A Garden in a Graveyard (Jeremiah 12:7–17)

“I have forsaken my house;
I have abandoned my heritage;
I have given the beloved of my soul
into the hands of her enemies” (Jeremiah 12:7).

garden-3345970_1920.jpgGod made dirt and from that dirt He made man. He planted a garden (which is wild in itself—He didn’t plant a seed, or even a sapling, but a garden!), and put man in it. God blessed and all was very good. But man rebelled, the dirt was cursed, and man was driven out of paradise. Yet, a promise was given, the promise, the promise that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, bringing salvation by judgment and reversing the curse.

Soon in the Biblical narrative, not so soon historically, but soon insofar as the story unfolds, we come to Abraham. In covenant, God promises Abraham offspring, land, and that being blessed, he will be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth (Genesis 12:1–3). Throughout Abraham’s story we’re waiting for a seed because of the promised hope to come from his loins.

When God redeems Israel out of Egypt to bring her into a land flowing with milk and honey, it is in remembrance of this covenant made with Abraham and the promise of the Seed. When God promises David that his son will build a house for Him, that promise richly draws its sap and life from this extended narrative; that promise has roots in the garden and the promise of the Seed given there.

Some have summarized this story, the story of the way things should be and the way things will be, as the story of the kingdom of God. “What is the kingdom of God?” Graeme Goldsworthy answers, “The New Testament has a great deal to say about ‘the Kingdom’ but we may best understand this concept in terms of the relationship of ruler to subjects. That is, there is a king who rules, a people who are ruled, and a sphere, where this rule is recognized as taking place. Put in another way, the Kingdom of God involves: God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” 

When man rebels against God’s rule, he is driven from God’s place and forsaken so that he is no longer His people. So then, with Judah left desolate, desolate, desolate (Jeremiah 12:10–11), it seems the hope of all mankind is destroyed. How can one grow blessing out of curse? Can the seed of redemption ever take root in the soil of our sin its thorns? Only the Farmer who made His own dirt, who can plant gardens, could possibly grow a garden out of such a dessert. And to do so, you would think He would begin by making old things new.

Following Judah’s desolation, though an initial word of destruction is spoken concerning the nations, it soon gives way to consolation.

“And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land. And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, ‘As the LORD lives,’ even as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people” (Jeremiah 12:15–16).

Implicit in this is that Judah herself is walking in faithfulness to Yahweh. The hope of the nations is blessing in Israel. But how has Israel been restored, such that she can teach others the way of her Lord? The answer is later spoken of in Jeremiah as the new or eternal covenant.

“Now therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence’: Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul” (Jeremiah 32:36–41).

God’s people again are in God’s place under God’s rule and the nations are being grafted into this blessed garden.

We know how we go from blessing to curse, from the garden to the wilderness, but how is it that we move from a particular curse on Israel to global blessing? By what means and upon what grounds is Israel made new? The answer is found in Jeremiah’s calling. God told His prophet, “See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). 

How would Jeremiah accomplish such a thing? Simply by speaking the Word of God Almighty. Immediately following this statement we read, “And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see an almond branch.’ Then the LORD said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it’ ” (Jeremiah 1:11–12). I won’t take the time to tease out how the almond branch relates to the explanation save to say that the word for “almond” sounds like the word for “watching.”

As Yahweh watches over His Word, nations will be plucked up and planted. Kingdoms will be broken down, and built. Yahweh watched over His word to give His people a new heart by way of a new covenant. This ultimate Word of redemption is the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Can God grow blessing in the soil of the curse? That is precisely what He did when by the Spirit the Seed was planted in the virgin’s womb. But for that Seed to germinate with new life, for hope to come to the nations, the Father must first crush and bury the Seed. Jesus, the temple of God on earth, was forsaken. Jesus, the Son and heir, was abandoned. Jesus, the beloved of His Father, was given into the hands of His enemies. The ground shook. The sky grew dark. All seemed desolate as He was laid in the grave.

But He arose, defeating sin, death, and the serpent. Cursed in death, He rose to bless. He is the firstfruits of new creation. He is making all things new, beginning by turning the hearts of His people to Him, making them new.

Know this, the planting will exceed the plucking. Grace will build greater than sin broke down. This is why we sing:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.

Not only will blessing flow far as the curse is found, the blessing will bloom far brighter than the curse dulled. The salvation of “Israel” swells to engraft the nations and the promise of land swells to the world.

Only the Farmer of the cosmos could grow such a garden in a graveyard. And He did so by planting His Son’s body dead in the grave, and from that Seed, new creation is blooming. The colors of redemption will outshine the curses dulling gray.

When Trees Feel Like Wheat (Jeremiah 11:18–12:6)

“The LORD made it known to me and I knew;
then you showed me their deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.
I did not know it was against me
they devised schemes, saying,
‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
that his name be remembered no more.’
But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously,
who tests the heart and the mind,
let me see your vengeance upon them,
for to you have I committed my cause.” —Jeremiah 11:18–20

field-1971873_1280.jpgDavid said that the righteous man, who delights in the law and meditates on it day and night, is like a tree plated by streams of water. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away (Psalm 1:2–4). Sometimes though, trees feel like chaff and the chaff appears as solid as a redwood (Jeremiah 12:1–2).

The saints, this side of the curse, lament the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked, but it is easy for their lament to give way to doubt and despair. Such despair is rooted in ignorance and unbelief.

We’re ignorant. We forget that we’re not home yet. We’re exiles and enemies surround us. We’re on their turf. Many are not wise to the world because they’re worldly-wise. We remain ignorant because we’ve enrolled in their school. The church has opted into the program. Nice and naive—that’s how they raise us. We’re still led like sheep to the slaughter, but with a dumb look on our face. We’re children taking suckers from the strangers of this world when our Father has taught us better. Then we accuse our Father when those suckers are poisonous. We need to keep the innocence and lose the ignorance.

We don’t believe. Our Father has spoken but we’re all Romans 14 and no imprecatory psalms. We disbelieve one portion of God’s Word by pitting it against another. There are times to shake off the dust from our shoes as well as times to bless those who curse us. Let the reader understand. When Paul exhorted us to “repay no one evil for evil” and to “never avenge yourself” it was with the truth that vengeance is God’s. This is exactly what Jeremiah prays for here. David was able to extend mercy to his enemies because he trusted God would avenge.

Do not be ignorant of the wicked. Believe in the righteousness of God. Then you’ll see that it’s not that the ship of the church is sinking, but that the ocean is in such turbulence because it is being drained. In the midst of the tempest, faith knows that the ship remains solid, while it is the world that is fading away. We’ve got the wrong reference point. The wicked only appear to be rooted, because they are rooted in this world that is fading away. When our eyes are on the Son, we’ll see that it’s not that we’re being blown away, but that this present world is, and the wicked along with it.

Pour Out because Poured In

overflowing-glass-3-1259014.jpg“Prayer is nothing but the turning of a man’s inside outward before the Lord. The very soul of prayer lies in the pouring out of a man’s soul into the bosom of God. Prayer is nothing but the breathing that out before the Lord that was first breathed into us by the Spirit of the Lord. Prayer is nothing but a choice, a free, a sweet, and familiar intercourse of the soul with God. Certainly, it is a great work of the Spirit to help the saints to pray: Gal. 4:6, ‘Because you are sons. God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.’ God hath no still-born children.” —Thomas Brooks, The Privy Key of Heaven

The Perils of Cut and Paste (Jeremiah 11:1–17)

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. You shall say to them, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.’ Then I answered, ‘So be it, LORD'” (Jeremiah 11:1–5)

Covenant theologians of various stripes alike agree that there is both continuity and discontinuity as we move from the Old Covenant to the New. It’s my contention that whereas my presbyterian friends get too crazy with the glue, we reformed baptists play a bit wild with the scissors at times. Even so, I believe credobaptist covenant theologians are more mature with their scissors than their paedobaptist counterparts are with the glue.

book-2172213_1920.jpg

These are important matters but they pale in significance compared to a far more deadly hermeneutic of continuity and discontinuity—one of personal convenience. If you only see the stream flowing where you’re thirsty, and always damned up where you desire no flooding, I’m afraid you’ve drifted from the truth. If you only see continuity where it benefits you, and discontinuity where it could harm you, beware, because you’re probably off on both counts.

If you read a text like Jeremiah 11:1–17 and think, “Phew! I’m glad I’m not under the Old Covenant.” because this would be bad news for your idols, then you’re not grateful, but an ingrate. We should indeed be ecstatic that we live on the fulfilled side of the promises, but not that kind of happy. If you think that because you’ve heard the gospel, you need not hear the law, then I’m afraid you’ve heard neither the Old nor the New Covenant. If your concept of liberty involves liberty to sin, you’re not free. You’re still in bondage.

If you think the dark warnings and curses of the Old Testament have no application to you simply because the Son has risen, I’d advise you to listen to the New Testament and then take another listen to the Old.

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard…” (Hebrews 2:1–3, emphasis mine).

“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, “They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.” As I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” ’ Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:1–6, emphasis mine).

A Drink from Brooks: The Strength of Withering

sunflowers-1367700-1599x1070.jpg

“David was like a withered flower that had lost all its sap, life, and vigour, when God had wrapped up himself in a cloud. The life of some creatures lieth in the light and warmth of the sun, and so doth the life of the saints lie in the fight and warmth of God’s countenance. And as in an eclipse of the sun there is a drooping in the whole frame of nature, so when God hides his face, gracious souls cannot but droop and languish, and bow down themselves before him. Many insensible creatures, some by opening and shutting, as marigolds and tulips, others by bowing and inclining the head, as the solsequy [sunflower] and mallow-flowers are so sensible of the presence and absence of the sun, that there seems to be such a sympathy between the sun and them that if the sun be gone or clouded, they wrap up themselves, or hang down their heads, as being unwilling to be seen by any eye but his that fills them; and just thus it was with David when God had his his face in a cloud.” —Thomas Brooks, An Ark for all God’s Noahs

Does He Hear? (Jeremiah 10:17–25)

ear-1419024-1599x1066.jpg

I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself,
that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Correct me, O LORD, but in justice;
not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.
Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not,
and on the peoples that call not on your name,
for they have devoured Jacob;
they have devoured him and consumed him,
and have laid waste his habitation.
—Jeremiah 10:23–25

The section of Jeremiah running from 8:4–10:25 concludes with a humble petition from Jeremiah wherein he pleads that the Lord have mercy in judgment by judgement. He doesn’t plead to be exempt from correction, but that the correction be according to covenant justice, and not in His anger. He asks that God’s wrath not be aimed at Israel, but at the nations who do not know God.

So it is that this section ends with questions but no answers. Does Yahweh hear this cry? The answer to each petition is found to be emphasized by two following sections in Jeremiah.

Concerning Jeremiah’s plea for correction, unmixed with anger, we go to the section running from chapters 30–33 known as “The Book of Consolation.” Of course, we could look at those famous passages therein concerning the new covenant as the answer to Jeremiah’s petitions, and they are, but there is an earlier portion of the Book of Consolation that is especially pertinent.

“Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the LORD, nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with you to save you, declares the LORD; I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished. For thus says the LORD: Your hurt is incurable, and your wound is grievous. There is none to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you. All your lovers have forgotten you; they care nothing for you; for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy, the punishment of a merciless foe, because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant. Why do you cry out over your hurt? Your pain is incurable. Because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant, I have done these things to you. Therefore all who devour you shall be devoured, and all your foes, every one of them, shall go into captivity; those who plunder you shall be plundered, and all who prey on you I will make a prey. For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the LORD, because they have called you an outcast: ‘It is Zion, for whom no one cares!’ ” (Jeremiah 30:10–17, emphasis mine).

Jeremiah’s petition is born out of his lament that his wound is grievous (10:19). When Jeremiah laments there, he is speaking as and for the people. In chapter 30 God promises that this wound will be healed and that He will not make and end of them but of the nations.

This passage alone is sufficient to answer both of Jeremiah’s petitions, but there is a whole section that speaks to the second petition just as there is a whole section that speaks to the first. Beginning in chapter 46 and running to the end is a section known as the “Oracle Against the Nations.” In Jeremiah 51:5 we’re given a reason for the destruction of Babylon: “For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the LORD of hosts, but the land of the Chaldeans is full of guilt against the Holy One of Israel.” Israel is not forsaken. Babylon will be judged.

But how can these things be? Jeremiah 30:10–17 was prefaced in this way:

“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.”

The answer will be made clear in the King God raises up whom they will serve. How can Judah be healed from so grievous a wound? The answer is that their King will be wounded for her.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4–6).

Jeremiah cried out “For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded” (Jeremiah 8:21). Our Lord cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jeremiah suffered with his people; Christ suffered for his people. Know that He too prays for His people, pleading all that He is, and be certain that His prayers are heard.

A Drink from Brooks: Altogether Beautiful

 

ring-1425671.jpg“If God be truly precious to thee, then all of God is precious thee; his name is precious to thee, his honour is precious to thee, his ordinances are precious to thee, his Sabbaths are precious to thee, his promises are precious to thee, his precepts are precious to thee, his threatenings are precious to thee, his rebukes are precious to thee, his people are precious to thee, and all his concernments are precious to thee. Look, as every sparkling stone that is set round about a rich diamond is precious in the eyes of the jeweller, so is every sparkling excellency in God precious in his eyes that sets an high value upon God.” —Thomas Brooks, An Ark for All God’s Noahs