Untrustworthy

Thus says the LORD:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the LORD.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
And whose hope is the LORD.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit. (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

God alone is completely trustworthy. The land of Israel is dry in many places. But it has streams called wadis. During the rainy season, they fill with water, but during the summer and during droughts they dry up. But beneath the parched soil, the water is still there if you dig for it. Trees planted near such wadis will never lack for water, regardless of the changing seasons.

Because we can see people, we easily put our faith in them, despite the fact that people are flawed, inconsistent, and often fail to meet their well-intentioned obligations—like the water in a wadi. Likewise, we will fail ourselves: we will become guilty of the one thing we could never imagine ourselves being guilty of. We will lose the job that seemed so perfect. Our bodies will age, we will grow sick, and our memories will fail us. The other person in the race is actually faster than us after all.

God never tires, never gets sick, never has a short temper. The events of his day never ruin his mood or turn him grumpy.

God will always be ready for us, like the deep water; he is the one person that we can always rely on.

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Without a Prayer

And the LORD said to me: Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. For I solemnly warned your ancestors when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of an evil will. So I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.

And the LORD said to me: Conspiracy exists among the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have turned back to the iniquities of their ancestors of old, who refused to heed my words; they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant that I made with their ancestors. Therefore, thus says the LORD, assuredly I am going to bring disaster upon them that they cannot escape; though they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they make offerings, but they will never save them in the time of their trouble. For your gods have become as many as your towns, O Judah; and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars to shame you have set up, altars to make offerings to Baal.

As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble. (Jeremiah 11:6-14)

Sometimes it is simply too late. The ship has sailed. The ice cream is on the floor.

Israel’s idolatry was endemic. Every town had its own gods. Shrines to deities dotted the hillsides. They no longer knew who God was. Yahweh was simply one of many gods worshipped by the Israelites.

Their relationship with God was entirely superstitious. They thought in terms of ritual, sacrifice, incense, lucky charms and sacred objects. The god of one town was useless in the town next door. Their reach, their capabilities, were small. They were not much to be feared, but likewise, they were not much help in trouble, either: which is why they had so many. Strength in numbers.

God told Jeremiah that it was too late. There was no solution to the problem but exile. No one listened. No one even understood any longer. There was no prayer left for these people. Only judgment.

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Juno!

Orbital insertion is scheduled for the evening of July 4, 2016.

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Talking the Talk

But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to recite my statutes,
or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
You make friends with a thief when you see one,
and you keep company with adulterers.
“You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your kin;
you slander your own mother’s child.
These things you have done and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one just like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.
“Mark this, then, you who forget God,
or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me;
to those who go the right way
I will show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:16-23)

So you thought God was just one of the guys, just like you? He hadn’t commented for a long time, and so you thought he must agree with you? He already told you “do not murder.” Does he have to say it again when you kill your neighbor? Don’t you already know what he thinks? Or did you expect God to be a nag?

God’s silence should never be taken as agreement. Quoting God’s commandments is all well and good. But God doesn’t much like being quoted by those who disagree with everything he stands for. What does he have in common with gossips, adulterers and thieves? God doesn’t want to be seen in that company. It bugs him when the wicked quote him, as if his words upon their lips somehow grants them his endorsement. Those caught in a crime who talk about how much they love God are doing nothing but piling up reasons for God’s judgment.

Not only have they been guilty of wickedness, they insult God and bringing his name into disrepute, giving ammunition to the scoffers who delight in pointing out the vile deeds of the self-righteous. When Satan stands before God and accuses the saints, he doesn’t have to make stuff up.

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What the Contract Stipulates

The LORD God told me to say to the people of Judah and Jerusalem:

I, the LORD, am warning you that I will put a curse on anyone who doesn’t keep the agreement I made with Israel. So pay attention to what it says. My commands haven’t changed since I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, a nation that seemed like a blazing furnace where iron ore is melted. I told your ancestors that if they obeyed my commands, I would be their God, and they would be my people. Then I did what I had promised and gave them this wonderful land, where you now live.
“Yes, LORD,” I replied, “that’s true.” (Jeremiah 11:1-5)

People change their minds. They make promises, but then circumstances arise and they find it easy to let them alter the agreement; they explain their promises away. They had good intentions, but how were they to know what would happen?

The prophets were not innovators. They did not bring a new message from God. Instead, they preached the old, old story, repeating what God expected: that his people would love him and love each other.

Israel had agreed to that contract with God. They had promised to do whatever he said. They did not have to agree to the contract. He rescued them from Egypt before he offered it to them. Their freedom and prosperity were not on the line. It wasn’t as if they were drowning in a lake and the lifeguard made them agree to pay a fortune before he’d save them. They were out of danger. And they decided to sign on the dotted line.

God reminded his people that he had not changed. That is a comfort, or should be a comfort: what God promises, he’ll do. God will never betray us, he’ll never go back on a promise. He’ll keep his word.

God wishes that human beings—that his people–would be more like him.

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You Like Oppression?

“Among my people are wicked men
who lie in wait like men who snare birds
and like those who set traps to catch men.
Like cages full of birds,
their houses are full of deceit;
they have become rich and powerful
and have grown fat and sleek.
Their evil deeds have no limit;
they do not plead the case of the fatherless to win it,
they do not defend the rights of the poor.
Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the LORD.
“Should I not avenge myself
on such a nation as this?
“A horrible and shocking thing
has happened in the land:
The prophets prophesy lies,
the priests rule by their own authority,
and my people love it this way.
But what will you do in the end? (Jeremiah 5:26-31)

Despite a professed hunger for liberty, many people seem to prefer being told what to do. Why? Perhaps because they don’t like having the responsibility—and perhaps because they know they can always say, “I was just following orders.”

Catching a bird in a snare takes effort and subterfuge. Snaring men is the same. The world works according to rules and according to those who interpret those rules. For those who knew all the rules, they found it easy to manipulate them to their advantage. So, they defended the cause of the poor, making themselves look good and upright, even as they lined their own pockets, and left only scraps for the poor. They cared only for the money and the acclaim that came from standing up for what was right, without actually having to do what was right.

God loves people and wants people to love each other. All societies, from the earliest Sumerians on, record how their rulers protected the orphans and widows. The reality was always something quite different. Those in power know what they are supposed to do. They always give lip service to it. But in Israel’s case, God held them to it: God expected their deeds to match their words. Otherwise, God promised that those who betrayed the weak would soon find themselves weak.

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Time For Some Punishment

Then I said, “O Sovereign LORD,
the people have been deceived by what you said,
for you promised peace for Jerusalem.
But the sword is held at their throats!”
The time is coming when the LORD will say
to the people of Jerusalem,
“My dear people, a burning wind is blowing in from the desert,
and it’s not a gentle breeze useful for winnowing grain.
It is a roaring blast sent by me!
Now I will pronounce your destruction!”
Our enemy rushes down on us like storm clouds!
His chariots are like whirlwinds.
His horses are swifter than eagles.
How terrible it will be, for we are doomed!
O Jerusalem, cleanse your heart
that you may be saved.
How long will you harbor
your evil thoughts?
Your destruction has been announced
from Dan and the hill country of Ephraim. (Jeremiah 4:10-15)

How could Jeremiah tell God that he had deceived his people? Was he calling God a liar? Not at all. Instead, he was pointing out that the people of Israel had only listened selectively to what God had said. They comforted themselves with God’s promises of blessing and conveniently ignored what they had to do to get them. And they forgot the promised curses that were inevitable for disobedience.

Like a cheating husband telling his betrayed wife, “but you said you would love me and honor me and always be there for me, in sickness and health” when she serves him with divorce papers, so the Israelites seemed unable to wrap their heads around how the bad things they were facing could have anything to do with how they had betrayed God. Just as God had promised peace for Jerusalem, so he had also promised its destruction: it was up to the Israelites which promise they were going to get. People tend to believe only what they want to believe.

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Promise Keeping

Hiram king of Tyre sent ambassadors to Solomon when he heard that he had been crowned king in David’s place. Hiram had loved David his whole life. Solomon responded, saying, “You know that David my father was not able to build a temple in honor of God because of the wars he had to fight on all sides, until God finally put them down. But now God has provided peace all around—no one against us, nothing at odds with us.

“Now here is what I want to do: Build a temple in honor of God, my God, following the promise that God gave to David my father, namely, ‘Your son whom I will provide to succeed you as king, he will build a house in my honor.’ And here is how you can help: Give orders for cedars to be cut from the Lebanon forest; my loggers will work alongside yours and I’ll pay your men whatever wage you set. We both know that there is no one like you Sidonians for cutting timber.”

When Hiram got Solomon’s message, he was delighted, exclaiming, “Blessed be God for giving David such a wise son to rule this flourishing people!” (1 Kings 5:1-7)

Solomon wrote that “a friend loves at all times.” (Proverbs 17:17) David loved God, and despite all his faults, his loyalty to God was absolute. He wanted to serve God with everything he had. He was completed devoted to him. One day, after he had built his palace, he felt bad that the place for worshiping God was merely a tent. He decided that he needed to do something to change that. God told him that he appreciated the thought, but it was really not necessary. More than that, God explained that although a permanent Temple was a good thing to want, it was not something that God would let him do. Instead, the task of building a Temple would be left to his son Solomon, who would reign in his place.

David let Solomon know what he desired for God. And David made plans, gathering materials and even purchasing the land for the Temple. But David wound up having to trust his son to do what he had set in his heart on. It was not an ill placed trust. Solomon fulfilled the promise he made to his father and built the Temple. And he got David’s friend Hiram, the king of Tyre, who had loved him his whole life, to help.

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Confess!

‘Only acknowledge your iniquity,
That you have transgressed against the LORD your God
And have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree,
And you have not obeyed My voice,’ declares the LORD.
‘Return, O faithless sons,’ declares the LORD;
‘For I am a master to you,
And I will take you one from a city and two from a family,
And I will bring you to Zion.’

“Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.

“It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land,” declares the LORD, “they will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again.

“At that time they will call Jerusalem ‘The Throne of the LORD,’ and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the LORD; nor will they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart.

“In those days the house of Judah will walk with the house of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers as an inheritance. (Jeremiah 3:13-18)

Confession is good for the soul. It is also the only way that repentance can happen, since you can only repent if you know what you’ve done wrong. Children learn to say “sorry” if they fear they will get in trouble. But that kind of “sorry” is only an empty word tossed like a charm to ward off pain. Only when the child can acknowledge what he or she has done, is there real confession and real repentance. A genuinely repentant heart offers up no excuses, balks at no punishment, complains about no restitution.

Someday, God says, that will happen to his people. Therefore, knowing that future, he assures them that they will, after all is said and done, come back to him and he will restore them to their land. Though much will be different then, they will not miss what used to be.

Though in the time of Jeremiah, people spoke of the ark of the covenant as if it were magic, the time would come when it would be gone for good and no one would care. Obsession about sacred objects and places is misguided. What matters are people, because people are the true sacred objects of God (John 4:21-24).

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When God Got a Divorce

The LORD said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense,” says the LORD.

Then the LORD said to me, “Backsliding Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say:

‘Return, backsliding Israel,’ says the LORD;
‘I will not cause My anger to fall on you.
For I am merciful,’ says the LORD;
‘I will not remain angry forever. (Jeremiah 3:6-12)

God sometimes gives people exactly what they want. Of course, it usually doesn’t take them long to realize that they didn’t really know what they wanted after all. Eve desperately wanted a certain fruit that for some inexplicable reason God was cruelly withholding from her. Only after she got it, were her eyes opened to just how big a mistake she had made.

God’s words to Jeremiah arrived during the reign of Josiah, one of the most righteous kings Judah ever had. He restored the temple. He got rid of the idols and high places. He worshipped Yahweh exclusively. But, quite obviously, nothing much had really changed. Josiah’s reforms were barely skin deep. With his death, his son Jehoiakim reverted to idols, idols everywhere.

Israel and Judah wanted to worship other gods. They didn’t care about Yahweh any more. So God gave them up, sent them away, left them to their own devices. But unlike human beings, who are willing to write off those who betray them, God was always willing to take her back. In fact, the “divorce” was really part of his plan, the final discipline that he knew she needed in order for true repentance to take place. God knows exactly what his people need, even if they don’t see it themselves. His discipline is always perfect, and always achieves his goal: the restoration of the relationship.

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