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Jeremiah 15 provides some of the most haunting insights into the inner life and thought of the prophet Jeremiah:
(1) Jeremiah has been interceding with God on behalf of the covenant people (Jer 14). God tells Jeremiah to stop, that he will not listen (Jer. 14:11–12). Indeed, he now says that even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before him and intercede for the people, he would not spare them (Jer. 15:1). Centuries earlier Moses and Samuel had successfully interceded for Israel (Ex. 32:11–14; Num. 14:13–24; Deut. 9:18–20, 25–29; 1 Sam. 7:5–9; 12:19–25)—though it is important to remember that they also secured, in some measure, the willingness of the people to return to the Lord with contrition and renewed obedience. This Jeremiah has not been able to achieve. Now God is telling him that he will not achieve it: the people will go into captivity. The iniquity and idolatry under Manasseh have been the last straw (Jer. 15:4; see 2 Kings 21:10–15; 23:26; 24:3).
(2) In Jeremiah 15:10, Jeremiah frankly wishes he had never been born. The entire nation “strives and contends” with him. Everyone curses him, not because he has been corrupt in business, but because he faithfully conveys the word of the Lord. The Lord reassures him (Jer. 15:11–14; the best iron came “from the north,” from the Black Sea area, so this is a way of saying that Israel’s arms would be no match for those of the Babylonians). But that is part of Jeremiah’s anguish. One part of him wants justice, wants retribution for his persecutors (Jer. 15:15). That same part utterly delights in God’s words (Jer. 15:16a). Yet on the other hand, his allegiance to God and his words is precisely what isolates him from the people: “I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation” (Jer. 15:17b). Some of his most virulent foes were his own relatives (cf. Matt. 10:36). Jeremiah is sometimes tempted to think that it is God who has failed, like an intermittent spring (a wadi, Jer. 15:18) that flows at times with life and blessing, and at other times provides nothing.
God’s response (Jer. 15:19–21) is that if Jeremiah proves utterly faithful in conveying his words, he will continue as God’s spokesman and will be preserved from the evil machinations of his opponents. But one point is nonnegotiable: “Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them” (Jer. 15:19b).
The deep tension between faithfulness to God and alienation from one’s own people is an unvarying constant in the ministry of faithful preachers assigned to a declining culture.
From a reading of Judges 1–2, it appears that after the initial Israelite victories, the pace of conquest varied considerably. In many cases tribes were responsible for bringing their own territories under control. With the passage of time, however, it seems to have become unstated policy, as the Israelites grew stronger, not to chase the Canaanites from the land, nor to exterminate them, but to subjugate them or even enslave them, to make them “drawers of water and hewers of wood,” to subject them to forced labor (Judg. 1:28).
The inevitable result is that a great deal of paganism remained in the land. Human nature being what it is, these false gods inevitably became a “snare” to the covenant community (Judg. 2:3). Angry with their refusal to break down the pagan altars, the angel of the Lord declares that if the people will not do what they are told, he will no longer provide them with the decisive help that would have enabled them to complete the task (had they been willing!). The people weep over the lost opportunity, but it is too late (Judg. 2:1-4). It is certainly not that they had never been warned.
This is the background to the rest of the book of Judges. Some of its main themes are then outlined for us in the rest of chapter 2. Much of the rest of the book is exemplification of the thinking laid out here.
The main thrust, shot through with tragedy, is the cyclical failure of the covenant community, and how God intervenes to rescue them again and again. Initially, the people remained faithful throughout Joshua’s lifetime and the lifetime of the elders who outlived him (Judg. 2:6). But by the time that an entirely new generation had grown up — one that had seen nothing of the wonders God had performed, whether at the Exodus, during the wilderness years, or at the time of the entrance into the Promised Land — fidelity to the Lord dwindled away. Syncretism and paganism abounded; the people forsook the God of their fathers and served the Baals, i.e., the various “lords” of the Canaanites (Judg. 2:10-12). The Lord responded in wrath; the people were subjected to raids, reversals, and military defeats at the hands of surrounding marauders. When the people cried to the Lord for help, he raised up a judge — a regional and often national leader — who freed the people from tyranny and led them in covenantal faithfulness. And then the cycle began again. And again. And again.
Here is a sober lesson. Even after times of spectacular revival, reformation, or covenantal renewal, the people of God are never more than a generation or two from infidelity, unbelief, massive idolatry, disobedience, and wrath. God help us.
2:1 Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 3 So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” 4 As soon as the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the people of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. 5 And they called the name of that place Bochim.1 And they sacrificed there to the LORD.
6 When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. 7 And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. 8 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years. 9 And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. 10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.
11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. 13 They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
16 Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17 Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. 18 Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the LORD left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua.
6:1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists1 arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers,2 pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
15:1 Then the LORD said to me, “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! 2 And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD:
“‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence,
and those who are for the sword, to the sword;
those who are for famine, to famine,
and those who are for captivity, to captivity.’
3 I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, declares the LORD: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. 4 And I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem.
5 “Who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem,
or who will grieve for you?
Who will turn aside
to ask about your welfare?
6 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.
7 I have winnowed them with a winnowing fork
in the gates of the land;
I have bereaved them; I have destroyed my people;
they did not turn from their ways.
8 I have made their widows more in number
than the sand of the seas;
I have brought against the mothers of young men
a destroyer at noonday;
I have made anguish and terror
fall upon them suddenly.
9 She who bore seven has grown feeble;
she has fainted away;
her sun went down while it was yet day;
she has been shamed and disgraced.
And the rest of them I will give to the sword
before their enemies,
declares the LORD.”
10 Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me. 11 The LORD said, “Have I not1 set you free for their good? Have I not pleaded for you before the enemy in the time of trouble and in the time of distress? 12 Can one break iron, iron from the north, and bronze?
13 “Your wealth and your treasures I will give as spoil, without price, for all your sins, throughout all your territory. 14 I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.”
15 O LORD, you know;
remember me and visit me,
and take vengeance for me on my persecutors.
In your forbearance take me not away;
know that for your sake I bear reproach.
16 Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
O LORD, God of hosts.
17 I did not sit in the company of revelers,
nor did I rejoice;
I sat alone, because your hand was upon me,
for you had filled me with indignation.
18 Why is my pain unceasing,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?
Will you be to me like a deceitful brook,
like waters that fail?
19 Therefore thus says the LORD:
“If you return, I will restore you,
and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall be as my mouth.
They shall turn to you,
but you shall not turn to them.
20 And I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
to save you and deliver you,
declares the LORD.
21 I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”
1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.1
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,2
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare3 the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son;4 with you I am well pleased.”
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;5 repent and believe in the gospel.”
16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”6 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
29 And immediately he7 left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon's mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
40 And a leper8 came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus9 sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.