"Hope in God's Promise when All Seems Lost"
Nov.28, 2010 Jer.32:1-3a,6-15
SAVED BY HOPE (LITERALLY!) WHEN SINKING FAST
A Nashville TN newspaper reported that a woman named Hope pulled a man from chilly harbour waters after watching him drive his car off the bank in an apparent suicide attempt. Hope Phillips, age 38, said she was sitting in her car with her husband and son when she saw the man drive down Riverside Drive into Wolf River Harbour. She said she saw the man climb on top of the sinking car. She said, "His face was like, 'I'm so desperate, please help me.' All I could do was run into the water." Phillips said she swam toward the man, who was about 25 feet off the bank, and used a tree branch to pull him toward the bank. Her husband helped drag him out of the water. The man said he was a student at the University of Tennessee. Following the incident, police took the man to the Regional Medical Center.
She said: "He kept telling us he wasn't worth anything. I said, 'You are worth something, you're here, aren't you?' Then he asked my name. I said 'Hope', and he said, 'What's your name?' He repeated it twice. He had a smile on his face. You knew he didn't want to die."
Quite something, isn't it? To be saved by Hope - literally. But hope is really like that: when we're sinking fast and need rescue, God's promise is extended toward us, like a tree branch we can hang on to until we're pulled to shore. Trusting in God's plans for us concerning salvation through Jesus does give hope in our darkest moments. Today, we see how in Jeremiah's time the whole nation was sinking and in deadly danger, but God still had a purpose and plan for them, to give them hope.
INCURABLE BRUISE FOR INCREDIBLE SIN
Jeremiah chapter 32 is set in 587 BC, about a year after the siege of Jerusalem began, and a year before it fell to the Babylonians. It was one of the lowest moments in the nation's history. Chapter 30(5-7) describes how awful the conditions were: "Cries of fear are heard-- terror, not peace.Ask and see: Can a man bear children? Then why do I see every strong man with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor, every face turned deathly pale?" The Reader's Digest Atlas of the Bible tells how the army of Nebuchadnezzar was systematically destroying the rest of Judah while the siege of Jerusalem was going on. At Lachish, another fortified town 30 miles to the southwest, the ruins today still show the ferocity of the Babylonian assault. "The fires against the walls were so intense that the mortar between the stones melted and ran down the entrance road in streams, where, solidified, it can still be seen.Great, gaping holes were torn in the walls." Fire that melts mortar - and you're next on the list. That would be terrifying. Jer 32:24, "See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city.Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be handed over to the Babylonians who are attacking it." (Jer 32:24)
In the book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah includes little snippets that help us visualize how bad the suffering became during the siege of Jerusalem. "My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city.They say to their mothers, "Where is bread and wine?" as they faint like wounded men in the streets of the city, as their lives ebb away in their mothers' arms...Because of thirst the infant's tongue sticks to the roof of its mouth; the children beg for bread, but no one gives it to them.Those who once ate delicacies are destitute in the streets.Those nurtured in purple now lie on ash heaps...With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed." (Lam 2:11f, 4:4f,10) Unthinkable!
How had they gotten into such a tough spot? Lamentations 4:13 explains, "But it happened because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed within her the blood of the righteous." Back in Jeremiah 30(11,14f) God says to the nation: "I have struck you as an enemy would and punished you as would the cruel, because your guilt is so great and your sins so many.Why do you cry out over your wound, your pain that has no cure? Because of your great guilt and many sins I have done these things to you." And, "I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished." God HAD to punish them because their guilt was so great and their sins so many; He HAD to discipline them.
Jer 30:23 describes what was happening in these words: "See, the storm of the LORD will burst out in wrath, a driving wind swirling down on the heads of the wicked." Because God is holy and just, His wrath becomes targeted against wickedness. Other passages summarize just how the people had sinned. 32:23, "...they did not obey you or follow your law; they did not do what you commanded them to do. So you brought all this disaster upon them." In a word, disobedience, not doing what God commanded. Verses 32-35 offer more details: "The people of Israel and Judah have provoked me by all the evil they have done...They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline. They set up their abominable idols in the house that bears my Name and defiled it. They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin." Such horrible religious practices, involving child sacrifice! As the New Living Translation puts it, "What an incredible evil, causing Judah to sin so greatly!"
But let's recognize that any sin is an affront to God's holiness. By choosing to give in to temptation rather than do what's right, we too are 'turning our backs on' God, not listening to Him, falling short of His glory. We Canadians are very comfort- and pleasure-driven. Are there idols we secretly have succumbed to? Do we turn a blind eye to shedding innocent blood as in abortion; do we excuse immorality? Does greed trump generosity in how we manage our finances? The Lord's brother James writes, "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins." (Jas 4:17) How many of us are righteous by that standard?
So, don't minimize the effect of evil. It's sin that was destroying the nation before Jeremiah's eyes.
UNFAILING LOVE PROMPTS NEW COVENANT
An astounding truth is that, even the nation had repeatedly sinned so greatly and turned its back on the Lord, God reassures them of His unfailing love. Though their punishment was overdue, having transgressed even more than the nations that previously inhabited Palestine, God wasn't about to wipe them from the map altogether. 31:3f, "The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel...'" Later in the chapter Yahweh predicts a 'new covenant' or new deal He's going to make with them; "It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD." So is introduced a concept fundamental to how our Bible (God's written revelation to us) is structured - old 'testament' or covenant and 'new testament', being the books from the time of Jesus onward. The old arrangement had broken down - not because of any inadequacy on God's part, but because sinful Israel had rejected Him so continually and completely.
God's vast everlasting love overcomes human weakness and shortfall. That's grace. 31:33-34 describes further what this 'new covenant' or deal will look like: ""This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."" Commentaries note that this passage is the longest sequence of Old Testament verses quoted in its entirety in the New Testament - it's a real 'bridge' in God's will for humanity, if you look at it that way. Here we're getting at the heart of God's purpose and intent for His creatures: intimacy of us being His people and He owned/acknowledged/looked to as our God; His law or will written on our hearts, us wanting to do what He wants, knowing Him and relating to Him personally.
How could that possibly come about when He is such a holy God and we are such sinful people? Only through some mechanism of forgiveness. The old way with its tabernacle or Temple and altar with animal sacrifices was only a shadow, a type or illustration, pointing to the covenant's fulfilment in Jesus Christ. The letter to the Hebrews makes this connection most thoroughly - see chapters 8 and 10 where this passage from Jeremiah is really brought into focus through the lens of Christ crucified. 10:12-14, "But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." Jesus has become the means for our forgiveness, the vehicle by which God's love reaches out and draws us near. Something radical had to happen to deal with our 'incredible evil' - the cross, the most unjust thing that could ever come about: God turned it around and made the unthinkable our way back to Him. By that one sacrifice we who believe are being made holy, made perfect or complete and adequate forever.
In the meantime - Jesus "waits for His enemies to be made His footstool." We hope for that triumphal event for which Jesus waits. 10:23 of Hebrews adds, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." Because of all His everlasting love has accomplished for us, we have hope.
'OWN' THE PROMISE SEALED IN THE JAR OF CLAY
The prophets used visual aids to illustrate what God was doing or saying. Back in chapter 18 God showed Jeremiah a potter working clay on his wheel; in 19:10 the prophet smashes a jar as an analogy of the destruction God's going to bring about; in chapter 27(2) he sports a wooden yoke with leather thongs picturing the bondage Judah's captors will levy on the inhabitants.
But in chapter 32 God arranges a very specific picture of hope. The Lord shows Jeremiah his cousin would be coming to ask him to redeem a piece of land he wanted to sell, as Jeremiah (being nearest kin) had to be approached first as to possible purchase. In vv9-10 it happens just as God predicted; Jeremiah buys the field from his cousin, weighs out the silver, signing and sealing the deed. Then in v14 Jeremiah follows God's direction publicly by telling his assistant to put the sealed deed and its unsealed copy in a clay jar 'so that they will last a long time.' V15 is very hope-filled: "For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.'"
Now, those watching all this must have been standing there shaking their heads. Remember the state of siege Jerusalem was under, after nearly a year; another year would pass then the Babylonians would overrun it. All the rest of Judah had already been captured and was under enemy occupation. And here comes this guy wanting Jeremiah to buy a field? What's he dreaming about?! "We're done for, man! We're history! The enemy has conquered. No way is Jeremiah ever gonna get any benefit from that plot of land!" It must have seemed a crazy thing to pay good money to buy land occupied by the enemy. Don't forget Jeremiah had already prophesied back in chapter 25(11) that the exile would last 70 years! And the Lord had forbidden him to marry, so it's not like he had any direct descendants he could pass it on to that would benefit from it.(16:1)
It seemed a crazy thing to do. The nation was hopelessly doomed. Yet Jeremiah obediently did as God directed and purchased the field at Anathoth. Still, he expresses amazement about it in prayer. Vv24-25, "See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city.Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be handed over to the Babylonians who are attacking it...And though the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, you, O Sovereign LORD, say to me, 'Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed.'" NLT, "And yet...You have told me to buy the field, paying good money for it..." As if highlighting, 'this buying property just doesn't make sense when exile and disaster are imminent!'
Has God given you a promise that seems far-fetched or unlikely? Is He asking you to take a step of faith that doesn't seem reasonable, doesn't make sense? Trust Him. He can see the future and its surprises. Walk in obedience and you'll be amazed what He brings to pass.
In vv27-44, The Lord provides a reassuring answer to Jeremiah's bewildered prayer. He echoes the prophet's faith-claims, in v27: "I am the LORD [YHWH - I am that I am - the Hebrew root verb hayah has to do with being itself, God's power to bring into being, to cause things to come to pass], the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?" Doesn't that sound like something Jesus would say? "All things are possible with God." (Mk 10:27)
Underlying God's surprising commands are God's commitment and determination to sovereignly bring about good for His people, however much they may have botched it up. Look at the divine determination in vv40-41: "I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul."
Clay jars can preserve documents a long time in the arid climate of the Middle East. In 1947 a Bedouin shepherd boy chucked a stone randomly into a cave and heard the sound of breaking pottery. He'd just discovered the now-famous Dead Sea Scrolls, dating back to a period from 20 BC to 70 AD - nearly 2000 years! Clay jars did a wonderful job of preserving the documents, which incidentally highlighted the faithfulness with which Scripture had been transmitted down through the centuries.
So God's reassuring Jeremiah - though the promise may be a long time coming, wait for it. You can have hope. You're not buying this field in vain. The deed sealed up in the jar will be a witness that I bring My word to pass. V44, "Fields will be bought for silver, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, because I will restore their fortunes, declares the LORD." Did you notice how God tucked mention of Benjamin in there especially? That's where Jeremiah was from. A little special reassurance about his personal hometown.
THE HOLY SPIRIT OUR 'EARNEST'
For Christians, we're not excited about a little plot of land somewhere in Israel. What do we hope for most? Heaven - communion with God face-to-face. Yet there's a parallel here for us. God gave Jeremiah a deed sealed up in a clay jar that would outlast the decades, a surety of his inheritance until normal economic conditions returned and the Jews were brought back from their exile. For Christians, God's given us something even better that inspires hope. The New Testament consistently refers to the Holy Spirit indwelling believers as the 'earnest' or deposit or guarantee assuring us of our own "Promised Land" as it were - eternal life with God in heaven.
2Corinthians 1:22, "[God] set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." Bible in Basic English, "And it is he who has put his stamp on us, even the Spirit, as the sign in our hearts of the coming glory." King James Version, "Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." The Greek word here for 'deposit' or 'sign' or 'earnest' (with an 'a'!) is actually of Hebrew origin, and defined by the lexicon as "money which in purchases is given as a pledge or downpayment that the full amount will subsequently be paid." So, the Holy Spirit is your surety, guarantee, or down payment of what's yet to come. (I suppose in Christmas shopping parlance, you're a heavenly layaway!)
2Cor 5.5, "Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose (ie being clothed with our heavenly dwelling) and has given us the Spirit as a deposit [earnest], guaranteeing what is to come." Ephesians 1:14, "[the Holy Spirit by whom you were marked in Christ when you believed] is a deposit (same Greek/Hebrew word again) guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession-- to the praise of his glory."
Jeremiah had a deed to a field stored in a jar of pottery, a sign giving hope because God promised He'd one day bring them back to the land and life would carry on, even though for now it looked like all was lost. As Christians, the Lord has given us His Holy Spirit to indwell us as a deposit or 'down payment' guaranteeing He'll deliver on the rest of the package! Jeremiah's deed was in a clay jar...in our case, the Holy Spirit is in -- us, which the apostle Paul also incidentally refers to as 'jars of clay'. 2Cor 4(6-10), "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.(now, listen here to where hope comes in) We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."
So, this week, when you're hard-pressed and feel like you're about to crack - remember the deed signed and sealed in the clay jar that gave Jeremiah hope when everybody else was in despair. Recall God's promise that the Holy Spirit is the 'earnest' or deposit of your spiritual inheritance - and let His glory, the life of Jesus, shine through your frailty! Let's pray.