Friday, July 14, 2017

An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday July 16, 2017

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(GOD challenges us with HIS calling)
(Jeremiah 1)

   The prophet Jeremiah was born in the tiny town of Anathoth, which was located about three miles northeast of Jerusalem, in the territory belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. His father was a man named Hilkiah, who was a priest, but is not believed to be the high priest Hilkiah, who discovered a copy of the Law during the reign of King Josiah (2 Kings 22:2-14). This Hilkiah was one of the several Levite priests that were assigned to that area of the southern kingdom of Israel known as “Judah”.
    Jeremiah’s call to ministry begins forty years before the final destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian forces in 586 B.C., and so his career covers the last years of Judah’s existence as a nation. He lived through the entire Babylonian invasion and conquest, including the shameful destruction of the temple in the end. Throughout all those years he constantly pleaded with the people of Judah to turn from their wicked ways ahead of GOD’s judgment, but instead of heeding his warnings, they mocked, persecuted, and ridiculed him the whole time.
   The book of Jeremiah is a collection of sermons that were preached by him over a twenty-year span of his ministry. These sermons are a mixture of poems and oracles, and they also contain Jeremiah’s own personal reactions to the negative responses from his people to his warnings. And even though the name “Jeremiah” means “Jehovah lifts up”, it seemed that most of the time, Jeremiah found himself saddened and depressed by the relative ineffectiveness of his warnings to southern Israel. In fact, Jeremiah found himself crying so much for his people that he became known around Israel as “the weeping prophet”.
    Here in Jeremiah 1, verse 5, Jeremiah says that the LORD gave him a message. In that message, GOD starts out by telling him that “I knew you” (“yada”) before you were formed in your mother’s womb. GOD tells him that, before he was born, HE had already “set him apart” (“qadas”) and “appointed him” as HIS spokesman.
    Interestingly, the word used here in verse 5 for “I knew you” in the Hebrew is “yada”, and it goes far beyond “intellectual knowledge” and actually conveys a sense of an experiential, personal, protective relationship, not unlike the kind of relationship that should be between a father and a son, or a husband and a wife.
    GOD also tells Jeremiah that he had been “set apart” or “appointed” by HIM. Here the word used for “set apart”, “qadas”, means that GOD had “sanctified and made him holy” for “a special use” or “special task” in HIS (in this case) immediate plans. Here Jeremiah is being told that he had been chosen as GOD’s spokesman to a doomed and unsaved Judah, who had chosen to go the same route (toward destruction) as their predecessors in northern Israel in 722 B.C.
    Then Jeremiah tells GOD first that, he was not a good enough speaker to represent him publically, and secondly, he was too young (meaning he was too young to serve in the Temple at that time). Though Jeremiah was a priest from birth, he was, at that time, only in his early to mid-twenties, and wasn’t eligible to actually serve formally in the temple until he reached the required age of thirty years old (Numbers 4). However, GOD’s plan for him, for now, was for work that was largely to be done outside the walls of temple, preaching among the populace of southern Israel, delivering specific messages directly from HIM.
    In verses 9-10 the LORD placed HIS thoughts in Jeremiah’s mind (put the words in his mouth) and then spoke this communication aloud to him, saying; “See, I have put MY words in your mouth! Today I appoint you to stand up against the nations and kingdoms. You are to uproot some and tear them down, to destroy and overthrow them (announce judgment to some). You are to build others up and plant them (bless some)(NLT).   
    Then the LORD shows Jeremiah two visions (Vs.11-15), one of “a branch of an almond tree”, and the other of “a pot of boiling water that was tipping to the north”. In the first vision, the “almond tree” branch, in the Hebrew “shaqed” (shaw-kade) is actually from the word “shaqad” (shaw-kad) which means “to watch”, or “to be on the lookout for”. The almond tree in ancient Palestine was called “the awake tree” because it was the first tree in the year to bud and bear fruit (in late January). Here it symbolizes GOD being awake and watching to see that HIS word is fulfilled.
    The second vision, the vision of “the boiling pot tipping toward the north” foretold the coming of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who, would “boil out on all the peoples of Palestine” who worshipped idols that were made with their own hands. Nebuchadnezzar would be used by GOD to exact HIS punishment on Israel, capturing and holding them prisoner, keeping them out of their homeland from seventy years, or, “until their sins ran its course”.
    GOD, however, based HIS 70-year term of punishment on the way the Israelites had violated HIS “Sabbath Year Rest”, which was to be observed once every seven years (Leviticus 25:1-7), the previous 490 years, exactly 70 times in all. HE thereby was sentencing Israel to one year in captivity in Babylon for every one of those Sabbath Year Rests that they violated, or, failed to observe, over that 490-year span.
    With that said, GOD instructed Jeremiah to get up and get dressed, and go out and tell the people of Judah, whatever HE instructs him to say, and whatever HE instructs him to demonstrate. And GOD strengthened Jeremiah for task, and also “warned him to not be afraid of the people”, or else, HE would make him look foolish in front of them.
    However, GOD also tells Jeremiah that, if he would bravely and confidently go forward to the people, HE would make him as strong as “a fortified city” that cannot be captured. GOD promised Jeremiah that no king, officials, priests, or anyone else in Judah, would be able to stand against him, and even though they will try mightily, GOD says, “I will protect you, and they won’t be successful”.
    Unlike most prophets of GOD, both pre-exilic and post-exilic, Jeremiah actually lived to see his prophesy regarding Judah’s demise, fulfilled in 586 B.C. Here in this, the twenty-first century, GOD still calls on men and women to stand up for HIM in difficult situations. And when we obey HIM, no matter what we become faced with, HE will protect us, and cause us to prevail against “the antichrist spirit” that we know, is already in the world.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

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