I am currently taking a course, Know Your Bible. One of the assignments is to write a five page paper on two of the Major Prophets. After writing so many papers from University, you would think I can handle a five page essay easy peasy. It wasn’t. I chose Isaiah and Jeremiah because I desired to know more about them. In order to write this paper, I read most of their books. Mind you, that’s 66 chapters from Isaiah and 52 chapters from Jeremiah. On top of that, I gone through 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles to see when these prophets appeared in those Historical books. Lastly, I went through the Gospels to find where they were quoted or referenced. It was a lot more work than I expected. I tried not to use too much external sources (Internet, other commentaries or books etc.). I stuck primarily with the Bible (thank you Biblegateway!) and my text book.
Between running ministry and preaching in Uganda, it took me more than two weeks to complete this paper. Half way through it, I thought maybe I shouldn’t go through all the references in New Testaments. It would be much easier to simply skim or just go through ones I knew off my heart. I can tell you. It is very tempting to not do the work.
As I shared with Wai Jia about my struggle, she encouraged me to keep laboring. She took this course before and also labored when she wrote the same paper. During this process of labor, I gained a new appreciation for these prophets and a deeper understanding of God’s character.
First, the prophets. Both prophets were active in Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Isaiah came first on stage just as the Assyrians invaded the Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Assyrians were threatening Jerusalem. His message was a warning for Jerusalem to stop worshipping idols, stop doing evil and turned back to God. He also prophecized the Babylonian threat in 2 Kings 20:17-18. Later, Jeremiah came into the scene when Jerusalem was in a much worst state. The nation is fallen into heavy idolatry with people sacrificing their son and daughter into the fire to worship false gods (Jeremiah 7:31). Jeremiah’s spent more than twenty years repeating the same message. Repent or God would bring desolation against Jerusalem. The people and the king chose not to listen and in the end God used the Babylons to bring destruction in 586 BC.
Whenever I read Old Testament, especially during this period, I cannot stop thinking about the stereotypical thought that God is an angry God. It is true. God was exceedingly angry at Jerusalem for their idolatry. But this wasn’t the only God’s character. Nor was it the one that was focused in the book of Jeremiah.
We have to realize that the reason why God is so angry is beacuse the people chose not to listen to Him for a very very very long time. Jeremiah preached the same message for more than twenty years! If God told me to preach the same message of repetance for twenty years to one church and the people chose not to listen, I think I would be done after a year. Yet, year after year, the message is the same. Signs and warnings were given. The people chose to disobey and do wicked things.
What people miss though is the character that God is a restorer.
In Jeremiah 32, we have a grim picture of the fate of Jerusalem. The Babylon army is mounting a siege against the walls of this once glorious city. Most of the Judah is already conquered by the Babylonians. There’s nowhere to run. There’s nowhere to hide. Destruction is imminent.
In the midst of utter destruction, God told Jeremiah to buy a field. Jeremiah is already jailed for his prophecies. There’s no way the King is going to let him go out to buy a field. But God, in His perfect timing, orchestrated everything for Jeremiah. His uncle was coming to prison to offer Jeremiah a field to purchase. This scene is almost comical. In war, the last thing you think about is buying fields. You think about survival. You think about fighting. You think about how to live the next day. You think about your family and your love ones and whether they are safe. The last thing you think about is ‘which land should I invest it?‘
‘Look, the siege mounds! They have come to the city to take it; and the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans who fight against it, because of the sword and famine and pestilence. What You have spoken has happened; there You see it! And You have said to me, O Lord God, “Buy the field for money, and take witnesses”!—yet the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’” Jeremiah 32:24-25 NKJV (Emphasis mine)
Puzzled by this, Jeremiah asked God why is he doing a seemingly foolish thing when he would soon witness his city crumble and pillage. God, in His mercy, told him that not now but in the future God Himself would gather the Jewish captives from all over the world and returned them back to Jerusalem. God, who was punishing Judah through the Babylon occupation, would make this land flourish again. So much so that people would buy and sell land just as what Jeremiah had done.
Jeremiah won’t live to see that day. He understood that he and his people would face hardship for their sins and rebellion. He himself had gone through persecution for doing God’s works. But imagine the joy and hope Jeremiah carried in his heart when God spoke to him about the future.
And this is who our God is. He doesn’t get angry for no reason. He doesn’t punish people for no reason. More importantly, He restores.
“For thus says the Lord: ‘Just as I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will bring on them all the good that I have promised them. And fields will be bought in this land of which you say, “It is desolate, without man or beast; it has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans.” Men will buy fields for money, sign deeds and seal them, and take witnesses, in the land of Benjamin, in the places around Jerusalem, in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the mountains, in the cities of the lowland, and in the cities of the South; for I will cause their captives to return,’ says the Lord.” Jeremiah 32:42-44 NKJV
He is long suffering. He is merciful. He is a restorer. He turns things around.
I had another revelation when reading Jeremiah 32. I will write it in another time.