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Sabbath School Lesson Begins

The Book of Jeremiah

Lesson 2 October 3-9

The Crisis (Within and Without)

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week's Study: Judg. 2:1-15; 1 Kings 12:26-31; 2 Chron. 33:9-10; Jer. 2:1-28; 5:2-3.

Memory Text: 'Israel was holiness to the Lord. The firstfruits of His increase. All that devour him will offend; disaster will come upon them,' says the Lord (Jeremiah 2:3, NKJV).

If we could pick one word to describe the human condition since the Fall, it would be crisis, the extent of which can be best understood by what it took to get us out of the crisis: the death of Jesus on the cross. The crisis must be pretty bad; after all, look at the extreme measures needed to solve it.

All through the Bible, many stories took place against the backdrop of one crisis or another. The situation during the time of Jeremiah and his ministry was no different.

God's people faced many challenges, both from within and from without. Unfortunately, despite the terrible military threat from foreign powers, in many ways the greatest crisis came from within. Within meant not just a corrupt leadership and corrupt priesthood, which were bad enough, but within was in the sense of people whose hearts had been so hardened and damaged by sin and apostasy that they refused to heed the warnings that God was sending them, warnings that could have spared them from disaster.

Sin is bad enough, but when you refuse to turn away from it-talk about a crisis!

Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 10.

Sunday October 4

A Quick History

When the Israelites had finally entered the Promised Land, after years of wandering in the wilderness, it wasn't long before troubles began. All it took was for a new generation to arise, one that didn't know the Lord (Judg. 2:10), and a spiritual crisis started that, in many ways, infected the nation all through its history. It's a problem that, indeed, has infected the Christian church as well.

Read Judges 2:1-15. What caused the crisis, and how was it made manifest?

Judges 2:11 says: Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord (NIV). Each generation, one after the other, moved one step further from God until the nation was doing exactly what the Lord had told them not to do. Due to their sin, they faced one crisis after another, but even then the Lord had not given up on them. He sent them judges (Judg. 2:16), who delivered them from their immediate woes.

After the era of the judges, the nation entered a time of relative peace and prosperity under what has been called the United Monarchy, the rule of Saul, David, and Solomon, which lasted about one hundred years. Under David, then Solomon, it grew into a regional power.

The good times, though, did not last. After the death of Solomon (about 931 b.c.), the nation split into two factions, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Much of the blame can be placed on the misguided rule of Solomon, who, for all his wisdom, made numerous mistakes. The tribes had long suffered grievous wrongs under the oppressive measures of their former ruler. The extravagance of Solomon's reign during his apostasy had led him to tax the people heavily and to require of them much menial service.-Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 88, 89. Things were never the same again for God's chosen nation. Everything the Lord had warned them not to do, they did, and thus they reaped the doleful consequences.

Think about the problem of the next generation not having the values and beliefs of the one before it. How have we, as a church, dealt with this issue? How can we learn to transmit our values to those who follow us?

Monday October 5

The Two Kingdoms

After the division of the nation, things went from bad to worse. In the Northern Kingdom, King Jeroboam made some terrible spiritual choices that had a long-lasting impact for evil.

Read 1 Kings 12:26-31. What should this tell us about how immediate circumstances can so blind our judgment?

The king's introduction of idolatrous worship helped set the nation on a disastrous course. The apostasy introduced during Jeroboam's reign became more and more marked, until finally it resulted in the utter ruin of the kingdom of Israel.-Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 107. In 722 b.c., Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, put an end to the country and deported its inhabitants to different parts of his empire (see 2 Kings 17:1-7). There was no turning back from this exile. For a time, Israel disappeared from history.

Things weren't as bad in the Southern Kingdom, at least not yet. But they weren't great either, and, as with the Northern Kingdom, the Lord sought to spare these people from the calamity that the Northern Kingdom faced, only now from the threat of the Babylonians. Unfortunately, with rare exceptions, Judah had a series of kings who continued to lead the nation into deeper apostasy.

What do these verses say about the reign of some of Judah's kings? 2 Chron. 33:9-10, 21-23; 2 Kings 24:8-9, 18-19.

Despite all the terrible leadership, so many of the prophetic books of the Bible, including Jeremiah, are the words of the prophets whom God sent to His people in an attempt to turn them away from the sin and apostasy that was eating at the heart of the nation. The Lord was not going to give up on His people without giving them ample time and opportunity to turn from their evil ways and be spared the disaster that their sin would, inevitably, bring.

It's so hard to step out of your own culture and environment and look at yourself objectively. In fact, it's impossible. Why, then, must we constantly test our lives against the standard of the Bible? What other standard do we have?

Tuesday October 6

Two Evils

It was against this background that the young Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry. The word of the Lord came to him, and he spoke it in hopes that the people, if they would heed these words, would be spared the ruin that otherwise was sure to come.

Read Jeremiah 2:1-28 and answer the following questions:

What promises had God made to the nation when they were faithful? (See Jer. 2:2-3.)

What were some of the priests, pastors, and prophets doing that was sinful? (See Jer. 2:8.)

In what terrible ways were the people self-deceived in regard to their true spiritual condition? (See Jer. 2:23-24.)

Even though the nation had experienced some spiritual reform under the leadership of Hezekiah and Josiah, the people reverted to their old ways and fell into worse apostasy. As he did all through his ministry, Jeremiah here spoke in no uncertain terms about what was going on.

Particularly interesting are his words in Jeremiah 2:13. The people had committed two evils: they forsook the Lord, the fountain of living waters and, as a result, hewed out for themselves broken cisterns that, of course, could not hold any water at all. In other words, having abandoned the Lord, they had lost everything. These words become even more meaningful in light of what Jesus said in John 4:10.

In Jeremiah 2:5, the Lord said that the people had gone after worthlessness, and as a result they had become worthless (ESV). The Hebrew words for both terms come from the same Hebrew word (hbl) that is used in Ecclesiastes often translated vanity. It also means a vapor or breath. How does going after worthless things make us worthless? What does that mean? How does this concept help us to understand those who, at times, feel as if their lives are meaningless or worthless? What is the answer for them?

Wednesday October 7

The Babylonian Threat

The background to the political events that shaped the ministry of Jeremiah are, to some degree, lost to history. That is, many of the details are not available. But we do have in the Bible (with the help of archaeological finds) more than enough information to have a general picture of what took place. Though from a human perspective it probably seemed that no one was in control as these nations battled it out for land, power, and hegemony, the Bible teaches us differently.

Read Jeremiah 27:6. What are we to make of this?

The little kingdom of Judah had, in the early years of Jeremiah's ministry, found itself caught up in the military battles between Babylon, Egypt, and the waning power of Assyria. With the decline of the Assyrian empire in the late seventh century b.c., Egypt sought to regain power and dominance in the region. However, at the battle of Carchemish in 605 b.c., Egypt was crushed and Babylon became the new world power.

This new power made Judah its vassal state. Jehoiakim, king of Judah, could stabilize the country only by swearing allegiance to the Babylonian king. Many in the country, however, didn't want to do that; they wanted to fight and free themselves from the Babylonians, even though that wasn't what the Lord intended for them to do. On the contrary, God was using Babylon specifically as a vehicle to punish the nation for its apostasy.

Read Jeremiah 25:8-12. What was Jeremiah's message to the people of Judah?

Over and over Jeremiah warned the people about what would happen because of their sin, and time and again many of the political and religious leaders refused to heed the warnings, believing instead what they wanted to believe, which is that the Lord would spare them. After all, were they not God's specially called people?

When was the last time you believed what you wanted to believe, no matter how obviously wrong that belief turned out to be? What lessons have you learned so that the same thing doesn't happen again?

Thursday October 8

Swearing Falsely

In Jeremiah 5:1, the Lord tells the people to run through the streets and see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her [Jerusalem] (ESV). This brings to mind two stories. One is from an ancient Greek philosopher of the fourth century b.c. named Diogenes who, according to legend, used to walk around in the marketplace in the daytime, claiming that he was looking for an honest man. The other story, of course, one that we know is true, is that of God speaking to Abraham, telling him that if He could find 50 righteous men (soon reduced to 10), He would not destroy the city.

The point, though, in the Lord's words through Jeremiah was to reveal just how widespread the apostasy and sin had become among His people. Was there no one who did justice and sought truth?

Read Jeremiah 5:2-3. What is being said here that shows just how bad things were becoming? (See Lev. 19:12.)

These verses bring up a point that appears all through the book. No matter how deeply fallen the nation had become, many of the people believed that they were still faithfully following the Lord! They were uttering His name, but they were doing it falsely instead of in truth, in justice, and in righteousness (Jer. 4:2, ESV) as the Lord had commanded them. They did not listen to the warning coming from God, but they went on in their lives and religious practices as if everything were all right between them and God, when in fact almost nothing was right between them.

The depth of their deception can be seen in Jeremiah 7:4, when the people would take a false comfort in these words, hekhal yhwh hekhal yhwh hekhal yhwh hemma! (This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord), as if having the temple there were all that they needed in order to ensure that all would go well with them. It's one thing to know you're in a crisis; but when you are in one and don't know it, that's an even worse situation.

With all the wonderful truth we have been given as Seventh-day Adventists, how can we make sure we don't fall into a similar deception of believing our unique calling itself is enough to save us?

Friday October 9

Further Thought: Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes (Deut. 12:8). When thou shalt hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep all his commandments which I command thee this day, to do that which is right in the eyes of the Lord thy God (Deut. 13:18). In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judg. 17:6, 21:25).

There's a crucially important contrast presented in these verses, especially in this day and age when many people revolt against the idea of being told by an outside authority what to do, or being told what is right and wrong. Yet we can see here a clear distinction between these two worldviews. In one, people do whatever they think is right in their own eyes; in another, people are to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord thy God. The problem with the first position is that, so often in history, what is right in someone's own eyes is often wrong in God's. That's why we have to submit everything, even our own conscience, to the Word of God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some examples you can think of where good people did very bad things, even though they thought at the time that what they were doing was right? Many cultures today look back in horror at what were once common practices. What lessons can we draw from this for ourselves today about why we not only need to submit to the teaching of the Bible, but also need to be very careful in how we interpret the Bible? This is especially important when we realize that, in some cases, some of the bad things that were done were done by those who believed they could justify their actions by the Bible. What should this tell us about how basic and foundational to all our beliefs the Ten Commandments need to be?
  2. As we study Jeremiah this quarter, keep in mind the idea that despite warning after warning, the people believed that they were right with God. What could have caused them to be so deceived about their true condition? What message should this have for us as well?

Inside Story~ 

A Most Satisfying Career -Part 2

Some Christian lay workers visited the prison each week to teach prisoners about God. One of the prisoners invited Harry to join them. He went, but his mind focused on a way to escape from prison. A lay worker gave him a book called The Great Controversy. Harry read it, but he was sure that with all the crimes he’d committed, God wouldn’t bother with him.

Often at night, some of the prisoners would sing and pray together from their cells. One night the words of their song touched Harry’s heart. I’ve wandered far away from God, now I’m coming home, they sang. In the darkness, tears fell unchecked from Harry’s eyes. Then he began sobbing. The same thing happened again a few nights later. Harry realized that God was calling him to come home, and he couldn’t refuse.

Harry hesitated to join any one religious group, for he didn’t know which one taught Bible truth. He began studying many different religions. He even learned Arabic so he could read the Koran. But none of these religions seemed to hold the truth.

Then Harry remembered the book that he had received. He pulled it out and began reading it again. As he read The Great Controversy, he sensed that this book was teaching the truth.

Harry began meeting with the Bible class taught be the Adventists. He joined the baptismal class and prepared to be baptized. But because of Harry’s reputation for escaping, the guards refused to allow Harry to leave for his baptism.

A month later Harry was transferred back to the original prison from which he had escaped. When he entered the prison, the guards greeted him. Some of them had heard that Harry had changed, and they watched to see if it was true. They even bribed other prisoners to spy on him.

Harry rejoiced to learn that Adventists held worship services in this prison, too. He joined them and continued studying the Voice of Prophecy lessons he had started several months earlier. Finally he was allowed to be baptized.

Harry wrote to his family and told them that he had given his life to God. When they visited him, they were amazed at the changes they saw. When Harry and his family prayed together, the guards bowed their heads too. They even left him alone with his mother, for they were convinced he would not try to escape again.

Harry threw himself into prison ministries from the inside. He held meetings, enrolled other prisoners in the Voice of Prophecy Bible courses, and shared books by Ellen White with other prisoners. The Adventist group worshipping in the prison grew to about 100 before Harry was released.

When Harry returned home, he began working as a literature evangelist. He loves sharing his faith with those he meets and leading them to God. Leading souls to Jesus is a new and satisfying career, far better than the one that landed me in jail, he testifies.

Harry Mitengo lives in Liwonde, Malawi.

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