October 7, 2007 – Jeremiah 42 – Do not make the Journey to EgyptSo many times in the story of Scripture, from the first words of Genesis (In the beginning when God created the heavens and earth . . .) to the last words of Revelation (Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.) we are urged to move out of our comfort zones, to put Christ into action, to take steps into wide and dark abysses, to take leaps of faith, to commit acts of hope, to bring union with enemies through love. Today’s reading is one of those quiet times when we hear the Lord our God tell us that it is time to remain planted, to listen, to persevere through the trouble, to be still, to be calm . . . for the Lord our God is with us.
The book of Jeremiah is one of my favorites as some of you may know, and I think it is time for me to sit with a Jeremiah commentary and study these words along with the beautiful words in so many of these chapters to understand the full implication of them in my life. Because so many times I have been ready to pack my bags for Egypt where I will see no more of war, hear the trumpet alarm no longer, nor hunger for bread. It makes so much sense to pull up stakes and begin again anew elsewhere when relationships or covenants have gone terribly, and seemingly irreparably, amiss. So many times I have believed that it is time for me to move out of or away from a place or a person . . . when these words rise to me from the pages of a Bible, or they come to me on the voice of a friend, or they hum in my head with a knowing that I must remain . . . I believe that a great deal of who I am and what I do identifies me as remnant. If you remain quietly in this land I will build you up, and not tear you down; I will plant you, not uproot you; for I regret the evil I have done you.
Jeremiah was a prophet who suffered greatly and deeply. From 628 to 520 B.C.E. he spoke chiefly to the people of Judah and her capital Jerusalem. These were turbulent times. The superpowers of the day, Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia, were carving up the Middle East; and small states like Judah were in constant danger. The old Israel Kingdom had been divided in 930 B.C.E. and its northern portions had already been invaded, her people were disappearing into exile. The people of the southern kingdom of Judah constantly asked Jeremiah’s opinion, he spoke, and then they disagreed with him. At turns, they ignored him, persecuted him, they even imprisoned him. Yet Jeremiah spoke when the people asked and when God called. This story may seem pointless and depressingly familiar; but through all of the abuse this prophet receives, he remains faithful to his own covenant with his creator. He has been asked to speak, and so he does; and he consistently delivers a message which always reminds us of three things: God unfailingly calls us to repentance, we will suffer consequences and God’s judgment for breaking our covenant promises, and restoration is ours if we respond to God’s call. So what does this mean for us today? Are we a remnant and faithful people?
Then listen to the word of the Lord, remnant of Judah.
We will know when we are closest to God when our hearts are broken. We will know that God is near when we hear the call to make reparation. When we most feel like abandoning a place or a relationship, we will know that restoration is at hand. When we repent our own broken vows, when we remain planted and bloom where we are planted, when we move forward into true union and intimacy with God, when we ask nothing more than to do God’s will, then we may join with others in the remnant nation as they sing:
Shout with joy for Jacob, exult at the head of the nations; proclaim your praise and say: The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child, they shall return as an immense throng. They departed in tears, and I will console them and guide them . . . the virgins will make merry and dance, and young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will console and gladden them after their sorrows . . . Cease your tears of mourning, wipe the tears from your eyes, The sorrow you have sown shall have its reward, says the Lord, . . . there is hope for your future . . . Set up road markers, put up guideposts; turn your attention to the highway, the road by which you went. Turn back, O Virgin Israel, turn back to these your cities. How long will you continue to stray o rebellious daughter? The Lord has created a new thing upon the earth: the woman must encompass the man with devotion . . . The days are coming when I will make a new covenant . . . I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31)
There is nothing more worth doing, for we are a remnant people.