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Fourth Quarter 2015 October–December)
COMMENTARY ON JEREMIAH
Week 1: September 26–October 2
COMMENTARY ON THE PROPHETIC CALLING OF JEREMIAH
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Day One, Sabbath Afternoon, Sept. 26: Introduction
God is speaking to Jeremiah in the memory text for today:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5)
There are at least six things we can know and learn from in this verse:
Tuesday's lesson focuses specifically on 'the calling of Jeremiah'. For now we will address an important issue related to his birth. In light of Jer. 1:4-5 do you consider Jeremiah to have been fully human before he was born? Or do you believe, in accordance with Adventist theology, that Jeremiah along with the rest of us was not really a living person created in the image of God until he had 'breathed air' at birth?
Consider how the words of King David may have a bearing on what your belief is:
The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. (Psalm 58:3)
How could the wicked be declared wicked at birth if they were not fully living human beings before birth, where they have not yet done on their own anything good or bad? Verses such as the one just quoted teach us that we sinners are guilty as sinners without having carried out sinful acts. In-other-words we have a sin nature that can only sin.
As the inspired biblical saying goes, Matt. 7:15-20 (as it addresses the specific sin of making false prophecies), "you will know them by their fruit" because the sins we do simply reveal our nature to do those sins, the nature we have inherited from Adam.
In the very first and only command given to Adam, the penalty (payment) for disobedience (sin) is death, (the giving up of life on the very day Adam sinned), Gen. 2:15-17. The life of the sinner is the only possible payment for sin. However, God promises and provides for a substitute who takes the place of the sinner, Gen. 3:15.
Moving ahead on this topic, according to Lev. 17:11 life is in the blood and that is why atonement for sin must be made by the shedding of blood. Of course, a study of the Old Testament sacrifices shows that only the blood of a perfect (sinless) lamb could make this atonement for another person. At Calvary, our Savior without any sin of his own shed his blood for the sins of the world. It wasn't about giving up the air he breathed.
God consecrated and appointed Jeremiah while he was still being formed in the womb. How can you possibly think God didn't consider him already fully human at least from the moment of conception? After all God created man in his own image and it is God who formed Jeremiah in the womb.
Return to today's memory verse and consider the purely hypothetical possibility that Jeremiah could have been deliberately aborted before birth by his mother. If that could have happened, wouldn't that act have been murder? Contrast that possibility to the fact that many Adventist hospitals routinely perform abortions founded and justified upon the belief that you are not really a human being because you have not yet breathed air into your lungs instead of remembering that the life of the child is in the blood of the child.
Day Two, Sunday, Sept. 27: The Prophets
The lesson asserts that the prophets were protectors of God's law by quoting Rom. 7:7:
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Rom. 7:7)
Since the lesson begins with this reference found in Romans chapter seven this is where we will focus our commentary for today. The epistle of Romans is Paul's doctrinal thesis of the New Covenant Christian faith. Keep in mind that what we are looking at today is preceded by six earlier chapters that gives a clear foundation for understanding this chapter.
Romans 1:7 reveals to us this epistle was addressed to the saints (Christians) living in Rome. In Romans 7:1 Paul makes a direct appeal to those who know "the law" which would have been the Jewish Christians living in Rome. Paul addresses the question of whether or not the Old Covenant Mosaic Law is binding upon Christians, Jew or Gentile. Paul does this via what he calls "the law of marriage".
Paul is speaking to the "brothers" which would be fellows Christian saints but makes it clear he is speaking in particular to 'Jewish Christian brothers' who know the law, meaning the Old Covenant law, Rom. 7:1, who have the understanding that this law is only binding upon a person as long as that person lives. The Mosaic law, or any other law for that matter, is binding upon a person only because of a covenant (contract) made between two parties which in this case was the covenant God made with the Hebrew people at Mount Sinai, Exodus 24.
In the "the law of marriage" example Paul illustrates that the law found within the covenant made between a man and a woman ends when one party to that covenant dies, Rom. 7:1-3. When a husband dies, then the woman is free to join in a new covenant with a new husband. Since the laws of the Old Covenant are now no longer valid the question arises as to what was the purpose of these laws which are now obsolete. Paul states that they are holy and good in that they showed what sin is. But, what we now have is a different and better law in the New Covenant, Rom. 7:7-12 & 8:1.
For Christians this is our New Covenant "law of marriage":
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (Rom. 7:4)
Instead of promoting or protecting the Old Covenant law 'written on stone' as something eternal even Jeremiah speaks of it being replaced by something that really does have the quality of being 'the eternal law of God':
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34)
Day Three, Monday, Sept. 28: Jeremiah's Family Background
This quote from the pin of Ellen G. White sets the theme for today's lesson:
"A member of the Levitical priesthood, Jeremiah had been trained from childhood for holy service. In those happy years of preparation he little realized that he had been ordained from birth to be "a prophet unto the nations;" and when the divine call came, he was overwhelmed with a sense of his unworthiness. 'Ah, Lord God!' he exclaimed, 'behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.' Jeremiah 1:5, 6."—Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p407.
What we know from Scripture is that Jeremiah was of the tribe of Levi and that his father was a priest. Scripture doesn't say that he also was a priest or that he was even trained to be one. Since we know nothing of what his childhood was like it is only an assumption that his childhood was "happy years of preparation" when in contrast the social, political and religious life of the Jews at that time was anything but happy.
Jeremiah makes reference to his young age without otherwise voicing his "unworthiness". Since Scripture isn't clear on when a Jewish boy is considered an adult we only have Jewish tradition to believe he may have been less than eighteen to twenty or so years old when God was first speaking to him. Jeremiah is simply surprised that God was speaking directly to him at such a young age. Jeremiah could have been very young as we do have the example of when God set apart Samuel for his ordained purposes, 1 Samuel chapter three. Jeremiah must have known about Samuel so we can safely conclude he was simply surprised that God was speaking directly to him at a time when there was so much evil going on, in and around Jerusalem.
Day Four, Tuesday, Sept. 29: The Prophetic Calling of Jeremiah
Jeremiah was empowered by God who declared to him:
But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. (Jer. 1:7)
Since Jeremiah was a prophet of God who recorded the very word of God this is an appropriate time to investigate just what is inspiration since the Adventist view of inspiration differs significantly from that of orthodox Christianity.
The Adventist view of inspiration is known as "thought inspiration" which is illustrated by these quotes:
The Bible points to God as its author; yet it was written by human hands; and in the varied style of its different books it presents the characteristics of the several writers. The truths revealed are all "given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16); yet they are expressed in the words of men. The Infinite One by His Holy Spirit has shed light into the minds and hearts of His servants. He has given dreams and visions, symbols and figures; and those to whom the truth was thus revealed have themselves embodied the thought in human language. (Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, Introduction, page 5)
The Bible is written by inspired men, but it is not God’s mode of thought and expression. It is that of humanity. God, as a writer, is not represented. Men will often say such an expression is not like God. But God has not put Himself in words, in logic, in rhetoric, on trial in the Bible. The writers of the Bible were God’s penmen, not His pen. Look at the different writers. It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man’s words or his expressions but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. But the words receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God. (Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, Book 1, Page 21)
The orthodox view is that the very words spoken by and recorded in the original writings of God's prophets were guided by 'the hand of God'. At the very beginning of the book of Jeremiah God says this to Jeremiah:
Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jer. 1:9-10)
God put his words, not just his thoughts, into the mouth of Jeremiah. In-other-words, God guided Jeremiah to say and record exactly what God wanted the people to know. That includes us when we study the book of Jeremiah or any other part of Scripture. Our all knowing and powerful holy Creator God knows how to perfectly communicate with sinful imperfect mankind and God does so.
This is 'word inspiration' and the reason that as your understanding of the words of Scripture increases, through the leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit, your personal intimate understanding of God increases.
Instead the present day Adventist definition of biblical inspiration has the attempted effect of lowering absolute biblical truth to the level of the flawed writings of Ellen G. White.
Day Five, Wednesday, Sept. 30: Reluctant Prophets
Along with Jeremiah, the lesson refers to Isaiah and Moses (Jer. 1:6, Isa. 6:5 & Ex. 4:10-15) and then says this:
"None of those men, for whatever reasons, felt up to the task. Perhaps that was a crucial prerequisite for the job of a prophet: a sense of one’s own unworthiness and inability for such a crucial and important task. A spokesman for the Creator? No wonder they all shrank from the task, at least at first."
This lesson quote is a sloppy interpretation of the biblical text that needs to be clarified. Jeremiah reacts in surprise and questions the LORD concerning his young age. God responded by placing his very words into the mouth of Jeremiah, somewhat as happened to Isaiah. God gave his assurance in response to Jeremiah's legitimate concern. The resulting words to come out of his mouth and recorded by Jeremiah were the very words chosen by God. There is no record that Jeremiah ever wavered in his prophetic mission.
Moses though really is an example of a reluctant prophet. He made so many objections the LORD finally became angry with him, Ex. 4:14. Moses finally went forward 'fighting and kicking' with what the LORD promised and ordained. Ultimately Moses believed the LORD and knew it was the power of God instead of any ability of his own that would cause mighty works to happen.
Isaiah's concern has nothing to do with his willingness to be God's prophet or simply obey God. What he knew and expressed in alarm is that he could not stand before our holy God and live:
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isa. 6:6-7)
The beauty of this passage is that it is one of the many prophecies in the book of Isaiah concerning the ministry of the coming promised Messiah, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Only through the coming death of Jesus at Calvary could Isaiah stand before a holy God and live. This was Isaiah's concern which had no bearing on his willingness to obey God and be God's prophet.
Day Six, Thursday, Oct. 1: The Almond Branch
Overall the lesson for today is a good one with no real doctrinal issues except for what does the word 'assurance' really mean.
While focusing on the meaning of 'the almond branch', God declares to Jeremiah that while terrible things are about to happen to Judah and the city of Jerusalem because of the apostasy of the nation there is hope. While the meaning of the 'almond branch' is much debated by theologians it seems intended to be a comfort to both Jeremiah and for those who repent of their sins, especially for those who are about to suffer, be killed or carried off into captivity and slavery.
Since the lesson asks us find to find assurance by reading Matt. 28:20 we will examine assurance from the Christian point of view.
The first verse to consider is part of what Jesus said to 'the returning 72 evangelist':
"...Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)
If these evangelist could know that their names were written in heaven so can you.
Now consider what the Philippian Jailer was told:
Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:30-31)
The Apostle Paul's personal testimony:
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Tim. 1:8-12)
Our salvation, the work of atonement completed at Calvary, is totally and solely a work of our Savior Jesus Christ. The assurance given is that our own performance is unrelated to having assurance of eternal life.
As for assurance, know that those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ have nothing to fear. Nothing can separate you from the love of your Savior. Jesus gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit which is the seal of your salvation will never depart from you, see also Eph. 1:13, 2 Cor. 1:22, Rom. 8:1-11 & John 14:16. The Adventist belief that in the 'End Times' true Christians must stand alone without the Holy Spirit is a lie.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Rom. 8:31-36)
Day Seven, Friday, Oct. 2: Further Study
This week's introduction to the life of Jeremiah and the prophetic book of Jeremiah leaves us with the understanding that the people did not repent of their sins and that as a result the terrible calamities prophesied against them did come to past.
God does what he does because of his love for us, especially his chosen people the Hebrew Nation who he would bring back to their Promised Land and through whom he would bring salvation to all the world. Contrary to what was stated in the lesson quote God never abandoned the "downfall of the house of David" as it is through the line of David that we find the genealogy of our Savior Jesus Christ.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16-21)
Note that our works, if there is any good to be found in them, must be 'in God' making them really God's works he does within us.
In our age we live in a time of rampant apostasy not unlike the time of Jeremiah as prophesied in the following New Testament passage:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
If we were ever to be without God's love and his redemption that frees us from all that is evil then there would be and could be no future for any of us. All of Scripture including the book of Jeremiah testifies that God will not always tolerate evil yet, at the same time, we also know that he will never abandon those whose sins have been covered by the blood Jesus shed at Calvary. What Jesus did at Calvary defeated our one and only true enemy, the author of sin and death.
Therefore for those who love God death no longer has a sting:
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:54-57)
For more reading on the subject of human life, death, and spirit, read this excellent article by Christ Lee in a past issue of Proclamation!