Discomfort with Whose Complaining? (Jeremiah 20:1–18)

“O LORD, you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
everyone mocks me” (Jeremiah 20:7).

If one was hoping the more uncomfortable passages in Jeremiah might be left behind after chapters 18 and 19, chapter 20 proves sorely disappointing. But whereas the discomfort of chapter 19 consists in Yahweh’s ear-tingling judgment, that of chapter 20 is found in Jeremiah’s complaints. We feel as though we are in the presence of a rebellious child publicly lashing out at their venerable father.

Here we see Jeremiah at both his best and his worst. Before he complains to the Lord, he is bold for the Lord. We too easily dismiss the boldness for the complaint. Jeremiah’s complaint is the last of six that are called the “Confessions of Jeremiah.” The others are found in 11:18–20; 12:1–6; 15:10–21; 17:14–18; 18:18–23. In some of these, Jeremiah righteously laments; in others, he sinfully complains. This complaint bears the most similarity to the one found in 15:10–21, which along with 12:1–6 are the only places where we find a word of rebuke following Jeremiah’s “confession.” This lament, though no rebuke follows it, stands above, or should we say, far below the rest. Here we see Jeremiah at his lowest; in his darkest pit.

I’ve argued before that though Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet, we shouldn’t unnecessarily slander him as a weepy prophet. He’s a sinner true enough, and he doesn’t need our imaginations to make him more so. Over a ministry spanning forty years we have five recorded lament/complaints, and we, on the basis of those, might like to think Jeremiah a cry baby, and thus below us. If you look down on his lament, ask yourself if you have risen to the heights of his courage? If you have never been so high, can you really understand such lows?

My point in this is not to excuse Jeremiah in the least. His complaint makes me cringe. It is repulsive. May we never complain as he does. Lord forgive me when my prayers and the sentiments of my heart are just as blasphemous. Forgive me that I think myself superior to Jeremiah simply because I mask the same ugliness. My desire is that instead of looking down on Jeremiah, we would see our own cowardice and complaining, and then, having seen it, strive, in hope of the same grace, to be as courageous in the future without the complaint on the other side.

The Don: Dressing for the Light

dresses-53319_1280.jpg“We cannot always be excited. We can, perhaps, train ourselves to ask more and more often how the thing which we are saying or doing (or failing to do) at each moment will look when the irresistible light streams in upon it; that light which is so different from the light of this world—and yet, even now, we know just enough of it to take it into account. Women sometimes have the problem of trying to judge by artificial light how a dress will look by daylight. That is very like the problem of all of us: to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next. The good dress is the one that will face that light. For that light will last longer.” —C.S. Lewis, “The Wor’d’s Last Night

Playing with Matches in the Ammunition Dump (Jeremiah 19:1–15)

“…because they have abandoned me and made this a foreign place. They have burned incense in it to other gods that they, their fathers, and the kings of Judah have never known…” (Jeremiah 19:4 CSB, emphasis mine).

“And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem…” (Jeremiah 19:7).

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God commands his prophet to play with matches in the munitions room. We’re not talking about stocks of centerfire cartridges. Fused grenades and kegs of powder are everywhere.

Jeremiah has just declared the clay/pot prophecy. It didn’t go over well. They don’t want to hear from God. When Jeremiah keeps on talking, they plot against him (Jeremiah 18:18). Now, God commands Jeremiah to go buy a hardened clay vessel. Hmm? Then, he is to take some leaders, the selfsame leaders who want to silence him mind you, to the Potsherd Gate. Hmm? Further, this Potsherd Gate, somewhere on the south side of the city, leads out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that place of horrid idolatry where they sacrificed their children (Jeremiah 7:30–34). Hmm? Can you feel the tension?

Jeremiah takes his adversaries on a field trip for an object lesson. Normally this gets the kids excited. But the leaders are not complete dunces. Though they cannot accept the truth, they catch the insult, but without humility, such that there is no repentance and only rebellion.

All this bodes ill for God’s prophet? Has the Principal no concern for his teachers? He does send them out as sheep among wolves, but, He is the potter, and Israel is the clay. Immediately, playing with matches by the powered keg is dangerous, but disobeying God, as Israel does, is the far more dangerous thing. The hottest man has done is nuclear fission and even that is small scale to God’s cosmic nuclear fusion.

Israel has estranged the land by her harlotry (v. 4). For this reason, Yahweh will make void her plans (v. 7). This is much more serious than a ruined vacation. Israel is to be treated as the pagan nations. She has foreignized. She will be foreignized. “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10, emphasis mine).

What it means to be foreignized is spelled out in the second psalm.

“Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
‘Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.’

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
‘As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.’

I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel’ ” (Psalm 2:1–9).

The students may scorn the teacher, but the Principal holds a rod of iron.

The Don: Say Your Lines as a Servant and Die

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“The idea which here shuts out the second coming from our minds, the idea of the world slowly ripening to perfection, is a myth, not a generalization from experience. And it is a myth which distracts us from our real duties and our real interest. It is our attempt to guess the plot of a drama in which we are the characters. But how can the characters in a play guess the plot? We are not the playwright, we are not the producer, we are not even the audience. We are on the stage. To play well the scenes in which we are ‘on’ concerns us much more than to guess about the scenes that follow it.

In King Lear (III, vii) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely ‘First Servant’. All the characters around him—Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund—have fine long-term plans. They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong. The servant has no such delusions. He has no notion how the play is going to go. But he understands the present scene. He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place. He will not stand it. His sword is out and pointed at his masters breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind. That is his whole part: eight lines all told. But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted.” —C.S. Lewis, “The World’s Last Night”

We Cannot Spin, We Are Spun (Jeremiah 18:1–23)

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do” (Jeremiah 18:1–4).

Michael Horton has written, “We can talk about grace, sing about grace, preach about grace, just so long as we do not get too close to it. Election is too close.” A tributary, or rather the source of this river is this: We can talk about God’s sovereignty, sing about His sovereignty, and preach about His sovereignty, just as long as we don’t get too close. God’s sovereignty in man’s salvation or damnation is too close. 


art-4618917_1280.jpgHere we have what is perhaps Scripture’s most potent metaphor for conveying God’s absolute sovereignty over man, that of the potter and the clay. I think the reason it unnerves us so is because while it assumes power, it emphasizes authority. When we talk of God’s sovereignty I believe we’re more comfortable with the opposite. We will glory in our God being all powerful; it’s what He has the authority to do with that power that terrifies us. God has sovereign power. That is assumed. The clay is in His hands. God has sovereign authority. This is emphasized. He may do with the clay as He wishes.

Another reason why this metaphor may cause us to squirm is because it’s one of the least metaphorical metaphors we encounter in the Scriptures. It’s like that piece of fiction that’s too true for enjoyment. We’re like the Pharisees listening to Jesus’ parables. In Genesis 2:7 we are told, “the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” The word we have for “potter” in our text is a derivative of the word “formed” in Genesis 2:7. Yes, Genesis 2:7 is anthropomorphic, but this doesn’t make it untrue. We are God fashioned dirt. As Horton put, we are the marvel of “ensouled dust.” After Adam fell, God told him, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). We are dust. We are God’s dust. He may form us. He may destroy us. He has not only the power to do so. He has the authority. He is sovereign.

Job, though he recognized this truth, appears to complain of it in his pain saying, “Your hands fashioned and made me, and now you have destroyed me altogether. Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust?” (Job 10:8–9). Even those who own the truth of the metaphor can express it with misgiving in their misery.
One mental game pots play trying to avoid this blunt force trauma is to believe God is only reacting to the clay. But this flips the roles. In this case, man is spinning God instead of God spinning man. This is completely contrary to the question God puts to Israel and the way this metaphor is used throughout Scripture.

“You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’? (Isaiah 29:16)”

God not only spins the clay; He forms the clay He spins.

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor? (Isaiah 45:9–10)’ ”

Finally, the death knell of any such wishful thinking comes in Romans 9.

“So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:18–24).

The point of this potter clay imagery isn’t simply that God is sovereign over what happens to the clay. He is sovereign over what the clay is. What the clay is, what it becomes, and what becomes of it—all this is His sovereign doing.

Notice the interrogatory nature of each of these passages. This is not an invitation to debate. These are a rhetorical questions that expose your heart. Should you answer, you tell us nothing about the Potter; rather, your arrogant protest or humble submission are the result of His Word spinning out what kind of clay you are.

The Don: Waking from the Myth of Scientific Cosmology

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I was taught at school, when I had done a sum, to “prove my answer”. The proof or verification of my Christian answer to the cosmic sum is this. When I accept Theology I may find difficulties, at this point or that, in harmonizing it with some particular truths which are imbedded in the mythical cosmology derived from science. But I can get in, or allow for, science as a whole. Granted that Reason is prior to matter and that the light of the primal Reason illuminates finite minds, I can understand how men should come by observation and inference, to know a lot about the universe they live in. If, on the other hand, I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole, then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit in science. If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on bio-chemistry, and bio-chemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees. And this is to me the final test. This is how I distinguish dreaming and waking. When I am awake I can, in some degree, account for and study my dream. The dragon that pursued me last night can be fitted into my waking world. I know that there are such things as dreams: I know that I had eaten an indigestible dinner: I know that a man of my reading might be expected to dream of dragons. But while in the nightmare I could not have fitted in my waking experience. The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world: the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific point of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else. —C.S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry”

The Superiority of Eating Ripe Peaches (Jeremiah 17:19–27)

Thus said the LORD to me: ‘Go and stand in the People’s Gate, by which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem, and say: “Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. Thus says the LORD: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers. Yet they did not listen or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck, that they might not hear and receive instruction” ‘ ” (Jeremiah 17:19–23). 

I believe the paramount application of Jeremiah 17:19–27 is this, for the sake of your lives, hear the word of Yahweh. Listen. Do not stiffen your neck. “Yeah, but what does this mean for us today in connection to the Sabbath?” Towards finding an answer, there are three ways of reading the Scriptures that will lead to three different answers. Frequently, before we can address our disagreements as to what the Scripture says, we must first agree on how we are to listen.

First, there is the dispensationalist view, which, to put it simply, would say that the Sabbath and the old covenant do not pertain to the church at all. On a scale of discontinuity to continuity, the dispensational hermeneutic (their way of interpreting the Scriptures) would be in the red, heavy on discontinuity.

Second, there is the classical reformed or covenantal view. Historically, covenant theologians have strongly emphasized continuity between the old and new covenants. This is even true of our baptist forefathers who thought their presbyterian brothers overemphasized continuity in connection to circumcision. Despite this, they were in agreement concerning the continuity of the Sabbath, celebrated by the church now, because of Christ, on the Lord’s Day. For example, the Second London Confession differs very little from the Westminster Confession on this point. Chapter 22, section 7 of the 1689 Baptist Confession reads:

“As it is of the Law of nature, that in general a proportion of time by God’s appointment, be set a part for the Worship of God; so by his Word in a positive-moral, and perpetual Commandment, binding all men, in all Ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the World to the Resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week which is called the Lord’s day; and is to be continued to the end of the World, as the Christian Sabbath; the observation of the last day of the week being abolished.”

This is known as the Sabbatarian position. Additionally, some argue for a seventh-day Sabbatarian position, to gather for worship on Saturday. These positions lean toward continuity side of the scale.

Third, there is what we might call the fulfillment position. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17–18). Contrary to the dispensationalist, Jesus didn’t say the law was irrelevant for His disciples. Yet, contrary to the classic covenant view, Jesus didn’t say He simply came to ensure the law’s unaltered perpetuity. He came to fulfill the law. Craig Blomberg captures the significance this has for how we read the Old Testament well.

“Pervasive throughout the NT is the concept that Christians live in the era of the fulfillment of everything to which every part of the Hebrew Scriptures pointed. Every portion of the law remains an inspired, relevant authority for believers; but none of it may be applied properly until one understands how the new covenant has fulfilled that particular law or part of the law. A new age has been inaugurated that potentially changes everything. In some cases the application of a segment of Hebrew Scripture involves appreciating how it is fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus so that we obey certain OT laws simply by trusting in Christ for our salvation. In other cases, especially with broad moral principles, applications may remain virtually unchanged. In many instances there will be both continuity and discontinuity of application. We dare not assume in advance where on this spectrum Sabbath observance in the NT era will fall by some methodological presupposition that would a priori push obedience to this command to a particular place on our spectrum of possible applications. We must rather turn to the specific NT texts that impinge on the issue of Sabbath-keeping and see what pattern, if any, emerges from their teaching”‘

In recent years I’ve encountered some, who I think are reacting against the densely dispensational atmosphere they grew up under, who say evangelicals today set aside the law altogether. They are as equally offset by my bacon eating as my Sabbath breaking. They will accuse both of dispensational and covenant theologies of antinomianism, though, I think in general, they know far less of covenant theology. While I share their distaste for dispensational theology’s shoddy dismissal of the law, I think they do so as well.

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Fulfillment is not about less, but more. I agree that the law is written on the heart, but shadows are also replaced by substance. Noon has all the Sun that was present at dawn, plus some. When I turn from the shadow of my spouse to embrace her, I haven’t lost but gained. To continue staring at the shadow would be the loss. When the bud blooms into fruit, I have all that the bud was and more. I don’t want to eat sour buds. I appreciate the bud because it will become fruit. It’s the fruit I’m after. So when I speak of the Sabbath being fulfilled, there is a way that I believe I keep it better than those who insist that a day be kept. I am zealous to celebrate the Sabbath. I believe it is a critical matter of life and death. One must take care or they will die.

What fulfillment means is that there is both continuity and discontinuity. Jesus Christ and His accomplished work is now the lens through which we must read all the Old Testament. The kind of approach I’m advocating here is that which I believe the New Testament itself models. It’s akin, though not identical, to the approach our Baptist forefathers used when considering the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant—circumcision. I only wish wish that when it came to the sign of the Mosaic Covenant, the Sabbath, that they would have been consistent. The issues are more complex than this, but that is another discussion.

The Sabbath is a sign (Exodus 31:12–12). As a sign it looked back to creation (Exodus 20:8–11) and to Israel’s redemption (Deuteronomy 5:12–15). Still, as a sign, the Sabbath is also a shadow. It not only looks back; it looks forward. Paul warned the Colossians, who were in danger of being influenced by a kind of Jewish mysticism, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16–17, emphasis mine). The Sabbath anticipates. It is the bud. Where is the flower? The substance belongs to Christ.

If you want to learn how to read your Old Testament, read Hebrews. Hebrews takes you again and again from shadow to substance. For instance, why don’t we have priests? Because we have the Great High Priest. Why don’t we offer sacrifices? Because the point of all those do-nothing sacrifices was to point to the do-all sacrifice of Christ. Hebrews makes this plain. Concerning the rest which Israel was to enjoy in the land, and the warning to listen, lest they fail to take part in it, Hebrews tells us:

“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:8–11).

Where is this rest found? It is found in Christ. Sabbath is found, not in a particular day, but in the risen Son. The day was a sign and a shadow. Christ is the substance. He worked so that we might rest. Still, I must add the caveat, there is a day, when the Son will shine in glory and the saints will fully enter the rest they already partly enjoy in Christ.

In the New Testament every command from the decalogue is repeated save this one. This makes sense because it is the only one of the ten that is also a sign of the old covenant. In the new covenant two signs are expressly given to the Church in light of Christ fulfilling the promises of the old—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Church, here’s your signs.

So then, what does it mean for us to hear, to listen, and to take care in the light of Christ and His accomplished work? Chiefly it involves gathering in obedience to our Lord as a church, to rest in Christ, worshipping Him as He is ministered to us by God’s Word and the sacraments. The author of Hebrews, having unpacked the priesthood of Christ, admonishes us:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:19–25).

Saints and sinners, hear this. Listen. Take care, for hearing God means rest. Our Lord Jesus Christ today by His word says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29). Truly the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. There is rest in Him, and Him alone.