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Monday, November 7, 2016

Are Fortresses Still Falling?

We're still looking at the time just before the fall of Jerusalem in our studies of Biblical prophets. Ezekiel preaches to the exiles. Jeremiah preaches to the remnant. The king struggles between political alliances and religious fears. The rich try to hold on to their power... Is the world so different today? Anyway, here's where we've got to in looking at a fortress about to fall.

(34) Falling Fortresses

We looked at Ezekiel’s calling last time. He is told to pass on God’s message to the exiles, even though people won’t listen. How would we feel, receiving such a downbeat message? Speaking a message that no one listens to? What if we’re writing music that no one will sing? Writing books that no one will read? How do we tell when God’s message is personal and when it’s meant to be shared?

How does Ezekiel 3:16-21 make you feel about our calling to be God’s representatives?

God’s prophecies prove true, of course. Jerusalem will fall, and the exile will be long. King Zedekiah (Nebuchadnezzar’s puppet king in Jerusalem) is about to make an alliance with the new Egyptian Pharaoh Hophra. He will declare Jewish independence in 588BC. Then Nebuchadnezzar’s army will lay siege to Jerusalem until summer 586BC.

Read 2 Kings 24:20-25:3, Jeremiah 52:3-6 (same text). How might Jeremiah have felt to be living through the fulfilment of his dire prophecies?

1.       Read Jeremiah 10:17 Some translations say “O inhabitants of the fortress.” How is Jerusalem (under siege) a fortress? What are our fortresses? If we think they’re under siege, does that mean we should stay or leave?

2.       Read Jeremiah 10:21-22 What shepherds does he mean? Who are our real and metaphorical shepherds?

3.       Can you paraphrase Jeremiah 10:23-24 (or read it in another version)?

4.       Read Jeremiah 10:25 Is this an angry God or an angry man? How can we tell when we’re being “angry men?”

Zedekiah repents and asks Jeremiah’s help as the siege continues. What makes us repent and ask for help? Do we wait until we’re “starving”?

1.       Read Jeremiah 21:1-2 Jeremiah will reply that it’s too late to change Jerusalem’s fate. Is it ever too late to turn back to God?

2.       Read Jeremiah 21:8-10 God will send them to live among the enemy. We see scenes like this today in the Middle East. But can we imagine God telling us to give up and live among the enemy? What might it mean?

3.       How do we feel when we’re sure we’re doing God’s will but other people complain that we’re just giving up?

4.       Read Jeremiah 22:1-5 Is Jeremiah promising “peace in our time” or something more long-term?

5.       Read Jeremiah 34:1-7 Azekah would have made a good lookout point. Letters have been found (on pottery shards) between resistance leaders and military commanders in Azekah and Lachish.  Where are our “lookout points”?

6.       What happens in Jeremiah 34:8-22. Why is backsliding so easy?

Babylon’s army temporarily left Jerusalem to fight the Pharoah Hophra, who fulfilled his part of the treaty with Zedekiah by attacking Babylon’s army.

1.       Read Jeremiah 46:13-14. Zedekiah believes Egypt’s attack will save Jerusalem. Why is it easier to trust in human alliances rather than God’s purpose?

2.       Read Jeremiah 46:20-21 What image does this give of how the war would proceed?

3.       Read Jeremiah 46:25-26 Amon rose through the ranks of Egyptian gods until his identity was combined with Ra, as in Amon-Ra. He was viewed as the creator and sustainer of earth. No (also translated “God of Thebes”) represented the human power of the Egyptian ruling family. Does this remind you of Jeremiah’s prophesy against Bel Marduk of Babylon? Who might such a prophecy apply to today?

4.       How do we try to combine human and divine powers in our day?

5.       How do prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah remind us of the difference between human and divine power?

6.       Read Jeremiah 46:27-28 Is God distant or close to his people? Why might they have felt he was distant?

7.       What makes us imagine God is distant?

8.       Read Jeremiah 37:1-5. How might the inhabitants of Jerusalem have felt when their human plan seemed to succeed? How do we feel when our plans succeed? How good are we at seeing the difference between temporary human success and God’s will?

The siege eases, but Jeremiah continues to insist Jerusalem will fail. Meanwhile he takes advantage of the sudden freedom to go back to his hometown. But first, he makes it clear Jerusalem has not been saved.

1.       Read Jeremiah 37:6-10. How do you imagine this message being received? Suppose your favored candidate won an election and someone announced that it didn’t matter, they were still going to lose, how would you feel?

2.       Read Jeremiah 37:11-14, 32:1-5. Why do they arrest Jeremiah?

3.       Jeremiah explains why he was trying to leave. Can you paraphrase Jeremiah 32:6-15? Is this a message of hope or defeat, or both?

4.       Can you paraphrase Jeremiah 32:16-25?

a.       How does Jeremiah describe God? How would you describe God?

b.      Read verse 24,25. Does Jeremiah understand the message, or is he working toward understanding? Why did the disciples find the parable of the sower hard to understand? Why do we find God’s word hard to understand?

5.       Can you paraphrase Jeremiah 32:25-35?

a.       Read verse 33-35. What have they done wrong to deserve punishment?

b.      How does this apply to God’s law in Israel? How does it apply to God’s law in the modern world?

6.       Can you paraphrase Jeremiah 32:36-44?

a.       Read verse 38-40. When did God make an everlasting covenant?

b.      Read verse 41. What is the everlasting covenant?

c.       Are we sinners about to be exiled, exiles returned, or exiles awaiting return?

d.      Read verse 42-44. Was Jeremiah’s purchase of the land a prophetic parable? Does God teach us through parables today?

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