King or Tyrant (Jeremiah 22:10–23:8)

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing
and does not give him his wages,
who says, ‘I will build myself a great house
with spacious upper rooms,’
who cuts out windows for it,
paneling it with cedar
and painting it with vermilion.

Do you think you are a king
because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
declares the Lord.

But you have eyes and heart
only for your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
and for practicing oppression and violence.” —Jeremiah 22:13–17

chess-2727443_1280.jpgIt has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others. The real genius of our democratic republic is more negative than positive in nature. The brilliance isn’t foremost in contriving a constitutional government that is so good, but recognizing that the constitution of man is bad. The system of checks and balances, the limitation of terms, the division of power, the constitutional rights—all of these limit how much bad, bad men can do. 

Given this, isn’t it peculiar, that even in our republic, even we are enchanted by kings. You could chalk this up to fairy tales, Arthurian legend, historical intrigue, and royal pomp, but I believe there is something far deeper. The historical story of kings is filled with injustice and unrighteous, and even so, there is a longing for the royal, the regal, the kingly, the majestic. Our republic betrays this when she says “In God we trust.”

From Jeremiah 21:1–22:30 we have a string of wicked kings, and the answer of chapter 23:1–8 to this, the hope held out, isn’t the abolition of the Davidic Dynasty, but the fulfillment of it. It is not less monarchy, but monarchy in the fullest that is the hope of man. Spreading the power of government out to more fallen men doesn’t bring enduring peace and justice. The answer is an absolute sovereign who is absolutely good. Mysteriously, He is also man. He is certainly more than a mere man, but He must be a man. He shows us man as man ought to have been. Kingly, imaging forth his Sovereign in the domain given to him, acting as a steward-king.

What is it that makes a king a king? Cedar does not a king make. Rightfully residing in a royal palace doesn’t make one royalty. Jehoiakim was indeed king, but he was not kingly. What is it that makes a king a king?

This is similar to the question “what makes a man a man?” There are men, who though they are men, they are not manly. They remain boyish. It is just this type who so often strives for manliness, but always in a way that makes it more boyish. Such men try to compensate by artificial markers of manliness, a self-defeating act manifesting just how boyish they are. Such violent strength and ill gained wealth are empty of all that is truly regal and royal. As Jehoiakim builds up, he tears down. As he tries to climb, he digs.

In Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy, the earthy (not earthly mind you) King Lune of Archenland was kingly, whereas the outrageously opulent Tisroc was trying to compensate. What makes the difference? The Tisroc’s glory is one built by taking, whereas King Lune’s is built by giving. King Lune’s glory is one of magnanimous joy; the Tisroc’s, of demanding servitude of others. King Lune explains to his son, “…this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”

The truly majestic is not a glory that grabs, but that gives. This is the difference between a tyrant and a king. The King of kings bled to make His bride beautiful. The kingly is that which flows with sacrifice knowing it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Perhaps? Perhaps! (Jeremiah 21:1–22:9)

“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchiah and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying, ‘Inquire of the Lord for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us’ ” (Jeremiah 21:1–3).

Zedekiah was the last reigning king of Judah. This siege began in the ninth year of his eleven year reign. This means Jeremiah had been prophesying near forty years at this point, warning Judah of judgment and calling for her to repent. Neither Zedekiah nor Jerusalem have repented, but ol’ Zed thinks “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

Perhaps Zedekiah recalls the instance when Assyria done messed up by mocking Israel’s God during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18–19). In that instance, it wasn’t so much that Judah was so good, but that Assyria was so bad. Though God has promised to destroy Jerusalem with the Babylonians, Zedekiah presumptuously thinks “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

Thomas Brooks warned “Despair hath slain her thousand but presumption her ten-thousand.” Ol’ Zed is not alone in thinking “Perhaps?” As Zedekiah went to the prophet, so we go to the word or the preaching of the word, not desiring to hear the word of the Lord, but a word from the Lord, because “Perhaps?” We don’t want to know what Scripture says concerning His will for our lives; we want Him to speak encouragement and blessing on our lives. We have no inkling of honestly obeying Him without reservation, yet we come to the word thinking “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

If you’re not following me, every time we sin, we presumptuously think to ourselves “Perhaps?” The presumption of “Perhaps?” is as foolish as heading west on Route 66 and expecting to get arrive in the Caribbean. We hear the serpent’s whisper, “You will not surely die… you will be like God.” We know what God said, but hey, perhaps? God clearly said that the wages of sin is death, but we think “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

To our wretched “Perhaps?” the immutable I AM of heaven always and without fail replies, “Absolutely not!”

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8)

The Don: The Proper Reward

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“If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self- denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of reward. There is the reward which has no natural connexion with the things you do to earn it, and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it. A general who fights well in order to get a peerage is mercenary; a general who fights for victory is not, victory being the proper reward of battle as marriage is the proper reward of love. The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.” —C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”

The Don: “I See Macbeth, but Where’s Shakespeare?”

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“The Russians, I am told, report that they have not found God in outer space…

Looking for God—or Heaven—by exploring space is like reading or seeing all Shakespeare’s plays in the hope that you will find Shakespeare as one of the characters or Stratford as one of the places. Shakespeare is in one sense present at every moment in every play. But he is never present in the same way as FalstafFor Lady Macbeth. Nor is he diffused through the play like a gas.

If there were an idiot who thought plays existed on their own, without an author (not to mention actors, producer, manager, stage-hands and what not), our belief in Shakespeare would not be much affected by his saying, quite truly, that he had studied all the plays and never found Shakespeare in them.” —C.S. Lewis, “The Seeing Eye”

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.