Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Often times we don’t understand why God does the things he does. I suppose in truth, it is impossible to fully understand while on this earth. Paul seems to give this idea when he says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Be assured though, when God acts, he has a reason; often more than one. Anyone who’s really set their heart to understand the Law of Moses knows that god usually makes decisions for multiple reasons; for the Holy Spirit will reveal a great deal of reason behind the varied laws when asked about them.
Today, Jeremiah has a prophecy for us that better helps us understand the mind of God and how he works on multiple levels. Jeremiah prophesied the coming destruction by Babylon again and again in the book that bears his name. As an example, we can read in Jeremiah 25:8-10,
Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish them from the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp.”
Gotta love the Book of Jeremiah. It is evident that the primary reason why God is exiling his people is Israel’s disobedience. But there is another reason: to bring prosperity back to his chosen nation, Israel. Wait, what? It’s true, the Lord (through Jeremiah) explains,
This is what the Lord says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them. Once more fields will be bought in the land of which you say, ‘It is a desolate waste, without men or animals, for it has been handed over to the Babylonians.’ Fields will be bought for silver, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, because I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord (Jeremiah 32:42-44).
That’s right, by driving his people away; the Lord will once again be opening the door for them to be blessed.
…Are you confused yet? Don’t worry, you will understand soon. We already read that the Israelites were not listening to the instructions of God. If you’ve read the Law of Moses though, you’d notice that many of God’s regulations are not only for obedience, but also to help the Israelites survive. One of these rules is that of the Sabbath rest for the land. God commands in Exodus 23:10-11,
For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
In the passage God focuses on the charitable value of giving the land a rest; however, farmers today also know that the land needs rest to remain fertile. This is why farmers (instead of taking a year off) will rotate their crops and also rotate empty patches of field each year; because different crops absorb different nutrients from the soil and sometimes the land itself needs to take a break. Therefore, if the Israelites had abandoned the Law, it is likely they had stopped following this rule; greedily plowing every year in order to turn more profits. This would have left the soil totally infertile.
God had seen this coming long before Babylon had ever carried his people away. In fact, before they were even a kingdom the Lord warned the Israelites what would happen if they disobeyed him. We read, “I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins” (Leviticus 26:33). Not only did God predict what would happen to the Israelites, but he also mentioned a side effect of exile,
Then the land will enjoy its Sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its Sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the Sabbaths you lived in it (Leviticus 26:34-35).
Our Lord totally called that they’d ignore the Sabbath rest for the land! Pretty freaky, right? There’s more!
You might be wondering, “What about the Babylonians? Why didn’t’ they cultivate the land?” Considering that the Babylonians were busy conquerors, they would have probably lived on plunder and already usable crops. Instead of trying to fix the ruined land of the Israelites, it would be easier to just move on and find more winnings from battles since Jerusalem had already given them a horde of treasure and slaves. And so, with no Israelites to farm and the king of Babylon not making use of his Judean real estate, the land sat. Therefore, we read, “The land enjoyed its Sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah” (2 Chronicles 36:21).
Ok, ok, so you might be thinking, “Maybe this could be a coincidence,” but alas, no. God had planned the exile as a way not only to discipline his people, but also to give them prosperity. The Lord explains,
This is what the Lord says: “You say about this place, ‘It is a desolate waste, without men or animals.’ Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desert, inhabited by neither men nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying,
‘Give thanks to the Lord Almighty,
For the Lord is good;
His love endures forever.”
For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,” says the Lord.
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In this place, desolate and without men or animals- in all its towns there will again be pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks. In the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah, flocks will again pass under the hand of the one who counts them,” says the Lord (Jeremiah 33:10-13).
And not only does God get to bless his people, he also gets to collect the praises for it,
Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it (Jeremiah 33:9).
And on top of that, by bringing his people into exile, the Lord pushed them to repent and seek him again. The Lord reminds us of his words to some of the exiles in Jeremiah 24:5-7,
This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
The Israelites returning to the Lord will off of their heart ensures that the Law will again be followed and the land will enjoy its proper Sabbath every seven years; thus bringing continuous prosperity to the revived Israel. See, God works on many levels.
The same can be true in our lives; God may bring hardships (discipline or otherwise) to create new growth. In fact, many people come to Christ for the first time while in crisis. Jesus explained this concept in his parable of the sower. We read in Matthew 13:3-8,
Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop- a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
What does all this mean? Jesus reveals,
Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (Matthew 13:18-23).
Therefore when we face difficulties today, we can be assured that the Lord is preparing the soil for prosperity tomorrow. So rejoice! The Lord is working in your life restoration, even in hard times and discipline. So do not dwell on the troubles you face now, for they will lead to great glory in the Lord!
Rock on God!