Thought for the Day by Richard Barton (All Hallows)
Unusually I’m basing my thought for the day on the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah. The Gospel passage for today from John: “and the truth will set you free” is one of my favourite inspiring passages….. which I wrote a thought about last year! I really struggle with the Old Testament, its full of weird rules and savage histories so I rarely read or engage fully with it. Perhaps being given the same gospel passage again, forcing me to look at the Old Testament reading is a message from God (or maybe from Nigel Greenwood who assigns the contributors!)
Jeremiah’s message in chapter 15 is pretty tough. Jeremiah is outlining the words of God, who is angry because of the sins of the whole of Judah. “I will enslave you to your enemies in a land you do not know.” Jeremiah partly bemoans God’s anger in terms of “What have I done to deserve this?!” And God responds with “If you repent I will restore you”.
This passage really benefits from going back further in the chapter to see what God’s anger is all about. It all relates to the behaviour of the current king of Judah, Menassah son of Hezakiah. Menassah was the fourteenth king of Judah in the 600s BC and his main sin was the change from his fathers policy to commit the kingdom of Judah to the worship of the one true God, Yahweh, to bring in worship of other gods from neighbouring countries such as Baal Asherah and Moloch and both allow and encourage worship of these. Menassah is thought to have done this in part due to the economic benefits of having the shrines to these gods in Judah. He also stands accused of participating in child sacrifice practices which were part of the practice of worship of Moloch. Menassah repressed all prophets who reacted against these practices, and many prophets were put to the sword as Jeremiah himself has said earlier in this book.
Interestingly, however, according to a passage in 2 Chronicles 33:11-15 Menassah was captured by the Assyrians, brought in chains to the Assyrian king, but treated well in captivity and then released to return to his throne. Once back on his throne Menassah does repent of his sins and returns the country to the worship of the one true God. Whilst the story of the redemption of Menassah is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, and some scholars doubt its validity, it is perhaps to me a sign of hope and positivity amidst the cynicism and brutality of much of Old Testament history.
Treat those who sin with kindness and respect even when in captivity and even those guilty of the grossest opportunism, idolatry and savagery may turn toward God.
Maybe this is a message for our times, for us in everything from our relationships with others to our attitudes towards the worst and most hardened of offenders and surely one that chimes with all we know of the love of God we see in Christ.
“If you repent, I will restore you.”
[Hey, maybe the Old Testament is worth reading after all……]!