11 August 2011


Most people haven't realized that Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible. Mostly we think it is Psalms, because there are 150 of them. One of the difficult realities for the modern reader is that we hear how long Jeremiah is, and it simply adds to our dread of actually having to read it. Let's be honest about it, this is a difficult book by a prophet who was forced to deliver an unpopular and difficult message. He was in the minority and was thus persecuted for the things he said, because he had to speak to God's people in a difficult time of unbelief and disobedience.

There are moments in Jeremiah where the light breaks in and we can see that God still delivers a promise filled with hope of a coming restoration for his people and his creation. "While Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard . . ." a promise of restoration was given to him - light shining into the darkness, a spiritual gift for the prophet and the kingdom (Jeremiah 33).

The passage recognizes the failure of God's people, but still beckons them to return to him. "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know" (33:3). Death and destruction are still to come into the experience of this people, for the times are dark and the situation is dire. "Nevertheless . . ." says YHWH, God of Israel, ". . . I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before . . ."

I can't imagine Jeremiah being excited to be held in captivity, nor do I think it is appropriate to envision him with a hyper-spirituality which leaves him without a dark cloud for his present reality. But the hope of renewal and restoration which comes from God himself - the Creator of the heavens and earth - holds the power to cut through the despair and shine a bright light into the present darkness.

As I reflect on my own thirty-three I see that the powerful message of Jeremiah still rings through. Brueggemann referred to the phenomenon as "texts that linger, words that explode." This explodes into my reality today. For there is a constant bombardment of hopelessness, despair and loss that continues to pour into my life. There is no shortage of discouragement and heartache. And I remain in the place of my life where perhaps it feels as though I too am still confined in the courtyard of the guard.

But this is not how the one who created us and loves us most speaks to us. He never tells us it's not worth it, or that it doesn't matter anyway. He never has spoken into my heart to tell me I'd be better off quitting, giving up, or dead. The enemy speaks to us that way, while YHWH, God of Israel, issues a cosmic-shaking "Nevertheless! . . ."

What he told Jeremiah he whispers into my heart on this day of thirty-three, "You say about this place, 'It is a desolate waste, without people or animals.' Yet in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of YHWH, saying, 'Give thanks to YHWH Almighty, for YHWH is good; his love endures forever.' For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before" (33:10-11).

There follows for Jeremiah a messianic promise - the fulfillment of the promise of restoration that is to come. I live on the opposite side of the messianic reality and experience so much of the faith he only envisaged. But the need to discover the fulfillment of genuine hope and live-giving love is for us both. The enemy and the world seek to define us by the courtyards in which we are presently confined, working desperately to keep us from the freedom-giving words of the promise of hope and restoration.

Thirty-three. What once sounded a bit old now is quite young. Life never seems to go the you imagined it . . . forget about planning it. But somewhere for all of us the common story comes around and we discover we are a part of it just the same. And today mine is the words of Jeremiah . . . and the promise of God.

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