Deuteronomy: Terms of the Covenant
These final sermons of Moses bring the Torah to a close.
When things are looking very bad, the one thing we perhaps fear the most is that they will never look good again. Diving into this bottomless pit of awfulness is is self-destructive. We have permission to rejoice. As long as we’re looking to the Lord for help, this worst case scenario will never be true.
Once again, Jeremiah leads the way in seeing light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel of gloom. If it was bad, he saw it. If it was difficult, he endured it. And he was no superman – he cried and griped often along the way. But when it was all over and he was right in the midst of a well-desevered lengthy lament, he just couldn’t help but observe the following, leaving us with a profound message of hope:
God’s compassion is inevitable.
“For the Lord will not cast off forever.
Though He causes grief,
Yet He will show compassion
According to the multitude of His mercies.
For He does not afflict willingly,
Nor grieve the children of men.”
– Lamentations 3:31-33 (NKJV)
Patience is produced in the Christian by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is His longsuffering “fruit”, as Galatians 5:22 informs us. If the Spirit didn’t develop this quality, it might never grow at all. No doubt the very existence of impatience among us is one of the many ways the Fall of the Human Race has adversely impacted our lives . When you see Adam punch him.
God understands well our need for this fruit patience and He knows best how to cultivate it. So He allows us to wait, while we simply have to put up with stuff. If there is one thing bad about this whole process it is that patience is produced while we’re waiting.
When it comes to waiting Jeremiah was an expert: waiting for someone to listen to him, waiting for the Lord to respond, speak or do something miraculous. Jeremiah’s vast crop of patience was watered by his tears. Still, he learned to appreciate it, and to see that waiting for God is good, precisely because God is good to those who wait for Him.
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the Lord.”
– Lamentations 3:25-26 (NKJV)
By definition, mercy is something that is not guaranteed. The American Heritage Dictionary explains mercy like this:
So when it is clearly possible to get something else, and we get mercy instead – compassionate treatment, kindness, forgiveness – we tend to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Such was the relief experienced by the prophet Jeremiah after the destruction of Jerusalem. Babylon had conquered, the city was flattened, the nation was defeated, the captivity had begun – and, tragically, it might all have been avoided. It was all their own fault and Jeremiah knew this better than anyone; he had been prophesying it all along.
But Jeremiah had also prophesied that the captivity would last seventy years. As his nation had already been promised an eternal future, he apparently figured that seventy years was, well, doable. Eternity was a lot longer.
When we consider our own difficulties and disasters, we are wise to listen to Jeremiah. He knew disaster well. This doesn’t decrease the reality of our grief. It increases our appreciation of God. When we desire Him more than anything else, His mercies will fill our hearts with hope.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘Therefore I hope in Him!'”
– Lamentations 3:21-24 (NKJV)
Only occasionally do people rise above the level of their leaders. It happens now and then, to be sure, but not often. This is especially true in the area of personal character. Thus, lousy leaders produce pathetic people and together they share the unhappy effects of their common corruption. This was the problem in the days of Jeremiah and it was the cause of great calamity.
For the shepherds have become dull-hearted,
And have not sought the Lord;
Therefore they shall not prosper,
And all their flocks shall be scattered.”
– Jeremiah 10:21 (NKJV)
The remedy, of course, is that leaders must lead well. They must lead with integrity, always setting a good example, and tending to the deepest needs of the people entrusted to them. Simon Peter understood this and he offers the following counsel.
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd* the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd** appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. – 1 Peter 5:1-4 (NKJV) ***
May all of us who in any way lead God’s people take the apostle’s advice and see the satisfying results multiplied in many hearts and lives.
For those who like to study words, I offer the following tidbits:
* Jesus used this verb form of shepherd when He said to Peter, “Feed My sheep,” in John 21:16
** The noun Shepherd is translated “pastor” in Ephesians 4:11.
*** This passage is one of two in the New Testament that bring the three terms shepherd (pastor), elder (presbyter) and overseer (bishop) together, placing them in the same context more or less as synonyms. The other passage to do so is in Acts 20; see verses 17 & 28.
The short answer, of course, is, “Anybody He wants.” But if we think the question through more thoroughly, what we’re probably looking for is some characteristic in or about the person God uses that makes him or her most useful.
Two areas we often look, which are no special indicator of usefulness, are qualifications and giftedness. Qualifications are often more about rights than responsibilities. “I’m qualified in this or that way; therefore, I should be allowed to do or not do _____ .” Giftedness, on the other hand is more about potential than reality. The pathways of life are littered with gifted failures.
The best general indicator of usefulness might just be obedience, and a good example of that is found in the prophet Amos. The Scriptures give us no indication that Amos was a gifted speaker. Nor did he come into his ministry with any special education or experience. Nonetheless, Amos was willing and would do what the Lord called him to do.
The Lord called Amos to preach to the people of Israel, including Jeroboam the king and Amaziah the priest of Bethel. So Amos spoke and Amaziah told him to be quiet. (In that setting Amaziah was the one “qualified” to speak.)
“Then Amos answered, and said to Amaziah: ‘I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a sheepbreeder and a tender of sycamore fruit. Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to My people Israel.”’” – Amos 7:14-15 (NKJV)
So God spoke through Amos, the shepherd and fruit-picker-turned-prophet – not because he was a shepherd or a fruit picker, but because he was obedient. Amos went and did what God wanted – and no doubt He wants us to go somewhere, do something or say something too.