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Introduction to the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah

Jeremiah 1:1-3, 31:31-34; Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 10:11, 11:25; 2 Kings 22:8-10, 16-17, 23:4-14; Isaiah 42:8; 1 John 5:20-21.

Jul 23, 2012 12:00 AM

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The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, 2 to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. 3 It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.  ( ESV)

Today we begin a new study of the Old Testament book of the prophet Jeremiah.  Thankfully, you understand that the entire Bible is ours.  Believers in the Lord Jesus can claim the entire word of God, the entire Scriptures of both the Old and new Testaments as their own.  For many years it has been the habit of the secular world, and it is becoming increasingly common within the Christian world, to refer to the Old Testament as the Hebrew Scriptures.

However, if you were listening as we studied Galatians, you now understand that in Christ there are no Jewish or Gentile distinctions.  In Christ, we all are the children of Abraham.  Because we are in Christ, we also are heirs of the promises of God made to Abraham.  When we belong to Christ, we become the Israel of God.  But we do need to keep in mind that during the days in which the authors of the Old Testament wrote, there was a very clear distinction between the nation of Israel and all the other nations of the world.  Only the nation of Israel could legitimately be called the people of God, as a nation.

When we read through the New Testament, it becomes very obvious very quickly that the things written there find their roots and their foundation in the Old Testament.  The book of Matthew alone quotes the Old Testament over 60 times.  What has happened to cause us to speak of the New Testament as differentiated from the Old is that the promises made in the Old concerning the coming of the Messiah have come to fruition in the New.  The Old covenant sacrifices have found their fulfillment in the sacrifice of Christ.  It was Christ Himself who said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” ( Corinthians ESV) in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah:

31“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.  And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” ( ESV)

His blood which was shed for sin was the realization of the promise of God to provide a Lamb to take away the sin of the world.  So when people speak of the Jewish Scriptures or the Christian Scriptures, don’t make the mistake of thinking the Old Testament is somehow irrelevant to anyone but Jews.  In , Paul instructs a predominately Gentile church with these words concerning the Old Testament writings:

11 Now these things happened to them [the Jews] as an example, but they were written down for our [the Church’s] instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. ( ESV).

So it would be quite wrong for us to think the book of Jeremiah or the Old Testament as a whole somehow belongs exclusively to Jews, the majority of whom completely reject Jesus as the Messiah.  The Scriptures, all of them, all 66 books of the Bible belong to the people of God, to the saints, to the Church, to God’s chosen people.

Of all the things we might learn from reading the Old Testament, the one thing that should stand out in very high relief is the fact that men are evil.  All men are evil.  It almost goes without saying that the nations of the world are presented throughout the OT as evil and idolatrous.  But even the people whom God set apart as His own are seen as perpetually wicked.  Israel was the only nation on earth who could claim the true God as their own.  They were the exclusive possessors of the Scriptures in all the world and the sacrificial system that made temporary atonement for sin.  They were, in a spiritual sense, privileged beyond all other peoples on the earth.

But in spite of that, we read throughout the Old Testament of the constant rebelliousness of Israel against God.  That is one of the most overwhelming themes throughout the pages of the Law and the Prophets.  Even with the extreme enlightenment which Adam enjoyed in the Garden of Eden, he chose to follow the lie that claimed God was not as good as He appeared to be.  And from the third chapter of Genesis until the last sentence of Malachi, on nearly every page, we read of sin and rebellion and evil on the part of the people of God.

The Jews had access to the truth about God.  They had God Himself in their midst within the Tabernacle and then within the Temple for centuries.  They had the written words of God, written by His own hand on tablets of stone which were delivered to them by Moses and placed in the Ark of the Covenant.  They experienced the magnificent power of God on display on numerous occasions for hundreds of years.

And yet, in spite of all that they knew, or should have known, in spite of the many wondrous things they saw and experienced, STILL, as a nation, they hated God.  They were addicted to other gods.  They ignored the commands of God and whored after other, more compatible deities.  Deities that were more tolerant of their natural inclinations.  Demonic deities that actually encouraged such behavior.  They preferred sexually oriented worship.  They preferred to sacrifice their children instead of their animals.  They preferred to be seen as cosmopolitan and worldly and chic rather than belong to a God no one could see.  And all of this in spite of what they knew and had experienced about God.  They knew more about the true God than anyone else in the world.

The AP put out a news article a few days ago with this headline: “Colorado Suspect Was Brilliant Science Student”.  I’m talking, of course, about James Eagen Holmes, the deranged young man who murdered 12 people in a movie theatre this week.  The article went on to say he graduated “with highest honors in spring 2010 with a neuroscience degree from the University of California”.

In academic achievement, "he was at the top of the top," recalled Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White.  Holmes concentrated his study on "how we all behave," White added. "It's ironic and sad."

The biggest mystery surrounding the 24-year-old doctoral student was why he would have pulled on a gas mask and shot dozens of people early Friday in a suburban Denver movie theater . . . .”  And, of course, there was at least one interview on Fox News which asked the question, “Where was God?”

Beloved, it doesn’t matter how much you know if there is never a change of heart.  This kid was brilliant.  And remarkably evil.  The Jews possessed more information than anyone else on the planet regarding Jehovah God.  And they were perpetually rebellious toward Him.

The book of Jeremiah is about how God eventually deals with such sinfulness.  It has been a long time coming, but Jeremiah sees the final hammer of God’s wrath fall upon His stiff-necked people in the form of the Babylonian army.  As we see in the opening verses, Jeremiah was a priest living in nearby Anathoth, not far from Jerusalem.  According to these verses, he ministered in his role as priest for about 40 years.  During those forty years, he served three kings: one very good king, and two very bad ones.

King Josiah was one of the most godly kings the nation of Judah ever had.  If you recall, it was during Josiah’s reign that the Scriptures were found in the Temple.  Think about that for a moment.  As bad as things are in our own country with the Bible and absolute truth and morality being exchanged for personal spiritual journeys into the ether and every man and woman and transvestite doing whatever is right I their own eyes, EVEN SO, we still have the Scriptures.  There is still a significant influence of biblical truth in the land.

But suppose a priest, the HIGH priest, says to the king of the people of God, “Hey, uh, we found the Bible over in the church.”  Turn with me to .

8 And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. 9 And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. ( ESV)

How had they been operating up to that point?  Nobody was reading the Scriptures, no one was teaching God’s Law to the people of God, no one even knew the written Word of God existed, until they were doing some spring cleaning at the Temple and they FIND “the Book of the Law”.

What happens to God’s people when they lose God’s word?  They lose God and they invite disaster.

16 Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. ( ESV)

When the people of God forsake God, notice what He does not say: “Well, I’m really sorry you feel that way.  I was kinda hoping we could have a personal relationship because I love all of you so much.  But I can understand how you might want to worship other gods.  I can handle rejection.  I’ll get over it.  I’m not going to impose Myself on you.  Maybe someday you’ll need Me.  And when you do, I’ll be here waiting for you and we can be friends again.  Until then, have a good day!”

These are the covenant people of God.  They ARE in a relationship with Him.  He has committed Himself to them.  But they have scorned Him.  They have forsaken Him.  They have worshipped other gods.  They have ignored His Law to such a degree that when the king hears it read to him, it is all new information!  This is the context in which Jeremiah begins his ministry in Jerusalem.  Notice what had to be corrected because of the absence of the word of God:

4 And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven.  He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel. 5 And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. 6 And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron and beat it to dust and cast the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. 7 And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah. 8 And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one's left at the gate of the city. 9 However, the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers. 10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech. 11 And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the precincts.  And he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12 And the altars on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars that Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord, he pulled down and broke in pieces and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. 13 And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 14 And he broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with the bones of men. ( ESV)

When people don’t have the Scriptures, that does not mean they cease to be religious.  They just cease to practice the right religion.  How would you like to be Jeremiah, walking into this mess?  Going up against the worshippers of Baal and Asherah and Molech and Ashtoreth and Chemosh and Milcom?  These are not simply other denominations for people who see things a bit differently.  These are demonically-inspired and empowered systems of tribal worship built around idols.  And while, technically, the Jews were engaging in syncretism, blending the worship of foreign gods with the worship of Jehovah, God Himself called it abandonment.  The worship of any god other than Jehovah is forsaking God.  The Jews were willing to have other gods as part of their “worship experience”, but Jehovah said,

I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. ( ESV)

Thankfully King Josiah recognized the danger he and all of Judah were in when he heard the Scriptures read.  He immediately began to eradicate the idols which the people had indulged for many years under previous kings, even within the Temple and its courts in Jerusalem.  But Josiah’s reforms were short lived.  The kings that came after him re-instituted all the paganism that Josiah condemned.  Thus the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.

Why is this relevant to us as Christians?  Because the threat of idolatry is always at the door.  So much so that the Spirit of God led John to close his first epistle with these words:

20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. ( ESV)

This is a clear call to exclusivity.  We cannot tolerate gods or religions that would compete for a place in our hearts alongside the worship of Christ.  He is the true, the real, the one and only God.  We must stay away from everything else that pretends to be God and guard ourselves from idols that would draw our love and devotion away from the only One who rightfully deserves it.

So what competes for our affections for Christ?  What are the "other loves" of our lives?  Whatever they are, when we indulge those loves to the neglect of our love for our Savior, we engage in idolatry.

It was this kind of idolatry that brought down the kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem, and brought an end to the people of God except for a very small remnant which He preserved for Himself in Babylon for 70 years.  But the true God cured Israel of the worship of false gods.  Even so, just like every other sin, this one is a constant threat.  Not necessarily bowing down to a statue, but loving things along with the God who demands all of our love.  In the months to come, we’ll see how God leads Jeremiah to deal with this plague of idolatry among His people.



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