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God knew you before you were formed. He holds a beautiful vision for your life. The Bible provides evidence and examples of how God can use each one of us.
The Individual Plan of Salvation
This is Part 1 of two programs where we’ll be discussing how God has a plan for your life. He has a plan for each and every one of His children specifically. God also has a plan for His church collectively. Both the individual and the collective plans combine to form the general Plan of Redemption.
Those two dimensions are both equally important. To prove it we’re going to analyze two Bible characters who were contemporaries during one of the most turbulent periods in the history of Israel. We’ll be highlighting three things as we go along:
- God knew you and had a plan for you even before you were formed in the womb. Your days were shaped by Him even before your first day. He had good works pre-ordained for you from the beginning that you might walk in them: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
- You can only realize the fullness of your God-given destiny as you co-labor with Jesus in seeking and saving that which was lost. All of heaven is fully invested in carrying out the Plan of Redemption. We should be too, especially because there’s so little time left. In His great love God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). What seems like a tarrying time is actually God giving us the opportunity to redeem time and prepare for Jesus’ Second Coming.
- Many of us – me the chief sinner – come to the Lord with the huge baggage of sin. We come with all of our evil tendencies. We bring along the heavy consequences of sin: physical and emotional scars, wounds and bruises; illness, financial lack and relationship failures, as well as spiritual confusion. God wants to heal and restore us. He wants to provide that which is lacking and give us peace, clarity and joy. That internal, emotional healing is just as important as the spiritual healing. He provides both, because that healing and restoration are part of His plan to restore you to the perfection that He is.
Let me read you a couple of passages from Psalm 139 which have been a huge confirmation for me of God’s love and all-encompassing wisdom:
1 O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
2 You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
3 You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
5 You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
God knows everything about you and me, yet He still loves us.
For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
His eyes saw us even before we were formed. And our days and written in His book even before our birth. What a mighty, loving God we serve!
The Collective Plan of Salvation
The Bible has 66 books that were written by 40 different authors. From Genesis to Revelation, one theme runs across the entire Bible: God’s love for us demonstrated through the Plan of Salvation (1 John 4:9). The Bible is a beautiful love story where we see evidence of God’s love for us collectively as well as individually.
Ellen G. White says that “The burden of every book and every verse of Scripture is the Plan of Redemption” (Adventist Bible Commentary). In the same way that God has a Plan of Salvation for humanity as a whole, He also has an individual plan for every human being.
God holds a vision for each one of us personally of who we can become. Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope”. The King James version says “to give you an expected end”.
To the extent that we co-labor with God to implement the Plan of Salvation and that we allow Him to have His way in us we fulfill the vision that He holds for us.
In this two-part program I want to give you biblical evidence that God has a plan for each one of us. We’re going to look at two very different Bible characters, two men who both played an important role in the history of Israel. “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). The Greek word translated as admonition can also be translated as “instruction”. We’re going to compare the lives of these two men and their calling from God because we have something beautiful and inspiring to learn from their very different spiritual experiences.
But first, we need to set the historical context in which they appear on the scene. You’re going to learn a lot about the history of Israel as we look at the lives of these two Bible characters. Or if you already know a lot about the history of Israel this will be a good review for you.
Let’s get started!
Plan of Salvation – Plan A:
During approximately 2000 years Israel was God’s Salvation Plan A. They were God’s chosen people to be a blessing to all nations and a light to the Gentiles. The Lord said of Israel “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).
The Lord told them that if they honored their covenant with HIm and obeyed His commandments and statutes they would be blessed above all peoples of the earth, as described in Deuteronomy 28. All the nations would look upon Israel and seeing her glory would want to follow her God.
In fact, the Lord intended for the nations to come to Jerusalem to witness her glory, not the other way around, as the Queen of Sheba did when she came to visit King Salomon. It was only after Messiah died and the Holy Spirit was poured down that the disciples received the instruction to GO and preach the gospel to all nations.
Despite her high calling the nation of Israel fell into apostasy time and again. By mingling herself with the surrounding nations she adopted many of their customs and beliefs. The people of Israel, led by her kings and priests, worshipped other Gods in the high places and committed other abominations before the Lord. Their sins increasingly separated them from God until their hearts became hardened.
The Lord sent many prophets to warn them of the consequences of their rebellion. He finally visited them with His wrath and all of the curses for disobedience described also in Deuteronomy 28. These curses can be categorized into three big types: famine, pestilences (illness and disease) and the sword (war). His visitation with punishment wasn’t meant to destroy but only to chasten Israel.
“For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons” (Hebrews 12:6-8).
In His love and mercy the Lord chastised Israel, both the kingdom of the north as well as of the south, to bring them to repentance. The prophecy for disobedience was fulfilled in every detail during the Babylonian siege and invasion of Jerusalem. Let’s read it in Deuteronomy 28:49-57:
“The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, a nation of fierce countenance, which does not respect the elderly nor show favor to the young.
And they shall eat the increase of your livestock and the produce of your land, until you are destroyed; they shall not leave you grain or new wine or oil, or the increase of your cattle or the offspring of your flocks, until they have destroyed you.
They shall besiege you at all your gates until your high and fortified walls, in which you trust, come down throughout all your land; and they shall besiege you at all your gates throughout all your land which the Lord your God has given you.
You shall eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and your daughters whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you. The sensitive and very refined man among you will be hostile toward his brother, toward the wife of his bosom, and toward the rest of his children whom he leaves behind, so that he will not give any of them the flesh of his children whom he will eat, because he has nothing left in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you at all your gates.
The tender and delicate woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because of her delicateness and sensitivity, will refuse to the husband of her bosom, and to her son and her daughter, her placenta which comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears; for she will eat them secretly for lack of everything in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you at all your gates” (Deuteronomy 28:49-57).
Well, the word of the Lord never returns void. Jerusalem was sieged and then invaded several times by the kingdom of Babylon in the period from 597 to 586 BC. All the educated and privileged classes were taken captive to Jerusalem, the temple was plundered, and ultimately the temple and the city were totally destroyed.
Two Men, Two Callings
We’ll talk some more about what was happening with Israel during the whole process of this chastisement imposed by God for their continued rebellion and disobedience. But right now we’re ready to introduce two men, both of whom the Lord used in a mighty way to accomplish His purpose for Israel.
The two men are the Prophet Jeremiah and King Nebuchadnezzar. They had radically different roles and personalities and very different callings from God. The point of this comparison is to demonstrate from the biblical account that God has a plan for each one of us. Whatever our background and regardless of how early or how late we come to Him, if we allow the Lord to have His way in us He will use us to do great things for His Kingdom.
Jeremiah the Prophet and King Nebuchadnezzar were contemporaries. They knew of each other and respected each other, as we’ll see.
They both lived during one of the most difficult and tumultuous periods of the history of the two southern tribes of Israel, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. (Note: The 10 northern tribes had already been scattered throughout the neighboring nations because of their apostasy. The Lord suffered long with Judah and Jerusalem because of His promises to King David).
The Prophet Jeremiah’s Calling and Mission
The name Jeremiah in Hebrew means “exalted by God”. 2 Chronicles 36:12 already references “Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the Lord”. Notice that it doesn’t say that the Lord spoke from the mouth of Jeremiah but that Jeremiah spoke from the mouth of the Lord. This is emphasizing that the Lord had commanded Jeremiah to speak (Jeremiah 1:7).
Who was Jeremiah and where did he come from? Let’s read Jeremiah 1:1-3:
“The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month”.
We learn here a couple of interesting facts about the prophet:
- Jeremiah prophesied during roughly 40 years during the reign of three successive kings: King Josiah, King Jehoiakim and King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah.
- Jeremiah came from a priestly lineage. He was the son of Hilkiah, a “kohen” or Levite priest and prophet whose name means “Yah is my portion”. Early in the reign of the young King Josiah, Hilkiah the priest had found the Book of the Law of Moses which had been missing for quite some years (2 Kings 22:8, 2 Chronicles 34:14). A case of “out of sight, out of mind” or maybe “out of mind, out of sight”! King Josiah had been prophesied to be a king that would bring revival and reformation to Israel. He would burn the bones of the false prophets on their own altars. So Jeremiah came from the lineage of the holy seed.
Now let’s read in Jeremiah 1:4-10 how the prophet was called and how the Lord described his mission:
“Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
Then said I: “Ah, Lord God!
Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.”
But the Lord said to me: “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
For you shall go to all to whom I send you,
And whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of their faces,
For I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord.
Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down,
To build and to plant.”
Clearly this was a tough job that God had for the prophet. The Lord was encouraging Jeremiah because He was sending him on a very thorny mission. He would be a messenger of bad news to the kings and priests of Israel, “To root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant”. In other words he would convict, chasten, reprimand, and exhort the kings and priests to turn from their wicked ways.
In Jeremiah 5:14 the Lord said it this way: “Because you speak this word, Behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them”. He would face the apostate leaders of Israel with two choices: repentance or national ruin. They had filled the cup of God’s wrath with their spiritual adultery, worshipping idols of demons in the groves and high places in pagan rituals.
Israel’s Apostasy and Chastisement
For a short while the young King Josiah had succeeded in rekindling revival and reformation in Israel. But after his death the nation increasingly adopted the beliefs and practices of their neighbors. Israel sank deeper and deeper into idolatry and other abominations before the Lord.
Jeremiah lamented over this which is why he’s often called the Weeping Prophet. Now in Jeremiah 5 the Lord declares the sentence against Israel, confirming the curses already spoken in Deuteronomy 28. Let’s read
14 Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts:
“Because you speak this word,
Behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire,
And this people wood,
And it shall devour them.
15 Behold, I will bring a nation against you from afar,
O house of Israel,” says the Lord.
“It is a mighty nation,
It is an ancient nation,
A nation whose language you do not know,
Nor can you understand what they say.
16 Their quiver is like an open tomb;
They are all mighty men.
17 And they shall eat up your harvest and your bread,
Which your sons and daughters should eat.
They shall eat up your flocks and your herds;
They shall eat up your vines and your fig trees;
They shall destroy your fortified cities,
In which you trust, with the sword. (Jeremiah 5:14-17).
Again, in this passage the Lord is confirming – a second witness – the curses on Israel that He’d already spoken in Deuteronomy 28 which we read earlier. But then the Lord adds words of hope and mercy:
18 “Nevertheless in those days,” says the Lord, “I will not [a]make a complete end of you” (Jeremiah 5:18).
True to His word, in Jeremiah 25 the Lord gave Jeremiah what’s known as the famous 70-year Prophecy which is also referenced in Daniel 9. The Lord wouldn’t completely destroy His people. He set a limit to their Babylonian captivity to 70 years, after which they’d be able to return to Jerusalem. Then the Lord would bring punishment upon Babylon to repay her for her evil that she perpetrated against Jerusalem.
The Lord was requiring the people of Israel to obey Nebuchadnezzar and his leadership in all things, and it would be well with them. He wanted them to humble themselves before the foreign king. The Lord instructed them to build their houses and plant vineyards and multiply, and He would prosper them.
The humiliation of the people of Israel was a necessary chastisement that was part of God’s Plan of Salvation for that nation. Those who obeyed King Nebuchadnezzar – such as the Prophet Daniel – prospered in the Babylonian court.
But many disobeyed the King and plotted insurrections against him. That’s when Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem. In a fury he burned down Jerusalem and the temple until it was a smoking ruin.
The Apostle Paul confirms the cost of disobeying the civil authorities or the civil government: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1-2).
Jeremiah Travails under Divine Protection
What was Jeremiah doing during all of this? As you can imagine, it’s no fun to be a harbinger of bad news. They wanted to shoot the messenger!
Jeremiah was slandered, unjustly accused, and rejected. They beat him up and put him in jail. On one occasion they locked him up in a dungeon where he sank into the mire. One of Nebuchadnezzar’s eunuchs got him out. On another occasion they even tried to kill him. But their plan failed because Jeremiah had divine protection. The Lord rewarded him with great protection because of his dedication in accepting such a challenging ministry.
King Nebuchadnezzar respected and protected Jeremiah for two main reasons:
- He understood that Jeremiah was one of the Lord’s anointed
- Jeremiah was firmly against King Zedekiah’s plan to recruit the help of Egypt and spark an insurrection against Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, Jeremiah denounced that plan and warned them of the calamities that would befall them if they rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. Tragically, they didn’t listen to Jeremiah.
We just mentioned that this is why Nebuchadnezzar came back to Jerusalem to destroy the city and the temple. Something absolutely terrible happened to King Zedekiah for rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar. We’ll pick up that thread of the story shortly.
Once the destruction of Jerusalem had been accomplished, Nebuchadnezzar gave Jeremiah the option to come to Babylon where he would be safe or to stay in Judah with the poor and underprivileged that Nebuchadnezzar didn’t bother to take with him to Babylon. Jeremiah chose to stay in Judah.
However, the children of Israel were so stubborn and disobedient that they continued to try and ally themselves with Egypt to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar. They carried away Jeremiah to Egypt. But the Lord promised that they would all perish in Egypt by the famine and the sword and that He would destroy Egypt by the sword. Only a small remnant of the people of Judah would escape the sword and be able to return to their land. Jeremiah would be one of them.
What This Means for You
Jeremiah is an example of how God can use someone who’s young and untrained to stand before kings and religious leaders to deliver a strong “Thus saith the Lord’. Jeremiah served the Lord in active ministry for approximately 40 years in one of the most challenging and painful assignments given to a prophet. He played a very key role in God’s Plan of Salvation for Israel. God chose Jeremiah because of his priestly background. He had pre-ordained him for his ministry even before he was in the womb.
The story of Jeremiah reassures us that God knows each and every one of us personally and individually even before birth. He has a plan for us and a mission that we alone can fulfill. He will provide everything that’s needed for us to fulfill our life mission: the training, the relationships, the resources, the experiences, and most importantly the anointing of His Holy Spirit.
Isn’t that beautiful? I find that so encouraging! When I look back at my own journey I see evidence of God’s plan for me in a lot of the circumstances of my life.
The really good news is that we don’t need to be “holy seed” for God to use us in a mighty way. Join me again for Part 2 of this study as we compare and contrast the Lord’s plan for King Nebuchadnezzar and how he’s played an incredible role in the Plan of Salvation. Nebuchadnezzar’s legacy to God’s people is most relevant to us, the last generation. I’m really inspired and comforted by Nebuchadnezzar’s story. I always leave the best for last…so you don’t want to miss it!
Until we meet again, may God bless you.
(Photo by Alexandra Kirr on Unsplash)