Monday, June 20, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 131. The Days That Followed The Fall, Part 3

Prophets And Kings
Day 131
The Days That Followed The Fall
Part 3

The refugees from Mizpah ask the prophet Jeremiah for the Lord's blessing on their plans to go to Egypt. 

Jeremiah 42:1-22
When we left off yesterday, Johanan and the army officers rescued the Jewish captives from Ishmael, the man who assassinated Governor Gedaliah and several Babylonian officials. Johanan and the captives intend to head for Egypt out of fear the Babylonians will attack them. On their way they stop by Jeremiah's house to ask him to secure the Lord's blessing on them. "Then all the army officers, including Johanan son of Kareah and Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest approached Jeremiah the prophet and said to him, 'Please hear our petition and pray to the Lord your God for this entire remnant. For as you now see, though we were once many, now only a few are left. Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.'" (Jeremiah 42:1-3) The Scriptures already told us they were headed for Egypt. They may believe they really want to know the Lord's will but it seems more like a request for the Lord to fall in with their plans. God is under no obligation to fall in with our plans. We are obligated to fall in with His.

Jeremiah is willing to help this band of frightened people. I am sure his heart goes out to them. "'I have heard you,' replied Jeremiah the prophet. 'I will certainly pray to the Lord your God as you have requested; I will tell you everything the Lord says and will keep nothing back from you.'" (Jeremiah 42:4) What a blessing to have friends who will pray for us!

"Then they said to Jeremiah, 'May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.'" (Jeremiah 42:5-6) I think they may have deceived themselves into believing they are more obedient than they really are. It's ironic that we get the following quote also from the book of Jeremiah, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) I would be willing to bet each of us has deceived ourselves more than anyone else has ever deceived us. We think better of our character and our obedience than we should. We believe we are prepared to accept whatever verdict the Lord hands down, to turn in whichever direction He commands, while at the same time deep down in our hearts we've already made up our minds. There have been occasions in my life where I knew I had made up my mind and was really just putting on a show of obedience. That seems to be the case with the remnant of Judah in today's passage. 

"Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah." (Jeremiah 42:7) Just think about this: it took ten long days for a man as godly as Jeremiah to hear from the Lord. It encourages me to know that even a man like Jeremiah didn't get his prayers answered immediately. I don't know about you, but I would like my prayer life to go like this: I make my request to the Father and He immediately sends me some type of message that my prayer has been heard and that my problem is going to be solved in the next five minutes. Wouldn't we think that was great? There have been a few times when the Lord came through with something big while I was right in the middle of praying about it. But those incidents have been few and far between. More often we will labor in prayer. We will do battle on our knees. We will come into His presence over the course of many days. We might even repeat our prayers for many years before the solution comes. But this is because we are never to think of God as our errand boy or our genie in a bottle. God, like any good father, wants to build a relationship with us. How would any of you parents feel if your children never approached you except to get something and then go on their merry way? Wouldn't you conclude that they didn't love you and didn't desire a real relationship with you? Wouldn't you feel disrespected and dishonored? Wouldn't you feel hurt? God wants us to visit Him simply because we love Him, just as an earthly father wants his children to visit him because they love him. God wants to build a relationship, not simply sign His name to all our requests. If he did that we would soon lose our sense of His holiness. We would stop honoring Him. We would even begin to feel like He works for us. At that point we will have ceased to respect Him.

The word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah after ten days, what must have seemed like an agonizing length of time to the refugees, but I believe the Lord was giving them time to recover from their panic. They arrived at Jeremiah's frightened and out of breath, fearing for their lives. Over the course of ten days they have had time to eat and rest and calm down. Now when they decide to go on to Egypt despite what the Lord says, they can never blame their decision on being disoriented by panic. They will be making the decision when they are in a more rational state, in a mood where they are capable of logical thinking. They will not be able to blame anyone but themselves for their disobedience. "So he called together Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers who were with him and all the people from the least to the greatest. He said to them, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition, says: 'If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I have relented concerning the disaster I have inflicted on you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the Lord, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.'" (Jeremiah 42:8-12) The Lord doesn't make mistakes and He isn't saying He regrets the disaster that fell upon Jerusalem. He isn't saying He did wrong in letting troubles come. I think He feels like the punishment is enough at this point. He feels pity for them as a father feels for a child. Just as a parent might threaten to ground a child for two weeks but instead lets them resume normal social activities within only one week, so also the Lord sometimes lets up on our discipline sooner than expected. 

Jeremiah continues with the word of the Lord, "'However, if you say, 'We will not stay in this land,' and so disobey the Lord your God, and if you say, 'No, we will go and live in Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the trumpet or be hungry for bread,' then hear the word of the Lord, you remnant of Judah. 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. Indeed, all who are determined to go to Egypt to settle there will die by the sword, famine and plague; not one of them will survive or escape the disaster I will bring on them.' This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'As My anger and wrath have been poured out on those who live in Jerusalem, so will My wrath be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. You will be a curse and an object of horror, a curse and an object of reproach; you will never see this place again.'" (Jeremiah 42:13-18) The people need to stand in faith. The Lord has promised to protect them in Judah but He will not protect them in Egypt. Whatever consequences result from their actions, the Lord is going let those consequences fall. 

When I was a kid I almost always ran instead of just walking. I remember one time I was running back and forth on the gravel road in front of our house, running just to be running, and my mom yelled at me to stop before I fell. Immediately I tripped and fell headlong, fluffy winter coat and all, into a huge puddle. I remember thinking somehow my mom caused me to fall by warning me that I might. I kind of felt like blaming her instead of blaming  my own refusal to listen. The remnant of Judah is about to go down into Egypt against the Lord's will. He's calling out, "Stop running! You're going to fall!" But they aren't going to listen. They're going to keep running and they're going to fall. And when they do, it won't be because the Lord pushed them into the mud puddle. He told them to stop. He tried to help them avoid it. When they fall into the mud puddle it will be because of their own refusal to listen.

Before Jeremiah went in prayer before the Lord for ten days, he believed the people sincerely wanted to receive instruction. But now that he has been in the presence of the Lord he knows they have already made up their minds. "Remnant of Judah, the Lord has told you, 'Do not go to Egypt.' Be sure of this: I warn you today that you have made a fatal mistake when you sent me to the Lord your God and said, 'Pray to the Lord our God for us; tell us everything He says and we will do it.' I have told you today, but you still have not obeyed the Lord your God in all He sent me to tell you. So now, be sure of this: You will die by the sword, famine and plague in the place where you want to go settle.'" (Jeremiah 42:19-22) Their own words will testify against them. When judgment falls they will be without excuse. They promised to hear and obey the word of the Lord while all along they knew what they were going to do.

I can't point a finger at the remnant of Judah because I've made the same mistake many times. I've asked the Lord's advice with my mind already made up. The falls I've taken because of my disobedience can't be blamed on Him anymore than falling into the mud puddle could be blamed on my mom. Sometimes a good parent has to let us reap the consequences of our actions and that's what the Lord is going to do. My mom didn't come running to scoop me up in her arms before I fell; she simply told me stop before I fell. When I ended up in the mud puddle it was a better lesson for me than if she'd helped me avoid the fall. Judah is going to end up in the mud puddle of Egypt and the things that will happen to them there will be a better lesson than if the Lord blocked their way. If He stood in their way they would come to doubt whether things really would have been so bad down in Egypt. They would have been resentful toward Him, believing the lie that Satan whispers to us that the Lord is trying to keep good things from us. That lie worked on Eve in the garden and it still works today if we don't shut our ears to it. God is going to let them go down to Egypt and they are going to regret going. But this lesson is necessary. It's necessary for them to understand they should have listened, that the Lord is God and His way is always the right way. 

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