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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking for God’s Jewels Outside their Setting

wedding-ring-1556673-1280x864Bible Promise Books are silly and trite. People go to them looking for some promise that God will get them through a tough week when God is saying in His Word that He will get His saints through death, and on the other side, resurrection, no curse, and blessedness evermore where God is our God and we are His people.

Bible Promise Books fail to understand that every promise is a diamond set within the ring of covenant. Too many are trying to wrest promises not betrothed to them. If you want the ring of all God’s promises, you must be wed to Christ.

Don’t survey the Bible as a thief bent on self-profit. Stare long and hard at the craftsmanship of God’s promises set within the covenants that are fulfilled in Christ and truly know the richness that is yours in union with Him.

The Exegetical Systematician: What Hath Noah to do with Christ?

Common grace provides the sphere of operation of special grace and special grace therefore provides the rational of common grace. —John Murray, “Common Grace”

Enjoying the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8–11)

Altogether three reasons were given to Israel for remembering the Sabbath. The first, given here, is rooted in creation.

For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:11 ESV).

When Moses calls the next generation to covenant renewal and restates this command, much remains the same, but the grounds are significantly different.

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:15 ESV).

Ultimately, I believe, that these two reasons have one unifying reason, and a hint as to how this can be is found in a yet third basis given for Sabbath remembrance.

You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you (Exodus 31:13 ESV).’

Like circumcision and the Passover, the Sabbath is a perpetual sign throughout their generations, of His covenant. Jesus comes as the fulfillment of the law. Because of Him circumcision gives way to baptism (Colossians 2:11–13), the Passover blooms into the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14–18ff), and the Sabbath, well, what becomes of the Sabbath? We’re clearly commanded to baptize and to remember the Supper, but no command is given concerning the Sabbath, nor the Lord’s day. Rather, we’re told:

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 (Romans 14:5–6 ESV).

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 ESV).

What happens to the Sabbath? Jesus declares Himself Lord of the Sabbath in Matthew 12. Just prior to this Matthew records these words, “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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28–30 ESV).” Hebrews 4 speaks of entering God’s rest by faith, the rest of God that He had once He had finished from His works.

Because of Jesus, our work is finished, competed perfectly for us, and now we rest. What happens to the Sabbath? We haven’t abandoned it. We’ve entered more fully into it—in Jesus. Because of His redemption, a new day has dawned, a resurrection day, a day of new creation, a day of rest.

In short the physical rest of the Old Testament Sabbath has become the salvation rest of the true Sabbath. Believers In Christ can now live in God’s Sabbath that has already dawned. Jesus’ working to accomplish this superseded the Old Testament Sabbath (John 5:17) and so does the doing of God’s work that He now requires of people—believing in the one God has sent (John 6:28, 29). In fact the Sabbath keeping now demanded is the cessation from reliance on one’s own works (Heb. 4:9, 10). —A.T. Lincoln

Mountains Don’t Float (Exodus 19:1–8)

Contra Avatar, mountains don’t float. As a statue has a pedestal, so mountains have a foundation—a huge foundation. As Israel approaches the mountain of God’s law, it has a huge foundation and that foundation is grace.

When Israel comes to Sinai, Yahweh has delivered them, He has redeemed them, they are His people. The blood of the passover lamb has been spilt and applied. Grace covers them. The mountain of God’s law is surrounded by a thick perimeter of grace. Sinai, for the people of God, rests on the foundation of a continent of grace. This is the way God’s children come to the mountain of God’s law. Redeemed sons and daughters, if you’re hearing God speak His ten words from the fire, you’re standing on a continent of grace.

When good parents bring an adopted child home, one of the first loving things they do is explain the house rules. They don’t give the house rules so that the child can become a son. They give the house rules because the child is a son.

The problem we have is that the “ifs” of the law (Exodus 19:5) make us think we must do to become sons. So we either ignore the rules as impossible, or, we’re obsessed with earning covenant love. Children of the King should do neither. What do we make of this “if”? I take this “if” the same we we see it in the New Testament in the New Covenant.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:1–2 ESV).

[H]e has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (Colossians 1:22-23 ESV)

The “adopted” child can still be disinherited. Do I mean they can lose their salvation? No, they can prove they never had it. Adoption didn’t really happen. They were just in the home pretending. When God saves a soul He makes them His child and He does this from the inside out causing them to be born again and made new. They’re different. God’s salvation goes long. Calvin put it this way, “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun which warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light.”

Listen to the “if” of Colossians 1 again. “He has reconciled…if you continue in the faith.” He doesn’t say He will reconcile you if you continue in the faith. The continuing in the faith is necessary not to merit the reconciliation but to demonstrate the reconciliation. Continuing in the faith doesn’t make sons, it marks sons. This is what John was getting at when he wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19).” Not everyone in the house is a son. Not all who claim to be sons are sons.

For those redeemed by the blood of the lamb, the law isn’t what must be done for salvation, it is what salvation does. Salvation is unto the restoration of the rule of God over the hearts of man. Under His rule, we are saved from sin, both its guilt and its power, to serve and glorify the Lord in obedience.

The law cannot lead to your justification, but it does lead either toward damnation or in sanctification. If the law is not leading you in sanctification, the foundation of justification isn’t there. You’re not standing on the continent of grace. You’re trying to make this mountain float, but it won’t. If the law doesn’t rest on the foundation of God’s grace, it will rest on you in damnation.

Satan: God’s Good Farmer (Exodus 1:1–22)

God was faithful to His covenant; in Egypt He made of Jacob a great nation (Genesis 46:3–4), and, in Egypt, they were afflicted (Genesis 15:13–14). Affliction and multiplication were both His brushstrokes. He steps back from the canvass saying, “Very good!” God’s blessing brought persecution; both were part of His plan.

The multiplication led to the oppression, but that isn’t what Moses says in v. 12. He doesn’t say the more they multiplied the more they were oppressed, but, the more they were oppressed the more they multiplied. The serpent tries to stomp out the seed but his stomping is God’s sowing. The people of God are like cells that when you cut them they don’t die, they multiply. God writes blessing bigger than the serpent’s eraser. He also puts a pencil lead into Satan’s eraser. The greater his rage, the more marks there are. The more marks there are, the greater his rage. Repeat cycle. God turns the serpent’s eraser into a pencil to tell His tale.

It always works this way. When the serpent bit the heel of the Seed of the woman, the Seed did die, but He sprouted from the ground the Firstfruits of the harvest. When death tried to kill Life, Life wasn’t extinguished, it was multiplied.

The serpent tries to stomp the seed of Abraham plural. He only makes it more plural. Cells are split, the body of Christ grows. The church caught on quickly. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” says Tertullian. Satan still rages, meaning, he still writes—God’s story. In 1920 the church in China comprised an estimated 2.3 million souls. Now, some say conservatively, thanks to hostile communism, there are 100 million. One could say that the persecution was a brutal as the growth was exponential, but the persecution came first. The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied. As punishment for his sin against man, God is making Satan write Exodus 1:12 on the board a trillion times, and then, hell to follow.

God has not forgotten His covenant. He is multiplying His people still. He is using the serpent still. Don’t get comfortable in this world, find peace in God’s covenant. We’re in Egypt. God is multiplying, but we’re not home yet. The greater Moses has come, and is sure to return.