Jeremiah 52

From Set-Apart to Set-Aside.

“They also took all the ash buckets, shovels, lamp snuffers, basins, dishes, and all the other bronze articles used for making sacrifices at the Temple.” ­– Jeremiah 52:18 NLT

This is the saddest chapter of all. It recounts the burning and pillaging of the Temple, the ransacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the city walls. It also tells us about the tragic and violent end of Zedekiah’s reign. We read about the capture and exile of thousands of God’s people to the land of Babylon. And what hits me is the tragic juxtaposition between the way things were and they way thing had ended up. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Jeremiah makes special effort to recount what happened to the Temple and all its contents. The Temple of God was just that – the temple that had been built for and dedicated to God. It was His house. It had been patterned after the Tabernacle, the structure ordained and designed by God during the wilderness wandering years. When the people finally took possession of the Promised Land and had conquered the majority of their enemies in the land under the leadership of King David, he determined to build a Temple to the Lord. But God refused to let David build the Temple because He had blood on his hands. So it was Solomon, David’s Son, who got the privilege of building God’s house.

The entire Temple and all it contained belonged to God. It was dedicated to His use. It had been set-apart, made holy, for God. There was nothing inherently unique or special about the building materials that were used. It was made of ordinary stones and common cedar. Sure, it contained a large quantity of gold and other precious metals, but there was nothing out of the ordinary about how the metal was refined. The basins, buckets, shovels, dishes, bowls, pots, lampstands, and incense burners were not special in and of themselves. What made them holy was that they had been set apart for God’s use. They had been dedicated solely for His purposes. The same is true of the priests who ministered in the Temple. This structure and all it contained were His. That is what made them holy. To use any of the contents of the Temple for anything other than the worship of God would result in their desecration. They would become impure or unholy, because they were no longer set apart. If one of the priests had decided to take home one of the basins used in the sacrificial system for use as a punch bowl at a dinner party, he would have made that item impure and unholy. He would have taken something that had been set apart for God’s use and re-purposed it – making it no longer set apart or holy.

That is the picture Jeremiah is giving us in this final chapter of his book. Look at what happens. The Temple is burned. It was a symbol of the set apartness of the people of Judah. It was the home of their God. No one else had a Temple to Yahweh, the God of Israel. And if anyone had tried to build another temple to Him, like Jeroboam had done in the northern kingdom, God would not have inhabited it. The Temple in Jerusalem was where He had chosen to dwell. After Solomon completed the construction and dedication of the Temple, God said to him: “I have heard your prayer and your petition. I have set this Temple apart to be holy—this place you have built where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart” (1 Kings 9:3 NLT). But God went on to warn Solomon, “But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name” (1 Kings 9:6-7 NLT). From set apart to set aside. From usefulness to uselessness.

Look at the chapter one more time. The Temple is burned. The contents of the Temple – all the items set apart for the worship of God – are taken. The priests who were set apart to administer the sacrifices to God and care for the Temple of God – become the property of the king of Babylon. The citizens of Jerusalem, representing the chosen, set apart people of God, are taken captive as well. They are even removed from the very land God had given them. They went from set apart to set aside. But why? What was the reason God gave for the destruction of His Temple, the desecration of His sacrificial system and the deportation of His chosen people? He gave us the answer years in advance when Solomon dedicated the Temple. God made His intentions clear: “And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will shake their heads in amazement. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’ And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why the Lord has brought all these disasters on them.’” (1 Kings 9:8-9 NLT).

The truth is, the people of God had set themselves aside. They had removed themselves from effective service to God by their choices. They still remained His people and He would one day restore them to the land. But their sinful choices had made them useless and no longer useful for His service. They should have been lights to the world, living according to God’s will, directed by God’s hand, and set apart for His service and glory. But they had chosen to worship other gods, serve their own desires, and follow their own wills. And in doing so, they went from set apart to set aside. And we run the risk of doing the same thing in our lives. As believers we can go from set apart to set aside. We can make choices that destroy our usefulness to God. Instead of being instruments dedicated to His purposes, we desecrate ourselves by dedicating our bodies, which are temples of God, to something other than God. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” We don’t belong to ourselves, we belong to God. We are His people. Peter tell us, “…for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy. Dear friends, I warn you as ‘temporary residents and foreigners’ to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:9-12 NLT). We have been set apart. We have been made holy. We are to live lives that are unique, different, and dedicated to God’s use. When we choose not to, we set ourselves aside and become ineffective and non-influential. That is what happened to the people of God. May we not let it happen to us.

Father, help me live a life that is truly set apart and distinctive, bringing glory and honor to You through the way I live in accordance to Your will and dedicated to Your glory. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Jeremiah 51

He Has Not Abandoned Us.

“For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has not abandoned Israel and Judah. He is still their God, even though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel.” ­– Jeremiah 51:5 NLT

Let’s face it, this has been a bleak book. It is filled with messages of warning and descriptions of coming judgment. For more than 50 chapters, Jeremiah has had to deliver a sobering message of God’s wrath and Judah’s destruction. And in this sad story, no one walks away unscathed. Even Babylon would suffer complete and utter annihilation at the hands of God. God says, “Babylon has been a gold cup in the Lord’s hands” (Jeremiah 51:7 NLT). In other words, God had treated them with great worth and importance as long as He needed them to punish His rebellious children. Their only value was to be found in His use of them as an instrument of wrath against His people. But He would still punish them for their role in the destruction of Judah. Why? Because in spite of their guiltiness, the people of Judah were still His chosen people. They were His children. He would punish them, but He would never abandon them. He assured them that He was still their God – even though they had filled the land with their sins against Him.

Compared to the all-knowing, all-wise God, the human race was foolish and ignorant. They worshiped idols made with their own hands. These lifeless gods were worthless. But the one true God is anything but an idol. He created everything, including His people, the nation of Judah. He set them apart for His own use. He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. He let them to the Promised Land and gave them houses they didn’t build, vineyards they didn’t plant, and victories they had no business winning. Yes, God had to punish them, but He was not done with them. He agreed to act as their lawyer, plead their case, and avenge their destruction – even though they deserved it. God showed them mercy and grace. He restored them to the land and back into favor with Himself.

God’s wrath was going to be meted out and Jerusalem was going to fall.But He was not done with Judah yet. As Jeremiah wraps us his book, dark days lie ahead. Everything God had warned would happen was about to take place – down to the smallest detail. The people of Judah would end up in exile in Babylon for 70 long years. But God would not forget them. He would not abandon them. When the time was right, He would allow them to return to the land and begin the process of rebuilding their lives, cities, homes and relationship with Him. It would not be easy. but they could rest in the knowledge that He was still their God and they were still His chosen people – even though the “land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel.” (Jeremiah 51:5b).  What a great God we serve. What a patient God we worship. May we never forget the depth of His patience, love, mercy and grace. He never abandons us or gives up on us. He is good.

Father, thank You for the message of Jeremiah. Never let me lose sight of your incredible mercy and grace and the way you shower them on me week after week.. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Jeremiah 50

Our Powerful Redeemer.

“But the one who redeems them is strong. His name is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. He will defend them and give them rest again in Israel. But for the people of Babylon there will be no rest!” ­– Jeremiah 50:34 NLT

Our God is complex. He is multifaceted and difficult to comprehend. His ways are not our ways and with our limited human perspectives, we sometimes find it hard to comprehend not only who God is, but what He is doing in the world and in our lives. The book of Jeremiah paints God as a God of judgment, bringing disaster on His own people for their sin and rebellion against Him. He uses pagan nations to destroy them and taken them into captivity. He allows His own Temple to be destroyed in the process and the Land of Promise to be decimated. The nations who bring about this destruction are actually referred to as God’s instruments. He uses them to bring about His will – to discipline the nations of Israel and Judah. But then God turns around and threatens to bring destruction on these very same nations for having taken advantage of His people. He predicts that their day of destruction is coming because of what they did to Israel and Judah. He will destroy them. The same God who used them will now abuse them. That’s hard for us to understand. We struggle with the seeming contradiction of it all. From our limited perspective, it can appear unfair and manipulative. But we have to constantly remind ourselves that God is holy, righteous, and just. He always does what is right. His actions are never wrong or out of step with His holy character – even though they may appear to be to us.

When we read that God is going to seek vengeance on Babylon for destroying His holy Temple, an act He allowed them to do, we must trust that God knows what He is doing. As His creation, we are not in a place to judge Him or question the rightness of His actions. God stands above ever nation and every individual. He is transcendent – set apart. We cannot compare Him to us or judge His actions on some human scale. God is free to do what He does because He is God, and what He does is always righteous and just. We may not see it now, but we will in the end. We may not understand the suffering and strife that is taking place all around us in this world. We may be tempted to doubt the love of God and to question His integrity. But we have to remember that God is beyond our comprehension. Yes, He allows and invites us to know Him, but because He is eternal, He is also unfathomable. We can no more fully know and understand God and His ways than we can map out the farthest reaches of the universe. The more we learn, the more we understand how little we know.

God is great. He is massive. He is complex. He is powerful beyond our comprehension. But that same great, massive, complex, powerful God is our redeemer. The same God who brought destruction on Israel and Judah was going to redeem and restore them. The same power He used to punish them would punish their enemies and bless them. Our great God is going to do a great work of redemption in the world. There is a day coming when He will set all things right and complete His plan for mankind and the earth. Earlier in the book of Jeremiah, God told the prophet to go to the potter’s house and watch him work. Here is what Jeremiah saw and what God said”

So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over. Then the Lord gave me this message: “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” – Jeremiah 18:3-6 NLT

We are like clay in God’s hands. He is molding and making us. He is shaping and forming us. He can do with us as He sees fit, but we have to remember that in the end, God is out to redeem and restore us. Isaiah understood this when he said, “And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand” (Isaiah 64:8 NLT). God is forming us. God is redeeming us. God is not done with us. And we can trust Him.

Father, I want to trust You more. I do not fully understand what You are doing in my life, but I know You have my best interests at heart. You know what You are doing. Help me to trust in Your righteousness and justice. You never do anything wrong or for the wrong reason. I can trust You even when I don’t fully understand You, because You are my redeemer and Lord. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Jeremiah 49

Cocky, Confident, and Complacent.

“You are proud of your fertile valleys, but they will soon be ruined. You trusted in your wealth, you rebellious daughter, and thought no one could ever harm you.” ­– Jeremiah 49:4 NLT

In chapter 49, Jeremiah continues his oracles against the nations. Here he presents God’s warnings against the Ammonites, Edomites, Damascus, Kedar, Hazor, and Elam. Each is assured of their coming destruction – brought on them by God and delivered by the hand of the Babylonians. No one will escape God’s judgment and wrath. Even the people of Kedar and Hazor, who were nomads, would be “terrorized at every turn.” Each of these nations stood before God as guilty and worthy of punishment for their sins. But what Jeremiah had to say to the Ammonites resonates in a particularly powerful way. Like the Moabites, these people were descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot, who had incestuous relationships with both his daughters after escaping the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Ammon was the son born to him by his youngest daughter. They lived east of the Promised Land and had actually stolen land that had once belonged to the tribe of Gad. They worshiped the god, Molech, to whom they practiced child sacrifice. But God doesn’t condemn them for their pagan practices. Instead, He points out their pride and misplaced trust. He accuses them of being proud of their fertile valleys and for trusting in their wealth. Surrounded by steep valleys that formed a natural protective barrier, they believed that they were invincible and untouchable. They had ample natural resources and an abundance of pride.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? It makes me think of the lyrics to the song, “America the Beautiful.”

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

There is a degree to which America has become like the Ammonites and all the other nations mentioned in these oracles. We have been blessed with an abundance of resources. We have enjoyed over two centuries of prosperity and relative peace. Since our formation as a nation, we have never been invaded by a foreign power. No wars have been fought on our soil against invading nations. We have experienced staggering growth, numerically and financially. We are powerful, influential, and a force to be reckoned with in the world. But we have also become cocky, confident and complacent spiritually. Yes, we have experienced somewhat of a wake-up call since 9/11, and there has been a relative diminishing of our pride due to the economy. But we remain a super-confident, self-sufficient nation that sometimes believes it is invincible and invulnerable. We somehow believe that we have the hand on God on us as a nation. We brag about having been founded on Judeo-Christian principles by God-fearing men who recognized His sovereignty over nations. And while that is true, we are far from a God-fearing nation today. We have strayed from our original roots and have become a godless nation that prides itself in its power and prosperity, and puts its trust in its military might and abundant resources. Terrorism and financial difficulty have shaken our resolve, but we remain confident and self-assured.

Yet God is the one who judges the nations. It is His standard to which we must measure up, not our own. He is not impressed with our power, prominence, or prosperity. God looks at the heart of the individual and the nation. He is looking for repentance, dependence, and humility. Judah was His chosen people, but He judged them for their unfaithfulness. How much more so will He judge a nation like ours?

Father, we live in a great land, but it is in need of a great awakening spiritually. Wake up Your church. May we become salt and light in the midst of the darkness. Help us to raise the standard of righteousness and share the good news of the gospel with all those we meet. Our nation needs You. And we are the ones who must tell them about You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Jeremiah 48

The Pride of Moab.

“We have all heard of the pride of Moab, for his pride is very great. We know of his lofty pride, his arrogance, and his haughty heart. I know about his insolence,” says the Lord, “but his boasts are empty — as empty as his deeds.” ­– Jeremiah 48:29-30 NLT

Now it’s the Moabite’s turn. God has a word of warning for them as well. The Moabites were close neighbors of Judah and were distant relatives. They were the descendants of Lot as the result of an incestuous relationship he had with his older daughter. After being rescued from Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot fled to the mountains with his two daughters. His wife and their two husbands had been killed in the destruction of the two cities. His daughters determine that all the men are now dead and their chances of getting married are slim to none, so they plot to get their father drunk and lie with him in order to have him impregnate them. They accomplished their plan – twice – and the older daughter gave birth to a son named Moab. The younger daughter gave birth to a son named Ben-ammi, whose descendants would become the Ammonites. The Moabites would ultimately settle in the southern part of the land, just east of the Dead Sea. They would be a relatively peaceful people who worshiped the god Chemosh. According to Numbers 25, they would ultimately cause the Israelites to defy God and practice idolatry. “While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people” (Numbers 25:1-3 NLT).

Later on, the Moabites would join forces with the Babylonians and form raiding parties to harass the people of Judah. And all during this time, they would enjoy relative peace and security, and their peaceful history had left them complacent and proud. They lived relatively isolated lives, protected from invasion and free to prosper. But God had not overlooked their idolatry and the role they had played in the moral fall of Judah. He had watched as they raided the land of Judah, taking advantage of His people in their time of need. Now God was going to repay them for their sin, arrogance and pride by humbling them. They had lived peaceful lives, free from trouble, but now that was going to change. “From his earliest history, Moab has lived in peace, never going into exile. He is like wine that has been allowed to settle. He has not been poured from flask to flask, and he is now fragrant and smooth. But the time is coming soon, says the Lord, when I will send men to pour him from his jar. They will pour him out, then shatter the jar!” (Jeremiah 48:11-12 NLT). God had judged the northern kingdom of Israel. Now He was judging the southern kingdom of Judah. But He would also judge the nations that surrounded them, dealing with their sin and punishing them for their worship of other gods. These nations all knew of the existence of Yahweh. They had known about His mighty deeds since the day the people of God had entered the Land of Promise, but they chose to reject Him and worship gods of their own making. For the Moabites, Chemosh had become their god of choice. And they believed that their peace and security was due to their god, not Yahweh. Now they would learn the truth. Their god was no match for Yahweh. Their pride would be broken, their strength destroyed, and their arrogance reduced to weeping. God was going to destroy them. “Moab will no longer be a nation, for it has boasted against the Lord” (Jeremiah 48:42 NLT). But amazingly, God promised that He would one day restore the fortunes of Moab. There is a future day coming when those living in the land of Moab will worship the one true God in the restored city of Jerusalem. They will join the people of God in the worship of the Son of God who will sit on the throne of David ruling in the Millennial Kingdom. God will one day replace their pride with a proper passion for Him. He will replace their arrogance with an awe for who He is – the one true God and His Son as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Father, Your plan is complete and all-inclusive. You have not overlooked a single nation. You have a plan for every nation on the face of the earth. What a needed reminder of Your power and sovereignty. You are in control and there is no need for me to worry, fret, or panic over what I see happening in the world today. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Jeremiah 46-47

In God We Trust?

“The Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will punish Amon, the god of Thebes, and all the other gods of Egypt. I will punish its rulers and Pharaoh, too, and all who trust in him. I will hand them over to those who want them killed — to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and his army. But afterward the land will recover from the ravages of war. I, the Lord, have spoken!'” ­– Jeremiah 46:25-26 NLT

These chapters contain oracles against the nations, in which God reveals what He is going to do to the various nations that existed during the time that Jeremiah prophesied. These are not necessarily statements regarding their punishment because of their mistreatment of Judah. In fact, we’re not really told why these nations are being destroyed, other than for their pride. But the oracles seem to be reminders to the people of Judah not to make alliances with these nations in an attempt to stop the coming destruction predicted by God. During the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, there was a strong pro-Egyptian party in Judah that was pressing the king to make an alliance with Egypt in order to resist the advances of the Babylonians. God seems to be telling Judah that these plans would be useless. He had told King Jehoiakim to surrender to the Babylonians and not try to resist them. Any attempts to do so would not end well. And any attempts to form alliances with other nations would prove disastrous. These oracles are reminders that any plans we attempt to make that are contrary to the plans of God are doomed to failure.

Resisting God’s will is never a bright idea. It will never end well. And yet, how often are we tempted to “make alliances” with the world in an attempt to forestall or simply ignore what God has told us to do? This world and its resources are always unreliable replacements for obedience to God. Anything that you and I turn to other than God, in an attempt to find peace, comfort, security, salvation, or protection will always fail us. Sometimes God has to physically remove those things from our lives to prove to us just how unreliable they really are. Finances are not inherently wrong or evil, but if I put all my trust and security in how much money I have in the bank or how well my investments are doing, I am allowing those things to replace my trust in God. They can become my source of hope and help. I can spend more time obsessing over my financial stability than I do my God.

God reminded His people that they were not to be afraid. In spite of all the predictions about coming destruction, He was going to be with them and protect them. Things were going to look bad, but God was still good. He promises, “But do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant; do not be dismayed, Israel. For I will bring you home again from distant lands, and your children will return from their exile. Israel will return to a life of peace and quiet, and no one will terrorize them. Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, for I am with you. I will completely destroy the nations to which I have exiled you, but I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you, but with justice; I cannot let you go unpunished” (Jeremiah 46:27-28 NLT). God was with them. He had a reason for everything that He was doing. They just needed to trust Him. Turning to Egypt was not the answer. Replacing their trust in God with trust in someone or something else was not a wise alternative. It never is.

Father, it is amazing how easy it is to turn to something other than You for help and hope. I can do it without even realizing it is happening. When I become fearful I can find myself scheming and planning for ways to come up with a solution. But I know I need to turn to You instead. Help me trust You more. Open my eyes so that I might see the “Egypts” in my life. Don’t let me make alliances with this world. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Jeremiah 44-45

We Will Do Whatever We Want.

“We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want. We will burn incense and pour out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven just as much as we like — just as we, and our ancestors, and our kings and officials have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For in those days we had plenty to eat, and we were well off and had no troubles!” ­– Jeremiah 44:16-17 NLT

Talk about stubborn. A rag-tag remnant of people from the nation of Judah have run away to Egypt to hide from the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Jeremiah the prophet has gone with them and delivers a message from God regarding their continuing idol worship. Here they are, living in exile in the land of Egypt, and God has to warn them yet again that He is about to destroy them because they are STILL worshiping idols instead of Him. They may have survived destruction in Judah, and think that they’ve escaped with their lives, but God assures them that they will suffer the same fate as before. “For not one of you will survive – not a man, woman, or child among you who has come here from Judah, not even the babies in your arms” (Jeremiah 44:7b NLT). But wait, there’s more. God continues, “I will punish them in Egypt just as I punished them in Jerusalem, by war, famine, and disease” (Jeremiah 44:13 NLT). In other words, they could run, but they couldn’t hide. And their response? “We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want! (Jeremiah 44:16 NLT). They were going to keep on doing what they were doing, regardless of what God had to say about it. And this wasn’t something new. They admit that they had been worshiping idols all along – even when they were back in Judah. Why? Because from their perspective, they were better off when they were worshiping idols instead of God. They truly believed that it was when they stopped worshiping idols that everything began to fall apart for them. But God let’s them know that it was their idolatry that was the source of all their troubles. He had finally had enough and had brought judgment on them. That was why Judah had fallen, Jerusalem had been captured, the Temple  had been destroyed and their friends and family members were living as captives in Babylon.

Every prophecy that Jeremiah had made had been fulfilled. Every threat of judgment God had given had come about. Yet they still refused to listen and obey Him. They continued to turn to other gods for hope, healing and deliverance. More than likely they were praying and offering incense to Ashtoreth, the goddess of love and fertility. In the midst of all their sorrow and suffering, they had found comfort in a pagan goddess of sexuality. This “Queen of Heaven” had replaced the God of Heaven, and the attributed to her any and all blessings they had enjoyed. But God was going to set things right. This goddess of fertility and love was not going to protect them from the wrath of God. He would bring on them war, not love, and famine, not fertility. God was going to do to the Queen of Heaven what He had done to the gods of Egypt. He would take their god on head-on and reveal it for what it was – worthless, powerless and lifeless. He alone is God. He alone can save. He alone should be worshiped and obeyed.

Father, You are constantly destroying the idols in our lives. You reveal them for what they are – weak and worthless replacements for You. Open our eyes to see just how many we have in our lives and to turn from them and back to You – the only true God. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Jeremiah 41-43

We’ll Obey As Long As It’s What We Want To Do.

“May the Lord your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do! Whether we like it or not, we will obey the Lord our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.” ­– Jeremiah 42:5-6 NLT

Judah has fallen. The Babylonians have taken the majority of the people as captives back to Babylon and appointed a governor to rule over those who are left. But Ishmael and his followers decide to rebel against the Babylonians by killing Gedaliah the governor. But Ishmael’s little coup doesn’t last long. He ends up getting overthrown as well and goes into hiding. But the people who are left decide to pack their bags and run away to Egypt, out of fear for what the Babylonians will do once they find out their governor and all of his officials have been murdered. But before they go, the people ask Jeremiah the prophet to pray for them. They want him to ask God for His direction in the matter, and they pledge to do whatever he tells them to do, whether they like the answer or not. Sounds great, right? It all appears to super spiritual and pious. But the problem is, they didn’t mean it. They had no intention of doing what God wanted. They simply wanted God to bless what they wanted. As long as God’s answer affirmed their own decision, they would be happy. But if God somehow decided to disagree with them, all bets were off. And that’s exactly what happened.

God warned them that they were not to go to Egypt. They could run but they couldn’t hide from what was going to happen. It would simply follow them there. Egypt was not a refuge from the rebuke of God. It was not a safe haven and could not be used as a substitute for trusting in God. While their fears of retribution at the hands of the Babylonians was real, God wanted them to stay right where they were and trust Him. Fear and flight were natural responses to their situation, but God said, “Stay here in this land. If you do, I will build you up and not tear you down;  I will plant you and not uproot you” (Jeremiah 42:10 NLT). God assured them that if they stayed, He would be with them and rescue them from the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. Rather than punish them, God would cause Nebuchadnezzar to be kind to them and allow them to stay in the land. God was trying to assure them and show them that His power was greater than Nebuchadnezzar. God wanted them to see His power first hand, but if they ran away to Egypt, they would be running away from God, not just their problems!

But isn’t that what we’re so often prone to do? We come up against what appears to be an insurmountable, unsolvable problem. So we begin to fear and doubt, then we determine a course of action that makes sense to us. And that course of action usually includes some form of flight. We try to avoid or run from the situation. Then we decide the spiritual thing to do is pray. So we ask God to bless our decision. We want His divine seal of approval on our plan. Sure, we may pretend we want to know His will, but what we really want is for His will to come alongside ours. And when it doesn’t, we rationalize it away, refusing to listen to God and stubbornly following through with our own agenda. So often, God’s answer doesn’t include removing our problem, but encouraging us to remain in it and to wait for Him to reveal His power in the midst of it. Logic tells us to run. God tells us to stay!

The people of Judah listened to logic. They rejected the word of God and did what they had always been planning to do. “The people refused to obey the voice of the Lord and went to Egypt” (Jeremiah 43:7 NLT). They sought refuge in something other than God. They put their hope and faith in some man-made institution, rather than in God. They feared. They fled. And they failed to see God work.

Father, that is too often the story of my life. I find myself in difficult circumstances and come up with what I believe to be the perfect solution. Then I pray, asking for you to bless what I have decided to do. And when You don’t, I go ahead with my plan anyway. The problem rarely goes away. It usually gets worse. And I never get to see Your power revealed in the midst of my problems. Help me to stop running away to Egypt. I want to learn to trust You more and have the joy of watching You work on my behalf. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Jeremiah 40; Psalm 79

God’s Remnant.

“When the Judeans in Moab, Ammon, Edom, and the other nearby countries heard that the king of Babylon had left a few people in Judah and that Gedaliah was the governor, they began to return to Judah from the places to which they had fled. They stopped at Mizpah to meet with Gedaliah and then went into the Judean countryside to gather a great harvest of grapes and other crops.” ­– Jeremiah 40:11-12 NLT

The land of Judah had fallen. Jerusalem had been sacked and destroyed by the Babylonians. The best and the brightest of the nation had been taken captive and deported to the land of Babylon, and only the old, the poor and the helpless had been left in the land. Things could not have looked any bleaker. Even Jeremiah, the despised prophet of God, chose to remain in Judah with the few who were left in the land. Asaph, the Psalmist, records just how bad things seemed to be in Psalm 79. “O God, pagan nations have conquered your land, your special possession. They have defiled your holy Temple and made Jerusalem a heap of ruins. They have left the bodies of your servants as food for the birds of heaven. The flesh of your godly ones has become food for the wild animals” (Psalm 79:1-2 NLT). From a human perspective, things did look desperate. It did appear as if God had completely abandoned His people. The unthinkable had happened. A pagan, godless nation had completely destroyed the nation God had set apart as His own. The land of promise lay desolate and ruined. Or did it?

Even in the aftermath of the destruction of Judah, God was still extending grace to His people. Slowly, those who had fled to the hills in anticipation of the coming judgment at the hands of the Babylonians, began to return. Yes, many of the cities lay in ruins and the land had been stripped bare by the invading army of Babylon. But Gedaliah, who had been appointed governor of Judah by the Babylonians, encouraged the people left in the land to “settle in the towns you have taken, and live off the land. Harvest the grapes and summer fruits and olives, and store them away” (Jeremiah 40:10b NLT). And as they made their way into the Judean countryside, they found “a great harvest of grapes and other crops” (Jeremiah 40:12b). The Land of Promise was still fruitful and abundant. God was still providing blessing in the midst of even the curse of destruction. His promise of a land of abundance and blessing was still true and He was still providing for His people. Once again, the people of God were going to harvest crops they didn’t plant and drink wine from vineyards they didn’t cultivate. God was going to provide for His own even in their need. Those who had been left behind or who had hidden themselves during the siege of Jerusalem, were not more deserving of God’s blessing than those who had been taken captive. This was not about one group being more deserving than the other. This is a picture of the mercy and grace of God. He mercifully left a remnant in the land and graciously provided for them. He showed them His undeserved merit and favor, in spite of their rebellion and resistance to His will.

I am reminded of the words of Paul, when he tells us to consider just how fortunate we are as believers to have been chosen to be a part of God’s redeemed remnant. “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 30:26-29 NLT). We are like that remnant – a small, helpless and seemingly hopeless group of individuals, left behind after the fall. But God has graciously showed us favor and extended to us His grace through His Son Jesus Christ. As a result, we can experience blessing and spiritual abundance even while living in a world that is suffering as a result of their own sinfulness. We reap the rewards of a relationship with God that we didn’t cultivate but that was provided by the word of Jesus Christ on the cross. We were weak, powerless, foolish, and despised, but God has chosen to reveal His power through us. God has always worked through a remnant. He has always kept His promises alive by keeping a remnant alive. We may be in the minority. The odds may seem overwhelming. But God will provide. And He will get all the glory.

Father, I am so grateful that You chose to make me a part of Your remnant. Thank You for choosing me in spite of my weakness and foolishness. Thank You for providing for me when I couldn’t provide for myself. May I live for You because Your Son died for me. May I recognize each day that my presence here is because of You, and not because of anything I have done to deserve Your favor. Your blessings are undeserved by me, but certainly not unappreciated. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Jeremiah 38-39; Psalm 74

Salvation By Grace Alone Through Faith Alone.

“Because you trusted me, I will give you your life as a reward. I will rescue you and keep you safe. I, the Lord, have spoken!” ­– Jeremiah 39:18 NLT

Ebed Melech. Not exactly a household name, and certainly not one that people have on their short list of names for their newborn sons. Yet Ebed Melech, this rather obscure character holds a very important place in the history of Israel and the plan of God. He is recognized for his faith and remembered for the risk he took to preserve the life of the prophet of God when everyone else was ready to see Jeremiah silenced for good. When Jeremiah had been arrested, thrown in an empty cistern, and left for dead, Ebed Melech came to his rescue. He reported Jeremiah’s circumstances to the king and then formed a rescue party to extract the prophet from the cistern. And he did all this at great risk to his own life. As an official of King Zedekiah’s court, Ebed Melech ran the risk of angering his boss and alienating his peers. He also risked being misunderstood for his compassion for the prophet and ending up in a similar of worse predicament. But Ebed Melech stepped out in faith and did what he believed to be right. He knew the prophet of God was not guilty or deserving of what had been done to him. He knew that Jeremiah had been speaking truth – even though he was an Ethiopian and not a Jew. As a Gentile, he better understood what God was going than the children of Israel who claimed to serve Yahweh. And God makes it clear that it was Ebed Melech’s faith that saved him. God told him, “Yes, I’ll most certainly save you. You won’t be killed. You’ll walk out of there safe and sound because you trusted me” (Jeremiah 39:18 MSG). Ebed Melech trusted the God of Jeremiah. The Hebrew word used here for trust is batach and it means “to put confidence in, to trust in.” Ebed Melech was not trusting in King Zedekiah, or the military strength of Judah. He was not trusting in his ability to keep quiet and mind his own business. He was going to do the right thing and trust God for the outcome. He knew what he had to do and he did it. And his faith resulted in not only Jeremiah’s salvation, but his own. God responded to his faith with grace. He extended to this Ethiopian, non-Hebrew official, His undeserved mercy and grace. God did not save Ebed Melech because of what he did, but because what Ebed Melech did was based on a confidence and trust in Him. His action was trust in action. Doing what he did required that he ignore common sense and reason, and step out in faith. Ebed Melech didn’t know how any of this would turn out. He wasn’t assured that the king would even listen to him when he appealed for Jeremiah’s release. He didn’t know how his fellow officials would react when he secured the release of the very one they had tried to get rid of. Ebed Melech was probably not going to be a popular figure for having rescued the prophet from death. He would not be hailed as a hero. But his actions were not based on a preferred outcome. They were based on faith. He did not do what he did because he knew it would all turn out for the best, but because he knew it was the right thing to do. He saw an innocent man being unjustly sentenced to death and he knew he could not stand by and just watch it happen. So he put his faith in God into action for Jeremiah, and he trusted God for the outcome.

Every day, you and I are faced with opportunities to put our faith into action. We are given occasion after occasion to take our trust in God and bring it to life through acts of love and service to others. We are given the chance to do the right thing, when we don’t know how it will turn out if we do. We are prompted by the Holy Spirit to speak up, stand up, reach out, and rest in the power of God. Stepping out in faith is not a guarantee that all our problems will go away. Ebed Melech still had to go through the fall of Jerusalem. He would still have to witness God’s punishment on the nation. But he would be spared. God would protect him through it all – all because he showed faith. When you compare Ebed Melech with Zedekiah, the king of Judah, you see a marked contrast. The king of Judah refused to trust God. He had placed his faith in Egypt. He had hoped for salvation from a different source than God. He had refused to trust God and leave the results up to Him. God had told him to simply trust and obey, and things would turn out for the better. “If you will turn yourself over to the generals of the king of Babylon, you will live, this city won’t be burned down, and your family will live” (Jeremiah 38:17 MSG). All Zedekiah had to do was trust God. He had to give up his plan for God’s. He had to exchange his will for God’s. He had to quit trying to control the future and leave it in God’s faithful hands. Ebed Melech did just that, and he enjoyed salvation at the hand of God. He was extended the grace of God as a result of his faith in God. And we can enjoy that same experience each and every day of our lives.

Father, thank You for the life of Ebed Melech. He is a picture of what it means to trust You in the midst of life’s darkest moments. May I learn to trust You more with each passing day. May I learn to step out in faith, based solely on Your trustworthy character and grace-filled love for me. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men