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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Blessed, or Cursed?

In my previous post I mentioned that I had something to say about the context around Jeremiah 17:7 - in that post I only talked about the "blessed man", but there are some things about him that we didn't see because we didn't look at the verses about a very different person the chapter tells us about: the "cursed man"!

Jeremiah 17:7 is actually part of a larger snippet of Bible poetry that starts at verse 5 and ends at verse 8. Take a look:

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:5–8 (ESV)
This is what is known as poetic "parallelism". The first stanza and the second stanza contrast with each other: the former is about someone who is "cursed" and the latter is about someone who is "blessed". The reason you want to be able to recognize this is because sometimes one half of the parallel passage will contain useful information the other half does not.

For example:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.

We know a number of things about the "cursed man" from this:
  • He trusts in "man" (mankind) - so his focus is what human beings are able to accomplish.
  • He relies on his own "flesh" - his own ability - to get things done.
  • His heart turns away from the Lord.
We only are told two things about the "blessed man":
  • He trusts in the Lord (he acts in a way that reveals that he trusts the Lord).
  • He puts his trust in the Lord (his trust has a home with the Lord - it stays there).
But because these are contrasting parallel passages, we can infer several other things. The implications for the "blessed man" are that he also:
  • does not put his trust in what mankind can accomplish, but what God can accomplish.
  • does not rely on his own ability to get things done, but knows that God can do things he cannot.
  • His heart turns toward the Lord.
And, of course, the implication for the "cursed man" is that he does not in any way put his trust in the Lord.
Some other contrasts that we can infer using this method (inferred parts in italics):

The Cursed ManThe Blessed Man
Like a shrub in the desertLike a tree by water
Shall see no good comeShall see good come
Shall fear when tough times occurShall not fear when tough times occur ("heat comes")
Is afraid he may run out of what he needsIs always confident that he is well supplied (not fearful in "the year of drought")
Can only do so much before he comes to the end of his own strengthIs always able to do good ("Does not cease to bear fruit")
Lives in a parched, uninhabited "salt land" (nothing can grow in salted soil)Lives in a place of bountiful supply surrounded by friends

For the record, I'm no Bible scholar - I only know what I've picked up over the years from hearing and reading things written by people with a lot more Bible education than I. But I think it's good to be able to "read between the lines" and discover those extra tidbits that God has left for us to pick up on!

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