Weekly Meditation: 28th August 2016
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5). Those words could well be the axiom for the whole Bible. God never has left or forsaken the people who are his own. He promised, using those very words, to be with the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land, facing unknown terrors and hostile inhabitants (Deuteronomy 31:1-6). He inspired the writer of Hebrews to quote the same words in order to give comfort to the Christians who, among other things, feared persecution and were tempted back to Judaism (Hebrews12:25-29; 13:1-6). Throughout the Bible we can read of individuals and nations who tested God’s patience and who suffered retribution as a result, but all through the trials and suffering, God was with them.
When the nation of Judah – the southern, two-tribe kingdom centred on Jerusalem – fell into apostasy and unfaithfulness, God sent Jeremiah as the final prophet to warn them of their coming fate. Israel – God’s chosen people – had divided after Solomon’s reign, and by the time of Jeremiah the northern, ten-tribe kingdom (still known as Israel) had been conquered and dispersed by Assyria. The people of Judah, far from taking heed of Israel’s fate, continued in their unfaithfulness. They preferred to believe the false prophets who assured them that all would be well, and Jeremiah was a prophet doomed to be largely unheard. He delivered his message nonetheless, with stark warnings and graphic imagery.
Jeremiah began by reminding Judah of how God had brought them out of Egypt, leading them ‘across barren wilderness … through a land of deserts and rifts … droughts and darkness’ (2:6). Like the writer of Psalm 81, Jeremiah recalled to their minds how they had failed to appreciate the security and abundance that God had provided for them (Psalm 81:10-11; Jeremiah 2:7). God had warned his people not to serve foreign gods (Psalm 81:9; Jeremiah 2:8) but that was exactly what they had done, giving away the ‘glory’ of their God who had proved his power, might and love, in exchange ‘for worthless idols’ (2:11). Jeremiah charged the people with ‘two sins’; they had forsaken the God who would never forsake them and who had been to them ‘a spring of living water’; and, in turning to man-made idols, it was as if they had ‘dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water’ (2:13).
Jeremiah lived to see the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and the end of Judah – taken into captivity by the Babylonians (52:4-30). Through Jeremiah, God warned the people repeatedly, but when they took no heed, he finally appeared to forsake them when they were exiled. They were not forsaken, however. In captivity they recalled their God and their holy city, and, when the time was right, they were restored (see Psalms 137 and 126).
We do not know if the Christians who read the letter to the Hebrews maintained their faith. The letter was most likely written shortly before the severe persecution by Nero. History testifies, however, to the faithfulness of many Christians who faced death rather than turn away from the God they believed would never forsake them.
By Susan Thorne