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This study guide is based upon seven weeks of study at five hours each week. The main text is the Bible and the relevant passages should be read as indicated before the notes in the study guide. There are self-test questions to help you to consolidate your knowledge. The scheme can be commenced at any time and be completed within the following seven weeks or longer if you prefer. This allows you to begin at the most convenient time for your studies and allows you to take as much time as you need. There are two assignments and one full week is allocated to each assignment to give time for additional research and writing up. Concise answers are required without unnecessary padding and you should aim to write about 2,500 words.
Unit 1. The Divisions of the Bible
Unit 2. The Pentateuch
Unit 3. Assignment 1
Unit 4. The Former Prophets
Unit 5. Isaiah
Unit 6. Jeremiah
Unit 7. Assignment 2
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Title: The Divisions of the Bible
2 Corinthians 3, Galatians 3, Hebrews 3, Hebrews 9, Luke 16 and Luke 24.
The Bible contains sixty-six books. The name Bible reflects this. It is derived through Latin from the Greek word biblia meaning 'books'. The scriptures are a collection of books. The description is a biblical one.
'In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.' (Daniel 9:2)
The earliest surviving reference in the early church is about AD 150 in 2 Clement 14.2: 'the books and the apostles declare that the Church … has existed from the beginning.' The expression 'Books' is still used in Scotland. When we have in our hands the Bible what we a re holding is a divinely inspired library. We must ask ourselves the question: How often do we go to the library? Is it once a week or once a month? With this library it must be every day. Every library has a catalogue so that you can find your way around. There has to be some order or classification that relates to the contents of the books. With respect to this divine library we need to consider the twofold division, the threefold division and the fivefold division.
The Bible divides into the Old Testament and the New Testament. This is a biblical division. Paul applies it to the books of Moses, the foundation of the Old Testament. 'But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.' (2 Corinthians 3:14-15) Christ spoke of the New Testament in the words of the institution of the Lord's Supper: 'Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.' (Luke 22:20) This terminology points to the central feature of salvation that all saving experience stems from God's covenant of grace. Paul explains this to the Galatians as follows.
'Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.' (Galatians 3:16-18)
The covenant is God's sovereign arrangement or disposition. It is a gracious covenant. It stems from his undeserved kindness. It is confirmed in Christ for he is the exclusive mediator of the covenant. This covenant bestows an inheritance upon undeserving sinners. It is a covenant of promise and all of its benefits are received by faith. It is not inappropriate to think of a 'testament'. This is a more specific illustration and helps us to see that God, like a testator of a will is sovereign in bestowing an inheritance upon his beneficiaries.
'And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you.' (Hebrews 9:15-20)
There is no contradiction between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is not salvation by law and the New Testament salvation by grace. The Law was never intended to save sinners. That it can never do. The Law causes the sinner to see how much he needs to be saved by Christ. 'Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.' (Galatians 3:24) The way of being saved by grace through faith in God's promises concerning Christ was operative before the Law. 'And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.' (Galatians 3:17) The way of salvation has not changed. As Thomas Taylor puts it: 'The same testator made both testaments.' The relationship between the two is sometimes stated in the following way: 'The new is in the old concealed. The old is in the new revealed.'
When we look at the Old Testament in the original Hebrew we are faced with a threefold division: the Law, the prophets and the writings. Christ used this description of the Old Testament.
'And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.' (Luke 24:44-47)
The 'writings' are here referred to as 'the psalms' because the Book of Psalms was the first book of the holy writings in the Hebrew Bible. This teaching of Jesus shows that all parts of the Old Testament witness to Christ, his atonement and resurrection, which provide the foundation for preaching salvation to the ends of the earth through faith in him. We may not be lax about the use of the Old Testament as though its teaching is no longer relevant. It was the risen Lord himself who expounded these books to his disciples and they felt the power of their content. 'And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?' (Luke 24:32) The Lord Jesus Christ also clearly taught that anyone who despises the authority and sufficiency of the Old Testament for salvation would not be persuaded by the most spectacular miracle. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus note the request of the rich man in Hell and the response of Abraham.
'Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
'Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.' (Luke 16:27-31)
The contents of the three divisions of the Old Testament are as follows. The Law contains the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The former prophets contain the books of Joshua through to 2 Kings in our English Bibles. The latter prophets contain Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the book of the twelve prophets. The writings contain the remainder of the Old Testament books. What, we may ask, accounts for this arrangement? The Law contains the record of God's foundational work concerning Israel and his authoritative word to Israel. The prophets contain the record of the historical development of Israel as a nation in the Promised Land, details of Israel's decline and Jehovah's testimony of judgment and grace. In the writings we have further historical and prophetic material and poetic writings, which portray the authentic spiritual experience. Consider the following extract from the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 1, Section 2), which is presented in the original in the order in which the books appear in our English Bibles. This has been slightly modified below to show in three columns to which section of the Hebrew canon each book belongs. The bold type headings are an addition for this purpose. The numbers in bold type following the entries in the third column indicate the order of the books in the Hebrew canon. First, Psalms, Proverbs and Job, followed by the five Scrolls: Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther. The canon closes with Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles.
'Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now
contained all the books of the Old and New Testament, which are these:
Of the Old Testament:
THE LAW THE PROPHETS THE WRITINGS
The Former Prophets
I Chronicles 3.4
II. Chronicles 3.5
Song of Songs2.1
Note: New Testament not shown
All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of
faith and life. (g)
(g) Luke 16:29, 31; Eph. 2:20; Rev. 22:18, 19; II Tim. 3:16.'
The Books of Moses are known as 'the Pentateuch' from the Greek word pentateuchos meaning five-volumed. The Jews knew these books as hattora, the Law. It took three years of weekly readings in the synagogues to read through the whole. The Law had a foundational place in Israel and retains an honoured place in the Gospel Church. As William Secker explains: 'The Law by which God rules us, is as dear to him as the Gospel by which he saves us.' That Moses has an honourable place in the New Testament church as a faithful servant of God is stated plainly in the epistle to the Hebrews though that honour place is not to be set against Christ.
'Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house. For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;' (Hebrews 3:1-5)
This overview serves as a library brochure for the most precious collection in the world to stir you up to get into the library and to read what is there. The scripture assures us that this is the way of true blessing.
'And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.' (John 20:30-31)
(1) An enquirer would like to know why there is an Old Testament and a New Testament. How would you answer them?
(2) Explain the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
(3) What is the significance of the threefold division of the Old Testament?
(4) How does the arrangement of the books of the Hebrew Bible differ from the arrangement in our English Bibles?
(5) State the importance of the Pentateuch.
Title: The Pentateuch
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy
The five-volume work of Moses known as the Pentateuch is a magnificent and sturdy foundation of the whole Bible. It is repeatedly referred to in the Old Testament, the Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Revelation. Allusions to it in the New Testament are numerous. There are 175 references to Genesis, 150 to Exodus, 60 to Leviticus, 50 to Numbers and over 100 to Deuteronomy. The Jews referred to the Pentateuch as five-fifths of the law. It is indeed complete and uncompromising. In it God is God and a just God and saviour. To summarise its content is a challenging task. The following provides the major themes.
Genesis, which recounts the segregation of the chosen people;
Exodus, which recounts the salvation of the chosen people;
Leviticus, which details laws for the sanctification of the people;
Numbers, which shows the sadness that sin brings; and
Deuteronomy, meaning second-law, recapitulates the whole.
We will consider the significance of these now.
It is a fascinating fact that though our societies today are conditioned to mankind being on the earth for millions of years, when we look for historical evidence by way of documents we get no further back than Ussher's chronology which was based upon the information in the Bible. Grun's The Timetables of History starts with an Egyptian calendar after 5000 B.C. and Sumerian writing after 4000 B.C. Abraham lived about 2000 B.C. so Genesis 1 to 11 would cover period of not a great deal longer than 2000 years, certainly not millions of years. The early record tells how God created the world in six days and describes the sinless experience of Adam and Eve in paradise. It then goes on to recount their woeful fall into sin and the way in which sin developed in the world and the reign of death, which it brought. We are forwards to the climax that resulted in the flood.
'And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.' (Genesis 6:5-8)
But the destruction by the flood did not solve the problems because the post-flood world was soon full of sin too as the events of the tower of Babel showed.
'And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.' (Genesis 11:1-9)
It was against this background that the segregation of Abraham and his descendants took place.
'Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.' (Genesis 12:1-3)
By this segregation the promises of salvation were to be kept intact with a view to universal blessing being accomplished through the seed of Abraham. This segregation was expressed by way of covenant.
'And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.' (Genesis 17:1-8)
This covenant was to be effected by promises to be believed by the children of Abraham. The dependence upon the sovereign grace of God ensured its perpetuation through Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and his brethren. They were not all Israel that were of Israel for Esau fell away in apostasy. Jacob would have done so too but the covenant had been underwritten by God's sovereignty and everlasting love.
'Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.' (Romans 9:6-13)
The first half of the Book of Exodus is concerned with a deliverance of such magnitude as to be a fitting picture of spiritual redemption in Christ. The bondage of the people was terrible and destructive as is the bondage to sin. Moses describes Israel's oppression by the Egyptians: 'therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.' (Exodus 1:11) The sinner has a cruel taskmaster in Satan who delights to ruin sinners whether he does so by the effects of their own sin in this life or by deluding them into dying under the curse of the Divine Law and perishing forever in the next life. Israel's helplessness mirrored the sinner's powerlessness to break from the tyranny of the world, the flesh and the devil. God's response to the bondage was one of bombardment for God is against evil in every form.
'Then the Lord said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land. And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them. And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant. Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord.' (Exodus 6:1-8)
God's ways are not our ways and God's thoughts are not our thoughts. We might have expected great displays of the volcano or earthquake but instead there were frogs, lice and flies. The tiniest things in great abundance were enough to bring Egypt to a standstill. Surely, we might have thought, a great king would be able to put two and two together and realize that a God who could so afflict with such tiny things would be able to devastate with greater things. The full range of the plagues were: waters turned to blood, frogs, lice, flies, murrain or cattle disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the death of the firstborn. But this conquest of evil was by way of a judgement that could not solve the problem of sin. It is in the Passover lamb that we have the shadow of the real source of deliverance. Christ came not to annihilate Satan, Pharisees, Herod and Pilate but to die himself. He came to shed his own blood as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. What a beautiful picture it was that the angel of death would pass over the houses where the blood of the Lamb was to be seen on the doorposts of the house for faith in Christ involves an interest in his blood as a covering for sin.
'Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said unto them, Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families, and kill the passover. And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the bason; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.' (Exodus 12:21-23)
The blessings of salvation were pictured over and over again in this period. We see them in the Exodus or going out of the land of bondage. We see them in the sustaining by the manna from heaven. We see them in the refreshing enjoyed from the water from the Rock. In these things we see Christ the living bread who came down from heaven and Christ the rock of salvation.
From Exodus 19 onwards the Pentateuch is about Israel being a holy people unto the Lord, for salvation is not about self-serving licence but God-glorifying service through spiritual liberation.
'Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.' (Exodus 19:4-6)
How would this be accomplished? There was first the Sinai covenant in which the law was given as a means of grace. It was the giving of God's word to a redeemed people.
'And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:1-3)'
This was not salvation through the works of the law. It was the law given to expose sin, to define righteousness and to keep driving the sinner to Christ as saviour. The total law was designed to expose the consciences of the people to holiness and to show them Christ. The moral, civil and ceremonial law accomplished the former and the ceremonial law in particular accomplished the latter. Within this ceremonial law the sanctuary and its ceremonies were of prime importance and occupy the second half of the Book of Exodus and the Book of Leviticus. The sanctuary and its service was a beautiful representation of Jesus Christ as the High Priest of his people and the Lamb of God slain for the covering of guilt and the forgiveness of sins. In and through him there is approach to God and power to live for God and the various offerings and purifications foreshadowed the saviour. In the book of Numbers we find the sadness that sin brings and sin dealt with. It records the two ways of dealing with sin and does so starkly. Sin must either be mortified by us, we killing sin in us; or sin must be judged which results in sin killing us! The Epistle to the Hebrews presents the situation to us for our urgent attention:
'For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.' (Hebrews 3:14-19)
Deuteronomy reinforces all that had gone before by rehearsing the people's experiences and emphasizing God's grace. 'For the Lord thy God hath blessed thee in all the works of thy hand: he knoweth thy walking through this great wilderness: these forty years the Lord thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing.' (Deuteronomy 2:7) The book also elaborates the legislation and then concludes all by a magnificent blessing upon those who receive and believe the Word of God.
'And this is the blessing, wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death. And he said, The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them. Yea, he loved the people; all his saints are in thy hand: and they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words. … The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them. Israel then shall dwell in safety alone: the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; also his heavens shall drop down dew. Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! and thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places.' (Deuteronomy 33:1-3, 27-29)
(1) What is the significance of segregation and covenant in the call of Abraham?
(2) What are the parallels between the Exodus under Moses and salvation through Christ?
(3) What do we learn about Christ from (a) the Passover, (b) the manna and (c) the water from the rock?
(4) Why can it be said that the giving of the Law in no way compromised salvation by grace through faith?
(5) In what ways did the tabernacle and its ceremonies point to Christ?
Explain the main divisions of the Bible and the significance of the Pentateuch within those divisions.
Title: The Former Prophets
Choose extracts from Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel and I and II Kings
This Hebrew description is strange to us. We do not think of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings as prophetic books. We think of them as history. But as soon as we start to read them we realise that they are full of the prophetic word of God:
'Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister, saying, Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.' (Joshua 1:1-2)
Everything is governed by this word and the details of Israel's progress into Canaan are prescribed by it.
'And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying, Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.' (Joshua 4:1-3)
Consequently when the people sinned God reproved them by his angel.
'And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this? Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.' (Judges 2:1-3)
As we proceed we become aware of God using specific servants to declare his word of revelation such as Deborah a prophetess, a man of God, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah and Elisha. It is what they say in the name of the Lord that casts history in its proper light and everything centres around the king: the need for a king, the provision of a king and the failure of merely human kings.
In the book of Joshua sovereignty is still directly in the hand of Christ. He appears visibly and directs operations.
'And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my Lord unto his servant? And the captain of the Lord's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.' (Joshua 5:13-15)
All of Joshua's success in conquest and settlement was derived from this source and Joshua maintained the reliance upon God required of him. We find him urging the people to such faithfulness and affirming his own determination to be faithful.
'Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.' (Joshua 24:14-15)
When we read on into the book of Judges we are soon made aware of the serious problem that after the death of Joshua the people did not follow his charge to them.
'And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being an hundred and ten years old. And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathheres, in the mount of Ephraim, on the north side of the hill Gaash. And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.' (Judges 2:8-10)
A pattern emerged in the experience of Israel of periods of decline followed by periods of deliverance and further periods of decline repeating the cycle again and again. Note the following example.
'Therefore the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushanrishathaim eight years. And when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother.' (Judges 3:8-9)
However, as the story proceeds we become aware of the fact that even the deliverers or judges are of very mixed ways. We find Samson, for example, in the catalogue of the faithful in the Epistle to the Hebrews but there is much in his life that we could not take for an example. As the story continues we find that even among the Israelites conduct becomes more deceitful, violent, bizarre and gruesome. The explanation is given: 'In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.' (Judges 21:25)
The two books of Samuel focus upon the life of David. The First Book of Kings opens with the reign of Solomon. In I Samuel we encounter Saul first and then we read how David succeeded him. In point of kingship no one stands higher. At the outset of the Gospel Jesus Christ is referred to as 'the son of David and the son of Abraham.' (Matthew 1:1) The Law and the Prophets have an honoured place upon the Mount of Transfiguration but as to covenant promise it is David and Abraham that have first place. Saul showed the need for a king after God's own heart by invading the sacred office to offer sacrifice to God. The facts are as follows.
'Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel, … the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven. … And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering.' (1 Samuel 13:1,5,8-9)
In contrast to Saul, David was a man after God's own heart as his anointing showed. The details are as follows.
'And the Lord said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons. … And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the Lord's anointed is before him. But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. … And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither. And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the Lord said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.' (1 Samuel 16:1,6-7,11-13)
As we follow David we find how he defeated Goliath and was persecuted by Saul. He showed himself as a man of prayer (1 Samuel 23.10-11) and learned obedience to God (1 Samuel 30.6). Having come to the throne (2 Samuel) he showed his delight in the Ark of the Covenant and his desire to build a house for it (2 Samuel 7.8-13). There were many failures in the royal household and many threats to the fulfillment of the promises but God showed himself as the one who overrules even in the final default when David numbered the people without any commandment from God. These circumstances led to the identification of the place for the setting up of the altar. 'And Gad came that day to David, and said unto him, Go up, rear an altar unto the Lord in the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite. And David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.' (2 Samuel 24:18,25) David's son Solomon followed him to the throne. Solomon was renowned for his wisdom but Christ was able to claim for himself that he was one greater than Solomon. Solomon had great glory and was privileged to build the temple concerning which he spoke as follows.
'And it was in the heart of David my father to build an house for the name of the Lord God of Israel. And the Lord said unto David my father, Whereas it was in thine heart to build an house unto my name, thou didst well that it was in thine heart. Nevertheless thou shalt not build the house; but thy son that shall come forth out of thy loins, he shall build the house unto my name. And the Lord hath performed his word that he spake, and I am risen up in the room of David my father, and sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord promised, and have built an house for the name of the Lord God of Israel. And I have set there a place for the ark, wherein is the covenant of the Lord, which he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.' (1 Kings 8:17-21)
Although in many respects Solomon was a faltering sinner yet in other respects he was a faithful pointer to the wisdom, glory and sovereignty of Christ.
After the reign of Solomon the accession of Rehoboam was a rude awakening and his folly resulted in the disruption, which split the kingdom. It is recorded as follows in 1 Kings.
'So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had appointed, saying, Come to me again the third day. And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men's counsel that they gave him; And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform his saying, which the Lord spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat. So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents.' (1 Kings 12:12-16)
Subsequently Israel never had a righteous king, whereas in Judah grace prevailed and there were kings who followed the Lord such as Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoash, Hezekiah and Josiah. As the record of their lives show, even these good men were sinners and their lives pointed to the need for a righteous king. So, according to Isaiah: 'Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.' (Isaiah 32:1-2) By the time of king Uzziah (779-740) there was an outburst of prophetic activity. Amos, Isaiah, Micah and Hosea prophesied in the period covered by 2 Kings 15 – 16. Obadiah and Nahum probably belong to the period covered by 2 Kings 21. Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Daniel and Ezekiel belong in the period covered by 2 Kings 22 - 25. By the exile, the priesthood had failed, the kings had failed and false prophets abounded but through it all it was seen that the word of the Lord endures forever. Christ, the promised seed of David, cannot be squeezed out and as Rutherford puts it: 'They lose nothing who gain Christ.' The psalmist celebrates his kingdom:
'There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth. His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.' (Psalms 72:16-19)
(1) What reason can be advanced for calling the books Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings the former prophets?
(2) In what ways does the Book of Judges show the need for a king?
(3) What are the highlights of the reign of David? Explain your reasons for mentioning the matters that you identify.
(4) What was the significance of Solomon?
(5) How did the kingdoms of Judah and Israel differ following the disruption?
Isaiah Chapters 1, 2, 40, 42, 49, 52,53, 55, 57, 59, 60 and 61.
The name Isaiah is a combination of salvation and Yahu (Jehovah) and therefore means 'The Lord is Salvation'. In the New Testament Isaiah is quoted more than all of the other prophets together. The New Testament has no doubts about the unity of Isaiah. His name is used with respect to quotations from Chapters 6, 10, 29, 40, 53, 61 and 65. To understand the historical background we must appreciate that in Isaiah's times Assyria was growing in power and assuming the position of political dominance. In the face of this threat Israel was to learn experientially that salvation is of the Lord and so put its trust in Jehovah. We see this in the prayers of Hezekiah. 'O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth. Incline thine ear, O Lord, and hear; open thine eyes, O Lord, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God. Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries. And have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them. Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord, even thou only.' (Isaiah 37.16-20) We also see what encouragement God gave to Hezekiah through the prophet. 'This is the word which the Lord hath spoken concerning him; The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel. … And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward: For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this.' (Isaiah 37.22-23, 31-32) The content of Isaiah's prophecy may be considered under the headings of God's salvation, God's servant and God's Spirit.
At the very beginning of the prophecy we are told that the situation was not only bleak internationally but also within the nation itself. 'Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. … Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. … Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.' (Isaiah 1.4,10,23) The people of God were as bad as the heathen. They were no longer a holy people. They were content with the name of God. Charnock's reproof would have been appropriate to them: 'It is a sad thing to be Christians at a supper, heathens in our shops, and devils in our closets.' Nothing could suffice but the experience of God’s salvation through true repentance and faith:
'Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.' (Isaiah 1.16-18)
The need is the same in every generation and every country. However, once the spiritual dimension is considered there is no room for pessimism. God’s purpose of salvation is not going to fail but gloriously succeed: 'The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.' (Isaiah 2.1-3)
It is in this light that we are to see God’s judgement upon the nations. He will indeed break down evil. Isaiah was sent to announce judgement against Babylon (Chapter 13f.), Moab (Chapter 15f.), Damascus (Chapter 17f.), Ethiopia (Chapter 18f.) and Egypt (Chapter 19f.); but also Jerusalem (Chapter 22f). To what end was this? It was to the end that truth might flourish and the Kingdom be built up. This great work is still ongoing.
Isaiah brings us to the heart and centre of God's plan. He has purposed consolation for his people. 'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins.' (Isaiah 40.1-2) The only way in which this comfort can come to sinners is through a Divine saviour. 'The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.' (Isaiah 40.3-5) We are assured that this divine saviour will be the shepherd of his people. 'O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.' (Isaiah 40.9-11) We are to look to him confident that he will not despise our broken deformed condition if we believe. 'Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.' (Isaiah 42.1-3) He is the only redeemer of God’s elect, the true Israel and the spiritual nation has him as their head.
This applies to the Jews and the Gentiles: 'Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.' (Isaiah 49.1-3) 'And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.' (Isaiah 49.6)
The servant of the Lord would accomplish the redemption through his substitutionary sufferings. 'I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.' (Isaiah 50.6-7) Consequently God sets his servant before sinners as one who was disfigured through suffering. 'Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.' (Isaiah 52.13-14) It is, however, in Isaiah Chapter 53 that we have the most majestic portrayal of the suffering servant of the Lord. Consider the following.
Christ’s Rejection: 'For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.' (Isaiah 53.2-3)
Christ's Substitutionary Atonement: 'Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.' (Isaiah 53.4-6)
Christ's Innocence: 'And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.' (Isaiah 53.9)
Christ's Success: 'Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.' (Isaiah 53.10-11)
Christ's Intercession for the Application of the benefits of his Atonement: 'Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.' (Isaiah 53.12)
That sentiment is a true one, which says: 'Christ could not die without being made sin; nor could he die, but sin must die with Him.' (Elisha Coles) What a beautiful exhortation we have in consequence in the following chapter. 'Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.' (Isaiah 54.1-4)
The question is: Can these things really be?
What invitations are given! 'Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.' (Isaiah 55.1,3)
What exhortations go forth from the prophet! 'Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.' (Isaiah 55.6-7)
What depth of evil is spoken of in those addressed! 'But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore. Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue? are ye not children of transgression, a seed of falsehood …' (Isaiah 57.3-4)
What hypocrisy is spoken of in those who should know better! 'Behold, the Lord'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.' (Isaiah 59.1-3)
All this might persuade us that it is a hopeless case. But no, in the midst of darkness, spiritual light will shine and spiritual responses ensue. It is when the night is at its darkest that the lighthouse is to be at its brightest and most welcome. 'Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.' (Isaiah 60.1-3) How can these things be? The key, assurance and guarantee are found in the activity of the Holy Spirit. The Messiah says: 'The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.' (Isaiah 61.1-3) These words were read by our Lord in the synagogue at the commencement of His ministry. He was anointed for us.
What blessings result for all who believe in Christ! They will:-
Build: 'And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.' (Isaiah 61.4)
Serve: 'But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.' (Isaiah 61.6)
Rejoice: 'I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.' (Isaiah 61.10)
Proclaim the Lord: 'I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence.' (Isaiah 62.6)
Praise the Lord: 'I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses.' (Isaiah 63.7)
Pray: 'Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence.' (Isaiah 64.1)
Enjoy Peace: 'For thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees.' (Isaiah 66.12)
(1) In what way is the name of the prophet related to the content of the book? Give examples from the text of Isaiah to illustrate your answer.
(2) Explain how it was possible for the purpose of God to succeed despite the sins of the Jews and the surrounding nations.
(3) What does the Book of Isaiah teach us about Christ?
(4) To what extent is substitutionary atonement taught in the prophet Isaiah?
(5) What is Isaiah's teaching about the Spirit of the Lord?
Jeremiah 1, 2, 23, 26, 30, 31, 36 and 37.
Jeremiah was called to be a prophet when he was a young man of about 20 years, around the year 627 BC and during the reign of Josiah. 'Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.' (Jeremiah 1.4-6) His ministry lasted about 50 years until after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. His name is proverbial as a prophet of doom, though with less accuracy than a ‘Job’s comforter’. One of the most glorious statements of the grace of God is to be found in Jeremiah (31.31-34) which is quoted in Hebrews 8 (and again in Hebrews 10.16-17). 'For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.' (Hebrews 8.8-12) Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31:15: 'In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.' (Matthew 2.18) Paul twice quotes from Jeremiah where he writes: 'Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.' (Jeremiah 9.23-24) The first appears in 1 Corinthians 1.31, 'That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord' and the second in 2 Corinthians 10.17, 'But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.' Jeremiah is thus quoted 5 times in the New Testament to Isaiah’s 65 times. Ezekiel is quoted only twice and Haggai once. We may divide the book as follows: Judah (Chapters 1-25), Jeremiah (Chapters 26-45) and Judgements on the Nations (Chapters 46-52).
The fall of Judah would have come sooner Josiah (640-608 BC) was a godly king. About the time of Jeremiah’s call, referred to above, there was a significant reformation under Josiah. 'For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images.' (2 Chronicles 34.3) Later there were further reforms. 'And it came to pass in the eighteenth year of king Josiah, that the king sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, the scribe, to the house of the Lord, saying, Go up to Hilkiah the high priest, that he may sum the silver which is brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the door have gathered of the people: And let them deliver it into the hand of the doers of the work, that have the oversight of the house of the Lord: and let them give it to the doers of the work which is in the house of the Lord, to repair the breaches of the house … And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. … And Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asahiah a servant of the king's, saying, Go ye, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us.' (2 Kings 22.3-5,8,10-13) The king crowned all with a renewal of the covenant. 'And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. And the king went up into the house of the Lord, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant. (2 Kings 23.1-3)
Notwithstanding all of the king's efforts there was entrenched wickedness in Judah. In Jeremiah 2 Judah is spoken of as:
a degenerate vine: 'Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?' (Jeremiah 2.21)
a filthy person: 'For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD.' (Jeremiah 2.22)
a wild ass: 'A wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure; in her occasion who can turn her away? all they that seek her will not weary themselves; in her month they shall find her.' (Jeremiah 2.24)
an adulteress: 'Withhold thy foot from being unshod, and thy throat from thirst: but thou saidst, There is no hope: no; for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go.' (Jeremiah 2.25)
a thief: 'As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets …' (Jeremiah 2.26)
an idolater: 'Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us.' (Jeremiah 2.27)
a thankless people: 'Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me days without number.' (Jeremiah 2.32)
of impudent cruelty 'Why trimmest thou thy way to seek love? therefore hast thou also taught the wicked ones thy ways. Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents: I have not found it by secret search, but upon all these.' (Jeremiah 2.33-34)
and consequently rejected: 'Yea, thou shalt go forth from him, and thine hands upon thine head: for the Lord hath rejected thy confidences, and thou shalt not prosper in them.' (Jeremiah 2.37)
All this took place against the background of God’s matrimonial faithfulness. 'Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.' (Jeremiah 2.2) Apart from Christ all would be in vain but he would come in God's time. 'Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, the Lord our righteousness. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.' (Jeremiah 23.5-8) Thus salvation would result from the Divine initiative, that which sprouts forth when all would seem at an end. The sovereignty of Christ the king involves authority and power, and he is established and effective. The result could only be salvation and security for those who trust in him who is the Lord our righteousness. He made peace by the blood of his cross and through the imputation of his righteousness sinners are justified by faith.
Jeremiah had many afflictions. He was commanded to proclaim God's word: 'In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah came this word from the Lord, saying, Thus saith the Lord; Stand in the court of the Lord'S house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord'S house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word … (Jeremiah 26.1-2) Jeremiah was faithful to God but the people’s response was extremely hostile.
He was threatened with death: 'Now it came to pass, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak unto all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people took him, saying, Thou shalt surely die.' (Jeremiah 28.6)
His message was contradicted: Then Hananiah the prophet took the yoke from off the prophet Jeremiah's neck, and brake it. And Hananiah spake in the presence of all the people, saying, Thus saith the Lord; Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years. And the prophet Jeremiah went his way.' (Jeremiah 28.10-11)
His calling was denied: 'Thus shalt thou also speak to Shemaiah the Nehelamite, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, Because thou hast sent letters in thy name unto all the people that are at Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the priests, saying, The Lord hath made thee priest in the stead of Jehoiada the priest, that ye should be officers in the house of the Lord, for every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in prison, and in the stocks. Now therefore why hast thou not reproved Jeremiah of Anathoth, which maketh himself a prophet to you?' (Jeremiah 29.24-27)
His writings were destroyed: 'Now the king sat in the winterhouse in the ninth month: and there was a fire on the hearth burning before him. And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth. Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king, nor any of his servants that heard all these words.' (Jeremiah 36.22-24)
He was imprisoned: 'Wherefore the princes were wroth with Jeremiah, and smote him, and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe: for they had made that the prison. When Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon, and into the cabins, and Jeremiah had remained there many days …' (Jeremiah 37.15-16)
His remonstrations were rejected: 'As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil.' (Jeremiah 44.16-17)
One might have thought that Jeremiah would have given up altogether. The Apostles had similar experiences but seeing many folk converted encouraged them. Jeremiah did not have this experience but he could draw spiritual comfort from spiritual things.
The comfort of hope: 'The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord God of Israel, saying, Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book. For, lo, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the Lord: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.' (Jeremiah 30.1-3)
'Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him: But they shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them.' (Jeremiah 30.7-9)
'Therefore fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the Lord; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished.' (Jeremiah 30.10-11)
God will not forget His people, even though the time is long and the trouble great he will remember them. 'For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after. Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I will bring again the captivity of Jacob's tents, and have mercy on his dwellingplaces; and the city shall be builded upon her own heap, and the palace shall remain after the manner thereof. And out of them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of them that make merry: and I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small. Their children also shall be as aforetime, and their congregation shall be established before me, and I will punish all that oppress them. And their nobles shall be of themselves, and their governor shall proceed from the midst of them; and I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach unto me: for who is this that engaged his heart to approach unto me? saith the Lord. And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.' (Jeremiah 30.17-22)
The comfort of God’s steadfast love. The Church is Christ’s bride and his love is unchangeable from eternity to eternity. 'The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: thou shalt again be adorned with thy tabrets, and shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry.' (Jeremiah 31.3-4)
The comfort of the power of prayer: 'For thus saith the Lord; Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O Lord, save thy people, the remnant of Israel.' (Jeremiah 31.7)
The comfort of the virtue of Christ’s blood. Because the price is paid, the release is certain. 'Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. (Jeremiah 31.10-11)
The comfort of the fruit of these things being before our eyes. 'Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; As yet they shall use this speech in the land of Judah and in the cities thereof, when I shall bring again their captivity; The Lord bless thee, O habitation of justice, and mountain of holiness. And there shall dwell in Judah itself, and in all the cities thereof together, husbandmen, and they that go forth with flocks. For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul. Upon this I awaked, and beheld; and my sleep was sweet unto me.' (Jeremiah 31.23-26)
We find references in Jeremiah to God's relentless judicial attack on evil: Egypt (Chapter 46), the Philistines (Chapter 47), Moab (Chapter 48), Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar, Hazor and Elam (Chapter 49) and Babylon (Chapters 50-51). The key to this is found in Chapter 31: 'Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah …' (Jeremiah 31.31) Outside of the covenant of grace there is no hope. In the Book of Revelation the vials depict sustained providential judgements breaking down the Anti-Christian evil in all its forms and structures. The covenant of grace is the all important thing. Its characteristics are as follows.
The Covenant of Grace is a new covenant: 'Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah …' (Jeremiah 31.31)
The Covenant of Grace is an unbreakable covenant. God is faithful even if Israel was not. 'Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord …' (Jeremiah 31.32)
The Covenant of Grace is inward: 'But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.' (Jeremiah 31.33) It is not the Law inscribed on ‘tables of stone’ outside of us but on our ‘hearts’ within us. 'Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart. Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?' (2 Corinthians 3.3,6-8)
The Covenant of Grace is enlightening: 'And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord …' (Jeremiah 31.34a)
The Covenant of Grace is effective: 'for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.' (Jeremiah 31.34b)
The Covenant of Grace is unchangeable: 'Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever.' (Jeremiah 31.35-36)
We may conclude by saying that we are not to think of Jeremiah as pessimistic but realistic. The sentimental optimism of the humanistic worldview is a delusion. It will be shattered like the clay pot that it is. ‘Jeremiah’ means "the Lord exalts". That is his message for Judah and today. Amidst the gloom and impending doom there is ONE answer and the Christian’s testimony begins and ends here: 'The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come; And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' (Acts 2.20-21)
(1) What were the leading sins of Judah in the time of Jeremiah and how could the kingdom of heaven progress notwithstanding those sins?
(2) What were the main afflictions that Jeremiah experienced on account of being faithful to God?
(3) What are some of the main lines of comfort spoken of in the Book of Jeremiah?
(4) What can we learn from the chapters in Jeremiah that deal with God's judgements upon the nations?
(5) Identify and explain the main characteristics of the covenant of grace as spoken of in Jeremiah 31.
Compare and contrast the teachings of Isaiah and Jeremiah concerning the Messiah. Explain the emphases that they have in common and the particular matters that are distinctive in each prophet.