Lesson 42: “I Will Write It in Their Hearts” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Orthodox_icon_of_Prophet_Jeremiah_largeLesson Objective: To encounter jeremiads with open hearts.

Scriptures: Jeremiah 162329; and 31.

Intro
Here is a 7-minute video that gives a brief but useful illustrated overview of Jeremiah and his teachings.

Jeremiah, “The Weeping Prophet”

Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all accept Jeremiah as a prophet. His sufferings, and his frustrations with the harsh message he is asked to give, have led many people to refer to him as “the weeping prophet,” and, in last week’s BCC Sunday School lesson,  Mike compares Jeremiah to Job, because these men both knew how to lament. Jeremiah is so much associated with grief and suffering, that his name inspired the French noun jérémiade and the subsequent English noun jeremiad, which mean, “a lamentation, a mournful complaint, a cautionary or angry harangue, a list of woes.”

Here are the jeremiads assigned in this week’s Sunday School lesson:

Jeremiah 16: Cleaning House

This chapter begins horrifically, with an Old Testament God curse:

“You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bear them and the fathers who beget them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried; they shall become like dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall become food for the birds of the air and for the wild animals of the earth” (Jeremiah 16:1–4, NSRV)

This God is angry and vengeful. The people will regret worshiping other gods and living in iniquity. Says God through Jeremiah, “I am going to banish from this place, in your days and before your eyes, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridgegroom and the voice of the bride” (16:9).

A jeremiad, indeed.

And yet, even after hurling His people from His sight and committing them to a doom of miserable, dishonorable deaths that no one will mourn, there is a slight gleam (maybe not even something so bright as a gleam, but more like a whisper) of something like hope that descendants of these people might be invited once more to return to God:

“I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. For my eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from my presence, nor is their iniquity concealed from my sight. And I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations” (16:16–18).

I’m fairly certain that the above details are hopeful, because God says at the end of this chapter that “I am going to teach them my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is Lord” (16:21); however, certainly this hope is full of foreboding and the promises of sufferings. There is something simultaneously comforting and terrifying about this complete exposure to the sight of God, and God’s ability to send hunters that will be able to sniff out every hiding place, every secret thing.

Jeremiah 23: “I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king”

For Christian readers, Jeremiah 23:5–6 foretell the coming of Christ through David’s line, who “shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

Many Latter-day Saint readers will interpret this chapter as prophecy of the restoration of the gospel in the latter days, in which ordained prophets will replace those claiming falsely to be prophets:

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, nor be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:1–4)

Corrupt shepherds are replaced with ordained shepherds, and the scattered sheep are gathered and fear no longer. From the perspective of the scattered sheep, God’s all-seeing eye is a comfort—no one will remain lost forever.

Jeremiah 29:

Jeremiah 29 reveals correspondence among the exiles in Babylon expressing disagreement with Jeremiah’s messages. The chapter begins with God’s directions through Jeremiah for the exiles to plan on a long stay in captivity, but promises that they will eventually be brought back home:

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:11–14, NRSV).

While much of the chapter talks about the various ways God plans to punish the false prophets speaking against Jeremiah, including Shemaiah of Nehelam, these verses from 11–14 give me pause. These are beautiful promises: “I will hear you,” “I will let you find me,” “I will give you a future with hope.”

God also promises to curse those who didn’t follow the rest into exile: “I am going to let loos on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like rotten figs that are bad they cannot be eaten.” But to those who heed His words—God will listen back.

 

Jeremiah 31:

A book of consolation begins with Jeremiah chapter 30, and these chapters look ahead to the promise of eventual restoration. In the New Revised Standard Version of Jeremiah, these chapters are all written as poetry, a contrast to the prose-heavy chapters in the previous section of Jeremiah.

Another contrast between chapter 31 and other chapters we have looked at in this lesson is the tone of love and generosity from God:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built,
O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines,
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
. . .
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn” (Jeremiah 31:3–4; 31:9).

It is with these promises of merrymaking and safety and forgiveness that God announces a new covenant that He will make with the house of Israel and the house of Judah:

“It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 32:32–34).

This is where we get the title for this week’s lesson: instead of the covenant being written on stone tablets or clothing or any other outward object, God will write His covenant on the hearts of the people themselves—the law will be within us. And then we will no longer need to look to prophets or books of scripture or law, because we will all equally and unanimously understand God’s heart, because our hearts will all be resonating and partaking of the same godly communications. Or, at least, that’s how I am reading it.

A few discussion questions, to synthesize this together:

  • What is the power in jeremiads? Scriptures tell stories, and we especially love to talk about the inspiring and feel-good scripture stories. However, Jeremiah’s stories are full of suffering and sometimes disgusting and unnerving imagery. Why do scriptures include stories and messages like these, too? What effects can jeremiads have that brighter and happier scriptures lack?
  • Even though Jeremiah is full of many curses and threats, every chapter also includes instructions for how to come back to God. What are some of your favorite hopeful moments among Jeremiah’s lamentations and warnings?
  • Jeremiah speaks of good shepherd and false shepherds. What must a shepherd do to be a good rather false shepherd? What do the scriptures say? How will this instruction better inform us how to minister to one another in our own flocks and congregations?
  • What does it mean to you to have God’s covenant written in your heart? What does it mean to have God’s law within us?

From the BCC Archives

Comments

  1. For a thought experiment I try to think about how I would react in the situations we read about. So lets say that I’m an Israelite in captivity and I’m getting letters from Jeremiah – whom I believe is the prophet of God. He’s saying that the Lord is going to gather us again from Babylon. That’s great. But then a year goes by, and another, and another, a few more. Could I take it? What would that do to my faith? If Jeremiah tells me “The gathering from Babylon isn’t going to happen for a few hundred years.” Would I take it better? At least knowing it isn’t going to happen in my lifetime helps sets expectations. Or does thinking it’s going to happen any day, and then never does, sap up all of my faith? I don’t know.
    I’m glad that God tells us His plans. I just sometimes wish that we’d get a rough time table with them too.

  2. Kristin V Brown says:

    I enjoyed both the post and comment. In short, without a timetable I guess we need to live by faith.

  3. At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said: “Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments and shall teach men so to do, he shall in no wise be saved in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach these commandments of the law until it be fulfilled, the same shall be called great and shall be saved in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, except your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (JST Matthew 5:21-22).

    The defining characteristic of the good shepherds is that they both keep and teach the commandments of the Lord: the Sermon on the Mount.

    At the end of the Sermon, the Lord said: “Behold, I have given unto you the commandments; therefore keep my commandments. And this is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me” (3 Nephi 15:10).

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