I’m at the point in my Chronological Bible where everything is falling apart. After years of warnings, Israel and Judah are sent into exile for their idolatry.For me, this is the longest part of the year’s readings. Isaiah and Jeremiah and the minor prophets have lots to say, and while there is always the promise of future restoration of the remnant, we all know before that happens, it’s going to get bad, really, really bad. It’s hard to read all the destruction and desolation.
But, God is so good, and there is so much to learn from these ancient words!
In Jeremiah 36, God commands Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch, to write out all the words He has given the prophet. I don’t know how long it took, but the first verse of the chapter says God made this command, ‘in the fourth year of Jehoiakim’.
Then, when Baruch goes to the temple to read the words, it is the ‘ninth month of the fifth year of Jehoiakim’. So, it seems to have been at least nine months, but might have been much, much longer. After all, Jeremiah is not a short book!
What happened when the scroll was read? Perhaps Jeremiah was hoping it would be like when King Josiah was read the law of God and tore his clothes, calling the people to repentance (II Kings 22).
Instead, King Jehoiakim stops the reading every few inches, cuts them off the scroll, and very deliberately, burns them up. He hears every single word, but not one penetrates his heart. Instead, each word is mockingly cut up and turned to ash.
Both Jeremiah and Baruch were faithful to do everything that the Lord commanded. They were obedient, risking imprisonment, starvation, discomfort and death threats. Jeremiah, especially, endured one humiliation and hardship after another. Not for turning away from God, but for fulfilling His commands.And, after it was all over, what happened? God told Baruch and Jeremiah to rewrite what had been burned. Remember, they had already spent months completing this project. There was no shortcut, just a lot more hard work, made all the more discouraging because they had already done it once.
Have you ever felt that you have done everything the Lord was commanding, and yet, bit by bit, inch by inch, it is being cut off and burned to ash? You have been obedient, sacrificing and suffering, all for the sake of God’s call on your life. You have poured months, maybe years, into a spouse, a child, a job, a ministry, and even though you have done your best, it feels like all that is left is a pile of ash.And, you are left, exhausted and bewildered, and instead of restoring everything, you hear God telling you to start again.
When we go through hard times caused by our sin, we can kind of understand and even accept it. But, what happens when the pain is a result of our obedience? I can cope with bad stuff as a result of bad actions. But, bad stuff following good actions? It’s just not fair. At all.It’s not fair, and there’s no way to gloss it over and ‘spiritualize’ it into something nice. We talk about taking up our crosses, but chose not to dwell on the reality of a cross as an instrument of torture and death.
I know this isn’t super uplifting, but I believe it is of God. A trite pep-talk does not resonate with us when we are thrown into a mud-filled cistern (Jeremiah 38). Instead, we need to hear the truth.Jeremiah and Baruch suffered and yet were faithful. Because of their faithfulness, thousands of years later we still have the Word of God as He revealed it through them.
Because of the faithfulness of believers throughout the generations, we have a heritage, a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ to the glory of God.
Because of the faithfulness of the Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ, we have the assurance that this short, and often painful life, does have purpose and meaning. For today, and for eternity.
I know that some of you are experiencing persecution and trials that seem impossible. Perhaps you are groaning, up to your armpits in mud. You are questioning if what you are doing is worth it. You may even be wondering if you’ve misunderstood God’s call, because surely He couldn’t have meant this.I pray you will be encouraged. Encouraged that, like our Savior, your pain and suffering are not in vain. I pray that the Holy Spirit will fill you with His presence right now, in whatever you are going through. That even while things make no sense, you will experience His peace. God was with Jeremiah, and He is with you, too.
No matter what is done to you, to your life, to your body, I pray you will cling to the promise that nothing will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And, I pray that you will look forward to the day you hear our Lord say, Well done, good and faithful servant. Until that day, even as your scroll is burned up, be strong and courageous, be encouraged.