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

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: Say Your Lines as a Servant and Die

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

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

The Mercy of Second Times (Jonah 3:1–10)

“Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying…” (Jonah 3:1 ESV).

Jonah deserved no “second time.” God would have been just to have left him to the depths. Jonah deserved no “first time.” The commands of God come to us as honors high above our station.

Remember the disobedient man of God in 1 Kings 13. In obedience, he delivered a powerful word to Jereboam I. He was also instructed not to return by the way he came, but another prophet lied to him saying that an angel appeared to him and that the man was to eat at his house. Once the man of God was at his home, the word of God did come to the lying prophet informing him that the man of God was to die for his disobedience. A lion killed him on his way home. If we think this harsh, we don’t understand the God who is commanding us and the honors He extends.

How many employers would be so gracious? God is no employer. He is Lord. We are his slaves. When He commands, He calls us to immeasurable privileges. We spurn these blessings and disobey. And yet, following repentance and faith, He so often gives us a “second time.” How great the mercy of God, that it not only forgives us our sins, but extends to us again the privilege of obeying our Lord?

The August Theologian: Grant What You Command

“My entire hope is exclusively in your very great mercy. Grant what you command, and command what you will. You require continence. A certain writer has said (Wisd. 8: 21): ‘As I knew that no one can be continent except God grants it, and this very thing is part of wisdom, to know whose gift this is.’ By continence we are collected together and brought to the unity from which we disintegrated into multiplicity. He loves you less who together with you loves something which he does not love for your sake. O love, you ever burn and are never extinguished. O charity, my God, set me on fire. You command continence; grant what you command, and command what you will.” —Augustine, Confessions

Commanded Love (Exodus 35:1–29)

God commands a voluntary giving in Exodus 35. If you can’t make sense of that, you can’t make sense of any of God’s commands because they all deal with the heart. God always demands more than outward obedience. All of God’s commands demand all of us.

Fallen man cannot understand the beauty of God commanding, “You shall love me.” Imagine a princess being blinded to the beauty of the prince who was once her greatest love and deepest joy. Instead, she hates him, irrationally, as intensely as she once adored him. Imagine a command came from him, to love him, with a power that awakened what was commanded. So it is with God’s commands. They do not constrain, they free.

Fallen man’s darkened, authority-hating, idol-loving hearts cannot conceive of love being commanded. Which proves we understand neither love nor authority. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments (John 14:15).” So often, we believe those who love us say things like, “Do whatever makes you happy.” God sovereignly, with all wisdom says, “Only I can make you happy, all else is an illusion.” Then, for those He has redeemed, He speaks with liberating power, “You shall love the LORD your God with all.”

And so it is, when God commands, we receive. Obeying God’s commands is like a hammer finally hitting a nail after years of having tried to unscrew a screw. God’s commands are telling the adventurous beached whale, “Go back to the sea,” or the foolish bird, “You were not made to slither. Soar!” In all true God-enabled and faith-driven obedience to God’s commands, we ever remain the beneficiaries. Obeying God’s commands isn’t like being choked, but finally breathing.

All Sizzle and No Bang? (Exodus 20:17)

Bursts of swirling blue, splatters of crackling gold, and explosions of racing red fill the sky, and then, for the finale, some kid comes out and twirls a sparkler. Is that what we have with this final word from the fire? Has the fire died so that were left with only smoldering embers. No, we may have left the glories of the heavens, but now we are plunged to the depths. These ocean depths can be as mysterious as the starry heavens.

All the other commands, taken on the surface, deal with external obedience, this one goes down to the heart, and thus, acts as commentary on all the Decalogue. Listen to the testimony of M&M&M:

“The tenth commandment is where the Decalogue ends, but it is, in fact, the point at which every breach of the law begins—when by our ‘own evil desire’ we are ‘dragged away and enticed’ (Jas 1:14). —Alec Moyter

“Improper desire is the root of all evil. It can seldom be reached by human legislation, but it is open to the Searcher of hearts. The intent is that which, in the last resort, determines the moral character of the act. This last ‘word’ is, therefore, the interpreting clause of the whole Decalogue (Rom. Vii. 7).” —J.G. Murphy

“It [the tenth commandment] is presented here as the last commandment because it points to the root of all breaches of the covenant as coming from wrong inner disposition.” — John Mackay

You must read all other commands in light of this one. You don’t understand God’s law until you see it as dealing with the heart. All the law is only a sizzling fuse with no bang when read heartlessly. When Jesus says, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you (Matthew 5:21–48),” He isn’t contradicting the law, but the Pharisees heartless reading of the law. His disciples are to display a righteousness superior to that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), a righteousness that is superior, that is true righteousness, because it springs forth from the heart.

God’s love kindles our love. God’s love both ignites and fuels ours. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Redemption sets the heart right (Deuteronomy 30:6). Redemption replaces a heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). We come to these words of law through a preface of grace, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Exodus 20:2 (ESV).” When the redeemed heart hears, “You shall not covet,” it responds, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you (Psalm 73:25 ESV).” When a redeemed heart meets the law of God its like sparks of love meeting a powder keg—from the depths, glory to heaven.

Not a Dainty Grace (Exodus 4:1–17)

As Moses’ sinful questions mutate into brazen objections, God’s grace grows more firm. God’s grace isn’t fragile. It isn’t a dainty grace. When God sets His covenant love on sinners, sinners’ sins don’t change His covenant love; God’s covenant love changes sinners. We’re told Moses’ sins aroused God’s anger, and what do we see next? Preplanned grace (4:14). God’s grace is always preplanned. To put a spin on Spurgeon, if God didn’t love His people before the foundation of the world, it’s certain He’d never see cause, in them, to love them afterward.

God’s grace isn’t a dainty grace. You can’t shatter it. It’s child proof; indestructibly designed by a Father who knows us. You can’t break this grace. It breaks you. This isn’t the kind of grace that sweeps sin under the rug, but propels us out the door. This is persistent and insistent grace that covers and refuses our objections.

God’s grace throws us in the deep end and then is there to keep us from drowning. Remember Jonah? God’s firm grace got Jonah to Nineveh. The book ends with Jonah rebelliously pouting. Or does it? Who wrote the book of Jonah? I believe it was Jonah. The book ends then as Jonah’s expression of the ugliness of his sin and the beauty of God’s grace. Good parents often make their children do things they’re fearful of and the children are often thankful after the fact. I’m sure, once Jonah set his pen down, it was with a contented sigh of thankfulness that God threw him in the deep end and was there to keep him from drowning, even in his own sins. Once Moses returned to Sinai, certainly, he too was thankful that God’s grace was made of adamant.

There is grace for those who are ambassadors of grace. Not a grace that excuses our sins, but a grace that leaves us without excuses.