Obedience School (Jeremiah 35:1–19)

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Go and say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will you not receive instruction and listen to my words? declares the LORD. The command that Jonadab the son of Rechab gave to his sons, to drink no wine, has been kept, and they drink none to this day, for they have obeyed their father’s command. I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me. I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to you and your fathers.’ But you did not incline your ear or listen to me. The sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have kept the command that their father gave them, but this people has not obeyed me” (Jeremiah 35:13–16).

We live in an age where a child spouting a four-letter word is not so much regarded as disobedience as obedience is regarded as a four-letter word. When I say the “o” word, what sort of image pops into your noggin? Whatever the image, is it more along the lines of an ugly tyrant demanding obedience, or a beautiful child offering obedience? I’d venture that the collective moral imagination of society today leans heavily toward thinking of “obedience” as something the villain demands. The heroine of the story is the one who defies authority to live freely. Disney much?

True, there are tyrants to be defied; but how often is the authority an outright tyrant? How rarely is obedience to a good authority praised? Our age may believe it has progressed a great deal so that stories of “courageous disobedience” are delighted in, but the plot is an ancient one. It repeats the very lie told to our mother in the garden. We have been dying, literally dying to believe it ever since.

dachshund-672780_1280.jpgC.S. Lewis, in his preface for Milton’s Paradise Lost, wrote, “Everything except God has some natural superior; everything except unformed matter has some natural inferior. The goodness, happiness, and dignity of every being consists in obeying its natural superior and ruling its natural inferiors.” Our goodness, happiness, and dignity are to be found in obedience. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the duty which God requireth of man?” The answer, “The duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will.” That answer is not only true, it is good and beautiful.

When God says, “Places everyone!” we should not only know our place, we should know that our place is the best place for us to be. We believe it is a good thing that the sun keeps its course, but when it comes to our own course, we’d like to think we know better. We don’t want to know our place, we want to make it. We don’t want to be a stage hand, we want to own the stage. We don’t want to shine the spotlight, we want to be in it.

Of course a fish cannot be happy on land, but, surely man must be happier outside the ethical orbit he was made to live in. Man is evolving. This is why one man thinks he will be happier if he were a woman. With this, what man is saying is that he would be happier if he were God and God were man. He would rather make God in His image than be made in the image of God. The former seems so freeing; the latter constraining. When a child doesn’t obey their parents, they demonstrate that they’d really rather not have parents. They’d like big people who coddle them and commend them, but not command them. One reason children do this to their parents is that their parents model it before them—this is how mom and dad relate to God. The parent planets cannot get out of orbit without carrying their little moons into an irregular orbit with them. Yet, because the parents think they are god, they can’t imagine why little Timmy would behave as though he were. The only real solution is for everyone to assume their places as told and delight in them.

God planted man in a garden of delight, and if man would have obeyed, he would have stayed. As a result of disobedience, man was driven from the garden to live out his days on this cursed crust. It is this cosmic story that is played out in microcosm with Judah.

The story of the Rechabites recalibrates our consciences according to truth so that we see obedience for the virtue that it is. If the Rechabites obeyed a fallible earthly father, should we not listen to our infallible heavenly Lord? Jonadab spoke and died. Our Lord lives and speaks. Jonadab offered a probability of wisdom should they obey. The Lord speaks sure and certain promises should we obey.

But rather than obey God, whose law is true and whose promises are sure, we turn to do our shopping from shady pop-ups making lifetime guarantees but which only deliver fall-apart knockoffs made in China. We not only ignore God’s commands, we ignore His promises. Or, perhaps we think we can disregard his commands and still gain the promises. Worse yet, like Eve, we think we can get even more than God has promised by disobedience. How foolish of us to trust the hiss of the serpent and disbelieve the roar of the Lion. It is God we should fear and God we should trust. 

Obedience is true, because He is true. Obedience is good, because He is good. Obedience is beautiful, because He is beautiful.

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 35:1–19 || Listen And Obey || Josh King

The Don: How Would You Describe Your Church’s Leaders?

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Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish. If we do, we may live, and such a return might have one minor advantage. If we believed in the absolute reality of elementary moral platitudes, we should value those who solicit our votes by other standards than have recently been in fashion. While we believe that good is something to be invented, we demand of our rulers such qualities as ‘vision’, ‘dynamism’, ‘creativity’, and the like. If we returned to the objective view we should demand qualities much rarer, and much more beneficial—virtue, knowledge, diligence and skill. ‘Vision’ is for sale, or claims to be for sale, everywhere. But give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his job. —C.S. Lewis, “The Poison of Subjectivism” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), p. 665

Using the Right Hammer Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Smack Your Thumb (Jeremiah 33:1–22)

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:3)

A critical rule in Biblical hermeneutics (the art of interpreting a text), is that Scripture interprets Scripture. But there is a perversion of this rule that can go horridly wrong. When one uses a bad interpretation of one Scripture to interpret another two negatives don’t make a positive. Interpretation works more like addition than multiplication here. Applying a good rule poorly doesn’t fix or justify incompetence. Using the right tool is not the same as using the tool rightly.

hammer-1629587_1280.jpgIf one is assembling a table from Ikea, misidentifying one piece may lead to misidentifying another. The first instance may seem to work, and so you’re oblivious that anything is amiss. With the second part you may recognize a problem. Hammering harder isn’t the solution; repentance, that is, disassembling and starting over is. But sometimes a man is so deep in and his pride so great, that hammer away we do.

A self-intoxicated interpretation of Jeremiah 29:11 is bad enough, but mix it with Jeremiah 33:3, and you’ve got some stout poison. “God has great plans for you. Call out to Him and He will reveal them.” Now a mystical element has been added. In the first, you make God to be your concierge. In the second, you become a prophet. This is why, unlike the prophets of old, all the revelation you “receive” from God centers on you. These hidden things are indeed identical to the future and hope of Jeremiah 29, the problem is, when A = B, if A ≠ 2, though you say it does, then B ≠ 2 either. Erase your work. Start over.

Deuteronomy 29:11 tells us that the secret things belong to God, whereas the revealed things belong to the people fo God that they may do them. John is worried about whether he should marry Jill or Jane, so he cries out to God. But what John should worry about are the revealed things. If neither Jill nor Jane is a Christian, or if he is dating them both at the same time, then it is not marriage, but repentance that is God’s will. No mystical speculation is needed. Obedience is. God has shouted in His word, but we’re crying out for whispers.

Sometimes what is hidden is revealed. Sometimes God makes his plans known. But such revelation concerns the major plot line, not minor characters like ourselves, at least not directly. Rather than the shout, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased,” we’d rather hear a whisper about what career would be most fulfilling and blessed.

The great and hidden things here concern revelation. They concern the redemption and restoration of God’s people. They concern the righteous Branch springing up from David. They concern the “coming days.” They concern the new covenant. These hidden things are the mystery that Paul says has not been revealed to the church (Ephesians 3:1–12; Colossians 1:25–27; 2:2–3).

God’s revelation is always mediated. He raises up apostles and prophets. But we want God to speak to us and about us. God, in mercy, speaks far better. He spoke to the prophets and the apostles about Jesus for us.

The proper appropriation of the command given to Jeremiah then is secondary and derivative. It isn’t unmediated revelation of great and hidden things that we should seek, but illumination of the prophetic and apostolic word—the mystery that has reached its fulfillment in Christ.

“But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:7–16).

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 33:1–26 || Great and Hidden Things in the Righteous Branch || Josh King

To Mask or Not to Mask?

“I feel a strong desire to tell you—and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me—which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.” —C.S. Lewis

anshu-a-yAXbfq1wI7I-unsplash.jpgTo mask or not to mask? This is not the question we should be zealous to answer. To be charitable or to condemn, that is the question. In the first instance, God has not spoken; wisdom is called for. In the second, an authoritative answer is readily available—show charity.

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:1–12).

Concerning days and meat, Paul laid down guidance elsewhere in his letters to guide the weak in conscience into maturity. Still, Paul was zealous not to cause a brother to sin against their conscience in such matters where there is liberty. Now if Paul did this, in areas where God’s truth does give guidance, how much more charity should we display in an area where God has not spoken.

Wisdom and lies can be found on both sides of the question we are not asking. Who is sufficient to answer that question? Let each soul research for himself. May each soul feel liberty to do so without condemnation. What is not sin should not be judged as such. If either side thinks itself superior, they have assumed a God-like omniscience. Our father Adam may have eaten from the tree of knowledge, but he thereby plunged us into ignorance. He desired to be like God, but the apple fell far from the tree. Let us not add sin to sin by thinking the eating had its desired effect. We are far from perfect knowledge.

Even more concerning, is that by seeking to bind your brother’s conscience to your own, you have established yourself as the standard by which to judge. We crooked twigs shouldn’t try to play as though we were the official and standard yardstick by which all measurements will henceforth be made. We should not even advocate for a particular collective twig position as though that were the standard. If every ruler in the world were shaved down to eleven and a half inches, a foot would still be twelve. We don’t measure up. And concerning masks, God gave no measurement. Be your head masked or not, your nose shouldn’t be upturned toward your brother, but bowed before your Maker.

Feel free to point out how you believe the government is making a totalitarian play and warn of the dangers of being a lemming. Feel free to speak of how concern for your brother and respect for the established authorities are strong grounds for wearing a mask (where masks have been mandated, a separate conversation is necessary). But above all of these, wherever you may land, eschew demonizing your brother and prioritize charity. And farther up still, shout loudest about that which is most worth joyfully shouting—the gospel of Christ. And though one brother do so with a mask, and another without, may both do so praying for one another. Though these brothers may socially distance themselves out of respect, may they be spiritually united, longing that the good news prove graciously contagious, for therein lies the ultimate cure for all that ails us.


*Mere Christianity, (HarperCollins, 2001) p. 186

The Don: By What Standard?

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“Everyone is indignant when he hears the Germans define justice as that which is to the interest of the Third Reich. But it is not always remembered that this indignation is perfectly groundless if we ourselves regard morality as a subjective sentiment to be altered at will. Unless there is some objective standard of good, over-arching Germans, Japanese and ourselves alike whether any of us obey it or not, then of course the Germans are as competent to create their ideology as we are to create ours. If ‘good’ and ‘better’ are terms deriving their sole meaning from the ideology of each people, then of course ideologies themselves cannot be better or worse than one another. Unless the measuring rod is independent of the things measured, we can do no measuring. For the same reason it is useless to compare the moral ideas of one age with those of another: progress and decadence are alike meaningless words.” —C.S. Lewis, “The Poison of Subjectivism” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), p. 658

When God Flips Creation (Jeremiah 32:1–44)

 “And I bought the field at Anathoth from Hanamel my cousin, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions and the open copy. 12 And I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my cousin, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13 I charged Baruch in their presence, saying, 14 ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time. 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.’ —Jeremiah 32:9–15

The Book of Consolation is like the one great win in a season that otherwise seems a total wash. There have been some great plays, some scattered promises here and there, but here is their solitary “W.” Chapter 32 opens the second half of this four quarter game, and like the first chapter (chapter 30), though immediate judgment is confirmed, still final restoration is promised. They’re going to take some devastating hits, but they shouldn’t doubt they’ll come out ahead in the end.

In the second half, the approach changes. We move from poetry to prose, and in that prose we have a narrative concerning another sign-act. What is a sign-act? Let’s review. In chapter 13 Jeremiah was commanded to purchase a linen loincloth and make a long journey (somewhere in the ballpark of 600 miles) to the Euphrates and bury it there. Likely he then returned home only to sometime later be told to go back and retrieve the loincloth. We won’t take the time to rehearse the meaning of this sign-act, but suffice it to say it spoke of Judah’s judgment and it was a costly act for Jeremiah and thus acted like a bullhorn, magnifying his message. In chapter 16 Jeremiah was forbidden a family. Again, this was a costly act and one that foretold judgment. In Chapter 19, Jeremiah was to purchase a clay pot and smash it. While not as costly as some of the other acts, this was far from a great investment and again foretold judgment. Most recently, in chapters 27–28, Jeremiah makes yoke bars, only for the false prophet Hananiah to take them from his neck and break them. Jeremiah made his craft project and brought it to show and tell where a bully breaks it so that he has nothing to bring home.

As we are now in the Book of Consolation, you may well expect the sign-act not to speak of judgment, but of grace. Indeed it does. And so, instead of this act resulting in a personal loss for Jeremiah, you might expect some gain. Instead, this sign act appears to be his worst investment yet. Jeremiah receives insider trading advise, but it doesn’t play out how you’d expect. It’d been one thing if Jeremiah had been told to buy some property in and around Babylon at the beginning of his ministry. Instead he’s purchasing property in Judah on the eve of her destruction. This is like investing in a French Chateau in 1940 when the German Blitzkrieg has already breached the Maginot Line.

house-2169650_1280The plot of land is in enemy occupied territory. Jeremiah is in jail. He has preached the fall of Judah and a seventy year exile to follow. He has no family or offspring to inherit the land. All this is clearly on the table when Hanamel seemingly comes insisting Jeremiah redeem the land. Hanamel strikes one as that cousin that comes to the funeral to sell Amway. Family reunions to him are a business opportunity. In this, God’s hot tip isn’t “Be on your guard. Get ready. Don’t fall for it.” but instead, “Buy! Buy! Buy!”

Our puzzlement betrays our American eyes. The point of acting as a redeemer wasn’t to benefit you personally, but to honor Yahweh who allotted the land by family and love your kin so that they keep an inheritance in Israel (Leviticus 25:23–28). Jeremiah’s obedience to the covenant law is a sign that God is not through with His people. He is their Redeemer. Because God won’t pull up short on His promises, we need not pull short on obedience. Righteousness doesn’t always make sense as an investment in this life, but if you live unto God, this is not your concern. It isn’t short term temporal gain, but long term eternal reward that is your aim.

Jeremiah here made the best deal ever, not because of what he got on this earth, but because of what God promised in the next. As Derek Kidner comments, “Seventeen shekels of silver were surely never better spent.”

Meridian Church · Jeremian 32:1–44 || Redemption of the Land || Josh King

The Don: If You Only Go for Second, You Lose the Game

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“Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand rediscovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made.

Apparently the world is made that way. If Esau really got the pottage in return for his birthright (Genesis 25), then Esau was a lucky exception. You cant get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first. From which it would follow that the question, ‘What things are first?’ is of concern not only to philosophers but to everyone.

It is impossible, in this context, not to inquire what our own civilisation has been putting first for the last thirty years. And the answer is plain. It has been putting itself first. To preserve civilisation has been the great aim; the collapse of civilisation, the great bugbear. Peace, a high standard of life, hygiene, transport, science and amusement—all these, which are what we usually mean by civilisation, have been our ends. It will be replied that our concern for civilisation is very natural and very necessary at a time when civilisation is so imperilled. But how if the shoe is on the other foot—how if civilisation has been imperilled precisely by the fact that we have all made civilisation our summum bonum? Perhaps it can’t be preserved in that way. Perhaps civilisation will never be safe until we care for something else more than we care for it.” —C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), p. 655

Behold! Days Are Coming! (Jeremiah 31:27–40)

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“Behold, the days are coming…

Behold the days are coming…

Behold the days are coming…”

—Jeremiah 31:27, 31, 38

Saints, behold, days are coming. Days are coming when Yahweh “will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast,” (v. 27). Days are coming when Yahweh “will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” (v. 31). Days are coming when “the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD,” (v. 38). These days are the focus of what is called “The Book of Consolation” (running from Jeremiah 30–33). The Book of Consolation is a bright star in the dark night of Judah’s judgment. Jeremiah has long warned Judah of the darkness of exile, but here, he tells them that they do not go into exile without a light of hope.

The same key phrase introduces the book in 30:3: “For behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the LORD, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.” Later in our text, the same hope is expressed with the phrases, “it shall come to pass” (v. 28), and “in those days,” (v. 29). Jeremiah 30:24, after speaking of the fierce judgment that is soon to break upon them, promises, “In the latter days you will understand this.” In Jeremiah 31:1 we read, “At that time, declares the LORD, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be my people.” In 31:6 God tells them, “For there shall be a day when watchmen will call in the hill country of Ephraim: ‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the LORD our God’ ” (all emphasis mine). These coming days are the fulfillment of that frequently mutilated promise of Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” This future, this hope, is so much more epic than what many make of it.

These days, all these promises of restoration, the fullness of the consolation held out for the people of God—all this is to be realized in the Christ, God’s king, the Son of David.

“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” (30:8–9; emphasis mine).

Though “The Book of Consolation” is theologian speak, a label invented by men for this distinct portion of Scripture, it is a near perfect one, for these promises and the comfort extended therein are exactly what Simeon looked forward to.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:25–32; emphasis mine).

So then, these days have come and they are coming. They are here now, but not fully here yet. The eschatological promises were inaugurated with the first advent of Christ and will be consummated at His second advent. This age is fading away, and the age to come is breaking into the present. John Mackay opens commentary on this passage writing, “The clause begins with ‘Behold!’ … , probably to emphasize the reality and imminence of what is being talked about. The significance of the time reference in this phrase is much debated, but it seems to point to a future scene, the precise time of which is not revealed, but which is certain because the coming events are already rising out of present circumstances (30:3). What will happen will be a development of factors that are already at work. Therefore those who by faith accept the divine analysis of the situation can be confident that what is foretold will come to pass.”

Judah could be sure of these future promises because of how they arise out of the present. If Judah could be confident and take comfort in these promises, as they saw them arising out of God’s present doings, how much more may we?

Because these days have come, we may be certain they will come. The Christ was born the Second Adam. The Christ lived to be our righteousness. The Christ died bearing our sins. The Christ rose conquering our foes. The Christ ascended and is seated at the right hand of the Father with all things being put under His feet. The Christ will certainly come again. Oh how much of the comfort promised here has already come in part and so how much more may we take comfort that the fullness certainly lies ahead? Oh saints, let us now with the eyes of faith behold! days are coming!

Meridian Church · 7.5.20 Jeremiah 31.27–40 Days Are Coming Josh King

The Don: When You Allow Some to be “Left Behind,” All Come Out Ahead

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“A truly democratic education—one which will preserve democracy must be, in its own field, ruthlessly aristocratic, shamelessly ‘high-brow’. In drawing up its curriculum it should always have chiefly in view the interests of the boy who wants to know and who can know. (With very few exceptions they are the same boy. The stupid boy, nearly always, is the boy who does not want to know.) It must, in a certain sense, subordinate the interests of the many to those of the few, and it must subordinate the school to the university. Only thus can it be a nursery of those first-class intellects without which neither a democracy nor any other State can thrive.

And what,’ you ask, ‘about the dull boy? What about our Tommy, who is so highly strung and doesn’t like doing sums and grammar? Is he to be brutally sacrificed to other peoples sons?’ I answer: dear Madam, you quite misunderstand Tommys real wishes and real interests. It is the aristocratic system which will really give Tommy what he wants. If you let me have my way, Tommy will gravitate very comfortably to the bottom of the form; and there he will sit at the back of the room chewing caramels and conversing sotto voce with his peers, occasionally ragging and occasionally getting punished, and all the time imbibing that playfully intransigent attitude to authority which is our chief protection against England’s becoming a servile State. When he grows up he will not be a Porson; but the world will still have room for a great many more Tommies than Porsons. There are dozens of jobs (much better paid than the intellectual ones) in which he can be very useful and very happy. And one priceless benefit he will enjoy: he will know he’s not clever. The distinction between him and the great brains will have been clear to him ever since, in the playground, he punched the heads containing those great brains. He will have a certain, half amused respect for them. He will cheerfully admit that, though he could knock spots of? them on the golf links, they know and do what he cannot. He will be a pillar of democracy. He will allow just the right amount of rope to those clever ones.” —C.S. Lewis, “Democratic Education” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), p. 599

The Patristic Interpretation: A Maternal Mystery (Jeremiah 31:22)

“How long will you waver,
O faithless daughter?
For the LORD has created a new thing on the earth:
a woman encircles a man.” —Jeremiah 31:22

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St. Jerome in His Study (1480), by Domenico Ghirlandaio

That the promises of restoration given in the “Book of Consolation” (a name given to Jeremiah 30–33; cf. Jeremiah 30:1) involve more far more than was realized with the return to Zion under Cyrus is made plain in that the “new thing” spoken of here is soon unfolded as the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34). Now that’s a whopper of a sentence to open with but it’s good prep for what’s to come. We’re dealing with something enigmatic here.

Israel is not to waver in receiving the comfort her God extends because of the new thing He is doing. As to what this new thing is, I want us to look not to DC Talk, but to an ancient interpretation that has been widely disregarded by contemporary scholars. As this “new thing” is only briefly explained, and then with a mysterious metaphor, there are interpretations aplenty. I think the best modern opinion is that striking language is used by Yahweh to speak of the virgin Israel now clinging to Him in covenant love. Though this image flips the relational roles between husband and wife (“encircles” has connotations of protection) I can go with this interpretation, but I still don’t think it best.

Perhaps another enigmatic statement can help us make sense of this one—another instance where startling masculine language is used of a woman. In Genesis 3:15 man’s hope is to be found in the seed of the woman. The ESV can obscure this a bit, but note the little footnote explaining that the word for offspring is “seed.” The King James’ wins points for more than elegance at this point. Compare the ESV with the KJV.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (ESV).”

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (KJV).”

A woman’s seed! That’s not something to gloss over with “offspring.” Though the Biblically astute student may meditatively stop here, recalling that “offspring” in the Scripture are always recorded in reference to the father, “seed” makes the point emphatic. Something surprising, miraculous, mysterious is afoot.

Further, the “new thing” Yahweh does is not just any doing. A peculiar word is used for God’s doing. He creates. That falls a bit flat in translation as well, but no English translation can do justice in this instance. In the Hebrew tongue, God gets his own verb. There is a kind of doing God does that only He can do. He is the only one that does this kind of creation. The identical verb is used in Genesis 1:1. This new thing is new creation, and it involves a woman on earth. See where this is going?

The work of the Holy Spirit in the conception of our Lord is spoken of in terms that recall Genesis 1:1 where we are told that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” When Mary asked “How will this be since I am a virgin?” the angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:34–35).

New creation begins with the Second Adam, conceived in the womb by the Holy Spirit, made out “nothing”—the seed of the woman. A women encircles a man. Mysterious? Enigmatic? You betcha. But for those very reasons, this old interpretation doesn’t seem a bit out of date to me.

“Concerning her we read of a great miracle in the same prophecy—that a woman should compass a man, and that the Father of all things should be contained in a virgin’s womb” (Jerome, Against Jovinianus).

Meridian Church · Jeremiah 31:1–26 || Rest || Josh King