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Christ Lutheran Church of the Deaf
Silver Spring, Maryland
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Jeremiah, the reluctant prophet

#3
Jeremiah's First Vision
Rev. Ron Friedrich
July 16, 2006

Jeremiah 1:11-19  (New Century Version)
11 The LORD spoke his word to me, saying: "Jeremiah, what do you see?"
I answered, "I see a stick of almond wood."
12 The LORD said to me, "You have seen correctly, because I am watching to make sure my words come true.”
13 The LORD spoke his word to me again: "What do you see?”
I answered, "I see a pot of boiling water, tipping over from the north.”
14 The LORD said to me, "Disaster will come from the north and strike all the people who live in this country. 15 In a short time I will call all of the people in the northern kingdoms," said the LORD.
"Those kings will come and set up their thrones
near the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem.
They will attack all the city walls around Jerusalem
and all the cities in Judah.
 16 And I will announce my judgments against my people
because of their evil in turning away from me.
They offered sacrifices to other gods
and worshiped idols they had made with their own hands.
 17 "Jeremiah, get ready. Stand up and tell them everything I command you to say. Don’t be afraid of the people, or I will give you good reason to be afraid of them. 18 Today I am going to make you a strong city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall. You will be able to stand against everyone in the land: Judah’s kings, officers, priests, and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you, but they will not defeat you, because I am with you to protect you!" says the LORD.

In our first two lessons, we saw
[1] God's call to Jeremiah to serve as His prophet to Israel, and
[2] Jeremiah's answer:  "No, I am too young."

We saw that God did not accept Jeremiah's answer.   God's message to Jeremiah basically was,
    You have no choice. 
    You will go where I tell you to go.
    You will say what I tell you to say.
    And don't get married.

Today we finish the first chapter of Jeremiah, and we see here two themes that describe Jeremiah's message and his work for the rest of his life.


God often taught His lessons with pictures.   He does it twice in this first vision.  Here is the first picture:

The LORD spoke his word to me, saying: "Jeremiah, what do you see?"
I answered, "I see a stick of almond wood."
The LORD said to me, "You have seen correctly, because I am watching to make sure my words come true."

Huh?   What does a stick of almond wood have to do with God "watching" to make sure His words come true (sign: proceed happen)?

I looked in the footnote of one study Bible and it said that the almond tree is the first tree to blossom in spring.  Therefore this picture means that God's Word - the prophecies of the past 800 years - will "bloom" very soon.

I was not satisfied with that explanation, so I looked in a different study Bible.  It said the same thing.

So I did what my seminary professors taught me to do in the first place -- read the text in the original Hebrew.  And there I found the answer.  It is very clear:

The LORD spoke his word to me, saying: "Jeremiah, what do you see?"
I answered, "I see a stick of almond wood."

Literally:  "[A] rod [of] almond I see."  maqel shaqed ani ro'eh.
 Hebrew text

The LORD said to me, "You have seen correctly, because I am watching to make sure my words come true."

Literally:  "for watch I over my word."  ki-shoqed ani al-debari.
 Hebrew text

In Jeremiah's time, those two words -- almond (shaqed) and watch (shoqed) were spelled exactly the same.  The difference in pronunciation was only one vowel.    Obviously God is playing with the sound of two similar words.  He did that often.  But because words sound different in English, the word-play becomes lost in translation.

How can we do this word-play in English?   If God wants to create a picture to make the point that He will "watch over His Word," what picture could He use represent the English word "watch?"    Of course... a modern device: a timepiece, a wrist watch or a pocket watch. 

So imagine that Jeremiah, speaking English, would say, "I see a watch."  To that God can answer,

"You have seen correctly, because I will watch to make sure my words come true."

Now the second picture in Jeremiah's vision is much easier to interpret:

The LORD spoke his word to me again: "What do you see?"
I answered, "I see a pot of boiling water, tipping over from the north."

The LORD said to me, "Disaster will come from the north and strike all the people who live in this country. In a short time I will call all of the people in the northern kingdoms," said the LORD.

"Those kings will come and set up their thrones near the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem. They will attack all the city walls around Jerusalem and all the cities in Judah."

This is the first theme from the vision that became the theme of Jeremiah's message.  God's time of patience is over.  He will send the Babylonian (Iraq) army to destroy Jerusalem, destroy the country of Judah (southern Israel), and take the people captive.  Jeremiah lived to see all that happen.

But there appears to be a little problem here. Babylon is straight east of Israel, not north.
 
Fertile Crescent
However, Babylon's army did not march to Jerusalem in a straight west line.  That route is desert.    The army marched along the rivers of the "Fertile Crescent," which took them north of Israel.  Then they marched south to conquer Jerusalem.  So, in fact, the eastern army of Babylon did come from the north.

Other northern enemies of Israel were:  Syria, Assyria, Lebanon.

The Lord continues His word to Jeremiah:

And I will announce my judgments against my people
because of their evil in turning away from me.
They offered sacrifices to other gods
and worshiped idols they had made with their own hands.
Other gods?  Made with their own hands?

What are the "gods" common in our modern culture?  Our things.  Our toys.  We worship man-made things.  This is religion of "materialism."   Our idols look different that Israel's idols, but they are still idols.  We also are guilty.

This is the first theme of Jeremiah's vision.  God's patience has ended, and He will do what he has promised for 800 years.   He will send Babylon to punish Israel.

God always punishes sin.  Always!  Every sin.  God has, in fact, already punished every sin for every sinner through Christ's death on the cross.  This is His gift to all people, everywhere.

The sad fact is that most people refuse that gift.  They turn "thumbs down" to forgiveness, and choose instead to own their sin.  The Bible says:

It is most important for you to understand what will happen in the last days. People will laugh at you. They will live doing the evil things they want to do.  They will say, "Jesus promised to come again. Where is he? Our fathers have died, but the world continues the way it has been since it was made." ...

The Lord is not slow in doing what he promised—the way some people understand slowness. But God is being patient with you. He does not want anyone to be lost, but he wants all people to change their hearts and lives.

 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The skies will disappear with a loud noise. Everything in them will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be burned up.  In that way everything will be destroyed. So what kind of people should you be? You should live holy lives and serve God, as you wait for and look forward to the coming of the day of God.  (2 Peter 3:3-12 NCV)

People also laughed at Jeremiah.  They even tried to kill him.  God warned Jeremiah that they would reject God's message:

"Jeremiah, get ready. Stand up and tell them everything I command you to say. Don’t be afraid of the people, or I will give you good reason to be afraid of them. Today I am going to make you a strong city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall. You will be able to stand against everyone in the land: Judah’s kings, officers, priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they will not defeat you, because I am with you to protect you!" says the LORD.

In the whole story of Jeremiah, I find only two people who supported him.   There were many who wanted to kill him.  God advised Jeremiah:  Trust God and don't fear people.

God has the same advice for us:  Trust Him, and don't fear people.

We live in a culture that mocks Christians and hates Christ.  We are, in some ways, in a similar situation as Jeremiah. 

May God pour His Holy Spirit into us daily, that we may, in His power, go where Jesus sends us, and announce the great news of His gift to all.