“I Never Understood a Single Word He Said” (Jeremiah 1:1–19)

For the unaware or the novice to these parts, most of these posts, notably the ones with a Biblical text pinned on the title, are an overflow of my preaching ministry at my local church. That’ll explain some things as you proceed.

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“Why Jeremiah?” one might ask. The best reply might be, “Why not? Is not this too the Word of the Living God? Why would we think this, or any portion of God’s Word odd?” But perhaps the question is less a prideful indictment and more a humble inquiry. Perhaps the sheep queries the shepherd, with a mouth full of grass, “May I ask why you have now led us to this particular pasture?”

“Yes you may.” I am an undershepherd. I don’t presume to know exactly which portion of God’s Word would be best for us, but I know do takes the whole Word to make whole Christians. Because of limitations of time, the elder’s aim and method is simple. We want you to have a balanced diet. If we just started preaching straight through, some of you would hear nothing but law during your time here. Thus, we chew on some Old and then some New. We munch on poetry and then prose. We devour an epistle, then a prophet. After a bite of the historical, we chomp on some wisdom.

This being said, perhaps there is no genre of Holy Writ more neglected today than the prophets. Oh, they are certainly cherry picked, but when you see the tree as a whole you cannot but notice how very little fruit has been picked. The prophets contain much bitter medicine that would do our souls good, but we have been fed only the most sugary portions. If a poll were taken in the average Evangellyfish church to cite passages from Jeremiah, I’m certain Jeremiah 29:11 would be to most cited and nearly the only cited portion.

There is likely no genre more neglected, and also, none more needed. Not merely because our diets have been imbalanced, but because disease is rampant, and the prophets shout the cure—repentance. The whole of God’s Word is enduringly relevant for the church, but when the church has apostatized and committed adultery with the world in unfaithfulness to her Betrothed, then we had best go to Jeremiah and not Philippians, for such is a time to mourn and not rejoice.

Here we have not only medicine, but a lot of it. What is the longest book in the Bible? Perhaps you answered Psalms, and by chapter count that is correct. But man inserted the chapter divisions (though in the case of the Psalms their work was simply one of counting the divisions already there). If we count by God’s inspired words in the original languages, the Psalms fall to third place, behind Genesis in second place and Jeremiah in first.

There is not only much medicine, but there is potent medicine. The American church is riddled with cancer. Jeremiah is chemo for those who would receive it. 

“But are not we as a church celebrating a time of health?” Yes, but we are not immune from nor are we innocent concerning the sickness we see around us. Further, my zeal and hope is that our fellowship have a prophetic voice, speaking God’s Word into the nonsense that pervades in the American Church.

Swim by Swimming (Psalm 30)

A Psalm of David. A Song at the dedication of the Temple.

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. —Psalm 30.

Perhaps the most overlooked portion of Scripture is the headings to the psalms. Though they are in the manuscripts there is some debate among scholars as to whether or not they are part of the inspired text. Because the New Testament often recognizes the authors ascribed to the psalms by their headings, I believe it is clear that we should consider them as Holy Script.

That being so, the first thing to settle about this Psalm is that the heading isn’t multiple choice. This is both a psalm of David and a psalm written for the dedication of the temple. Further, it is a psalm written by David for the dedication of the temple. It wasn’t posthumously designated as such.

Some want to change “temple” to “house” or “palace.” These are legitimate translations but my beef is that they are too apologetic. Some scholars are thereby trying to get this psalm out of the dock instead of letting it testify. They’re fearful the witness may contradict himself. They’re afraid that the title, as it stands, is something like speaking of Honest Abe’s speech at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. Honestly? So they say that this psalm was perhaps written at the dedication of David’s palace or the tent-house that David had erected for the ark when he brought it to Jerusalem.

Let the heading testify! Is it any stretch of the intellect to think that the same David who prepared a hundred-thousand talents of gold for the building of the temple (1 Chronicles 22) could also prepare twelve verses for its dedication? This was something dear to David’s heart (2 Samuel 7), and poetry is the language of the heart, right?

Besides unapologetic zeal for the inerrancy of the text in every jot and tittle, this has significant implications for your Bible reading and comprehension. There are only a handful of headings in the Psalms that mention a historic setting and when they do I take it that that setting must be significant for meaning. For the specifics in relation to this psalm, check out the sermon linked below. Rather than tease out the details, I want to use the remainder of the post to work out a principle at work underneath all of this. Here it is:

The best way to read your Bible is to have read your Bible. 

Or, the best way to read your Bible is with a whole lot of Bible floating in you noggin.

Just like the best way to swim in the water is by being in the water, so the best way to read your Bible is by reading it. There are far too many Christians who just have their feet in the pool. They’re occasionally dipping into the Bible for some cool refreshment, but they don’t swim in it. Then, there are a few who analyze it from the concrete and run tests telling us whether or not the water is safe. Such are the sort who tell us that David couldn’t have written this psalm.

But if you swim in the Bible, then you can swim the Bible. Got it? Those who swim, can swim. Every time you read the Bible, you’re better equipped to read the Bible. This is because when you come back around to a particular passage, you’re reading it in light of the Bible itself. The stump-water of stagnant thinking is getting diluted by the influx of the fresh waters of the Word. When you remember that part of the Bible while reading this part of the Bible you’re going to read the Bible better than when you’re solely remembering something extra-biblical while reading the Bible.

When you come to this text with Ichabod, the ark being brought to Jerusalem, the Davidic covenant, David’s sin in taking the census, the threshing floor of Obed-Edom, and David’s preparations for building the temple all floating in your head rather than a bunch of textual-critical sewage, your going to read this Psalm having no problems with the fact that this is a psalm of David written for the dedication of the Temple.

Heavy on the Percussion (Psalm 29)

“The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’ ” —Psalm 29:3–9

My only ambition here is to provide a flyover of this Psalm to prepare you to trek through it yourself. The psalm begins in the heavens (vv. 1–2) and ends on earth (vv. 10–11). In between, seemingly joining the two, is a storm. The storm begins over the waters (v. 3), moves over the mountain forest of Lebanon (vv. 5–6), and ends in the wilderness of Kadesh (v. 7). In this psalm we mover from heaven to earth by means of a storm that traverses sea, forest, and wilderness.

This psalm is full of majesty, glory and splendor. Spurgeon advised,

“Just as the eighth Psalm is to be read by moonlight, when the stars are bright, as the nineteenth needs the rays of the rising sun to bring out its beauty, so this can be best rehearsed beneath the black wing of tempest, by the glare of the lightning, or amid that dubious dusk which heralds the war of elements. The verses march to the tune of thunderbolts.”

This psalm thunders, not as one of those far off peals that rumbles in the distance, but like the deafening clap that reverberates in your chest such that you cannot but involuntarily jolt. Read it, and ascribe to Yahweh the glory and strength due His name. Worship Him in the splendor of His holiness.

Asking for Directions (Psalm 28)

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Because they do not regard the works of the LORD
or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more.

The LORD is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed. —Psalm 28:4, 8

In examining the 27th psalm one discovers that the steering wheel can be on the right side of the car. Though it may feel awkward, right isn’t wrong. The saint’s faith can drive from confidence to lament without the car being in reverse or turning around and going back over ground we though we’d gained.

But now, in the 28th Psalm, the wheel is back on the left. In the 27th Psalm we drive from confidence to lament then back to a brief conclusion of confidence.  Now, in the 28th, we drive from lament to confidence then back to a brief conclusion of lament. Overall, in the 27th we drive from confidence to lament; in the 28th, from lament to confidence.

Though we “feel” more comfortable driving this direction, we often don’t know how to get there. How does one get from lament to confidence? Often lament takes a hard right into despair or a sharp left into self-reliance. If we fail to reach the proper destination, the reason is as simple as our failure to use the map. This psalm is both a map and it points to the map. It both is the Word of God and it points to the Word of God.

There are two declarations of truth the psalm that serve as transition points: the first from petition to praise, the second from praise to petition. In the first (v. 5), David declares with confidence the destruction of the wicked; in the second (v. 8), he declares the salvation of God’s people and His anointed. How is it that David is confident of these things? Because God has spoken.

Both David’s lament and His laud are guided by the Word; the Word by which God gives faith. We often don’t make the transition from lament to laud because our conscience rightly testifies against us that we cannot. When our lament is an expression of “Your kingdom come!” laud will follow. I’m afraid our prayers are not concerned with God’s kingdom come, but our comfort and fun. When we cry out in prayer, it isn’t so much in longing  for God’s kingdom to come as sobbing that our kingdom has gone.

The answer to this is repentance, and that means humbly asking for directions. You don’t naturally know how to steer your prayers. Yes, you need the Spirit, but the Spirit speaks through the Word. You’re not a prophet. Pull over and talk to one. David is a good one to start with.

When Confidence Cries (Psalm 27)

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple.

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, ‘Seek my face.’
My heart says to you,
‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.’

—Pslam 27:1, 4, 7

We often see psalms of lament give way to a resolution of confidence. Lament is fertilizer for faith to come into vibrant bloom. But here, in the 27th Psalm, we see confidence give way to lament. Does this psalm then progress or regress?

As confidence can be an expression of cockiness and not faith, so lament can be an expression of faith and not doubt. Lament should lead to confidence, but confidence may also lead to lament.

David’s confidence is that Yahweh, the eternal, self-existing, immutable, sovereign covenant Lord of His people, is his light and his salvation and his stronghold. The stronghold David is sure of is also the one thing David desires. The stronghold is the dwelling place of God. The greatest joy of taking refuge in God is the God in whom we take refuge. It is not the castle walls, but the throne that we love most. The greatest blessing of this fortress is not what you are protected from, but what you are protected unto. Being protected from enemies is a blessing, but being protected unto God is blessedness.

David’s joy is then expressed as a longing. Faith that is confident that God is our salvation will lament for that salvation in the full that we may see the glory of God cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Therefore, lament not only leads to confidence, but confidence may be expressed as lament. Lament expresses our longings; longings we are confident are ours in Christ. If you’re still not convinced, read Romans 7 and 8 and see how longing and confidence are as intertwined in Paul’s heart as they are in David’s.

Smelling Roses in a Mine Field (Psalm 26)

Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.

O LORD, I love the habitation of your house
and the place where your glory dwells. —Psalm 26:1, 8

Modern worship choruses have picked up on “How lovely is your dwelling place,” but I don’t hear anyone singing “Vindicate me for I have walked in my integrity.” Our beef with this psalm is our beef with the psalter, and it goes all the way back to the beginning.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. —Psalm 1

The first thing to settle as you come to the psalms is that there are righteous men as well as wicked men. True, all righteous men once were wicked men. Those who are now trees were once chaff and the change has happened by the monergistic, merciful, and mighty act of regeneration. The saints are not self-righteous, nor are they yet perfect, but they are righteous. They not only have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, but are being continually conformed to Christ’s righteousness. There is light, and there is darkness.

This division, and the resulting war, goes all the way back to the promise of the gospel concerning the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent and the enmity between them; which was soon vividly manifest in wicked Cain murdering righteous Abel (Matthew 23:35). We open the Psalms expecting them to smell like a floral shop. Instead, they smell like a battlefield. The line has been drawn in the sand and you are either on one side or the other.

Too many professing Christians are trying to play Switzerland. We’re scared to offend God, but we still desire to trade with the world. There can be no neutrality. Do you want righteousness to win and wickedness to fail? If so, then here you may learn how to pray. If not, you’re smelling roses in the middle of a mine field and will soon find that your naiveté doesn’t neutralize the threat.

Smelling Roses in a Mine Field (Psalm 26)

Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
O LORD, I love the habitation of your house
and the place where your glory dwells. —Psalm 26:1, 8

Modern worship choruses have picked up on “how lovely is your dwelling place,” but I don’t hear anyone singing “Vindicate me for I have walked in my integrity.” Our beef with this psalm is our beef with the psalter, and it goes all the way back to the beginning.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. —Psalm 1

The first thing to settle as you come to the psalter is that there are righteous men as well as wicked men. True, all righteous men once were wicked men. Those who are now trees were once chaff and the change happened by the mighty hands of God’s redeeming grace. The saints are not self-righteous, nor are they yet perfect, but they are righteous. They not only have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, but are being continually conformed to Christ’s righteousness. There is light, and there is darkness.

This division, and the resulting war, goes all the way back to the promise of the gospel concerning the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent and the enmity between them, which was soon vividly manifest in wicked Cain murdering righteous Abel (Matthew 23:35). We open the Psalms expecting them to smell like a floral shop. Instead, they smell like a battlefield. The line has been drawn in the sand, and you are either on one side or the other.

Too many professing Christians are trying to play Switzerland. We’re scared to offend God, but we still desire to trade with the world. There can be no neutrality. Do you want righteousness to win and wickedness to fail? If so, then here you may learn how to pray. If not, you’re smelling roses in the middle of a mine field and will soon find that your naiveté doesn’t neutralize the threat.