Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant us that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our savior Jesus Christ. --The Book of Common Prayer
As my daughter wraps up her senior year, including commencement and the graduation party, I'm enjoying every moment while also looking toward what's right around the corner: a European trip.
We're planning on meeting my daughter's class in Paris. As we finish up with the logistical, technical plans for the trip, it's now time for looking into the really fun part: the food! I like to have at least a couple key restaurants picked out on trips, to minimize the wandering around when we've been sightseeing and are really hungry! How fun to look at the bistros and brasseries and see what might work for our family. Enjoying the cuisine of where we travel to is such a key part of our travels.
Food plays such an integral role, especially metaphorically, in Scripture. Humanity's fall is both brought on and symbolized in the eating of a forbidden food, and the canon of Scripture closes in Revelation with multiple references to eating, including Jesus' famous, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me" (Revelation 3:20; NIV). The Fall is kicked off by our illicit eating, but our redemption will be marked with dining with the Lord.
It's not just because of the trip that I'm thinking about eating. I'm working my way through the book of Jeremiah which, truth be told, is a bit of a downer! He's not called the Weeping Prophet for nothing!
I almost missed Jeremiah 15:16 (below), as I was a little too impatient with the alternating punishment and complaints of the text.
Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts (Jeremiah 15:16).
It's a gem, though, right? Sitting in it a little...and phoning a friend helped greatly. In this case, the "friend" was Charles Spurgeon's "Hidden Manna" sermon and the wonderful PreceptAustin site (https://www.preceptaustin.org/jeremiah_1516_commentary).
Mind you, right before this, Jeremiah is voicing some rough stuff. He's questioning why he was even born, if he had to suffer like he is. God's words aren't exactly comforting here; they confirm that Judah will indeed suffer the penalty for turning their back on their God.
Like any of us, Jeremiah pings back and forth between weeping for his nation...and for himself. His concern here is on the injustice of his own insults and suffering. I mean, the powers-that-be threw him in a disgusting pit because they didn't like his negativity! The prophets they liked were all prosperity-gospel types, always telling everyone that everything was just going to be great, that they should just trust that they were God's chosen people.
But, God says, "The prophets are prophesying lies in my name; I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination and the deceit of their own minds" (Jeremiah 14:14).
Yikes. What does this mean for us today? What words are being said of which God is saying of the speakers, "I did not send them"?
It's just so true psychologically that you can go through some really rough stuff, pits and all, but what really gets to you are insults and snubs. We're an emotionally fragile species. After all, God told Jeremiah slightly earlier than all this, "“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5; NIV) I don't always love it that sometimes when we complain to the Lord about how awful people can be, God's response is to treat us like adults rather than infants and to remind us that it can get a whole lot harder! That what we think is hard right now is actually small stuff compared to competing with horses!
So, Jeremiah is a little emotionally fragile and fraught, but maybe he's taking God's words to heart, because by chapter 15, he has that beautiful response about eating God's word.
Commentators on this chapter point out that there's an important precursor to eating God's word: seeking and finding. The Hebrew verb in this verse is matsa, "to find." I keep moving backward and forward in Jeremiah, but I know one of my favorite Bible verses is coming soon, and it also contains the word, matsa:
When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations..." (Jeremiah 29: 13).
So, Jeremiah 15:16 gives us a preview of what God explains more fully to Jeremiah later. Our behavior matters. The seeking and the searching matters. And it's not like a game of hide-and-seek, which we would inevitably lose if we were playing with God! God lets Himself be found. There is a co-participation here; our spiritual lives were never meant to be passive. Although all spiritual growth comes from God, we co-participate in the seeking...and doing it long enough that when God reveals Himself and gives us a new insight, we're prepared and ready to find it.
Just flipping through the rest of Jeremiah confirms my recollection--from here on out, Jeremiah seems a lot stronger emotionally. This was a breakthrough of sorts for him. He is indeed better prepared to compete with horses. He has stayed in it, which is sometimes the best we can do in the midst of suffering and/or periods of spiritual dryness. It doesn't seem like forward progress at all, but just persevering through it is often all that is needed on our part. How wonderful the reward when one is strengthened and receives greater depth of understanding and insight!
To Jeremiah, God's words became a "joy" and the "delight" of his heart. We do Jeremiah an injustice if we see him as a one-note wonder, a weeper and a complainer. He is actually experiencing joy in the midst of being ridiculed and persecuted for saying things that no one had the courage to say, for sticking it out and staying close to the Lord.
And, most beautiful of all, he receives solace from knowing that he is called by God's name (specifically, God of Hosts, or, Adonai Tzv'ot)! I know that I don't think about or understand enough about what that means. If that knowledge can encourage Jeremiah in his horrible circumstances, shouldn't I receive great joy and delight as well in knowing that I am called by God's name?
As Scripture and theologians tell us, the best way to have this really sink in, is to really dive into God's word...like a delicious cut of steak or your favorite risotto. Here's what Spurgeon said, in his sermon on this verse (https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/hidden-manna/#flipbook/ )
Do not be content to drink from our small pots and our chalices, but come and put your lips right down to where the living water, with all the self-sufficient fullness of the deeps eternal, comes welling up from the very heart of God!
I'll admit, I'm a little judge-y about small, pithy daily devotions. They're great in a pinch or for early on in your Christian walk. Or as a supplement to reading longer passages in the Bible directly. But only the very best of them help you to put your lips right down to the living water. Says Spurgeon in the sermon...
"O for a race of Bible-reading Christians!...Probably of all the books printed, the most widely circulated, and the least read volume, is the word of God... We cry, 'the Bible, and the Bible alone, is the religion of Protestants;' but it is not true of half the Protestants. Some overlay the Bible with the Prayer-book, and kill its living meaning; others read through the spectacles of a religious leader, and rather follow man's gloss than God's text. Few indeed come to the pure fount of gospel undefiled. A second-hand religion suits most, for it spares them the trouble of thinking, which to many is a labor too severe while to be taught of man is so much easier than to wait upon the Holy Spirit for instruction.
What's Spurgeon's recommendation? Eat the word! Dig into the "very soul of the Bible":
As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it — so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord — not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it until we have taken it into our inmost parts!... it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last … you come to talk in Scriptural language, your very life is fashioned upon Scripture models, and, what is better still, your mind is flavored with the words of the Lord.
There's no shortcut for this. I know that a lot of people stumble over reading Scripture. They find it boring. It's easy to get focused on the names and the genealogies (but these are such a small part of the Bible--it's like saying, "I don't like watching movies because of all the names at the end of the credits"!).
I have to hand it to younger generations right now. I'm still seeing headlines about younger people trying to take things slower--at work, like I write about in the last blog (https://www.christianmusingsfortoday.com/post/the-god-given-task)--but also in other ways. Some opting to not use smartphones. Homesteading movements and substantially growing your own food, rather than dabbling in this like I do. Paring down on material things.
We've realized that the skimming and rushing that we do with everything--with working, with playing, with eating, with socializing--is just not...human. We lose some part of our humanity when we skim the surface of things.
And the same is true when we read Scripture.
Slow reading, deep reading. Persevering. I'd argue that's the same thing when diving into a great classic--those of us who love Jane Austen and Charles Dickens or Fyodor Dostoevsky know that we can't skim these books! It would be impossible to understand what's happening if you do that. Also, sometimes I read books just for the words themselves, like when I'm marveling at what Virgina Woolf or E.M. Forster are doing in their writing. I still can't get over it. They're so innovative, so beautiful, so frightful--so, so many things!
People take their time with things they love--hobbies like repairing a car or cooking a great meal or designing a party for one's child. Paying attention and putting the time in. These same principles can be applied to reading Scripture.
The reward is so great!
Eat the word. Really digest it. Let it become one's joy and delight!
It's for our own benefit. The insight that Jeremiah receives is that he is a child of the Lord of Hosts (Adonai Tzv'ot, the God of Angel Armies). What worry is the pit to him and the people's insults when he is called by the name of the God who commands the heavenly host?
It's an insight that I need--I need to let God's word sink down into my bones, to drive out fear as we wait for more test results. Yes, in the midst of everything--the fun, the planning, the senior year--is a brain MRI and lung CT scan and more infusions and getting enough immunotherapy medication to last the trip, and so many things that only Adonai Tzv'ot can handle because it's so very beyond me.
In the midst of struggle, God's word is no luxury meat. We're not in steak territory, actually. We're talking daily bread here. Spurgeon is so right--God's word is hidden manna indeed. And God knows we desperately need it. Maybe the reasons I need to hang on daily to God's word and savor it are obvious---but it's no less true for anyone else. Perhaps you don't fully know or understand your own desperate need, but it's there. Take it, and eat.