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If the prophecy in Jeremiah 27 takes place early in the reign of Zedekiah (Jer. 27:1), there are still years to go before Jeremiah is vindicated. At this point King Jehoiachin and the aristocracy have already been transported to Babylon, leaving behind Zedekiah and a ruling remnant. But far from being warned by these recent setbacks, Zedekiah and the ruling oligarchy want to be heroes and take on the Babylonian might. God instructs Jeremiah to provide both a verbal warning and an object lesson, not only to Zedekiah but also to the emissaries of the surrounding little nations and city-states (Jer. 27:1–3, 12). They are all in the same boat: if they submit to the Babylonian superpower, they will be spared; if they rebel, they will be crushed and destroyed. The God of Israel is sovereign over all the nations; the pagan states would do better listening to him than to all of their own diviners, pagan prophets, and mediums (Jer. 27:9–10). Of course, most listened to their own religious establishment. Nevertheless, after the tragic events unfolded, doubtless some individuals were a little more impressed by the God of Israel than before these events. He was the only one who had gotten the future right.
For some years I have been keeping odd essays and books that predict the future. These are written by astrologers, various futurologists, and self-proclaimed prophets. Of course, they do not all work on the same premises. Futurologists tend to project current trends into the future and infer what will take place. The best of them also make some allowances for reactions to current trends. Astrologers and self-proclaimed prophets claim some sort of external perspective. I have been keeping these projections for enough years to know that their track record is not good. Inevitably they get some things right—they make many predictions, and they cannot always be wrong. Nevertheless, picking an essay at random out of my files, I consult what one expert predicted in 1968 regarding the state of religion in Canada in twenty-five years, i.e., 1993. Among his predictions: the Catholic Church will be ordaining women; church attendance in the nation will be down by about 60 percent; a new Billy Graham will appear, “more charismatic, more hypnotic in his sway over the masses, than Graham himself”; the crucial public ethical issue will not be abortion or capital punishment but sterilization of the mentally retarded and brain transplants. And much more of the same. Many of us are familiar with the widely disseminated prophecy that predicted massive revival in the West by a set date (now long past).
Brothers and sisters, do not fear them, listen to them, or respect them. Fear and hear the words of the Lord.
Some of us have wondered why God has occasionally used in powerful ministry people blatantly flawed. This is not to say that God should only use perfect people, for that would mean he would be using no people. Nor am I referring to the fact that we all have weaknesses and faults of various kinds. George Whitefield, for instance, despite his enormous stature as a preacher and evangelist, did not fare very well on the marriage front, or in his (misguided) conviction that his son would be healed of his mortal illness. Virtually any Christian leader, whether from biblical times or more recent history, could not stand up under the onslaught of that sort of criticism. No, what I have in mind is the flaw that is so public and awful that one ponders two questions: (a) If this person is so powerful and godly, why the ugly fault? (b) If this person is so filled with the Spirit, why doesn’t that same Spirit enable him to clean up his act?
There are no easy answers. Sometimes it is simply a matter of time. Judas Iscariot, after all, engaged in public ministry with the other eleven apostles — even miraculous ministry — yet with time proved apostate. The passage of time would show him up. But sometimes the flaws are there from the beginning to the end.
That is true, it appears, in the life of Samson. The Spirit of God came upon him mightily; the Lord used him to curb the Philistines. But what is he doing marrying a Philistine woman, when the Law strictly forbade marriage to anyone outside the covenant community (Judg. 14:2)? When his parents warn him of the consequences, he simply overrides them, and they acquiesce (Judg. 14:3). True, they did not know that “this was from the LORD” (Judg. 14:4), in the same way that the selling of Joseph into slavery in Egypt was of the Lord; but that did not make the human actions right.
Samson’s risky bet (Judg. 14:12-13) is more cocksure and greedy than it is wise and honorable. Of course, the Philistines are really cruel in the matter (Judg. 14:15-18, 20), but Samson’s murder of thirty men to fulfill the terms of the wager is motivated less by a desire to cleanse the land and restore the covenant people to strength than it is by personal vengeance. Similar things must be said about his tactics in the next chapter, and about his steamy living in the chapter after that.
It appears, then, that Spirit-given power in one dimension of life does not by itself guarantee Spirit-impelled discipline and maturity in every dimension of life. It follows that the presence of spiritual gifts is never an excuse for personal sin.
14:1 Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. 2 Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” 3 But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”
4 His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.
5 Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. 6 Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. 7 Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she was right in Samson's eyes.
8 After some days he returned to take her. And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. 9 He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion.
10 His father went down to the woman, and Samson prepared a feast there, for so the young men used to do. 11 As soon as the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. 12 And Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can tell me what it is, within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes, 13 but if you cannot tell me what it is, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Put your riddle, that we may hear it.” 14 And he said to them,
“Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.”
And in three days they could not solve the riddle.
15 On the fourth1 day they said to Samson's wife, “Entice your husband to tell us what the riddle is, lest we burn you and your father's house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?” 16 And Samson's wife wept over him and said, “You only hate me; you do not love me. You have put a riddle to my people, and you have not told me what it is.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told my father nor my mother, and shall I tell you?” 17 She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted, and on the seventh day he told her, because she pressed him hard. Then she told the riddle to her people. 18 And the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,
“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?”
And he said to them,
“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.”
19 And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father's house. 20 And Samson's wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.
18:1 After this Paul1 left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.
5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews2 made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.
18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers3 and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus.
22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit,4 he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
27:1 In the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah1 the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD. 2 Thus the LORD said to me: “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck. 3 Send word2 to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the sons of Ammon, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon by the hand of the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah. 4 Give them this charge for their masters: ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: This is what you shall say to your masters: 5 “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. 6 Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. 7 All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave.
8 “‘“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the LORD, until I have consumed it by his hand. 9 So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ 10 For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. 11 But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the LORD.”’”
12 To Zedekiah king of Judah I spoke in like manner: “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people and live. 13 Why will you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the LORD has spoken concerning any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? 14 Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon,’ for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you. 15 I have not sent them, declares the LORD, but they are prophesying falsely in my name, with the result that I will drive you out and you will perish, you and the prophets who are prophesying to you.”
16 Then I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, “Thus says the LORD: Do not listen to the words of your prophets who are prophesying to you, saying, ‘Behold, the vessels of the LORD's house will now shortly be brought back from Babylon,’ for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you. 17 Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon and live. Why should this city become a desolation? 18 If they are prophets, and if the word of the LORD is with them, then let them intercede with the LORD of hosts, that the vessels that are left in the house of the LORD, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem may not go to Babylon. 19 For thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the pillars, the sea, the stands, and the rest of the vessels that are left in this city, 20 which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon did not take away, when he took into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem—21 thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning the vessels that are left in the house of the LORD, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem: 22 They shall be carried to Babylon and remain there until the day when I visit them, declares the LORD. Then I will bring them back and restore them to this place.”
13:1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake.1 For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants2 in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows,3 or in the morning—36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”