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 Exegetical Systematician: Beyond Even a 99.99% Accomplishment

If we concentrate on the thought of redemption, we shall be able perhaps to sense more readily the impossibility of universalizing the atonement. What does redemption mean? It does not mean redeemability, that we are placed in a redeemable position. It means that Christ purchased and procured redemption. This is the triumphant note of the New Testament whenever it plays on the redemptive chord. Christ redeemed us to God by his blood (Rev. 5:9). He obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). “He gave himself for us in order that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify to himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2 :14). It is to beggar the concept of redemption as an effective securement of release by price and by power to construe it as anything less than the effectual accomplishment which secures the salvation of those who are its objects. Christ did not come to put men in a redeemable position but to redeem to himself a people. We have the same result when we properly analyze the meaning of expiation, propitiation, and reconciliation. Christ did not come to make sins expiable. He came to expiate sins—“when he made purification of sins. he sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). Christ did not come to make God reconcilable. He reconciled us to God by his own blood. —John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied

The Exegetical Systematician: The Future Determined the Past

There are other considerations, also, which may be derived from these passages, especially Hebrews 9:9-14, 22-28. They are the considerations which arise from the fact that Christ’s own sacrifice is the great exemplar after which the Levitical sacrifices were patterned. We often think of the Levitical sacrifices as providing the pattern for the sacrifice of Christ. This direction of thought is not improper—the Levitical sacrifices do furnish us with the categories in terms of which we are to interpret the sacrifice of Christ, particularly the categories of expiation, propitiation, and reconciliation. But this line of thought is not the characteristic one in Hebrews 9. The thought is specifically that the Levitical sacrifices were patterned after the heavenly exemplar—they were ‘patterns of the things in the heavens” (Heb. 9:23). Hence the necessity for the blood offerings of the Levitical economy arose from the fact that the exemplar after which they were fashioned was a blood offering, the transcendent blood offering by which the heavenly things were purified. The necessity of blood-shedding in the Levitical ordinance is simply a necessity arising from the necessity of blood-shedding in the higher realm of the heavenly. —John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied

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”

Definitions and Stories, Redemption and Incarnation (Ruth 4)

“What I have found over the years is that the effort to define things, at the beginning, almost always reveals that what we thought we were dealing with is merely the tip of an iceberg.” —John Piper, Living in the Light

“A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story.” —Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners

“You see, that what we are doing today as we look out upon our current religious modes of speech, is assisting at the death bed of a word. It is sad to witness the death of any worthy thing, —even of a worthy word. And worthy words do die, like any other worthy thing—if we do not take good care of them. How many worthy words have already died under our very eyes, because we did not take care of them!” —B.B. Warfield, “Redeemer” and “Redemption”

“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” —C.S. Lewis

I believe there are two central places in the Old Testament where “redemption” isn’t simply defined, but made real. It’s the difference between reading a definition and experiencing the reality. It’s one thing to read what baklava is, another to taste it. Stories can take us higher than definitions up to the very cusp of experience. The law’s definitions of redemption are true and nourishing, but there are two narratives that make redemption walk before us. The definitions themselves are enmeshed in one of the narratives and help make sense of the other. The stories are the exodus and Ruth.

Each story has unique elements. In the exodus, God redeems His people with a mighty arm, with wonders of judgment, and with the blood of the Passover lamb. He redeems them out of slavery to the promised land. In Ruth, Boaz, acting as a kinsman redeemer, restores land, a widow, and a name. These things were precious because of God’s redemption in the exodus. Every slap of the foot on the dirt of your inheritance given you by God was a sign of the covenant. Boaz, at cost to himself, in covenant love, redeems these things that had been lost.

Some are shy to say Boaz is a type of Christ. Even if you are cautious, do you think all those laws about the kinsman redeemer were simply utilitarian? Boaz is a type of Christ for the same reason Josiah is. Josiah was a king. Boaz is a kinsman redeemer. Jesus is the King. Jesus is the kinsman redeemer.

I think this is the unique element Ruth adds to our picture of redemption. The Redeemer must be a kinsman. He must be one of us. If there is to be redemption, there must be incarnation. Jesus became the Second Adam so as to create a new humanity in Him. He is our elder Brother, who paid the redemption price to reconcile us to the Father. Jesus took on flesh so that He might have representative union with His bride. Our debts became His. His wealth became ours. He took our sins. He gave us His righteousness. But to make this payment, He must take on flesh. To make this payment, He must also be God. Exodus tells us God redeems by blood. Ruth tells us that the blood will be that of the Son made flesh.

Creating Word, Sustaining Word, Redeeming Word (Colossians 1–20)

Jesus created the spheres and circles of the universe and set them spinning. From the macro-cosmos of Jupiter its 53 named moons, the Sloan Great wall of galaxies, and the colossal star UY Scuti, to the micro-cosmos of uranium 235, protons, and quarks—all things visible and invisible—all were made through Jesus.

Further, Jesus is no deistic spinner of the watches He has made. He is no grand designer of perpetual motion machines. The universe was not an epic pitch of the omnipotent one, wherein he wound up and let go. Jesus not only creates, he sustains. By His word creation is—always, at all points of its is-dom. It came into being by His word and is sustained in being by His word (Hebrews 1:3). You walk around on, breath in, and are made of nuclear energy. Micro-cosmos, capable of undoing you a million times over, are not simply held together by His hand, they are by His hand. They don’t have an independent existence. Jesus doesn’t simply do maintenance on the stars. He does stars at every point of their existence.

Jesus doesn’t complete the watch to set it in motion independently of Him. He motions it at all times. Man makes a generator because he is limited. He can’t produce electricity. Man isn’t more intelligent than God because he can make a hands off machine. God is unlimited in wisdom and power, such that, nothing works without Him; including you and your generator. God never has too many irons in the fire.

But what are all these ticks and tocks ticking and tocking towards? Has an alarm been set? Is a consummatory suppertime comming? Yes; one day this old creation will grow up, mature, and be born anew—a new creation, and then, the marriage supper of the Lamb. The cosmos isn’t an experiment. Men toy with magic and science and find power that undoes them. Jesus created and sustains that He might be preeminent in the redemption of all things by the blood of the cross. The Word delivers no impromptu speech. Every word—creating words, sustaining words, redeeming words—every word is scripted, with the basic plot outlined in the Scriptures.

All Concerns the Tabernacle and the Tabernacle Concerns All (Exodus 30)

When you’re going on vacation the final bits of packing might seem haphazard and chaotic, but two things could be happening.

1. Things really are a mess. You’ve run through the house last minute gathering up tidbits you either forgot to pack or now think you might need and just throw them in.

2. There has been a strategic ordering and packing up of things and you’ve simply come to remaining smaller items that could only be packed last and for which there was no room in any other bag.

God didn’t pack the tabernacle instructions like you might pack for vacation. Everything has been highly organized. Chapter 25 concerned the furniture of the tabernacle, chapter 26 the tent itself, chapter 27 the courtyard, chapter 28 the priest’s garments, and chapter 29 the priest’s consecration. Now it’s time to pack some remaining items. Remember that the chapter divisions are inserted by man. These chapter divisions have been very good in seeing some natural divisions, but we must remember that they’re divisions within a section all concerning the tabernacle. The smaller items that make up chapter 30 don’t cohere together the way the items in chapter 28 do, but they do cohere with chapter 29 the way that chapter 25 does.

How do these all things go together? The way everything in chapters 25–31 go together. All these chapters are about the tabernacle. All these chapters are packed into the same place, or rather, are about the same place.

Even if a neighbor looked in on a crazily packed family car and asked what all that randomness was about, they could reply, “Vacation.” It’s not unrelated randomness. It is all about vacation.

This chapter is neither unrelated or random. All concerns the tabernacle.

When Israel would sojourn through the wilderness, all of these things wold be packed together and carried by the Levites. All of these things relate to the tent. The tabernacle is diverse, but not because it speaks of a great many different things, but of the great depth and diversity of a single thing, Christ and His redemption—that thing which binds not only the tabernacle together, but everything together. All concerns the tabernacle, and the tabernacle concerns all. Jesus’ redemption is so big that it not only unites all the tabernacle, it also is uniting all creation as a tabernacle.