Uniform 09.28.2014: The Gift of Restoration

Jeremiah 33:2-11

When my paternal grandmother, “Mom,” was a young girl, her father left the family. He stayed in touch, but he was no longer a part of her life. As a child hearing this story, I imagined what it was like for Mom not to know her daddy. Surely she thought of him every day, wondered what he was doing with his other family, and wished he would call or write or visit more often. Now, as a mother myself, I marvel that my great-grandmother, “Nana,” coped with raising a child alone. She worked to support her daughter. She faced lonely days when she was the only one to help with homework or tuck in the covers, the only one to plan the meals and do the shopping, the only one to sweep the floors and clean the bathroom and mow the grass.

There are other stories like these in my family.

My paternal grandfather, “Pop,” had a teenaged brother who died saving the life of a drowning friend. A few years later, Pop went off to serve in World War II, where he endured the hardships of battle and earned the Bronze Star for his “high sense of duty and responsibility,” “cheerful accomplishment of every assigned task,” “high caliber of work,” and “tireless unselfish devotion to duty.”

My maternal grandfather, “Granddaddy,” suffered through lung cancer and died at age sixty-seven. This age used to seem so old to me, but now I realize how young he was. I vividly recall his weakness from treatments, his weight loss, the radiation tattoos on his chest, and a moment when I heard him break down after I, a young teen, sweetly encouraged him to “get better.” My Grandmama was at his side as he passed away, and his death was difficult for her, her four daughters, and all the grandchildren.

These are stories of burdens and trials. But there are also stories of restoration. Nana lived a long life, surrounded by loving family members who faithfully visited her and cared for her to the end of her days. Mom married young and had three sons. She and Pop are in their sixty-fifth year of marriage, and though they now need to be cared for more than they are able to offer care to others, they are together. After a time, Grandmama moved out of the family house and to a different town, where she found another companion with whom to share her days. She married him, and they spent many contented years of retirement together—gardening, cooking, playing cards, and serving their community.

All of these special people bore the burden of incredible losses and unimaginable pain. And yet they were able to cling to hope, move forward, and find joy again. I have heard that God is in the business of restoration. When you’re walking through the darkest of days, that idea can seem like wishful thinking. You may be an optimistic person, but suddenly you’re facing a situation that constantly beats down your ridiculous, stubborn hope. It’s tempting to let hope go and succumb to the world’s message: life is out to get you, and the only way to survive it is to develop a hard, protective shell that keeps you from feeling.

But God’s way is different. God’s way is the way of hoping, moving forward, and finding joy again and again and again. Just as God promised the people of Judah and Israel, who were about to be taken away from their homeland into a long exile, God also promises us, “I will bring recovery and healing. I will restore you. I will cleanse you. I will forgive you. And just the thought of you will bring me joy” (see Jer 33:6-9).

Discussion

1. What do you think of when you hear the word “restoration”? What images and stories come to mind?
2. What stories of restoration does your family like to share? Which ones have you lived? What do the examples of others mean to you as you face your own struggles?
3. Do you believe that God is a God of restoration? Why or why not?
4. What examples in the Bible, throughout history, and in the world today prove that God restores? How about in your personal life?
5. When God restores you, how can you live in a way that shows your gratefulness and also shares your joy with others?

Reference Shelf

The meaning of the Hebrew of vv. 2-5 is somewhat uncertain (see NRSV footnotes). The translation “earth” in v. 2 (following the LXX) connects well to what precedes (31:35-37; 32:17, 19-20, 27) and to what follows (especially 33:20, 25; see also Amos 9:5-6). God identifies himself in v. 2 as the creator of the earth, the one who “gave it form and firmness” (so NAB). The verbs “make” and “form” are both used in the Genesis creation stories (e.g., 1:26; 2:7). This divine self-identification as the one who establishes the earth connects well to the content of vv. 1-13, which speak of the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-creation of the desolate land without inhabitant, human or animal.

God invites Jeremiah to ask God (!) for further revelation regarding the matters under consideration (v. 3), and God will reveal to him things that had been heretofore hidden or inaccessible to him (so also Isa 48:6; see Gen 18:17-19; Amos 3:7; John 16:12-15). Note that what God is about to do for Israel is not dependent on Jeremiah’s (or Israel’s) acceptance of the invitation; God’s impending actions on behalf of Israel are not conditional. This invitation relates to gaining the knowledge of God and God’s ways; it is not a call to faith in order to participate in God’s salvific deeds. That the word “inaccessible” can also be translated “fortified” nicely connects this invitation to the subject of building a secure Jerusalem that follows. This invitation to Jeremiah is remarkable from several perspectives, not least that God proceeds to declare the divine intentions quite apart from Jeremiah’s taking up the call.

The details of vv. 4-5 are unclear in Hebrew, though the basic point is evident; they describe the devastating experience from which God will deliver Israel and its common life. Initially, the focus is on the homes and palaces that have been destroyed in an effort to protect the city. This point is recognized in the NRSV by the colon at the end of v. 4 (the NIV placement of the colon at the end of the first clause of v. 5, “in the fight with the Babylonians,” is even clearer). The elements in vv. 4-5 are used to explain why housing was such an important issue to be addressed on behalf of returning exiles. The destruction of Israelite houses and even palaces was necessary to get materials to mount the walls and defend against the siege (see 21:3-4; 32:24). Moreover, these destroyed houses were defiled by the dead bodies of defenders; they were left where they fell (in view of the loss of access to burial sites). As v. 10 notes, Jerusalem and other towns are an utter wasteland, without inhabitant.

The other element in vv. 4-5 that sets up the following verses is the portrayal of Israel’s God. In language comparable to 32:29-32, the wrath of God because of Israel’s wickedness stands front and center (v. 5); at the same time, God’s “striking” is mediated by the Babylonians. Notably, the reference to “anger and wrath” is followed by a phrase unique in Jeremiah, “for I have hidden my face from this city” (Isa 54:8; 64:6; note the theme of hiddenness in v. 3, though a different Hebrew word is used). The hiding of God’s face leads to anger and wrath. There is thus a certain indirection with respect to the divine anger; the anger is manifest not because of an intensification of divine presence (as we normally think of human anger) but because of a less intense divine presence. It is when God removes himself from the scene (though never fully or actually absent) that the anger is manifest (on anger and wrath, see Connections, ch. 25).

Reference

Terence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 472-474.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum since 2001. She is a member of West Highland Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction, spending time with her husband and two daughters, and watching British television shows. Her goal for 2014 is to learn to play the piano.

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