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Key Texts: Jeremiah 16:1-13; 27, 28

The official study guide for this week’s lesson uses “yoke” in two different senses:

1. A reference to the “yoke” of Jeremiah’s difficult life, thus laying the foundation for an immediate application to the modern believer. The memory passage for this week reinforces the point, giving us the words of Jesus in Luke 9:23: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (NRSV)

2. The wooden yoke which Jeremiah used to as a symbol for subjection to Babylon (Jer. 27). The false prophet Hananiah, preaching restoration of the temple vessels and the restoration of Jehoiachin, came up to Jeremiah and broke the wooden yoke, declaring that within two years, the yoke of Babylon would be broken. Jeremiah responded by referring to a yoke of iron – the text does not make clear that Jeremiah actually made another visual aid, but he did refer to a “yoke of iron” (Jer. 28:13). Interestingly enough, Jeremiah gave the message of the yoke to the surrounding nations as well: Edom, Ammon, Moab, Tyre, and Sidon (Jer. 27:3).

Jeremiah’s Difficult Life

The Lord made life very arduous for Jeremiah, forbidding him to marry and have a family (16:2-4). He was not to mourn or show sympathy (16:5-7). He was not to join in feasting or share in any kind of joyous experience (16:8-9).

Question: Is Jeremiah’s life a model for all Christians? What about Jesus’ attendance at a wedding feast early in his ministry?

Note: A melancholy prophet will tend towards a call to melancholy service. That self- denying perspective on religion is shared by non-believers. Somewhat tangentially, Mark Twain (1835-1910) reflected that “popular” view of the disciplined life, even when religion was not explicitly involved. My daughter sent me a card once with this line from Twain:

“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”

Interestingly enough, the card came from Borealis Press which noted on the back:“We print with soy inks, on acid-free, totally chlorine-free recycled paper, which produces no dioxins in the mill waste.” It is remarkable that such a “conscientious” press would feature a quote from Twain that suggests that the only way to prolong life is to live in unhappy self-denial.

A move away from that self-denial perspective can be traced in the course of Ellen White’s growth and development. Comparing her narratives on John the Baptist from 1858, 1878, and 1878 yields these results:

1858
Spiritual Gifts 1:29, 30-31: “John’s life was without pleasure. It was sorrowful and self-denying…. His life was lonely. He did not cling to his father’s family, to enjoy their society, but left them in order to fulfill his mission” (SG 1:29).

“I was pointed down to the last days, and saw that John was to represent those who should go forth in the [31] spirit and power of Elijah, to herald the day of wrath, and the second advent of Jesus” (SG 1:30-31).

1877
 Spirit of Prophecy 2:69: “John’s life, with the exception of the joy he experienced in witnessing the success of his mission was without pleasure. It was one of sorrow and self-denial…. John’s voice was seldom heard, except in the wilderness. His life was lonely” (SP 2:69).

1897
Youth’s Instructor, 7 Jan. 1897: “John enjoyed his life of simplicity and retirement.

1898
The Desire of Ages, 150: “God had directed John the Baptist to dwell in the wilderness, that he might be shielded from the influence of the priests and rabbis, and be prepared for a special mission. But the austerity and isolation of his life were not an example for the people. John himself had not directed his hearers to forsake their former duties. He bade them give evidence of their repentance by faithfulness to God in the place where He had called them”

Note: When I shared these comparisons with one of my classes, a student blurted out a marvelous one-liner: “You mean the more Ellen White enjoyed her walk with God the more John the Baptist enjoyed his!” Indeed.

Question: How is one to know how to relate to the ascetic impulse, in one’s own experience and in the experience of others?

Jeremiah’s Wooden Yoke

Jeremiah’s use of the wooden yoke apparently came in the fourth year of Zedekiah (cf. Jer. 28:1). That would be 593, some six years before the fall of Jerusalem, but maybe some fifteen years after his “conditional” prophecy early in the reign of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26).

Question: Does the date of Jeremiah’s prophecy indicate that the time for repentance had passed? His somber oracle of 8:20 may apply: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” (NRSV).

Question: Does the finality of Judah’s fate tie in with Jeremiah’s repeated echo of the divine command: “Do not pray for this people” (7:16, 11:14; 14:11)? Can these repeated lines be instructive for us? Or should the experience of Jonah’s call to Nineveh always give us hope?

Note: Jeremiah’s gloomy prophecies actually have nothing to do with personal “salvation.” They all simply focused on whether God’s people would need to go to Babylon to learn their lessons there.

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