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If Chaos broke loose....

Today I came across an incredible passage as I was reading through Jeremiah.  It’s one of those passages that clearly demonstrate God’s faithfulness to His covenants with His people.  I just had to spend some time thinking and writing about it.  This is what I read: 

Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name:
“If this fixed order departs
From before Me,” declares the Lord,
“Then the offspring of Israel also will cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”  (Jer 31:35,36 NASB)

For us to really get our heads around this passage we need to engage in a little bit of “what if”.  It’s the conditional statement made in this passage that truly lead us to a deeper understanding of the faithfulness of God to His covenant with Israel.  However before we begin to look at the “if” statement we need to look at how God identifies himself and how His power and might are described within this prophetic message; without this description as context for the rest, the “if” is a lot more “iffy” and the outcome is less sure.

                The first question we must answer is: Who is the message from?  One of the more common name/ titles used to identify God is “LORD of hosts”.  Essentially this should be better translated as “Yahweh of Hosts”.  This particular name of God became a regular occurrence in the scriptures starting in the book of 1 Samuel and its use is continued by Jeremiah in the passage cited above (note that this term is used over 200 times in the OT).  When the prophets refer to God in this way they are making one of the strongest declarations of God’s sovereignty.  This name has a very significant meaning to the Hebrew mind.   The usage of this name came about initially at the time of the rise of the monarchy of Israel.  Until then, Yahweh was both the God of Israel and their king.  However with Israel choosing to have an earthly king (like the pagan nations around them), God made sure that His status was not in any way compromised.  Whether they called Him King or not he was still just that.  Now idea that He was Lord of Hosts suggests a number of things.  When we use the word “host” or “hosts” we use it in various ways.  When speaking about a parasitic insect we would say that it looks for a host in which to infest.  When speaking about a party we might say that a particular person was the host of the party.  However these connotations do not speak to the title given to God here.   What is closer to the mark would be the way we might speak about a large group- we would call it a large host of people.  Lord of Hosts in the biblical context speaks more of a wealth of armies that God is Lord over.  One could make the argument that God is Lord over both the angelic heavenly armies (as Eugene Peterson calls them in his paraphrase of bible “The Message”) and also over the earthly armies.   In the Luke we have a multitude of heavenly armies appearing at the birth of Jesus.  In the current OT context God used the Assyrian army to judge the northern kingdom of Israel and Babylon to judge the south to name just a couple amongst a host of others.  The point:  God is ultimately Lord of “all” armies.  The heavenly armies were certainly far superior to any earthly army and I often wonder about what the heavenly hosts are doing behind the scenes in the spiritual realm even now.  As I noted though, God has and is and probably will continue to use the earthly armies of the world to bring about His purposes whether we can clearly see that or not.  Most importantly the purpose of this title is to remind the people of Judah that Yahweh is still Lord and master of all- ultimately that He is sovereign and far above all things.  God’s people needed to hear that God was in control as they were facing increased instability due to larger stronger empires which were threatening, attacking and conquering their land.  In particular during Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry, the fierce and terrifying Babylonian Empire (which I mentioned earlier) was on the rise.  Their army was one to be reckoned with as they had been systematically driving through nation after nation conquering the known world and rising to the world power of the day.  Their invasions of Judah were a judgment of God for Judah’s idolatry and infidelity to the covenant they had made with Yahweh.  But Judah’s God was not a God of just any army.  He was the Lord of hosts- an even greater power to be reckoned with than the Babylonians.  In this context God reminds the people of Israel that though the Babylonian army might attack and take them into exile, Yahweh of hosts was still Lord overall and in complete control.   

                Now you might be thinking right now that I have skipped the whole beginning part of the address that speaks about what God is capable of and that I have just moved right to the part about His name.  I have however done this on purpose.  The content of the prophetic message is totally connected to the description of what God is capable of.  The first part of the prophetic word speaks of the power of God over the celestial bodies.  This is quite a fascinating approach as Jeremiah moves from the macro level to the micro.  Put another way Jeremiah describes God at the cosmic level (the stuff way out there) and then moves it to the more earthly elements.    

Yahweh is described firstly as the one who lights up the day and the night with the sun and moon and stars.  Notice the phrase “fixed order”.  God has fixed the order of these things.  This is how Jeremiah describes the workings of the celestial bodies.  These things have a predictable nature to them.  Let me explain using an example.  During hunting season I use a GPS to tell me on any given date when the sun will be rising.  Legally I cannot shoot until a half hour before the sun rises.  With our technology today I can simply use the GPS to determine precisely when the sun will rise at any given location on any given day of the year.  Why can I do this?  The answer is because there is a fixed order to the orbit of the earth around the sun and to the time it takes for the earth to rotate on its axis each day.  Not only have has God set this order in place but he is the one that has given energy to the sun to make it shine, to allow it to produce light.  He is the one who put the moon in the exact spot it needs to be in order for it to reflect the light of the sun at night.  Yahweh of hosts has fixed the order of these things.  The point (I believe) that Jeremiah is attempting to communicate on behalf of God is that not only has God set these things in motion but that He is also intimately involved in the everyday timing and ordering of these things…. Always.    He is not far away.  He has not left them on their own and there is not a second that passes where He is not in control. 

The intimate ordering of the celestial bodies is not the only thing that is in view according to this word brought by Jeremiah from the Lord.  We see also that the earthly elements are ordered and maintained by God.  Most of us have experienced at least one BOOMER of a thunderstorm in our lives.  I love a good thunderstorm.  I especially love thunderstorms which I have experienced by bodies of water.  Years ago I experienced one of the most incredible storms I have ever seen.  It was during a time when I was the waterfront director of a summer camp.  I knew a storm was on its way; the marine forecast had been repeating the same severe thunderstorm info all day long.  Even with that warning I was still surprised.  The wind picked up almost out of nowhere and the water turned this brilliant green colour.  The sound of the wind I can still hear in my head even now many years after; it was like the sound of a whistle and a buzz or a hum at the same time.  It was so eerie.  Water spouts began forming about 50 yards out from the beach front.  At one point the little rescue boat that we had sitting on trailer was actually picked up and thrown about 15 yards from where it was parked.  Then the waves began and the water level was pushed about 20 yards up the beach from its regular position.  The waves rose up as they encountered the shallow water around the beach and pounded into the ground.  It was at this point that I headed for the higher ground of the second level of the boat house.  Of course the thunder lightning and rain came only a short time later.  The lightning was awesome- forks and bolts crashed down all around me.  The noise of the thunder was deafening and earth shaking.  I enjoyed the raw power and intensity of the elements immensely.  Although there was a fair amount of danger associated with it, I knew that God was still in complete and total control.  I believe the intent of Jeremiah was to communicate that even in the midst of the tempest God was still in control of the elements.  Here again God is intimately involved in every detail of the wind and the waves.  Nothing is outside of His view or scope.  Nothing is ever accidental, or a surprise to Him.  There was nothing that could even cause Him to struggle.  This God who ordered the sun, moon and stars, the one that controls the crest and the trough of the waves and the very wind which drives them, the one whose name is literally “Lord of Hosts”-  this is who the message was from.

                This then leads us to the heart of the message.  This is what brings us to the “what if” condition.   It is essentially a false lead…  I don’t know if I could call it a “reductio ad absurdum” (reduction to absurdity) but it is the same type of idea.  What if the fixed order fell into chaos? –that is question.  Well if fixed order did dissolve and chaos ensued, then, and only then would Israel cease to exist as a nation before God-  only then would God’s covenant be nullified and void.  As I stated earlier this is a false lead which serves to make the strongest point that can be made about the faithfulness of almighty God.  May it never be!!!!  Better yet- It can never be!!!!  For this to occur, for the fixed order to fail, God would have to lose control.  His intimate connection to all that He has created would have to fail.  It would have to become “unfixed”.  The truth: If this could happen then He is not God.  If He is not God then the faith that the righteous remnant of Judah placed in Him was misplaced to begin with.  Yet God is sovereign.  To paraphrase the prophet Isaiah- He does not need to nap or rest.  His knowledge is beyond measure.  The eternal God’s word is sound and reliable beyond all things.  In a time when it looks like God had completely abandoned them, Judah was again being reminded that God was still in control, still faithful, still sovereign.  It reminds me in some ways of that song stand by me: 

If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry, no I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

Only we don’t have worry about whether or not God is standing by us.  We don’t need to cry either (though we might- tough situations can do that).   He is standing by us and He always will be.  Even better:  The sky won’t fall, nor the mountains crumble into the sea.  Not on His watch.  If chaos ensued… that is the question.  My argument is that for Chaos to ensue…. God would have to be off the throne.  But then He wouldn’t be God.  In my opinion- it ain’t gonna happen

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