Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Jeremiah 7:21-34 - Jeremiah tells them that God’s message to him is that when He brought them out of Egypt, He did not give them any commands concerning “holocausts or sacrifices” (7:22). But what about Leviticus? There were incredibly detailed rules there for the various offerings and sacrifices they were instructed to make. I think what Jeremiah is trying to convey is that at the HEART of all God laid out for them was the command to obey God, to “live the way [He] commanded them” (7:23). Their hearts were HARD then and they continued to be for Jeremiah’s message: “they will not listen to you; you will call them, but they will not answer . . . Faithfulness is dead. No longer is it even talked about” (7:27-28).
The people of Judah have placed idols in the Lord’s Temple, and they have even adopted the practice of child sacrifice in Hinnom Valley [location of this disputed according to Wikipedia]. All of this is so far from what God wants. Jeremiah says, “This rather is what I commanded them: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper” (7:23).
Also, the theme of this chapter is a Quaker theme: Listen to God’s voice – this line appears so often in scripture, you would think people would take it seriously, but I don’t find that people really take the idea seriously, as if the idea of listening to God’s voice is really something only mentally ill people ever claim they can do. Here is some more Isaac Penington and Howgill, my hero saints, on the voice of God: “There is no raising of a dead soul to life, but by the immediate voice of Christ. Outward preaching, reading the Scriptures, &c.[and I would add sacraments] may direct and encourage men to hearken after and wait for the voice; but it is the immediate voice of Christ in the soul, which alone can quicken the soul to God: and till the light of life shine immediately from Christ in the heart, the true knowledge is never given. 2 Cor. 4:6.” (241, Penington, Works)
Another Penington quote: “All, therefore, that see the darkness that you live in, return home, that which is low mind, the meek spirit; and be not forward nor rash, but stand still in quietness and meekness, that the still voice you may hear, which till you come down within, you cannot hear. . .So be low and still, if you will hear his voice, and wait to hear that speak which separates between the precious and the vile, now that which you must wait in is near you, yes, in you” (Howgill, EQW, 176).
Jeremiah 8 - The destruction the Lord will bring is terrible. The bones of the dead will lie out “before the sun and the moon and the whole army of heaven, which they loved and served, which they followed, consulted, and worshiped” (8:2). Some of the gods they worshiped were the stars and other heavenly bodies. God cannot fathom why the people who have so obviously gone astray refuse so obstinately to right themselves. “Why do they cling to deceptive idols, refuse to turn back. . .Everyone keeps on running his course, like a steed dashing into battle?” (8:6) This is like modern man who is so caught up in scientific reductionism and psycho-babble that you wonder why it is they simply cannot turn away from it. In the case of the Jews, apparently the mis-interpretation of the scribal leaders provides some excuse—the people are being actively misled. “’Peace, peace!’ they say, though there is no peace” (8:11). Yahweh would like to gather their fruit but there are no grapes on the vine, no figs on the fig tree. . .” (8:13).
This one is important in understanding Jesus and the poor little fig tree. He is not just withering the tree. He is referring to the fruit he hoped to find among his people and didn’t. Similarly the previous chapter – on the tendency of Israel to presume on God’s favor toward them – even when everything in daily life is far from what it should be – I think this is the image behind Jesus’ anger in the temple and his threats to tear the Temple down. These are just similar indications that He is come expecting to find faithfulness and responsiveness among his people; but is not finding it. His words about the Temple and his actions with the fig tree are symbolic acts that say God is very unhappy with the Jews and will punish them – withdraw his favor.
The prophet’s “grief is incurable, my heart within me is faint” (8:18). The suffering of his people fills him with sadness “Is there no balm in Gilead, no physician there?” (8:22).
Jeremiah 9 - Jeremiah wishes that he had in this wilderness he is in a place to lodge, a place he might go to be separate from his people, but there is not. [The is the true prophet’s situation. He is a faithful man in the midst of an unfaithful people. But he is still part of them; and I think both “covers” them with his faithfulness and “suffers” with them even in his innocence. This is the great disappointment of the reformation prophets—that they found a lodge in the desert provided by the nation-builders of Holy Roman Empire and did, to some extent, manage to separate from the people]. The marks of the idolatry the people engage in are lying tongues, being untrustworthy, deception, perversity, violence and inability to repent. Therefore God must “smelt them and test them” (9:6) “I will turn Jerusalem into a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; The cities of Judah I will make into a waste, where no one dwells.” (9:10). They follow the dictates of their own stubborn hearts. “Let the sage boast no more of his wisdom. . . But if anyone wants to boast let him boast of this: of understanding and knowing me. For I am Yahweh, I rule with kindness, justice and integrity on earth; “ (9:23) “I am going to punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh:. . .” [Many echoes of Paul here – the boasting theme—see 2 Cor—and the idea of fleshly circumcision]
1 Corinthians 11:17-34 - He addresses the problem of factions among them. When they meet together it ought not to be for simple eating and drinking but rather to all be equal before God and to share in the sacred memorial of Christ’s Last Supper with them. He warns them that communion is not just eating. It involves “discerning” Christ’s presence in the bread (11:29). Ordinary eating should be done at home.
1 Corinthians 12 – Paul addresses the question of spiritual gifts. Among those he mentions are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues; but as long as they all serve the body, they are of the same Spirit. The parts of the Body cannot be in competition with each other. One cannot lord it over another and have the body remain coherent and sound. We take cognizance of the less “distinguished” parts by granting them honors that compensate for whatever “worldly” humiliations they may have to endure (12:24). The parts of the body of Christ, his Church, are apostles, prophets, teachers, doers of might deeds, healers, assistants, administrators, speakers in tongues—and this list is not a completely exhaustive one.