Monday, October 24, 2016

Why did Babylon fall?

Last week we didn't finish the study, so I've separated the section on true and false prophets from the section on the fall of Babylon. As a result, I find myself looking at Babylon's creation celebration, Jeremiah's prediction of its demise, and Belshazzar's feast in a whole new light. Enjoy.

(32) Babylon Must Fall

Jeremiah has prophesied (see last week) that Babylon is God’s instrument at work within the nations. This might have sounded rather like saying ISIS is God’s instrument. How hard might it have been for the remnant in Jerusalem to believe Jeremiah?

1.       If Babylon is certifiably doing God’s will, should the people in Babylon all behave like Babylonians?

2.       Is there a sense in which Babylon might model what being in the world but not of the world might mean? Read John 17:14-16, Romans 12:2.

Just because Babylon is doing God’s work doesn’t make it good. Jeremiah goes on to prophesy how Babylon will fall.
1.       How does knowing things are temporary help us cope with them?

2.       How might we need to reminded that our “present problems” are temporary – in personal life, in our country, in the world?

Jeremiah goes on to prophesy how Babylon will fall.
1.       What is going to happen to the Babylonian Empire? Read Jeremiah 50:1-3. Which enemy comes from the North? (Read Daniel 5:30-31)

2.       Bel Marduk was the god of the ruling nation, creator and lord. His statue was a symbol of power. What symbols of national greatness do we use? What symbols of spiritual greatness? What do others use?

3.       Read Jeremiah 50:4-6. What time in the past colors this prophecy? And what time in Jeremiah’s future (our past)?

4.       Read Jeremiah 50:11-13. Why will Babylon fall? Is this the reason you expected?
a.      How should we react in victory?

b.      How should we react to success that builds on someone else’s failure?

5.       Read Jeremiah 50:17. How is Israel’s fate tied with Judah’s again?

6.       Read Jeremiah 50:20. Is God really saying they’ll be sinless, or does this message describe the same forgiveness offered in Christianity?

7.       Read Jeremiah 50:32-34. The word for Redeemer is only used in Job (Job 19:25), Psalms (Psalm 19:14, 78:35), Proverbs (Proverbs 23:11), Isaiah (lots) and Jeremiah. What does Redeemer mean to you?

a.      How might redeemer and kinsman redeemer be related? (Read Leviticus 25:25-28, Ruth 3:1-4, Jeremiah 32:6-9)

8.       Read Jeremiah 50:41-43. Do you think verse 43 refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s madness?

9.       Read Jeremiah 51:1-3. Technology was advancing. Archers could now shoot from chariots without stopping. Leather armor was covered with copper scales, providing much greater protection. But the Babylonians thought they had the best of everything.
a.      How tempting is it to think our nation the best of everything and can’t be overthrown?

b.      Is it a temptation for churches? Has it been in history?

c.       Is it a temptation for individuals?

10.   Read Jeremiah 51:7-9. Was the overthrow of Babylon inevitable? How might it compare with Nineveh?

11.   Read Jeremiah 51:11. Jeremiah was probably aware of the Medes as a rising power. Who are we aware of as rising powers in the modern world?

a.      How self-confident are we – personally, spiritually, nationally?

b.      How might we avoid Babylon’s fall?

The Babylonians believed the most powerful god was Marduk, creator of all. Each year they celebrated his continuing creation, bringing gods/idols from captured nations to Marduk’s temple, washing the walls of the temple with water from the (sacred) Euphrates and the Tigris, sacrificing a sheep and throwing its head and body into the river, removing the king’s crown and slapping his face before he falls before the god (symbol of subservience), and finally decapitating two well-decorated wooden images of evil. Jeremiah’s message mirrors the creation celebration in chapter 51.

12.   Read Jeremiah 51:17-19. How does Jeremiah view Marduk?

13.   Read Jeremiah 51:28. In Jeremiah’s version of the story, the nations aren’t gathering to worship. They’re not gathering in Marduk’s name or in God’s name, but they’re doing God’s will.
a.       How hard do we find it to imagine that people who don’t believe might still do God’s will?

b.      How might this apply to art, fiction, etc? (Madeleine L’Engle says “If it’s bad art it’s bad religion” and “We live by revelation, as Christians, as artists…”)

14.   Read Jeremiah 51:30-32. Babylon falls to laziness before it falls to the Medes.
a.       Read Daniel 5:1-4 Could this be the creation celebration?

b.      What tempts us, as individuals, churches and nations, to laziness? How might we fall?

15.   Read Jeremiah 51:34-35. The sheep in Marduk’s temple was supposed to carry away the sins of the nations. How might Jeremiah’s imagery remind readers of Marduk’s festival and God’s greatness? How might it remind them of the scapegoat? (Read Leviticus 16:20-22)

16.   Read Jeremiah 51:36-40. The river’s water was supposed to cleanse the temple. The feast was a celebration of creation. The lamb was the scapegoat. How are these images different in God’s Temple?

17.   Read Jeremiah 51:44-45, 2 Corinthians 6:17, Isaiah 52:11, Revelation 18:4. How does “come out” fit with being “in the world but not of the world”?

Read Jeremiah 51:59-64. Jeremiah sends a quartermaster to carry his prophecy to the Jews in Babylon and to the Babylonians. What image does this give you of society and communication? What’s the importance of throwing the message into the river? Do you imagine the Jews in exile would wait patiently, sorrowfully, angrily…? How good are we at waiting?

Monday, October 17, 2016

How can you tell when someone's a false prophet?

So Daniel was in Babylon and Jeremiah was in Jerusalem, and the world was falling apart. We're up to the part where Jeremiah tells the exiles to settle down and makes lives in a foreign land, much to the annoyance of those who feel they can't live anyplace but here. It should make for a fun Bible study this week.

(31) True and False Prophets

Jeremiah is not the only prophet in Zedekiah’s court after Nebuchadnezzar’s deportations.
1.       Which two well-known prophets have been deported? Where were they sent? Can you see God’s hand in choosing where to send them?

2.       Do you suppose they wanted to be deported? Do you suppose Jeremiah wanted to be left behind? How do you respond when God gives you something you don’t want?

3.       Before reading on, do you imagine God had all the false prophets deported, all of them left behind, or a mixture?

Hananiah is one of the prophets left behind in Jerusalem.  But Jeremiah might be the only true prophet.

1.       Read Jeremiah 28:1-4. Suppose a modern-day, highly-visible church leader pronounced that God has promised he’ll bring all terrorist groups to an end in two years. How would you respond?

a.       What information would you look for to determine if this was a true prophet?

b.      What information would you look for to decide the prophet is false?

2.       Read Jeremiah 28:5-9. Suppose you believed the false prophet. How would you feel you had to behave during those two years?

3.       Read Jeremiah 28:10-11. Why does Jeremiah leave? How hard is it to walk out when you’re sure someone is wrong?

4.       Read Jeremiah 28:12-17. How is Jeremiah’s patience rewarded? How might the king choose between believing Hanahiah and believing Jeremiah now? How willing are we to change “sides”?

Jeremiah doesn’t just tell the king and false prophets that they’re wrong. He doesn’t restrict himself to preaching where he’s placed. How do we decide who we need to speak to or listen to?

1.       Read Jeremiah 29:1. Before reading on, why might Jeremiah decide to write to the exiles?

2.       Read Jeremiah 29:3, 2 Kings 22:8. Jeremiah writes to influential sons. Do you think Jeremiah still has influence at court? When leaders disagree politically, theologically … how do we decide who to follow, or do we just keep out of it?

3.       Read Jeremiah 29:4-9. How would this be good advice to the exiles?

a.       Are we exiles here on earth? In what sense is our position, in the Western “post-Christian” world for example, similar to that of the exiles?

b.      How might Jeremiah’s advice apply to us?

c.       How might it not apply?

4.       Read Jeremiah 29:10.
a.       What would the first readers have made of 70 years? Would they have counted the years one by one, or estimated and waited for the end?

b.      What is our first instinct when we read 70 years? Did you look up the history to see if it fit?

c.       What might this mean for how we view end-time prophecies?

5.       Read Jeremiah 29:11-13. This is my favorite Bible verse. What are your favorite verses? Why?

a.       Thinking of when God gave this message to Jeremiah, why is it so relevant today? And why is so relevant to each of us?

b.      Do verses 12 and 13 say “if” or “when”? Why is the difference important?

c.       Verse 13 commands them to seek with their whole hearts. What does that look like?

6.       Read Jeremiah 29:15-20. Why will Jerusalem fall, and why might it be better to be in captivity in Babylon?

a.       Are there times you can think of when things seem to have gone terribly wrong but prove to be good?

b.      Does this help us face difficult times? Does it help us help others to face them?

7.       Read Jeremiah 29:21-23. How does Jeremiah know about Ahab and Zedekiah?

a.       When Jeremiah writes about cursing, how does it relate to modern expressions (doubting Thomas, regular Judas, Benedict Arnold etc)?

b.      Is there a connection between this and modern cursing?

c.       How do we separate cultural offence from spiritual offence?

8.       Read Jeremiah 29:24-28. Is this all one letter? And is all well in Babylon?

a.       How should family relationships and relationship to God fit together (see sons of Maaseiah)? How do we decide who to be loyal to?

b.      How should church relationships and a personal relationship with God fit together?

c.       How should we deal with the fact that secret sin might be as pervasive within churches and within society?

9.       Read Jeremiah 29:29-32. How bad is it to make a false prophesy?

a.       Is Shemaiah deliberately going against God, or is he just deluding himself?
b.      Were Job’s comforters going against God?

c.       How might a church protect itself from messages that don’t really come from God? (Read Matthew 10:16, Romans 12:2)

d.       How might a church protect itself from interpretations that don’t really come from God?

e.      Would you want to be a prophet?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem...

Our last study showed Daniel witnessing to God's power in Nebuchadnezzar's court. But there were still Jews in Jerusalem - still a king and prophets in Jerusalem. So this week we look at how the remnant was looking at current events. Back to Jeremiah...

(30) Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem

Daniel was among the first exiles removed from Jerusalem. While he was growing up in the pomp and ceremony of the Babylonian court, Jeremiah remained at the Jerusalem court, serving under the puppet king Zedekiah (who replaced Jejoiachin).

1.       Read 2 Kings 24:15-19, Jeremiah 52:1-2 Why might the same passage be repeated in two different places?

2.       Read Jeremiah 27:1-6. Why might some translations and some interpretations name Zedekiah, others Jehoiakim?

3.       Read Jeremiah 27:7-8. How do we decide when to rebel and when to submit to secular authority?

4.       Read Jeremiah 27:9-10. Are we ever tempted to think we know what God wants? How do we tell the difference between inspiration and interpretation?

Jeremiah promised the yoke would fall on many countries. Some more specific prophecies concerning those countries are included later in the book:

Moab—plateau southeast of the Dead Sea—sheep, goats, wheat and barley were farmed there. A stone has been found at Dibon, celebrating Moab’s victory when inhabitants of the Israelite town Ataroth were killed in honor of the god Chemosh. Parts of Moab once belonged to Reuben. (Parts of this passage are similar to Isaiah 15,16)

1.       Read Jeremiah 48:1, 6-8, 13. Moab will fall to Babylon. Her god will fall to God.
a.       Why was Israel ashamed of Bethel?

b.      What might we be ashamed of in the same way? And who do we want to win battles today?

2.       Read Jeremiah 48:9, 11.Some translations switch between “he” and “she.” What might be the significance?

3.       Read Jeremiah 48:14. Do we say that? Why should or shouldn’t we?

4.       Read Jeremiah 48:18-25. How might the list of names have affected the first readers?

5.       Read Jeremiah 48:28. What image does this convey?

6.       Read Jeremiah 48:29-30. Pride and wrath (arrogance? Insolence?) are mentioned. What is wrong with them?

7.       Read Jeremiah 48:31-32, 36, 47. Does this sound like a vengeful god?

8.       Read Jeremiah 48:40. The eagle symbolizes Babylon.
a.       What other countries has it symbolized in history?

b.      What do you think of when you think of eagles? How does cultural experience change how we read?

Ammon—east of the Jordan, east of Gad—worshipped the god Milcom (maybe Molech). Heshbon was a border town between Moab and Ammon, so it frequently changed sides in war.

1.       Read Jeremiah 49:1,3,6. Again, is this a vengeful god?

2.       What else do you know about Ammon and the Ammonites? (Descended from Lot, wouldn’t let Israel cross their land in Exodus, war with David, allies of Ben-Hadad, part of the three armies that failed to defeat Jehoshaphat, encouraged Babylon against Jerusalem 2 Kings 24:2, denounced in Amos 1:13. They’re involved in the assassination of the governor Gedaliah (2 Kings 25:25, Jeremiah 40:14) and they’ll soon ally with Israel and be denounced in Jeremiah 49 &Ezekiel 21)

Edom—south of Moab—Edom supported Babylon in the siege of Jerusalem (Read Psalm 137:7), was conquered by Bablylon, then by Arabs, then destroyed. Its survivors moved to southern Judah in Idumea. Bozrah was near the Dead Sea. (Parts of this passage are similar to Obadiah)

3.       Read Jeremiah 49:7, Job 4:1. Temanites were Edomites. What sort of wisdom do we think they valued? What do we value?

4.       Read Jeremiah 49:9-11. Who will be spared? Why?

5.       Read Jeremiah 49:12-13. Who drank the cup? Who drank the cup for us?

6.       Read Jeremiah 49:16. How does fierceness deceive a powerful nation?

7.       Read Jeremiah 49:19. Lions did hide in the grass around the river. What shepherd does this make us think of?

Damascus—same land as Tyre and Sidon, ruled by Syria, Ben-Hadad, in the past, fell to Assyria, Egypt, then Babylon.

1.       Read Jeremiah 49:23-26. Why might a much-loved city not be abandoned in the face of threat? What are we tempted to place our trust in, or refuse to abandon?

Kedar and Hazor—the Kedar were the nomadic Arabs (who later conquered Edom). Hazor probably means a nomadic enclosure, rather than a particular city.

1.       Can you paraphrase how the Arabs escape Babylon (read Jeremiah 49:28-33)?

Elam—this land was East of Babylon. Zedekiah may have felt hopeful at hearing of rebellion on the other side of the empire, but Jeremiah tells him not to. The capital city, Shushan, became Susa in the Persian empire, mentioned in Nehemiah and Esther.

1.       Read Jeremiah 49:34-35,39. Vengeful? Prophetic? What do you think?

Rest of the nationsRead Jeremiah 25:15-16. Wine takes on many meanings. Which ones come to mind for you?

1.       Why might a cup symbolize health? Wealth? Drunkeness? Wrath? Punishment?

2.       Read Jeremiah 25:17-26. Do you recognize any of these kingdoms after reading chapters 48-49?

3.       Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, Ashdod and Gaza were the five Philistine cities. Ekron was nearest to Judah. Gath had already fallen by Jeremiah’s time and Ashdod was almost destroyed. Egyptian records show a Philistine king asking for help against Babylon, and Babylonian records describe the destruction of a Philistine city. What picture does this give you of the world outside Judah at this time?

Jeremiah prophesies destruction, but the rest of Judah’s prophets say all will be well. Read Jeremiah 27:12-17.

1.       How should religious or secular leaders have known which voices were true?

2.       How can we know?