By Justin Borger with assistance from Generous Giving staff
Jeremiah is called the “weeping prophet” because of the message of judgment and destruction he delivered to the people of Judah and Jerusalem. As a prophet, God appointed him “to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow” (1:10) by warning of the terrible calamity that was about to visit the city of Jerusalem because of Judah’s many sins of idolatry, injustice and unfaithfulness to the Lord. However, God also appointed Jeremiah “to build and to plant” (1:10), to encourage the people to be faithful in the midst of trial and adversity. One of most remarkable passages in the Old Testament can be found in Jeremiah 29, where the Jewish exiles are commanded to seek the “peace and prosperity” of the Babylonians, who had carried them off into exile (29:7). Because God promised to be generous and forgiving to the exiles, they must be generous and forgiving to their enemies as well. Jeremiah promised the exiles that God’s anger would not last forever. His plans were not to harm them but to give them “hope and a future” (29:11-12), and they were to use their lives and resources on the basis of this hope.
Our study of Jeremiah consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the book’s teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the book’s major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of the author’s goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the book’s possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Giving’s Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, they may prove especially useful as sermon helps for pastors and as a resource for teachers, advisors and lay leaders interested in obeying and teaching the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Passage-by-Passage Study Notes
Jeremiah 1:16 (Key Passage) — Economics of Idolatry: The central accusation in the book of Jeremiah concerns the sin of idolatry (cf. Jeremiah 2:13). God was determined to punish his people because they had forsaken him in worshiping idols. In essence, they had put the creature before the Creator. Regardless of whether we think of ourselves as idol worshipers today, it is important for us to recognize the similarities that exist between the idols that tempted the Israelites to forsake the Lord and the materialistic gods of our own day. God’s people worshiped idols made of costly materials like silver and gold (Jeremiah 10:4, 9; cf. Isaiah 2:7-8, 20; 44:12-20; Hosea 2:8), just as we are tempted to get too wrapped up in our material possessions like houses, cars, furniture and other costly items. More importantly, however, we need to understand the major role that fertility gods like Baal played in ancient agricultural economies. These idols were viewed as powerful symbols of prosperity and economic vitality and were worshiped on this basis. Baal, in particular, was worshiped as lord of the weather, dispensing the dew and the rain which brought forth the earth’s vegetation (Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 134). So, in an agrarian society Baal’s lordship over the weather made him lord of the economic arena as well. He was thought of as a powerful source of fertile soil and financial security in an unpredictable world (cf. Jeremiah 14:22; 50:38). The people didn’t fashion idols and participate in fertility rituals simply because they liked them. No, the incentives for idolatry were primarily economic. They worshiped fertility gods as a means of securing prosperous conditions. Similarly, today we are tempted and distracted by the gods of economic security, materialism, covetousness and greed, seeking to acquire or cling to vain things in an attempt to find safety and satisfaction for ourselves—and in the New Testament the apostle Paul labels this idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). After all, just as the ancients worshiped images fashioned after God’s creation, we often worship and trust in God’s good gifts like jobs, wealth, possessions and opportunities instead of the One from whom all blessings flow. American materialism may be different in form, but it is no different in substance from the fertility cults of Canaan many centuries ago. Other passages on idolatry in Jeremiah: 2:5, 8, 11, 13, 23, 25, 27 and especially 2:37; 3:13, 24; 4:1-2; 5:7-12; 7:1-29; 8:19; 9:14; 10:1-16; 11:13, 17; 12:16; 16:18; 19:4-5, 13; 23:13, 27; 44:1-30; 48:35; 50:38; 51:17. See Deuteronomy theme essay Prosperity Idols and Jeremiah theme essay Personal Peace and Prosperity.
Jeremiah 2:5 — Idols are worthless because they are false substitutes for the real thing. Worshiping an idol is like eating a menu or trying to fill a gas tank with a water hose. Idolatry deprives our lives of meaning and reduces even the good things we idolize like wealth, sex and professional success into sources of emptiness and frustration. This is especially true when we idolize money and material possessions. As the Teacher in the book of Ecclesiastes observed, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; and whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). It is impossible to find the infinite satisfaction we crave in the finite creation we idolize. See key passage Jeremiah 1:16 and also Isaiah 44:9-11; Jeremiah 2:11. Other passages on idolatry in Jeremiah: 2:5, 8, 11, 13, 23, 25, 27; 3:13, 24; 4:1-2; 5:7-12; 7:1-29; 8:19; 9:14; 10:1-16; 11:13, 17; 12:16; 16:18; 19:4-5, 13; 23:13, 27; 44:1-30; 48:35; 50:38; 51:17. See Jeremiah theme essay Personal Peace and Prosperity.
Jeremiah 2:8 — See key passage Jeremiah 1:16.
Jeremiah 2:11 — See key passage Jeremiah 1:16 and the note on Jeremiah 2:5.
Jeremiah 2:11-13 (Key Passage) — Rejecting God for Money: Jeremiah provides a concise summary of the people’s sin. They had rejected God’s provision (“the spring of living water) and looked to supply their own needs (“dug their own cistern”) by turning to pagan fertility gods like Baal (Jeremiah 2:13; cf. 44:17-18). The imagery of springs and cisterns is important because water was a precious, life-giving commodity in Palestine. To speak of rain or springs of water was to speak the economic jargon of the day. In other words, the people’s rebellion was linked deeply to their financial faithlessness and their failure to trust in God’s provision. Later we find that because of the people’s impudence (cf. Jeremiah 5:12; 44:17-18), God’s provision was taken away (e.g., Jeremiah 3:3; 14:1-6; 44:1-30). The same temptation to trust in our own material resources exist today. Money and material possessions always have been one of the primary means by which the human heart is turned away from the living God. According to Jesus, money is God’s rival (Matthew 6:23). The apostle Paul explained, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Regardless of whether we think of ourselves as idol worshipers today, it is important for us to recognize the similarities that exist between the false gods and idols that tempted the God’s people in the past and the materialistic gods of our own day. Baal, in particular, was worshiped as lord of the weather, dispensing the dew and the rain which brought forth the earth’s vegetation (Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 134). And so, in an agrarian society Baal’s lordship over the weather made him lord of the economic arena as well. He was thought of as a powerful source of fertile soil and financial security in an unpredictable world (cf. Jeremiah 14:22; 50:38). The people didn’t fashion idols and participate in fertility rituals simply because they liked them. No, the incentives for idolatry were primarily economic. They worshiped fertility gods as a means of securing prosperous conditions. Similarly, today we are tempted and distracted by the gods of economic security, materialism, covetousness and greed, seeking to acquire or cling to vain things in an attempt to find safety and satisfaction for ourselves—and in the New Testament, Paul labels this idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). After all, just as the ancients worshiped images fashioned after God’s creation, we often worship and trust in God’s good gifts like jobs, wealth, possessions and opportunities instead of the One from whom all blessings flow. American materialism may be different in form, but it is no different in substance from the fertility cults of Canaan many centuries ago. Other passages on idolatry in Jeremiah: 2:5, 8, 11, 13, 23, 25, 27 and especially 2:37; 3:13, 24; 4:1-2; 5:7-12; 7:1-29; 8:19; 9:14; 10:1-16; 11:13, 17; 12:16; 16:18; 19:4-5, 13; 23:13, 27; 44:1-30; 48:35; 50:38; 51:17. See Deuteronomy theme essay Prosperity Idols and Jeremiah theme essay Personal Peace and Prosperity.
Jeremiah 2:14-15 — See key passage Jeremiah 32:42-44.
Jeremiah 2:23-27 — See key passages Jeremiah 1:16 and 2:11-13.
Jeremiah 2:32 — Women don’t forget about their jewels, but Judah had forgotten the Lord, her “Portion” and most valuable possession (Jeremiah 51:19). Like Judah, we seldom forget about our houses, cars and other valuables, but we often forget about our relationship with the Lord and all that relationship entails for the way we live our lives. We need to remember Jesus’ words when he said, “[W]here your treasure is there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). We always can see the things about which we care in the way we use (or don’t use) our money. See Jeremiah theme essays Knowing God and Personal Peace and Prosperity.
Jeremiah 2:34 — See note on Jeremiah 5:27-28 and key passage Jeremiah 20:13.
Jeremiah 3:9 — Jeremiah 3 provides a good example of the close connection that exists between sexual sins like lust and adultery and more economically oriented sins like greed and robbery. In addition to this chapter, however, there are many other examples of how these sins are connected in Scripture. The tenth commandment begins by saying, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” linking greed and lust (Deuteronomy 5:21). Another striking example of this connection can be seen in the prophet Nathan’s description of King David’s adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-10). Rather than describing the sin of adultery in terms of sexual immorality, Nathan describes David’s sin in a way that focuses on and condemns greed and economic exploitation. Because there is no more intimate belonging than a spouse, committing adultery is, perhaps, the most extreme form of theft. On top of this, we should note the close connection between adultery and theft that is revealed in Proverbs. For example, Lady Folly’s invitation to commit adultery is presented in the metaphorical language of drinking “stolen water” (Proverbs 9:17). Finally, we should note that when God says he abhors dishonest scales in Proverbs 11:1, the actual Hebrew word for “abhors” means that God views deceptive business practices as an “abomination,” a word typically used to refer to sexual sins. The sexual and economic sins we readily see (like adultery and theft) have a startling counterpart, according to Jesus: lusting after people or things in our heart. Even when we engage in greed and envy in the secret places, we cannot escape God’s gaze.
Jeremiah 3:13 — See key passages Jeremiah 1:16 and 2:11-13.
Jeremiah 3:18-19 — Even though God punished his people by sending them into exile, he also promised to restore them to their inheritance in the land (Jeremiah 3:18). It is in the context of Israel’s inheritance that we see one of the Old Testament’s clearest expressions of God’s generosity. Of course, as Christians, we also have an inheritance to which to look forward. This inheritance stands in marked contrast with the transitory wealth of this world. Cars rust, houses fall apart, bank accounts dwindle, and gold “perishes even though refined by fire” (1 Peter 1:7); moreover, our own sin and mistakes can lead to the loss of prosperity (as with Judah here, Jeremiah 3:24-25). But our heavenly inheritance “can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:4; cf. 3:9). With this eternal perspective in mind (1 Peter 1:5), we have every reason to store up lasting treasures for the future by being generous and willing to share (Mathew 6:19-21; 1 Timothy 6:17-19). In the New Testament the apostle Peter reminds us that we can rejoice even when obedience calls for self-denial and economic sacrifice, because we know that our salvation and heavenly inheritance are eternally secure (1 Peter 1:6-9). See Jeremiah theme essay Personal Peace and Prosperity and Jeremiah and Daniel theme essay Living in Exile.
Jeremiah 5:7-12 — See key passage Jeremiah 2:11-13 and 32:42-44.
Jeremiah 5:16-17 — See key passage Jeremiah 32:42-44.
Jeremiah 5:27-28 (Key Passage) — Greed and Oppression: These verses are a part of a larger section indicting Judah and Jerusalem for various sins (Jeremiah 4:3-6:30). In particular, verses 27-28 level accusations of dishonest gain and social injustice. Comfortable in their satisfaction (Jeremiah 5:7-12), the people’s move from greed to escalating acts of adultery, violence and oppression is a natural progression (cf. Jeremiah 6:6-7, 13). Normally it goes something like this: We want something but don’t get it, and so we step on others—especially those who are weaker than we are—in order to satisfy ourselves (James 4:1-2). It is important for us to remember that it is not necessary for us to commit obvious acts of oppression—like foreclosing on the mortgage of a widow—in order to be involved in dishonest gain and social injustice. There are subtler ways we oppress and exploit others. What about the way we live at home? Are there particular members of our families of whom we regularly take advantage? Greed and oppression exists in every sector of society, in public courtrooms and private homes. Accordingly, we must be on our guards against the early stages of greed and social injustice before they become full-grown acts of violence and oppression, and we must carefully consider ways in which we have benefited from systems and “social structures” under which others have suffered. See also Jeremiah 7:6; 22:17; 30:20. See Jeremiah theme essay Knowing God.
Jeremiah 7:1-29 (Key Passage) — Mercy and Purity Rather Than Sacrifice: The apostle James tells us that religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is (1) to look after orphans and widows in their distress and (2) to keep ourselves from becoming polluted by the world (James 1:27). Unfortunately, these are the two areas where God’s people were failing, according to Jeremiah 22:16. In spite of their costly sacrifices, Jeremiah leveled harsh accusations against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem for their lack of mercy and purity. On the one hand, the people were guilty of oppressing the orphans and windows in their community (Jeremiah 7:6). On the other hand, they were guilty of having become polluted by the idolatrous practices of the surrounding nations (Jeremiah 7:9-10; 18). While similar critiques of false worship despite costly sacrifices can be found throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Psalm 51:16-17, 19; Isaiah 1:11-13; 58:1-14; Jeremiah 17:19-27; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-27; Micah 6:6-8), Jeremiah’s critique of empty sacrifice (Jeremiah 6:20; 7:21-22) is particularly striking in light of the fact that he came from a priestly family. Like Jesus, Jeremiah railed against God’s people for the mercenary motives of their religious practices (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46).
Jeremiah 7:6 — See note on Jeremiah 5:27-28. See Jeremiah theme essay Knowing God.
Jeremiah 12:1-17 (Key Passage) — Why Do the Wicked Prosper? This is one of the great questions found in the Old Testament. In addition to Jeremiah, this question was asked by Job, David (Psalm 37), Asaph (Psalm 73) and Habakkuk. The question continues to trouble Christians who witness the same humiliating contradiction today. How can God tolerate it? After all, if he is truly God, how can he stand by while people who hate him get rich? There is a sense in which the answer appears before the question is ever asked, when the prophet confesses, “You are always righteous, O Lord” (Jeremiah 12:1). Jeremiah asks the question on the basis of his unshakable faith in God’s goodness because he knows with certainty that we will all “reap what we sow” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Regardless of how long we have to wait, Job, David, Asaph, Habakkuk and Jeremiah all agreed that God’s justice and righteousness would win out in the end. They all believed a day would come when the reality of God’s righteousness would break into the present once and for all. On that day, God would not only right every wrong, but he also would bring about such a penetrating victory that every inequality—economic or otherwise—would be eclipsed in the moment of his appearance. What we reap for our sins and good works will come primarily at the end of time, not necessarily in this life. God sometimes allows us to experience the terrible impact of our sin or the rewards for obedience in the present, but he reserves the full weight of his judgment for the end. Therefore, in this life we sometimes see righteous people suffer and wicked people prosper. While we don’t know all the reasons for this, the Bible does tell us that he shows mercy even to the wicked (Psalms 145:9), giving sinners like us opportunities to turn from our sin and follow Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Because of God’s mercy, he does not settle all his accounts in this life, nor does he always repay us as we deserve. Additionally, God gives us over to the things we love. Many have chosen to love money, comfort and the things of this world more than they love God and others. As a result, they may prosper—but only for a season (Psalm 37). See related passages: Psalm 73; Habakkuk 3:1-19; Romans 8:28. See Jeremiah theme essay Personal Peace and Prosperity.
Jeremiah 20:13 (Key Passage) — Special Concern for the Poor: God’s special concern for the poor is a major theme in the Old Testament. It is codified in God’s Law (Exodus 23:9-11; Leviticus 12:6-8; 19:9-10; 25:8-50; Deuteronomy 15:4-11; 23:24-25), illustrated in the historical books (1 Samuel 2:8; 2 Samuel 12:1-6) and plays an essential role in the wisdom and prophetic books of the Old Testament (Job 5:15-16; Psalms 10:14, 17; 12:5; 34:6; 35:10; 40:17; 86:1; 109:22; Proverbs 14:31; 17:5; 19:17; Isaiah 3:15; 10:1-4, 14:30; 25:4; 58:6-8; 61:1-3; Jeremiah 20:13; 22:16; 49:7-12; Amos 2:6-7; 4:1-2; 5:11; 8:4-7; Zechariah 7:10). As Christians we ought also to be aware of the central role that God’s concern for the poor played in Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 11:5; Mark 10:21; Luke 4:18-19; 6:20; 12:33; 14:13) and the rest of the New Testament (Acts 2:44-45, 4:34-37, 6:1-6, 11:28-30; 24:17; cf. 5:1-11, 20:35; Romans 15:24-32; 1 Corinthians 11:17-22; 2 Corinthians 8-9; Galatians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 8-9; James 1:27; 2:14-17; 1 John 3:16-17; Revelation 2:8-11). The fact that God’s concern for the poor is stressed so much in Scripture means that showing generosity to them is not an option for those of us who say we know God’s love. As 1 John 3:16-17 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” See Jeremiah theme essay Knowing God.
Jeremiah 21:11-23:8 (Key Passage) — Socioeconomics of Justice and Righteousness: This is one of many passages in the Old Testament that identifies the maintenance of justice and righteousness as the particular responsibility of Israel and her Davidic king (Jeremiah 21:12; 23:3; cf. Genesis 18:17-18; 2 Samuel 8:15; Psalm 72; Isaiah 9:7;11:4-5; 16:5; 32:1; 56:6-8; Matthew 12:18-21). What is especially important for our present study, however, is the way this passage helps to clarify the connection between the biblical concepts of justice and righteousness and other issues that are more explicitly social and even economic in nature. It is especially important for us to appreciate this connection as Christians today because we often view biblical words like “righteousness” in an overly “spiritualized” way that is often removed from the nitty-gritty details of life in the world. The first example of the way this passage connects faith and finances appears in Jeremiah 21:11, where justice and righteousness are described in terms of rescuing the poor and oppressed who have been robbed and exploited (cf. Jeremiah 22:3). Conversely, injustice and unrighteousness are described in terms of the king’s extravagant lifestyle which causes him to step on others in order to acquire the luxurious life he wants for himself (Jeremiah 22:13). Clearly, the injustice described here is economic in nature, as it often was throughout the prophetic writings (Isaiah 1:21-23; 5:7-8; 10:1-3; 61:8; Amos 2:6; 4:1; 5:11-12; Micah 2:1-2; 3:1-3). Second, it also is worth noting the “social” significance of justice and righteousness. The statements of judgment in Jeremiah 21:11-23:8 draw a very interesting connection between the way we deal with the poor and the way God deals with us. Even though we tend to assess ourselves according to the quality of the relationships we share with the rich and powerful, the opposite is true with God, who judges us specifically according to the way we live in relation to the poor and oppressed (Jeremiah 22:4-5; see also Matthew 25:31-46; James 2:5-7). See related passages on justice and righteousness: Psalms 37:21; 112:5, 9; Proverbs 10:2; 11:4; 16:8; 31:9; Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42. See Jeremiah theme essay Knowing God.
Jeremiah 22:13-17 (Key Passage) — Extravagance and Moderation: How much is too much? This has always been a difficult question for Christians. On the one hand, there is a real danger presented by the ascetic tendency to reject material possessions as evil. After all, the Bible clearly teaches that wealth is a gift that God created for us to enjoy (e.g., Deuteronomy 8:18; 1 Timothy 6:17). On the other hand, there is an equally dangerous and much more common tendency for us to accumulate more than we need and fall into the sin of extravagance—especially when our luxuries begin to deprive others of their necessities (James 5:4-5). Jeremiah 22:13-17 is a particularly helpful passage when it comes to the question of how to avoid extravagance without forgetting the fact that money and possessions are good gifts that God means for us to enjoy. Beginning with verses 13-14 we find an obvious example of unjust extravagance. Clearly, King Shallum’s luxurious palace came at the expense of those he exploited for his own gain. This negative example is contrasted with the positive example of Shallum’s father, King Josiah, who refused to exploit others but still had enough for himself (i.e., “Did not your father have enough to eat and drink?”). The idea here is that even though Josiah may not have had multiple houses or other luxuries, his actual needs were entirely met and “all went well with him.” In other words, it seems that Josiah’s concern for others, especially the poor and oppressed, had a positive effect on his own life and the life of the community (cf. Proverbs 11:25). This “positive effect” did not necessarily come in the form of a lucrative financial return as if he’d won the lottery, but was more generally felt. Josiah’s needs were met amply, and there was peace and prosperity throughout the community. Several basic applications can be drawn from this passage. First, we must take a hard look at ourselves and our financial priorities to see whether we are, in fact, indulging in luxuries that come at the expense of others’ needs. For example, once our basic needs are met, on what are we spending our money and resources? If we are hoarding money in the bank or spending significant amounts of our disposable income on entertainment, restaurants, vacations and luxury items like electronics, recreational vehicles and the like, then we need to hear the words Jeremiah spoke to King Shallum: “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness” (Jeremiah 22:13). Loving others as we love ourselves (James 2:8) means recognizing that there are simply too many people in the world who are literally starving and dying of curable diseases for us to keep or spend our disposable resources in the ways that we do. In such cases, our luxuries literally deprive other people of basic necessities like food and medical care. Accordingly, those of us who “have food and drink” like Josiah but then go on to buy beyond need are effectively the same as the oppressive kings of Judah and Israel whom the prophets condemned and God punished. On the other hand, it is not necessary for Christians to feel guilty simply because we live in America. It is not only OK but also profoundly important for us to enjoy good food, stable health care, comfortable housing and a good education so long as we remember that God makes us rich in every way so that we can be generous on every occasion (2 Corinthians 9:11). We may enjoy our blessings without a guilty conscience so long as we use those blessings in a way that is effectively aimed at blessing those who are truly in need. See other passages related to this difficult issue: Deuteronomy 17:14-17; Proverbs 30:8-9; Luke 16:19-31; 1 Timothy 6:6-10. See Proverbs theme essay Neither Poverty nor Riches and Jeremiah theme essays Knowing God and Personal Peace and Prosperity.
Jeremiah 22:15 — See key passage Jeremiah 9:21-24.
Jeremiah 29:4-7 — (Key Passage) — Seek the Welfare of the City: How are Christians supposed to find personal peace and prosperity? Not in the way we might think. After the citizens of Judah and Jerusalem had been carried off into exile by Babylon, God told them that they would find their own welfare in the welfare of others (cf. Proverbs 11:25). To their utter astonishment and in contrast to the message of the false prophets (Jeremiah 28:1-17; 14:13-18; 23:9-40), the Jewish exiles were warned against resisting their Babylonian oppressors. Instead, they were commanded to settle down (Jeremiah 29:4-6) and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” to which God had carried them into exile (Jeremiah 29:7). Passing on a word from the Lord almost beyond comprehension, Jeremiah told the exiles to pray for their enemies’ city “because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). So, where is our welfare to be found? According to Jeremiah, personal peace and prosperity is the fruit of giving oneself generously in service to others. In this sense, Jeremiah 29:4-7 foreshadows the radical teachings of Jesus, who called his followers to seek their ultimate good—i.e. the kingdom of God—by seeking the good of those around them. Jesus even went so far as to say that his followers must be generous to those who steal from us (Luke 6:29b-30) and pray for those who oppose us (Luke 6:28). This was precisely what Jeremiah told the exiles that they were supposed to do in Babylon. For in seeking the peace and material well-bring of their oppressors and praying for their enemies (Jeremiah 29:7), they actually would be establishing the kingdom of God in Babylon (Mathew 5:13-16; cf. Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 51:4). Likewise, as Christians—to whom the New Testament refers as exiles or “strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11)—we are called to seek first God’s kingdom, not by seeking personal peace and prosperity for ourselves, but by seeking the welfare of the communities in which we live (1 Peter 2:12). We are called to “build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10; 29:5), taking commodities that the world exploits for self-interest—like power (Jeremiah 29:5), sex (29:6) and money (29:7)—and using these potentially soul-squelching resources in life-giving ways. See also Psalm 84; Mark 8:35; Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 2:11-12. See Jeremiah theme essay Personal Peace and Prosperity and Jeremiah and Daniel theme essay Living in Exile.
Jeremiah 32:42-44 (Key Passage) — God’s Brings Economic Disaster and Restores Prosperity: Jeremiah’s prophecy makes it very clear that God is both the one who brings economic disaster in order to punish sin (Jeremiah 2:14-15; 5:12, 16-17, 23-25; 11:22; 14:1-15:21; 15:13;16-17:18; 18:21; 20:5; 21:9; 24:10; 29:17-18; 32:8; 39:16; 42:16-17, 22; 49:29; 49:32; 50:10; 52:17ff) and the one who graciously restores his people to peace and prosperity (Jeremiah 29:1-13; 30:10; 32:42-44; 33:6-9; 40:12). These twin points are presented clearly throughout the prophecy of Jeremiah and held together in this single passage (Jeremiah 32:42-44; cf. 14:22; 50:38). This fact about God applies to believers today in several ways. Many times God still uses economic and other difficulties to bring us closer to him (although it is crucial to note that not all difficulties are the result of personal sin, e.g. Proverbs 13:23). Our task is to repent of our sins and strive through the help of the Holy Sprit to be faithful, even to the point of pursuing the welfare, or shalom, of those who have harmed us, on the basis of the knowledge that God himself will restore us and that our care is ultimately in his hands (Jeremiah 29:1-13). Furthermore, we should note that the instructions in this passage are corporate, not just personal ones. When our churches are in economic trouble, it may well be a result of our own sin and failure to obey the Lord. Our response must be one of repentance and humble submission to God’s hand: Perhaps he has kept us from moving out of the neighborhood for a reason; perhaps our incomes are down because our budgets have failed to reflect his priorities and instead reflect our own agendas, largely revolving around our own needs and wants and comforts. See Jeremiah theme essay Personal Peace and Prosperity.
Jeremiah 34:8-22 (Key Passage) — Failure to Free Slaves: God’s law contained several opportunities for Hebrew slaves to be released after various periods of time. According to Exodus 21:2, individual slaves were to be released in their seventh year of service. On a much larger scale, the Year of Jubilee provided a comprehensive program of debt cancellation, liberation from indentured servitude and the complete restoration of each family’s ancestral property once every 50 years (Leviticus 25:8-54). Deuteronomy 15:12-18 provides for the release of slaves every seven years and even commands masters to supply their former slaves with the resources needed for life after their time of service. Apparently, however, by Jeremiah’s lifetime such laws were not being observed (Jeremiah 34:14)—that is, until the Babylonian army began its siege of Jerusalem. Suddenly, a “panic piety” set in (as some commentators have called it), and King Zedekiah “made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim freedom for the slaves” (Jeremiah 34:8). However, during a brief break in the Babylonian attack when the armies had withdrawn from the city (Jeremiah 34:21), the covenant was rescinded, and the slaves were forced back into servitude (Jeremiah 34:16). Commentators speculate as to what the exact circumstances in Jerusalem must have been like at the time. Some suggest that the slaves initially were released so that their masters would not be responsible for feeding them. Others suggest that they were released as an incentive to participate in the struggle against Babylon. Whatever the cause, it seems clear that it was based upon self-interests rather than obedience to God’s law. The slaves who where released in a moment of crisis were taken back quickly by their masters as soon as the pressure from the enemy died down. Unfortunately we often behave in the same way. We often have the same kind of “panic-attack piety” when we find ourselves in difficult financial straights. Sometimes we may even make promises to God about what we will do if he helps us in our moments of need. But how often are those promises motivated by a true love for God and true pursuit of justice that will last even when our present crises are no longer an issue? See Jeremiah theme essay Knowing God.
Jeremiah 48:7 (Key Passage) — Don’t Trust in Wealth: When it comes to sources of safety and security, money has always been the leading contender against God for our trust (Matthew 6:24). This is not surprising, for material resources appear to have the capacity to insulate us from many of life’s dangers and difficulties. Proverbs goes so far as to tell us that wealth is like a “fortified city” (Proverbs 10:15; cf. 18:11). However, Proverbs also tells us, “Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4). In other words, money only has a limited capacity to keep us safe, and if we trust in it for our ultimate protection, we are headed for disaster. Moab would have done well to remember the limited value of money before arrogantly relying on their own resources (compare with similar mistakes made by Ammon in Jeremiah 49:4, Lebanon in 22:20-22 and Babylon in 51:13). This warning is recapitulated in Jeremiah 48:36. But we also see there God’s own sorrow; he is not gloating but mourning over Moab’s great sin and loss of wealth. Of course, we should keep in mind that in the end, wealth never lasts, regardless of whether it is ill-gotten or honestly earned. As Proverbs 23:5 reminds us, all earthly wealth eventually evaporates. Cars rust. Houses fall apart. Bank accounts dwindle, and sooner or later it all disappears. This is why Jesus warns us not to store up treasures on earth, but in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20); “it’s not just because wealth might be lost; it’s because wealth will always be lost. Either it leaves us while we live, or we leave it when we die. No exceptions.” (Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle, 13). See Jeremiah theme essay Personal Peace and Prosperity.
Jeremiah 48:35 — See key passages Jeremiah 2:11-13.
Jeremiah 51:19 (Key Passage) — Belonging to God: The covenant relationship that God shares with his people hinges on the idea of belonging. Jeremiah 51:19 tells us that God is our “Portion” and we are his “inheritance.” This theme of mutual belonging is extremely common throughout Scripture (Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 7:6; 10:14-15; Psalm 24:1; Jeremiah 10:23; 51:19; Zechariah 2:8-10, 12; 8:2; 13:9; Romans 12:1; 14:7-8; 1 Corinthians 3:23; 6:19-20; Titus 2:14; Revelation 21:2-3). When we search for joy and comfort and security some place other than this covenant relationship, the problem is not that we want too much but too little. Our worst fears, including our financial fears, can be attributed to the fact we don’t really understand the fact that we are treasured by God (Deuteronomy 7:7). Thus, Jesus teaches us to concentrate on God’s fatherly care: He can and will provide for us since we belong to him. This knowledge—surer than guarantees from our government or its most trusted agencies—should be our basis for wisely and generously investing ourselves in his kingdom, giving up the endless trail of acquisition and covetousness for Jesus’ call to care for the poor and pursue the kingdom which we already have been given (Luke 12:15-34). Meditating on God’s care and God’s signs of his provision liberally sprinkled throughout nature (Matthew 6:25-34) is arguably the greatest single antidote to worrying about our portion in this present life. See Zechariah theme essay Belonging to God and Jeremiah theme essay Knowing God.