Jeremiah (ESL) Part 2: Israel’s God

Review

hello everyone,
today is part two of Jeremiah.
To remember some important things we learned last week, here’s a little multichoice quiz.
 
Which country has the best food?

  1. New Zealand
  2. USA
  3. China
  4. Malaysia

 
 
near the start of the Bible, God rescued the people of Israel from working as slaves in Egypt
then God made them a promise:
if you follow me and stay close to me,
then I will give you everything you need and look after you.
 
And the people made God a promise: we will always love and obey you.
It was like a wedding.
 
After that, the people of Israel:

  1. Always followed God.
  2. Sometimes followed God, but often turned away and rejected him.
  3. Rejected God all the time.

 
 
When the people rejected God, he sent prophets.
A prophet is:

  1. Money you make by selling something
  2. A messenger from God.

 
 
What is the main message that these prophets brought?

  1. The world will end on January 1, 1000 BC.
  2. God is hurt and he doesn’t love you any more.
  3. God is hurt, but he still loves you and wants you back.
  4. Things will be better if you eat kimchi.

 
 
Jeremiah was one of the last prophets, around 600 BC.
When he brought God’s message, how did the people respond?

  1. They were sorry and came back to God.
  2. They laughed at him, rejected him, and tried to kill him.
  3. They said, “you’re wrong Jeremiah: sushi is better than kimchi.”

 
 
Yes, It was a hard life for Jeremiah.
Why was Jeremiah’s heart broken?

  1. The woman he loved didn’t want to marry him.
  2. The people fought against God, and he loved them both.
  3. He had run out of kimchi… and sushi!

 
 
Yes, Jeremiah was on God’s side and the people’s side, so he was caught in the crossfire:
the people rejected God, so they attacked Jeremiah.
God judged the people, so Jeremiah suffered with them.
 
We saw that Jesus was like Jeremiah in many ways.
What is the big difference?

  1. Jesus had a happy life because everyone loved him.
  2. Jesus was God, so people listened to him.
  3. Jesus was 100% God and 100% human, so his death made peace between us and God.

 
 
 

One: God as Husband and Father – Chapter 2-3

Last week, we learned about Jeremiah – we saw what he experienced and how he felt,
now let’s turn to Jeremiah chapter 2, and learn more about God.
This chapter is like a love poem.
God said to Jeremiah,
 
“Go and shout this message to Jerusalem.
This is what the Lord says:
 
“I remember how eager you were to please me
    as a young bride long ago,
how you loved me and followed me
    even through the barren wilderness.
In those days Israel was holy to the Lord,
    the first of his children.
All who harmed his people were declared guilty,
    and disaster fell on them.”
 
Jeremiah 2:2-3    (Page 570)
 
God is looking back and remembering when he rescued Israel from Egypt.
They made each other those promises – like a wedding.
the people loved God and followed him through the desert.
 
Think when you first met your boyfriend or girlfriend.
You just loved being together,
You loved to make him happy, to see her smile.
God was like that with his people.
 
God was like their husband.
Jeremiah also says God was like their father,
they were like little children,
who came running to him and sat on his knee and said. “I love you, daddy”
if anyone tries to hurt his children, they’ll be in trouble…
 
 
God is smiling as he looks back and remembers that wonderful time.
But then something strange happened.
 
Has anyone ever heard of anything
    as strange as this?
Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones,
    even though they are not gods at all?
Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God
    for worthless idols!
    says the Lord.
Jeremiah 2: 10-11
 
Idols are statues of wood or stone that people treat like God – like in temples in Asia. [1]
 
God is living and powerful,
he loves them and rescued them and looked after them.
Gave them a good land, everything they need.
 
But they turn away from him to worship dead statues
they are helpless, worthless – they can’t do anything at all![2]
 
It’s crazy, it’s stupid, who could believe it?[3]
God says
My people have done two evil things:
They have abandoned me—
    the fountain of living water.
And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns
    that can hold no water at all!
 
Jeremiah 2: 13
 
a cistern is a hole in the ground to collect rainwater.
 
Imagine you are in the desert like the people of Israel
sand and rock as far as you can see.
You are very hot and thirsty.
You can see a stream of cool fresh water.
But you don’t want it.
you get a spade and start to dig a hole.
It’s hard work, you are sweating in the sun.
Then some rain comes, it fills the hole.  you try to drink it, but the water ran away – your hole has holes!
It’s useless, a cracked cistern.
 
That’s what idols are like, says Jeremiah
They can’t give you water, can’t give you life
 
 
It’s crazy.
God offers them – for free – the fresh flowing water of life
the people would rather die of thirst, trying to dig their own hole and find their own water.
What is wrong with them?
 
And yet, you know, sometimes we do the same
an idol is not just a statue in a temple
an idol can be anything that we give our hearts to,
anything that we love more than God.
 
When you wake up, what’s the first thing you think of?  What’s the most important thing in your life?
Is it your job, your education, your family, your girlfriend?
or your house, your car, your iphone – checking Facebook?
 
In my life, in your life, is there something that fills your mind, that takes God’s place?
Then we are crazy too!
We are digging that useless hole.
 
We will be disappointed,
Because nothing except God can satisfy our thirst.
 
 
God wanted to be their loving husband, their good father.
in the next chapter, God says
 
“I thought to myself,
    ‘I would love to treat you as my own children!’
I wanted nothing more than to give you this beautiful land—
    the finest possession in the world.
I looked forward to your calling me ‘Father,’
    and I wanted you never to turn from me.
But you have been unfaithful to me, you people of Israel!
    You have been like a faithless wife who leaves her husband.”
 
Jeremiah 3:19-20
 
Can you hear his pain?
God is like a father:
he had a precious little son – his pride and joy – God delighted in him.
But his son grew up and rejected him.  He ran away from home. [4]
 
God is like a husband in love with his wife.
But Israel broke the promises she made.
She was unfaithful and left him to live with other men – that’s what worshipping other gods is like.
 
over and over, God calls them back:
 
“O Israel, my faithless people, come home to me again” (3:12)
“return home” (3:14)
 “come back to me” (3:22)
 
but they don’t listen.  Their hearts are too hard.
God still loves them, but love has to be free.
you can’t force someone you love to love you back.[5]
 
So the marriage that started so well, ended in divorce.[6]
 
I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery.
Jeremiah 3:8
 

Two: God as King and Judge – Chapter 4-6

God had a great plan for Israel.
God meant them to be a people of love and joy and peace,
who bring light and life to the world. – That’s his plan for us too.
               Then you would be a blessing to the nations of the world.
Jeremiah 4:2
 
But when the people follow other gods, they start to behave like those gods.
They start to lie and steal and hate and kill each other.
They become as dark as the nations around them.
Jeremiah says:
“They worshipped worthless idols, and became worthless themselves.”          Jeremiah 2:5
the same thing can happen to us. [7]
 
God is loving, and God is also holy.
he hates evil.  he is totally pure, and he wants his people to be pure and loving.
He hates it when his people behave like that.
 
Like a good parent,
God is patient, he waits and waits, calls and calls, watches and watches for his people to come back.[8]
 
But a good father won’t just let his children ruin their lives.
the time comes – because he cares about them – for tough love.
There is no alternative to judgement.[9]
 
 
last week, we saw Jeremiah’s first message from God to the people in chapter 1:
 
Listen! I am calling the armies of the kingdoms of the north to come to Jerusalem.
 Jeremiah 1:15
 
God is all-powerful, the king of kings, the commander of heaven’s armies.[10]
now he commands the armies of the nations to attack Israel.
The last chapter was a love poem.  Now it’s a vision of war. [11]
 
Sound the alarm throughout the land:
‘Run for your lives!’…
 
A lion stalks from its den,
    a destroyer of nations.
It is headed your way …
 
a burning wind is blowing in from the desert…
A roaring blast…
 
Our enemy rushes down on us like storm clouds!
    His chariots are like whirlwinds.
His horses are swifter than eagles…
 
They surround Jerusalem …
 
I have heard the blast of enemy trumpets
    and the roar of their battle cries.
 
Waves of destruction roll over the land…
 
How terrible it will be, for we are doomed! …
 
Jeremiah 4
 
different pictures of judgement.
The enemy army comes with horses and chariots – the tanks back then.
it is like a hungry lion coming to rip you apart and eat you.
Like a great wind, a hurricane that blows everything away.
Like a tsunami, a tidal wave that destroys everything in its path.
It’s a nightmare – Jeremiah is terrified.
 

Three: the God of Tears – Chapters 8-9

In the end, in 586 BC, the tsunami swept across the land, the army attacked, and
Jerusalem was destroyed
 
The poetry moves from the tenderness of love, then the terror of war
to tears – like at a funeral when someone has died.[12]
 
In the silence after the storm,
Jeremiah looks at the remains of his city.
The houses are gone
The palace of the king is gone.
the temple where he worshipped God – burnt to the ground.
The smoke is still rising.
It welcomes the vultures.
Once there was the sound of chatter and laughter from children playing here,
then the shout of commands barked in a strange harsh tongue.
Now all he can hear is dogs snarling – they are fighting over the bodies (16:4)
and the wind of the desert that blows sand across the ruins.[13]
 
And Jeremiah writes:
 
My grief is beyond healing;
    my heart is broken.
Listen to the weeping of my people;
    it can be heard all across the land.
 
I hurt with the hurt of my people.
    I mourn and am overcome with grief…
Why is there no healing
    for the wounds of my people?
If only my head were a pool of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears,
I would weep day and night
    for all my people who have been slaughtered.
 
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1             (page  579)
 
 
It feels like we should have a moment of silence…
 
In the silence, read these words again.[14]
 
Jeremiah is crying for his people.
but I think someone else is speaking too:
it is also God.[15]
 
Jeremiah feels the heart of God.[16]
The tears of God and the tears of Jeremiah “run together like paints in a watercolour”.[17]
you can’t separate them.
 
The more you love someone, the more you hurt when they suffer.
God is love, so when he loves a hurting people, God himself is in pain. [18]
God had to judge them.
But in a way, the blows of the armies on Jerusalem, on those he loves, fall on his own heart.[19]
 
Jeremiah is often called the Weeping Prophet.
He also shows us the Weeping God
 

Four: the God of Hope – Chapter 31 and Jesus

Jeremiah is a book of tears.
beautiful poetry, but with a sad message.[20]
the marriage between God and Israel ended in divorce.
The beautiful city was destroyed.
 
It seems like everyone – the people, Jeremiah, God – ends up in tears. [21]
Israel has lost everything and there is nothing they can do.[22]
It seems to be the end of Israel’s story.
 
Except for one thing: God is crying.
His tears are a sign of hope.
They show he still loves them.
Despite their faithlessness and betrayal and rejection, he still cares.
 
I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love.
Jeremiah 31:3
 
“Is not Israel still my son,
    my darling child?” says the Lord.
“I often have to punish him,
    but I still love him.”
Jeremiah 31:20
 
God didn’t plan to destroy Israel forever.[23]
Jerusalem had become ugly and dark, so he tore it down – in order to rebuild it as a city of light
He judged them in order to save them –
Their heart had become hard, so it was broken for a while, to heal it, to make it soft again,
So they could know know the joy, the happiness of relationship with him.
 
Were you ever so happy that you cried?
God says a time like that is coming, a time for a different sort of tears:
 
Tears of joy will stream down their faces,
    and I will lead them home with great care…
I will turn their mourning into joy.
 
Jeremiah 31:9, 12-13
 
 
And then God makes the best promise of all – maybe the most famous verse in Jeremiah:
 
“I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel …
I will be their God, and they will be my people…
I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”
 
Jeremiah 31:31-34            (page 599)
 
when God and the people made each other promises, like at a wedding.
The bible calls this a covenant.
 
the people broke their promises, so the marriage was broken.
Now God repeats his promise:  I will be their God.
It is like a new marriage. 
 
It seemed like divorce and death and destruction were the end.
But the tears of God are more powerful than the enemy armies (O’Connor, 1999)
The love of God is stronger than death.
The mercy of God will triumph over judgment.[24]
 
So Jerusalem will be rebuilt.
The relationship will be restored.
 
————————–
Last week, we saw that Jeremiah was similar to Jesus in many ways.
Here’s another connection:
 
The night before he died, Jesus had a last meal with his followers.
 
He took a cup of wine…
He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the (new) covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.
Matthew 26:27-28
 
A new covenant between God and his people, based on God’s forgiveness
That’s what Jeremiah was talking about!
It came through Jesus’ blood, when he died on the cross.
 
 
God loves his people and longs to forgive.
he hates their sin and wants them to be free, so has to judge.
In a way, there is a tension in the very heart of God.
A tension between his love and his holiness.[25]
We could say, between tender love and tough love.
on the cross, that tension tears him apart.[26]
 
we saw in Jeremiah how God himself suffered when he judged Jerusalem.
God wept with his people.
 
In Jesus, on the cross, God took the final step.
Not only was he with us, but He took our place.
Somehow He was judged in our place – for us, instead of us.
 For our wrongdoing, He died in our place.
 
That’s how much God wanted his people back.
how much he paid for his children to come home.
how much he longed for his wife to return.
 
 
When we come to God, when we except Jesus, we can experience that new relationship now.
the new covenant Jeremiah talked about.
But it is only the start – there’s much more to come.
 
in the last book of the Bible,  another prophet sees the new wedding:
 
I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven
like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
 
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.”
Revelation 21:2-4                            (page 961)
 
No more funerals, no more weeping, no more death.
No more destruction or divorce.
 
He will be our God. We will be his people
 
The city is built again – shining and beautiful.
The promise is made again – God with his people.
The marriage – for ever – is restored.
 

Questions

Describe some pictures of God we’ve seen today.
               Which is your most or least favourite?
               How do they help us understand Jesus?
 
 Describe the story of God’s relationship with Israel.
               Is your story with God similar or different?
 
 Is there an idol in your life?
               Are you digging a useless water hole?
 
Do you want to know this God,
               who weeps with his people,
and will never leave them?
 
 
 


[1] And the people are not just worshipping one or two idols, but as many as they can find:
“you have as many gods as there are towns.” (2:28)
[2] God describes idols as worthless.  The word means empty, useless, (hebel – in Jeremiah 2:5, 8:19, 10:3, 8,15.  in 10:14, “lie” = “idol”).  The same word is in Ecclesiastes. “All is vanity”.  “Hot air”. The Message paraphrase says, “Sir Windbag”!
It can mean mist.  now winter is starting to come, the weather is starting to get cold.  This morning I looked out my window and there was a cloud or mist.  It stops me from seeing very far. It looks thick and solid.
But really it’s not – the sun rises and soon it burns off and blows away. Really, it is nothing, you can’t rely on it.  That’s what an idol is like.  Not like God, the dependable rock.
[3] It’s as if God himself can’t understand. He asks:
“What did your ancestors find wrong with me
    that led them to stray so far from me? (2:5)
the sky itself can’t believe it:
The heavens are shocked at such a thing
    and shrink back in horror and dismay (2:12)
 
Again, God is amazed:
Does a young woman forget her jewelry?
    Does a bride hide her wedding dress?
Yet for years on end
    my people have forgotten me.
Jeremiah 2:32
 
Sometimes old people get a disease called Alzheimer’s.  They lose their memory. Sometimes they can’t recognise their own husband or wife any more.   How would you feel if you were married for years and years, and then your wife didn’t know you?  It must really really hurt.  That’s how God feels.  It’s like Israel is sick-they have Alzheimer’s (or a terminal illness (30:12)).  They’ve forgotten God. 
[4] To an image carved from a piece of wood they say,
    ‘You are my father.’
To an idol chiseled from a block of stone they say,
    ‘You are my mother.’
They turn their backs on me
Jeremiah 2:27
[5] There’s nothing stopping them from coming back:
“O Israel,” says the Lord,
    “if you wanted to return to me, you could.
You could throw away your detestable idols
    and stray away no more.
Jeremiah 4:1
God asks them:  “When will you stop running after other gods?”  But the people just say, God,
 ‘Save your breath.
    I’m in love with these foreign gods,
    and I can’t stop loving them now!’ …
Why then do my people say, ‘At last we are free from God!
    We don’t need him anymore!’
Jeremiah 2:25, 31
[6] the people “never sincerely returned”, at best, they “only pretended to be sorry.” (3:10) so God brings charges, as in a divorce court (2:9) and finally, so to speak, throws away the wedding ring (22:24)
[7] here is a spiritual principle: we become like what we love and worship. Love and worship a good God, and will become better, more loving people. Love and worship a worthless false God, and in the end we will become worthless ourselves. “pursue a bubble and become a bubble” (Brueggemann)
[8] like with Abraham, God sends Jeremiah through Jerusalem, looking for one righteous person, so he won’t have to destroy the city, but no one is found (5:1-9)
“Run up and down every street in Jerusalem,” says the Lord.
    “Look high and low; search throughout the city!
If you can find even one just and honest person,
    I will not destroy the city.”
[9] How can I pardon you?
Jeremiah 5:7
[10] when he speaks, all creation trembles:
God made the earth by his power…
    he stretched out the heavens.
… he speaks in the thunder
               Jeremiah 10:12-13
 
Does not my word burn like fire?”
    says the Lord.
“Is it not like a mighty hammer
    that smashes a rock to pieces?
 Jeremiah 23:29
 
[11] there is “terror on every side.”
 “Look! A great army coming from the north!
    A great nation is rising against you from far-off lands.
They are armed with bows and spears.
    They are cruel and show no mercy.
They sound like a roaring sea
    as they ride forward on horses.
They are coming in battle formation,
    planning to destroy you, beautiful Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 6:22-23
[12] these chapters are read in synagogues to commemorate the destruction of the Temple.
Send for the women who mourn at funerals.
Quick! Begin your weeping!
    Let the tears flow from your eyes.
Hear the people of Jerusalem crying in despair
 Jeremiah 9: 17-19
[13] How lonely lies the city, that once was full of people (Lamentations 1:1).
[14] “Language reminiscent of clinical depression” (O’Connor, 1999)
[15] “says the Lord” in 8:17, 9:3.  Scholars debate over who is speaking here, with papers entitled, for example, “Who Is Speaking in Jeremiah 4:19-22?” or “Who Weeps In Jeremiah Viii 23 (Ix 1)?’  Identifying Dramatic Speakers In The Poetry Of Jeremiah.”  Most recent commentaries I’ve looked at now seem to agree it is both, like an overlapping chorus.
[16] “A prophet is not a systematic theologian, but a poet who lives very close to the hurts and hopes of God’s own heart” (Brueggemann, 1991, 58)
[17] one said, “the “I” of the prophet and the “I” of God run together like paints in a watercolour.”
[18] I have abandoned my people, my special possession.
    I have surrendered my dearest ones to their enemies. Jer 12:7
[19] Sometimes when a kid is naughty, the parent punishing him says, “This hurts me as much as it hurts you.”
Did your dad say that?  Did you believe him?  In this case, it really does.
“Alongside Jeremiah, God goes down to destruction with his beloved people.”  (Stulman, 2005, 251)
[20] In Jewish tradition, Jeremiah is not regarded to be as great as Isaiah: “All the harsh prophecies which Jeremiah would prophecy against Israel, Isaiah preceded and provided the healing” (Eichah Rabati 1:23).
[21] as there were at the cross, Luke 23:27-28, 48; John 20:11,13
[22] My first three parts were partly inspired/confirmed by Kathleen O’Connor.  Walter Brueggemann describes her recent book “Jeremiah: Pain and Promise”:
Amid the broad array of social scientific perspectives, Kathleen O’Connor appeals in this extraordinary book to trauma and disaster studies, which now have a well-defined body of learning about the characteristic ways in which people respond to disaster. The quartet of topics that O’Connor takes from that body of theory concerns fragmented memories of violence, a breakdown of language that destroys the capacity to speak meaningfully about the disaster, psychic numbness and a loss of emotional capacity, and loss of confidence in meaningful structures related to God, the world and other people. These responses recur in disasters that “overwhelm nearly everything.”…
 
O’Connor’s daringly imaginative rereading of the book of Jeremiah according to studies of trauma and disaster shows that the book exhibits a post-587 BCE community of Israel that has been displaced and is experiencing the classic accents of trauma. O’Connor employs images and literary devices such as “the family undone” through adultery, alienation and divorce; “war poems” that conjure the terror of brutal invasion; and “weeping poems” of loss and death….
 
This outrageous language … not only gives vivid expression to suffering and loss. More than that, it attests to the fearful power of YHWH, who, it turns out, is not a wimp who has been defeated by the Babylonian gods…
 
This God is a work of art, an expression of divine involvement when we are stuck in the mud, lost in intense pain, wandering with no compass. Above all… what drives this God is relentless, passionate desire for relationship with this people. Jeremiah’s portrait of God in its many dimensions stammers toward the unsayable. God receives many names, many characteristics in this book, yet none can satisfy, none can fully convey the experience of the divine. Jeremiah’s God is the living God.
[23] He often says “but I will not make a full end” (eg 5:18)
[24] Jeremiah 30-31 is called the Book of Hope.
[25] The classic old Testament description of these two sides to God’s nature is in Exodus 34:6-7
The Lord!   The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
    I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
But I do not excuse the guilty.
    I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren;
the entire family is affected
[26] “The severity of covenant sanctions and the power of God’s yearning pathos are set in deep tension. This deep tension forms the central interest, theological significance, and literary power of the book of Jeremiah.” (Brueggemann, 1988, 5)
“This covenantal God who moves back and forth between pained hope, like a grieving father, and enraged judgement, like an indignant sovereign. God can never be detached and indifferent. That the people of Jerusalem can be detached and indifferent indicates how little they sense either who God is or what is happening among them.” (Brueggemann, 1988, 73)
God is not a cartoon, he’s not Santa Claus, he is not simple.  He has a complex character, partly because he is not just a philosophical idea, but a living person.  He resembles the protagonists of Greek tragedy, torn between two ethical commitments (Goldingay).

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