Please join us in singing a hymn.
We like to share our joys and concerns. Pause for a moment, and reflect on your week. What caused you worry or concern? What made you feel joy or contentment? Now, pray over those things, both joys and concerns. If you would like, you can share some in the comments for others to pray for you as well.
The lesson below is from our adult Sunday School book. Scriptures have been linked to an online text. Just click on the scripture to read it.
The scripture for this week's lesson is Jeremiah 21:8-14.
Some of the most disheartening, even frightening, times in life are those when we come face-to-face with the negative consequences of our poor decisions. Perhaps you can remember an instance in school when you didn't turn in an assignment on time and ended up severely damaging your grade in that class. Perhaps you even acted surprised when you received the penalty, or tried to tell your teacher that it wasn't fair. In situations like this, the lessons we learn often turn out to be very valuable to us later on. And so it was -- or should have been -- with God's covenant people of the Old Testament era.
Historical Lesson Context
The prophet Jeremiah ministered from about 626 to 575 BC. That ministry was to a people -- the Judeans -- who had disobeyed the Lord on a level far beyond the mundaneness of a late term paper. As a result, serious consequences loomed. God had sent prophet after prophet to warn both kings and commoners of pending destruction. But they didn't listen. They acted as though they had God's favor no matter what; they viewed Jerusalem's temple as a good-luck charm (Jeremiah 7:4).
The northern kingdom, Israel, had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC (2 Kings 17:6). A century later, the survival of the southern kingdom of Judah was by no means assured. The Assyrians were still the dominant military and political power in the ancient Near East.
King Ashurbanipal (As-shure-bah-nee-pahl) of Assyria died in 627 BC. Although he had been a strong ruler, his death laid bare serious internal weaknesses in Assyria. Disorder and revolt erupted in every part of that empire. Nineveh, the capital city, was destroyed in 612 BC (see the book of Nahum); the last vestiges of Assyrian might were wiped out at the Battle of Carchemish (Kar-key-mish) in 605 BC (Jeremiah 46:2).
The consequences of Assyria's decline were felt in Judah. After a reign of about 30 years, King Josiah was killed in battle in 609 BC. That happened as he attempted to halt the Egyptian army from aiding the remnants of the Assyrian army (2 Kings 23:29). The Babylonians stepped into the power vacuum left by the collapse of Assyria under the Babylonian king Nabopolassar (Nab-uh-puh-las-uhr) and his son Nebuchadnezzar (reigned 626-605 BC and 605-562 BC, respectively). Babylon came to dominate much of Assyria's old territory. The last kings of Judah reigned in subservience to the Babylonians before the final exile of 586 BC (2 Kings 24-25).
Jeremiah 1:2 places the beginning of Jeremiah's ministry at around 626 BC. The book of Jeremiah preserves a prophetic ministry that took place over the course of the next several decades -- through the reigns of five Judean kings and a governor.
Context of Jeremiah 21
Jeremiah 21 is a coherent unit. The opening verses set the scene. Pashhur (Pash-uhr) and Zephaniah were sent by Judah's final king, Zedekiah, to Jeremiah. Pashhur (not the same Pashhur as in Jeremiah 20) was a dogged opponent of Jeremiah, even trying to have him executed (see Jeremiah 38:1-4). Zephaniah, a priest (and not to be confused with the prophet of the same name), was not actively hostile to Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 21:1; 29:25-29).
The two emissaries intended to enlist Jeremiah's help in order to ensure God's aid against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Jeremiah 21:1-2). King Zedekiah apparently thought that he would be aided by the Egyptians if he rebelled against the Babylonians (compare 2 Kings 18:21). The situations quickly became desperate when Jerusalem was besieged (2 Kings 25:1-2).
Zedekiah and his messengers had some confidence in God's willingness to help them, based on his past work on Judah's behalf. Since he had protected Jerusalem before (2 Kings 19:35-36), couldn't he be counted on to do so again? As Jeremiah's response shows, the request demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of Judah's standing with God.
Jeremiah's response came in three parts. First came words against King Zedekiah himself (Jeremiah 21:3-7). The prophet was blunt: Jerusalem's weapons will become a liability as the Lord himself fights against the city. Today's text opens with the second section of Jeremiah's response.
When we meet in person, we usually discuss the lesson. Take some time to read through, and think about, each question. If you are working through the lesson with someone else, discuss your thoughts with them. Feel free to share your thoughts and other questions that may arise in the comments.
In 1979, I was called to be president of a Bible college in northern California. The campus was deteriorating and located in a declining area. A noisy, multilane highway had been built just a few yards away from our buildings.
My staff and I engaged in a years-long search for a perfect property. In hopeful consensus, we convinced ourselves that we should press ahead on one in particular. However, we soon began to have nagging doubts. We eventually concluded that God was speaking to us through others who were raising critical questions. We backed out of the negotiations. A few years later, an earthquake made that property totally unusable. What folly if we had continued in perfect agreement with one another!
The bad kind of consensus-building we had engaged in has a name: groupthink. This kind of interaction results from listening only to those who agree with the group. Judah had a long history of groupthink, listening only to themselves rather than to the prophets' warnings. The result of their groupthink was the destruction of their nation. What kind of warning is there for us in all this?
Today's lesson brings us to one of the most somber moments in the history of God's dealings with his covenant people. Jerusalem was beyond the point of repentance. The people's trust in their own wisdom meant death.
Whether or not we are immunized against such a mind-set depends on whether we are willing to learn from history. And we realize that the grace of God may come to us in the mere fact that we avoided the worst possible outcome of a bad decision or a bad pattern of living. "Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God," (Romans 11:22). May we, unlike the people of Jeremiah's day, repent while there is still time.
Father, remind us daily that it's either the narrow way of life or the wide gate of destruction. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.