Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
While reading through all of these books of prophecy, I often find myself asking the relevance of them today. I once heard a Messianic Jew tell the audience he was speaking to that gentile believers (I presume pastors in particular) are welcomed to “borrow” the prophecies, but then he added, “Make sure you put them back when you’re done.” Now, I assume that means that although lessons can be learned from the prophecies, they are still prophecies relating to Israel exclusively. At the time when I heard him, I felt it was a logical thing to say. However, as I read these books like Isaiah and Jeremiah, the Holy Spirit keeps pushing my mind to draw parallels between then and now. We’re told by the unnamed writer in Hebrews 4:12,
For the world of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Remembering this, one has to believe that the prophecies are just as alive and active as the rest of scripture.
Keeping all of this in mind, let’s make our way to Jeremiah 14:1-4,
This is the word of the Lord to Jeremiah concerning the drought:
Her cities languish;
They wail for the land,
And a cry goes up from Jerusalem.
The nobles send their servants for water;
They go to the cisterns
But find no water.
They return with their jars unfilled;
Dismayed and despairing,
They cover their heads.
The ground is cracked
Because there is no rain in the land;
The farmers are dismayed
And cover their heads”
Judah has found itself in the midst of a terrible drought. For most of us modern folk, that doesn’t mean too much more than slightly higher prices at the grocery store. Israel, or more specifically “Judah,” by this point though, was an agrarian society. That is to say that they were farmers and shepherds. A drought for them would be like a drop in the stock markets or a financial depression for us. Everything stopped and the land wasted away, as did the people. Likewise, the world today is facing global-level turmoil in several different forms.
Much like many Christians now are crying out for relief from the Lord, Jeremiah repeatedly begs God to let up the drought. We read in Jeremiah 14:7-9,
Although our sins testify against us,
O Lord, do something for the sake of your name.
For our backsliding is great;
We have sinned against you.
O Hope of Israel,
Its Savior in times of distress,
Why are you like a stranger in the land,
Like a traveler who stays only a night?
Why are you like a man taken by surprise,
Like a warrior powerless to save?
You are among us, O Lord,
And we bear your name;
Do no forsake us!
Now, if indeed this prophecy can give us some idea of God’s heart these days, then what follows should shock you, just as the Holy Spirit shocked me with it, “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Do not pray for the well-being of this people’” (Jeremiah 14:11). What?! Stop praying?! That’s right, our God tells Jeremiah to stop praying for things to get better for his people. In fact, as the Lord continues, he suggests that the prayers of the righteous Jeremiah will go nowhere, for God has already made up his mind.
Jeremiah though, doesn’t give up. He, like us, knows the scriptures. And he knows that when Elijah prayed for rain, the Lord delivered the goods. We can read about it in 1 Kings 18:41-45,
And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
“There is nothing there,” he said.
Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”
The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud a small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”
So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”
Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.
Jeremiah surely knew this story, so he tried again to get God to relent from the drought of his time, he prayed,
Have you rejected Judah completely?
Do you despise Zion?
Why have you afflicted us
So that we cannot be healed?
We hoped for peace
But no good has come,
For a time of healing
But there is only terror.
O Lord, we acknowledge our wickedness
And the guilt of our fathers;
We have indeed sinned against you.
For the sake of your name do not despise us;
Do not dishonor your glorious throne.
Remember your covenant with us
And do not break it.
Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain?
Do the skies themselves send down showers?
No, it is you, O Lord our God.
Therefore our hope is in you,
For you are the one who does all this (Jeremiah 14:19-22)
The Lord, knowing everything (including what Jeremiah was up to) answered Jeremiah very strongly. If this prophecy can apply to the problems in our world now, what we read next is not very hopeful,
Then the Lord said to me: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go! And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:
Those destined for death, to death;
Those for the sword, to the sword;
Those for starvation, to starvation;
Those for captivity, to captivity’” (Jeremiah 15:1-2)
The One and Only had made up his mind, those who were going to die from all these problems would die, and no amount of prayer was going to save them.
Since God had told Jeremiah to stop asking him about it, the people appealed to God. So, the Lord gave his answer for Jeremiah to bring back to them,
When you tell these people all this and they ask you, “Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?” then say to them, “It is because your fathers forsook me,” declares the Lord, “and followed other gods and served and worshipped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law. But you have behaved more wickedly than your fathers. See how each of you is following the stubbornness of his evil heart instead of obeying me” (Jeremiah 16:10-12).
The whole drought and all of the bad that was happening in Judah at the time was all from one thing: apostasy. Apostasy is when a person leaves God. This is not something we are unfamiliar with. People are leaving God these days too for varied reasons. And, just like Judah, the world is getting into next-generation godlessness and people are not crying out to God. In fact, many people are openly opposing the Lord (and more specifically our savior Jesus) these days. If God told Jeremiah not to pray for them, then maybe he feels the same about then disasters and economic downturns today (Note: I am not suggesting we stop praying for people, rather I am trying to emphasize how serious this is).
It’s not all bad though (Thank God!). The Lord comforts the righteous Jeremiah,
The Lord said,
“Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose;
Surely I will make your enemies plead with you
In times of disaster and times of distress” (Jeremiah 15:11).
So God basically says that believers don’t have to worry, for the Lord will protect those who love his Son. He goes on to say,
“But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the Lord, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks” (Jeremiah 16:16).
This doesn’t sound good, but we know the best way to interpret scripture is with scripture. While this may sound like two layers of death, Jesus teaches us that the first group God will send is very different. We read in Matthew 4:18-22,
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
The fishermen were the disciples of Jesus! And what was their purpose in the world? Jesus tells us what he told them,
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
So when god says he will send out fishermen first, that’s us Christians. Don’t just sit at home praying for a generation that is likely doomed anyway and start going out and saving some of them! The Lord has already decreed disaster on the land, but we have the chance to fish as many people as we can out of the maw of death before the hunters come. So Christians, assemble! It’s time to help out our brothers that are still lost! And for those of you who still are not with Jesus, time is short, repent now! For the Bible tells us,
This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
Who depends on flesh for his strength
And whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He will be like a bush in the wastelands;
He will not see prosperity when it comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
In a salt land where no one lives.
But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
Whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
That sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
Its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
And never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).