JEREMIAH 1:1 – 3:25 and JAMES 3:1–18
We are now introduced to Jeremiah who was a prophet that was mightily used of God in the lead-up to the Babylonian captivity. We noted the scope of Isaiah’s message in being able to prophesy about events before the creation of the earth up to the time of the New Heavens and New Earth. He could prophesy about the glory of God and the gross darkness that was to come upon the earth. He also could speak of the glories of heaven and the horrors of hell. The prophet Jeremiah’s scope of ministry features his ability to be tender and compassionate in knowing the heart of God and people as well as the severity of God in judgement. He depicts the all-encompassing nature of Christ unlike any of the other prophets. Jeremiah is one of the four Major Prophets. Isaiah preceded him by about 100 years while Ezekiel and Daniel were more contemporaries of his. In chapter 1, we become acquainted with the call of this great prophet.
In verses 1-3, we see the call of Jeremiah, which was at the time of the prophetic ministry of Zephaniah. His call came during the reign of King Josiah who later became instrumental in one of Israel’s greatest revivals. It is interesting to note that Jeremiah, Josiah, Zephaniah and Ezekiel were all quite young when they entered into their respective callings. This helps us to appreciate the potential that exists in the lives of young people today. It is obvious that the enemy is aware of their potential when you consider how his tactics and devices are being focused upon them. He attacks in the educational institutions and through entertainment and media. This is something we must be mindful of regardless of our age. As part of the older generation, we must seek wisdom in order to provide a bridge between these two groups. The enemy is clever in seeking to keep division between the generations within the church context. The combination of Jeremiah, Josiah, Zephaniah and other young leaders sets a precedent of what we can look for in the last days. The life and times of Jeremiah is important for us to grasp. His day strongly parallels the last days. The revival under King Josiah to me is a picture of the last day revival that will take place before the 2nd coming. His revival did not stop the pending judgement of Babylon upon Israel. The revival did help to prepare those who heard and responded to God’s Word to be prepared for what was coming. Jeremiah prophesied a difficult message in a time of great revival. His message was rejected by many of the church leaders of his day just as it will be in our day. Who will believe a message of judgement and preparing for hard times while in the midst of a revival?
Jeremiah had the call upon him from the womb. Statements such as the ones David made in the Psalms when he said that the Lord had covered him while in the womb support this truth. (Psa 139:13) God has a plan for us and he predestines us according to his foreknowledge of the choices we will make in life. Jeremiah was called from the womb due to the Lord’s knowledge of how he would respond to God’s calling. The Lord reminded Jeremiah that even though he was young he was not to minimize the calling that God was placing upon him. A glimpse of his ministry and accompanying authority is seen in verse 10. He would have a ministry of rooting out false doctrines and teaching that would entangle one’s heart. Secondly, he would have a ministry of pulling down walls of separation between God and man (Eph 2:14). Third, he would have a ministry that would destroy the works of the enemy so that they would not rise again and finally the ministry of throwing down thoughts and wicked imaginations while bringing the mind into the obedience of Christ (vs 10).
The Lord then gave two signs as evidence of his calling (vs 11-16). The first was that of an almond tree (vs 11-12).The almond tree is the first tree that buds. The significance is that God would hasten His Word in bringing it to pass. The second sign was that of a seething pot (vs 13-16). This was a picture of the judgements that would come upon Jerusalem due to their idolatrous ways in not giving heed to the prophets. It represents the fulfilment of what Moses spoke in Deut 28:49. The Word of the Lord stated that there would be judgements that would come upon Israel if they did not serve Him with gladness.
God equips and prepares those whom he calls for service. The Lord was not mincing words with Jeremiah concerning the magnitude of the call and the price that would be paid. He is warning him ahead of time that he will be greatly opposed but that he be not dismayed or discouraged. This is a wonderful promise to those who may be called to a difficult mission field. If God has called one to a place, He will bring forth the needed preparation and resources. This prophetic call is not only a message that will affect Jeremiah’s day but will be one that will sets a precedent for the prophets of the last days.
In the first 4 versus the Lord reflects upon the early love relationship that existed with Israel. They were a first fruit blessing and they were a people of holiness unto the Lord. He would defend them against any nation that would come up against them. The heart of the Lord is revealed concerning the deep love He has for His people. He will now share the lament in seeing how they have forsaken their first love. This is the warning that the Lord gave to Ephesus in the Book of Revelation concerning the forsaking of their first love (Rev 2:4). This is something we must guard against. We need to come into the revelation of how much the Lord loves His people. The problem is letting idolatry and other loves get in the way. The Lord then asks the question as to what did He did that would cause them to turn aside? Why do they not reflect upon all that the Lord did throughout their history so that they can see His goodness? A major part of the problem is revealed in verse 8 where the priests in reality did not know Him. The indictment upon the priests and prophets will be a consistent theme throughout the Book of Jeremiah (Jer 5:31).
The Lord cites other nations who never changed their gods; gods that did not profit them yet Israel did not remain faithful to the one true God. It is a sad testimony when the world can maintain a consistency and standard better than many in the church even if it is for a wrong purpose. The work ethic of the world is oftentimes better than that which is seen in the church. The above malady is summarised in verse 13 where the people of God have forsaken the living God while seeking out man-made cisterns that hold no water. God alone is the one true source for joy and yet man is seeking so many other alternatives to God that will never satisfy. These other endeavours can include money, sports, positions and human love to name a few. These things have some value when in balance but never as the sole source of one’s pursuit. The example of Solomon sums up the matter when looking at the end of his life. He had that love relationship with God but lost it through the years as he chased after other loves. The lament of the Lord towards Israel as seen in the first three verses of this chapter could certainly apply to Solomon at a personal level.
One of Israel’s mistakes was that they turned to the world when they were in a time of distress. King Asa had a godly reign for about 35 years as he did that which was right before the Lord. The last 6 years of his reign deteriorated due to seeking help from other nations instead of turning to God. It happened at a national level and at a personal level (2 Chron 16). Let us never think that something like this could not happen to any of us. The Lord should always be the means of our help. In verses 20-25, the Lord speaks as to how He broke bondages on their behalf. The cycle period of the Judges was a time when Israel would get into trouble and the Lord would deliver them only soon to fall back into their old ways. He reminds them of the time when Balaam caused them to turn to idolatry and immorality. It is for these reasons that the Lord will now allow them to be brought into the hands of a foreign invader.
The Lord is prompting Jeremiah to ask all of these questions and in the process is acquainting him with His heart. The call of a prophet requires one to be brought through situations so that he or she can literally feel the heart of God. Later, Jeremiah will speak of a time when Israel will be established while coming into the place of experiencing and knowing His heart (Jer 24:6-7). This is provided that the people hear and respond to the prophet’s message. A true prophetic voice comes at a great price. It is often a solitary walk and calling. In order to speak a message one has to first become the message. This message is a weighty one and you can already feel the heavy heart that God is expressing through His prophet. Yes, there are many prophetic ministries in the church today but how many prophets that measure up to the stature of a Jeremiah? I personally feel that such prophets exist but they are few. Like Jeremiah, many of these prophets will emerge in the next great revival to come. Will they be heard and will they be received or will the Hananiah’s rue the day (Jer 28)?
The analogy of a man divorcing his wife, marrying another and seeking to go back to the first wife is used in describing the relationship and dilemma that God has with Israel. Yet, this is what God is doing in inviting unfaithful Israel to return unto Him. We will later see this message illustrated through the life of Hosea the prophet. Israel had many idols in high places in addition to the land being filled with immorality. These landmarks are habitations for evil spirits and they do have an influence upon the culture and the way of life in those respective areas. Josiah the king addressed this matter when he initiated the reforms throughout Judah at the time of revival under his reign. God judged Israel in the area of famine due to their sin; He withheld the rain, which greatly affected their agricultural crop. Many so-called climate specialists today seek to invoke policies to control weather conditions. It is God who controls the weather and it is sin that may serve as the root cause for various weather storms and phenomena’s seen today (Isa 24:5, 19-20). The Lord still longs to restore His people unto Himself even after the way they have treated Him.
The Lord will now speak to some of the specific judgements that will come upon Israel. In this prophetic utterance which will be covered in Jer 3:6-6:30 the Lord will speak of both Israel and Judah as two sisters. This revelation came to Jeremiah in the early years of his ministry under the reign of King Josiah. Israel is likened to an older sister whose punishment was open for all to see while Judah is akin to one who saw the judgements upon her sister but did not learn from her ways. In the end, Israel is more justified than Judah. Is this not the same regarding our generation when compared to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah? We have been reminded of the horrendous judgements upon this city for her sins but have we learned from their lesson? We must think about these things. The Bible is full of so many examples; we hear and read about them but do we learn their lessons? Do we think that we are somehow immune from their example? They did not have the light that we have and yet consider the severity of the judgement; how can we think we will escape such a fate?
It is the Lord’s intent in bringing His people to Zion (vs 14). The qualifications are high and only few will qualify but is it not worth the price? In verse 15 there is the beautiful promise of having Pastor’s that know the heart of God serving and teaching the people. The church of the last days is in need of such pastoral ministry to help speak into the lives of people and provide a message of hope and change. The qualification for such pastoral ministry in verse 15 is those who know the heart of God. It is the position that Moses sought after when he cried out to know the ways of God (Exo 33:13). These pastors have the ability to bring people into the knowledge and understanding of God’s ways. Jeremiah reiterates this promise as being given to those who submit to the upcoming Babylonian captivity. If they do, they will be a people who will be established while coming to know the heart of God (Jer 24:6-7). There will come a time in the millennium when the people will be multiplied and there will be no seeking after the Ark of the Covenant since the Lord Himself will be residing in Jerusalem. There will be the New Covenant reality of the laws of God written upon the hearts of His people. Jeremiah is contrasting the current sin and pollution of Israel and Judah with the promise of what will be in future. It is a picture of the restorative capacities of God. In verses 17-19, we see further truths concerning the millennial period. The land of the north (Israel) and Judah will be restored at the time of the 2nd coming.
The Lord now returns to the problem at hand which is their unfaithfulness to the living God. Israel is likened to an unfaithful wife who has left her husband. The modern day application of what is taking place here is the level of divorce seen in the land and the church in particular. Still in the midst of their treachery, God is still calling out to them to return. This thought of restoration is carried out through the ages as later seen in Malachi and in the last day church being epitomised by the Spirit of John the Baptist. God’s heart is always calling out for Restoration. There will come the time when Israel will come to their senses and realize their folly (vs 23). It is because of disobedience that Israel is ending up in poverty and shame. It is God’s desire for His people to experience the blessings of His abundant riches.
The subject of what constitutes a perfect man is picked up by James in this chapter. Surprisingly, it is the matter of the tongue that is featured. But then again maybe not so surprising when seeing what others in scripture have shared concerning the tongue. The varied writers of the Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes address this subject at length. The Lord perhaps summed it up best when he said that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Mat 12:34). The mouth is that which expresses what is truly within us. That which is contained in the heart is who we really are. The hearts primary mode of expressing itself is through the lips of man. It can be concealed and suppressed for a season but there comes a time when the mouth speaks forth the heart’s content. I have seen this in counselling, particularly in people who have grown older. If they have lived their life in a way where they have not allowed the Lord to do a work of grace the hidden and suppressed nature eventually comes out. I can tell you it is not pleasant.
The teaching ministry is vital and must come into greater prominence. Our words have an influence upon people especially if we are in the position of being a teacher. In verse 2 we see that the one who can control his tongue is considered to be a perfect man. This is easier said than done because the tongue is a spiritual gauge as to how mature we really are. The tongue is then compared to the bridle that is put into the lips of a horse. This mighty animal can be controlled by a simple bit in its mouth. The comparison of the tongue to a rudder of a ship is also given. Just think of a huge luxury liner and contrast the rudder or steering mechanism to the overall size of the vessel. This is what steers the ship and it is the tongue, that little member within us that steers who we are and where we will go.
Now just think what one tiny match that is lit can do to an entire forest. This is all too real in many parts of the world that are suffering under the ravages of huge firestorms. This is likened to what a word that is spoken out of season can do. A few words spoken in a rage can do irreparable damage. One of the fruits of the Spirit is temperance (self-control). It is what Jesus exhibited while upon the Cross. He had the power to come down; He had the power to destroy His executioners yet what came forth from His lips? “Father forgive them…” This is a reflection of what was in His heart. These are the Words of a perfect man. This is a test that we need to be prepared for on a daily basis especially if we are in a position of leadership. The enemy will work overtime to try and get us to fret and lose our spirit (1 Sam 1:6). If a person has a tongue that spews out evil things or words that are not edifying it will be due to having an evil heart. We can say right things and give the appearance that things are in order but the true test will come that will reveal what is ultimately in our heart. We can either bless or curse with the tongue (vs 9-12).
James will now touch on the subject of the two wisdoms (vs 13-18). There is a continual running contrast between the wisdom of God and the wisdom that is seen in the world. Like the subject of the tongue the issue of wisdom is referred to at length in much of the Old Testament. We see the wisdom of God at work in the lives of Daniel and his three friends at a crucial time of history. There was a price to pay in having this anointing. In Daniel’s case it was an intentional separation from the ways and delights of the world. At the same time, he sought the face of God in prayer and fasting. David exhorted Solomon to seek after wisdom more than anything else (Pro 4:7). Solomon heeded David’s advice and we know the rest of the story. There is a real contention today between these two wisdoms and we need to know and understand the difference. This portion of James epistle will help bring the needed clarity.
What is a good definition of wisdom? It is a God-given ability to make right decisions in a given situation. It is needed in our day to day work and it is needed in how we live our lives for the Lord. As we walk in intimacy with God wisdom should become a way of life as opposed to knowing what to do in given situations. This is what God seeks to develop in our lives. We also see that wisdom is linked with the Fear of the Lord which helps to keep us in a reverential and circumspect mind-set. God is the source of wisdom, knowledge and understanding and it can only be realized as we have a close harmonious walk with Him.
James goes on to say that if we harbour envy, strife and an indifference to truth we cannot be candidates for his wisdom. The wisdom that governs such lives is earthly and sensual with its origins coming from the devil himself (vs 14-16). This is the problem with much of modern psychology today; its solutions are based on man-made solutions that do not get to the root problems in the heart. If the root is never addressed the problem will reappear sometimes in even more dangerous forms. Today, more than ever we need the wisdom of God to flow forth in conjunction with the other candlestick anointing’s (Isa 11:2-3).
James then gives a description of wisdom by listing 7 different attributes that makes up its character. (vs 17-18) This wisdom, when employed produces the fruit of righteousness of those who are peaceable and who seek after peace in the lives of others. This kind of person is always seeking the best for others. James begins this chapter by speaking of what constitutes a perfect man. It is one who has the mastery over his tongue. This is the result of one whose heart is pure and upright before God. He then picks up on the thought of the two wisdoms and seeks to contrast them. It is a beautiful thought when thinking of a person who has mastery over his tongue bringing forth words of wisdom for the benefit of all.