Thursday, March 15, 2018

Gedaliah, or Ishmael, or Johanan? (6)

After Johanan rescued the captives Ishmael took at Mizpah, other military leaders joined Johanan at Geruth Chimham, which was close to Bethlehem, planning to go to Egypt. Then (Jeremiah Chapter 42) the leaders and people approached Jeremiah and asked him to inquire of God what they should do; “Then they said to Jeremiah, May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with the whole message with which the Lord your God will send you to us. Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.”

After ten days God spoke to Jeremiah that the people were to remain in Judah and that they need not fear the Babylonians, that the Babylonians would not retaliate against them for Ishmael’s murders at Mizpah. Notwithstanding the promise of the leaders and people to obey the Word of God, here is how they responded to Jeremiah:

“But as soon as Jeremiah, whom the Lord their God had sent, had finished telling all the people all the words of the Lord their God—that is, all these words— Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You are not to enter Egypt to reside there’; but Baruch the son of Neriah is inciting you against us to give us over into the hand of the Chaldeans, so they will put us to death or exile us to Babylon.” So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces, and all the people, did not obey the voice of the Lord to stay in the land of Judah.” (Chapter 43).

What follows is the journey of the rebellious leaders and the people into Egypt, their adoption of idolatry, and Jeremiah’s continued words of judgement on their disobedience - with the message that Egypt would be conquered by Babylon just as Judah was conquered.

Ishmael and Johanan looked at circumstances, they looked at the expedient, and in looking at the expedient they rejected the Word of God. Ishmael resorted to an alliance with the ungodly king of Ammon, deceit, and murder. Johanan commendably rescued Ishmael’s captives, but then he sought an alliance with Egypt by going to Egypt and embracing that land’s false gods. Just as Johanan wanted to initially solve the problem with Ishmael by assassination, by taking things into his own hands and not trusting God, so he chose to answer the question of what to do and where to go according to his own reasoning, rather than obeying God’s Word through Jeremiah. Throughout the entire book of Jeremiah God’s Word remains steadfast and immovable - because of Judah’s sins the Babylonians were coming to conquer, submit to them and you will find mercy - that Word was true to Jehoiakim, it was true to Zedekiah, and it was true to Johanan - God’s Word did not change; all three of these men rejected God’s Word. This same Word was true to Gedaliah and he obeyed the Word while many around him were not obeying it - he obeyed the Word and he was killed for it. The Ethiopian, Ebed-melech, believed the Word, worked to save Jeremiah, and his life was spared.

We simply cannot trust what we see happening around us but we can trust the Word of God. When common worldly sense dictates that we adopt the methods of the world, that we think as the world, that we act as the world, the People of God must stand fast in God’s Word and with Paul look not at the things which are visible but at the things that are invisible (2 Corinthians 4:17 - 18). When the People of God become politicized and align themselves with the agendas of this age, whether they are those of Johanan or Ishmael, or others, we have ceased to be the distinct people we are called to be in Jesus Christ.  We are not engaged in a conflict with flesh and blood, but with spiritual forces of wickedness (Ephesians Chapter 6), and when we make our conflict with flesh and blood we descend from the heavenlies into the earth, and the weapons of the earth will destroy us...whether others are using them against us or we are using them against others, the Church of God cannot use the weapons of the world with impunity.  

When the kings of Judah used the treasures of God’s Temple to pay for military alliances and protection, the Temple was diminished until the Temple was no more. When the Church of Jesus Christ uses the treasures that it has been given to form unholy alliances, when it invites idols into its sanctuary, when it justifies the pragmatic on the grounds of self-preservation, can we expect anything less than what Jerusalem experienced? Anything less than what Jesus spoke to the Seven Churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3? We are to be a pure virgin for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3), the holy Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22 - 33). As Paul asks, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:16). Let us not forget that “judgment begins with the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17).

Our time with Gedaliah, Ishmael, and Johanan tells us that things are not always what they seem to be. Only the Word of God can guide and direct us in this life, in its chaos, in its tensions, in its insistence that we align ourselves with the agendas of this evil age.

So what do we think? Shall we align ourselves with Ishmael? Or with Johanan? Or shall we submit to the Word of God with Gedaliah? Shall we not be ashamed to stand with Gedaliah? With Jesus? No matter what the cost?  AMEN.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Gedaliah, or Ishmael, or Johanan? (5)

“Then Ishmael took captive all the remnant of the people who were in Mizpah, the king’s daughters and all the people who were left in Mizpah, whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard had put under the charge of Gedaliah the son of Ahikam; thus Ishmael the son of Nethaniah took them captive and proceeded to cross over to the sons of Ammon.

“But Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces that were with him heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done. So they took all the men and went to fight with Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and they found him by the great pool that is in Gibeon. Now as soon as all the people who were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah and the commanders of the forces that were with him, they were glad. So all the people whom Ishmael had taken captive from Mizpah turned around and came back, and went to Johanan the son of Kareah. But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men and went to the sons of Ammon.” (Jeremiah Chapter 41).

Ishmael entered Mizpah with ten men (Jeremiah 41:1), he returns to Ammon with eight men. Treachery and murder has cost Ishmael nothing but two men, who likely meant nothing to him - for life meant nothing to him - other than perhaps his own life. Yet, how can even a man’s own life mean anything to him when he trades his soul to the devil to fulfill his lust for power, blood, position? Jesus asks the question, “What shall it profit a man (or woman) if he gains the whole world and yet loses his own soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” This great exchange occurs daily, we see it on television, we hear it on the radio, it is communicated via the internet, we see it in the workplace - men and women trading their souls for elusive temporal pleasure, for the fleeting spotlight, for a short-lived ego boost, for a moment of attention.

Ishmael traded his birthright as a son of the royal family of Judah for the patronage of the idolatrous king of Ammon. Ishmael plotted to kill, he killed, and then when Johanan caught up with him he ran back to Baalis the king of Ammon. The snake returned to its hole, it slithered back under the rock, it took its shrivelled soul back to worship the idols of Ammon. Ishmael killed the faithful of the land, he killed Gedaliah who thought no ill of him, who even defended his reputation from Johanan. Noble Ishmael! Courageous Ishmael!

When a people, as Judah; or a king, as Zedekiah; or a leader, as Ishmael; harden themselves against the Word of God a callous insanity overtakes them, a maniacal thirst for rebellion against God and others pervades them, an “everyman for himself” cry issues from his heart and throat. The actions of Judah, Zedekiah, and Ishmael were not rational; again and again God had demonstrated the fulfillment of His Word of judgement, again and again God sent prophets and their words were fulfilled - and yet rather than repent, rather than submit to God’s Word, rather than cry out to God for deliverance - the insanity persisted, the denial increased, as hideous darkness enveloped the people. How hideous? “The hands of compassionate women boiled their own children; they become food for them because of the destruction of the daughter of my people” (Lamentations 4:10).

Can we hear ourselves saying, “It’s the economy. We must do what we do to preserve the economy”? How do we rationalize away the injustice in our world? In our land? In our state? In our city? How do we justify the filth we expose our children to - whether in entertainment or, sadly, in many of our schools? How do so many churches justify dismantling the teachings of Scripture in the name of sociology, relevancy, and church growth when doing so represents the destruction of protections for young hearts and minds awash in a sea of pollution? We ought not to be too quick to condemn the mothers (and fathers) of Lamentations 4:10, for just maybe we are letting others consume our own the name of our own selfish narcissistic preservation.

Children, and this includes teenagers, need adults to say, “This is wrong. Adultery  is wrong. Fornication is wrong. Lust for power is wrong. Using people is wrong. Lust for glamour is wrong. Murder is wrong. Violence for the sake of entertainment is wrong and it desensitizes our souls. Not caring for our neighbors is wrong. Might does not make right, whether that might is military and police and legal power, or whether it is economic power or political power. The repudiation of the image of God is wrong and the legal fostering of that repudiation upon others is heinous. These things are wrong and they are sinful and when a society embraces them that society is in rebellion against the True and Living God.

Adults need other adults to say these same things.

Think about this, if this language seems a bit strong then it only illustrates how far from Scripture we are removed, for compared to the Biblical prophets this language is mild. It seems that while we have no sensitivity when it comes to the language and images we expose ourselves (and others, including children) to in our entertainment, that we are particularly adverse to the language and images of the Bible when God’s Word condemns sin and rebellion (see Ezekiel Chapter 23 for a passage that would offend people in church and get pastors fired if they used it in preaching). We think nothing of watching sexual promiscuity on television or in the movies, but we will not tolerate God telling us that our society and much of the professing church is spiritually and morally promiscuous. God does not dumb down His condemnation of sin - and if we do then we do it at the peril of others, at the peril of those who we say we love.

As Ishmael demonstrates, when we persist in rebellion against the Holy One we lose our sense of bearing, our consciences are deadened, and our souls grow dark. What occurred to Judah and Jerusalem is recorded for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10:6 & 11).

Shall we live as Ishmael, as Johanan, or as Gedaliah?