Sunday School Lesson

August 2

Lesson 9

A Redeemer in Zion

Devotional Reading: Exodus 6:2-8

Background Scripture: Isaiah 59; Psalm 89:11-18

Isaiah 59:15-21

 

                                                  

15Truth is nowhere to be found,and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice.

 

16He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;

so his own arm achieved salvation for him,and his own righteousness sustained him.

 

17He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head;

he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

 

18According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies

and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due.

 

19From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory. For he will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along.

20“The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”

declares the Lord.

 

21“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.

Key Verse

“The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the Lord.—Isaiah 59:20

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Describe the state of affairs in the Israel of Isaiah’s day and God’s reaction to it.

2. Explain how and why God’s warning of his righteous judgment forms part of his message of redemption.

3. Plan an outreach event to spread the message of the Redeemer in the community.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Are You Angry?

B. Lesson Background

I. Injustice and Righteousness (Isaiah 59:15-17)

A. The Lord’s Displeasure (vv. 15, 16a)

B. The Lord’s Solution (vv. 16b, 17)

Acting on God’s Behalf

II. Repayment and Glory (Isaiah 59:18, 19)

A. Enemies Defeated (v. 18)

B. God Triumphant (v. 19)

Universal Justice

III. Redeemer and Covenant (Isaiah 59:20, 21)

A. Future Deliverance (v. 20)

B. Eternal Relationship (v. 21)

Conclusion

A. God’s Justice Brings Hope

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

A. Are You Angry?

If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention. Perhaps you have seen this slogan on bumper stickers or billboards. We might object to it. After all, we should control our anger, shouldn’t we? And I resent being told that I am not paying attention! I read the bumper sticker, did I not?

But that provocative saying makes a point that Christians should affirm. Injustice and wickedness seem rampant. Everywhere we turn, we see the power of evil. How can a thoughtful person not be angry in a world like this? Our indignant reaction reflects how God made us. As people who bear his image, our response to the world should reflect his own. Our Creator is utterly just, righteous, and holy. He cannot tolerate the evil that mars his creation and victimizes people. God’s wrath, his righteous anger against evil, burns against all that is wrong. When we feel indignant anger about the evils we see, we reflect God’s own reaction.

But God’s intent is not merely to destroy evil. He also intends to enact justice and righteousness as he reasserts his rightful reign over creation. As those who bear his image, we long for his will to be done! Yet if we are honest, we know that we are part of the reason that God’s justice does not reign as fully as it should in our world. The righteousness that we desire is the very thing we often reject in our stubborn selfishness. We regularly act in ways that embody evil, not justice. We who long for the solution are part of the problem.

Today’s text reflects these realities. Above and beyond that, however, it expresses God’s promise to establish his justice despite our failures.

B. Lesson Background

The prophet Isaiah delivered his messages during the turbulent eighth century BC. Judah, the southern kingdom in Israel’s divided monarchy, was threatened by the powerful Assyrian empire. Isaiah’s generation had witnessed the Assyrians’ destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, and only by God’s intervention did Judah and Jerusalem survive that awful time (see 2 Kings 18:13-19:37; Isaiah 36, 37).

But the threat from within was just as great, if not more so. Of the four kings who ruled Judah in Isaiah’s day (see Isaiah 1:1), three were relatively “good” and one was quite evil. But the unholiness that had gained a grip continued during the reigns of the good kings (2 Kings 15:4, 35). Temporary repentance would occur (2 Chronicles 32:26), but it was always just that—temporary. Judah was surrounded by violent, ungodly nations, and Judah itself had become such a nation.

How could a holy God tolerate all that unholiness? How could he promise that his people would become a “light for the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6; compare 49:6) when the Israelites were as sinful as the pagan nations around them? Our text today is part of a larger context that addresses such questions.

I. Injustice and Righteousness

                                                              (Isaiah 59:15-17)

A. The Lord’s Displeasure (vv. 15, 16a)

 

15. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice.

 

As God surveys his world, he sees the utter ruin of his original design. Truth, understanding, and living in accord with God’s reality has failed. Isaiah has just compared truth’s condition with a person who stumbles and falls helpless in the street (Isaiah 59:14). That image is appropriate for a nation like Judah. Although entrusted with God’s law and land, it chooses to seek safety in wealth and political alliances with pagan nations.

Evil runs rampant in settings where truth is ignored. Whoever shuns evil is victimized by those who have abandoned truth to embrace evil. Often such victims are society’s most vulnerable (see Isaiah 1:17, 23; 10:2). In such an environment, the weak are left unprotected and the righteous are abused as the godless, truth-denying people exercise unbridled power.

What Do You Think?

Who has been the greatest influence for you being a truthful person at various stages of life? Why?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

During your preteen years

During your teenage years

During adulthood

But God sees all this. He is not distant and indifferent; he is in fact deeply engaged. What God seeks is justice, referring to governance of his world that reflects his character and purpose. This is the responsibility of all who are created in his image. This responsibility involves how to live, how to interact with others, and what to expect from others. For the powerful, it means discretion in their own exercise of power as they yield to God’s purposes. For the weak, it means to trust in his way for protection and relief.

But the prophet tells us that God sees no justice as he looks at his world. Such a situation is intolerable for him, the holy one.

 

16a. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;

 

As God surveys the situation, he sees its hopelessness. His justice is absent because there is no one who practices it! So God is appalled that there is also no one to intervene to make things right again. This is the issue that confronted Isaiah when he had a vision of the holy God: that man realized himself to be a sinful person, surrounded by sinful people (Isaiah 6:5). Who can be God’s instrument in such a dire situation?

How to Say It

anthropomorphism an-thruh-puh-more-fih-zum.

Assyrian Uh-sear-e-un.

Isaiah Eye-zay-uh.

Judah Joo-duh.

Sinai Sigh-nye or Sigh-nay-eye.

B. The Lord’s Solution (vv. 16b, 17)

 

16b. ... so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.

 

The answer! If none but God expresses his justice, then God himself must be the one to establish that justice. Isaiah speaks of God’s arm as a way of referring to his mighty power, exercised like a warrior who uses his strong arm to wield a sword. That mighty power of God will bring salvation, which refers to the entire plan of God to retake his world. As God does so, he will establish justice and rescue his people from the terrible position in which they find themselves by their own doing.

God’s righteousness—his utter commitment to that which is right and just—is the basis on which he moves to transform his deeply unrighteous and unjust people and the unrighteous and unjust world in which they live. In this sinful world, none but God can do this!

Acting on God’s Behalf

The Bible sometimes presents God to us in terms of human form, characteristics, or actions. (The technical term for this is anthropomorphism.) That’s what we see in the verse above and the one following. This technique helps us understand God at a level most familiar to us. The Bible on occasion also presents God to us in terms of animal characteristics (examples: Psalm 91:4; Luke 13:34).

We are grateful for this aid to understanding! But as we ponder what is to be brought about by God’s “arm,” we should not let the magnificence of this imagery cause us to miss a vital point: This action was not God’s first choice! His first choice was that a human intercessor would act on his behalf. But since “there was no one” to be found to do so, God decided to take the necessary action himself. We see the same issue in Ezekiel 22:29, 30.

When God looks at the world today, does he see anyone willing to act on his behalf to bring about his justice? Praying for God’s justice to prevail is a good thing. Following that prayer with action to make it happen is even better!—R. L. N.

What Do You Think?

When was a time you expected someone to act on your behalf but the person failed to do so? What did you learn from this experience?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding a legal issue

Regarding an issue at work or school

Regarding a family issue

Other

 

17a. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head;

 

Seeing the awful, helpless condition of the world, God figuratively arms himself for battle. His armaments of breastplate and helmet are characterized by the very qualities that he alone can bring to the world, two attributes on which Isaiah has already focused: righteousness and salvation. No one can be found to have God’s righteousness, so he is the one to bring it to the battle. None but God can bring salvation, so he is the one to bring it to the battle as well. There can be no doubt: God, so armed with what the world lacks, will prevail in the battle with evil.

What Do You Think?

Considering this armament alongside that of Ephesians 6:13-17, where is your preparedness for spiritual battle most in need of improvement? How will that improvement happen?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding offensive functions

Regarding defensive functions

Other

 

17b. ... he put on the garments of vengeance

 

The picture becomes more intense. God’s figurative clothing for battle is vengeance. That word may trouble us at some level, but it is a vital expression of God’s righteousness and holiness. The God whom Isaiah saw in his vision of chapter 6 is the holy one who cannot tolerate evil. His very nature requires that evil be punished. The crime demands a punishment, and the punishment will fit the crime.

To pay back what evil deserves is to deliver the vengeance of retributive justice. Humans are imperfect agents of doing so. But the God who demands such retribution is capable of delivering it perfectly—and he does! Vengeance belongs only to him (Deuteronomy 32:35; quoted in Romans 12:19). Were it not for God’s vengeance, we would have no assurance of justice in the world.

God’s vengeance is also part of the framework of his mercy, since the reality of his justified vengeance is what makes his offer of mercy meaningful. Justice demands retribution, and as sinners we all fall under that sentence of death. Without God’s mercy, we would all be doomed. As we clamor for justice, we will see our guilt in that regard. In turn, this should make us aware of our utter need for God’s mercy.

 

17c. ... and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

 

At least some in Isaiah’s audience doubtless wonder whether God will ever act to bring justice and retribution. They are not alone in that regard (examples: Judges 6:13; Habakkuk 1:2; Revelation 6:10). Has God forgotten the plight of the weak? Has he abandoned the world to evil?

The prophet delivers a ringing assurance to the contrary! God demonstrates a passionate zeal for the battle to establish his justice. Figuratively, God’s zeal is such an important part of his nature that he wears it as though it were a cloak. Even if he seems distant as we toil in the midst of evil, his zeal for righteousness assures us that he will always act on his people’s behalf in his time.

II. Repayment and Glory

                                                                  (Isaiah 59:18, 19)

A. Enemies Defeated (v. 18)

 

18. According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies

and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due.

 

To establish justice, God assures that the punishment fits the crime—the idea of according to what they have done. He does not act arbitrarily. Each individual is to receive punishment for what he or she does (compare Revelation 20:12, 13; 22:12). God’s judgment is, in effect, repayment: simple and perfect retributive justice. This is the very justice that the oppressed cry out for (Psalm 28:4).

God accomplishes this by unleashing his power on his enemies. Wrongdoers are rebels against him; they are subjects of the divine king who plot insurrection. God’s judgment brings those enemies to the divine bar of justice. His wrath is not an irrational, knee-jerk reaction. Rather, such judgment is his righteous, holy indignation in response to the evil done by those who rebel against him.

This justice is not merely for the Israelites and their neighbors—it goes worldwide. Isaiah understands that God is Lord not just of a single nation or region but of the whole world. All peoples in all places are subject to his judgment and justice. For the Israelites, a people unaccustomed to seafaring, many such are across the seas; these places are the islands beyond the horizon. Isaiah expresses conviction that even those places, usually inaccessible to him and his people, will also be the objects of God’s retributive justice.

The holy one of Israel will not let evil continue forever in his world. Were he to do so, he would not be true to himself. The justice that people long for is the justice that he promises ultimately to all.

What Do You Think?

How does belief in God’s ultimate justice help when facing injustice in the here and now?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

When you are wronged

When a fellow believer is wronged

When interacting with unbelievers

Other

B. God Triumphant (v. 19)

 

19a. From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory.

 

Isaiah promises that the ultimate result of God’s judgment is global submission to his rule. The worldwide scope is seen in Isaiah’s pointing to both the west and the east (the rising of the sun). The fear that people will demonstrate will not be simply a dread of punishment but one of awe and respect that reflects a corrected assessment of God. Such fear is directed especially to the name of the Lord, meaning his authority. To fear God’s name is to revere him and submit to him as king, being fully aware of his righteousness and power.

Universal Justice

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights was formed in 1948 to be a watchdog over issues of human rights. But the commission came under criticism through the years because many of its member-states had poor records on human rights themselves. A tipping point came in 2004 when the U.S. ambassador declared Sudan’s election to the commission an “absurdity” given that country’s campaign of ethnic cleansing in its Darfur region.

The commission was replaced in 2006 by the U.N. Human Rights Council for a fresh start at promoting human rights. But achieving justice at the international level is hindered by vested interests that resist change. Further adding to the problem is that there are various kinds of justice to be considered (retributive, distributive, procedural, and restorative) and defined.

This problem is not confined to the international level. What I think is just and right may seem terribly unfair to you. Apart from a divine standard, justice is difficult to imagine and hard to attain. Isaiah gives us hope as he predicts the day when the whole creation will experience God’s justice. There is no better kind.—C. R. B.

 

19b. For he will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along.

 

The proper translation of this half-verse is uncertain, and this alternative is offered in a footnote of some editions of the NIV: “When enemies come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will put them to flight.” But under either translation, the end result is clear: as God’s rule is established, he sweeps away every imaginable threat. The emphasis is on the full accomplishment of God’s will in the world. The holy one of Israel will reign as king over all that he has created.

III. Redeemer and Covenant

                                                                (Isaiah 59:20, 21)

A. Future Deliverance (v. 20)

 

20. “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”                  

        declares the Lord.

When God establishes his global justice, it will mean restoration for his people. As Isaiah writes this, he addresses an audience that is aware of his earlier warnings that Judah will one day be taken captive as God’s judgment on their rebellion (Isaiah 3; 39:6, 7). But God has promised to visit his people beyond that captivity to liberate them as he did in the exodus from Egypt (Deuteronomy 30:1-5; Isaiah 49:8-26), and Isaiah repeats that promise here. God will not abandon his to-be-exiled people. As their Redeemer, he will lead them a second time from enslavement to freedom. This promise is to those in Jacob—that is, Jacob’s descendants, the people of Israel—who repent of their sins (compare Paul’s loose quotation of this verse and part of the next in Romans 11:26, 27a).

With the use of the word Redeemer, Isaiah embeds God’s mercy in the announcement of judgment. Justice requires that rebellion against him be penalized, the penalty here taking the form of exile. But God promises restoration for those who repent and seek his mercy. It is his mercy, not his judgment, that God ultimately seeks for his people. In warning of judgment, God is exercising his mercy as he invites stubborn rebels to be restored to his blessing.

What Do You Think?

When have you seen a person having to experience the pain of “hitting rock bottom” before finally repenting? What did you learn from this?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

A colleague

A family member

A neighbor

Other

B. Eternal Relationship (v. 21)

21. “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.

To reinforce his promise to restore justice for his people, God recalls his covenant with them. This covenant is the statement of obligations and promises that he gave to his people at Mount Sinai. God’s covenant includes both warnings of judgment for disobedience and promises of restored blessing for repentance.

But as God recalls this covenant, an abrupt change takes place as he switches from discussing the plural them to begin addressing you (twice) and your (three times), which are singular in number. This singular individual is endowed with God’s Spirit (compare 1 Samuel 10:6). God puts his words in the mouth of this person, as he does with the prophets (compare Ezra 1:1). His words in this individual’s mouth will remain powerful for the descendants of generations that extend from this time on and forever.

Of whom is God speaking? The concept of one who establishes God’s truth forever reminds us of the promise of a great king like David, a forthcoming ruler whose throne God is to establish forever (2 Samuel 7:16). The concept of one who speaks for God by his Spirit reminds us of the promise to send a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18, 19). The reference to descendants echoes God’s promise to Abraham that by his offspring all the nations are to be blessed (Genesis 22:18). Thus we are driven to conclude that Isaiah is voicing God’s promise to send the great king, the great prophet, the one who blesses all nations.

Isaiah has already spoken of one to be known as Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14), one to have God’s authority to bring his peace (9:6, 7), “a Branch” from the roots of King David’s father, Jesse, to establish perfect peace (11:1). Knowing what happens some eight centuries after Isaiah’s prophecy, we can identify Jesus as the you of the verse before us. He is the means by which God restores blessing to people (Matthew 1:23). He is the means by which God brings his perfect justice to the world.

Conclusion

A. God’s Justice Brings Hope

Living in a world filled with evil and injustice as we do, it is natural to become angry or discouraged. But we have great hope in hearing of God’s commitment to bring justice. Isaiah offered a glimpse of what lies beyond the oppression of injustice and certainty of God’s judgment: the promise of God’s mercy. The prophet reminded the people of his day that the merciful God intended to restore his glorious design to those willing to receive it. That reminder is ours as well.

                                                                                        

Visual for Lesson 9. Use this visual as a focal point to discuss the who, what, why, and how of redemption in Christ.

The fact that we know the climax of the story gives us an advantage over Isaiah and his audience: the Son of God has indeed visited his people! Having given his life as the perfect sacrifice, he has satisfied the requirements of God’s justice to punish sin (Isaiah 52:13-53:12), thus enabling his mercy to be poured out. Risen from the dead, Jesus now reigns on high (Hebrews 1:3) as we await his return when he will judge some (Acts 10:42) and redeem others (Mark 13:26, 27).

Knowing how the promises are fulfilled, we have a duty beyond that of Isaiah’s audience. Knowing how God exhibits his justice and mercy through Jesus, we have every reason and obligation to reflect those in the way we live.

B. Prayer

Almighty God, we ask that you empower us to be people of justice even as we extend mercy as you have been merciful to us. In the name of Jesus, our just and merciful king, amen!

C. Thought to Remember

Proclaim both God’s justice and his mercy.



 

August 9

Lesson 10

A Choice to Be Just

Devotional Reading: Jeremiah 26:8-15

Background Scripture: Ezra 7:1, 6, 21-28; Jeremiah 7:1-15

Jeremiah 7:1-15

1This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:

 2“Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord.

 3 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.

 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!”

 5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly,

 6 if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,

 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.

 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

9“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known,

 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?

 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.

12“‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.

 13 While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer.

 14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors.

 15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’”

                                              

Key Verse

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.—Jeremiah 7:3

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Identify the “deceptive words” that the people of Judah had accepted, and tell how
their confidence in those deceptive words had corrupted their behavior.

2. Compare and contrast the “deceptive words” of Jeremiah’s day with the “deceptive words” that falsely comfort and corrupt today’s society.

3. Select one specific false massage prevalent today and explain how best to refute it with God’s truth.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. A Godly Good-Luck Charm?

B. Lesson Background

I. Prophetic Message (Jeremiah 7:1, 2)

A. From Whom (v. 1)

B. For Whom (v. 2)

II. False Trust (Jeremiah 7:3-8)

A. Message of Life (vv. 3-7)

B. Message of Death (v. 8)

Dirty Socks

III. Exposed Injustice (Jeremiah 7:9-15)

A. Commandments Broken (v. 9)

B. Temple Trusted (vv. 10, 11)

Tainted Praise

C. Lesson Unlearned (vv. 12-15)

Conclusion

A. God’s Promises Stand

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

A. A Godly Good-Luck Charm?

We all know about so-called good-luck charms. The rabbit’s foot, the horseshoe, and the four-leaf clover are staples of that ilk, at least in North America. In some cultures, certain insects or animals are seen as bringing good luck.

But skepticism regarding the power of good-luck charms is well advised. If we have a friend who sees no need to fasten a seat belt because a “dream catcher” hangs from the rearview mirror for good luck, we will probably try to persuade that person to put more confidence in the seat belt.

Thoughtfulness in this regard can have a connection with how we view our relationship with God. While probably few Christians see the Christian-themed knickknacks in their houses to be godly good-luck charms, it’s easy to treat particular religious routines as such. Danger looms when we perceive our standing with God in light of reliance on such practices. Faithfulness to routine is one thing; having faith in the routine is quite another!

We easily note and critique such misplaced faith when displayed in others, don’t we? But it may not be so easy to recognize the problem when it is our own. Today’s text will help us in that regard.

B. Lesson Background

The prophet Jeremiah ministered in the late seventh and early sixth centuries BC, during the final years of the monarchy of Judah (Jeremiah 1:1-3). That was the southern part of Israel’s divided kingdom. In that day, Judah was confronted by the aggressive Babylonian Empire. The Babylonians oppressed Judah over a period of several years, treating it as a vassal kingdom (2 Kings 24). The Babylonians ultimately laid siege to Jerusalem, put it to the sword and torch, destroyed its temple, and took its people into exile (2 Kings 25).

From one perspective, these events could appear to be a simple issue of power politics: Babylon was strong; Judah was not. But from the perspective of Jeremiah, these events fulfilled warnings that God had given his people long ago. As God gave Israel the land of promise, he had warned that they must receive it as a gift, with gratitude reflected in obedience. Submitting to God’s law would mean blessing; disobedience would mean return to captivity (Deuteronomy 29:14-29).

That penalty was partially realized as Jeremiah delivered the prophecy of today’s lesson, since the territory of Israel’s 10 northern tribes had been overrun by the Assyrians about a century before Jeremiah began prophesying (2 Kings 17:5-23). But God had granted Judah a miraculous deliverance in that same era (18:13-19:37). That deliverance had become a source of misplaced confidence by Jeremiah’s day. Many believed that God would never allow his temple to fall. It was against such a perspective that Jeremiah directed the warning in our text.

I. Prophetic Message

                                                                  (Jeremiah 7:1, 2)

A. From Whom (v. 1)

1. This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:

This section begins with what is sometimes called a prophetic formula. This affirms that the forthcoming message is not that of the messenger but of God, on whose behalf the messenger speaks.

B. For Whom (v. 2)

2. “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:

“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord.

God sends Jeremiah to the temple’s entrance to announce the message. The temple itself is to provide the visual context of the prophet’s words. Those who enter the temple, the Lord’s house, imagine that structure to be the guarantee of their standing with God, as will be seen. They are about to hear a message that differs sharply from that viewpoint!

What Do You Think?

What are some occasions when delivering God’s Word might better be done in a location other than that of a church building? Why?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding anniversaries of historical events

Regarding a natural disaster

Other

How to Say It

Assyrians Uh-sear-e-unz.

Baal Bay-ul.

Babylon Bab-uh-lun.

Babylonians Bab-ih-low-nee-unz.

Eli Ee-lye.

Ephraim Ee-fray-im.

Judah Joo-duh.

Judeans Joo-dee-unz.

Shiloh Shy-low.

II. False Trust

                                                                 (Jeremiah 7:3-8)

A. Message of Life (vv. 3-7)

3. “‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.

The prophet’s message begins on a loud, clear note. The people of Judah live where they do by God’s permission and God’s gift. Their standing is conditional: only by submitting to him can they remain in the land he has given them (see the Lesson Background). Presently they do not submit, as evidenced by the fact that Jeremiah confrontationally says reform your ways and your actions. The people must improve their walk with God.

4. “‘Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!”

Deceptive words are especially powerful and tragic when we are deceiving ourselves! So it is for Jeremiah’s audience. They have convinced themselves that the existence of God’s temple in their midst provides absolute assurance against disaster. With misunderstanding of their sinful past and misplaced trust in a physical structure, the people of Judah have become like pagans who believe that repeating certain words or creating certain objects provides magical power. The Judeans’ trust is empty; their words, trite.

What Do You Think?

What deceptions do we hear today? How do we guard ourselves against these?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding the nature of sin

Regarding the nature of God’s love

Regarding the nature of the church

Other

5a. “‘If you really change your ways and your actions

In contrast with the people’s merely parroting “the temple of the Lord” over and over, Jeremiah proclaims that the people must change their lifestyles completely. Behind the two-word phrase really change in the original language is a single word meaning “make good” that is repeated to emphasize the idea.

5b. “‘... and deal with each other justly,

The kind of duplication for emphasis in verse 5a is also behind the phrase deal with each other justly that we see here. God himself is the model for just actions. He demonstrated his just judgment in rescuing the Israelites from their unjust bondage in Egypt. Such action on his part calls for obedience, thankfulness, fairness, generosity, and humility on the part of those so rescued. Such are to be the hallmarks of God’s people, not empty reliance on a physical structure.

6a. “‘... if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow

Jeremiah proceeds to describe what the people’s amended ways, especially in terms of executed justice, should entail. The Israelites’ ancestors had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years (Genesis 15:13; Exodus 12:40, 41; Acts 7:6). God’s liberation taught them (or should have taught them) that justice means fair, merciful, and respectful treatment of all (Exodus 22:21; 23:9). Society’s most vulnerable are therefore in need of the greatest protection in God’s program.

These vulnerable include the foreigner, referring to non-Israelites who settle in the promised land. Israel’s forefathers knew what it was like to be a stranger in the land (Genesis 23:4), and King David set an example of the attitude to have when he wrote, “Hear my prayer, Lord, listen to my cry for help; do not be deaf to my weeping. I dwell with you as a foreigner, a stranger, as all my ancestors were” (Psalm 39:12).

The fatherless and the widow typically have no one to support and protect them in the culture of Jeremiah’s day; they depend on the generosity of others. As God provides and protects, so must the Israelites act toward society’s most vulnerable. The prophets have to remind the Israelites periodically of their responsibilities in this regard. Particularly strong is the indictment of Ezekiel 22:29.

6b. “‘... and do not shed innocent blood in this place,

Securing justice for the vulnerable parallels renunciation of violence. Shedding of innocent blood (murder) represents the complete denial of God’s creation of humans in his image (Genesis 1:26, 27; 9:6). Such violence is driven by radically selfish desires. It represents the ultimate injustice. Jeremiah 22:17 is quite pointed in revealing the people’s tendencies in this area.

6c. “‘... and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,

The list of transgressions ends with the problem of following other gods, prohibited in the First Commandment (Exodus 20:3). Idolatry is an affront to the being and nature of God. Made to suit the desires of the worshipper, idols represent humans’ attempts to gather spiritual power for their own uses. Devotion to other gods becomes, in many cases, the justification for all kinds of crimes (example: Psalm 106:38). Ultimately, the one harmed most by idolatry is the idol worshipper because of the eternal consequences.

7. “‘... then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.

God’s promise is always clear: obedience is the condition for remaining in the land that God gave to the forefathers. Jeremiah repeats that promise to his temple-gate audience as a warning: the people must change their ways if they want the promise to remain in effect. What God had done when he rescued Jerusalem by striking down the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:35) he can certainly do again. But the people must repent.

B. Message of Death (v. 8)

8. “‘But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.’”

The people’s confident chant “the temple of the Lord” (v. 4) is an exercise in misplaced trust. This self-delusion will prove to be their undoing. Jeremiah stands before them to announce that this misdirected faith is a fatally dangerous sham. It is time to abandon deceptive words and admit the truth.

Dirty Socks

Athletes don’t want to break routine when they are playing well. A baseball player on a hitting streak won’t risk changing anything—not even his socks—lest his hot streak be jinxed!

Going the other way, athletes may be all too willing to change routine when things aren’t going well. Minnie Minoso took an interesting approach in this regard after going hitless in a game in which he played for the Chicago White Sox. Reportedly blaming his uniform for his troubles, he wore it into the shower. The next day he had three hits, so his teammates joined him in the shower afterward with their uniforms on! Eccentricities of routine and superstition can be found in virtually any sport. Even fans have “special” shirts or caps they wear so their team will win.

Jeremiah told his people that the superstitious trust they placed in the temple amounted to no more than deceptive words. Their self-deception told them that things were just fine, so they were unwilling to change their “dirty socks.” What self-deceptions do we indulge in yet today?—C. R. B.

III. Exposed Injustice

                                                                (Jeremiah 7:9-15)

A. Commandments Broken (v. 9)

9. “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known,

Drawing on offenses just mentioned, Jeremiah now poses a rhetorical question that demonstrates the people’s hypocrisy. First he lists sins that remind us of several of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:7-21). Theft, murder, adultery, falsehood, and idolatry are obvious violations. In one way or another, such transgressions all involve defrauding the vulnerable.

Another element is the indictment that the people are burning incense to Baal. The designation Baal means “master” and refers to various gods worshipped by Israel’s neighbors; note the plural Baals in Jeremiah 2:23; 9:14. Their worshippers believe that these gods control the fertility of people, livestock, and agriculture. Offering incense to Baal is a shorthand way of suggesting all acts of worship offered to these gods, which sometimes include sexual immorality and even infant sacrifice. Idolatry produces atrocities in its adherents.

The Baals are just some of the many gods worshipped in the ancient Near East. Hopeful to receive power from any possible source, idol worshippers are more than happy to add more deities to their sacred shrines. Jeremiah’s question implies that his hearers are guilty in this regard.

What Do You Think?

How can we best confront the modern idolatries that challenge our faithfulness to God?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding the idolatry of “me first”

Regarding the idolizing of one’s country and its ideals

Regarding the idolizing of public figures

Other

B. Temple Trusted (vv. 10, 11)

10. “‘... and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?

The utter emptiness of the people’s misplaced faith becomes clearer still. Habitual evildoers and idolaters, they nevertheless return time and again to God’s temple, God’s house, to go through the motions of worship. There they offer sacrifices, pray, and sing the psalms. In so doing, the people believe that they are safe from enemies such as Babylon. In effect, the Judeans believe that God cares more about the form of worship in his temple, or even the temple structure itself, than he does about his people’s submission to him. What a miserable, blasphemous view of the holy God!

Tainted Praise

A letter to Henry Ford of April 1934 had this to say:

Dear Sir: --

While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. ... [E]ven if my business hasen’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8 --

The (unauthenticated) letter was from Clyde Barrow, of “Bonnie and Clyde” infamy. He apparently found stolen Ford V8s quite to his liking for evading the police, thus prompting the letter of praise. The outlaws died in a police ambush several weeks after the letter was sent.

Such praise was hardly the kind of testimony that Henry Ford could use in advertising or otherwise appreciate! Likewise, the tainted praise offered in the temple by the Judeans was not the praise God could honor. Our sins might not be as gross as theirs, but we need to ask, “Does my life validate the praise I offer to God?”—C. R. B.

What Do You Think?

In what ways can the nature of our worship gatherings influence and be influenced by our individual lifestyles?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Positive influences (Acts 2:44-47; Romans 12:1; etc.)

Negative influences (1 Corinthians 11:17; James 2:1-4; etc.)

11. “‘Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.

Trusting in the temple is pointless since Judah’s actions have made it into something other than God’s house. If it were his house in more than name only, then those who worship there would follow his law and pursue his justice. Instead, it is filled with people who commit all the abominations already noted. The people have turned the temple into a bandits’ hideout, a den of robbers.

But the evildoers can conceal nothing. They cannot hide. God sees everything they do.

Centuries later, Jesus draws on the imagery of this verse when he takes action in the temple (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46). At least one issue then is the same as in Jeremiah’s day: the corrupt temple leadership takes advantage of the weak for their own gain. Even worse, the temple leaders of Jesus’ day plot his death so that they can hold on to their own power (John 11:48).

C. Lesson Unlearned (vv. 12-15)

12. “‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.

The question Jeremiah’s audience may be thinking at this point is, Well, then, what will God do with his temple? To answer this, Jeremiah offers a real-life illustration from Israel’s history.

The tabernacle (the temple’s precursor) had been located at Shiloh, about 19 miles north of Jerusalem, for years after Israel’s conquest of the land (Joshua 18:1; Judges 18:31; 1 Samuel 1:3). In Samuel’s time, over 400 years before the days of Jeremiah, the sons of the high priest Eli turned their ministry at the tabernacle into a personal racket, extracting bribes and sexual favors from worshippers there (1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22-25). To make matters worse, some Israelites decided to treat the tabernacle’s ark of the covenant like a magical object by taking it into battle (4:3-5). But Israel lost the battle, the ark was captured, and Eli’s wicked sons were killed (4:6-11).

Therefore God “abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent he had set up among humans” (Psalm 78:60). Jeremiah’s audience need only take a trip to God’s place in Shiloh to understand what he can do to Jerusalem as well. The ark of the covenant did not serve as an object of magical protection, and neither will the temple.

What Do You Think?

What are some things in your personal past that help you refocus your faith and trust in God?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Places, events, relationships of a positive nature

Places, events, relationships of a negative nature

13. “‘While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer.

The people of Judah have been warned many times. They have received the law, which specifies the consequences of disobedience. They have received the message of earlier prophets that reminded them of the same. They have seen judgment fall on their kin in northern Israel for habitual idolatry and injustice. They barely escaped a similar destruction themselves (2 Kings 19). Their disobedience (all these things) has continued literally for centuries.

It’s not that God hasn’t done his part—he has, again and again! Yet just as habitually the people ignore him and his messengers. Judah’s historical track record in this regard portends little hope of escaping God’s judgment.

14. “‘Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors.

Again Jeremiah piles up phrases to stress the enormity of Judah’s false trust in the temple. The house is God’s house, the symbol of his authority. It has been his gift to Israel for generations. It is intended as the place where Israel can stand before God and find forgiveness and instruction. This they have turned into a den of robbers.

So God must destroy the temple and those who corrupt it. As he did to Shiloh, he will now do to the house bearing his name. Allowing the temple to fall will not bring his name into disrepute, but allowing it to continue to stand as a den of robbers certainly will! The calamity to come will affirm that God is the holy, sovereign king who tolerates no hypocrisy.

15. “‘I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’”

The second history lesson is more recent: the story of the northern kingdom of Israel—here referred to as Ephraim, the name of a leading tribe. The people of Judah know that their fellow Israelites to the north had fallen to Assyria by God’s decision (2 Kings 17:1-23). God’s promise of a similar fate for Judah indicates that he sees the sins of both groups as identical. While the Judeans like to think of themselves as more favored than their erstwhile kin to the north, God thinks otherwise. And it is his viewpoint that will prevail.

Conclusion

A. God’s Promises Stand

God’s message was stern and uncompromising. Yet despite Judah’s failure, God’s promise was still in force to establish David’s throne forever (2 Samuel 7:16). Today we know that we have received the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus. We also should realize that we have a clear responsibility regarding how we are to live before God. As followers of Christ, we are to promote God’s justice. We are not to be hypocrites who worship God outwardly while plotting rebellion inwardly. As the God of the temple would not be mocked, neither will the God of the cross—the same God.

B. Prayer

O God, we come to you from our hiding places to confess the sin that you already see. Show us your mercy, not the punishment that we deserve, as we show mercy to others. In Jesus’ name, amen.

C. Thought to Remember

Know God’s desires, and do them.

Visual for Lesson 4 & 10. Point to this as you ask, “How do people today convince themselves that this statement is wrong?”


Standard Lesson Commentary 2014-2015 (NIV).


"Suggestions for families are taken from Standardlesson.com,

Standard Publishing Group, LLC. Used with permission. More resources for families are available at Standardpub.com.


God Bless