God’s Faithfulness

‘God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.’ So He called his name Israel” Genesis 35:10

More than twenty years had passed since Jacob left his father and mother in fear for his life from his twin brother, Esau. In that time his experiences with his uncle, Laban, and his meeting with the Lord on the return journey prior to meeting Esau had made him a much changed man.

Before he left the promised land the Lord appeared to him at Bethel and affirmed that the covenant He had made with Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob in all three aspects; land, descendants and a blessing to the nations (Genesis 28:13-14).

At a time when Jacob was unsettled in his relationship with Laban and began to fear him, the Lord called him back to his father, Isaac. Interestingly it was again fear that disposed Jacob to have a listening ear toward God. That remains a provocation for people to have an ear toward God still. At this time the Lord reminded Jacob of their previous meeting and Jacob’s vow (Genesis 28:20-22; 31:13).

The incident at Shechem (Genesis 34) again stirred up fear in Jacob which apparently disposed him again to have an ear toward the Lord. By commanding Jacob to return to Bethel, the Lord was again reminding him of his vow (Genesis 35:1).

Jacob obeyed all that the Lord said and again the Lord affirmed that the covenant that he had made with Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob and his descendants. The message to Jacob and to us is that God is faithful to His word no matter how circumstances may appear.

The seal of this affirmation came from the Lord in the new name given to Jacob. First mention of the change of name was given by the Lord after the night long encounter Jacob had with Him (Genesis 32:28) but it was not applied until Jacob had fully returned, built an altar to the Lord and removed all association with false gods. At this time the Lord now called him Israel (Genesis 35:10) and affirmed the three key aspects of the covenant made with Abraham. This name became the name for all Israel’s descendants and remains so to this day and forevermore.

The name means, “Prince with God” and that is what Israel is and shall always be (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-37). The very name, Israel, shouts the faithfulness of God to His word.

Writing Scripts

“You were hypocrites in your hearts when you sent me to the Lord” Jeremiah 42:20

The small, unprotected and disorganised remnant of Judah that remained in Judea must have felt vulnerable and unsafe. Those who had obeyed the Lord and surrendered to the king of Babylon were safe but removed from the land. Of those who had not obeyed the Lord most were now dead and only these few remained.

The armies of Babylon had gone home but they still felt that the Lord’s hand was heavy upon them and they were at risk. Since everything Jeremiah had prophesied had come to pass they went to him and asked him to seek the Lord’s counsel.

They promised that they would obey the Lord regardless of “whether it is pleasing or displeasing” (v 6) but the Lord knew their hearts and was determined to reveal their hypocrisy. What is revealed is that they had already chosen what they would do and were just seeking the Lord’s confirmation. This is often the way people relate to God when they do not have a genuine personal relationship with Him.

We need to be careful that we do not follow the example of these people. When we pray we should make up our minds to do as He reveals regardless of the response. Let us be sure that we have not already settled our direction before we hear the Lord’s response to our prayer. If we have, we will make up scenarios or accounts of events that will seemingly justify our actions even when contrary to God’s revelation and word to us. True prayer allows the Lord to respond as He chooses with the full intention of obeying whether it seems pleasing to us or not.

The people who came to Jeremiah with this request received a wonderful response – stay where they are and God would be their provider and protector until all Israel was brought back. If they chose to disregard and disobey the word of the Lord, contrary to their promise, they would suffer the very thing they sought to escape.

They had already made up their minds and instead of believing God’s revelation concerning past events and their current situation, they invented their own version that would make their decision look reasonable (44:16-19). In so doing they called God a liar (43:2). The Lord’s response to these people was, “Why do you commit this great evil against yourselves” (44:7). It is so illogical for people to choose against the revealed will of God. One can only wonder at how often we have rewritten our own history so as to put ourselves in a good light when in fact we are disobeying the word of the Lord.

The issue was not so much about where they should be physically but where their heart is toward the Lord. The same is true for us. The Lord will also test our heart motives in prayer. He doesn’t do this to harm us but to reveal where our heart really is so that our relationship with Him may become more intimate. God’s warnings were for Judah’s good, as they are for us, so let us take Him at His word and not try and write our own scripts.

A Faithful Ambassador

“This is the twenty third year in which the word of the Lord has come to me; and I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, but you have not listened” Jeremiah 25:3

There are probably many people who share the Gospel who identify with Jeremiah. For twenty three years he had been a prophet of the Lord faithfully passing on what the Lord had given him to speak yet the people of Jerusalem and Judah had taken no heed. The Lord retained a remnant in Israel so the rejection was not total but successive kings of Judah had turned the hearts of the people away from the Lord. There were many other voices proclaiming what was supposed to be the word of the Lord but they were liars who deceived the people by telling them what they wanted to hear rather than the truth (27:10, 14-16). The same tactic is employed by some today. They proclaim a false Gospel while claiming it is from the Lord.

Jeremiah seemed alone in proclaiming the true word of the Lord yet he refused to compromise to appease kings, priests, other prophets or even to save his life (26:8). He would rather be an offense to people than offend the Lord.

The world might judge him as being unsuccessful but the Lord judged him otherwise. Successful in ministering the word of God is not determined by whether hearers receive God’s word. Success is measured in whether one is faithful to the Lord’s word and calling.

Jeremiah had to withstand the wrath of kings, accusations from religious leaders and stand face to face, in the presence of witnesses, with one who claimed to speak for the Lord but was a liar (28:1). He did this knowing that there was a strong movement among the false prophets to have him killed. He would not compromise the word of the Lord to save his life. His words to them were, “I am in your hand; do with me as seems good and proper to you” (26:14).

Like Daniel’s three friends, he knew that whether he lived or died he would not compromise the word of the Lord (Daniel 3:18). Like the apostle Paul he knew that, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

The church needs people who will proclaim God’s word as He gave it and not how people want to hear it. In the days of Jeremiah the false teachers were in the majority and they ridiculed, mocked and threatened Jeremiah. They deceived the people who then suffered the Lord’s chastisement. By rejecting the faithful word and believing a lie they set themselves against God.

A person may spend twenty three years as Christ’s faithful ambassador but whether they are successful or not is not in the numbers of people who respond and follow Christ. False teachers more readily gain a following because they speak what fallen people want to hear. The successful ambassador of Christ is the one who stands firm and faithful to Christ’s word even in the face of threats and persecution. The acclaim of people and numbers are no way to measure success. Faithfulness and obedience to Christ are the only measure and Jesus Christ alone is able to measure that.

Don’t Blame God

“You have stricken them but they have not grieved, You have consumed them but they have refused to receive correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to return” Jeremiah 5:3

This is a description of the hardness of heart that mankind has toward God. Before we attribute these words solely to Judah we should reflect on other times when the Lord afflicted Gentiles.

Before Israel even existed Cain was afflicted and refused correction. In the days of Noah the world refused the Lord’s correction and was destroyed by flood. Sodom and Gomorrah refused the word of the Lord and were buried. Nineveh received God’s warning for a time after reluctant Jonah warned them but they are among the few exceptions. The next generation of Ninevites rejected the warning and were destroyed. There are more occasions in the Bible where Gentiles were afflicted yet refused to receive correction. Most notable is Pharaoh of Egypt when Moses confronted him with the word of the Lord.

People often ask the question why there is so much suffering in the world today and blame God for it. They say that if there is a God of love why doesn’t He stop the evil? The Lord answers, “Have you not brought this on yourself in that you have forsaken the Lord your God? Your own wickedness will correct you and your backslidings will rebuke you” (Jeremiah 2:17, 19). This is God’s way to bring us back into fellowship with Him. The alternative is His righteous judgment. Sadly, many people think they will survive His righteous judgment of God without Jesus Christ.

In Jeremiah 5:19, Jeremiah informs Judah, and everyone else as well, why we are so afflicted. He writes the question that is on our minds, “Why does the Lord our God do all these things to us?” and then answers it from the Lord. “Just as you have forsaken Me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve aliens in a land that is not yours.” Israel’s separation from the Promised Land was because they had refused correction from the Lord that came through His prophets. There had to be a step up in affliction. Ultimately this will be successful and a remnant of Israel will enter Christ’s future earthly kingdom.

The same is true for Gentile nations. The level of affliction will be stepped up to encourage the nations to accept God’s correction. We are observing the same reaction to the word of the Lord and to Jesus Christ that Pharaoh gave to the word of the Lord that came through Moses. The world accepts no responsibility, accuses God, refuses His correction usually by denying His existence and wonders why it is suffering more afflictions. Jeremiah puts it in a nutshell, “Your sins have withheld good from you” (5:25). This is stated more fully in 18:7-10. Any nation that turns from its evil ways and to the Lord will avoid the disaster that He had intended to bring upon it. The nation that He intended to favour, if it turns from the Lord, will not receive that favour but will receive His judgment.

We have a national choice. The Lord has revealed the outcome of the two possibilities. We cannot blame the Lord for our choice.

A Word in our Mouth

“I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” Luke 21:15

Jesus is answering the disciples’ question regarding the timing and sign of His Second Coming. As He describes the nature of the last days before His return He knows those who will be waiting for Him will need encouragement in the face of great opposition and extreme persecution.

The context tells us that Jesus is speaking of a situation that will eventuate in the future of Israel and the world in the time of the great tribulation and that He is speaking primarily to believing Jews. In verse twelve we read Jesus’ words, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.” Unbelieving Jews will also persecute believing Jews just as they did to Jesus and also as Saul did to the Jews before Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

This future period of time appears to be something to fear and something that will harm the cause of Christ yet in the next verse we read that it is quite the opposite; But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.” Just as Paul was imprisoned and found it an opportunity to witness, believing Jews in the tribulation will also find it an opportunity to witness. The other apostles and many believers since Pentecost have discovered the same reality and opportunity.

While no one would seek to be in this position it has, is and will occur to true followers of Jesus. Just as they persecuted Jesus they will persecute His followers. How will they turn such a terrible situation into an opportunity to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ?

Jesus says that believing Jews won’t have to worry about what they say. He will give them the right words at the right time. They will be words that come out of the One who is called Wisdom in Proverbs. Just as those who opposed and persecuted Jesus had no answer to His words those who oppose His people will have no answer to the words He will give His disciples during the tribulation.

Does this have any application to Christians today? Most assuredly! The principle stands even if the specific context does not. Just as the Lord put words in the mouths of the prophets (cf. Jeremiah 1:9; Isaiah 51:16) He does similar for Christians. Christians throughout the centuries and have found Him faithful in this regard. In the book of Acts we read some of the early occasions in the lives of Peter and Paul.

This does not need to be an unusual occurrence in the life of Christians and we should not be surprised when it happens. The Holy Spirit is the One given to help and who, leads and teaches us. He even helps us in prayer when we do not know how to pray (Romans 8:26). There is a need for caution however as we read that in just one conversation Peter spoke both from the Father and from Satan (Matthew 16:16-18; 22-23).

There is only one condition that Jesus gives and it is recorded at the end of verse twelve, “… for My name’s sake.” The qualification is that we are about His mission and not our own; that we are serving His interests and not our own; that we are walking in close intimacy with Him subject to His will to glorify His name and not our own.

For the Lord’s Sake

“We do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of your great mercies” Daniel 9:18

Daniel was apparently one of the godliest men of his time and yet as we read through this prayer he repeatedly confesses Israel’s sin and includes himself as one of the offenders. What was it that motivated Daniel to pray at this time and in such a way? The second verse in the chapter has the answer. He had been reviewing God’s prophecy that came through Jeremiah. He understood that he should take it literally. As a result he understood the times in which he lived. Unless we understand biblical prophecy we will not understand the times in which we live and this will restrict our ability to pray in the will of God.

This is very important. God has been pleased to reveal some key future events and if we take His word literally He will give us understanding of the times in which we live. In understanding the times we will be motivated to pray in accordance with the will of God just as Daniel had done.

Daniel didn’t know the exact day or hour or even the process by which Jeremiah’s prophecy would be fulfilled but he did know that God would be faithful to His word. The very test of a prophet is that the word he speaks comes true (Deuteronomy 18:15-22; Jeremiah 28:9) and that principle has not changed. God has revealed some things concerning our times and understanding of them will follow our believing them. Then, like Daniel, we will pray according to the times in which we live in the will of God.

Just as it was in the case of Israel, God’s response will not be in accordance with our faithfulness or righteousness but in accordance with His word and His faithfulness to His word; “for the lord’s sake” (vv 17, 19). Indeed, Daniel’s prayer reminds us that Israel did not deserve any favour but he stood alone before God bearing the sin of the nation as his own as he pleaded for mercy. His prayer was based solely on God’s faithfulness and not at all on the actions of the people of Israel (v 18).

Daniel was just one man before God yet God heard and answered his prayer. We may think that we are just one person so what difference can we make? Be encouraged as you carefully meditate on this prayer of Daniel. One person praying in the will of God makes all the difference. God’s response was not only to do what He had said through Jeremiah but also revealed through Daniel one of the most important pieces of prophecy in the Bible (vv 24-27). How much poorer would our understanding of the book of Revelation be without these few verses?

The Wisdom of Believing

“It (Babylon) shall be inhabited no more forever, nor shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation” Jeremiah 50:39

Many of the prophecies in the Old Testament have an immediate fulfillment and a long term fulfillment. Jeremiah has recorded what the Lord revealed to him concerning Babylon’s destruction in this and the next chapter. After he made a copy he sent it to Babylon with Seraiah (51:59-64) commanding him to read it out after the events recorded took place. Israel would then know that the Lord would fulfill the other parts where He specifically promised to bring Israel back to the land He had given them. “I will bring back Israel to his home” says the Lord (50:19). This statement is made in various ways frequently in Jeremiah and other prophets.

The Lord was specific as to which nation would destroy Babylon. Twice the Medes are mentioned as the destroyers (51:11, 28) and history bears this out.

When the Lord gives a short term fulfillment it is to affirm to His people that He will also fulfill the long term aspects of the prophecy. In earlier chapters of Jeremiah’s prophecy he warned Israel that in order to live they would have to defect to Nebuchadnezzar. Those who defected lived. Of the others only a few survived. The Lord told those few survivors that if they went to Egypt they would perish with the Egyptians. From their earlier experience you would expect that they would heed the words of the Lord through Jeremiah but they didn’t. They went to Egypt for protection and again the majority perished. The Lord graciously saved a few who had at last believed His word.

The destruction of the physical city of Babylonian and the empire is but the immediate fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Political, cultural, economic and spiritual Babylon still exists to this day but the New Testament has a word from the Lord on this matter. Daniel chapters two and seven also speak to this prophecy.

In Revelation chapters 17 and 18 we read Jesus’ own words concerning the ultimate fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. God’s view of the world’s system can be seen in the words written on the forehead of the woman arrayed in purple and scarlet, “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (17:5). Another angel will announce the final destruction of all that was Babylon, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen …” “… her plagues will come in one day – death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the lord God who judges her” (18:2, 8). The kings of the earth will lament its destruction (v 10) but without repentance.

Jeremiah records the reason for Babylon’s destruction this way, “I will bring judgment on the carved images of Babylon” (Jeremiah 51:47, 52). The Lord says it twice in the same context so that we may get it. The reason any nation is destroyed by the Lord is because they have created imaginary gods and rejected God’s word. The ten plagues of Egypt were judgments against the imaginary gods of Egypt. Only the Creator is God and He alone is able to answer our call and prayer. Idols only keep people from knowing the one true God. He does not want people to remain living futile lives when they could be enjoying His fellowship.

The example is there as witness to our generation. We have a choice whether to believe the word of the Lord or believe the imaginations of people. The consequences are spelled out for us in the Bible either way.