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Biblical Hebrew, like most languages, is sprinkled with idioms, words, or phrases that mean something different from what they immediately say. An example is mi-yittan, which is composed of two Hebrew words: mi, which is the interrogative who?; and yittan, which means will give. Thus, we have who will give?

In the Hebrew Bible, this phrase expresses the idea of a wish, of a desire, of someone wanting something badly.

For instance, after their escape from Egypt, the children of Israel, facing challenges in the wilderness, exclaimed, If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! (Exod. 16:3, NIV). The phrase if only came from mi-yittan. In Psalm 14:7, David utters, Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! The Hebrew doesn’t say, Oh; it says, mi-yittan. In Job 6:8, when Job exclaims, Oh, that I might have my request (NIV), Oh is from mi-yittan.

Another occurrence appears, this time in Deuteronomy 5:29. Going over the history of God’s providences, Moses reminds the children of Israel about their request that he, Moses, talk to the Lord for them, lest they die. According to Moses, the Lord, pleased with their request, then said: O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always.

The word translated Oh? Yes, it is mi-yittan.

Incredible! Here is the Lord-the Creator God, the One who made space, time, and matter, the One who spoke our world into existence, the One who breathed into Adam the breath of life-uttering a phrase generally associated with the weaknesses and limitations of humanity.

Talk about the reality of free will. Talk about the limits of what God can do in the midst of the great controversy. This use of mi-yittan reveals that even God won’t trample on free will (for the moment He did, it would no longer be free).

Now, if ever one book of the Old Testament revealed the reality of God’s desire for humans to obey Him, and the human tendency not to, it would be the book of Jeremiah, the topic of this quarter. Set against the background of great geopolitical changes in the ancient near east, the book of Jeremiah recounts the ministry and message of the prophet as he, with passion and faithfulness, preached God’s message to a people who, for the most part, didn’t want to hear it.

Starting with the prophet’s call, the book takes us through decades of biblical history as the Lord used this young (and then old) man to proclaim the basic truths that have been the foundation of the biblical message from the beginning. And of all the spiritual truths taught in the book, these words catch the essence of so much of what the Lord seeks from His people: Thus says the Lord: 'Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord,’ (Jer. 9:23-24, ESV).

To read the book of Jeremiah is to take a journey, a spiritual journey that goes back and forth from the lowest depths of human depravity to the heights and grandeur and majesty of the Lord-the Lord who, from those heights, cries out to all of us, even in our fallen state: Mi-yittan that such a heart would be in you!

Imre Tokics, PhD, is the head of the Old Testament Department at the Adventist Theological College, Pecel, Hungary. He is a professor of Old Testament and Jewish Religious Sciences, and also has a Doctor of Law (LLD) degree.

Lesson 1 September 26-October 2

The Prophetic Calling of Jeremiah

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week's Study: Isa. 1:19, Jer. 7:5-7, 1 Kings 2:26, Jer. 1:1-5, Isa. 6:5, Jer. 1:6-19, Matt. 28:20.

Memory Text: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5, NKJV).

We know more about the life of Jeremiah than we do about any other Old Testament prophet. The biographical facts in his book help us understand better his work as a prophet. Jeremiah had such an effect on history that, even at the time of Jesus, he was a revered prophetic figure.

At the same time, the prophet's work, judged by human standards, shows only slight success. Despite decades of fervent warning and pleadings, the people for the most part didn't listen to the messages he gave them from the Lord.

Nevertheless, despite the opposition, Jeremiah could not be bought or sold; he stood as a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall (Jer. 1:18, NIV), not in his own strength but in the Lord's.

Jeremiah's lot in life wasn't a happy one in many ways. His calling brought him suffering, woe, rejection, even imprisonment. Worse still was the fact that so many of these troubles came from the very ones whom he was seeking to help, seeking to point in the right direction. Thus, in his own way, Jeremiah prefigured what Jesus Himself would face hundreds of years later in the same land.

Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 3.

Sunday September 27

The Prophets

The prophets, according to their calling, were determined protectors of God's law. They stood on the ground of the covenant and the Ten Commandments (Jer. 11:2-6). Micah 3:8 gives one summary of the prophets' work, which was to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin. And the concept of sin, of course, is meaningless apart from the law (see Rom. 7:7).

What was the prophets' message to the people? In what ways is that message the same to us today? Isa. 1:19, Jer. 7:5-7, Ezek. 18:23. (See also Matt. 3:7-11.)

God's judgment was not inevitable, but it would come if the people did not turn from their evil ways. Change, however, is not so easy, especially when people get accustomed to doing evil. Who hasn't seen how people get used to the evil that, at one time, had appalled them? The message of the prophets was to let people see just how bad their evil was, and what the consequences were of not turning away from it. This message, of course, wasn't the prophets; it was the Lord's.

The prophets do not mention how God's Word was revealed to them or how they heard it. At times God spoke to them directly; other times the Holy Spirit touched them in dreams or visions or, perhaps, through a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12). However their messages came to them, the prophets had a mission, not only to transmit God's will to the common people, but also, if need be, to deliver it before kings, emperors, and generals.

This task involved great responsibility: if they told the truth, these powerful people could kill them; but if they did not represent the truth, God's judgment could also come upon them. To be a prophet is a heavy calling, and from what we can tell from the Bible, those given that call took it seriously.

We can be glad they did, for their messages have come down to us in the Bible. In that sense, their words still speak, even today. The question now, as in Jeremiah's time, is the same: Will we listen?

What are the prophets, even after all this time, still telling us? At the core, what is their basic message to God's people?

Monday September 28

Jeremiah's Family Background

Read 1 Kings 1:1-53 and 1 Kings 2:26. What was the background that led to the exile of Abiathar to his home in Anathoth?

After he strengthened his throne, Solomon, in a conflict with Adonijah over succession, removed Abiathar the priest from his office and sent him into exile back to his hometown, Anathoth, believed to be about three miles northeast of Jerusalem. Hilkiah, Jeremiah's father, was a member of a priestly family that lived at Anathoth. Some have speculated that Jeremiah's family may have descended from Abiathar. Either way, we know from Jeremiah 1:1 that the prophet had an exalted lineage. Thus, we can see here that all through prophetic history, the Lord has called all types of people-shepherds, rabbis, fishermen, priests-to the prophetic office.

A member of the Levitical priesthood, Jeremiah had been trained from childhood for holy service. In those happy years of preparation he little realized that he had been ordained from birth to be 'a prophet unto the nations;' and when the divine call came, he was overwhelmed with a sense of his unworthiness. Ah, Lord God! he exclaimed, behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. Jeremiah 1:5-6.-Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 407.

The priests were to be the moral and spiritual leaders of the nation; they had been given important roles that impacted most every area of the nation's spiritual life. Some had been faithful to that task; others abused and violated it in ways that we can't imagine. As we will soon read in the book of Jeremiah, the prophet had very strong words to speak against these unfaithful priests, who had proved unworthy of the responsibilities and calling that they had been entrusted with.

What are your spiritual responsibilities, whether at home or in the church or both or anywhere else? If a prophet were to speak to you now about those responsibilities, what might he or she say?

Tuesday September 29

The Prophetic Calling of Jeremiah

Read Jeremiah 1:1-5. What does this tell us about Jeremiah's calling?

Just like other prophets in the Old Testament (and like Paul in the new; see Gal. 1:1, Rom. 1:1), Jeremiah didn't waffle in regard to who called him. He was very clear in these verses and, in fact, all through the book of Jeremiah, that what he was speaking was the word of the Lord, which had come to him. No doubt this fervent conviction is what enabled him to press on ahead despite fervent opposition and toil, suffering, and trials.

Jeremiah's calling happened in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, dated to about 627 or 626 bc. We do not know the exact year when the prophet was born, or the exact age he began his ministry. In his mind, though, as we will see, he deemed himself a child, someone too young for the task given him.

Read Jeremiah 1:4-5. What assurance and comfort should he have gotten from those words?

God chose Jeremiah to be a prophet before his birth. God set him aside from the moment of his conception for this prophetic role. The words translated I sanctified you (Jer. 1:5, NKJV) comes from a verb that means to be hallowed, to be holy, and to sanctify, among other things. It definitely has a sacred and religious connotation to it, one tied also with the sanctuary service itself. Indeed, the word for sanctuary comes from the same root word. The idea contained in it is that something or someone is set apart for a holy purpose. This is what God had planned for Jeremiah, even before his birth. These texts don't teach pre-existence or predestination; they teach, instead, God's foreknowledge.

God knows the end from the beginning. What comfort can we draw from this amid the trials that we inevitably face?

Wednesday September 30

Reluctant Prophets

Despite the Lord's assurance that Jeremiah had been divinely chosen for this task, the young man was frightened and didn't feel up to it. Perhaps knowing the spiritual state of people at the time, which wasn't good, and knowing what needed to be done, Jeremiah didn't want the job.

Compare Jeremiah 1:6 with Isaiah 6:5 and Exodus 4:10-15. What common points do all these incidents have?

None of those men, for whatever reasons, felt up to the task. Perhaps that was a crucial prerequisite for the job of a prophet: a sense of one's own unworthiness and inability for such a crucial and important task. A spokesman for the Creator? No wonder they all shrank from the task, at least at first.

Notice Jeremiah's first response after being called. He immediately talked about his inability to speak well, as did Moses. Isaiah, too, in his response, made mention of his mouth, his lips. In all cases, they knew that, whatever else their calling involved, it would involve speaking and communication. They were going to get messages from God and, as such, would be responsible for proclaiming those messages to others. Unlike today, where they could build a Web site or send a text message, this communication would so often have to be face to face. Imagine having to stand before hostile leaders or unruly people and give them sharp words of rebuke and warning? The reluctance of these soon-to-be prophets is understandable.

Read Jeremiah 1:7-10. What is God's response to Jeremiah? Why should that response hold some hope and promise for us in whatever we believe we have been called by God to do?

Thursday October 1

The Almond Branch

The prophet is God's witness; his job is to speak not for himself but for God alone. Jeremiah wasn't called to find solutions to the problems of the nation, or to become a great personality or charismatic leader whom the people would follow. Jeremiah had the singular mission to transmit the words of God to the people and their leaders. The emphasis here is not on the human or on human potential; it is on God's sovereignty and power alone. The prophet was to point the people to the Lord, in whom alone was the solution to all their problems. It's, of course, no different for us today.

What was Jeremiah's first vision about? (See Jer. 1:11-19.)

Most Bible translations translate the Hebrew expression in Jeremiah 1:11 as the branch of an almond tree. These translations, however, miss the Hebrew play on words here. The word translated almond tree has the same root as the verb to keep watch, which appears in Jeremiah 1:12, when the Lord says that He is going to keep watch over His word to fulfill it.

One could argue that the central message of the entire book of Jeremiah is found in Jeremiah 1:11-12. God's word will be fulfilled. One day everyone will see events happen just as God said they would. God wants His people to turn away from their sins. He has offered grace and forgiveness, but He does not force anyone to obey and be healed. If His people will not respond to Him, His words of judgment and punishment will certainly be fulfilled as His words against Israel were fulfilled in the book of Jeremiah.

As we can see, too, God's words here were not just for the people. The Lord was speaking directly to Jeremiah himself, warning him to be prepared for the opposition that he would face. No matter what happened, Jeremiah could have the assurance from God that I am with you. He would, as we will see, need it.

Don't we all?

Read Matthew 28:20. What assurance can we find for ourselves in these words to us, living in the time that we do?

Friday October 2

Further Thought: Martin Luther wrote about the prophet in the introduction of his commentary to the book of Jeremiah: Jeremiah was a sad prophet, who lived in a deplorable and difficult period and, what is more, his prophetic service was extremely difficult as he was struggling and fighting with a bad-tempered and stubborn people. Apparently he did not achieve much success because he experienced how his enemies became more and more evil. They tried to kill the prophet several times. They pressed hard against him, whipping him several times. Yet, he would live to see with his own eyes how his country was devastated and his people taken into exile.

For forty years Jeremiah was to stand before the nation as a witness for truth and righteousness. In a time of unparalleled apostasy he was to exemplify in life and character the worship of the only true God. During the terrible sieges of Jerusalem he was to be the mouthpiece of Jehovah. He was to predict the downfall of the house of David and the destruction of the beautiful temple built by Solomon. And when imprisoned because of his fearless utterances, he was still to speak plainly against sin in high places. Despised, hated, rejected of men, he was finally to witness the literal fulfillment of his own prophecies of impending doom, and share in the sorrow and woe that should follow the destruction of the fated city.-Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 408.

Discussion Question:

  1. One of the saddest things, and yet something that should give us all, today, as Seventh-day Adventists, something to think about, is the fact that God had warned Jeremiah that he would face great opposition from his own people. Read Jeremiah 1:17-19 again. Who would be the ones fighting against him? What fearful lesson should we take away from this for ourselves? That is, what is our attitude toward the prophetic word to us, especially when we hear things that we don't like? How does the Ellen G. White quote above help express the fearful truth that the very ones who should have been revealing the true God to the world were the ones who were, by reviling and attacking His spokesman, fighting against Him? (See also Eccles. 1:9.)

Inside Story~ 

A Most Satisfying Career -Part 1

Harry and Alex* worked as security guards in Malawi. They often talked to break up the boredom. One night Alex said, I have an idea how we could earn some extra money.

What’s that? Harry asked, interested.

We could use our rifles in a little side business, Alex said, lifting his gun. Rich people have more than they need, and we need more than we get. We could take a little from them so we can have enough for ourselves.

Harry wasn’t sure, but eventually he was convinced. The two broke into the home of a wealthy family and stole cash and anything they could carry. A few days later they robbed more homes. But one night they were caught. Sitting in jail, Harry realized the seriousness of his crimes. The two men were sentenced to eight years of hard labor in a maximum security prison and sent to separate prisons.

Harry arrived at the prison determined to escape. His prison shirt was imprinted with the length of his prison term. One day Harry bribed another prisoner to trade shirts.

When he wore his new shirt with a sooner release date, he was assigned to a low-security job in the prison garden. Harry noticed that every afternoon the armed guard watching them grew sleepy. One day when the guard was yawning, Harry dropped his hoe and ran. Other prisoners started running too.

The guards caught all the prisoners except Harry, who had hidden among some large stones. At dark the guards gave up their search and returned to the prison. Harry crawled out and escaped.

Harry found a job, and for 18 months he worked hard and stayed out of trouble. Then one day when he came into the bus station, the police were waiting to take him back to prison. He now had to serve 10 years.

When Harry was escorted to his cell, he was surprised to find that his cell mate was Alex, his former partner in crime.

Hey, I have an idea, Alex said after Harry settled in.

What’s your idea? Harry asked. And suddenly it was just like old times.

The prison walls were made of mud bricks with a thick coating of cement over them. Harry and Alex decided to dig a small tunnel to the outside. It took them only three days to dig through the wall. The two waited until dark, then crawled through the hole.

Everything seemed quiet, but as they scrambled up the outside wall, a guard saw them and shouted. The guards chased them, but Harry and Alex had a good head start.

The two stopped a car on the road, made the driver get out, and took the car. They drove to the city and sold the car for parts. But someone became suspicious and told the police. Alex escaped, but Harry was caught. This time he was sent to a small prison where he could be watched more closely. That decision changed his life.

To be continued.

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