Friday, November 6, 2015

Lesson 6: Symbolic Acts

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Lesson 6: Symbolic Acts

God sent message upon message to Judah through Jeremiah and other prophets. Apparently each was universally ignored. Like a creative parent, God tried various ways to get the attention of His indifferent children in Judah. When words didn't work, He resorted to actions to demonstrate warning. These symbolic messages, though perceived, were rejected. We can only imagine the annoyance with which Jeremiah was received.
When Jeremiah visits the potter, his message must have been supremely offensive to his listeners. They could not have missed that the analogy of the potter and the clay applied to them. It rebuked their arrogant thinking that God had no choice as to what form Judah took, and that He was expected to bless them regardless of how many other gods they worshipped. God reminds them that He had a specific plan for them when He brought their forefathers out of Egypt, and that they spoiled it by their apostasy. Again, He tells them: "I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you" (Jer. 18:11, NASB). Still, their response is "It's hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart" (vs. 12).
Their reaction was to proverbially kill the messenger when they said "Come and let us devise plans against Jeremiah ... Come on and let us strike at him with our tongue, and let us give no heed to any of his words" (Jer. 18:18).
The symbol of the broken jar (chapter 19) represents what God intends to do with Judah, to break them so they cannot be repaired. This is not the first time God used the symbol of brokenness to warn Israel. One of the more graphic examples is the story of the Levite and his concubine as recorded in Judges 19 and 20. In that instance, it produced a response and reformation in Israel.
The breaking of the jar may also refer to Jeremiah chapter 11 where God tells them they have broken the covenant which He made with their forefathers when He brought them out of Egypt. This covenant is: "Listen to My voice, and do according to all which I command you; so you shall be My people, and I will be your God" (Jer. 11:4).
This is the essence of the everlasting covenant. The message of 1888 teaches that God's covenant is not something the people must do, but what they must believe when God says "listen." People often skip over the "listen" part and see it as God striking a bargain, asking us to "keep" His commands so He will be their God. People think they know what that means, so we set about to do what we think God wants. Unfortunately, this proves they weren't listening.
Ellet J. Waggoner applied this to "us.": "We can no more live righteous lives by our own strength than we could beget ourselves. The work that is begun by the Spirit must be carried to completion by the Spirit. ... Paul's labor, and the first experience of the Galatians, were exactly in line with the experience of Abraham, whose faith was accounted for righteousness. Let it be remembered that the 'false brethren' who preached 'another gospel' [to the Galatians], even the false gospel of righteousness by works, were Jews and claimed Abraham for their father. ...
"People take the sign for the substance, the end for the means. They see that righteousness reveals itself in good works. Therefore they assume that the good works bring the righteousness. Righteousness gained by faith, good works wrought without working, seem to them impractical and fanciful. They call themselves 'practical' men and believe that the only way to have a thing done is to do it. But the truth is that all such men are highly impractical. ... Only in the Lord is there righteousness and strength (Isa. 45:24). 'Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass. And He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light' (Psalm 37:5,6, KJV). Abraham is the father of all who believe for righteousness, and of those only. The only 'practical' thing is to believe, even as he did." [1]
The Jews in Paul's day claimed to be righteous by the act of circumcision. The people of Judah in Jeremiah's day made the same mistake but also claimed God had to continue blessing them because they said, "This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord" (Jer. 7:4). They thought they could bring heathen practices into the temple and still call it "the temple of the Lord." It is easy to think ancient Judah was so primitive that we today would never make the mistake of finding strength in buildings, or whatever else tempts our denominational pride.
Another symbolic "lesson" is found in Jeremiah chapter 13, the ruined waistband. This seems mysterious, but is a uniquely personal application. A belt or waistband is worn to keep one's clothing from falling off. Some people even add suspenders because they fear the shame of nakedness. Sin caused this fear. Judah didn't realize that they had lost their covering and were naked. In their blindness they couldn't see that buildings, rituals, or law keeping did nothing to save them from having their shame exposed. Could there possibly be a relation between God's message to Judah, and His message to the Laodicean church: " ... you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked" (Rev. 3:17)?
God wanted to reveal such pride to the people of Judah. He wanted to show them that they had lost the thing that bound them to Him at the most intimate levels. He wanted those ties to never be broken, but their ignorance of how to keep His law resulted in loss of their protection and should have made them ashamed. They persisted in thinking that adding pagan gods, but still trying to keep God's law was acceptable. Instead, they lost everything. Only by staying closely tied to God through the working of the Holy Spirit can we receive the salvation accomplished by Jesus. It is intimate heart work that requires humility and honesty.
Ellen G. White applies this 1888 concept of "heart work" so beautifully: "All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continued obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us." [2]
What a blessed promise. We can believe it.
--Arlene Hill
[1] The Glad Tidings, pp. 52-54 (emphasis in original).
[2] The Desire of Ages, p. 668.
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