Category Archives: Chapter-a-Day

An Ancient Smackdown

An Ancient Smackdown (CaD Jer 46) Wayfarer

“Go up to Gilead and get balm,
    Virgin Daughter Egypt.
But you try many medicines in vain;
    there is no healing for you.

Jeremiah 46:11 (NIV)

For much of my life, I was a radio guy. I listened to the radio a lot. As a child, I woke up every morning to my dad tuning into WHO radio. I always remember it being on in the mornings. Sunday mornings he tuned to KRNT’s Hymn Time sponsored by Anderson-Erickson dairy as we got ready for church. In college, I did a couple of years as the morning guy on the college radio station, and I loved it. When I was younger and spent a lot of time on the road for work, I listened to countless hours of radio.

With the advent of streaming music, podcasting, and having audiobooks right on my phone, I don’t listen to much radio anymore other than to have the Cubs game on while I’m doing something else. One of the genres of radio that I first lost all interest in was that of Sports Talk radio. If you love it, that’s cool. I just got to the point that I thought it was all the same. Some bombastic, loud talker (often with a New York or New Jersey accent) speaking this sort of code language they’ve developed for their show and followers. Rather than intelligent conversation about sports it’s like an on-air version of professional wrestling with people insulting one another and their rival teams.

I thought of Sports Talk radio as I read today’s chapter. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post/podcast, we’re entering the final chapters of the compilation of Jeremiah’s prophetic messages. It’s sort of an appendix to the compilation with some one-off messages Jeremiah delivered during his ministry. Today’s chapter was delivered to the nations of Egypt and Babylon way back during the first year of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon’s reign.

Jeremiah’s message to Egypt reads like a Sports Talk smackdown on the highest level. It’s dripping with sarcasm and full of irony. Let me provide an apt sports metaphor.

The Egyptians had been the perennial Imperial power in the region forever. They were the nation everyone feared. They were rich and used their wealth to sign free-agent contracts with the greatest mercenaries in the world. Egypt was the New England Patriots at the height of their Tom Brady dynasty. They were a powerhouse. They were unstoppable.

Babylon, on the other hand, were like my Minnesota Vikings. Sure they’d had a few good seasons in the past but, but lately they’d been an average team in fly-over country overshadowed by others in their division (like the Assyrians). However, the Babylonians have a new quarterback at the helm, a young rookie named Nebuchadnezzar. He’s newly drafted and untested. There’s a huge battle anticipated between lowly Babylon and the powerhouse Egyptians.

Jeremiah’s message is basically his Sports Talk take on upcoming showdown between the two nations.

Consider the verses I quoted at the top of the post/podcast:

“Go up to Gilead and get balm,
    Virgin Daughter Egypt.
But you try many medicines in vain;
    there is no healing for you.

Egypt was well-known for their medicinal knowledge and practices. They’d learned a lot embalming and mummifying people for centuries. Gilead was a small town in Judah known for spices and healing balms. Jeremiah is writing these lines is like a Minnesota Vikings fan calling a Sports Talk station in Boston and saying:

“The Patriots are going to be so utterly destroyed by the Vikings that they’re going to have to rush Tom Brady to Mayo Clinic, but even Mayo Clinic won’t be able to heal the damage that the Vikings defense is going to do to him!”

To take the sports metaphor one more step. Jeremiah’s prognostication of a Babylonian defeat of Egypt was equivalent to Joe Namath’s promise of a Jets victory in the Super Bowl. It’s NC State winning the Big Dance. It’s the Miracle on Ice. And, he was right.

The battle of Carchemish (a city on the Euphrates River) in 605 B.C. remains one of the most important and decisive victories in history. It completely shifted power in the Near East.

In the quiet this morning, I find it interesting that Jeremiah’s prophetic works mark a major shift of thought. To this point in the Great Story, the narrative has been almost entirely focused on God’s relationship with the Hebrew people. Other nations are mentioned as they play various supporting roles in the story, but the focus has always been on the Hebrews. Jeremiah’s prophetic works are the first time that God claims another leader of another nation to be His “chosen servant.” Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t even know or worship the God of Abraham and Moses, though God uses Daniel and his friends to make the introduction.

Along most of my spiritual journey, I’ve focused time and energy on my personal relationship with God. As I’ve progressed, I’ve learned to increasingly embrace the understanding that God is at work in every person’s story. Like Nebuchadnezzar, a person may not recognize it and may freely and willfully reject the idea. It doesn’t change God’s desire to know and be known by that person.

I’ve also come to embrace the knowledge that my role as a disciple of Jesus is to be a loving conduit of God’s love to the Nebuchadnezzars in my life. That’s why I’ve purposefully tried to diminish my personal judgment and condemnation of others, no matter who they are or what they’ve said, believed, or done.

When I look at others through the lens of God’s love for them and God’s desire to be in relationship with them, it changes how I see them. That is foundational to what Jesus came to teach me.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

My Core Weakness

My Core Weakness (CaD Jer 45) Wayfarer

“Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’”
Jeremiah 45:5 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve experienced as an Enneagram coach is that it’s is common for people, upon reviewing their Enneagram Type, to say, “I don’t want that to be my Type!” In fact, there have been people I’ve encountered who insisted on mistyping themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously, because they were uncomfortable with embracing their true selves. This is, I have discovered, sometimes part of the self-discovery journey for people.

Every Enneagram Type has its core fear, core weakness, core desire, and core longing. These may manifest themselves differently in different individuals. As an Enneagram Four, my core desire is to be “special and unique” while my core weakness is the sin of envy. It’s easy for me to feel that others have something special or unique that I lack. Without realizing it, I sometimes feel an intense antagonism toward people I don’t even know that’s rooted in my envy. It’s taken a long time for me to recognize that in myself and address it.

Coming in at only five verses, Jeremiah 45 is one of the shorter chapters in the Great Story, though there are a handful that are even shorter. When the messages of Jeremiah were compiled into what we now know as the book of Jeremiah they were compiled thematically. The final chapters of the book are a kind of appendix. Today’s chapter is a fascinating, personal message that God gave Jeremiah for his friend and faithful scribe Baruch.

I saw shades of myself as I read Baruch’s lament in the quiet this morning. Baruch’s brother occupied an important position in the administration of King Zedekiah. Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe, writing down the prophets dictated messages and then rewriting them all over again when the king burned the original copies in his anger. Let’s face it, the doom-and-gloom of Jeremiah’s prophetic works are bit repetitive and depressing. Add to that the fact that all of the anger, hatred, and animosity of Jeremiah trickled down to Baruch. When Jeremiah was banned from speaking in public, it was Baruch who got the job of proclaiming the words no one wanted to hear. Baruch sometimes got blamed when an accuser was afraid to confront the prophet himself.

“Why am I stuck doing this my whole life?” I can hear Baruch muttering to himself. “Why didn’t I get a cushy, high-profile job in the King’s administration like my brother?”

Jeremiah hears the muttering of his friend and scribe. God tells Jerry to tell Barry: “Don’t seek great things for yourself. Believe me, your brother’s story is not going to end well, but I will protect you and your life as the scribe of my anointed prophet.”

We don’t know what happened to Baruch’s brother Seraiah, though it was likely either captivity or death. Baruch, on the other hand, was still alive with Jeremiah in Egypt after the fall of Jerusalem.

In the quiet this morning, I confess that it’s always been easy for me to feel a certain level of discontent with my life. I was called specifically to do what I’m doing, and I trust that with all my being. Nevertheless, whenever I go through a tough stretch of the journey, my core desires and core weakness make it hard for me to stay in my lane without some dramatic and pessimistic brooding, and Wendy can tell you that I excel in this.

But that’s where God’s words to Baruch really resonate with me in all my “Fourness.” I can focus on obediently and faithfully fulfilling that to which I’ve been called, or I can waste a lot of time pining away in envy for what others have been called to do. The reality is that I have been and continue to be extremely blessed, and when I focus on that blessing, and the Source of that blessing, then I find contentment is soon to follow.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Slave’s Return

The Slave's Return (CaD Jer 44) Wayfarer

“We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord!”
Jeremiah 44:16 (NIV)

Jeremiah is an old man.

Consider with me all that he has witnessed.

He began his prophetic ministry under the reign of the reformer King Josiah. Josiah heard the Book of Law read, and he followed the God of Abraham and Moses faithfully. He outlawed idolatry and destroyed all of the idols and shrines. He did what was right. Jeremiah was right there in the palace, and in Solomon’s Temple to witness it all for the first twenty years of his ministry.

Then Josiah died.

His successor, Jehoahaz, immediately turned back to idolatry and the people of Judah with him. Over the next thirty years, Jeremiah witnessed a succession of four kings and the people of Judah harden their hearts in idolatry despite Jeremiah’s persistent warnings of judgement at the hand of the King of Babylon.

Jerusalem is destroyed.

The palace is destroyed.

The Who’s Who of Judah are all living in captivity in Babylon.

God’s Temple is in ruins.

The nation of Judah is no more.

The old man Jeremiah wakes up to find himself in Egypt, the nation where it all began for his people. They started as slaves in Egypt. That’s where God came to rescue them from their chains. God freed them from Egypt, made a covenant with them, and led them back to the land promised to them through their ancestor, Abraham. All God asked in return was faithfulness. Worship him alone. Live differently than all the other nations and peoples. Bless others. Show them a different way.

They refused. They broke covenant. They chose to be like everybody else. They refused to listen to Jeremiah. More than that. They mocked him, beat him, imprisoned him, and tried to kill him.

Jeremiah gathers with all the Hebrew expatriates in Egypt. I imagine him looking at this rag tag crowd. In some fifty years he’s witnessed the long, steady decline from a good King on the throne determined that his people will be faithful to the God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt and raised them up there to small remnant, wandering, lost sheep without a shepherd living back in Egypt. How ironic. These Hebrews have come full circle. The former slaves return to the land of their slave master.

These chapters about Jeremiah after the destruction of Jerusalem are striking for a couple of reasons.

First, Jeremiah is still proclaiming God’s Word and the message hasn’t changed.

Next, the leaders of this group of remnants have become increasingly defiant to anything Jeremiah has to say. They started by at least asking the prophet if he had a word from the Lord. Now they are simply telling the crazy old man to shut-up.

Also, the women have decided that the destruction of Jerusalem and all of the troubles were not the result of God’s judgement, but because they stopped worshipping Asherah, the “Queen of Heaven.” It wasn’t their unfaithfulness to the God of Moses who freed them from slavery in Egypt that brought all of the calamity but their unfaithfulness to Asherah. God no longer registers for them at all.

Jeremiah, the crazy old man, stays on message. God proclaims that He will give His people in Egypt one more sign. Pharaoh will die at the hands of his enemies. Indeed, in 570 B.C. (The remnant likely fled to Egypt sometime around 576-575 B.C.) Pharaoh was deposed and killed in a military coup.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on this big picture irony of the former slaves returning to their slave masters. In His first public message, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”

He was speaking of freedom from sin, as Paul so beautifully explains in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome:

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.

The lesson of the Hebrew remnant is a lesson for me. Am I spiritually growing in freedom toward a more intimate relationship with God and an increasing measure of love, joy, and peace in my daily life? Or, am I time and again returning to the shackles of pride, fear, shame, and the behaviors they produce in me?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Choices and Destiny

Choices and Destiny (CaD Jer 43) Wayfarer

[Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon] will come and attack Egypt, bringing death to those destined for death, captivity to those destined for captivity, and the sword to those destined for the sword.
Jeremiah 43:11 (NIV)

One of the grand, never-ending, conflict-inducing debates in theology is that of the dance between free will and predestination. Am I really free to make my own choices, or are my choices and their outcomes predestined by God? This is the stuff about which theologians find themselves getting all worked up about. Like most hotly contested debate topics, along my journey I have observed small groups of individuals staunchly rooted at both extremes and a whole lot of people who occupy the gray area in-between. Like most hotly contested theological debates, I find the debate itself can be a huge waste of time.

Nevertheless, the question does occasionally present itself in the quiet on this chapter-a-day journey, as it did this morning. In yesterday’s chapter, there was a remnant of Hebrews who gathered in Mizpah after the Babylonian army left the area. Many people and soldiers fled elsewhere before and during the Babylonian siege. They avoided captivity the first time, but after the assassination of Governor Gedeliah they’re afraid Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar will send his army back to kill them or take them into captivity as well. Jeremiah gives them a message from God telling them to stay put and trust that God will deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar.

One of the things I found interesting in yesterday’s chapter is that Jeremiah twice addressed this remnant considering a move to Egypt as “determined to go” (vs. 15, 17). Then Jeremiah says at the end of his message that they “made a fatal mistake” when they sent him to seek the word of the Lord and said they would obey whatever the Lord said through Jeremiah. It was a bit of foreshadowing. Jeremiah seemed to know that these men had already made their decision and were looking for a rubber stamp from the Almighty.

Sure enough, in today’s chapter the leaders of the remnant reject God’s word through Jeremiah. They not only fly to exile in Egypt, but they force Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch, to go with them.

The group settles in an Egyptian border town called Tahpanhes which was an important stop on the major trade route between Egypt and Judah. It would have been like Americans fleeing to Canada in Vancouver or to Mexico in Tijuana. It was just over the border. Tahpanhes would have been a popular destination for Hebrews fleeing to the land of Egypt and there was likely an active Hebrew community already in residence. there.

Upon arrival, God gives Jeremiah a message for those who drug him there again his will. It’s a repeat of the message from yesterday’s chapter that Nebuchadnezzar will indeed attack the city “bringing death to those destined for death, captivity to those destined for captivity, and the sword to those destined for the sword.” I couldn’t help but focus on the word “destined.” Because of my many experiences with the “free will vs. predestination” theological smackdowns, the word “destined” set off some alarms in the back of my brain. So, I dug into the original Hebrew text. Interestingly, there is no Hebrew word that translates into English. Rather, the direct word-for-word translation of the Hebrew is “death whoever death, captivity whoever captivity, sword whoever sword.” The translators have added the English word “destined” by implication.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself mulling over these “arrogant men” (vs. 2) who were determined to go to Egypt. It appears to have been their will to do so even before asking Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord. Once they settle in, God doubles down in pronouncing judgment. Nebuchadnezzar will attack. People will die, be taken captive, and will be struck down by the sword. By the way, there are textual references regarding Nebuchadnezzar attacking Egypt during two different years late in his reign. History records very little about the campaigns. While he didn’t conquer Egypt, Neb certainly would have attacked towns along the border such as Tahpanhes. We will have to wait for archaeologists to excavate any further evidence in order to know more.

So was the remnant free to will themselves to Egypt or were they destined to do so as part of God’s larger plan?

I have found on my spiritual journey that there is a certain humility required of me as a disciple of Jesus. The humility comes from acknowledging that there are certain spiritual mysteries that lie beyond my earthly, human comprehension. The mystery of the “Trinity” (greek word: perichoresis or literally “circle dance”) is a great example, and I love the word picture of a dance. It moves, it turns, it spins, it weaves and flows. I find that we humans love our simple binaries. The more fundamentalist I becomes in my thinking , the more black-and-white my lens will be in how I view both God and the world around me. The further I get in the journey, the more mystery I find in the dance between black-and-white, the more truth I find in the tension between the extremes, and the more humble I become in trying to cognitively understand that which lies further up and further in than my earthly synapses allow.

Today, I make my own choices. My choices have consequences. How God weaves that into the grand design of the Great Story is beyond me, though I am sure that He does.

Today, I make my own choices.

Lord, allow me the grace to choose well

and… May“Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Futility of Flight

The Futility of Flight (CaD Jer 42) Wayfarer

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you are determined to go to Egypt and you do go to settle there, then the sword you fear will overtake you there, and the famine you dread will follow you into Egypt, and there you will die.
Jeremiah 42:15b-16 (NIV)

Wendy and I were once cast in a production that was eery little story about a young couple being stuck in a myriad of ways. We did not play the couple, but were rather part of a dream-like menagerie that revealed the couple’s true relational issues.

In the course of the story, Wendy’s character confronts the young woman, who keeps trying to run away in fear. No matter where she runs, however, the young woman runs right into Wendy.

That show came to mind as I read today’s chapter, in which the small contingent of former soldiers who took vengeance out on the rogue Ishmael and his gang of assassins in yesterday’s chapter, now ask Jeremiah to pray for them as they plan to flee with their families to Egypt in fear of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon’s wrath.

God’s answer through Jeremiah was not what the contingent wanted to hear.

Jeremiah tells the group that they must do the hard thing. Stay, stand firm, and face the consequences with the Babylonian overlord. Yes, the same King of Babylon who just destroyed Jerusalem, killed countless numbers of their fellow citizen, and took most of the other residents captive. “Trust Me,” God says. “Have faith that the King of Babylon will do the right thing, and I will make sure that every little thing is gonna be alright.”

What I really found fascinating was the next part of God’s word through Jeremiah. He tells the contingent that if they flee to Egypt (and it sounds like God knows they’re going to do it anyway) then all the things that they are running from are the very things they will run into in the land of the pyramids. Their flight would be futile.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking back to the stretches of my journey in which a ran from different things. There have been times when I ran out of fear of a conflict or confrontation. There have been times when I ran away from facing up to my own mistakes or poor choices. Other times I have run away from doing the hard thing and instead sought out an easy alternative. As a follower of Jesus, however, I have found that God’s economy works just like the device in that production. No matter where I run or how far I run, God is there asking me to face the very thing I fear. As David put it in Psalm 139:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Time and time again in the Great Story God reveals that His purpose is a relationship with me in which I grow into intimacy and spiritual maturity. That growth curve requires growing pains, struggle, trials, and even suffering. This is the exact opposite of culture and the human condition that continue convincing me that things on this life journey should be easy, comfortable, pleasurable, free of pain, full of fun, and always lucrative. The more I’ve learned to trust God in my trials, the more I’ve come to acknowledge the futility of my fleeing whatever it is that I don’t want to face. When I trust God to stand and face whatever it is I’m afraid of the less time and energy I waste fleeing from whatever it is that I’m only going to run into again and again and again.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Good Man, Wrong Job

Good Man, Wrong Job (CaD Jer 41) Wayfarer

Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the ten men who were with him got up and struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, with the sword, killing the one whom the king of Babylon had appointed as governor over the land.
Jeremiah 41:2 (NIV)

The period of time immediately following a major conflict is usually a time of chaos. In the wake of our own Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the period known as the Reconstruction was a time of conflict and corruption. Spotty conflict continued for a time. Corrupt people took advantage of the power vacuums that occur with the transfer of power. Hatred for the north did not lessen in defeat across the south. Ulysses S. Grant, who was perhaps the only Union general with the leadership qualities to defeat the Confederate army, found himself lacking the leadership qualities necessary to navigate the political swamp of Washington D.C. in the period of Reconstruction, despite the fact that he had the purest of desires to get the job done.

I had to remind myself of this period of history as I read today’s chapter. The final chapters of Jeremiah are an amazingly detailed historical record of events that occurred in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Babylonian army had left the region with all of the exiles in tow. They left newly appointed Governor Gedeliah with a small Babylonian guard for protection. In the later portion of yesterday’s chapter, Gedeliah was warned that one of deposed King Zedekiah’s military commanders, a man named Ishmael, had allied himself with the nearby King of Ammon.

Ammon and Judah were allies in their rebellion against Babylon. Ammon was spared Babylonian revenge, but it didn’t quell the Ammonites hatred for Nebuchadnezzar. Ishmael and some of his men were equally enraged by the defeat and viewed their fellow Jews trying to carve out a peaceful life under Babylonian power to be traitors to the cause. Ishmael and his rogue squadron take out their rage by slaughtering Nebuchadnezzar’s men, the Governor and his administration, and they even slaughter some poor people bringing their offerings toward Jerusalem to try and re-establish some form of religious normalcy during what would have been a time of feasting and offering at the rubble that would have been Solomon’s Temple.

Having just suffered Nebuchadnezzar’s vengeance, another contingent of former soldiers who had given themselves to a new life under Babylonian control, realize that if they don’t kill Ishmael and his men Nebuchadnezzar might return and kill everybody. They take out Ismael and his men, but accept that Nebuchadnezzar might just kill them to simply squelch any unrest.

They flee to Egypt.

I couldn’t help but think of Gedeliah who, like Grant, had all of the desire to do the right thing for his people and help reconstruct their lives. Like Grant, he seemed to lack the wily shrewdness required in politics. The higher you climb on the political food chain the larger target you have on your back. Instead of brushing off the warnings about Ishmael, he should have at the very least taken precautions. The rebel appears to have taken Gedeliah and his Babylonian protectors completely off-guard.

And that’s the reminder I’m taking with me from my time in the quiet this morning. Having the right people with the right gifts in the right positions is perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned along my life journey as it pertains to effectively leading human systems whether I am running a business, directing a theatre production, leading a church, or head of a committee for a civic organization. This only gets more critical in the wake of upheaval or massive transition.

When you have the wrong people in critical positions of any human system, things will only get messier.

Note: I will not be posting tomorrow. Back on Monday!

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Faithful Tenacity

Faithful Tenacity (CaD Jer 40) Wayfarer

However, before Jeremiah turned to go, Nebuzaradan added, “Go back to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon has appointed over the towns of Judah, and live with him among the people, or go anywhere else you please.”
Jeremiah 40:5 (NIV)

Jerusalem is in ruins. The walls that kept the Babylonians out for some 30 months have been demolished. Solomon’s Temple, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, is demolished along with the Palace. The Babylonians burned the entire city. It lies uninhabitable.

Having failed to find a puppet King of Judah who didn’t rebel against him, Nebuchadnezzar follows his destruction of Jerusalem with destruction of the monarchy. He proclaims the region a Babylonian province with its capital in Mizpah. He appoints a man named Gedaliah as the new provincial Governor answering to Babylon.

Interesting, that both Gedeliah’s father and grandfather are mentioned when the Babylonian Commander suggests that Jeremiah go to live under the Governor’s protection. Gedeliah was from a family of Scribes. Scribes were held in high esteem in those days as the number of people who could actually write were very few. Even in the days of Jesus some 500 years later, Scribes were the ranking authorities within the powerful religious party of the Pharisees. Jeremiah being a prominent prophet, he would have been well-known by the Scribes for his prophetic work. But, there’s even more of a connection with Gedeliah.

Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry half-way through the reign of the reformer King Josiah. It was during this period of time that Gedeliah’s grandfather, Shaphan, who presented the rediscovered Book of the Law to King Josiah, leading to sweeping religious reforms in 2 Kings 22. Jeremiah would have been politically and religiously in alliance with Shaphan, King Josiah, and the sweeping reforms that temporarily put an end to idolatry and called upon the entire nation to worship the God of Abraham, Moses, and David alone. Back in chapter 26, when Jeremiah’s enemies attempted to have him killed, it was Gedeliah’s father, Ahikam, who protected Jeremiah from the mob. Gedeliah and his family were supporters and allies of Jeremiah.

It’s equally fascinating that the Babylonian Commander, Nebuzaradan, offers Jeremiah protection should he decide to return to Babylon. It was very common in religions of that day to believe that when a prophet spoke, it was his or her words that caused the prophesied events to happen. They would have believed that if Jeremiah had kept his mouth shut, the siege, the famine, the death, the destruction, and the exile would not have happened. The fact that Jeremiah was right would not have gotten Jeremiah off the hook. It would have made him an even bigger target as a scapegoat whom people could blame for their dire circumstances. Nebuzaradan understood that Jeremiah needed protection and was willing to provide it if Jeremiah was going to Babylon. If he was staying, Gedeliah was best person with the political power (backed by Babylonian force) to get the job done.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about Jeremiah’s life journey and the incredible things God asked of him throughout his entire life. There was never a point at which he was not in danger of insult, mockery, public humiliation, verbal attack, physical attack, or the threat of death. And in the multiple cases in which attacks were made on his life, God always provided a protector whether it was Gedeliah, Ebed-Melek, or an Akikam.

We aren’t sure when and how Jeremiah died, though Jewish tradition from extra-Biblical sources hold that he was taken to Egypt where he continued his prophetic proclamations to the exiles and was finally stoned by his fellow countrymen. Given the historical record we do have, this sounds quite plausible. I have to admire Jeremiah for his faithful tenacity in the face of perpetual threat.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.


"D-Day" (CaD Jer 39) Wayfarer

And on the ninth day of the fourth month of Zedekiah’s eleventh year, the city wall was broken through.
Jeremiah 39:2 (NIV)

The term D-Day has become historically synonymous with the Allied Forces’ invasion of Normandy in World War II, but the term was actually a way of generically referring to an operation when the date of the operation was unknown, or secret. The term H-hour was also used to talk about the hour that certain things would take place. When briefing troops regarding their tactical orders they might explain where the unit will be and what they will be doing on D-day minus one (the day before the operation is launched). Likewise, when planning the invasion, it might be explained where the strategists expected a unit to be at “H-hour plus 12,” twelve-hours after the launch of the operation.

For thirty-eight chapters, the ancient prophet Jeremiah has been repeatedly and prophetically claiming that the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Jerusalem, and that the people of Jerusalem would die or be taken into exile. This anthology of Jeremiah’s messages represent four decades of his prophetic proclamations. When he began his prophetic ministry, the notion that Babylon would even be an Imperial power in the region would have been laughable. Jerry kept proclaiming it, which is why is does get fairly repetitive. But even this fact, the idea of proclaiming the same thing for an entire generation causes me to pause and think.

For forty-years Jerry repeatedly and consistently speaks of an event that no one wants to hear about, and doesn’t even sound plausible from a geopolitical perspective in the early years of his prophesying. How many times was Jeremiah mocked? How many times did people roll their eyes, pull their children aside and tell the kids not to pay any attention to Crazy Jerry and that yoke he carries around all day? How often did Kings, priests, and officials laugh at him, and derisively demand that he reveal D-Day, when this highly unlikely scenario would happen?

Today’s chapter is Jeremiah’s D-Day. It finally happens. In the quiet this morning I noticed a few things:

First, in Jeremiah’s very first message back in chapter one, God tells the prophet:

I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the Lord.

“Their kings will come and set up their thrones
    in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem;

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah records:

Then all the officials of the king of Babylon came and took seats in the Middle Gate: Nergal-Sharezer of Samgar, Nebo-Sarsekim a chief officer, Nergal-Sharezer a high official and all the other officials of the king of Babylon.

Next, for the past few chapters, King Zedekiah has been having conversations with Jeremiah, asking the prophet what will happen to him. Keep in mind that Nebuchadnezzar put King Z on the throne and expected Z to be a faithful puppet, but Z betrayed Neb and made an alliance with Egypt (which motivated the Babylonian siege). I find it ironic, downright Shakespearean, that Z has watched all of Jerry’s prophecies come true, and he trusts the prophet enough to ask for advice. Jerry tells him that if he surrenders to Neb he will be okay, but Z doesn’t even have the faith to trust the prophet who has successfully predicted everything that is happening for the past forty years. Z makes a run for it, and ends up watching the Babylonians kill his entire family before they pluck his eyes out and drag him back to Babylon. What a tragic character.

I also found it interesting that the Babylonians, who were notorious for their cruelty, acted with surprising deference to Jeremiah. But, Daniel and his friends, along with the prophet Ezekiel, have already been in Babylon for ten years. Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel a top official in his administration, and Jeremiah had written to Daniel and the exiles back in chapter 29. Nebuchadnezzar was likely well aware of Jeremiah’s prophecies. Jeremiah is released from his house arrest in the courtyard of the King’s guard and escorted to his hometown where his family could care for him.

It would also appears that Jerry had enough clout to get the Babylonians to extend the same grace to Ebed-Melek, the African eunuch who risked his own life to rescue Jerry from the bottom of the cistern where his enemies had thrown him and left him to die.

I also found it fascinating that after rounding up all of the citizens they considered worthwhile to take back to Babylon, the invaders give the poorest people left in the area land and vineyards. I can only assume that this act of generosity was intended to ensure that those left owed some debt of gratitude to their Imperial overlords. It would also ensure that those left would be able to continue to eek out a life and also continue paying tribute of some kind back to Babylon.

In the quiet this morning, I think about the events prophetically described by both Jesus and the apostles regarding the end of the Great Story. My entire life I’ve read them, studied them, and heard countless people proclaim that our apocalyptic D-Day is imminent. I’ve thought long and hard about this along my life journey, and here’s where I land.

Do I think it will happen? Yes.

Do I know exactly how it will play out? No. I humbly acknowledge that the greatest religious scholars for hundreds of years predicted and prophesied a Messiah who looked nothing like Jesus. They got it wrong because they interpreted prophesy from a self-centric human lens. God makes it pretty clear that our ways are not His ways and the human condition doesn’t change on this terrestrial ball. I’m betting that there’s a lot that scholars today have wrong in their apocalyptic prognostications.

Do I think it will happen soon? [cue: a shrug] I have mentioned in these posts over the years that I have observed along my life journey that it is common for followers of Jesus in their later years to feel certain that the end is near. And, I think that it is psychologically easy to come to this conclusion when the world is changing more rapidly than any time in human history which means that their personal past is far removed from the current world in which they find themselves. Add to this the knowledge that the end of their earthly journey is certainly near, and I believe it’s very easy to project one’s personal reality onto the entire world.

Jeremiah reminds me to place my faith in God’s D-Day, however it may eventually play out, even if-and-when it seems improbable on any given day.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Under Siege

Under Siege (CaD Jer 38) Wayfarer

So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.
Jeremiah 38:6 (NIV)

Being the victim of a siege exacts a huge toll on a person. Even in modern conflicts like the current war in Ukraine, the devastating effects of long-term isolation, starvation, anxiety, fear, and boredom are well-documented. Janine di Giovanni, author and senior fellow at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs wrote of the siege of Aleppo, “Sieges destroy the body, but… what’s far more damaging is the annihilation of the soul.”

It starts with shock and disorientation, followed by depression and increased rates of suicide. As a siege drags on, apathy and alcoholism are common and eventually give way to breakdown of social structures.

Today’s chapter has all the signs that the Babylonians’ 30 month siege of Jerusalem had exacted the desired toll on the residents inside. Depressed and bored, four young men get tired of Jeremiah’s constant proclamations of death and destruction. They petition King Zedekiah to let them kill Jeremiah. The king apathetically grants their wish. Inside the court of the guard where Jeremiah is confined there is a deep water cistern. Because of the siege, it’s empty. All the water has been consumed leaving nothing but muddy sediment at the bottom. Jeremiah is thrown in and he sinks into the mud.

Fortunately for Jeremiah, he has at least one friend left. A young African eunuch serving the King hears of Jeremiah’s plight and petitions King Z to let him rescue the prophet. The apathetic King Z grants the petition, telling the eunuch to take 30 guards with him (presumably as protection against the men who wanted to kill Jeremiah in the first place).

After Jeremiah is rescued, King Z summons Jeremiah. It would appear that Z realizes that Jeremiah’s prophetic messages were true and he wants to know the truth of what will happen to him. In a private heart-to-heart, Z shares his fears with the prophet. Jeremiah tells the king to surrender. The king, realizing that there are still those who want Jeremiah dead, instructs the prophet what to say if he’s confronted and questioned.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think about what it must have been like for Jeremiah to witness all that he had prophesied coming true. He had been proclaiming this fate for decades, and now he is suffering that same fate along with those who refused to listen and railed against him the entire time. He suffered rebuke, rejection, and retribution before the siege, now he is suffering the effects of the siege along with those who never believed him. Sometimes, it sucks to be right.

Once again, I am struck by my human need for a prophet in my life. King Z has never been a friend to Jeremiah, but as events close in on their climactic end, he realizes that the prophet is perhaps the only one he can trust to speak the truth to him. There are moments along life’s road when life feels like I am being besieged on all sides by circumstances I don’t control. It comes with this earthly journey through a fallen world, and it can exact a tremendous toll.

That is the truth. And, it’s in those moments I need a friend who is a prophet.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Wanted: A Prophet

Wanted: A Prophet (CaD Jer 37) Wayfarer

Then King Zedekiah sent for [Jeremiah] and had him brought to the palace, where he asked him privately, “Is there any word from the Lord?”
Jeremiah 27:17 (NIV)

As I sat down to enter my time of quiet and contemplation this morning, I saw a headline of an article in The Free Press that caught my eye and I found myself reading it.The Free Press is one of a growing number of independent news outlets made up of journalists who still believe in the classic principles of objective journalism and have left the mainstream to work independently. Wendy and I have found it to be some of the best reporting we’ve read in years. The investigative reporter in the article I read this morning basically found that some official judges of high school debate contests state clearly that they will give a young debater an automatic loss if that young person argues against the judge’s personal political beliefs or world-view. Some judges publicly list the issues and arguments that will prompt them to give a young debater an automatic loss. In one cited case, the judge states the student who argues against his personal opinions on certain topics will also get a stern lecture and will give an earful to the student’s debate coach.

What fascinating times we’re living in.

As it turns out, the article was a bit synchronous with today’s chapter, in which the ancient prophet Jeremiah is imprisoned by King Zedekiah in a dungeon to keep him from publicly proclaiming his prophesies that the king and his administration found politically incorrect. Then, ironically, King Z has Jeremiah brought before him to ask, “Is there any word from the Lord?”

In other words, the King recognizes that Jeremiah is a real prophet and he further recognizes that what Jeremiah says actually proves to be true. He just doesn’t want Jeremiah saying it in public and he doesn’t want anyone to actually hear what Jeremiah has to say.

Being an ancient Hebrew prophet was not an easy gig.

I was reminded this morning that Jesus often indicted the institutional leaders of his day because of their treatment of the prophets. He even told His followers to expect similar treatment:

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:12

“Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.”
Luke 11:47-48

“And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
Matthew 23:30-32

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Matthew 23:36-37

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Luke 16:31

Fortunately for Jeremiah, his appeal to King Z for reprieve from the dungeon meets with the King’s favor. It’s both fascinating and ironic that the King believes Jeremiah and wants to continue hearing what God has to say through Jeremiah, he just doesn’t want anyone else to hear it.

In the quiet this morning, my mind drifts back to the investigative report of high school debaters which stated:

Most students choose not to fight this coercion. They see it as a necessary evil that’s required to win debates and secure the accolades, scholarships, and college acceptance letters that can come with winning.

I find this sad, just as I find Jeremiah’s imprisonment sad. I’m equally reminded in the quiet this morning that we need prophets in both our society and in our lives. There’s a reason why prophets are a ubiquitous archetype in life and literature. One of the things I love about having Wendy as a life partner is that she is a truth-teller and has a prophet’s ability to speak hard words to me even if and when I don’t want to hear them. I have friends in my inner-circle who can and will do the same. I’m a better person for having “prophets” in my life. I will at least give King Z credit for knowing that he needed Jeremiah alive to hear what the prophet had to say.

When all that I hear are the things I’m comfortable hearing, something is dysfunctional in the system.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.