Lesson 42: “I Will Write It in Their Hearts”
Jeremiah 16; 23; 29; 31
To encourage class members to participate in God’s great latter-day work and to have his law written in their hearts.
A few weeks ago Deseret Book published a new biography of President Monson, To the Rescue. Have any of you have a chance to read that yet? What did you learn about President Monson from reading his biography?
[Encourage a brief discussion; if no one has yet seen this book, ask about biographies of other church leaders they may have read.]
Why are we interested in reading biographies of great men and women in general, and church leaders in particular?
What effect does knowing something about the man have on our appreciating the message?
Scripture Discussion and Application
1. Jeremiah foresees the latter-day gathering of Israel.
2. God will write his law in the hearts of his people.
We know quite a bit about the biography of Jeremiah, perhaps more than of any other of the Old Testament prophets, because he recorded so many of his personal feelings as well as his teachings.
He was born in the village of Anathoth, about three miles northeast of Jerusalem. Three miles doesn’t sound like much of a distance – people who live on 24th South are no different from people who live on B Street – but in that time and place it made a great difference. Jerusalem was a city on a hill, enjoying light and air; Anathoth was in a low place where mud and slime collected during the rainy season. Jerusalem had the palace, and the temple, and all the activities associated with those places. It was the destination point of travelers. Anathoth had none of those things; it was a gloomy little town where nothing much ever happened.
Anathoth was not so far away from Jerusalem, though, that the young man named Jeremiah was unaware of what was happening there. One commentator described the condition of Judah during Jeremiah’s early life this way: “Idolatry had been the fashionable religion for nearly seventy years, and the Law was nearly forgotten. The corruption of the priesthood and of the great body of the prophets kept pace with the degeneracy of the people.” (John Lord, Jewish Heroes and Prophets). Judah was threatened by the powerful nations of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon.
That’s the kind of world Jeremiah was born into, and in which he received his call. We talked a bit about his call last week. The Lord spoke to him and said:
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
When Isaiah heard the Lord’s calling a generation earlier, his eager response was, “Here am I, send me.” Jeremiah’s response was different:
Ah, Lord God! Beheld, I cannot speak; for I am a child.
Do you remember another prophet who responded to his call by saying he could not speak? What did the Lord do for Moses to help him with his weakness in speech?
Jeremiah, however, was not given a spokesman, a counselor to help and comfort him in his task. Instead, God told Jeremiah that he would have to shoulder the burden himself, with the Lord’s help:
But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child; for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shall speak. Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord.
Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nation, and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant.
Not only would Jeremiah have to perform his work without a counselor, like Aaron, but by depending wholly on the Lord; Jeremiah would also have to live without the emotional and physical support of a family.
Let’s turn to Jeremiah, chapter 16, part of our assigned reading for this morning.
1 The word of the Lord came also unto me, saying,
2 Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place.
Think for a moment what would be missing from your life – and for some of us is missing, if you had had to go through life without marriage and a family.
In addition to the personal hardship, what did it mean in ancient Israel for a man not to have children? Think back to the daughters of Zelophehad whom we talked about a few months ago: Their plea to the leaders of the children of Israel was taken seriously not because it wouldn’t have been fair for the girls not to share in the wealth of the land, but because unless the law were changed, their father, a good man who had no sons, would be forgotten and remembered no more in Israel – and to be forgotten was one of the most terrible things they could imagine.
Not marrying was so unusual in Israel that, I’m told, there was no word in Hebrew for “bachelor.”
So what reason did the Lord give Jeremiah for commanding him not to marry?
3 For thus saith the Lord concerning the sons and concerning the daughters that are born in this place, and concerning their mothers that bare them, and concerning their fathers that begat them in this land;
4 They shall die of grievous deaths; they shall not be lamented; neither shall they be buried; but they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth: and they shall be consumed by the sword, and by famine; and their carcases shall be meat for the fowls of heaven, and for the beasts of the earth.
In this specific time and place, might it have been a blessing to Jeremiah not to have to worry about a family, and to see them suffer as he foresaw the rest of Israel would suffer?
The books of Jeremiah and Lamentations are filled with the dire warnings and prophecies of the terrible things that were just about to fall on the people. Those prophecies can be summarized by a few verses in this chapter:
11 Then shalt thou say unto them, Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith the Lord, and have walked after other gods, and have served them, and have worshipped them, and have forsaken me, and have not kept my law;
12 And ye have done worse than your fathers; for, behold, ye walk every one after the imagination of his evil heart, that they may not hearken unto me:
13 Therefore will I cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers; and there shall ye serve other gods day and night; where I will not shew you favour.
“Your fathers have forsake me … [you] have forsaken me.” What did that mean, in the context of Jeremiah’s time? How did the people forsake the Lord?
In our own day, what might be signs that people have forsaken the Lord? [If examples are given only concerning *others*, ask how we would recognize whether members of the church, or members of our families, or we ourselves, had forsaken the Lord.]
What does it mean to “walk every one after the imagination of his evil heart”?
Jeremiah tells us – and this is confirmed by Nephi in the Book of Mormon – that Jerusalem is that day was filled with false prophets.
Let’s talk for a moment about the role of a prophet – what is a prophet? Remember that while a prophet may foretell the future on occasion – as Jeremiah does when he foretells the future of Judah – a prophet’s greatest and most common role is to be a teacher of the word of God. Think back to General Conferences in our lifetime: We may not recognize until a little time has passed that a prophet was telling us something about the future – what examples can you think of where you now recognize that a prophet was speaking about things that have since happened?
But while a prophet’s role may sometimes be to foretell the future, his greatest, most common responsibility is to be a teacher of the word of God – teaching what has already been revealed, rather than announcing something new. How well does that describe what we heard recently from the men whom we sustain as prophets, that they are teachers more often than foretellers?
If a true prophet is one that teaches the truth, then it follows that a false prophet is one that teaches falsely. In Jeremiah’s day, those false prophets told the people that they had nothing to fear from Egypt or Assyria or Babylon. They taught that prophets like Jeremiah were fools – Jeremiah tells us, “I am in derision daily. Everyone mocketh me.”
Where do we find false prophets in our own day? What kinds of false teachings are we exposed to? How do you know those are false teachers and false teachings?
1 Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord.
2 Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord.
What is the role of a pastor, a shepherd? The scriptures often use the image of a shepherd to represent the leaders of God’s people. What might a leader in Jeremiah’s day have done to “scatter my flock, and drive them away, and not visit them”?
Is it ever possible for someone in our own day – someone who should be a protector and a teacher of God’s people – to be guilty of failing to feed the flocks, and of driving and scattering them?
Let’s get a little personal. Is it possible for a Gospel Doctrine teacher – for me, or for Brother K – to be a false prophet, to scatter the X Ward flock and drive them away? How might I – theoretically only, I hope – do that?
How would you know whether I was teaching falsely? How do you know when I am teaching truly?
I might from time to time tell you something that you’ve never heard of before, or that challenges something you believe to be true. Does that necessarily mean that I am teaching falsely? How will you know?
I take it for granted that if I teach something in error, you wouldn’t have as serious problem with challenging it, although I also hope you would give it consideration – I do have a calling, and was set apart, and spend hours preparing lessons, hoping to teach only the truth. If I repeat only what you already know, in the same way you have always heard it, how can you learn anything new or be inspired to your duty as a church member? But I am, after all, just a ward member alongside you.
What if it were Bishop S, though? If he taught something you disagreed with, would it be as easy for you to dismiss it or to correct him as it might be when it’s just me? Why might you not be so quick to dismiss what he tells you?
How about an apostle? If an apostle teaches something in Conference, or in an Ensign article, or even just in a statement to the press, and what he teaches is different from your understanding or your social and political preferences, what do you do? How do you resolve any differences you might have with teachings that come from men whom you sustain as prophets, seers and revelators?
In other words, are you willing to be humble, and learn, and change – or do you dismiss people you disagree with as being false prophets?
Jeremiah’s prophecies were gloomy and dark, for the most part, because the people he was teaching had forsaken the Lord, and their immediate future was one of captivity and exile. But his teachings were not without hope – over and over, he taught that the day would come when the Lord would gather his people and restore them to the truth, to freedom, to his blessing.
Repeatedly, he gives Israel variations of this promise:
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days [of captivity], saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
The whole history of God’s dealings with his people testify that this promise is intended not just for Judah in Jeremiah’s time, but for each one of us in our individual lives. If we have forsaken the Lord in any way, he has covenanted to take us back if we will only turn back to him. He will write his law in our hearts so that we can recognize truth, and the Holy Ghost will help us distinguish between truth and error, between true prophets and false ones. He will be our God, and we will be his people.