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Monday, November 14, 2016

What do you do when the enemy's at the gates?

We're still reading Jeremiah and Ezekiel, still waiting for the city to fall, and still seeing lots of parallels with the present day as we continue our studies of prophets. With the enemy at the gates, Jeremiah's fortunes go up and down (but mostly down), and Ezekiel, faraway among the exiles, is given visions of disaster in the guise of hope.

(35) Last Days of Jerusalem

Things aren’t going well for Jerusalem or for Jeremiah, and the glory will soon depart from the Temple. As we head toward that event, let’s start with a familiar story of Jeremiah imprisoned again.
1.       Read Jeremiah 38:1-4 Why do they feel so threatened by Jeremiah’s words? What makes us feel threatened?

2.       Read Jeremiah 38:5-6. When we think of Jeremiah’s imprisonments, which one do we remember first?

3.       Without reading on, do you expect this to be a short or a long imprisonment?

We know Jeremiah has been prophesying the end of the city, but he’s also been prophesying good things. What do we hear more easily, words of doom or words of hope?

1.       Read Jeremiah 33:1-3. Putting all the events together gets complicated, but this looks like it happened just before Zedekiah released Jeremiah, just before the other Jews locked him down in the cistern. How do we feel when success and failure turn into a roller-coaster ride?

2.       Read Jeremiah 33:4-5. How are the Jews defending themselves? Does reading this seem more vivid today as we see news coverage of the Middle East?

3.       Read Jeremiah 33:8-9. How hard is it to believe God’s promises when the world falls apart? Does reading this help us today?

4.       Read Jeremiah 33:10-11. Is our world desolate?

5.       Read Jeremiah 33:14-16, 23:5-6. Jeremiah repeats the same hopeful message. Why do the influential only remember the bad parts of his message? Does having more to lose make it harder for us to trust God?

Jeremiah reminds people that God can be trusted in all things, but the leaders ignore even this good news in favor of complaining about the bad. What good news might we be failing to hear?

1.       Read Jeremiah 33:20-21.
a.       Jeremiah reminds the people they can trust God. Does this help us trust God?

b.      He is surrounded by a world of other “creator” gods. How is this the same or different from our being surrounded by scientific explanations for aspects of creation?

2.       Read Jeremiah 33:24-25. How might this apply to the current situation of Jerusalem and Israel?

Jeremiah is rescued (fairly quickly) from the well and has a productive conversation with King Zedekiah.
1.       Read Jeremiah 38:7-9.The eunuch can clearly tell that this is a different kind of imprisonment. Why might the king not be happy about it? What makes evil deeds escalate?

2.       Read Jeremiah 38:10-13. Why so many men? Why so many clothes? And where does Jeremiah end up? How do we feel when we end up

3.       Read Jeremiah 38:14-15. How does Jeremiah feel toward the king?

4.       Read Jeremiah 38:16-17. Zedekiah seems to believe God speaks through Jeremiah. Will he do what Jeremiah asks? Why might we want to win, more than we want to obey?

5.       Read Jeremiah 38:19. Why does Zedekiah not want to obey God?

6.       Read Jeremiah 38:24-28. Is it okay to only tell part of the truth? What makes us decide if it’s okay?

The Temple is about to be destroyed – an event that could destroy any lingering faith among the exiles. But God sends Ezekiel another vision (about a year after his first) where he sees what’s truly going on.
1.       Read Ezekiel 8:1 How do you envision the scene? Is this like a synagogue meeting?

2.       Read Ezekiel 8:2-4. What do you think the elders saw? And why would, or wouldn’t you expect them to believe Ezekiel when he tells them (in future) about the vision. What would make you more or less likely to believe someone who said they’d received a vision?

3.       What might be the image of jealousy (sometimes translated the idol that provokes to jealousy)? What makes God jealous, and what have we learned about worship in Jerusalem at the time?

4.       Read Ezekiel 8:7-12. So… what we do in secret is as easily seen by God as if we did it in His Temple? How does that make us feel?

5.       Read Ezekiel 8:13-14. Tammuz married Ishtar (Damuzi and Inanna), sister of the queen of the dead. Ishtar  was tricked by her sister into taking her place. Then she forced her husband to take her place – does this remind you of any more familiar myths? Weeping for Tammuz was probably part of a fertility ritual. Read Ezekiel 8:16. We might read legends, but we don’t normally worship their gods. Given that our bodies are Temples, what do we do wrong?

6.       Read Ezekiel 9:1-2. Why six men? (Read Isaiah 6:2, Revelation 4:8)

7.       Read Ezekiel 9:3-6. What is the significance of a mark? Where else do marks that protect us appear in the Bible? (Read Exodus 28:36-38, Revelation 14:1,9)

8.       In the vision, God’s agents are killing God’s people. In the real world, the Babylonians will kill Jews. But what does God wish to see destroyed? How does Jesus’ sacrifice change things?

9.       Read Ezekiel 10:3-5. When has God’s presence appeared as a cloud before? (Read Exodus 33:9, 1 Kings 8:10)

10.   Read Ezekiel 10:6-7. What significance has fire in the Temple? What significance does it have in the world?

11.   Read Ezekiel 10:8-17. Does this remind you of Ezekiel’s earlier vision? Why isn’t it precisely the same? If you see something unbelievably amazing, will you always describe it with the same words?

12.   Read Ezekiel 11:1,22-23. Which mountain is to the East of Jerusalem? Who entered Jerusalem by this same gate where Ezekiel sees God’s departure? (Read Matthew 21:1)

13.   Read Ezekiel 11:3,11. Do they expect the city to protect them or be the place of their destruction, bearing in mind that the vision has just shown God’s fire?

14.   Read Ezekiel 11:7-9. Who will be safe in the city?

15.   Read Ezekiel 11:17-21. Do we read the threat or the promise?

Ezekiel will go on to prophesy against foolish prophets, idolaters, the unfaithful, those who refuse to listen and learn, etc. Who would he prophesy against today?

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