Series: Thru the Bible
Two Mountains, Two Choices and 800 years of Mercy
God invites Israel to repent and be a light to the world
I’ve taught on the difference between the purposes and the will of God and what we are learning about tonight is a prime example of it. God desires many things which He will never have – such as His desire that “none perish but all come to the knowledge of the truth”. – 2Peter 3:9. However, when it comes to His plans and purposes, God will ALWAYS accomplish them for He is sovereign! Though I don’t know that it can be claimed as an absolute, I believe part of the reason for this is because God’s will speaks to relational things whereas His purposes and plans speak to things regarding His character which cannot change…things like justice and mercy.
Israel has now been in rebellion for many years, and judgment is more than due…in fact the powerful mercy of God is the only thing which has kept back this judgment from coming generations earlier.
God has an overall plan which dictates His agenda or purposes in the earth. That plan is redemption being available for all of mankind because “God SO loves the world”.
God chose Abram because of the kind of man he was – especially his willingness to believe and act on that belief, which made him “knowable” by God. This means that intimacy with God on some level was possible with this man since he had ears to hear and a heart to respond (Gen. 18:19). Since God was able to impute righteousness to this man by faith (Romans 4), all his natural descendants would have a chance to enter into a covenant with God and become His special people, called out of all the earth (Exod. 5:1; Lev. 20:24; Deut. 27:9).
When we pay close attention to the promises of God to His people, a great many of them are predicated on certain conditions (Exod. 19:5). The promise God made to Abraham was to bless the entire world through his seed. Ultimately this was in reference blessing the world with redemption by faith in and through Jesus Who was born of the natural descent of Abrham and was therefore his SEED (Romans 9; Gal. 3).
What God WILLED or wanted was for Israel to listen (shema), trust and obey from the heart and so become a light to the Gentiles to which they would turn…and all the world would be evangelized and won through Israel and that is exactly what God is offering Israel one last chance to realize here in there beginning verses in Jeremiah 4.
As it turnes out of course, Israel did not obey, went into exile, lost the Ark of the Covenant and in the process of time, en masse they rejected and cried out for the murder of their Messiah when He came.
Even then however, mostly out of the respect God had for Abraham, God had the message of salvation preached to the Jews first, beginning in Jerusalem, then in Judea and then spreading to the “half-Jews” in Samaria before going to the rest of the world (Acts 1:8; 26:20-23). God was here offering His chosen people yet one last and final chance to be the lights to the world, and though many did turn, most did not.
After this, though ministry continued to the Jews, God called Paul as an apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13). Even He started by trying to win the Jews, but at one point after years of rejection and persecution Paul uttered those sobering words by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Since you judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we turn now to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:44-52;Acts 28:23-28).
As we read in Romans 9-12, God has set aside Israel (as a nation) until the fullness of the Gentiles have come into the kingdom (Rom. 11:25). Furthermore, God in His wisdom but contrary to His will, He is fulfilling His purpose by winning the world through converted gentiles and so provoking the Jews to jealousy (Rom. 11:11).
Oh, the tenacity and ongoing strength of God’s love for the people of this world! It is nothing less than epic and heroic! Though God did NOT get what He truly wanted, He is accomplishing and will in fact fully realize the fulfillment of His purposes in the earth, for He is sovereign!
“(1) If you, Israel, want to come back,” says the LORD, “if you want to come back to me, you must get those disgusting idols out of my sight and must no longer go astray.
(2) You must be truthful, honest and upright when you take an oath saying, ‘As surely as the LORD lives!’
IF YOU DO, the nations will pray to be as blessed by Him as you are and will make Him the object of their boasting.”
“(3) Yes, this is what the LORD has said to the people of Judah and Jerusalem:”
This next portion may very well have been the inspiration behind Jesus’ parabalistic teaching about the sower and the seed (Mk. 4).
Here God tells them to prepare their hearts. To commit themselves to God before hearing His words so that upon hearing His words they have already assumed the correct heart attitude and aptitude to honor Him through obeying them.
“Break up your unplowed ground, do not cast seeds among thorns. (4) Commit yourselves to the LORD; Dedicate your hearts to Me, people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Otherwise, My anger will blaze up like a flaming fire against you that no one will be able to extinguish. That will happen because of the evil you have done.”
(5) The LORD said, “Announce this in Judah and proclaim it in Jerusalem:
‘Sound the trumpet throughout the land!’ Shout out loudly, ‘Gather together! Let us flee into the fortified cities!’ (6) Raise a signal flag that tells people to go to Zion. Run for safety! Do not delay! For I am about to bring disaster out of the north.”
Of course this disaster from the North is referring to Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar. However, it is not in any way a stretch to see a reference to the corruption behind the power and that is satan himself. Often in scripture references to powers and authorities are only referring to the physical person fleetingly, but to the influences behind them more specifically .
“It will bring great destruction. (7) Like a lion that has come up from its lair the one who destroys nations has set out from his home base. He is coming out to lay your land waste. Your cities will become ruins and lie uninhabited. (8) So put on sackcloth! Mourn and wail, saying,
‘The fierce anger of the LORD has not turned away from us!’”
(9) “When this happens,” says the LORD, “the king and his officials will lose their courage. The priests will be struck with horror, and the prophets will be speechless in astonishment.”
Jeremiah’s response to hearing all God was sending him to say…
“(10) In response to all this I said, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have surely allowed the people of Judah and Jerusalem to be deceived by those who say, ‘You will be safe!’ But in fact a sword is already at our throats.”
God’s father-like heart in discipline
(11) “At that time the people of Judah and Jerusalem will be told, ‘A scorching wind will sweep down from the hilltops in the wilderness on My dear people. It will not be a gentle breeze for winnowing the grain and blowing away the chaff. (12) No, a wind too strong for that will come at My bidding. Yes, even now I, myself, am calling down judgment on them.’
“(13) Look! The enemy is approaching like gathering clouds. The roar of his chariots is like that of a whirlwind. His horses move more swiftly than eagles.”
The foreseen cry of the people…
I cry out, “We are doomed, for we will be destroyed!”
(The words, “I cry out” are not in the earliest and most reliable copies an so have been crossed through here)
God pleads with Judah and those from Israel forewarn them…
“(14) “Oh people of Jerusalem, purify your hearts from evil so that you may yet be delivered. How long will you continue to harbor up wicked schemes within you? (15) For messengers are coming, heralding disaster, from the city of Dan and from the hills of Ephraim. (16) They are saying, ‘Announce to the surrounding nations, “The enemy is coming!” Proclaim this message to Jerusalem: “Those who besiege cities are coming from a distant land. They are ready to raise the battle cry against the towns in Judah.”’ (17) They will surround Jerusalem like men guarding a field because they have rebelled against me,” says the LORD.
(18) “The way you have lived and the things you have done will bring this on you. This is the punishment you deserve, and it will be painful indeed. The pain will be so bad it will pierce your heart.”
This is the appropriate place for Solomon’s prayer of repentance coupled with cries for mercy.
If you remember, I’ve told you that Solomon got the inspiration and details of his prayer from the conversation God had with Moses as is recorded in Deut. 28-30.
However, something I have not drawn as much attention to is the VERY IMPORTANT backdrop for all of this which is found in the proceeding chapter of Deuteronomy 27.
Two Mountains, Two Choices
As you will no doubt remember…in Deuteronomy 27, Moses, by the instruction of God, divides Israel into two groups and has them stand on two mountains opposite of each other with the valley of Shechem in between them.
The division of the two groups were pretty specific and would not have been lost on those Israelites present.
Those tribes born of the wives of Jacob were to assemble on the top of Mount Gerizim. Those born of their handmaidens stood opposite them on Mount Ebal.God did this to symbolize the offspring of Abraham and Sarah which was the promised seed – Isaac, and the offspring of Abraham and Hagar – Ishmael… who was the son of the flesh who would NOT BE BLESSED with the heir of the promised son.
According to tradition, Mount Gerizim was at that time a lush and fertile mountain, while Mount Ebal was rocky and barren, clearly portraying the ramifications of their choices offered as we read of them in Deuteronomy 27.
Paul also understood this symbolism when he wrote in Galatians 4:30, about the son of the bond woman not being heir with the son of the free woman – comparing Ismael the son of Hagar with Isaac the son of Sarah.
Shechem, as the valley between these two mountains, was not without symbolism either. In fact, it could be argued that it represents a type of indecisive middle ground between the two choices. This is to some degree borne out in the events that took place in this valley from that day forward – including the initial division of the kingdom following the reign of Solomon.
If Israel chose to honor God and His law following in His ways, it would lead to a rich, fruitful life symbolized by Mount Gerizim.
Alternatively, if they were to embrace evil and walk contrary to God and His ways, it would lead to an empty and barren life, devoid of all things good symbolized by Mount Ebal.
A Note Regarding Blessings and Curses:
Curse means – to bind (with a spell); to hem in with obstacles; to render powerless to resist. It is used in Genesis at the fall of man for the serpent crawling on its belly, for man the ground having to be worked and it yielding thorns along with crops and for the woman by “multiplying pain and difficulty from conception to childbirth”.
Bless means – Good favor bestowed on another. This may be expressed in the giving of a tangible gift or in the pronouncing of a verbal blessing. Most often, however, this word speaks of God’s favor on the righteous.
Now this event on these mountains was performed in a bit of a sing-song fashion from Levite to Israelite and back.
The Levites were in the valley and would announce every curse for disobedience and every blessing for obedience. Israel, as represented on both mountains would in turn respond to these pronouncements with “Amen” which actually IS the Hebrew word they said and we have adopted it into our language. It means – verily or truly.
The word is used most often as a declaration of, “may it be so”. It comes from a root meaning to confirm or support or to be faithful.
The major idea behind this word is constancy and reliability.
So in a way, Israel saying Amen at the pronouncement of every blessing and curse was an affirmation of obedience and an agreement to the deserving of negative if one was disobedient to the command.
All of this was due to the fact that before this there had been a proclamation that on THIS day they were becoming the people of God (Deut. 27:9).
This was true since the mountain in the desert with their parents who perished in the wilderness, but this was an open proclamation of it’s truth and perhaps even a deeper expression of it for this second generation who were going into the promised land.
When we get to Deuteronomy 29 we will see that this was an additional covenant and oath God was making with this second generation which was in ADDITION TO the one He made with them at Horeb.
If you remember the words in Deuteronomy enumerating the blessings and curses for obedience or disobedience made it sound as if judgment for disobedience would be immediate, yet here we are at the end of 2Kings, 2Chronicles & the beginning of the ministry of Jeremiah the prophet before God passes His promised judgment.
- They had entered the Promised land in about 1400BC.
- They had largely settled it by 1200BC and had lived in relative disobedience MOST of that time.
- Yet here we are around 600BC before God is bringing the much deserved judgment on them.
This is MERCY – yes, mercy even under the old covenant of works!
Using America as a comparison… the United States of America, which has been in a state of united independence for 245 years (since 1776) would have to be here for yet another 355 years before judgment would have come.
Of course comparatively we are MANY times worse and have never truly been one nation under God, since from our foundations we have embraced and allowed ALL religions and in fact the open practice of NO religion, making us decidedly a pagan nation from the beginning.
But I digress… What God told Moses is found in Deut 30:1-6; 17-20,
“(1) When all these things happen to you–the blessings and curses I have set before you–and you come to your senses while you are in all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, (2) and you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and all your soul by doing everything I am giving you today, (3) then He will restore your fortunes, have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. (4) Even if your exiles are at the ends of the earth, He will gather you and bring you back from there. (5) The LORD your God will bring you into the land your fathers possessed, and you will take possession of it. He will cause you to prosper and multiply you more than He did your fathers. (6) The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul, so that you will live.”
“(17) But if your heart turns away and you do not listen and you are led astray to bow down to other gods and worship them, (18) I tell you today that you will certainly perish and will not live long in the land you are entering to possess across the Jordan. (19) I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, (20) love the LORD your God, obey Him, and remain faithful to Him. For He is your life, and He will prolong your life in the land the LORD swore to give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
So here in Jeremiah we are seeing this curse fulfilled which is in fact just God punishing Israel (and in this case specifically Judah) for their continual treason of heart.
All of the things listed in the curses in Deut. 28, which culminated in their exile to foreign lands we will see come upon these people for their constancy in rebellion. They said “amen” to it, and they will have it!
Jeremiah responds to the glimpses he sees of impending judgment…
“(19) I said, “Oh, the feeling in the pit of my stomach! I writhe in anguish. Oh, the pain in my heart! My heart pounds within me. I cannot keep silent. For I hear the sound of the trumpet; the sound of the battle cry pierces my soul! (20) I see one destruction after another taking place, so that the whole land lies in ruins. I see our tents suddenly destroyed, their curtains torn down in a mere instant. (21) “How long must I see the enemy’s battle flags and hear the military signals of their bugles?”
Notice the real reason for the sin and the judgment…
“(22) The LORD answered,
“This will happen because My people are foolish. They do not know Me. They are like children who have no sense. They have no understanding. They are skilled at doing evil. They do not know how to do good.”
This has ALWAYS been the message – LIFE! God was able to use Abraham because on some level that relationship was based upon knowing and trusting – LIFE. Jesus told us in John 17 that Life was to know God in relational intimacy. Jesus told us that He had been commanded by the Father to preach LIFE (John 12:49-50)…not judgment, not sin, not condemnation…but LIFE. Oh, how have we missed this! You do not preach the problem, you preach the solution! John 1 tells us that Jesus was, in Himself the very embodiment of that message for he said, “In Him was LIFE and that LIFE was the LIGHT (the revelation) to man”.
Now look at what bore testimony or witness to this deserved judgment on Judah…
(23) “I looked at the land and saw that it was an empty wasteland.
- I looked up at the sky, and its light had vanished.
- (24) I looked at the mountains and saw that they were shaking. All the hills were swaying back and forth!
- (25) I looked and saw that there were no more people, and that all the birds in the sky had flown away.
- (26) I looked and saw that the fruitful land had become a desert and that all of the cities had been laid in ruins.
- The LORD had brought this all about because of his blazing anger.
“(27) All this will happen because the LORD said,
The word “said” here is amar. It is a verb which means to say or declare but it also refers to what is being communicated by a person’s actions along with his words which is seen in the following words. So this begins with God saying and is followed by God doing.
Also notice the involvement of the land and sky above the promised land. We just read in Deuteronomy how “God called the heavens and the earth to bear witness” to the agreement Israel was making to God in this second oath and covenant by saying Amen to all the blessings and curses. Here we see those same Heavens and earth giving their testimony. (Deut. 30:19)
Jesus once said, that if the people did not praise Him, then even the rocks themselves would cry out! (Luke 19:39,40)
“The whole land will be desolate; however, I will not completely destroy it. (28) Because of this the land will mourn and the sky above will grow black. For I have made my purpose known and I will not relent or turn back from carrying it out.”
“(29) At the sound of the approaching horsemen and archers the people of every town will flee.
- Some of them will hide in the thickets.
- Others will climb up among the rocks.
- All the cities will be deserted. No one will remain in them.
(30) And you, Zion, city doomed to destruction, you accomplish nothing by wearing a beautiful dress, decking yourself out in jewels of gold, and putting on eye shadow! You are making yourself beautiful for nothing. Your lovers spurn you. They want to kill you.
(31) In fact, I hear a cry like that of a woman in labor, a cry of anguish like that of a woman giving birth to her first baby.
It is the cry of Daughter Zion gasping for breath, reaching out for help, saying, “I am done in! My life is ebbing away before these murderers!”
I don’t know that any of us fully grasp how these natural, historical events are as much a foreshadow of our lives in Christ as were the temple and the sacrifices.
As I read these things I have seen SO MANY parallels between the warnings and protections we have under the New Covenant and how our victory is in God and our defeat comes from not knowing and trusting.
We seek for protection and fulfillment in other lovers and in God’s faithful love we are disciplined with the blows of a Father, that we might not know the defeat that these people in Judah are about to know.
I looked up the reference to the enemy being like a roaring lion and you know where I found it…exactly where we will be on Sunday, in 1 Peter 5.
It says, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time, (7) casting all your care upon Him, because He cares about you. (8) Be sober! Be on the alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. (9) Resist him, firm in the faith…” ~ 1 Peter 5:6-9
Remember that all of this was on the eve, if you will, of their judgment and began with God inviting them to repent and be the lights of the World!
I hope this teaching will challenge you and encourage you to place your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
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