My wife lost her job about a week ago along with the company housing that went with it. As we work to move our things out of this apartment, and to see what plans we can make for the immediate future, I’ve been doing a fair bit of reflecting.
While I was at work the other night, I stumbled into chapter 34 of the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah. For those who may not be familiar with it, this book tells the story of the prophet of the same name who was God’s spokesman to the Kingdom of Judah in the period leading up to the final defeat of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. As other Old Testament passages tell us, Judah in that time was very arrogant and very self-righteous. The people had turned their backs on God, and Jeremiah’s assignment as a prophet was basically to force the issues out into the open, to make the people see and then, hopefully, to get them to change. As you might expect, Jeremiah was not well received among his contemporaries, and much of the book is a very lonely story of the messages God repeatedly gives him to bring to the Kingdom of Judah.
By Chapter 34, the fall of Jerusalem is getting closer. Verse 1 sets the stage for us: “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms of the earth under his dominion and all the peoples were fighting against Jerusalem and all of its cities…” Jerusalem is outnumbered, and by a very significant margin. And as verse 2 tells us, the city will fall. It’s just a matter of time. Finally, verse 7 gives us a little bit more detail as to just how bad the situation really is: “…the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah, for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained.”
If you can picture it, on one side of this conflict is the Kingdom of Babylon, one of the most powerful nations on Earth at the time. Nebuchadnezzar has brought not only his army but also the armies of every other kingdom he’s conquered. The entire world, so to speak, has shown up for this battle. On the other side, three fortified cities of Judah. That’s it.
Now, the Israelites have been in a bind like this before. 1 Samuel 17, describing an episode from centuries earlier, tells the story of David and Goliath. Here, Israel cowers before the army of the Phillistines until God works through David to deliver them from the threat. The disparity in forces may not have been quite as great, but the odds against the Israelites were certainly just as long.
Here’s the thing. In 1 Samuel 17 God intervened to save Israel from the threat, but look at what Jeremiah has to tell the Israelites now, with the whole world camped at their doorstep. He says in verses 3 and 4, “‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire. You shall not escape from his hand but shall surely be captured and delivered into his hand. You shall see the king of Babylon eye to eye and speak with him face to face. And you shall go to Babylon.’” In essence, he points out at the great army fighting against Jerusalem and says, “You see them? This time they’re going to win.”
The point to all of this is simple. Sometimes when you face adversity, with God’s help you win through to the other side. And sometimes, for one reason or another, you don’t. In Judah’s case, Jerusalem was finally defeated as part of God’s judgement on the people for their sin. Does this mean when you fail, or when bad things happen, that God is judging you? I know people who would be quick to answer yes to that, but I have to say in all honesty that I don’t know. I don’t know you, I don’t know your story, and I don’t know how or why God may be disciplining you. For those reasons, I’m slow to say that God may be disciplining you for one thing or another. All I do know for sure is that sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t, and that when you do lose, sometimes it’s because of you and sometimes you don’t have much choice in the matter
Beneath all this is one final point. One chapter before this, in Chapter 33:20-22, God tells Jeremiah, ““Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me.”
God had plans for the nation of Israel, and those plans would still come to fruition despite the current judgement the people found themselves under. If the people couldn’t break God’s covenant with the created world to function as it should, then they definitely couldn’t break his covenant with David.
As for us, the times in which we do fail, even when it’s our fault, do not negate God’s faithfulness to us. If we can’t change God’s covenant with the created world, either, how can we possibly change his faithfulness to us through Jesus Christ? Whether we win or we lose, He is still with us.
As we approach the Christmas season, I’m not sure what kind of year you’ve had so far. Maybe everything is going well for you. You’re financially stable, your family is happy, and you see nothing but promise in the future. Or maybe you’re like my wife and I, and still trying to figure out what comes next. What I do know is that God remains faithful whatever your circumstances may be. The Apostle Paul sums it up well when he says in 2 Tim 2:13, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful – for He cannot deny Himself.”
You win some, and you lose some, but His faithfulness remains the same.