Sunday, May 23, 2010

Jeremiah's Story of God's Love


I originally wrote this, quite a few years ago, for a friend who had trouble knowing the depth of God's love for her. Perhaps you are like my friend, uncertain about the faithfulness of God's love for you. Maybe you have a secret fear that if you do something wrong, God withdraws his love. I hope that the following will reassure you that God's love for you never fails and is beyond what any of us can comprehend.

We see the Old Testament as a place full of God's wrath and fail to see how much of a love letter it is to us as a people but also to us as individuals. Yes, it was written to Jacob's descendants but we have been grafted into that tree and so it is written to us as well. I encourage you to look at the verses I refer to. I will not necessarily be quoting. Sometimes it's a quote and sometimes it's a paraphrase or simply a description of what's said.

God starts out talking to Jeremiah but what he says of Jeremiah is true of you as well. "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you." (1:5) This matches Psalm 139. You are no accident. God knew you then. Some translations use the word "chose". You were chosen, my friend; chosen to do the work for God that he has especially fitted you to do. No one else can do it. Only you.

God lists two sins of the people. They forsook him, the Spring of Living Water, and instead dug their own wells. (2:13) The wells we dig are the places we go instead of going to God to have our needs met, our thirst quenched. So his people sinned. Despite the fact that he had planted them like a choice vine (2:21), they said, "But I love the foreign gods and I MUST go after them. I need them!" (2:25b) I've done that. I can sure identify with those thoughts.

So God punished his people. (2:30) The sad thing is that despite the punishment, they refused to listen. (also 2:30.) The thing is, if God did not love his people, he would have kept them in that punishment. He would have wiped his hands clean and said, "Enough! I'm done with these people!" and that would have been that! God didn't have to take us back when we sinned (notice that I bounce back and forth between Israel and Judah of the Old Testament and us now—to me it's all the same thing). We left him to prostitute ourselves with other lovers, those people and things which we use to take the place of God. (3:1) Judah committed adultery against God and when she came back she didn't come back with all her heart. (3:6-11) Did God reject her in disgust? No!

He begs her to return to him. He promises that if she does, he will frown no more, he is merciful, he still considers himself her husband, he will give the people shepherds after his own heart. (3:12-18) This is the act of a lover, not a hater. God mourns that though he wants to treat his people as sons, giving them the most beautiful inheritance, they reject him. (3:19) He begs them again to return to him (3:22) and again (4:1).

And then disaster comes. It looks like God hates them and yet he is willing to save the entire city if only one honest person can be found. (5:1) Yes, he punishes but he also protects his beloved in the midst of the punishment (5:10b), he refuses to completely destroy her (5:18), he still considers her beautiful and delicate (6:2), he shows her where she can find rest for her soul (6:16), he invites her to reform and he will let the people stay in Judah (7:3, 5-7), he calls again and again (7:13) and he even listens attentively to them, hoping they would turn (8:6). These are the actions of a lover who, though scorned, continues to love.

He mourns that they have provoked him to do what he must. He is crushed! He mourns that there is no healing for his people. (8:19b-22) Why? Because he loves them. We don't mourn the loss of what we don't love. Yes, it is true that God curses those who don't keep his covenant (11:3) but he continues, even in the midst of his declarations of anger and retribution, to give them all he has promised IF only they will turn to him. (11:4b-5) It's still not too late.

Despite saying he'll bring disaster she cannot escape (11:11), he calls her "My Beloved!" (11:15) He calls her "The one I love!" (12:7) He loves her so much that after he has uprooted her and sent her away, kind of like the Tough Love that some encourage, he promises to have compassion and bring them back. (12:15) His eyes overflow with tears night and day over the grievous wound and crushing blow dealt his people. (14:17) There is no reason to explain this except his incredible love for his bride!

Yes, he will throw his people out of their land (16:13) but he promises to restore them back to their land. (16:14-15) This is not a permanent punishment. A child sent to her room because she has misbehaved may think that her parents never want to see her again but this is not so. A friend of mine has had her husband forcibly removed from their home because of his drunkenness. She loves him and misses him and longs for him to get his act together so that they can be together again. He, being on the painful side of this form of love, thinks he's been rejected by his wife. Not so. And so it is with God. He loves us so much that he disciplines us for our good (Hebrews 12:5, 6) so that he can resume a loving relationship with us.

God shows the curse (17:5,6) but he also shows the blessing (17:7-8). He had previously said there were no righteous in Judah and yet he still offers the blessing. The blessing is for those who turn from wrong and once again trust God. He is offering these blessings to prostitute Judah if she turns from her lovers. Why? Because he is still enamoured and in love with her. And with you and me. God can and does change his mind. He may announce the destruction of a nation, but if it repents, then he will relent (18:7,8). Ninevah is another example of this. Yes, he was planning destruction to Judah but he still preferred that she repent. (18:11)

And then Nebuchadnezzar attacks. (21:2) Yes, God is going to be fighting against the very people he loves (21:5) but he continues to offer life! Those who surrender to Nebuchadnezzar will live, even though the city will be destroyed. (21:5) This is not the picture of a raging, angry, unloving God, but the God who loves passionately and wants to spare his loved one from the consequences of her choices.

He offers to save the palace if the king will start to do justice (22:1-5). He loves his people so much that he will bring them back to be fruitful and multiply; he promises to give shepherds who will tend them so they won't be afraid or missing; he promises Jesus, a Righteous Branch, a king who will reign wisely and do justice; he promises safety in their own land. (23:3-8)

The crown prince, the officials, craftsmen and artisans are taken in exile to Babylon. (24:1) And what does God do? He promises to watch over the exiles for their good! He will bring them back to their land; he will build them up, not tear them down, he will plant them, not uproot them; he will give them a heart to know him and they will return to him. (24:4-7) He also promised that the exile would last only so long—70 years—and then he would punish Judah's enemy for how it treated her. (25:12)

Over and over again, he pleads with the people to obey him, to follow him. He promises that there will be no disaster if they do. (26:13) He begs the people to obey Nebuchadnezzar so they will live (27:12-13). Why would he want them to live except that he loves them so very, very much?

There is a passage in Jeremiah that most people know but they forget the context. See, that's the whole point about Jeremiah (and other prophets too). We can see the depth of God's love for us because he is not a fair-weather lover. He doesn't just love us when everything is fine. He loves us in the midst of our rebellion, disobedience, adultery and prostitution. The exiles are in Babylon, the place of their captivity, the home of their enemy (chapter 29) and it is in this context that God promises to return them to their home at the end of 70 years (29:10) and that he has plans to prosper them and not to harm them, he has plans to give them hope and a future. (29:11) It is in the midst of their most shameful place, the visible sign of their unfaithfulness to God, that he gives them one of his most wonderful promises, a promise we believers today cling to with hope. He has plans to prosper them, to give them hope and a future. Imagine! And then (not before, mind you, but after) they will call upon him and come to him and he will listen (29:12). His plans to bring them good were not formulated after they came to him in repentance. His plans were made while they were still in sin. In the midst of their unfaithfulness to God, he made plans to prosper them. In the midst of your unfaithfulness to God, he is making plans to prosper you, my friend. You will find him when you seek him, this incredible Lover of you, with all your heart. (29:13,14) Isn't it amazing?

He promises again to restore his people to their land (30:1-3). He promises to break the yoke off their necks and the bonds off their legs and arms. He promises that they will serve Jesus (David their king who is already long dead). (30:8-9) He encourages us with all the love he can muster, "Don't be afraid! Don't be dismayed! I will surely save you out of the place of exile. You will have security and no fear. I am with you. I will not completely destroy you. (30:10-11) I will restore you to health. I will heal your wounds (v.17), I will restore your fortunes! (30:18) You will sing songs of thanksgiving and rejoicing. I will increase your numbers and bring you honour. (30:19) Your community will be established before God (29:20), your leader and ruler will be one of you, not a foreigner (like Nebuchadnezzar). I will bring your ruler close to me. (29:21) You will be my people and I will be your God. (30:22) God is saying these things to his unrepentant people, my friends. Talk about love!

The survivors will find favour. God will come and give rest. (31:2) He says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have drawn you with loving kindness." (31:3) In the midst of their rebellion, unrepentance and exile, God is drawing the people to him, wooing them out of the deep love and passion he has for them. You know, it is THIS God who loved the world so much he gave his one and only Son so that we could live instead of perish. His love didn't start in the New Testament. His love began the day he began to consider making humans even though, being God and knowing all things, he knew how rebellious and unfaithful we would be.

He promises to build up again, the people he has destroyed. They will be so full of joy they will take up their tambourines and dance! (31:4) They will plant vineyards and enjoy the wine (31:5) and so much more. I stopped here because chapter 31 is so full of God's love. You can read it for yourself and see the love God has for his disobedient, rebellious, adulterous bride. It's an awesome story!

I ended here because there is so MUCH of God's love in chapter 31 and also because I spent nearly 3 hours writing and needed a break. I can assure you that God's love didn't end at that chapter!

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