Monday

07 March 2016

“For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their ancestors and they shall take possession of it.” (v. 3)

Psalm: Psalm 51


Background

Our theme this week arises from a group of poems which are difficult to date. The prophet Jeremiah may have written them early in his ministry (perhaps around 620 BC) when he is considering the events of a century beforehand. In 721 King Ahaz of Judah had paid the Assyrians to help them repel the armies of Israel and Syria, while also struggling against incursions from Edom and Philistine (2 Chronicles 28). The Assyrians had destroyed Israel and had deported 27,290 Israelites as slaves, and Judah had herself continued to be a vassal state of Assyria. Or Jeremiah may well have written the poems 40 years later in his ministry, after Judah's own fall in 586 to the Babylonians, when the Babylonians swept through the Assyrian Empire (2 Kings 25:1-21) - in which case Jeremiah added the words "and Judah" (vv. 3-4) to his earlier poem. We don't know for sure, because the whole book spent many years being edited and put into the order we have it today.

Whether written early or late, Jeremiah's 'Scroll of Comfort' (Jeremiah 30-31) was compiled to give hope for the restoration of the whole people of God. The pain of invasion and exile is described in extreme terms (verses 5-7) - pain so impossibly great it is as if you were trying to imagine men going through childbirth! Yet those taken into exile from both Israel and Judah will return (verses 3, 10) - as a new Jacob (verses 7, 10) with a new David (verse 9) on the throne. Their enemies' empires will come to an end (verse 11a).

However, this is not (yet) a tale of 'they all lived happily ever after' (verse 11b). Why? Because justice demands that God punishes the people of Israel and Judah for their failure to be faithful to God: which Jeremiah presents as the reason God allowed both kingdoms to be conquered in the first place. They had relied on human alliances, rather than on God. From that pain - the consequences of their own sin - they should never expect to be cured. And it's no use crying about it. Today's psalm (Psalm 51) expresses their grief admirably.

(Those who prefer a happier ending should read verse 17, where, having described what justice should demand in verse 15, God actually presents hope).


To Ponder

  • Jeremiah presents Assyria and Babylon as being used by God to punish God's people (verse 15). Some Christians argue that adverse events in the world today are God's punishment for the way the world (including the Church) is acting. To what extent do you agree?
  • Do you think God should protect us from the consequences of our own sinful behaviour or stupid actions? Should confessing our sin stop our suffering? Why?
  • When you feel far from God, as if in exile, what gives you hope?


Bible notes author: The Revd Neil Cockling

 

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