Persistence

One word that described all of our children when they were young was persistence. As toddlers, they never gave up getting my attention: “Dad, Dad, Dad…DAD!” Though it took on different forms, they exhibited persistence well beyond their toddler years. In all honestly, though sometimes frustrated by such persistence, I was mostly appreciative of their sticktoitiveness.

From Merriam Webster – Persistence: firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. Persistence can be a positive thing – firm continuance. Or negative – obstinate continuance. Two types of persistence with day and night outcomes.

I’ve slowly been reading chronologically through scripture using a less familiar translation, The Voice. “Slowly” is the operative word. I’m using a chronological “read through the bible in a year” plan that I started in January 2021 and am presently in the book of Jeremiah. Slowly.

Jeremiah, the prophet, was the epitome of persistence. Yahweh, the One True God, called Jeremiah into service as a prophet in 626 BC, the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign as king of Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel). He continued serving God as a prophet until the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 BC. He served God under five different kingly reigns in Judah – Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. As a prophet, Jeremiah’s main job was to speak to the people on God’s behalf, regarding both present situations and future events.

Jeremiah’s call as a prophet seemingly came at an opportune time. Josiah had been instituting religious reforms and the people of Judah were returning to God. It was a good time to be a prophet in Israel. But the reforms would be short-lived. The region was already in upheaval. The Assyrian Empire, soon to fall to the Babylonian Empire, had captured the northern kingdom of Israel. Jeremiah and his countrymen found themselves caught in the chaos of “international” changes. The shalom of the southern kingdom of Israel (Judah), her leaders, and her capital, Jerusalem, was in jeopardy.

Did Judah’s leaders look to God in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty? Not at all. Jehoahaz disregarded his father, Josiah’s, reforms and things went downhill from there. Each of the subsequent kings followed suit. They were persistent in doing things their way, ultimately returning to false prophets and idols. Jeremiah’s role during this? To speak to the people – kings, and commoners alike – on behalf of God. It came at great personal cost. But he hung in there. He was persistent.

“For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the Lord persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets, saying, ‘Turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and evil deeds, and dwell upon the land that the Lord has given to you and your fathers from of old and forever. (Jeremiah 25:3-5, ESV)

Persistence abounded – on every level. God had been persistent in his loyalty (hesed) to his people for generations, a persistence not lost on the people. He was persistent in reminding them of the simplicity of his covenant formula – I want to be your God, I want you to be my people (cf. Exodus 6:7, Leviticus 11:44-45, Leviticus 26:11-12, Deuteronomy 29:13). Through Jeremiah, God repeatedly and persistently reminded the people of the security associated with adherence to the covenant formula. For example:

Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well! (Jeremiah 7:23 NLT)

Unfortunately, the people obstinately continued to ignore God, replacing him with images they had created. They replaced the God of creation with gods they created – gods that they thought would serve their purposes. And all was not well. King Nebuchadrezzar and his Babylonian armies overran Judah, laid siege on Jerusalem, decimated the Temple, and carted a majority of the people away into exile.

None of this was a surprise to Jeremiah nor should it have been to the people. Jeremiah had firmly continued to warn the people. They persistently (obstinately) chose not to listen as evident in the chapter 25 passage above. Oh, and they persistently abused Jeremiah for delivering God’s message. Throughout the book of Jeremiah, we can feel his anguish, also evident in the above passage.

But God is persistent in his covenant loyalty. Though exile would last 70 years, a whole generation, he promised to bring the people back from captivity and restore them in the land with a new covenant which Jesus ultimately brought to fruition:

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people
” (Jeremiah 31:33 NIV)

God’s covenant formula transfers from the old to the new covenant. Let me be your God (He’s’ good at that) and all will be well. He never said, “all will be easy.” But he did say “all will be well.” It’s the essence of the Lord’s Prayer.

Eugene Peterson wrote a book about 20 years ago, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. Peterson captured the essence of the covenant formula from our perspective: persistence in letting God be God. Perhaps Merriam-Webster needs revising…

Persistence: firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition; a long obedience in the same direction.

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Curt Hinkle

I am a practical theologian. A theology that doesn't play out in one's everyday life is impractical, or of no real use. A simple definition of theology is the attempt to understand God and what he is up to, allowing us to join him in his work.

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