The prophet Jeremiah in the Bible is one worth knowing about, especially in this unprecedented pandemic and total lockdown days.
Born into a family of priests from the town of Anathoth in Benjamin, Jeremiah was the last prophet before the Kingdom of Judah was carried away into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Jeremiah is rightly called the prophet of doom tasked as he was with the message of imminent judgement. He had the unenviable burden of warning Judah of the immediacy of God’s judgement as well as the misfortune to see it happen in reality and actuality. It was during his lifetime itself that Judah was captured, it’s capital city destroyed and it’s subjects interred in Babylon. He was truly the Prophet of end times for the nation and had to live till his last breath among rebellious people who persisted in their defiance of God and His laws.
Jeremiah is also called the Weeping Prophet for he was totally heartbroken with the message he had to preach and he was a true nationalist at heart. He suffered greatly at the hands of his countrymen because he wouldn’t preach a message that was favourable or palatable to them. He was called by God to sound the alarm of God’s judgement and His rejection of them as His people. He was one who paid the price for calling people to repentance, the most unpopular of almost all prophets because he preached an unpopular message!
Jeremiah’s companion and secretary, probably in his later years, was Baruch, son of Neriah, a young apprentice. Baruch was tasked with writing down all the prophecies of Jeremiah at the behest of God (Jer 36:2). Being privy to God’s prophetic utterance and the authentic knowledge of His plans put pressure on Baruch. His association with Jeremiah affected him terribly for the message to his mentor, which he had to transcribe, was one of constant gloom and unrelenting doom. No wonder then God had to single him out to speak a very short, special and personal message in chapter 45 of the book of Jeremiah.
For a young man, the death knell to his future and his plans for it would obviously be upsetting and terrifying. To be told that his world was going to end because of God’s decree of punishment would have rocked Baruch’s world and his visions of a rosy future! It was now his time to live and enjoy life, but what to do when God Himself was dismantling his world! The name Baruch means ‘blessed’, but Baruch probably felt cursed for being born into those times (Jer 45:3)!
Without mincing words, God tells Baruch “You said, ‘Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.’ But the Lord has told me to say to you, ‘This is what the Lord says: I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the earth. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’ ”Jer 45:2-5.
The key note to Baruch was “Is it time to seek great things for yourself”! The Message version puts it well “…forget about making big plans for yourself”! God tells him, ” I am going to overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted throughout the earth and you are worried about yourself!” Baruch was worried about his own life and bitter that his plans cannot be accomplished at a time when the whole world was being judged!
How like so many of us who, in these days, are frustrated and in despair because our dreams and well-laid-out plans for our future are falling apart and collapsing like a house of cards due to COVID! We are belligerent because we feel robbed and cheated of our rightful future. We had such hopes, not just for us, but also for our children, and now all of that had been swept away with one stroke of a pandemic! Some of us were galloping merrily along life’s path, progressing well, having a good life and then suddenly all of it has ground to a halt by a stupid pandemic!
God’s answer to Baruch is the answer for us today: Is this the time for such thoughts of self! Is it time to rue the ruin of our calculations for a secure future! Is it time to curse our ‘fate’ for being born in this generation! Is it the time to view with a sense of loss your ‘ill-luck’ for being in this season!
No, it is not the time or season for us to sit down with our heads in our hands and think of what we have forfeited. Rather, it is the time to sit down and take stock of our priorities, our focus and assess where we are going. It is time to realign our priorities and decide what we will be following and doing. It is time to become committed and build our relationship with God, seeking wholeheartedly to follow His precepts and to live by His standards. It’s time to seek to do His will and hanker after eternal goals rather than simply targeting temporal things. It is time to be serious!
We are in a period when tragedy has impacted the whole world, an unprecedented happening. COVID has become an uncontrollable and unimaginable event of epic proportions, rendering everything uncertain and vulnerable. The only stable and sustaining factor of life is God with His constancy. He is the only Rock on which we can stand amid the sinking sand. He is the sole guarantee of our future in the midst of the question of what might happen next in this world!
It is very comforting to note that along with the prediction about their captivity and their exile from the land, Jeremiah also prophesied about their return from exile and their settling back in it. He even gave a timeline (70 years) for their return and a reason for it (the land had to have all the sabbath years it had not been given) Jer chapter 25!
Even in the midst of His judgments, God’s compassion and mercy cover us with His promise of return and restoration. It is in the book of Jeremiah that we read the famous oft-quoted words: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ Jer 29:11 NIV!
God is not out to destroy us or our future, but to preserve our lives in all that may happen, whatever may hit this world before His future arrives and plans for us come to pass. That was God’s promise to Baruch in that special message to him: ‘Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’ Jer 45:5 NIV. That was God’s Word to Baruch and it’s His Word to us, a word of greatest comfort and anchor in troubled times!
May we use this time for a restoration of our love for God and a time of renewing our relationship with Him!
In the Bible, in the history of the nation of Israel, we note two distinct phases of life and distinct ways of existence.
One, while in the wilderness, after being delivered from slavery in Egypt., and two, when they settled down in the promised land, after driving out those who lived there.
Both seasons saw them being helped and aided by the mighty and outstretched arm of God. In both, God was the Anchor of their life, the Provider and the Support of all they needed to be a nation. Be it protection, provision or preservation, He was the Shepherd and the Staff of their being a sovereign nation.
The difference between these two seasons of life was the way in which He provided for them and the manner by which He met their needs!
In the wilderness, He was their Guide and Shepherd in every sense of the word, ‘going ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night’ (Ex 13:21-22). He sought out their resting places, led them by a way they did not know and took care of their every need – providing them daily with manna from heaven, opening rocks for water, providing shade with a huge cloud by day and light for their dark nights by a pillar of fire. He caused the east wind to rain quail, sweetened their rest with fruit trees, protected them from disease and the plagues of Egypt, and saw to it that their clothes did not wear out nor their feet swell all through the years of their desert wandering!
He protected them from the marauding bands and gave them the right leaders to judge their grievances. He covenanted with them to be their God and gave them his laws, forming them into a nation with an identity, equipping them to be an army and a host with proper ranks of families and tribes, tribal leaders and even an ordered way of pitching their tents around the tabernacle!
He converted them from a ragtag band of escaped slaves into a holy nation by endowing them with a proper and disciplined way of life, a social structure and a culture of worship that would set them apart and distinguish them as His people!
When they reached the promised land, He divided the land to them and settled them in it, causing them to inherit lands, vineyards, houses and cities which they didn’t plant, build or create and gave them a safe place to prevail as a nation. He blessed all their labour, giving them rain in season, healed their disease, oversaw the whole nation with leaders to govern and prophets to warn. He did not allow strangers or any other nation to overtake or overpower them, as long as they remained loyal to Him.
God was their Source and Guide, not just in the wilderness, but also in the land of their settlement.
In both, their provision, protection and preservation depended on only one criterion – that they would be loyal to Him and exhibit their allegiance by adhering to the laws He gave them for their own good!
Wilderness is a place of simple fare, just-what-is-needed-for-the-day supply, deficient of variety and with just sufficient provision-for-the-day being the only guarantee!
It is a life of total dependency on God for everything, an exhilarating but hand-to-mouth existence if you see it the way!
Yet it was the time that the next/new generation developed strength, stamina and stability to become a warrior nation, able to hold it’s own in the new land, quite unlike their fathers who still had the namby-bamby attitude of slaves and cried when told there were giants besides the good things in the land they had to possess!
In the wilderness, monotony birthed gluttony, uncertainty gave rise to grumbling and anxiety to rebellion, all of which were an affront to the God Who carried the Israelites ‘as a father carries his son’ (Deut 1:31). In spite of the fact that He gave them a demonstration of His power at the beginning of their journey, destroying their pursuers in the Red Sea parting, they did not understand that He led them all the way in the wilderness for forty years, humbled them, causing them to hunger and then fed them with manna, which no one had known before, in order to teach them ‘that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’ (Deut 8:2-3)!
In these COVID days and in the aftermath of the quarantine days, we have moved from a predictable cycle of life to not knowing what tomorrow brings. We have moved from certainty to uncertainty, from variety of choices to a modicum of monotony and from sedentary placidity to unexpected changes and challenges.
The call facing us today is whether we will win over the dangers of the wilderness or imitate their conduct, testing Him with our impertinence!
We will have to determine whether we will depend on Him for our needs and provision, trust Him for our sustenance and learn to live by the new standards of His Word rather than of this world, daily!
We will have to decide whether we will grumble and murmur like them or imitate the One who faced the same temptation in the same landscape and was victorious in living by His Word (Matt 4)!
Personally, my family and I know the provision and care of God beyond the natural. When we pledged our allegiance to Him long year’s ago, we went through a season of trials in the area of our finances, health and relationships. God taught us to live by faith in our finances, trust in His Word for our healing and gave us a glimpse of the glorious riches of being part of His family.
We went through a season of financial constraint and had to depend on the supernatural provision, whenever and wherever the natural fell short!
We had ample instances where we saw His care of us. Once when my dad ran out of fuel in his bike on his way home, no money in hand or a petrol bunk at hand, he just borrowed a bottle of water from a hut nearby, filled his tank with it, prayed and drove the remaining 15 km home with that as fuel in his tank!
We lived constantly in the miraculous. I remember the time when I longed for an apple, a luxury at that time and asked God as my Father to provide it. Two days later, an unexpected visitor gifted us with a whole basketful!
Nothing thrilled us more than to have such evidence of His presence and the reality of His concern for us. It helped cement our faith and trust in Him!
Our God is yesterday, today and forever the same. He has not changed nor has He abdicated as our King!
It is time to understand what stuff we are made up and gird ourselves to walk a new model of living.
It is time for us to know, understand and accept that our seasons have changed. It is time for us to trust in God for everything and not depend on our regular sources/resources, but adapt to an unusual way of life!
He will be our Source, whatever may happen and however uncertain the days ahead maybe.
It is time for us to rest secure in the immutability of His nature, the immensity of His care and the irrationality of His supernatural provision for us!
It is time for us to adjust to the new economy and learn to live under the economy and provision of God!
In the Bible, an incident is reported where three kings come together to battle a fourth one and get stranded in a desert without adequate water supply. An entreaty is made to the prophet who is unexpectedly found in their midst, to petition God to save them and plead for a solution from Him. The prophet heeds their cry, prays to God and returns the answer “Dig ditches all over this dry stream bed. Even though you will not see any rain or wind, this stream bed will be filled with water, and you, your livestock, and your pack animals will have plenty to drink.” You can read the full report in 2 Kings 3:16-17 (GNB).
In a recent insightful article on the World Economic Forum website, Bill Gates talks of the possibility of a COVID vaccine being ready in an 18-month period. However, for it to be effectively administered, he astutely points out that governments need to plan and set in place the machinery and structure needed to mass produce and administer thousands of doses at the same time. He says that the time to prepare appropriate protocols and be ready with necessary infrastructure to handle for the influx, both of the medicine and patient treatments is now. In short, begin to dig ditches now, not when the flow begins!
An important natural cycle in Egypt since ancient times is the flooding of the river Nile. As rainfall is almost non-existent in Egypt, the floods provide the only source of moisture to sustain crops. Every year, heavy summer rain in the Ethiopian highlands send a torrent of water that overflows the banks of the Nile. When the floods go down, they leave behind a thick rich mud (black silt) which is excellent soil to plant seeds in after it has been ploughed. Though clueless in the very distant past, Egypt today has set in measures to monitor and prepare for this cycle of overflow and receding of the waters. The country has harnessed and turned a natural ‘disaster’ into a potential wealth and renewable resource for itself. Egypt has learnt to dig ditches!
As we go through this period of quarantine, we can so easily be caught up with the past, of how good we had it. Or, be preoccupied with the present because of all the reports and statistics as the pandemic runs its course in the city, nation or the world. Its okay to look back with nostalgia and keep abreast of the current happenings so as to be sensitive and well-informed, but if we do not at least consider the future, we will be doubly lost.
If we do not look ahead, but just be obssessed with these, we will waste our time lamenting or we will just wait for the day of release out of social distancing to rush headlong into another type of disaster. If we do not use this time wisely and profitably to plan for literally a new world – what we should do, how we should do, when we should do, etc – we would be clueless and caught unawares when that time dawns. We need to look to the future and plan for a new way of life. It is the time right now to dig ditches!
The ditch you may need to dig could be a plan on how to ease into a normal day-to-day routine; it maybe to understand how to handle the economic fallout or downturn that is inevitable; it maybe to prepare for the extra load that will ensue in the workplace as companies rush to catch up on business; it maybe the need to revamp investment or insurance portfolios that will surely need a change or upgrade; it may be knowing how to help kids and senior citizens transition back to normal life; it may be just learning to understand how members of the family, especially spouses, will react to the change.
It is not just governments and those in authority who need to be aware of and take notice of the future. Each and everyone of us – individuals, couples, families, companies, corporate firms and churches need to sit down and draw up a game plan for the time to come. Now is the occasion and the opportunity to do it, rather than later. Such an attitude will also help to boost our morale and well-being since we are looking ahead, rather than behind or around.
Dig ditches to be ready and prepared to conserve what will come or lose the overflow that is sure to come and is just ahead!
I stand by patiently on your window sill, All I want is for you to hear me sing! With ears tuned to that harsh metallic ring, You ignore me forgetting I can thrill you with my skill!
The world has hit the pause button and come to a standstill. Will we stop to ponder and make this a prelude? Or continue our headlong rush despite this interlude? Heaven and earth also wait, as mankind ponders its new will!