Future peace and joy (September 28, 2014)

Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: Jeremiah 33:1-11 

Many Christians find the Old Testament difficult to understand and appreciate partly because of passages like the lesson for today. On one hand, God through Jeremiah says, “The Chaldeans are coming in to fight and to fill [the houses of Judah] with the dead bodies of those whom I shall strike down in my anger and my wrath….” On the other hand, again through Jeremiah, God says, “I am going to bring [Jerusalem and her citizens] recovery and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.” Many Christians are uncomfortable putting their faith in a God who instigates killing out of anger and wrath. It is easier when God promises healing, prosperity and security. God seems to have two very different identities. But that is precisely the God on whose behalf Jeremiah prophesied while he was imprisoned in Jerusalem.

The Babylonians were poised to strike Judah and its inhabitants with a devastating blow that would result in exile for many of them. Before his imprisonment, Jeremiah had demonstrated his prophetic message that the land of Judah would be restored by buying a field in Anathoth. Now, with the Babylonians literally at the gates of Jerusalem, Jeremiah repeats his prophecy of imminent defeat and destruction, but at the same time he sees a future restoration of the fortunes of Judah.

Jeremiah 33:1-3 — God reveals an unknown future 

Jeremiah receives a second word from Jahweh while he is in prison. (For the first revelation, see Jeremiah 32:6.) God, the creator of the earth, extends to him an amazing invitation. First, God promises to answer Jeremiah’s call for help. The God who created the earth out of chaos now stands ready to respond to Judah’s need in a chaotic time. Second, God promises to reveal “great and hidden things.” What those hidden things are is not stated until verse six.

Jeremiah 33:4-5 — God punishes Judah 

These verses appear to be an editorial insertion interrupting a smooth connection between the end of verse three and the beginning of verse six. They provide a theological explanation for the destruction of Jerusalem. The devastation brought about by the invading Babylonians, designated here by the synonymous term Chaldeans, included the destruction of houses occupied by upper class Judeans. The houses had to be torn down to make barricades and to strengthen the walls of the city besieged by the invaders. Although the Chaldeans are the invaders, verse four says that God, speaking in the first person, is the one who will strike down the defenders of Jerusalem “in my anger and my wrath.” The Chaldeans are actually the instruments of God’s judgment. The reason for God’s judgment is clear: “I have hidden my face from this city because of their wickedness.”

Jeremiah 33:6-8 — God will forgive Judah 

In this sudden shift from destruction to restoration, Jeremiah describes God’s future actions in a series of powerful verbs: God will heal, restore, rebuild, cleanse and forgive. Although the exact meaning of key Hebrew words and constructions in this section is difficult, the central thrust is clear. Healing and restoration include God’s acts of cleansing and forgiving. God promises peace (shalom) and security, exactly the things an exiled people long to experience. But these future promises assume that the exiled people must receive cleansing and forgiveness. God will do what a sinful people cannot due for themselves.

Jeremiah 33:9-11 — Jerusalem restored 

Here the focus of Jeremiah’s oracle shifts from the restoration of the covenant people to the status of Jerusalem and God’s reputation among the nations. The nations will respond with fear and trembling when they realize that God has restored the city and its inhabitants. The land that had been left desolate and uninhabited will once again be filled with sounds of joy and laughter. Jeremiah quotes the words of Psalm 136:1 as a doxological conclusion to his prophecy, “Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, and his steadfast love endures forever.” Jerusalem will once again worship God in peace and security.

For discussion 

  • A theological perspective found in the book of Deuteronomy and some parts of Jeremiah describes obedience as a requirement for enjoying God’s covenant blessings. In this perspective, sin and disobedience caused Judah’s exile. How do you feel about this explanation of the exile? Is it theologically appropriate for Christians to interpret misfortune as God’s punishment for sins?
  • Many Christians consider the establishment of the modern state of Israel to be a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecies. Do you agree or disagree?