Monday, December 19, 2016

Jeremiah: National Judgement and Exile—Then Restoration and Renewal

Jer 8:18–9:1; 31:31–34

Jeremiah’s Despair over Judah (Jer 8:18–9:1)

Jeremiah had the unpopular task of making the Lord’s legal case against his people. Even at his call, God had told him, “You will stand against the whole land—the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah” (Jer 1:18). But God continued, “They will oy the city” (5:1). So judgment was coming, in the form of invasion and exile.

Jeremiah said, “My grief is beyond healing…. I hurt with the hurt of my people.… If only my head were a pool of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for all my people who have been slaughtered” (8:18, 21; 9:1). He prayed, “Is there no medicine in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why is there no healing for the wounds of my people?” (8:22). This was all about the near future that Jeremiah could see.

Jeremiah’s Hope for Israel (Jer 31:31–34)

But Jeremiah could also see far in the distant future of God’s people. God promised, “I will restore the fortunes of my people of Israel and Judah” (30:3). “My people will serve the Lord their God and their king descended from David—the king I will raise up for them” (30:9). For the present, “Your wound is incurable.… I have wounded you cruelly, as though I were your enemy. For your sins are many and your guilt is great” (30:12, 14). I will restore heal (30:17), but not yet. “The fierce anger of the Lord will not diminish until it has finished all he has planned” (30:24).

But things would change. The original covenant promise had been, “I will be your God” (Gen 17:7; Exod 6:7; Lev 11:45; 22:33; 25:38; 26:12; Num 15:41; Ps 146:10; Isa 46:4; Jer 7:23; 11:4; 30:22; Ezek 36:28). “In that day” the Lord would renew that relationship: “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people” (Jer 31:1). Those who eventually “survive the coming destruction” (31:2) would celebrate restoration (31:2–30).

Jeremiah described something far greater than just a return to the original covenant arrangements: “‘The days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah’” (31:31). The promise of the new covenant was the same, but the Lord said, “This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors.… They broke that covenant” (31:32). The difference would not be in the promised, but in the people’s power to sustain their life in the covenant. “‘This is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,’ says the Lord, ‘I will put my instructions deep within them, I will write them on their hearts’” (31:33a–b). This would finally correct the fault Jeremiah kept finding in God’s people: hearts that were stubborn (3:17; 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 13:10; 16:12; 18:12; 23:17), uncircumcised (4:4; 9:26), and desperately wicked (4:4; 17:9). Jeremiah described this as “circumcision” of the heart (4:4), an act which even the Law had promised (Deut 10:16; 40:6) but which came only with the work of Jesus Christ (Rom 2:29). It would only be this radical change that truly empowered God’s people to observe God’s law (Deut 30:8; Ezek 11:20; 36:27).

But as I said, the covenant promise remained the same: “I will be their God, and they will be my people (31:33c). And it didn’t entail a new law; it was the same law that Jeremiah repeatedly accused them of breaking (Jer 6:19; 9:13; 16:11; 26:4; 44:10). What would have changed is their inner commitment to the Law, which would only come with the new heart and new life in Christ Jesus (Jer 24:7; 32:39).

When that time came, the people would no longer need priests and scribes to teach and enforce the law. Instead, “‘Everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,’ says the Lord.” (31:34a). This is the Holy Spirit taught condition that Isaiah also prophesied (Isa 54:13), Jesus described (John 6:45; 17:6), Paul spoke of (2 Cor 4:6), Hebrews described (Heb 8:10–11), and John promised his audience (1 John 2:20; 5:20).

Thanks be to God, that promise of a new heart has come in the regenerating work of Jesus Christ (Heb 8:10; 10:16). And the reason God can say, “I will never again remember their sins” (Jer 31:34) is that Jesus Christ has made the final sacrifice, so that “there is no need to offer any more sacrifices” (Heb 10:18).

Questions, Reflections, and Commitments

  • What better response to this branch of the Jesse Tree than to guide your children toward the one who would give them the “new heart” and enable them to follow God’s will. Guide your children in a prayer for the gift of a new heart.
  • Offer a prayer of thanks to God that we no longer live in bondage to a law that we could never fully observe, that only declared our guilt. Thank in that the Law was completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and thank him for the new heart that enables you to follow his will.

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