Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

19 February 2012

Choose life

Fifteen chapters into the book of the prophet Jeremiah and you reach these verses:

Then the LORD said to me: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!
And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the LORD says:
"Those destined for death, to death;
those for the sword, to the sword;
those for starvation, to starvation,
those for captivity, to captivity."
Jeremiah 15:1,2

This is the sort of passage that would have many asking, "Where is the God of love in that?"

But let's back up a bit.

Right back to Deuteronomy.   All through Deuteronomy the phrase "remember the Lord" is repeated, page after page, chapter after chapter.  Remember Him when you go into the Promised Land, when you enter the land of plenty, when you find yourself surrounded by other nations that don't follow God, when life is good and when life is hard.  At all times, remember the Lord.  Throughout Deuteronomy God is galvanising His people before they become a nation in their own land.  It all comes together magnificently in Deuteronomy 30, where God presents His people with a choice.

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them,  I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20

By the time you get to Jeremiah God's people have been long in the Promised Land, it is drawing towards the end of the era of the kings and the people of Israel have made their choice.  They have turned away from God.  And Jeremiah is pleading with them to repent and turn back to Him.   God, through Jeremiah, is pleading with His people to turn back to Him, to remember Him. 

So back to Jeremiah 15:1-2.  It IS a harsh passage.  But it's not a bolt out of the blue.  Just four chapters earlier Jeremiah has this message from the Lord:

From the time I brought your forefathers up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, "Obey me." But they did not listen or pay attention; nstead they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. 
Jeremiah 11:7,8

God has shown extraordinary patience over centuries.  Centuries is a long time to be patient.  Especially when I think about how hard it is to remain patient even for five minutes sometimes.  God has given His people countless warnings.  And they have ignored Him.

However God continues to show compassion, love and mercy.  God could have turned all His people over to death, sword and starvation.  He gave them countless opportunities to turn back to Him.  He told them point blank that He would destroy them if they continued to ignore Him.  And yet He saved some.  He preserved a remnant, sending them into capitivity. 

"Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; he will escape with his life." 
Jeremiah 21:9

Even amongst the captives there were those whose trust failed.  Towards the end of Jeremiah there's a story of the group who rebelled against the Babylonian captivity and escaped to Egypt.  The Lord spoke to the people through Jeremiah, warning them against this plan.   That they would perish if they fled to Egypt.  He was asking them to trust Him, to go to Babylon.  A group fled to Egypt, thinking it the better option.  They perished. 

But those who went to Babylon were established in that land.  They built houses, planted vineyards, grew crops, settled safely and lived in prosperity.

While there are sweeping passages of hope and promise, Jeremiah is, at core, an overwhelmingly sad book.   God, through Jeremiah, pleads desperately with His people to repent from their ways, to follow Him, to trust Him.  Relatively few trust and follow, walking through the small gate and along the narrow road.  But some do.  And for them the future is full of glorious hope and life.


Sarah said...

How timely! I was reading that passage a few days ago. Slowly making my way through Jeremiah.

Meredith said...

Enjoy Jeremiah. He is so full of hope even in the face of a difficult situation. A timeless message.

Deb L said...

BTR's song "Choose Life" is one of my all-time favourites. Every time I hear it, I love it again. Once I was writing some Sunday School material based partly on Deuteronmy. I wished that I could embed that song in the print material somehow so it would play when kids did the worksheet!

Meredith said...

Hi Deb!
Did you read my message to you at Ben's blog? In case you didn't, there are maybe five people who comment on this blog who are local (or used to be local) friends of mine. The rest are folk I have never met but many of whom I now count as friends even so. I have a thriving email correspondence with a few of them and given the opportunity to cross a border or two, would meet them in an instant! So, lovely to have you dropping in here too.

And yes, that song. The only song I have ever requested to be played on a radio station. Twice! I love its summary of that passage in Deuteronomy, which is really the summary of the book, and how it moves it into the NT and Jesus. And it is just gorgeous too.

Lovely to find a Sunday School teaching, BTR "Choose Life" fan kindred spirit.

Deb L said...

I love that the song weaves together both Deuteronmy and the gospel call. Which isn't surprising from a Biblical theology point of view but you just don't usually here that. Been echoing in my head since I commented a few hours ago.

And, yes, I did read your comment on Ben's blog - thanks for that. Actually, Ben's post and then Wendy's follow up, and all the lovely conversations that have sprung up as a result have been most fun this last couple of days. I feel like I've finally said, "Hello" to people I've been bumping into online for ages. It's funny to all be suddenly acknowledging one another when previously we were all quietly commenting away and wondering if anyone else really knew we were there.