When faced with an overwhelming crisis, we are often tempted to adopt one of two ways of thinking, both of which offer easy comfort to present uncertainties. One, we choose to believe the crisis to be more temporary than it will be, trusting that as long as we press on, and as long as we prepare ourselves properly, we will see the fulfilment of our hopes in our lifetimes. Two, we resign ourselves to the understanding that the crisis will be more permanent than it will be, giving up all hope whatsoever and waiting to die.
The prophet Jeremiah counselled against both of these mindsets, asking instead for the people of Judah to act against their instincts, in a manner challenging to them then and us today.
a. Read Jeremiah 27:12-22.
i. What did Jeremiah recommend King Zedekiah of Judah do in the face of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon’s attacks? What were the false prophets of his time saying?
ii. Imagine that you were amongst the people of Judah listening to Jeremiah. Why might you have rejected Jeremiah’s words? What similar attitudes have you observed during the COVID-19 crisis?
iii. Was there any hope in what Jeremiah was saying? If so, what was it, and to whom was it directed?
b. Read Jeremiah 28:1-17.
i. What was the hope that Hananiah was offering the people? Why was it more attractive than the hope Jeremiah offered?
ii. Paying special attention to verses 8-9, 13, and 16, what was Jeremiah’s response? What implications does his words have on some of our attitudes towards COVID-19 today?
c. Now, read Jeremiah 29:5-10.
i. In light of the previous two passages, what might the call to “build houses” have sounded to the people of Judah?
ii. Why might some people not have been encouraged by the hope Jeremiah offered? What sort of attitude did it require the people to have, for them to receive hope?
iii. What would it mean for us to have the same attitude as them?
To build houses and to live in them is to establish themselves as members of the community. While transplanted to Babylon as captives, they were to nevertheless become citizens. By planting gardens and eating the fruit thereof, they were instructed to be labourers, earn wages, start businesses and contribute to the commerce of the land. Second, they were told to marry, have children and give their children in marriage. They were to carry on and grow as a people and not diminish.
These first two instructions were nothing more than the command to carry out God’s purpose for man given in Genesis 1, to subdue the earth and be fruitful and multiply. Being in exile does not change this mandate.
a. What parallel hope do we as the church have today (cf. Hebrews 13:14)? If we see our time on earth as temporary, what does it mean for us today to “build houses” and carry out God’s mandate for us (cf. Matthew 5:13-16)?
b. Whose house are you building? Do you exercise the mandate in such a way that brings glory to God
WHAT WOULD YOU DO
When we use time-related words like “temporary” in relation to crisis situations, what frame of reference are we using? Are our motivations drawn from our desire for the pain and suffering to stop now, or from a perspective that sees all things as momentary when viewed from eternity?
If your perspective is on the eternal, would you set your eyes on kingdom purposes, put a plan in place and let that plan be about people? Let us learn from these men and women of faith who were faithful servants used by God for the good of His people. Joseph ended up second in command to Pharaoh only to be used in saving Egypt from starvation. Daniel was elevated to the office of ruler and chief administrator over Babylon. Esther became queen in the Persian Empire and was used to save God’s people from annihilation.
Let us pray for God to help us see the world as He sees it, with trust in His sovereign aims through the chaos of the present, and compassion for those who are hurting in our midst.
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18