In the Jungle of Jordan

Yesterday I described the encouragement we find from reading the Scriptures, how God gives us hope through His Word when we are in hard cicumstances.

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Romans 15:4

I want to expand this to look at another reason for reading the Bible: we are in a world where we live under the weight of injustice and wrong imposed by the wicked. Wicked is a word you don’t hear much in the U.S. except as slang word of enthusiasm, but it first means evil character and evil deeds.

In 1981 Geoffrey Thomas wrote, Reading the Bible. Brief as it is, it contains great encouragement and wisdom. He has this insight to the question, why is it so important for us to read God’s Word?

Life is exceedingly complex: the prevailing climate in present-day Society is hostile to the Christian faith. Marx, Darwin and Freud have all contributed to the dominant philosophy of unbelief that prevails in the Western World. The mass media repeatedly attack the faith of the Bible. The breakdown of the family, promiscuity, divorce, abortion—…Answers to our complex contemporary questions are found in the Bible and our task is to equip ourselves with the knowledge of the Word so that all needed insight and strength will be ours. Laziness is our great temptation. Reliance on knowledge gained in the past is a great danger. We must be growing Christians. Our convictions, our conduct and our devotion must be rooted in the Word of God. ‘For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.’ [Romans 15.4].1

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a Scottish minister in 1800s, organized what is today considered a classic reading plan. Read what he wrote to introduce it to his congregation 180 years ago on December 30, 1842:

MY DEAR FLOCK,—The approach of another year stirs up with me new desires for your salvation, and for the growth of you who are saved…What the coming year is to bring forth, who can tell? There is plainly a weight lying on the spirits of all good men, and a looking for some strange work of judgment coming upon this land. There is need now to ask that solemn question: “If in the land of peace, where thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?”

Those believers will stand firmest who have no dependence on self or upon creatures, but upon Jehovah our Righteousness. We must be driven more to our Bibles, and to the mercy-seat, if we are to stand in the evil day. Then we shall be able to say, like David, “The proud have had me greatly in derision, yet have I not declined from Thy law.” “Princes have persecuted me without a cause, but my heart standeth in awe of Thy word.”2

This could have been written today by a pastor concerned about his people. At the end of the second paragraph, M’Cheyne mentioned this verse from Jeremiah:

“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you,
how will you compete with horses?
And if in a safe land you fall down,
how will you do in the jungle of the Jordan?”
Jeremiah 12:5 RSV

Here in verse 5 the Lord answers Jeremiah’s questions at the beginning of Jeremiah 12. Derek Kidner explains:

This [12:1–4] is one of the many cries of ‘Why?’ and ‘How long?’ in the Old Testament — to which God’s answer is never philosophical, as though he owed us explanations, but always pastoral, to rebuke us, reorientate us or reassure us. Here, when we include the long view of the closing verses (14–17), there will be something of all three.

It was wise of Jeremiah (and an example worth remembering) to precede what he could not grasp with what he could not deny: namely, Righteous art thou [12:1]. His ‘Why?’ could then take its proper place and tone: troubled but teachable. Yet we can be grateful that we hear the very human, urgent voice that speaks here, exaggerating the gloom as we tend to do in bad times (do all who are treacherous thrive, 1?), welcoming too personally the thought of retribution (3b, echoing 11:19), and slipping from his general concern (How long will the Lord mourn? 4a) into preoccupation with his private hurt (4d).

For our own good, self-pity must be banished, and facts be faced: hence the tone of verse 5:

If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you,
how will you compete with horses?

— hence, too, the bad news of verse 6, now broken to him, that not only his village, but his own family is out for his blood.

So the pace has already quickened, and the question is now not Jeremiah’s ‘How long?’ but the Lord’s ‘How will you compete…? How will you do…?‘ Faithful friend that he is, the Lord knows when to be unsparing with us, and when to relent. The sensitive Jeremiah rose to the challenge, not without loud cries of protest in the course of the next eight or nine chapters (sometimes called his ‘Confessions’, sometimes his ‘Gethsemane’). The result of this hard training can be seen in his fortitude, right through to the end of his comfortless career.3

The jungle of Jordan was a dangerous place. Whatever other animals may have lived there, we know there were lions in the jungle of Jordan. Twice, in Jeremiah 49:19 and in 50:44, the Lord compares His judgment, against Edom and against Babylon, to a lion “coming up from the jungle of Jordan.”

Jeremiah wasn’t the only one living in a world that was like the jungle of Jordan. On the night before He was crucified, Jesus at length in John 13–16 explained to the disciples what their life would be like. He pulled no punches about the reality of the persecution they would face. He told them how they were to live, and He told them how He would help them. He did not leave them alone to face a harsh world.

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

Where do we find the wisdom and strength to live in this world? In John 15, Jesus tells the disciples to have His words abide in them. These are the passages from Psalm 119 containing the two verses mentioned by M’Cheyne at the end of the quote.

Remember the word to Your servant,
In which You have made me hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
That Your word has revived me.
The arrogant utterly deride me,
Yet I do not turn aside from Your law.
I have remembered Your ordinances from of old, O Lord,
And comfort myself.
Burning indignation has seized me because of the wicked,
Who forsake Your law.
Your statutes are my songs
In the house of my pilgrimage.
O Lord, I remember Your name in the night,
And keep Your law.
This has become mine,
That I observe Your precepts.
Psalm 119:49-56
Princes persecute me without cause,
But my heart stands in awe of Your words.
I rejoice at Your word,
As one who finds great spoil.
I hate and despise falsehood,
But I love Your law.
Seven times a day I praise You,
Because of Your righteous ordinances.
Those who love Your law have great peace,
And nothing causes them to stumble.
I hope for Your salvation, O Lord,
And do Your commandments.
My soul keeps Your testimonies,
And I love them exceedingly.
I keep Your precepts and Your testimonies,
For all my ways are before You.
Psalm 119:161-168

Build your house on the Rock of His Word to withstand the storms of life.

Live in awe of His Word to stand in an evil day.

That’s why it’s important to read His Word.

1Geoffrey Thomas, Reading the Bible. Retrieved 2 January 2011.
Indian lion male (Panthera leo persica) at Gir National Park: Shanthanu Bhardwaj. (CC BY-SA 2.0). This is an Asiatic lion.
1Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne via Reading with M’Cheyne, “found on p. 618 of Andrew Bonar’s Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Edinburgh/London : Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1892) available on See p. 622 for the date of his writing. M’Cheyne was only 29 years old at the time; he died a few months later on March 25, 1843.(See Robert Murray M’Cheyneat Wikipedia). His Bible reading plan was his legacy to his fellow Christians.
3Derek Kidner, The Message of Jeremiah: Against wind and tide (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1987) 60–61.

Copyright ©2022 Iwana Carpenter

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