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Fourth Quarter 2015 October–December)
COMMENTARY ON JEREMIAH
Week 2: October 3–9
COMMENTARY ON THE CRISIS (WITHIN AND WITHOUT)
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).
Addressing the foundation
Before examining this week’s lesson, I want to address the introduction to this quarterly. The writer, Dr. Tokic, is a New Testament scholar at Andrews University.
Read what he writes in the introduction to Jeremiah here: http://absg.adventist.org/2015/4Q/SE/PDFs/EAQ415_00.pdf
This introduction serves as the foundation for the entire quarter’s analyses of the book of Jeremiah. In this, the author builds a case that the Lord God personally identified with human frailty and weakness, limiting Himself from utter sovereign authority in order to contain His interactions with men inside the limits of a great controversy.
Such a conclusion is nonsense and without basis in Scripture, yet the author refers to Hebrew to build his case and confusingly argues for God’s limitations for the sake of free will from the book of Deuteronomy.
I asked Dr. Gary Inrig to please help me understand the proper use of the Hebrew idiom and to explain this man’s argument. Here is Gary’s response:
The problem doesn’t lie with the Hebrew idiom, but the strange implication that he draws from Deuteronomy 5:29. The basic sense of the expression is “if only”, or “would that” to express a wish—often a desire—contrary to the present situation (see for example Deut. 28:67). The point of Deuteronomy 5:29 is clear and poignant. The nation of Israel has begged Moses to mediate with the Lord for them, so they do not again have a terrifying experience, as the one at Sinai had been (Deut. 5:22ff), fearing that if they did repeat the scenario at Sinai, they would die. Instead, they tell Moses to go and listen to the Lord for them, to then repeat the words to them, “and we will hear and do it” (v. 27). That is the immediate reference to “They are right in all that they have spoken” (v. 28).
The problem, though, is that they have no lasting capacity to keep that promise of obedience, sincere though their words were. In the context of Deuteronomy 5, the Lord is addressing that lack of self-awareness with a wish statement: “If only they had such a mind (the Hebrew word is “heart”) as this always to fear Me” (NIV —“oh that their hearts were inclined to fear me”). “Oh that” is a perfectly valid rendering. The central point of this is that Israel’s basic problem was a heart problem, and therefore a “will” problem.
The striking thing is that a major concern of Deuteronomy is with the heart, and Moses will call the Israelites to “circumcise their hearts and do not be stiff-necked any longer” (Deut. 10:16—note the preceding call in 10:12, 13). But the Lord promises that He Himself will one day perform this spiritual circumcision (Deut. 30:6).
The problem of the “uncircumcised heart” reappears in Jeremiah 9:25, 26. Ultimately the answer for the uncircumcised, hard heart is found in the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31, although the Jeremiah promise describes God’s circumcision of Israel’s heart in a different way. Instead of using the metaphor of a circumcision, He says He will give them a new heart and write His law on their hearts.
Back to Tokics. The fact is, there is no connection either lexically or contextually between mi-yittan and his excursus on free will. The Lord does speak in a striking way, expressing his desire that Israel really meant what it was saying. In fact, that they may have meant their promises to obey—for the moment—but their sin-broken wills were going to turn them towards sin and rebellion.
Furthermore, the book of Jeremiah doesn’t simply talk about “the human tendency not to obey God”; rather, it depicts Israel (and indeed, all humanity) as needing God’s intervention to turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh.
The larger question of the connection between human “freedom” and divine sovereignty is an immense one, but it hardly rests on “oh that”! —Gary Inrig
Commentary on this week's lesson
This weeks’ lesson lays the groundwork of Israel’s crisis of disobedience and unfaithfulness. In fact, the application questions and the Teachers Commentary points the entire week’s lessons toward the refusal of Israel to believe and toward our need today to submit to Scripture and admit that the Ten Commandments must be our foundation of all our choices and behaviors (p. 24, Discussion Question #1).
This focus is not found in Jeremiah. Gary Inrig’s response to the quarterly’s introduction applies equally to this lesson. The book of Jeremiah details God’s judgment on apostate Israel and Judah, but it also promises that God will yet restore Israel and give her a new heart.
In fact, this new covenant promise found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 is inaugurated by Jesus’ blood shed on Calvary, and the miracle and mystery that Jeremiah did not clearly see is revealed in the epistles of the New Testament, particularly in the first eight chapters of Romans: believing gentiles are also brought into the new covenant!
Moreover, we learn in the New Testament that this new covenant is the reality for all who believe—and the law is never a requirement nor part of the package the believer needs in order to be ushered into the new covenant.
This lesson is an example if eisegesis: it assumes its own worldview where individual free will is the most valuable commodity in creation and then forces that will to explain the meaning of Scripture.
In fact, a person’s will is only a free as his nature (Gary Inrig), and human nature is born dead in sin (Romans 3:9-16; Ephesians 2:1-3). Until God finds us and awakens us to the truth of the gospel, we have no truly free will. We are unable to seek, please, or know God (Romans 3).
Scripture teaches that we are born dead and condemned (John 3:18). We are not simply born with “propensities” to evil. We are born unable to function outside the domain of evil unless God reaches into our darkness and opens our eyes to the gospel.
Peter says it this way:
And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:17-25).
Jeremiah is not primarily pointing out a negative free will that has stubbornly chosen disobedience. Rather, he is establishing that Israel cannot keep their promises to God, and God Himself will deal with their rebellion. He will judge them, scatter them, and ultimately restore them and make them new with living hearts soft toward Him.