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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)

In Uncategorized on August 27, 2015 at 5:54 pm

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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Is now “go time” for a preemptive strike on Iran, or should Israel wait? Here’s my interview on Fox News.

In Uncategorized on August 23, 2015 at 8:15 pm
Interview on Iran deal with Fox News anchor Leland Vitter. (August 23, 2015)

Interview on Iran deal with Fox News anchor Leland Vitter. (August 23, 2015)

>> FACT SHEET: Why is the Iran nuclear deal so dangerous?

(Tel Aviv, Israel) — On Sunday, I was interviewed on the Fox News Channel program, “America’s News HQ,” about the Israeli reaction to the Iran nuclear deal, the possibility of Israeli preemptive strikes on Iran, and whether Congress will move to stop this dangerous Iran deal.

To watch a video of the segment, please click here. (it lasts 5 minutes and 27 seconds).

Here is a transcript of the interview with Fox anchor Leland Vitter:

FOX ANCHOR LELAND VITTER: No one has been a more vocal and consistent critic of the nuclear deal with Iran than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He says the deal is a road map for an Iranian nuclear weapon, and he has made no secret of his displeasure with the Obama administration over it. Israeli officials are also lobbying Members of Congress to vote against it.

Joel Rosenberg, author and former aide to Prime Minister Netanyahu, joins us now from Tel Aviv. Mr. Rosenberg, I appreciate you being with us. Good Saturday evening to you.

One thing that has broken over the past couple of days is a report out of Israel that Ehud Barak, the former Defense Minister, told his biographer, among others, that Prime Minister Netanyahu on three separate occasions wanted to attack Iran and did not. Is this really as big as a deal as it seems on paper, and what is the reaction in Israel to this news?

JOEL C. ROSENBERG: Well, it’s very interesting, Leland, because you’ve got a situation in which a former Israeli Defense Minister, in my view, shouldn’t have been talking about this at all, to his biographer now, or later. I mean, this is a very, very sensitive issue. But by Barak’s own admission, he was supportive of these attacks, but the Cabinet didn’t feel that the time was right. What this shows is how serious both Netanyahu and Barak and most of the Cabinet — but not all — believe this issue is.

Remember, we’re dealing in Iran not with a moderate regime that is trying to find its way into the international community. We’re dealing with an apocalyptic, genocidal death cult. This is a group of leaders led by Ayatollah Khamenei who believe the End of Days has come, and that their messiah — the “Mahdi” or the “Twelfth Imam” — is coming to reign over the world at any moment, and that they need nuclear weapons to destroy not just one country, Israel, which they call “the Little Satan,” but also the United States, which they call “the Great Satan.” So the threat to Israel and the United States is enormous.

VITTER: I get that the threat is there. There is no argument there. But the issue of whether or not Israel would launch unilateral military action has been one that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been incredibly coy about over and over and over again, and it’s been one card that he’s used to press the Obama administration hard in terms of trying to have some kind of leverage on Capitol Hill. And what I’m wondering is that now that this news is out that three times he has said “let’s go” and his Cabinet said “no” and there wasn’t an attack, doesn’t that all of a sudden really weaken the Israelis’ position internationally and make the threat of unilateral military action irrelevant?

ROSENBERG: No, I think quite the contrary — what it shows is intent. What you’ve got is a very difficult situation, right? But for the Prime Minister and much of his Cabinet, the question was, “Can we build up more capacity to strike Iran when the time is right?” It’s capacity, and timing. Part of the timing issue, Leland, was asking, “Would the United States, under President Obama, keep its word in which they said the goal of the negotiations was to “end” — not legalize and extend, but end — Iran’s nuclear program?” So you wanted to wait to see, okay, maybe the President will, you know, keep his word on this. That has not been the case. And now, eight-in-ten Israelis believe this deal threatens the very security not only of Israel but obviously of our ally, the United States. More than half of Israelis believe that the Prime Minister should be doing everything possible to neutralize the threat. And almost half of Israelis are ready for a war, if needed. That’s how serious this is.

VITTER: That’s what I wanted to talk to you a little bit about. There is an old joke, at least when I lived in Israel: “If you want four opinions, ask two Israelis.” The question being going forward, it seems, is that every Israeli I talk to is pretty universal in their opinion that this is a bad deal and this makes Iran a much greater threat to Israel. What they’re not necessarily all in lock-step about is whether or not Israel should take unilateral military action. What I’m wondering is, when you’re on the street there, do people seem coalesced around the idea that they should see how things play out a little while longer, or is now “go time”?

ROSENBERG: Well, the only person who can decide if it’s go time — or the only people who can decide — is the Cabinet because they have the intelligence right in front of them to show them do they have to go, is there no other option, or are there other ways to slow down or neutralize the threat? Nobody here wants to go to war if it’s not necessary. But everyone is ready to go to war if it is necessary. One of the questions now is, “Could Israel hold on until the next election in the United States to see if a President who is more sympathetic to its most favored and faithful ally in the Middle East, Israel — as well as our Arab allies — will have a change of policy from President Obama. And look, you also have Democrats emerging right now — Senator Menendez, Senator Schumer — who are putting national security ahead of their own political fortunes. So I don’t think this is the moment to strike. It’s the moment to try to get Congress to go against the deal.

VITTER: Well, there is obviously a lot of lobbying going on on Capitol Hill, and, as you pointed out, Israel and the Iran deal is a big issue in the 2016 elections. We’ll see how it all plays out. I appreciate your insights, Joel Rosenberg, from Tel Aviv.

ROSENBERG: My pleasure.

VITTER: All the best.

BACKGROUND MATERIAL:

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UN to let Iran do its own inspections of alleged nuclear weapons sites. This is insane, but true. [Christian leaders should educate & mobilize people to tell Congress to stop this deal.]

In Uncategorized on August 20, 2015 at 12:28 pm

Iran-Nuclear-Deal-Congress>> FACT SHEET: Why is the Iran nuclear deal so dangerous?

(Central Israel) — A secret side-deal made with Iran by the U.N. will actually allow Iran to “inspect” its  own nuclear sites and provide confirmation to the international community that no illegal nuclear weapons activity is being conducted such sites.

As a novelist, I wish I could tell you that I was making this up. But this is not fiction. Nor is it the figment of the imagination of Stephen Colbert or John Stewart or the writers of Saturday Night Live. This is sheer lunacy, but according to an exclusive report by the Associated Press, it is also true.

This is just one more reason this incredibly dangerous nuclear deal must be stopped. It puts America’s trust in the Radical, murderous, terrorist leaders of Iran rather than in the common sense of the American people (who overwhelmingly oppose the deal) or in the wisdom and experience of our Israeli and Arab allies who also oppose the deal. This deal will embolden and strengthen Iran to engage in more international terrorism, more persecution of Iranian Christians, more suppression of human rights in Iran and slavery of the Iranian people. It will encourage the Iranian leadership to pursue even more aggressively their genocidal, apocalyptic, End Times theology. And rather than bringing about peace in the region as President Obama and his administration asserts, this deal will actually make a major war in the Middle East more likely, not less likely.

Please share this story on social media. Please educate your family and friends about the deal, call your Member of Congress to insist that they vote against the deal in September, and mobilize everyone you know to call Congress in opposition to the deal, as well. I especially encourage Christian leaders to educate and mobilize the Christian community to communicate to Congress their opposition to this deal.

In the detailed analysis I wrote on August 5th regarding the 159-page Iran nuclear deal, I raised the concern that Iran was going to be allowed to do some of its own nuclear inspections. The AP report has now confirmed these concerns. “Iran will be allowed to use its own inspectors to investigate a site it has been accused of using to develop nuclear arms, operating under a secret agreement with the U.N. agency that normally carries out such work, according to a document seen by the Associated Press,” notes the exclusive AP story. “The newly disclosed side agreement, for an investigation of the Parchin nuclear site by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, is linked to persistent allegations that Iran has worked on atomic weapons. That investigation is part of the overarching nuclear-limits deal.”

This is partly why I have described the Iran nuclear deal as insane. There is simply no other way to describe an agreement that gives such an evil regime a clear path to nuclear weapons and abandons our most trusted allies in the process.

  • The deal doesn’t live up to the very “red lines” that President Obama and his team set.
  • The deal doesn’t end Iran’s nuclear program — it legalizes, legitimizes, and expands it.
  • The deal provides Iran not just one but two paths to The Bomb — in 10 to 15 years if Iran keeps the agreement, and much sooner if Iran cheats.
  • The details inside the deal are absolutely stunning — and catastrophically dangerous for the U.S., Israel and our Sunni Arab neighbors, and ignores the wise counsel our Middle East allies are giving the President not to make such enormous concessions to such a cruel and untrustworthy enemy.

Last night, I returned back home to Israel from the States where I have been briefing Members of Congress, presidential candidates, and numerous evangelical Christian leaders and journalists about why the Iran deal is so dangerous and why it must be stopped.

NOTE: These comments represent my personal views. I am not writing here in my capacity as Chairman of The Joshua Fund. TJF is a non-profit organization and does not engage in any political activity.

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The Parchin agreement was worked out between the IAEA and Iran. The United States and the five other world powers were not party to it but were briefed by the IAEA and endorsed it as part of the larger package.

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