I encourage you to read the scriptures and message for today’s lesson at https://firstunitedpresworship.weebly.com/july-5-2020.html
What Jeremiah complains to God about the wicked in Jeremiah 12:2, “Your name is on their lips, but you are far from their hearts” is repeated by Jesus in Matthew 15:8, “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Jeremiah went all in with his devotion to God while others around him held back. Jesus also demonstrated a life lived fully for God, while the people of his day faltered.
Melissa Spoelstra asks a worthwhile question: “Have you ever compared yourself with others around you and thought God was unjust?”[i] Consider a situation which frustrated you (past or present), because it seemed unfair.
Read Jeremiah 12:1-13.
What was God’s response to Jeremiah? What images did God use to convey it? How would you summarize God’s message?
How might God respond to your frustration? (Try to apply God’s answer to Jeremiah to your own situation.)
What does God suggest for Judah’s future in this passage? What does God want you to keep in mind for your own future? What is God saying to our world today?
Read these passages in Jeremiah and put in your own words God’s message regarding justice:
Why did God allow Judah to suffer hardship? What is God’s justice in this reality?
Read Hebrews 12:5-12.
How does this relate to God’s treatment of Judah in Jeremiah’s day?
Spoelstra states, “God didn’t leave them to wonder why they were headed for judgement. In Jeremiah 17:5 we find God clearly communicating His answer to the question Why? The judgements of God against the people of Judah – which consisted of war, poverty, hunger, exile, and utter defeat – where the result of their own sin.”[ii]
Check the following passages from Jeremiah:
Here are the tough questions.
Spoelstra notes, “If they wanted to blame someone, they needed to hold up a mirror.”[iv] I saw that played out recently on a variety show. The cast were each given an opportunity to stand together or betray a teammate by receiving a ball with someone else’s name to receive a penalty. When the betrayers opened their balls to reveal who would receive the penalty, instead of a name there was a mirror. It makes you think!
People have choices. If you think about it, that is one way of reviewing the Bible. It’s a history of the choices some humans have made. When Moses was giving his final words of advice to those about to enter the Promised Land, he talked about choices. Read Deuteronomy 30:11-20.
How does Jeremiah 12:8-9 echo Deuteronomy 30?
How do you understand this choice and its consequences in our own day? If God sent a Moses or a Jeremiah to speak to us in our current situation, what might God want them to tell us?
As we sort through the circumstances in our own lives, Spoelstra suggests, “Take a moment to list the difficult things in your life right now in the following categories:
But now comes the tough part, to circle those things that are the result of choices you made. These are the ones to bring to God in prayer and work with God to change.
It is hard enough for us to take an honest look at our own choices and sin. I think for those in the US it is even harder sometimes to make an honest assessment of our national choices and behavior. Jeremiah talks about the pride of the nations surrounding Judah and the consequences God let them suffer after Judah’s own punishment has ended. Look at the following passages in Jeremiah:
It’s easier for us to look at other nations and see their faults. Russia, China, and others we criticize often. It’s much harder to look at ourselves. That was also true for Judah. But long before God pronounced judgements against the surrounding nations, God used them to bring Judah to contrition. In Jeremiah 5:12-13 God said quite plainly, “’They have lied about the Lord and said, ‘He won’t bother us! No disasters will come upon us. There will be no war or famine. God’s prophets are all windbags who don’t really speak for him. Let their predictions of disaster fall on themselves!’” Even those who should have been trustworthy to speak for God only said what the people wanted to hear.
How does that still happen in our nation today? Who are the spokespeople who just give the people what they want to hear? Who gives us what certain factions want us to hear? Who are the Jeremiahs giving us the painful truth of what God wants us to hear? How do we respond as a people?
One of God’s complaints against Judah was empty worship just paying God lip service.
Which of the following have become empty religious routines for you, for a majority of your church, for a majority of our nation in your opinion?
Part of where we go wrong is that we tell ourselves lies and come to believe them. We do this individually and corporately. Read Jeremiah 4:31-5:3
These were harsh truths the people did not want to hear, but what about us? In Spoelstra’s study she has a chart of lies we tell ourselves, the lie that also says about God, and scripture’s response.
Consider the following:
When you consider what our lies to ourselves also say about God, it’s an eyeopener to me.
The ultimate point of confronting the Blame Game is to take responsibility for our own mistakes rather than blaming others, circumstances, or God. Think about the difference that can make in families, businesses, communities, churches, or governments. It’s worth learning to do this for ourselves and to model this for others. Let’s quit the blame game!
[i] P. 2818
[ii] P. 2946
[iii] P. 2966-7
[iv] P. 2972
[v] P. 2977-2984
[vi] P. 3021
[vii] P. 3097
[viii] Based on Spoelstra’s question p. 3268
[ix] P. 3361
You will get the best sense of the key points of this study if you listen to or read the message from June 28 on the worship page first. In terms of Jeremiah readings, chapter 17 is a primary text.
Spoelstra’s contention in this section is that God cares deeply about the condition of our spiritual inner life referred to often in scripture as our “heart.”
Read the following verses from Jeremiah, then note what God is suggesting about our heart conditions:
How would you complete the following statements set up by Melissa Spoelstra based on the scriptures you just read?
Now “Think about your own heart. If God were to write two specific ‘be careful’ statements for your heart, what might they be?
Spoelstra shared a very long list of heart conditions based on verses of scripture. I am putting several here to give you a good but random sampling.
As you read each verse and decide what that condition is, decide whether that is an unhealthy and undesirable condition or a healthy, desirable heart condition. Then do some self-reflection and decide which of these are a strength for you and which you need to take to God for repentance and healing that you may have a renewed heart.
Read Jeremiah 3:13.
What two things does God say we need to do with our sin in order to change our hearts?
Confession does not come easily. We have a hard time admitting our sinful attitudes or behaviors to ourselves or to confess them to God. It is even harder to confess and apologize to someone you have hurt, but it is necessary for both of you to move on and heal, either to reconcile or go your separate ways.
Spoelstra asks these pertinent questions:
Read James 5:16.
Though it may seem easier to keep your confession to yourself, just between you and God, what does this suggest? Why do you think this might be important? How could this relate to prayers of confession in a worship setting?
Read Jeremiah 3:25.
Why would it be important to confess old sins including those of our ancestors? Why is it important to confess not only individual sins, but also corporate sins as a community or society?
Many people choose not to deal with their own sin or the sins of society, past or present. We justify things, make excuses, and play the blame game. Spoelstra suggests, “Blame is an epidemic in our culture.”[iv]
“Recall a time who you played the ‘blame game.’ Why were you unwilling or reluctant to take responsibility for your actions? How might things have been different if you had been willing to ‘own it’?”[v]
In Jeremiah’s day, the people made choices that took them away from God’s will. God is heart-broken and reaches the point that enough is enough. Read Jeremiah 4:3-22 and notice the wrongs of the people from God’s perspective. Also note six references to the word heart.
What do you learn about the concerns of Jeremiah’s day from these heart references? How would you apply these concerns and issues to our own day?
Jeremiah 6 begins with a last warning but says it is already too late. Read Jeremiah 6:10-11a. This is the point Jeremiah has reached as a disheartened prophet.
“What are some of your current disappointments, frustrations, or problems?”[vi]
Go on to read Jeremiah 6:22-26.
What was God warning the people of Judah? What warnings do you think God would give us today?
What instruction did God give in Jeremiah 6:26?
Read Jeremiah 6:27-30.
Why was God putting them through “fiery trials?” What trials has God put you through? What was the result? What trials is God putting society through right now? What do you think will happen?
Spoelstra gives additional Bible passages about going through these trials.
What do you learn from each of these?
Read Proverbs 4:23. Just as we must guard our physical health, so we must protect our spiritual health.
Consider the many things that can influence you. Which of these are positive for you? Which are negative? Can some be either or both? Add other influences in your life. I used the ones mentioned by Spoelstra and added a few more.
How do you determine which are healthy and which are unhealthy for you?
How do you limit the negative influences?
This is important because, as Spoelstra puts it, “What goes into, or influences, our hearts, directly affects what comes out of our hearts.”[vii] As the old saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.”
Spoelstra suggests “One of the best ways to guard our hearts is to guard our minds, because heart attitudes are largely determined by our thoughts.”[viii]
Read the following:
What do each of these tell us about guarding our minds and hence our hearts?
Read Jeremiah 9:3-9.
In what ways is the evil proceeding from Judah’s heart evidenced in their evil behavior?
In your own life, which of the following might be a concern regarding your thoughts?
Read Jeremiah 24.
“What type of fruit did God show Jeremiah in this vision? What did the good fruit represent? What did the rotten fruit represent?”[ix]
Spoelstra suggests the problem with King Zedekiah was that unlike verse 7, he was half-hearted in his faithfulness to God, whereas God seeks those who are whole-hearted in their faith commitment.
She goes on to apply this to the Church in the United States.
[i] P. 2120
[ii] P. 2130
[iii] P. 2327
[iv] P. 2370
[v] P. 2378
[vi] P. 2463
[vii] P. 2585
[viii] P. 2586
[ix] P. 2642
The starting place for listening to God is to listen to God’s Word in scripture. Read the following passages in Jeremiah and note the concerns you encounter looking for ongoing themes.
Review Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the Shema. Use biblegateway.com or another Bible website or phone app to read it in various translations, but note how the message remains. The Hebrew word shama means to listen attentively.
There are multiple ways to listen to God. “What is God saying to you through
Spoelstra suggests bringing the following questions to our study of scripture:
Read Jeremiah 18:1-12.
Here are some notes from Spoelstra’s study that relate to this passage:
Pottery is fired in a hot kiln to become more useful.
Let’s look at another image for God’s character according to Jeremiah (also used in psalms).
Note: the Hebrew word here is Adonai (Lord) Sabaoth or Tzav’ot (Commander of heaven’s armies). This is where Martin Luther got his name for God in the hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, used in the second verse “Lord Sabaoth his name.” Spoelstra writes, “The Name Lord Sabaoth is used to remind us of who our God really is: the powerful Commander in Chief with all of the angels at His disposal. Our problems are not too big for Him. He is holy, sovereign, and able to do with He says He will do.”[ix] It reminds me of the saying these days, “Don't tell God how big your problems are. Tell your problems how big God is.” (anonymous)
To take our problems confidently to God, we want to be in a very close relationship with God. Read Jeremiah 13:1-11. If you didn’t listen to the sermon before doing this study, you might want to check a few translations; it varies a bit. Spoelstra used NLT (New Living Translation).
Spoelstra asks which describes your relationship with God best:
Perhaps you’ve caught on that Jeremiah uses a lot of imagery, like a poet, to help us understand the message. This is how God taught Jeremiah. It is similar perhaps to how Jesus used parables. Look at an image of how we might consume scripture as you read Jeremiah 23:16-32. (see vs. 28 especially)
Spoelstra writes, “Straw: sometimes comforting but holds no real spiritual nutritional value. Grain: consistently speaks truth that feeds your soul (whether Christian or secular – all truth is God’s truth)
I think the most important questions to ask ourselves, one demanding intentionality in our lifestyle is this:
Read Jeremiah 8:7-9.
Melissa Spoelstra, Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable Word. kindle edition
[i] P. 1487 & 1500
[ii] P. 1520
[iii] P. 1563
[iv] p. 1930
[v] P. 1595
[vi] P. 1599
[vii] P. 1604
[viii] P. 1612
[ix] P. 1631
[x] P. 1679
[xi] P. 1812
[xii] P. 1893
Idolatry is an issue throughout the Bible not just in Jeremiah, but it is one of the major concerns to which God responded by allowing Babylon to overtake Judah, the Southern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom of Israel have already fallen to Assyria a couple hundred years earlier for similar reasons.
While some of the kings of Judah led reforms and proper worship of God, most did not.
God was well aware that his children would be susceptible to the temptations of worshipping the idols of foreign gods. He commanded against this right from the start. Read Exodus 20:4-6. Then look at Exodus 23:33.
King Josiah from a young age ordered the clean up of the Temple, which led to finding missing Torah scrolls. As these were read, he instituted several reforms to bring people back in line with God’s commandments which the people had forgotten. Read Jeremiah 2:1-9. One Old Testament image for their relationship with God was husband and wife, not just as individuals but as a nation of God’s people. Now read Jeremiah 2:32 for a contrast regarding their forgetfulness.
Read Jeremiah 2:10-13. A spring of living water is contrasted with a cracked cistern that can’t even hold the collected rainwater. What if people repeatedly went to the cistern instead of a stream or spring fed pool? Wouldn’t the fresh water be better? Spoelstra uses this to talk about fake or counterfeit substitutes for God.
Read Jeremiah 11:1-13.
We also refer to marriage as a covenant. When I officiate a wedding, I see it as a covenant not only between bride and groom but also between them and God. This ties the image of our relationship with God back to the idea of covenant as well. Sadly, many marriage covenants are broken (mine included) as is our covenant with God. One of the life lessons I remember from one of my religion professors is that married couples need to continue “courting” each other. I think he meant not to slip into complacency in a married relationship. God continues to woo us, but we sometimes become lukewarm in our pursuit of God or we make no effort at all.
Questions to ponder on your own:
The people of Judah were practicing idolatry in their worship in various ways. Read Jeremiah 13:27; 19:4-5; 19:13; 32:34.
Read Jeremiah 7:5-34. Spoelstra lays out a chart for this section.
Just as the most even-tempered parent will reach a point when enough is enough, so does God. When we have strayed and frustrated God to that point, even God’s patience will give way to anger.
Read these passages: Jeremiah 8:19; 11:17; 15:14; 17:4; 23:19-20; 25:6; 32:32; 44:3. Notice in each the words related to anger and what the people did that led to such anger.[vi]
Read Jeremiah 6:13-14 and 8:10-11.
[i][i][i] Melissa Spoelstra, Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World, p. 808 (page #s are actually Kindle location #s)
[ii] P. 868
[iii] From Counterfeit Gods, quoted by Spoelstra, p. 952
[iv] P. 1073
[vi] P. 1108
[vii] P. 1207
Based on Melissa Spoelstra's Jeremiah: Daring to Hope in an Unstable World, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2014.
About the book:
About the prophet:
Related to the sermon:
Francis Schaeffer asked in the “post-Christian” world we entered in the 1960s, “What, then should be our message in such a world – to the world, to the church, and to ourselves?” This relates to his quote, “The book of Jeremiah and the book of Lamentations show how God looks at a culture which new Him and deliberately turned away.” (quoted by Spoelstra on p. 173)
Questions to Consider:
Spoelstra talks about popularity issues with the example of finding the right lunch table back in Junior High or High School. She says, “We are still trying to find the right ‘lunch table’ at every stage of life?” But she points out that “God is not as concerned about our popularity as He is with our faithfulness to His message.” (p. 271) We know that Jeremiah was unpopular because of the message God gave him to speak and Jeremiah’s boldness in speaking it anyway.
Questions to Consider:
Review the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12.
Questions to Consider:
Read Jeremiah 1.
Questions to Consider:
Read Jeremiah 20.
Questions to Consider:
With Babylon invading Judah, carrying off it’s citizens, destroying the Temple, the people were confused by Jeremiah’s message to surrender. Spoelstra contrasts this with God asking Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land to conquer, but now the shoe is on the other foot. Judah is conquered and told to surrender. She notes another example of contrast from the New Testament to help us understand that God’s direction may be different from one time to another or one person to another. “Just as God called John the Baptist to fast and Jesus to feast, He sometimes has us follow different directions for his purposes. We need to stay close to Him so that we can hear.” (p. 323)
Read Jeremiah 38 for one example of how Jeremiah was treated for his faithfulness to speak God’s unpopular message.
Questions to Consider:
Read Jeremiah 15:10-21. Spoelstra writes that “Jeremiah didn’t try to sugarcoat his pain…He held nothing back.” (p. 605)
Questions to Consider: