the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt-completely useless” (verse 9-10). The illustration of the ruined linen belt shows that actions speak louder than words. Pride can make you useless to God because it can rot our hearts and leave no room for God’s work in us.

Second, the illustrations of the potter’s clay and the broken clay jar were used to demonstrate God’s power over Judah. In Jeremiah 18:1-17, God instructs Jeremiah to watch a potter as he molds the clay. When defects appeared on the clay, the potter had the power to fix the clay, mold it in order to repair the defect by reshaping the pot. “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as the potter does?” declares the Lord, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel” (verse 6). The broken clay jar in Jeremiah 19:1-12 is the illustration that God has the power to destroy the nation which doesn’t turn from their sins and like broken jar, it cannot be repaired. It is a warning to repent before God brings judgment. These illustrations remind me of the hymn, The Potter’s Hands, as the lyrics urge God to mold me, to guide me, lead me, to use me as I give myself to God’s hands. As we are clay in his hands, he will continue to work with us, mold us until he has finished with us (Philippians 1:6).

Third, the baskets of figs illustrate two types of people those God will preserve and those he’ll destroy. In Jeremiah 24:1-10, God shows Jeremiah two baskets of figs, one basket contained good figs and the other very poor figs. The good figs represent the people God will preserve by sending them into exile, saving from them the destruction of the land. He also promises to restore to the land (verses 5-7). They would be saved because their hearts would respond to God, not because they were good, sinless or perfect.  They were sent into exile because they still needed to be punished for their sins; however, God saw that their hearts were able to return to him. The very poor figs represents the people who would be destroyed or flee when the nation was conquered (verses 8-10). These people were arrogant to believe they were safe and blessed if they remained in the land or fled to Egypt, they would be destroyed by “the sword, famine, and plague” (verse 10). The baskets of figs also illustrates the adage of “what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” Trouble or hard times can be a blessing as it helps us remain close to God. However, prosperity is a curse as it can entices us away from God. We need to be mindful of the good times to remain close to God, to use our prosperity for his glory and our troubles draw closer to him.

Despite the doom and gloom in Jeremiah’s messages, there is hope. In Lamentations 3, the theme is hope amongst affliction. Jeremiah reminds himself and us that God, with his great faithfulness, renews us every morning with a new chance to repent and turn to him (verse 21-23). Every morning is a new chance from God to follow him. God is the God of second chances and third chances and so on. We run out of chances when there is no longer breath in our bodies. Verses 25-26 tells us that “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” I think is where the adage “good things comes to those who wait” originated. God’s timing is always perfect and even though our hearts may burn with desire for whatever we are wishing for, God will bring us this desire when the time is right. It may be days, weeks, months or even years, God’s timing is always perfect (Ecclesiastes 3:11). For every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17).

In conclusion, for forty years, Jeremiah warned the people of Israel and Judah that if they did not repent and turn to God, judgment would be brought upon them. Many people mocked him, ignored him and even tried to kill him. Some were destroyed when the nation was conquered. However, some were saved. They were taken into exile, to be refined and eventually returned to their land. The lesson for us is to heed the warnings and repent. In time of trouble, we may be in exile, being refined and waiting to be returned to prosperity. As Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 3:40-42a, “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven and say: ‘we have sinned and rebelled” Amen.