Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Reflections on Jeremiah, Exile and Exodus

Jeremiah 31:15-26

Jeremiah had a tough job: locked up, mocked, conspired against, dropped in a pit, treated as a traitor. Described as the ‘weeping prophet’.
Occasionally had a good dream! (v26)

This part of dream begins with another person weeping
Rachel weeping in Ramah
Ramah was 5 miles out of Jerusalem. It was significant because it was the town that the Nebuchadnezzar gathered all their prisoners from Jerusalem before taking them into exile in Babylon.
Rachel - mother of Joseph; grandmother of Ephraim - and Ephraim made up the largest part of the population of Judah
So Rachel - symbolically Israel - is weeping for her children. Why? They have gone into exile.

This verse is used in another place in New Testament. Matthew 2:18 - when Herod slaughters the baby boys under the age of 2 when Jesus was born. It is used of the weeping mothers of Bethlehem. And Matthew is likening the slaughter of the children in Jesus time to the exile of Jeremiah’s time.
These are the sorts of things that happen when a godless ruler rejects God. The consequences are devastating.
Whereas the weeping in Jeremiah is caused by a separation by distance, the weeping in Matthew is caused by a separation caused by death.

There were two dominant experiences in the history of Israel - the Bible constantly returns to these.

Exile: being sent away - suffering the alienation, the separation caused by punishment for sin. The first exile was that suffered by Adam and Eve when they rebelled against God and were cast out of the garden.
Since then we have been in exile - separated from God, under the curse of God. That is why God seems so distant; why life can seem so futile and empty and, at times, simply a bit of a slog; why we suffer death.

But the situation here is not hopeless
Far from it: Jeremiah speaks of a ‘hope for your future’ (31:17)

And what we see here is the hope of return, the hope that God will bring his people back.

That brings me to the second dominant experience in the history of Israel.
The experience of Exodus. When God brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt into the promised land. And now, God says, that the people are again in slavery, he will once again bring about a new Exodus - a new act of deliverance for them.

Four things I note about how God does this.

1. Through a true, genuine repentance (vv18-19)
  • Recognition that the situation that Israel is in is a result of sin (v18). They’ve stopped playing the blame game; they’ve accepted responsibility for what has happened. It is not because God is unjust. It is because they have sinned.
  • Recognition that only God can bring them back (v18b). They cannot save themselves.
  • Genuine shame for sin (v19)
2. Call to respond to the love of God (v20)
Amazing verse. The parent - whose anger is an expression of their love
Why should we come back to God? Because he loves us.
And he goes on loving us - even at the same time as punishing sin.

For us as Christians, we see that even more clearly in Jesus. Jesus is the embodiment of both the anger of God against sin, and the love of God.

3. Call to return (vv21-22)
The people are in exile. They are to note how God brings them back - they are to see the marks, so that when they wander again in the desert they will again see markers and come back.
Note v22: Faithless Israel is again purified, and the verse about a woman embracing a man is about Israel once again embracing the God who has already embraced her.

This is a picture of intimacy - this is what God longs for us

4. Promise of abundance (v23-25)
Promise of return - a new Exodus
Place of prosperity (v23)
Place of righteousness (v23)
Place of harmony (v24)
God will satisfy the weary

This was an astonishing promise for a people who had just been taken into exile.

But it is also a promise for us
Jesus says, ‘Come to me all you who are weary’
Weary of carrying burdens you were never meant to bear; weary of exile - of alienation, worn down by life and by death

For us it also involves:
Repentance - and realisation that we can only come back to God with God’s help
Recognition of the love of God
Act of return: the path back to God for each of us will be different: for some it will mean saying sorry to another person; letting go of a hurt (handing it to God and letting him deal with it); act of obedience; new ‘vow’ that needs to be made to God, surrender of an area of our life; a decision to put worship of God at the centre of your life; an act of submission, humbling ourselves and crying out to God - recognising that we cannot save ourselves.

This passage is very similar to the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15).
Here it is Rachel’s children, in a far away land, called to return home
There it is the story of a son who rejected his father and chose to go into a self-imposed exile.
For him, it involved repentance, shame and realisation, a decision to return - and a journey back home

But what he did not expect was the response from his Father.
A father who loved him, and welcomed him back
A father who gave him everything.

And even though as Christians we live as exiles, because of Jesus we have both the hope of abundance, of full reconciliation, of an end to the alienation and separation caused by sin and death; and we also have the promise of the presence of God now. We have been forgiven, we are welcomed and embraced - and in turn we embrace our God.

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