Thursday, May 29, 2014

"In those days ... at that time ... the enemies of Israel will be destroyed!"

Day #153:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - May 30th

Scripture Reading:  Jeremiah 47 - 52 …

Watching the nations around the world and especially in the Middle East attempt to gain some advantage for their own benefit is a little bit like watching a sporting event when you know the outcome.  Jeremiah and the other prophets spoke of the present and the future when revealing God's plans for Israel, Judah and the surrounding nations.  It is impossible to read the Bible and not see that God has special plans for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Many in the church today read the prophets only to apply general principles to the Church, to those who believe in Jesus Christ, as we live to testify to the Messiah, the Christ, in our world today.  In so doing, however, they miss the grand theme of God's promises to Abraham:  His election of Israel to display His power and glory to all the world.

The long prophecy of Jeremiah points to a future restoration of Israel and Judah and judgment upon their enemies.  To understand the context you need to remember that Israel and Judah had become two separate nations, at times even fighting against each other.  Then the Assyrians had defeated Israel and the ten tribes of Israel who made up the nation were dispersed throughout the Assyrian Empire, that itself would be defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.  There were many alliances made back and forth among the nations attempting to avoid destruction.  Ultimately, however, the fate of all the nations lay in the hands of the God whom most of them did not even believe existed (just like today)!

God gave to Jeremiah a message of judgment on the nations of the Philistines, Moab, Ammon, Edom and others, including Babylon.  Today these nations include Palestine (Philistines), Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Iran.  These perennial enemies of Israel did not go away during the time Israel and Judah have been in exile.  A remnant of the Jews would return, but many would remain in the nations to the north ... particularly in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe.  These nations would all face God's judgment because they defied the God of Israel.

I have been told by some in the church that the present nation-state of Israel has no place in God's plan for the future and for His future kingdom.  In fact, many do not even believe God plans to establish a future kingdom on the earth and they never talk about what God has clearly revealed:  His creation of a new heaven and a new earth.  These believe that the Church has replaced Israel in God's plans and that the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are no longer God's special people.  While it is true that the majority of Jews do not believe in Jesus Christ today - that will change!!  (More about that another time).  I bring it up here to help you understand what Jeremiah writes in these last chapters.

After pronouncing judgment on the surrounding nations, Jeremiah writes, "In those days, at that time, the people of Israel and the people of Judah together will go in tears to seek the LORD their God.  They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it.  They will come and bind themselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten" (50:4-5).  The significance of these verses cannot be underestimated.  Jeremiah mentions specifically Israel AND Judah ... TOGETHER ... Other prophets foretell this same reunion.  God will make it happen, just as He says He will.

God's judgment was falling upon Israel and Judah because of their sin, but notice what Jeremiah writes in Chapter 50, verse 20:  "In those days, at that time, search will be made for Israel's guilt, but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare."  It is not the whole nation, but a remnant that God will forgive and save.  Jeremiah mentions both Israel and Judah again in Chapter 51, verse 5:  "For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the LORD Almighty, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel." 

As we read the New Testament we speak often of GRACE, but there is grace throughout the Old Testament.  God speaks of forgiveness and mercy and points ahead to the coming Savior.  But to those who do not know Him and who worship other gods, there is only vengeance.  Jeremiah writes of the destruction of Babylon ... present and future:  "How the LORD our God has taken vengeance, vengeance for His temple" (50:28).  "It (Babylon) will never again be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation" (50:39).  "The LORD will take vengeance, vengeance for His temple" (51:11).  "Before your eyes I will repay Babylon and all who live in Babylonia for all the wrong they have done in Zion" (51:24).  "For the LORD is a God of retribution; He will repay in full" (51:56).

All of this leads to HOPE for those who know Israel's God.  Even though we live in a modern world with all of our technological advances, God's Word points to the future destruction of all of Israel's enemies.  Why would this be and how do we reconcile God's love and mercy with such vengeance and judgment?  We need to understand that those who are enemies of Israel are enemies of Israel's God.  This is hard for many to accept, yet the Bible is the revelation of God's plan for the WORLD.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ has gone out to all the nations and even in nations where other religions are the huge majority, God has a remnant of people who have heard the Gospel and have been born again by His Spirit, putting their faith in Jesus.  This is God's plan ... to show grace to those whom He chooses through the promised Messiah.

How long before Jeremiah's prophecies are fulfilled?  God's plan is unfolding as He has promised and TODAY is the day of salvation.  We do not know whom God has called from the nations, but He has a remnant throughout the world.  Paul writes to the Romans:  "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited:  Israel has experienced a hardening IN PART until the full number of the Gentiles has come in" (Romans 11:25).  When that number (known to God) is reached, then God will deal again with Israel and Judah and the end will come.

We need to have an urgency to proclaim the Gospel, trusting in God to fulfill His plan and watching and waiting, believing that God will do what He says ... and for those who come to Him through faith in Jesus that means ETERNAL LIFE!!

"Father, the promise of restoration for Israel and Judah causes rejoicing in the hearts of those who know You as the only true God.  Your righteous judgment is deserved by all, yet Your marvelous grace is available for all who come to You through faith in Your Son Jesus.  Help me, Lord, to trust Your sovereign plan and to give thanks for Your grace to me.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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