Thursday, May 1, 2014

"God's promises and plans for Israel … "

Day #125:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 2nd

Scripture Reading:  Jeremiah 27 - 31 …

"This is what the LORD says, He who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar - the LORD Almighty is His Name:  'Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,' declares the LORD, will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.'  This is what the LORD says:  'Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,' declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 31:35-37).

So, is the Bible true?  Does God always tell the truth?  Are the words of God written by Jeremiah actually going to take place at some time in the future?  Does God still have a plan for the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  These are questions that many in the visible church today have chosen to overlook, to ignore or to answer in the negative.  Yet God is quite clear:  unless the sun stops shining and the moon and stars no longer reflect its light and the sea no longer has tides and the waves no longer roar … unless that happens, God still has plans for a remnant of the people of Israel.

What difference does that make to you and me today?  Again, the answer is quite simple:  if God breaks His promises to Israel because of their unfaithfulness, what will happen to the promises He gives to the Church?  If God breaks His promises, or if they are ultimately based on OUR faithfulness to God, then we have no hope, the Bible is not true and Christianity is a cruel hoax.  Either the Bible is ALL true and God keeps EVERY promise, or we have no firm ground upon which to stand.

In Jeremiah's day there were false prophets who spoke on their own accord and told the people who were already in exile in Babylon that they would be returning shortly.  But God said, "I have not sent them.  They are prophesying lies in my Name" (27:15).  Jeremiah, the true prophet, sent by God, was telling the truth.  The captivity would last for 70 years.  "This is what the LORD says:  'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place'" (29:10).  This is the verse that comes immediately before the verse that has become one of the most popular verses known in Christian circles today:

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (29:11).  God goes on to say, "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (29:12-13).  God's promises were given specifically to the exiles of Judah who were in exile in Babylon.  God said, "I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you" (29:14).  God kept His Word and brought a remnant back to Jerusalem, to Judah, and they rebuilt the temple and the Savior came from the line of Judah ... just as God had said.

But then, do these promises have anything to do with us today?  And do they apply to you and me who are not physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  Chapters 30-31 go on to refer to more promises.  The previous promises were specific to Judah.  We may apply them, in principle, to all believers.  God promises in other places that He has a plan to save, to "prosper" all who trust in Him, and to answer us when we call, when we seek Him with all our hearts.  But our hope is found in taking God at His Word and then looking at history and the world around us to see if God does what He says.

In chapters 30-31 God's promises are given not only to Judah, but to all of Israel.  Remember that the nation of Israel had been divided into Israel and Judah and the ten tribes that made up the nation of Israel, the northern kingdom, were defeated by Assyria more than 150 years before Judah went into captivity in Babylon, and the people were scattered throughout the nations.  God now speaks "concerning Israel AND Judah" (30:4) and says that there will be a terrible time of trouble for "Jacob" (30:7).  In that day, God will come to save them.  He says, "I will restore the fortunes of Jacob's tents"(30:18).  "At that time," declares the LORD, "I will be the God of ALL the clans of Israel, and they will be my people" (31:1).

That has not happened up until now ... but it must happen at some time in the future because God says it will.  The promises of Chapter 31, including the new covenant, are for Israel and Judah (31:27, 31).  "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (31:31).  The New Testament makes it clear that this new covenant, implemented by the work of the Spirit (31:33; II Corinthians 3), includes Jews and Gentiles through the blood of Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, the Seed of Abraham, the Son of David.  Yet, it will apply to Israel and Judah specifically at the time of Jacob's trouble.  God is working today in and through the Church, but a day will come when He gathers the Church to Himself and pours out on a remnant of Israel and Judah a spirit of repentance and faith in the One whom they have pierced (Zechariah 12:10, 13:1).  God will keep His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, for His own glory.

The Church today includes Jews and Gentiles and some believe that the Church is the fulfillment of God's promises here in Jeremiah and in other places.  But the fact remains that God's promises are specific and they will happen just as He says they will.  That is a great comfort for those who claim His promises in Christ today.  God does not speak and then fail to fulfill what He has promised.  Those who believe in Jesus Christ today DO have"hope and a future" because of His death and resurrection.

Judgment will come upon all the earth, as it came upon Israel and Judah, but those who confess their sin and trust in the promises of God WILL be delivered and will be gathered from all the earth to dwell in the house of the LORD forever.  This is God's promise, and as He will keep His promises to Israel and Judah, we can know He will keep His promises to us!

"Heavenly Father, I thank You for Your promises and for Your unfailing love toward those who seek You.  You have promised that those who seek You will find You and by Your grace, I earnestly seek Your face.  As certainly as You are the God of Israel, You are MY God and I love You, I praise You and adore You, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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