How do we find hope in such dark times? Some lessons from Jeremiah, the ancient Hebrew prophet. (Notes from my recent survey of the Book of Jeremiah)

jeremiah(Central Israel) — The world is dark and getting darker.

Recently, I noted in a column that it is hard to pick up a newspaper or go online or watch TV and not see some of “the darkest headlines” I have ever read.

From mass shooters…to the genocidal acts of the Islamic State…to the unchallenged rise of a nuclear Iran…to the Planned Parenthood videos about the selling of baby hearts and lungs and livers over salad and Chardonnay…to corrupt governments and corrupt leaders….to rampant marital unfaithfulness….to an epidemic of suicide and drug use….to the persecution and slavery of people all over the world….to so many other horrifying acts, it is easy these days to feel deeply discouraged and even depressed.

This is why I have spent the last four months or so studying the life and times and message of the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah. In April, I began reading through this Old Testament book, intending to refresh my understanding of it and then move on to Isaiah and Ezekiel and Daniel, and so forth. But every time I tried to move on, the Lord would pull me back into the words of Jeremiah. There was more there for me to learn, so much that I was not getting on the first or second read. So study it I did, page after page, chapter after chapter, month after month.

What I found was the sobering account of a young Jewish man who also lived in very dark times. Yet I also found the remarkable story of a man who found great hope to live close to the Lord and to serve his God with great boldness and courage and stunning faithfulness despite enormous pressures and dangers.

And I read this over and over again, I began to try to discover the sources of this young man’s hope.

In mid-August, I taught a survey of the Book of Jeremiah over the course of five days at the Word of Life Bible camp in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. It was the first time I began to share publicly what I’d been learning over the previous months. Then, upon returning to Israel last week, I shared some of my observations from the life of Jeremiah at the closing session of a conference of Jewish and Christian leaders in Jerusalem.

A number of people have since asked me to share my notes. Thus, on August 18th, I posted on this blog some notes, specifically those pertaining to King Josiah, the first leader Jeremiah served under, a leader who took the Word of God to heart and made bold changes in his own life and led sweeping reforms in the life of his nation.

Today, I wanted to share more of my notes, looking at seven elements of Jeremiah’s hope. I pray that you find these encouraging. Please feel free to share them with others.

Let’s begin by reading a passage from Jeremiah chapter one:

“Now the word of the Lord came to me saying. ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ Then I said, ‘Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am a youth,” because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,’ declares the LordThen the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.'” (verses 4 through 10)

As I read these verses — in context of all 52 chapters of this fascinating Old Testament book — a few things struck me immediately:

First, Jeremiah had a clear call to ministry. The son of a Jewish priest, he had had grown up expecting to be a Levitical priest. But the Lord had a different plan for him. From eternity past, God had chosen Jeremiah to be one of the great Hebrew prophets, preaching and teaching the word of the Lord to a lost people desperately in need of hearing directly from the God who loved them and had a plan for their lives. Jeremiah thought he was too young to serve the Lord. But the Lord had knit him together in his mother’s womb and prepared him. And God’s charge to this young prophet (probably in his late teens or early twenties) — “you will go where I tell you to go” and “you will say what I tell you to say” and “you will not be afraid” and “I will be with you to deliver you.”

Second, Jeremiah truly lived in dark and volatile times. He lived in and around Jerusalem, in the southern kingdom of Judah, at a time when the Jewish people lived in a highly dangerous, volatile, and rapidly changing geopolitical environment. The powerful and wicked Assyria empire (with its evil capital in Nineveh) to the north had conquered and captured the northern kingdom of Israel, but was about to be judged and destroyed according to the prophecies of Isaiah and Nahum who had gone before Jeremiah. The powerful Egyptian kingdom to the south — led by Pharoah Neco — was soon going to be conquered and destroyed by a new and wicked and terrifyingly powerful empire rising to the east, that of Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar. Yet as war and terror and evil were sweeping through the region, and the Jewish people were in deep and rising danger, the Jewish people were not listening to the word of the Lord, not obeying the Lord, not fearing or following the Lord, and living in great sin and darkness.

Third, Jeremiah was given a powerful message — for the Jewish people, for the surrounding enemy nations, and for us today. God appointed Jeremiah “to be a prophet” to the people of “Judah and Jerusalem” and “to the nations.” To the Jews, God’s message through Jeremiah was: repent, turn back to the Lord, or face cataclysmic judgment for your individual and national sins. To the surrounding nations, Jeremiah also warned of sweeping, devastating national judgments because of their great sins against the Jewish people and against the Lord God of Israel and His Word. Most of Jeremiah’s prophecies have already come to pass. But there are a few that are yet to be fulfilled, which means we must be ready for God to act again in great power.

Fourth, Jeremiah wasn’t promised health and wealth for serving the Lord — rather, God gave him a very hard life. He was often alone. He was not allowed by the Lord to get married or have a family. He was betrayed by most of his friends. He was persecuted, mocked, ignored, attacked, arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and repeatedly sentenced to death. He saw the lost-ness of his people, and their refusal to listen to God and His Word. He saw the lost-ness of the nations, as well. Like our Savior, he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. While a strong and courageous servant of God, he often wept over the darkness that was falling on his nation and the region and the world, and sometimes he even despaired of life itself, wishing he had never been born to see such times.

That said, it also became clear that Jeremiah had deep and true hope. What kept him going? What kept him faithfully serving the Lord, against all odds? He had hope. Let’s briefly consider seven elements of Jeremiah’s hope:

  1. Jeremiah had a close, intimate, personal relationship with the living God of the universe ,and Jeremiah loved God’s Word. The Lord spoke directly to Jeremiah, and urged Jeremiah to talk directly to Him. “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3) The Lord spoke some of the most beautiful, intimate, personal language in the whole Bible to and through Jeremiah. “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (31:3) “For I know the plans I have for you, plans for good and not for evil, plans to give you a future and a hope. Then  you will call upon Me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (29:11-13)
  2. Jeremiah could see Biblical prophecies coming true in his lifetime, and this helped him understand that God’s Word was true and trustworthy. In 612 B.C., he saw Nineveh — the wicked capital of the wicked Assyrian empire — destroyed, just as the prophets before him and foretold. In the years that followed, he saw the rise of the Babylonian empire and the rise of King Nebuchadnezzar, just as the Lord has foretold through him. In 586 B.C., he saw the nation of Judah and the capital of Jerusalem conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians in a judgment the Lord had foretold repeatedly through him. During this entire period, many others “smaller” prophecies came true as well. As painful as it was to live in such times and see such things come to pass, it did give Jeremiah hope in a God whose word was true and trustworthy because it meant that the good things foretold would come true in due course, as well.
  3. Jeremiah was given two dear and faithful friends. Yes, most if not all of Jeremiah’s friends abandoned him early on because they didn’t want to hear a message of repentance and coming judgment. And this was deeply painful for Jeremiah. But I encourage you to take some time to read in the book of Jeremiah about Baruch and Seraiah — two godly, courageous and stalwart brothers — who because trusted aides, allies and friends to the prophet.
  4. Jeremiah could see the promise of a coming King. In addition to having to preach about coming judgment to the Jewish people and to their neighbors, Jeremiah was also given the high task by God of foretelling of a coming King, a coming “Anointed One” or Messiah who would save and redeem people and bring righteousness to the world. “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land….And this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The Lord our righteousness.'” (23:5-6)
  5. Jeremiah could see promise of a coming New Covenant. This great prophet was deeply saddened by seeing his people refusing to obey the “old covenant” that God had made with Moses. Most were not reading, listening to or following God’s word. Rather, they were disobeying God’s laws, hardening their hearts, and engaging in widespread sin and violence, even killing their own babies (through child sacrifice to the false god, Molech). But to Jeremiah it was revealed that not only was judgment coming; so, too, was a “New Covenant” was coming. That is, God would initiate a new relationship — a personal and intimate and everlasting relationship — with lost people who desperately needed Him to save and atone for them, wash away their sins, and give them His righteousness. “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them….But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days….I will put My law within them and on their hearts I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people….for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (31:31-34)
  6. Jeremiah could see the promise of a coming Kingdom. He could see the corruption endemic throughout his own country. He could also see the corruption of the kingdoms that surrounded the Jewish people. He saw the impact a godly, humble leader could make (like King Josiah). But he also served under four disastrous leaders. Yet the Lord revealed to him — and through him — the amazing, remarkable, joyful news that another Kingdom was coming to conquer all others. A Messianic Kingdom. An incorruptible Kingdom. A Kingdom filled with righteousness, justice and mercy. Led by a wise and righteous King, the Messiah. A Kingdom that would be inhabited by all who followed the New Covenant. (see Jeremiah 23 and 33).
  7. Jeremiah could also see the promise of Jews being saved by a loving, holy, powerful God. God’s message to this Hebrew prophet wasn’t just about judgment. It was about mercy. It was about forgiveness. It was about grace. As part of the prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah, and His coming New Covenant, and His coming Kingdom, the Lord God of Israel specifically told Jeremiah — not once but twice — that “in His days Judah will be saved” (23:6) and “in those days Judah will be saved” (33:16). This promise of a future salvation of the Jewish people by a Jewish Messiah, as part of a Jewish New Covenant, leading to a coming Messianic Kingdom was a bright, warm, hopeful ray of light in times that were dark and getting darker. It gave him something that he and his people could look forward to, their future repentance and redemption.

I encourage you to study through these notes and discuss them with family and friends. Read through the entire Book of Jeremiah. Many times. Take careful notes. Understand it for yourself. Then see how many times the other prophets studied and cited Jeremiah. See how often the Lord Jesus Christ cited the work of Jeremiah. The Apostles, too. They knew the words of Jeremiah had deep and profound meaning for their lives, and for ours, too.

I pray that in our times — that are dark and getting darker — you will find the hope that Jeremiah had, made clear to us today through the Lord Jesus Christ and His words found in both the Old and New Testament.

BACKGROUND MATERIAL:

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