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Sabbath School Lesson Begins
The Book of Jeremiah
Lesson 5 October 24-30
Read for This Week's Study: Jer. 23:14-15, 20:1-18; Acts 2:37; Job 3:1-26; Jer. 18:1-10, 18-23.
Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than
I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me (Jeremiah 20:7).
One thing anyone who has followed the Lord for
any length of time will learn is that being a believer in Jesus and
seeking to do His will do not guarantee an easy passage through life.
After all, as we have been told,
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12, NKJV). This is a truth that Jeremiah was surely learning for himself.
At the same time, however, what our faith can do for us in times of trial is give us a broader understanding upon which we can steady ourselves amid our struggles. That is, when unfair and unjust sufferings and trials come (and no question, so many of them are unfair and unjust), we don't have to be left alone with a sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness that people who don't know the Lord often feel. We can know something of the big picture, and the ultimate hope God offers us, no matter how dismal the present is, and from this knowledge-and hope-we can draw strength. Jeremiah knew something of this context, though at times he seemed to forget it and instead focus only on his woes.
Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 31.
Sunday October 25
Removed as we are by more than two thousand years chronologically from Judah, and perhaps even further removed culturally and socially, it's hard for us to understand all that was going on in the time of Jeremiah. When reading the Bible, especially the harsh warnings and threats that God uttered against the people, many people think that the Lord is portrayed here as harsh, mean, and vindictive. This, however, is a false understanding, based only on a superficial reading of the texts. Instead, what the Old Testament reveals is what the New Testament does as well: God loves humanity and wants it saved, but He does not force our choice. If we want to do wrong, even despite His pleas to us, we are free to do so. We just have to remember not only the consequences but that we were warned about them beforehand.
What were some of the evils that the Lord was dealing with in Judah? What were some of the evils Jeremiah was prophesying against? Jer. 23:14-15; 5:26-31.
The litany of evils presented here is just a small sampling of what
God's people had fallen into. Both the priests and prophets were
an incredible irony considering that the priests were to be
representatives of God, and the prophets to be spokesmen for Him. And
this is just the beginning of the problems Jeremiah confronted.
The evils presented here come under a variety of
types. There is the apostasy of the spiritual leaders; they also lead
others to do evil
so that no one turns back from his wickedness (Jer. 23:14, NKJV).
Even when the Lord warns about coming judgment, the prophets tell them
that it won't come. Meanwhile, as far as they were from God, they had
forgotten the admonition about taking care of the orphans and about
defending the poor (Jer. 5:28).
In every way, the nation had fallen from the Lord. So much of the
Bible, at least among the prophetic books of the Old Testament, records
the Lord seeking to call His wayward people back. That is, despite all
these evils, and more, He was willing to forgive them, heal them, and
even restore them. But if they refused, what else could be done?
Monday October 26
The job of the prophets has always been to convey God's message, not to count how many people accept or reject it. Generally, the number of those who accept what the prophets preach at the time they are preaching it is low. For example, though we don't know how many were alive at the time of Noah, we can reasonably assume that the majority was not very receptive, given the small number that got in the ark. All through sacred history, this seems to be the pattern.
Read Jeremiah 20:1-6. What kind of reception did his message get?
To gain a better understanding of what was going on here, it's best
to read just what the words were that Jeremiah had prophesied, the
words that got him in trouble with such a high official. In Jeremiah 19:1-15, we have some of that prophecy: God will bring
evil upon this place (Jer. 19:3), He will cause the people to fall by the sword and their bodies to be eaten by birds and animals (Jer. 19:7), and He will cause the Judeans to cannibalize each other (Jer. 19:9).
Though no one would have been too happy to be the focus of such a prophecy, as a leader, Pashur was especially offended. As with most people, his initial reaction was to reject the message; after all, who would want to believe something that horrible? More than that, using his position, Pashur made the mistake of punishing the messenger. He had Jeremiah beaten according to the law (Deut. 25:1-3) and locked him up in stocks. Though Pashur released him the next day, this painful and humiliating experience didn't stop Jeremiah from continuing to give his prophecy, this time not just against Judea but specifically against Pashur and his own family. Before long, the fate of Pashur and his family would be a horrifying example to all who would see them in the chains of captivity. This is also the first place in the book of Jeremiah in which Babylon is mentioned as the place of exile. (The chapters, and even sections of the chapters, are not in chronological order.)
Imagine hearing something like that prophesied against you. What do you think your initial reaction would be, as opposed to what it should be? (What should it be, anyway?) (See Acts 2:37.)
Tuesday October 27
Jeremiah's harsh words to Pashur and the nation (Jer. 20:4-6) weren't his own; they were not uttered out of his anger at having been locked in the stocks for a day. They were the Lord's words to him for the people.
What comes after, though, comes directly from Jeremiah's own heart, written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is the heartfelt cry of a human being who simply doesn't like the situation he is in and is crying out about it.
Read Jeremiah 20:7-14. What is he saying? What does this teach us about his humanity, and our own humanity as well?
His words at first seem almost blasphemous. One wonders, though, why
he would say that the Lord had deceived him when, right from the start,
the Lord had warned him that he was going to face fierce opposition.
Nevertheless, he complains,
Whenever I speak, all I am speaking is 'violence and destruction.' No wonder people are against me.
At the same time, what is the crucial significance of what he says in Jeremiah 20:9?
He would have liked to have given up and stopped preaching, but God's word was like a fire in his heart and a fire in his bones. What a powerful metaphor of someone who knew his calling and, despite the personal pain, was going to follow that calling no matter what. (We find similar thoughts written in Amos 3:8 and 1 Corinthians 9:16.)
All through these verses, we see the struggle Jeremiah faces; we can see the great controversy raging both outside and inside him. One minute he's praising God for rescuing the needy from the wicked; the next (as we will see tomorrow), he's cursing the day he was born.
Why is it so important, especially in terrible circumstances, to praise the Lord and to dwell upon all the ways that He has revealed His love to us?
Wednesday October 28
Cursed Be the Day
Even the harshest critics of the Bible would have to concede a major
point: the Bible does not gloss over human foibles and weaknesses. With
the exception of the spotless and sinless Son of God, few Bible
characters whose lives are presented in any detail in the Bible come
away without their weaknesses and faults exposed. This goes even for
the prophets. As stated before, the God these prophets served is
perfect; the prophets who served Him were not. They, like the rest of
us, were sinners in need of the righteousness of Christ to be credited
to them by faith (see Rom. 3:22).
From Noah to Peter, and everyone in between, all were sin-damaged
creatures whose only hope was, as Ellen G. White says, to go before the
Lord and say:
I have no merit or goodness whereby I may claim
salvation, but I present before God the all-atoning blood of the
spotless Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is
my only plea. The name of Jesus gives me access to the Father. His ear,
His heart, is open to my faintest pleading, and He supplies my deepest
necessities.-Faith and Works, p. 106.
Read Jeremiah 20:14-18. What does this passage tell us about the prophet's state of mind concerning his own personal situation?
His words here, of course, remind us of Job's, whose situation was much worse than Jeremiah's (see Job 3:1-36). Though Jeremiah had the assurance that he was doing God's will, and the assurance that the Lord was with him, at this point the pain of his present situation consumed him. Whatever his intellectual understanding of what the truth was, for now it was overshadowed by his own sorrows.
At times, many people might find themselves in a similar situation: they might intellectually know all the promises of God, but they are so overwhelmed by sorrow and pain that these promises are pushed into the background, and all they can focus on is their immediate suffering. This is an understandable reaction; it doesn't mean it's a correct one, but it is understandable. What we see here again is the humanity of Jeremiah, which is similar to the humanity of us all.
Have you ever felt the way Jeremiah did here? If so, what did you learn from that experience that could help you better cope the next time you feel that way?
Thursday October 29
Read Jeremiah 18:1-10. What important principles about prophetic interpretation do we find here?
In those same verses, what crucial spiritual principles do we find as well?
Despite all the evil, the Lord was still willing to give people a chance to repent. Hence, here too we see the grace of God being offered to those who will accept it. Even now, they still had time to turn around, despite all that they had done.
In these verses, too, we can see the conditionality of many prophecies: God says that He will do something, which is often to bring punishment. But if the people repent, He will not do what He said He would do. What He will do is conditional, depending upon how the people respond. Why would God do anything else? He would not admonish the people to turn from their evil ways and then still bring punishment upon them if they repented and turned from their evil ways. In such cases, He won't punish, and He explicitly says so in these texts.
Read Jeremiah 18:18-23. What reasons do the people believe they have for what they want to do to Jeremiah? What is Jeremiah's very human response?
How utterly frustrated Jeremiah must have felt to be condemned by
people who attacked him because, they said, they wanted to save the
teaching of the law, the
counsels of the wise, and
the word from the prophets. How self-deceptive the heart really can be!
What lessons should we learn about how careful we need to be in doing things in the name of the Lord? Bring your answer to class on Sabbath.
Friday October 30Further Thought: In Jeremiah 18:11-17, we find the Lord telling His people to stop doing the things that they are doing. Jeremiah 18:11 says:
So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions(NIV). Jeremiah 18:12 basically has the Lord saying that He already knows they won't listen to His warnings and pleas but that they will continue to walk in the
stubbornness of [their] evil hearts(Jer. 18:12, NIV). The Lord then tells what He will do because of their disobedience. This is one of many places in the Bible which show that God's foreknowledge of our free choices in no way infringes upon those free choices. After all, why would the Lord have pleaded with them to turn from their evil if they didn't have the freedom to obey Him? Then, too, why would He punish them for not obeying if they didn't have the freedom to obey? What's clear is that the Lord knew exactly what their free choices would be even before they made them. This crucial truth is also seen, for instance, in Deuteronomy 31:16-21. Even before the children of Israel enter the Promised Land, the Lord tells Moses that He knows they will
turn to other gods and worship them(Deut. 31:20, NIV). Here is more evidence that God's foreknowledge of our choices does not impinge on the freedom we have to make those choices.
a fire in his bones.How can we keep that fire burning within us as well?
The next morning John went to a campus prayer service. Sister Jeremiah was leading out, and she asked for volunteers to pray for all the students. John prayed for the students who had needs, and silently he prayed for his own need.
A couple hours later he met a friend on campus.
How are you? Is everything OK? his friend asked him.
Yes, John said,
everything is OK. God is in control.
How’s your mom? the friend asked.
She’s fine, John answered. Then without thinking, he added,
But she’s worried about my school fees.
How much do you need? he asked.
John needed 50,000 Zimbabwean dollars to register.
His friend pulled out some pula, currency from Botswana.
Here is 250 pula,
his friend said. The money was equivalent to 23,000 Zimbabwean dollars.
John thanked his friend warmly and accepted the money. OK, God, he
thought. Now how do I turn this pula into enough Zimbabwean dollars to
Within minutes John found someone willing to exchange his pula for Zimbabwean dollars-at a rate that gave him half the amount he needed to register. John hurried to a phone to tell his mother that God had worked half a miracle.
Mom, he said,
can you please send Mercy [John’s sister] to the bank to deposit 25,000 [Zimbabwean] dollars?
John, she answered,
you know I don’t have the money.
Just send Mercy to town, John said.
God will provide the money.
His mother was puzzled, but she didn’t argue. If John had that kind of
faith, she dared not doubt. So she asked Mercy to go to town and wait
for God to give her the money for John.
Meanwhile John went to town to deposit the $25,000 he had received into Solusi’s bank account. When he arrived in town, he called his mother again.
I’ve been trying to reach you! she said.
met a friend of yours in town who had promised to give you some money
for food. But you had already left for school. So he asked Mercy to
deposit it into your account. When Mercy told him how much you needed,
it was more than he had planned to give, but when he opened his wallet,
he had more than $25,000. So he gave Mercy the money for you. We just
need to know Solusi’s account number so we can deposit it!
John’s eyes filled with tears as he heard how God was answering his prayers. He gave his mother the information and thanked her and his sister for helping make the miracle happen.
Hurrying back to school, John arrived just minutes before the registrar’s office closed. His heart felt light, and his step was easy as he thought of how God had pulled off another miracle for a young man with nothing but faith.
More than 1,000 students are enrolled at Solusi University. Many, like John, are there by faith. The school is growing larger, and more space in the dining hall is needed. Thank you for supporting the Thirteenth Sabbath Mission offering.___
John Mavesere was a theology student at Solusi University in Zimbabwe when this was written. He now serves the Lord in Zimbabwe.
Produced by the General Conference Office of Adventist Mission. email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.adventistmission.org
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Sabbath School Lesson Ends
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