Summary: A sermon of the need and time of the prophets

Warning, Consolation and An Invitation

Jeremiah 1:4-10 and 17-19

Last week, we looked at the opening of the Temple when Solomon called the Israelites to covenant faithfulness, obedience and regular worship of God. And God gave this warning, “But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name.” After Solomon died, the 10 northern tribes of Israel revolted against Solomon’s son Rehoboam who refused their demand to lower His father’s taxes. Civil war ensued and Israel, which had been united under David, now became two nations, Northern Israel and Judah in the south, which retained the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. During this time, most of Northern Israel’s kings who were to shepherd the people on behalf of God instead led them away from God. Many of the kings of Judah served idols; few served the Lord faithfully. Some were a mixed bag. But what we see is that the cycle of turning from God (sin), repentance, deliverance and restoration was repeated again and again.

It was these years between 760 BC and 460 BC that were characterized by three things. First is unprecedented political, military, economic and social upheaval. For example, Northern Israel had a series of six kings in 20 years, four of them assassinated by opponents who either favored rebellion against Assyria or complete submission. Second were growing threats on the international scene all around Israel first from the Assyrians, then the Babylonians and finally, the Persians. In response, smaller nations banded together to fight off the Assyrians, including Northern Israel, violating God’s command to the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land to not associate with pagan kings and peoples. Third is religious unfaithfulness and disregard for the covenant and law. There is evidence that many turned to the worship of pagan gods as a result of these alliances with pagan nation. In these circumstances, God’s Word was needed anew and so God raised up prophets to speak on His behalf. Thus, the prophetic writings contain a vast array of messages from God from different prophets addressing both domestic and international issues.

A prophet is a messenger of God raised up to speak God’s word to His people. The Hebrew word for prophet ‘nabi’ means one who is entrusted with a message. Thus, a prophet’s message is not their own but God’s and it is delivered with the authority of God. They have a responsibility and burden to speak this word. What exactly is prophecy? A foretelling of immediate events. Most people define prophecy as a foretelling or prediction of what is to come for this age. While the prophets did announce the future, it was the immediate future of Israel, Judah and other nations rather than our own. So when we read the prophetic writings, we must see them as prophecies that have been fulfilled in the lives of the original audience because usually, the prophecies came to pass within decades of the time they were spoken. There are exceptions to this, of course, but it is important to keep this in mind. The prophecies were also a call to action. The message of the prophets contain both predictions and warnings and were intended to be catalysts for the people to repent and be obedient to God’s Law. To see the prophets as primarily predictors of the future is to miss their primary function. None of the prophecies were written in stone. They were based on whether Israel repented. Thus, the prophets message was a call to repentance. In fact, this message was so prevalent that Zechariah (one of the last prophets) summed up all the prophets: “Thus says the Lord of Hosts, turn from your evil ways and doings,” Zechariah 1:4 The prophets called the people back to obedience to the Mosaic covenant and its Law. Thus, the content of their message was not new but age old.

The prophets also announced repercussions that were either blessings or curses. These were the positive and negative enforcements of God’s law so the people would clearly understand what it means to be in relationship to God and the repercussions of sin and rebellion but also the blessing that come with obedience. One aspect of the words of warning is that there is an opportunity to repent and change your ways to avoid the punishments and curses. But That opportunity is like a closing door. When it shuts, the opportunity to repent closes as well. It’s like in the movies when a person is trying to escape a disaster or bad person chasing them and there is a closing door or gate they have to get through it before it closes. That creates stress as you watch whether they are going to escape or not. That is what the prophets wanted to create in the hearts and minds of the Israelites with their warnings and call to repent to turn from their ways.

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