Jeremiah 42:1-43:13; 2 Timothy 2:1-7; Psalms 91:1-16; Proverbs 21:11-12
OT: “Then all the commanders of the armies, along with Johanan son of Kareah, Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, approached the prophet Jeremiah and said, “May our petition come before you; pray to the Lord your God on our behalf, on behalf of this entire remnant (for few of us remain out of the many, as you can see with your own eyes), that the Lord your God may tell us the way we should go and the thing we should do.” So the prophet Jeremiah said to them, “I have heard. I will now pray to the Lord your God according to your words, and I will tell you every word that the Lord answers you; I won’t withhold a word from you.” And they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we don’t act according to every word the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will obey the Lord our God to whom we are sending you so that it may go well with us. We will certainly obey the Lord our God!” …When Jeremiah had finished speaking to all the people all the words of the Lord their God — all these words the Lord their God had sent him to give them — then Azariah son of Hoshaiah, Johanan son of Kareah, and all the other arrogant men responded to Jeremiah, “You are speaking a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to stay there for a while!’ Rather, Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Chaldeans to put us to death or to deport us to Babylon!” So Johanan son of Kareah, all the commanders of the armies, and all the people failed to obey the Lord’s command to stay in the land of Judah.” (Jeremiah 42:1-6, 43:1-4 CSB)
After the fall of Jerusalem when most of the inhabitants of Judah were taken into exile, Jeremiah was given the choice to either remain in Judah or go to Babylon. Jeremiah chose to stay in Judah with the small remnant of people that the Babylonians left behind to tend to the land. Still fearful of what may happen to them, the leaders of that remnant approached Jeremiah and asked him to seek the Lord on their behalf – so that they would know what to do.
The exchange between the people and Jeremiah is interesting. First, they said to Jeremiah, “Pray to the Lord your God on our behalf,” as if to say, the Lord is your God, not ours. Jeremiah responded by saying, “I will now pray to the Lord your God according to your words.” In that response, Jeremiah was reminding them that the Lord was their God as well. Finally, the people said, “Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will obey the Lord our God.” The result of that exchange seemed promising. The people went from not having any ownership in God to agreeing that they would obey their God, no matter what He said. Unfortunately, that would not be the case.
The word that Jeremiah delivered to the people was not what they wanted to hear. The people wanted to leave the land of Judah and escape to Egypt where they thought they would be safe from the clutches of Babylon. God’s word to them was stay in Judah, and He warned that if they did escape to Egypt, they would do so to their demise. Though the people had said they would obey whatever the Lord said, they did not. They completely rejected the word of the Lord and followed their own wisdom and desires, dragging Jeremiah along with them.
NT: “You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the concerns of civilian life; he seeks to please the commanding officer. Also, if anyone competes as an athlete, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer ought to be the first to get a share of the crops. Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” (2 Timothy 2:1-7 CSB)
Following the Lord and obeying what He says is challenging at times. Timothy was experiencing that challenge. Because of the persecution of Christians in Rome… because of Paul’s arrest and imminent execution, many in the Ephesian church had left the faith to save their own hides. They had reacted like the remnant of Judah in Jeremiah’s day: remaining faithful to the Lord was too risky, so they left. Paul’s encouragement to Timothy was to be strong in the grace of the Lord and to invest the treasure of God into those faithful people who remained. God isn’t looking for large numbers. He looks for faithfulness. The Lord doesn’t need a multitude of followers to be successful. He just needs a handful of faithful people who will faithfully pour His truth into other faithful people.
In essence, Paul challenged Timothy to not get caught up in the numbers game, and to not place his security in a large congregation. Instead, he needed to place His trust in the Lord his God and Master. To be successful in the Lord’s eyes, Timothy needed to obey the Lord, follow the ways of the kingdom, and work hard by grace. He used three analogies to illustrate that. The life of a soldier is not easy. For soldiers to be effective, they must give up the comforts of civilian life in order to fully follow all the orders of their commanding officer. A life in Christ is the same way. If we get caught up in the comforts of this world, we will not be willing to obey the orders of our Master. For athletes to be able to compete in a race to win a prize, they must follow all the rules and regulations of the race. Kingdom life is the same. In order to receive the reward at the end of the race, we must live our lives according to all the ways of the kingdom. For a farmer to experience and share in a rich harvest, he must work hard and diligently to sow seeds and cultivate the crops along the way. Sharing in the rewards of Christ’s harvest is the same way. We must be diligent to sow good seed into good soil and invest our lives into the care and feeding of those we minister to along the way. If we trust and obey the Lord, we will win the war, obtain our reward, and share in the glorious feast that awaits us at the end of the harvest.
Psalms: “The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say concerning the Lord, who is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust: He himself will rescue you from the bird trap, from the destructive plague. He will cover you with his feathers; you will take refuge under his wings. His faithfulness will be a protective shield. You will not fear the terror of the night, the arrow that flies by day, the plague that stalks in darkness, or the pestilence that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, the pestilence will not reach you. You will only see it with your eyes and witness the punishment of the wicked. Because you have made the Lord — my refuge, the Most High — your dwelling place, no harm will come to you; no plague will come near your tent. For he will give his angels orders concerning you, to protect you in all your ways. They will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the young lion and the serpent. Because he has his heart set on me, I will deliver him; I will protect him because he knows my name. When he calls out to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble. I will rescue him and give him honor. I will satisfy him with a long life and show him my salvation.” (Psalms 91:1-16 CSB)
This psalm is all about trusting and obeying the Lord. Last year, when I read this psalm, we were several months into a global pandemic. Businesses were still shut down, people were still locked down in their homes, and this psalm was plastered on yard signs all over my neighborhood as people looked to its words for comfort. Here we are, a year later, and the world is still under the grasp of the pandemic. New variants of the virus have arisen that are proving resistant to the vaccines that so many put their trust in. People are still fighting over masks, and governments are still struggling with what to do to both protect the populace and undergird the economy.
Through the world is still embroiled in turmoil, the words of this psalm still remain true. It is definitely easier to trust in things that can be seen than in the words of the Lord communicated through a thousands of years old psalm. It is definitely easier to trust in the advice and direction of experts and government leaders than in the wisdom and direction that comes from an unseen God. It is definitely easier to take your cues from the world than from the words of scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit. However, the more we trust in the solutions provided to us by the systems of this world, the less we place our trust fully in the Lord our God. In the last few verses of this psalm, the Lord Himself said, “Because he has his heart set on Me, I will deliver him; I will protect him because he knows My name.” Are we like the remnant of Judah in Jeremiah’s day, who say we will trust and obey the word of the Lord no matter what, but then reject the word of the Lord when it isn’t what we want to hear? Or are we like the faithful remnant in Ephesus who remained faithfully trusting in the Lord, following the ways of the kingdom, and diligently receiving, preaching and teaching the gospel as the Roman Empire slowly fell apart? The way to true peace and safety is trusting and obeying the word, will and ways of the Lord.
Prayer: Lord, I thank You for Your word and Your words. Your word is truth and life, and Your words contain the way to peace, joy and everlasting security in You. I know that following Your word, will and ways is not always easy – but in trusting and obeying You there is grace… and life is infinitely better than death. I desire to be numbered among Your faithful few. Grace me, Lord to will and do Your good pleasure, no matter how hard it may be. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.