December 24, 2015

Hope for even fools

Jeremiah 47:1–48:47, Romans 11:11–24, Proverbs 26:1–11

My dad used to say, “There is no fool like an old fool.” This thought is not far from some of Solomon’s proverbs. The one that smacks me in the face today says, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” (Proverbs 26:11)

When I think of my repeated foolishness along with the image Solomon uses, my stomach does a flip-flop and my heart is totally ashamed. I used to think that I was smart, certainly not a fool. I was wrong.

The Israelites were also arrogant as were the nations around them. Jeremiah discusses the fate of two of those nations. The first are the Philistines, who lived on the coastal plain of Palestine. For them the prophet says, “For, because you trusted in your works and your treasures, you also shall be taken; and Chemosh shall go into exile with his priests and his officials. The destroyer shall come upon every city, and no city shall escape; the valley shall perish, and the plain shall be destroyed, as the Lord has spoken.” (Jeremiah 48:7–8)

They did not trust God; they only trusted themselves. This is also my problem and the reason I’ve repeated foolishness.

The second nation is the Moabites, Lot’s descendants. They lived east of the Dead Sea and often fought with Israel. For them, Jeremiah spoke first of the army that would come to destroy them: “Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with slackness, and cursed is he who keeps back his sword from bloodshed.” In other words, God was angry with the sins of Moab to the point that whoever would be His instrument to judge them had better do a good job of it or they also would be in deep trouble.

Then Jeremiah used a vivid image from wine making, “Moab has been at ease from his youth and has settled on his dregs; he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile; so his taste remains in him, and his scent is not changed. Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I shall send to him pourers who will pour him, and empty his vessels and break his jars in pieces.” (Jeremiah 48:10–12)

When producing sweet wine, the juice was left in a wineskin until the sediment or dregs settled onto the bottom. Then it was poured into another skin until more dregs were separated. This process continued until the dregs were all removed leaving a pure, sweet wine. Jeremiah uses this to illustrate that Moab had not experienced  this pouring from suffering to suffering to purge their bitter dregs and instead settled into sin. Now judgment was coming to break them in pieces.

Moab’s sins were rooted in pride: “We have heard of the pride of Moab— he is very proud— of his loftiness, his pride, and his arrogance, and the haughtiness of his heart. I know his insolence, declares the Lord; his boasts are false, his deeds are false . . . . Moab shall be destroyed and be no longer a people, because he magnified himself against the Lord.” (Jeremiah 48:29–30, 42)

My sins, particularly those that are repeated, reveal my pride too. I have Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to enable me to say no to sin, but in pride, I sometimes think I know how to run my life without divine help. Because of that pride, I know what it is like to be poured back and forth to remove my impurities. Such pouring is not fun, but I understand the value of it.

Moab did not, and yet they were promised amazing grace from God. Jeremiah told them: “Woe to you, O Moab! The people of Chemosh are undone, for your sons have been taken captive, and your daughters into captivity. Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in the latter days, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 48:46–47) God is so incredible. All have sinned and deserve wrath, yet He is merciful, even on those who resist Him.

In the NT, Paul writes of the Jews being “broken off because of their unbelief” and the Gentiles who “stand fast through faith.” But he also warns against pride, for “if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.” He cut off Israel. Non-Jewish believers need to remember that and not become proud. I need to remember that and also not become proud.

However, Paul also says the most powerful thing concerning Israel: “God has the power to graft them in again.” (Romans 11:20–23) Moab is given hope. Israel is given hope. This is the power and mercy of God. He was willing to sacrifice His own Son that sinners full of pride and foolishly sure of ourselves can be restored.

May your joy at Christmas center on God's amazing grace in sending Jesus to save us fools from ourselves!

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