March 31, 2015

A Glimpse From The Bottom, Part II: God's Baffling Responses

Sometimes God's Answers Will Mystify Us

So, due to cowardice and indecisiveness, King Zedekiah allows for the lowering of the prophet Jeremiah into a cistern.

Jeremiah 38:6 So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud and Jeremiah sank down into the mud. 

Jeremiah’s life is thrown into calamity and chaos for obedience. It is in this that we see that God does not always want us to rest comfortably under trees in Spring breezes. Sometimes He wants us to sleep on a knife’s edge so that we realize that we are only ever one second away from His presence. We need to realize that our lives are a balance between faith and unbelief, righteousness and unrighteousness, suffering and comfort, defeat and exaltation. 

What a dichotomy for Jeremiah and us as obedient believers... it was a cistern, hewn out for catching water during the winter months when it rained. this was done to preserve life. In August, however, it contained nothing but mud (like sin), sucking Jeremiah down to a slow death. Jerusalem (and much of the modern church) had/have forsaken the fountain of living water and had hewn cisterns of her own making. They had sold-out the precious and bought into the worthless like a cheap whore (Proverbs 5). The betrayal of truth was shocking. When the prophet of God was cast into the mire, society had reached spiritual and moral bottom. The one who should have been exalted, was instead lowered into a pit, much like preachers of the true Gospel today in society and many Churches.

Jeremiah 38:7-13 But Ebed-Melek [Ebed means slave, Melek means...of a king], a Cushite, an official in the royal palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. While the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate, 8 Ebed-Melek went out of the palace and said to him, 9 “My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.” 10 Then the king commanded Ebed-Melek the Cushite, “Take thirty men from here with you and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.” 11 So Ebed-Melek took the men with him and went to a room under the treasury in the palace. He took some old rags and worn-out clothes from there and let them down with ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern. 12 Ebed-Melek the Cushite said to Jeremiah, “Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes.” Jeremiah did so, 13 and they pulled him up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the courtyard of the guard.

Here in Ebed-Melek we also see that sometimes answered prayers will not always be answered in the manner that we would anticipate. This is a case of a glorious Deus ex machina. Deus Ex Machina or dei ex machina drawn from the Greek ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός (apò mēkhanês theós), which means “god from the machine”. It is an idea from Greek tragedy plays. It was a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable insurmountable problem was suddenly and abruptly resolved by a contrived or unexpected intervention of some new event, character, or object. It was nearly always attributed to divine intervention directly from God.

In the case of Jeremiah 38, it really is God intervening unexpectedly to save Jeremiah from certain death in a dried-up well through the most unlikely of means. But the rescue is anything but pretty. From the darkness of the cistern came a plea for escape and for someone to understand a neglected and abused prophet. One lone figure answered that cry. He was neither king nor prince. He was a heathen, an Ethiopian eunuch/servant by the name of Ebed-Melek. Old clothes and rags, quickly tied together by a slave and dangled into the deep stench of the cistern, formed the filthy escape Jeremiah most likely had prayed for. God intervened here but it was an unsightly intervention. It is not the answer I imagined Jeremiah prayed for but it was an answer and a rescue. He is looking up and he sees old rags and beat-up clothes being lowered to him by a common pagan slave and this is God’s provision for deliverance. I imagine Jeremiah was quite bewildered.

You've got to wonder if Jeremiah looked up and thought he was being hoodwinked. Have any of us ever been in this position before? We are sinking down into a spiritual hole into the muck of ours sin at the bottom and we pray for deliverance. We are then presented with highly unlikely ways out of our predicaments. Perhaps the unorthodox escapes show up in our lives when we are saved from financial ruin by God giving us two jobs instead of a single one that pays better. Sometimes it looks like answers to prayers for patience by being put into the most intolerable situations possible. Situations that we cannot get out of that force us to tolerate people we would rather strangle. Sometimes the ways of God are as unfathomable as the depths of a long dried-up well. 

What makes matters more insulting is Jeremiah in this story is somewhere near the riches of the Kingdom. It says Ebed-Melek took the thirty men with him and went to a room under the treasury in the palace. So the financial wealth of others is somewhere nearby but out of reach and out of sight for one of God’s chosen in this story while he is suffering and under trial. So a common slave comes with dirty rags to pull a chosen man of God out of a hole while the wealth and prosperity of the world system surrounds him. It is almost insulting. The path to get out of his misery leads directly though other people's prosperity. Think about it, Jeremiah probably needed to walk past riches and prosperity he could not take part in to get out of his predicament.

That my friends...stings and cuts deeply...

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