Lesson 6

Symbolic Acts

(Genesis 4, Numbers 21, Jeremiah 13)
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Introduction: Have you considered the way in which God uses symbols? The entire Old Testament sanctuary service is symbolic of what Jesus would do for us. Calling Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" ( John 1:29), brings to mind the symbolism of the sacrifice of a lamb for our sins. We introduced the idea last week that God taught Jeremiah to use symbols in his teachings about what God wanted the people to learn. This week we dive much more deeply into the subject. Let's see what new things we can learn from the Bible and symbols!

  1. Apples and Snakes


    1. Read Genesis 4:1-2. In the relationship between the two brothers, what do you think is the significance of Cain being the first born? (Being older, Abel would likely look up to Cain. No doubt Cain's parents showered him with affection.)


      1. How would you rate the relative importance of the careers chosen by the two sons? ( Genesis 3:17-19 tells us God directed men to do the kind of thing Cain was doing.)


        1. What was the purpose of Abel's job? (Not to create food. It was not until after the flood that humans were told they could eat meat ( Genesis 9:1-3). Abel raised flocks for clothing ( Genesis 3:21) and sacrifice (Genesis 4:4).)


    2. Read Genesis 4:3-5. If you are Cain, what are the reasons why you would bring fruit as an offering? (It reflects what you do! How can it be a sacrifice if it does not reflect your hard work?)


      1. Why would God not accept Cain's good faith effort to present his own work? (Sacrifices were not "about Cain," they were about God's symbolism. The symbolism between an apple and Jesus being crucified for our sins is hardly equivalent to the death of a lamb.)


    3. Read Genesis 4:6-7. Was God clear about His instructions to Cain? (This affirms that God told him "what is right," but Cain did what he thought appropriate.)


      1. What is the lesson for us? (We may have logical reasons for what we do, but we can see in this example that God's knowledge of the "big picture" means that we must trust Him and defer to Him.)


    4. Read Numbers 21:1-3. How important is God to the victory of His people? (They were losing until God intervened for them.)


    5. Read Numbers 21:4-5. In light of what just happened, how would you characterize the attitude of God's people? (They are rebellious. They lose faith in God. They are ungrateful.)


    6. Read Numbers 21:6-7. Why did God send the snakes?


    7. Read Numbers 21:8-9. How does this symbol make any sense? A serpent was the face of the original sin ( Genesis 3:1-4), and now snakes are killing them! Why not put a lamb on a pole and have them look at it? (The problem was that, like Cain, they were not facing their sins. By looking at the snake, they faced their sin. For our sins to be forgiven, we must acknowledge them and ask for forgiveness. The symbol of the lamb, and to a lesser extent, the symbol of the snake, showed that we must have faith in God's provision.)


      1. What are the people supposed to do with this bronze snake? (They are supposed to "look at it.")


    8. It turns out that God's people not only kept this bronze snake, but they named it "Nehustan." Read 2 Kings 18:4 to find out what King Hezekiah did to Nehustan and why?


      1. What were the people doing to Nehustan? (They were worshiping it by burning incense to it.)


      2. What is the lesson about symbols and worship? (God said to look at it and learn a lesson. The people went far beyond that and started worshiping the bronze serpent. (The symbolism of that is worshiping sin!) There is nothing wrong with symbols that remind us of God's will, the problem comes when we start worshiping them. See Exodus 20:3-6.)


  2. The Belt


    1. Read Jeremiah 13:1-2. I read that linen was sometimes used as currency in ancient Egypt. Proverbs 31:22 tells us that the ideal wife wears "fine linen and purple." Given this background, why do you think God told Jeremiah to buy a linen belt? (I think it was supposed to be something that he was proud to wear. It was a good fashion accent for his clothes.)


      1. Why not let it touch water? (Some commentators say this represents the general lack of spiritual cleanliness of the people. At least one commentator says (and I agree) that it had to do with degrading the fancy belt. If washed it would lose its shape and degrade its appearance.)


    2. Read Jeremiah 13:3-5. Is the belt of any use to Jeremiah now?


      1. Could it be of use? (If it is hidden, this suggests that Jeremiah will be able to keep it and use it in the future.)


      2. There is a debate about the translation of the word "Perath" (according to the NIV) and "Euphrates" according to other translations. One of the problems with translating this as "Euphrates" is that the Euphrates is 250 miles away, and such a journey seems unrelated to the point God is making.)


    3. Read Jeremiah 13:6-7. I'm not sure how hiding the belt "in a crevice in the rocks" ( Jeremiah 13:4) would cause Jeremiah to bury it so that it must be "dug up." (Jeremiah 13:7.) If this is a crevice in a rock by the side of the Euphrates, what might that mean? (Getting wet with river water, or wet and dirty from a hole, both are bad for Jeremiah's favorite belt!)


    4. Read Jeremiah 13:8-10. What happens to our pride when we follow our own ways instead of the words of God? (Our pride becomes like a dirty rag.)


    5. Read Jeremiah 13:11. Notice that we have a second object lesson to be drawn from the linen belt. What purposes does God say that He has in mind for this belt? (If the people had followed God, instead of following their own gods and their own opinions, God would have "bound" them to Him. They would have been next to the great God of the universe!)


      1. What is God's attitude toward His people? (If God's people had been following Him, God would enjoy "praise and honor" and an increased reputation. This reinforces the interpretation that Jeremiah's belt was an article of clothing of which he could be proud!)


      2. Consider what God is teaching us. How many times do you make a judgment on whether you will follow God's advice based on how it impacts you, your family, or your wealth? (Jeremiah repeatedly tells the people how following God will impact them, but I think the most important reason for following God is that it is a blessing to Him. Consider how much we are indebted to God for saving our life and the lives of those we love! It brings honor to God for you to obey and trust Him!)


  3. Wineskins


    1. Read Jeremiah 13:12. What is the obvious problem with this message? (Everyone knows what you should do with wineskins. It is like telling people to brush their teeth.)


    2. Read Jeremiah 13:13-14. What is the message God gives us through this symbolism? (When you are drunk, you have a hard time figuring out what you should do. You are confused. God tells His people, if you will not listen to My words, life will get more and more confusing until you will have absolutely no idea what to do. This will lead to your destruction.)


    3. Friend, what have we learned from these symbols? We have learned that we should obey God, and not our own logic that is contrary to God's word. Not only will that avoid destruction for our self and our family, but more importantly it will give glory to God. Will you determine today to seek to bring glory to God in everything you do?


  4. Next week: The Crisis Continues.

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Lessons on Jeremiah

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