Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Jeremiah’s Turning #10: Creation’s Undoing

Following the word “turn” (שוב) through Jeremiah’s prophecy.

“I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens had fled. I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a wilderness, and all its cities were pulled down before the LORD, before His fierce anger. For thus says the LORD, ‘The whole land shall be a desolation, yet I will not execute a complete destruction. For this the earth shall mourn and the heavens above be dark, because I have spoken, I have purposed, and I will not change My mind, nor will I turn [שוב] from it.’ At the sound of the horseman and bowman every city flees; they go into the thickets and climb among the rocks; every city is forsaken, and no man dwells in them” (Jeremiah 4:23-29).

There are some passages that are perfect instruments of our great Teacher, God the Holy Spirit. For example: 2 Samuel 22//Psalm 18. When we compare the context of the Psalm (“the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul”), and compare it to the cataclysmic heaven-rending events in the song, we are taught how to understand such passages. Where in the historic narratives of David’s life do we see anything like 2 Samuel 22:8-16//Psalm 18:7-15? We are taught by this to understand this language as descriptive of the spiritual battles paralleling the physical struggles of God’s people in this world (see also Judges 5:20 and compare it to the narrative of the battle).

Our passage from today is another of those great teaching verses. Jeremiah purposefully uses language in his description of Jerusalem’s destruction at the hand of the Babylonians (586 B.C.) that is only used in one other place:
  • “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:1,2).
  • “I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light” (Jeremiah 4:23).

Jeremiah describes the destruction of Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple in terms of the undoing of all of Creation. This is not the only place where the Temple/Jerusalem is compared to “the heavens and the earth.”
  • “But chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved. And He built His sanctuary like the heights, like the earth which He has founded forever” (Psalm 78:68,69).
  • “I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people’” (Isaiah 51:16).
  • “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing and her people for gladness” (Isaiah 65:17,18).

In addition, the New Testament makes a parallel between the “elements of the world” and the ceremonies/regulations of the old covenant:
  • “Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world [τα στοιχεια του κοσμου]. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things [στοιχεια], to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Galatians 4:1-11).
  • “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world [τα στοιχεια του κοσμου], rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
  • “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world [των στοιχειων του κοσμου], why, as if you were living in the world [κοσμω], do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) - in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?” (Colossians 2:20-22).

So, if we’re being consistent about letting the Psalms, Prophets, and Paul teach us to understand scriptural language, how does this affect our reading of 2 Peter 3:10-13? Is Peter teaching a cosmological destruction or the end of the old covenant era with the destruction of the Temple at the hand of the Romans in A.D. 70?

Let God the Holy Spirit teach you how to read Scripture, regardless of how this messes up your systematic theology...especially your eschatology.

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As far as the turning mentioned in this verse, note again that when God purposes to punish His people, it will happen.
  • “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).
  • “This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:1-4).

The apostle Peter teaches us that there is a type of judgment that will come upon the Church, and the apostle teaches us that there are those within the Church who will deny this judgment and live in open rebellion (even leading others in the Church to follow them). Be warned. God may wait, but His judgment does not turn away from false confessors in His Church.

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