It is September, and I just finished reading Jeremiah. I was so blessed! Really. I know the book of Jeremiah can be a difficult read, but it is also full of encouragement. God feels the same way about the sins of Israel and the surrounding pagan nations as He does today. We like to think that God is longsuffering and merciful here in our Age of Grace, but He was longsuffering and merciful in the Old Testament too. Many times He waited a few generations before exacting judgment on the nation. Keeping the Law was a requirement for an Old Testament saint because that is what true believers did. God was looking at the heart. He was looking for true faith, not just outward conformity. When a parent has to follow through with discipline when the rules of the house are broken by children, the purpose of the rules and punishment and structure is to guide the child to maturity and a full knowledge of love within the family. Even so, God was directly and miraculously guiding the Israelites, and He was shaping and guiding the hearts of the true believers.
Not all Bible reading is a drudgery, but parts of it can be. The Psalms are beautiful and the History books are full of narrative prose. I love reading my New Testament because that is where I find instruction to the local churches and New Testament Christians. On the other hand, the Major and Minor Prophets of the Old Testament present a challenge for most of us. It is at this point in our Bible Reading Schedules that we really need to buckle down and read with our minds open and our attention span widened. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t understand or give much thought to these books until probably 5 or 6 years ago. Oh I knew the facts about the books, and I had especially studied the apocolyptic portions, but I didn’t really enjoy the bulk of the Major and Minor Prophets. It seems like so much death and destruction and judgment and calamity, that I just skimmed through it for many years. I cheated myself from learning from this portion of God’s Word.
There truly is a lot about judgment, but there was also forgiveness. There was death and destruction, but it was alongside justice and righteousness. We learn about the nature of a backslidden people and how they hardened their hearts too much. We learn about God’s justice and how he molds and shapes the nation of Israel by winnowing out the dross and bringing the faithful along in His plan. Don’t skip over these amazing chapters of Scripture. There is so much in there!
I hope the following Bible reading helps will prompt you to read more and focus on the themes of these prophetic books so we can apply the truths to our lives.
1. Use a Bible Reading Schedule.
My Chronological Bible Reading Schedule is so very helpful with the Major and Minor Prophets. The writings of the prophets are read along side the events of their day as recorded in the historical books. For instance, the account of the death of King Uzziah and his arrogance is read in tandem with Isaiah’s prophecy about the throne room of God. To me, Isaiah has become an easier book to understand as I’ve learned about his prediction of the Messiah and then of the coming Kingdom. Reading chronologically helps me keep the order of events straight.
2. Keep the history of the book in mind.
Jeremiah has been an easy read this year. Just before beginning Jeremiah, I read 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 32-35. We find the account of young King Josiah who was motivated to reform his country away from the generations of wicked idolatry. As he did so, the long lost books of the Law were discovered, Josiah consulted with the priests and the current prophetess, Huldah, (Jeremiah’s contemporary). She spoke the word of the Lord and said God would bring judgment. Josiah himself would be gathered to paradise, but the nation would not escape God’s wrath. Hurriedly, Josiah read the Scriptures to the people and instituted even more reforms, hoping for God’s mercy on the people. In the end, he instituted more far-reaching and sweeping reforms in Israel and Judah than any other king before him, even more than Hezekiah.
“Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him…”
But it was not enough.
“Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah.”
And that is how the story of the good child king, Josiah ends in 2 Kings. We are left with our jaws dropped, almost unbelieving that God would be so harsh. What else was the nation supposed to do? We find out why in the book of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet. He knew that no matter how much he preached and prophesied, the people would not listen. God had already known that their hearts were not turned to him. They had backslidden so long that the nation as a whole was too far gone. The outward reforms did not reach their hearts. Only a small remnant of faithful people would be preserved, but they’d have to go into exile for a generation before the promise would be restored.
And so we read such passages as
“Yet for all this her trecherous sister, Judah, hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the Lord” (Jer. 3:10).
“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight” (Jer. 9:23-24).
“Thou has forsaken me, saith the Lord, thou art gone backward: therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting” (Jer. 15:6).
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man accourding to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings…Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed, save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise” (Jer. 17:9-10, 14).
Jeremiah is stuffed full of windows into how God had to discipline his people, that even though good King Josiah reformed the nation more than even King Hezekiah, it was not enough. So judgment for unbelief is a huge part of the book of Jeremiah.
The most beautiful passages are written to the faithful remnant who will find themselves in exile. They are told to go ahead and make a home for themselves in Babylon until such time as God will bring them back to Israel to fulfill His promises to them. That advice given through the prophets is not accepted by the unbelieving. They had thought God would never allow such a calamity as captivity and exile to happen to God’s people (Jer 29:19-23; 2 Chr. 36:15-16). But they were wrong. God was going to winnow out the unbelievers and save His remnant in His own time. So we find such encouraging verses as these for the exiled faithful Jews:
“I know the plans I that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, declares the lord, and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
That is why we find good people like Daniel, Esther, Mordecai, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, and others still serving God even in Babylon and Persia. They were clinging to those promises from God to them specifically that they would return to their land someday.
Habbakuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah who asked God the same questions we have. Why would you allow such evil in the world? Are you not powerful? Do you not see? God gives him the reply (because Habbakuk was a prophet who relayed God’s word to the people). Just wait, He says. My justice will come. I am meeting out justice on Israel now, but I will bring judgment myself on Babylon too. He promises restoration to Israel after the judgment. So Habbakuk prays that beautiful prayer at the end of his book.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places” Hab. 3:17-19.
Just having a regular, disciplined time to read God’s Word helps the mind to lay aside distractions and focus on this task at hand. Look for a time that is at least a half hour uninterrupted and when you are awake enough to focus. For me, that is early in the morning (which means I ought to go to bed at a decent hour), and I need at least an hour alone. I have to get up early enough to avoid the children waking up. I get up and start the coffee. Then I take my shower. By the time I’m cleaned and dressed, the coffee is done and I’m awake enough to read without being groggy.
I used to read at night before going to bed when I was a teenager, and that might work for you night owls, but somewhere along the way I became too tired at night and was more alert in the morning. When I had babies in the house, I couldn’t keep my eyes open in the morning or in the evening! So I just did the best I could throughout the day to find that quiet time with the Lord. Sometimes I’d have a place to check off whether I had done my devotions that day because it was hard to remember even day to day whether I had done it or not.
So do what works best for you, but just do it. No excuses!
4. Enjoy it.
Just read the Bible for what it says. Remember that the Aramaic and Hebrew languages were very poetic. You will find a lot of word pictures. A Jewish writer would rather say, “The Lord is my Shepherd” whereas the more precise Greek New Testament believer would say that God leads, guides, disciplines, cares, protects, and loves His people. So that may help you as you read these old Jewish prophets.
Also, try to follow along with the story line. If you can, read it in as big of chunks. I find that if you can sit down and read a whole book of the Bible in one sitting, even a long one like Jeremiah, it can give you that bigger picture perspective which is helpful. The Chronological Bible Reading Schedule has the book divided into pretty big chunks, and that’s a lot of reading each day. So I would just encourage you to keep track of where you are in the story. What is happening in the context, and how does this apply to me?
The historical books give the facts, but the prophets give God’s perspective and emotion about it. Let the depth of it sink in.