That Day.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you. For behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.”

These are the words that the Lord spoke concerning Israel and Judah:

“Thus says the Lord:
We have heard a cry of panic,
    of terror, and no peace.
Ask now, and see,
    can a man bear a child?
Why then do I see every man
    with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor?
    Why has every face turned pale?
Alas! That day is so great
    there is none like it;
it is a time of distress for Jacob;
    yet he shall be saved out of it.

“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

“Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the Lord,
    nor be dismayed, O Israel;
for behold, I will save you from far away,
    and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
    and none shall make him afraid.
For I am with you to save you,
declares the Lord;
I will make a full end of all the nations
    among whom I scattered you,
    but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
    and I will by no means leave you unpunished.”
Jeremiah 30:1-11 ESV

Jeremiah is going to write a book. Not the book that bears his name, but another book that has come to be known as “The Book of Consolation.” In actuality, it is God who will be the author of the book and Jeremiah will act as His scribe. God tells the prophet: “Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you” (Jeremiah 30:2 ESV). But a better translation would be that found in the New English Translation Bible (NET): “Write everything that I am about to tell you in a scroll.” God is not asking Jeremiah to write down everything He has said over the last 29 chapters. He is instructing the prophet to put down in a scroll all that He is about to say. And God gives Jeremiah the purpose behind this book of consolation he is going to help create.

“For the time is coming when I will restore the fortunes of my people of Israel and Judah. I will bring them home to this land that I gave to their ancestors, and they will possess it again. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 30:3 NLT

God was creating a permanent record of His promises and prophecies, so that when the people of Judah and Israel returned to the land, they would have tangible proof of
God’s faithfulness. There would be a written record of all that God had said He would do. It would contain a recounting of the people’s sins against God and a reminder of how all His predictions of judgment had come to pass just as He had said.

While this record is referred to as “The Book of Consolation”, it starts off an a fairly negative note:

“I hear cries of fear;
    there is terror and no peace.
Now let me ask you a question:
    Do men give birth to babies?
Then why do they stand there, ashen-faced,
    hands pressed against their sides
    like a woman in labor?” – Jeremiah 30:5-6 NLT

God provides a highly descriptive picture of how bad things are going to get. There will be pain and suffering like nothing the peoples of Judah and Israel have ever experienced before. Men will look like they are going through labor pains. God describes it as “a time of distress for Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7 ESV). It’s interesting that God uses the name “Jacob” rather than “Israel”. If you recall, there was a time in the life of the patriarch, Jacob, where God renamed him Israel. Jacob’s original name meant “taking hold of the heal, supplanter, layer of snares”. He had lived his life as a conniver and deceiver, cheating his brother out of his birth right and living in self-imposed exile as a result. When God had commanded him to return home, He also chose to rename him. His new name meant “God prevails”. And along with a new name, Jacob received a promise from God:

“I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! And I will give you the land I once gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and your descendants after you.” – Genesis 35:11-12 NLT

So, in His book, God refers to the peoples of Judah and Israel as Jacob. Perhaps He did so as a not-so-subtle reminder that they had lived most of their lives as deceivers and supplanters. The word, “supplant” means “to take the place of (another), as through force, scheming, strategy, or the like” (dictionary.com). In essence, the people of God had been trying to replace God with false gods. They had been attempting to be their own gods. So, God warns them that they are going to go through a time of great distress. But there’s good news: “Yet in the end they will be saved!” (Jeremiah 30:7 NLT). And God gets very specific about what that salvation will look like.

“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.” – Jeremiah 30:8-9 ESV

Now, this is where we need to stop and think about what God is saying to them. We have to ask the question: Has any of this taken place yet? Has this prophecy been fulfilled. You might conclude that it was fulfilled when the 70 years of captivity in Babylon was complete and God allowed the return of a remnant to Judah to restore the city of Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. But while that would be true, it would only be a partial fulfillment, because the people of Israel never had another king from the line of David. The next king they would have would be Herod, during the time of Jesus, who was an Edomite and a puppet-king of the Romans. He was not a descendant of David. So, this prophecy must have an as-yet-future aspect to it. It is not yet fulfilled. Whenever you see the reference to “that day” in Scripture, it is referring to future event.

The prophet, Zechariah, also spoke of this coming day of the Lord.

“I will pour out on the kingship of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. – Zechariah 12:10 NLT

Do you see the Messianic aspect to this prophecy? It contains a clear reference to Jesus, the Messiah, the one who was pierced for the sins of mankind. In his great messianic chapter, Isaiah wrote of the coming of Jesus as the Messiah and of His sufferings on behalf of mankind.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:4-6 NLT

The prophet, Zechariah goes on to say:

“In that day there will be a fountain opened up for the dynasty of David and the people of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and impurity. And also on that day,” says the Lord who rules over all, “I will remove the names of the idols from the land and they will never again be remembered. Moreover, I will remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land.”Zechariah 13:1-2 NLT

God has Jeremiah write down on the scroll the following words of comfort to the peoples of Judah and Israel:

“For I will bring you home again from distant lands,
    and your children will return from their exile.
Israel will return to a life of peace and quiet,
    and no one will terrorize them.
For I am with you and will save you” – Jeremiah 30:10-11 NLT

And while God did eventually return a remnant of the people of Judah to the land, they would be without a king. Their lives in the land would not be marked by peace and quiet. They would be surrounded by enemies and constantly harassed by foreign powers, even up until the days of Jesus. They would find themselves under the constant rule of other nations, like the Romans. So, it is clear that this prophecy has only been partially fulfilled. But “that day” is coming. God is not done yet. That is why He was having Jeremiah put the words He was speaking on paper. He wanted a written record that the people could turn to and be reminded of what He had said He would do. The return of the remnant to Judah from Babylon was just a small glimpse into the greater good that God has in store for His people in the future.

There was more godly discipline coming for the people of God. He was going to continue His judgment of them. Even today, Israel finds itself under the judgment of God. They are back in the land, but they are surrounded on all sides by enemies and face with constant threats against their sovereignty as a nation. They have no king. There is no temple and, therefore, no sacrificial system. But “that day” is coming. God is not done yet. His plans for Israel are not yet complete. As God had prophesied through Jeremiah in the preceding chapter:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:11-14 NLT

The captivity of Israel has only partially ended. Their fortunes have only partially been restored. But the days of God’s testing will come to an end. He will one day complete His plans for the people of Israel and restore them completely to a right relationship with Himself. And the prophet, Zechariah gives us an exciting glimpse of that day.

“I will refine them like silver is refined
and will test them like gold is tested.
They will call on my name and I will answer;
I will say, ‘These are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” – Zechariah 13:9 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Three Stooges.

To Shemaiah of Nehelam you shall say: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: You have sent letters in your name to all the people who are in Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the priests, saying, ‘The Lord has made you priest instead of Jehoiada the priest, to have charge in the house of the Lord over every madman who prophesies, to put him in the stocks and neck irons. Now why have you not rebuked Jeremiah of Anathoth who is prophesying to you? For he has sent to us in Babylon, saying, “Your exile will be long; build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat their produce.”’”

Zephaniah the priest read this letter in the hearing of Jeremiah the prophet. Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Send to all the exiles, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord concerning Shemaiah of Nehelam: Because Shemaiah had prophesied to you when I did not send him, and has made you trust in a lie, therefore thus says the Lord: Behold, I will punish Shemaiah of Nehelam and his descendants. He shall not have anyone living among this people, and he shall not see the good that I will do to my people, declares the Lord, for he has spoken rebellion against the Lord.’” Jeremiah 29:24-32 ESV

There were three individuals in Babylon who were making life difficult for Jeremiah back in Judah. They were all three part of the group of Judahites who were exiled to Babylon in the first wave of captives taken by Nebuchadnezzar. Two of them, Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, were false prophets who were telling the exiles in Babylon that their stay there would be short. And this news was getting back to the people in Judah who, when they heard it, refused to listen to the words of Jeremiah. So, God called out Ahab and Zedekiah, letting them know that they would end up in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar himself.

“Their terrible fate will become proverbial, so that the Judean exiles will curse someone by saying, ‘May the Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon burned alive!’” – Jeremiah 29:22 NLT

Their made-up, make-believe good news would turn out poorly for them. Not only would the people exiled in Judah remain in Babylon 70 years, Ahab and Zedekiah would lose their lives for lying in the Lord’s name. But their sins against God also included adultery. They were claiming to speak for God while breaking the law of God. And their words were in direct opposition to Jeremiah, the prophet appointed by God. And when they contradicted his words, they were guilty of calling God a liar and causing the people to turn against Him.

But they were not alone. There was yet another stooge in Babylon who was misleading the people in exile, but also attempting to disrupt things back in Judah. His name was Shemaiah and he too was a self-appointed prophet. When he had heard the content of Jeremiah’s initial letter to the exiles, he had responded with a letter of his own, addressed “to all the people who are in Jerusalem, and to Zephaniah the son of Maaseiah the priest, and to all the priests” (Jeremiah 29:25 ESV). In his letter, Shemaiah had strong words regarding Jeremiah and what should be done to him. He also told Zephaniah the priest that he was to replace Jehoiada as the chief priest over the temple.

“The Lord has appointed you to replace Jehoiada as the priest in charge of the house of the Lord. You are responsible to put into stocks and neck irons any crazy man who claims to be a prophet. So why have you done nothing to stop Jeremiah from Anathoth, who pretends to be a prophet among you? Jeremiah sent a letter here to Babylon, predicting that our captivity will be a long one. He said, ‘Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce.’” – Jeremiah 29:26-28 NLT

Essentially, he was attempting to disrupt Jeremiah’s ministry by launching a long-distance campaign against him. This self-appointed prophet was attempting to stage a coup all the way from Babylon. He wanted Jeremiah out of the way, locked up as a madman, and the only way he could see that happening was if he could put someone else in control of the temple where Jeremiah tended to deliver his messages. His hope was that Zephaniah would display a much stronger anti-Jeremiah sentiment and do something about removing him once and for all. What possessed him to believe that this strategy would be successful in thwarting the will of God is unclear. But he evidently was convinced that what Jeremiah was prophesying was not of God. He didn’t want to believe that Jeremiah’s message was true.

But things didn’t turn out quite as Shemaiah had planned. First of all, his letter to Zephaniah ended up in the hands of Jeremiah. It seems his hand-picked replacement for Jehoiada had reservations about Shemaiah’s grand plan and decided to inform Jeremiah. As a result, God gave Jeremiah a message to send to the people of Judah in Babylon concerning Shemaiah’s fate.

“Send an open letter to all the exiles in Babylon. Tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite: Since he has prophesied to you when I did not send him and has tricked you into believing his lies, I will punish him and his family. None of his descendants will see the good things I will do for my people, for he has incited you to rebel against me. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 29:21-32 NLT

Ahab, Zedekiah and Shemaiah. These three men would discover the hard way what happens to those who claim to speak for God, but who offer up lies and half-truths. They were actually encouraging rebellion against God while claiming to speak on behalf of God. Their words were not from God. In fact, they were contradicting the messenger of God. They were denying the truth of Jeremiah’s words and in doing so, calling God a liar. Their distaste for Jeremiah’s message was real, but their rejection of it did nothing to change its efficacy or outcome. We may not like what the Word of God says, but refusing to listen to and obey it does not change the truth contained in it. While the news of 70 years of captivity was not appealing, it was actually good news. It meant that God was going to spare a remnant of the people of Judah and return them to the land of promise. He was not going to abandon them completely. But for men like Ahab, Zedekiah and Shemaiah, it was easier to believe a lie and hope that they would all return in less than two years. They preferred their man-made message to the word of God. They would rather believe a lie that ended in death than the truth that would result in life.

And that is the problem with the vast majority of people living in the world today. They would prefer to believe the lies of the self-appointed prophets of hope, who claim that science, education, the sexual revolution, socialism, bigger government, small government, or no government are the answers to mankind’s problems. When God says that the hope of the world is found in His Son, the false prophets attempt to shout Him down, refusing to accept His word as truth. When God accuses mankind of sin and rebellion against Him, and encourages them to seek salvation through His Son, the false prophets simply deny the reality of sin and offer up pseudo-saviors for the ills facing mankind. Even pastors, claiming to speak on behalf of God, present a false view of God. They present Him as all-loving and refuse to accept the idea that He would condemn anyone to eternal punishment. They deny the reality of hell. They downplay the significance of sin. They preach tolerance and promote peace at all costs. They refuse to call people to repentance. They resist the divine decree that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. They declare Jesus to be nothing more than a moral role model, not a sinless Savior who gave His life as payment for the sins of mankind. And in doing so they deceive the people and declare God to be a liar. But, like Ahab, Zedekiah and Shemaiah, they will be proven wrong. Science is not our savior. Social welfare programs, while needed, will not redeem anyone from slavery to sin and eternal judgment. Tolerating any and all lifestyles may make others feel better about themselves, but it will do nothing to change the fact that they are alienated from God. The truth can be painful. It can be difficult to accept. But replacing the truth with a lie does not change its ultimate outcome. As Jesus told His disciples, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 NLT). The truth of God is always preferable to the lies of men, because His truth is spoken in love. He always tells us what we need to hear, even when it is difficult for us to accept what He has to say.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Welfare, A Future, and Hope.

These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem. The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

“Because you have said, ‘The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’ thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten. I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the Lord, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the Lord.’ Hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes. Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the Lord.’” Jeremiah 29:1-23 ESV

Jeremiah was in Jerusalem, where he remained with a contingent of the people who had been left behind by King Nebuchadnezzar when he defeated the city in 597 B.C. and took more than 10,000 of its inhabitants captive to Babylon, including the king, Jeconiah (2 Kings 24:10-17). Jeconiah, also known as Jehoachin, had surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar when the Babylonians had laid siege to the city. After being deposed and deported to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, Jehoachin was replaced as king by his uncle, Mattaniah, who became a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar and had his name changed to Zedekiah. He would prove to be the last king to sit on the throne of David in Judah. At least for a very long time.

Those who had been deported to Babylon have been out of sight and out of mind up until this point in the book of Jeremiah. All the focus has been on those who remained behind. Jeremiah has continued his assignment as God’s messenger, delivering His call to repentance to the people who found themselves still living in the land of Judah, but surrounded by Babylonian troops. God had warned them to submit to the Babylonians as if they were submitting to Him. If they did, they would survive. If they didn’t, they would face death by sword or famine. Now, God turns His attention to the captives. He has not forgotten them. And in His omniscience, He knows exactly what they have been up to during their brief time in exile. So, God has Jeremiah write a letter containing a message for those who found themselves suffering God’s judgment as captives in Babylon.

“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:5-7 NLT

When you think about it, this is a somewhat perplexing message. The people who received it would have probably been a bit confused by it. Essentially, God was telling them to make the best of a what appeared to be a bad situation. I am sure they looked at their circumstances in Babylon and saw nothing good about it at all. They were living like refugees in a strange land. They were relegated to living in a restricted area near the Kabar canal. They weren’t even considered second-class citizens by the Babylonians. They were little more than slaves, with no rights or privileges. And here was God telling them to build homes, plant gardens, marry, have babies, and do everything they could do to help make their new home prosperous and successful. Essentially, God was telling them to settle down for the long-haul. There wasn’t going to be any quick reprieve or divine deliverance. In fact, God lets them know that exactly how long they will remain in the land of Babylon.

“You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.” – Jeremiah 29:10 NLT

Seventy years. Seven decades. Long enough for a whole new generation to be born and raised in captivity. Based on the average life span in those days, most of those who were taken captive would probably end up dying in Babylon. It would be their sons and daughters who would end up returning after the 70 years was up. That’s why God commanded them to have children and to give their sons and daughters in marriage. Life was to go on, because God had plans for them. Very specific plans.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

Again, this message had to have come across as a bit odd. How in the world could 70 years of captivity be good? But God had a long-term perspective. He was focused on the future. He knew the outcome and saw the Babylonian captivity as nothing more than a blip on the radar screen of eternity. If you recall, God had told Abraham that His descendants would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years, but then He would rescue them and return them to the land He had promised to give Abraham. And it all happened just as God had said.

Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land.” – Genesis 15:13-16 NLT

Once again, God was providing insight into future events and encouraging His people that He had their future covered. What appeared to be an unmitigated disaster was actually part of God’s sovereign plan for their lives. God tells them that when the 70 years us up, He will act.

“In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:12-14 NLT

What is interesting about God’s promise is that while it seems to be tied to the actions of the people of Judah who are living as exiles in Babylon. He says, “If you will look for me wholeheartedly…”. But according to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people never really did look for God. They never really called out to God. In fact, the book of Ezra opens up with the words:

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the mind of King Cyrus of Persia. – Ezra 1:1 NLT

God moved the heart of a pagan king to issue a decree authorizing the return of the people of Judah to their land and to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple. Not only that, He was going to make sure they had enough funds to pay for their trip and to cover the costs of construction.

The Lord God of heaven has … has instructed me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone from his people among you (may his God be with him!) may go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may build the temple of the Lord God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:2-4 NLT

This was a God-thing. There is no indication that the people called out to God. There are no signs of repentance on their part. In fact, it is more likely that the new generation of Israelites living in Babylon had become quite acclimated to their new surroundings, even adopting the gods of Babylon as their own. But God kept His word. He fulfilled what He had promised to do. After 70 years was up, the people were able to return to the land of Judah.

But before that could happen, God was going to deal with those who remained behind. He had warned them that they must submit to the yoke of Babylon. If they did, they would prosper. If they didn’t, they would suffer the consequences. And under King Zedekiah’s lousy leadership, the people of Judah who remained behind would refuse to bow before Nebuchadnezzar, essentially refusing to submit to God’s will for them. So, in 588 B.C., after 11 years of siege, the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and completely destroyed the temple of God. Zedekiah was captured and forced to watch the execution of his sons before having his eyes gouged out. The walls of Jerusalem were destroyed. The homes within the walls were burned. Everything of value was taken as plunder. And the people scattered to the four winds, leaving the once great city of David deserted. And it would remain so until the remnant returned to restore and repopulate the city and rebuild the temple of God.

God was going to start over. A new generation would occupy the land. But God’s plans for their welfare were far from over. It would not be until His Son came to earth as the Messiah that the full extend of His promise was fulfilled. And it will not be until Jesus returns at His Second Coming that God’s final plans for the people of Israel are fully complete. His plans are focused on the future. His will is not yet complete. The outcome of His plans for Israel has yet to happen, but it will. Because He has promised.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Trusting A Lie.

In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord‘s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, declares the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”

Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Hananiah the prophet in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord, and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord make the words that you have prophesied come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. Yet hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”

Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke-bars from the neck of Jeremiah the prophet and broke them. And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years.” But Jeremiah the prophet went his way.

Sometime after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke-bars from off the neck of Jeremiah the prophet, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Go, tell Hananiah, ‘Thus says the Lord: You have broken wooden bars, but you have made in their place bars of iron. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put upon the neck of all these nations an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they shall serve him, for I have given to him even the beasts of the field.’” And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.’”

In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died. Jeremiah 28 ESV

Welcome to the Prophet Wars. Ali and Frazier had their Thrilla in Manilla, but this chapter chronicles the epic showdown between two prophets of God on the grounds of the temple itself. Jeremiah had just finished delivering his message from God to the ambassadors of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon, warning them that God was sending Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to defeat and enslave them along with Judah. They were to return home and tell their respective kings to submit to God’s will by submitting to the authority of the Babylonians. If they obeyed God’s will for them, they would remain in the land and survive the Babylonian occupation. If they chose to ignore God’s will, they would be destroyed. This same warning was given by Jeremiah to King Zedekiah of Judah. If you want to live, submit to the yoke of the king of Babylon and his people” (Jeremiah 27:12 NLT). And as a visual aid, Jeremiah was commanded by God to wear a wooden yoke when he delivered his messages. Jeremiah’s words and the yoke around his neck served as a one-two punch, a potent combination that was sure to have left an impact on the people who were in the hearing of his message. And news of Jeremiah’s pronouncement spread.

Some time later, Jeremiah found himself facing off with another prophet: Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon. The text informs us that “One day in late summer of that same year—the fourth year of the reign of Zedekiah” (Jeremiah 28:1 NLT), Hananiah showed up at the temple. It seems that Jeremiah was required by God to show up at the temple wearing his yoke and delivering his message for a prolonged period of time. This had not been a one-and-done situation. Day after day, Jeremiah found himself strapping on his yoke and heading to the temple to pronounce judgment on the people of God and the surrounding nations. But on this day, he would run into competition, in the form of Hananiah. With the priests, the people and Jeremiah watching and listening, Hananiah delivered his message:

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will remove the yoke of the king of Babylon from your necks. Within two years I will bring back all the Temple treasures that King Nebuchadnezzar carried off to Babylon. And I will bring back Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the other captives that were taken to Babylon. I will surely break the yoke that the king of Babylon has put on your necks. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 28:2-4 NLT

Like a well-aimed punch, Hananiah’s words hit Jeremiah hard. They directly contradicted the message Jeremiah had been delivering. Here was another recognized prophet of God delivering a message that was dramatically and diametrically opposed to the one Jeremiah had given. Claiming to be speaking on behalf of God, Hananiah was calling Jeremiah a liar and deceiver. He struck at the very heart of Jeremiah’s message, insinuating that it was a lie and not the words of the Lord. And you can imagine the impact this had on the people. While Jeremiah had prophesied that the captivity of the people of Judah in Babylon would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12), Hananiah was countering with a prediction of a mere two years. Who do you think the people were prone to believe? Which message was more attractive to the the crowds standing in the temple courtyard that day?

But Jeremiah, while staggered by what Hanahiah had to say, was far from down and out. His counter-punch was classic:

“Amen! May your prophecies come true! I hope the Lord does everything you say. I hope he does bring back from Babylon the treasures of this Temple and all the captives.” – Jeremiah 28:6 NLT

Even he had to admit that Hananiah’s words were appealing. He even hoped they would come true. But he knew they would not. Jeremiah was convinced that he was right and Hananiah was wrong. The attractiveness of Hananiah’s message did not make it true, no matter how much the people wanted to believe it. Presenting God as totally gracious and kind, Hananiah gave the people a one-dimensional view of God that failed to recognize His holiness and hatred for sin. And Hananiah, removing the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and breaking it, attempted to illustrate that, in his view, God was going to break the yoke of the Babylonians, even allowing the exiled King Jehoiachin to return from captivity.

But it was all a lie. Hananiah may have legitimately believed what he was saying, but that did not make it true. His incomplete understanding of God may have led him to speak what he believed to be the words of God, but he was wrong. And Jeremiah reminded Hananiah and the people of the ultimate determining factor when judging the veracity of a prophet of God.

“…a prophet who predicts peace must show he is right. Only when his predictions come true can we know that he is really from the Lord.” – Jeremiah 28:9 NLT

Hundreds of years earlier, God had given the people of Israel His word concerning those who claimed to speak in His name.

“But if any prophet presumes to speak anything in my name that I have not authorized him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die. Now if you say to yourselves, ‘How can we tell that a message is not from the Lord?’— whenever a prophet speaks in my name and the prediction is not fulfilled, then I have not spoken it; the prophet has presumed to speak it, so you need not fear him.” – Deuteronomy 18:20-22 NLT

Jeremiah and Hananiah could stand there exchanging verbal punches all day long. They both claimed to be speaking for God, but only one of them could be right. And the only way to prove who was right was to wait and see what was going to happen. Time would be the ultimate determiner of who was really the prophet of God. And in an attempt to portray himself as the winner of this battle of words, Hananiah removed the yoke from around Jeremiah’s neck, broke it and pronounced the words:

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Just as this yoke has been broken, within two years I will break the yoke of oppression from all the nations now subject to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.’” – Jeremiah 28:11 NLT

Jeremiah simply walked away. To the priests and people standing in the temple courtyard, it would have looked like a hands-down victory for Hananiah. He had won the day. Jeremiah had abandoned the ring in defeat. Or had he?

Soon after this confrontation with Hananiah, the Lord gave this message to Jeremiah: “Go and tell Hananiah, ‘This is what the Lord says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but you have replaced it with a yoke of iron. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: I have put a yoke of iron on the necks of all these nations, forcing them into slavery under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control.’” – Jeremiah 28:12-14 NLT

Hananiah may have won the battle, but he was going to lose the war. His bold claim had only made matters worse. He had broken Jeremiah’s wooden yoke, but he had done nothing to change the will of God concerning Judah. Hananiah could deny and contradict the word of God, but it would not change the outcome. In fact, Jeremiah would be the prophet to have the last word:

“Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, but the people believe your lies. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: ‘You must die. Your life will end this very year because you have rebelled against the Lord.’” – Jeremiah 28:15-16 NLT

And the chapter ends with the sobering words: “ In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died” (Jeremiah 28:17 ESV). Less than two months later, the false prophet was dead. And two years later, his predictions of the return of King Jehoiachin and the fall of Babylon would be proven false. His pleasant-sounding prophecies of God’s grace and mercy without repentance would be exposed as what they were: Lies. And God would hold Hananiah personally responsible for causing the people to trust a lie. Those who claim to speak for God must understand that He will hold them accountable. Saying what you hope are the words of God does not make them so. Uttering what you prefer to be God’s will does not obligate God to bring it about. It is better to remain silent than to speak on behalf of God when you haven’t really heard from Him.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Resisting the Will of God.

 

In the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord. Thus the Lord said to me: “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck. Send word to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the sons of Ammon, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon by the hand of the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah. Give them this charge for their masters: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: This is what you shall say to your masters: “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave.

“‘“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the Lord.”’”

To Zedekiah king of Judah I spoke in like manner: “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people and live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the Lord has spoken concerning any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon,’ for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you. I have not sent them, declares the Lord, but they are prophesying falsely in my name, with the result that I will drive you out and you will perish, you and the prophets who are prophesying to you.”

Then I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, “Thus says the Lord: Do not listen to the words of your prophets who are prophesying to you, saying, ‘Behold, the vessels of the Lord‘s house will now shortly be brought back from Babylon,’ for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you. Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon and live. Why should this city become a desolation? If they are prophets, and if the word of the Lord is with them, then let them intercede with the Lord of hosts, that the vessels that are left in the house of the Lord, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem may not go to Babylon. For thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the pillars, the sea, the stands, and the rest of the vessels that are left in this city, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon did not take away, when he took into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem— thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning the vessels that are left in the house of the Lord, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem: They shall be carried to Babylon and remain there until the day when I visit them, declares the Lord. Then I will bring them back and restore them to this place.” Jeremiah 27 ESV

It’s difficult not to feel a bit of sympathy for Jeremiah when you stop and reflect on all that he had to put up with as God’s messenger. It was one thing to have to deliver God’s prophetic word concerning Judah’s destruction day after day. But on top of that, God required Jeremiah to do a number of bizarre acts designed to be living illustrations or lessons for the people of Judah. Back in chapter 13, God had commanded Jeremiah to buy linen undergarments, wear them for a period of time, then bury them. Many days later, Jeremiah returned to find the linen shorts ruined and no longer good for anything. They were intended to symbolize how Judah had gone from having an intimate relationship with God to being marred by sin and worthy of being discarded as worthless. In chapter 16, we saw that God denied Jeremiah the right to have a wife and children. In a culture where marriage and family were primary symbols of God’s blessing, this would have been very difficult for the prophet to accept. Later on, we will see Jeremiah instructed by God to buy a field. What made this particularly difficult was that Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians and the entire nation was enduring famine and a financial crisis. The prophet was investing in property that would soon belong to the Babylonians. But once again, this was meant to be an illustration or visible proof that God would one day return the people of Judah to the land.

In today’s chapter, we see God commanding Jeremiah to make a yoke, like that used with oxen in order to plow fields. But this yoke was to be sized to fit Jeremiah’s neck. And he was commanded by God to wear this yoke as a visual aid to the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon. Their ambassadors had come to see King Zedekiah in Jerusalem and Jeremiah was to deliver to them a message from God.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: With my great strength and powerful arm I made the earth and all its people and every animal. I can give these things of mine to anyone I choose. Now I will give your countries to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who is my servant. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control. All the nations will serve him, his son, and his grandson until his time is up. Then many nations and great kings will conquer and rule over Babylon. So you must submit to Babylon’s king and serve him; put your neck under Babylon’s yoke! I will punish any nation that refuses to be his slave, says the Lord. I will send war, famine, and disease upon that nation until Babylon has conquered it. – Jeremiah 27:4-8 NLT

These nations, just like Judah, were expected by God to submit to His will for them. He had ordained that Babylon would conquer not only Judah, but also the surrounding nations. Each of the ambassadors represented a nation which had lengthy ties to Israel as either a vassal-state or ally, dating all the way back to King David. At one point, they had all been enemies of Israel. And now, God was warning them that they too would be subject to His will. But as the yoke around Jeremiah’s neck suggested, they would have to submit to God’s will for them. If they chose to reject God’s will, they would suffer greatly, just as Judah would. God warns these men to return home and deliver His message to their respective kings, and to refrain from listening to the false words of their sorcerers, wise men, magicians and fortune-tellers who would try to contradict God’s word. Jeremiah delivered God’s ultimatum to them:

“But the people of any nation that submits to the king of Babylon will be allowed to stay in their own country to farm the land as usual. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 27:11 NLT

Submit and survive. The will of God was going to be done. You could either come under it or be devastated by it. The will of God is not just for the people of God, but for all mankind. He rules over all. He has plans that include all men and women of all nations. And while anyone is free to resist the divine will of God, they can never prevent His will from taking place. The entire promised land and everyone who lived in it, including the Edomites, Moabites, Amonites, as well as the residents of Tyre and Sidon, would find themselves subject to God’s will. They would all feel the wrath of God as exhibited through the might of the Babylonians. And they could submit to God’s will by subjecting themselves to the Babylonian’s rule and remain in the land, or they could resist and suffer the consequences.

And Jeremiah reminds the people of Judah that they too will need to submit. Years earlier, King Nebuchadnezzar had invaded Judah and conquered the city of Jerusalem. He had not destroyed it at that time, but had plundered the city and taken many of its residents captive.

Nebuchadnezzar took from there all the riches in the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace. He removed all the gold items which King Solomon of Israel had made for the Lord’s temple, just as the Lord had warned. He deported all the residents of Jerusalem, including all the officials and all the soldiers (10,000 people in all). This included all the craftsmen and those who worked with metal. No one was left except for the poorest among the people of the land. – 2 Kings 24:13-14 NLT

Now, Jeremiah warns King Zedekiah and the people of Judah that they must subject themselves to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar or face complete destruction for their resistance to the will of God. If they will willingly place themselves under the yoke of God, they will survive and one day see the return of the captives to the land, along with all the treasures of the temple that had been taken by the Babylonians. The yoke of God appears difficult to bear, but in the long-run His will is always best.

Jesus used the imagery of the yoke when speaking to the people of Israel in His day. He told them:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

Submission to the will of God appears difficult, but always proves the right choice. It is interesting that Jesus promises relief from burdens by offering a yoke, an instrument designed for bearing burdens. A yoke was an instrument of work, designed for the oxen to accomplish the will of the farmer. But if they would submit to the yoke, they would find their work was much easier. Fighting the yoke would only make the burden more difficult and the work, more painful. God’s will is always best.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Leadership Void.

Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” And certain of the elders of the land arose and spoke to all the assembled people, saying, “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts,

“‘Zion shall be plowed as a field;
    Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’

Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and did not the Lord relent of the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves.”

There was another man who prophesied in the name of the Lord, Uriah the son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words like those of Jeremiah. And when King Jehoiakim, with all his warriors and all the officials, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death. But when Uriah heard of it, he was afraid and fled and escaped to Egypt. Then King Jehoiakim sent to Egypt certain men, Elnathan the son of Achbor and others with him, and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and dumped his dead body into the burial place of the common people.

But the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over to the people to be put to death. Jeremiah 26:16-24 ESV

The first thing that should jump out at us in this passage is who the two major parties turn out to be in the discussion concerning Jeremiah’s fate. You have the priests and false prophets, but then there are the officials and the people. In the earlier part of this chapter, we saw that it was the priests and prophets who instigated the riot against Jeremiah. When he had prophesied against Judah and the city of Jerusalem, they were the ones who had incited the people to mob Jeremiah.

“Kill him!” they shouted. “What right do you have to prophesy in the Lord’s name that this Temple will be destroyed like Shiloh? What do you mean, saying that Jerusalem will be destroyed and left with no inhabitants?” – Jeremiah 26:8-9 NLT

And the people had followed their lead, going along with their advice to kill the messenger of God. But when the officials of the city had heard what was going on, they rushed to the scene and assessed the situation.

The priests and prophets presented their accusations to the officials and the people. “This man should die!” they said. “You have heard with your own ears what a traitor he is, for he has prophesied against this city.” – Jeremiah 26:11 NLT

Jeremiah was given an opportunity to speak for himself, then the officials made a ruling.

Then the officials and the people said to the priests and prophets, “This man does not deserve the death sentence, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” – Jeremiah 26:16 NLT

Notice that the people have now sided with the officials. At one point they had been willing to go with the advice of the priests and prophets and join in their plot to kill Jeremiah. Now, after cooler heads had prevailed, they threw in their lot with the officials of the city. And some among them, who had longer memories and grayer hair, reminded the people that something like this had happened before. They told the story of Micah of Moresheth who prophesied during the reign of King Hezekiah. He had pronounced a similar fate on Judah and Jerusalem, but the king and the people of that day didn’t kill him for speaking the truth of God. They spared him. And they took his advice and “they turned from their sins and worshiped the Lord. They begged him for mercy” (Jeremiah 26:19 NLT). It was Micah who had delivered the words of God to the people of Judah clearly articulating His expectations of them:

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

Because of the words of men like Micah and Isaiah, King Hezekiah had eventually listened to their calls to repentance and had prayed to God for mercy and help.

“So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” – 2 Kings 19:19 NLT

And God had heard his prayers and spared the people.

“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” – 2 Kings 19:32-34 NLT

These older, wiser men of Judah concluded that they would be making a huge mistake if they took the life of Jeremiah. Instead, they should follow the actions of Hezekiah and the people of his day, choosing to spare the prophet of God and listen to his words. Yet, even while they were speaking, “Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim was also prophesying for the Lord” (Jeremiah 26:20 NLT). And his message was the same as that of Jeremiah. When King Jehoakim heard about Uriah, he sent someone to assassinate him. But Uriah escaped to Egypt, where the king had him tracked down and forcibly returned to Judah and executed. Unlike Hezekiah, King Jehoakim had decided to eliminate the threat rather than heed the warning of God. Rather than repent, he had chosen to seek revenge on the messenger of God.

But even while all of this was going on, we’re told that, “Ahikam son of Shaphan stood up for Jeremiah and persuaded the court not to turn him over to the mob to be killed” (Jeremiah 26:24 NLT). Jeremiah was spared. The officials and the people determined to let him live. But there is no indication that anyone repented or changed their minds regarding their sinful lifestyles. No one prayed to God for forgiveness or asked Him to spare them from the Babylonians. One prophet was dead. Another prophet had been spared. But the people remained unrepentant and committed to their lifestyle of sin and rebellion against God. Yet we see from this encounter how easily leadership can sway the crowds. At one moment they were ready to follow the lead of the priests and false prophets, willfully playing a part in Jeremiah’s death. Then, as if on a whim, they changed their minds and listened to the officials, choosing instead to spare Jeremiah’s life. They were like leaves floating on the water, totally dependent upon the wind and waves to carry them along. They were morally rudderless and spiritually helpless, unable to decide for themselves what they should do. Later on in this same book, God will make the sad pronouncement concerning His people:

“My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray and turned them loose in the mountains. They have lost their way and can’t remember how to get back to the sheepfold.” – Jeremiah 50:6 NLT

And generations later, when Jesus appeared on the scene in Judea, we are told that He had a similar response to what He saw.

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:35-36 NLT

Sheep without a shepherd. Nothing could be more disturbing to God than to see His people without godly leadership. In the days of Jeremiah, godly leadership was in short supply. The king was immoral. The priests were ungodly. And the prophets were false. As a result, the people were directionless and left to fend for themselves. They were led by their own desires and prone to listen to whomever told them what they wanted to hear. As the proverb states, “Without wise leadership, a nation falls” (Proverbs 11:14 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Cost of Speaking Truth.

In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came from the Lord: “Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord‘s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds. You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.’”

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the Lord. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”

Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you. But as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.” Jeremiah 26:1-15 ESV

Joseph had a prophetic dream and when he shared it with his father and brothers, he was thrown into a pit and later sold as a slave (Genesis 37). Daniel refused to worship a statue of the king and was thrown into the lion’s den (Daniel 6). John the Baptist was beheaded for speaking out against King Herod’s adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife (Mark 6). The apostle Paul suffered repeatedly at the hands of the Jews for sharing the gospel. He was beaten, imprisoned, falsely accused and, eventually, martyred for his faith. James used the prophets as an example of patient suffering.

For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. – James 5:10 NLT

Stephen was stoned by the Jews for delivering the following accusation against them:

“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered.” – Acts 7:51-52 NLT

And in His sermon on the mount, Jesus gave the crowds some surprising and somewhat disturbing news regarding those who would be part of the Kingdom of God.

“What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.” – Luke 6:22-23 NLT

Speaking truth can be costly. Walking in the way of truth can be difficult – even deadly. And Jeremiah was experiencing the truth of that reality. He was simply doing what he had been called to do by God. He was faithfully delivering the message of God and the next thing he knew, he was standing before an angry crowd of people, listening to their hate-filled calls for his death. He had simply been doing his job. He had delivered God’s message verbatim, and this was the thanks he got.

But when Jeremiah had finished his message, saying everything the Lord had told him to say, the priests and prophets and all the people at the Temple mobbed him. “Kill him!” they shouted. “What right do you have to prophesy in the Lord’s name that this Temple will be destroyed like Shiloh? What do you mean, saying that Jerusalem will be destroyed and left with no inhabitants?” And all the people threatened him as he stood in front of the Temple. – Jeremiah 26:8-9 NLT

It’s important to note that Jeremiah’s message contained yet another invitation from God to repent. God’s instructions to Jeremiah had been clear:

“Give them my entire message; include every word. Perhaps they will listen and turn from their evil ways. Then I will change my mind about the disaster I am ready to pour out on them because of their sins.” – Jeremiah 26:2-3 NLT

Because God is all-knowing, He already knew what the outcome would be when Jeremiah delivered this message. But it was one more case of God offering His people a chance to repent and return to Him. The sad reality was that they only heard the negative side of Jeremiah’s message.

“This is what the Lord says: If you will not listen to me and obey my word I have given you, and if you will not listen to my servants, the prophets—for I sent them again and again to warn you, but you would not listen to them—then I will destroy this Temple as I destroyed Shiloh, the place where the Tabernacle was located. And I will make Jerusalem an object of cursing in every nation on earth.” – Jeremiah 26:4-6 NLT

And they found Jeremiah’s words unacceptable. They had no intention of repenting or of accepting God’s coming judgment. They wanted to continue in their sin without any threat of punishment or retribution from God. All Jeremiah had done was speak truth – the truth of God – and the people determined to reject it by rejecting the one who had delivered it. But Jeremiah warned them, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this Temple and this city … The Lord gave me every word that I have spoken” (Jeremiah 26:12 NLT). He wanted them to understand that he was simply the messenger. He was passing on what God had commanded him to say. And he pleaded with them, “if you stop your sinning and begin to obey the Lord your God, he will change his mind about this disaster that he has announced against you” (Jeremiah 26:13 NLT). There was good news in what Jeremiah had to say, but they refused to hear it. They closed their ears to it. All they heard was doom and destruction. Their love of sin kept them from hearing the love of God expressed in the words of the prophet of God. Stephen had faced a similar situation when he had preached to the Jews in Jerusalem. He had been sharing with them how God had worked among the people of Israel for generation, but how they had stubbornly refused to hear His message. They had even played a part in the death of Jesus, the Messiah and Savior sent from God to pay for the sins of mankind. But rather than put up with Stephen’s words, they shut him down.

Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.

As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died. – Acts 7:57-60 NLT

And Jeremiah, facing a hostile crowd, ready to put him to death, warned them:

“…if you kill me, rest assured that you will be killing an innocent man! The responsibility for such a deed will lie on you, on this city, and on every person living in it. For it is absolutely true that the Lord sent me to speak every word you have heard.” – Jeremiah 26:15 NLT

They could kill Jeremiah, but it would not change the outcome of God’s message. People can ignore the word of God, but it does not make it go away. Refusing to accept the truth of God’s Word does not change the veracity of its message. They could cover their ears, shout down the messenger, even put him to death, but God’s Word was going to stand. His will was going to be done, regardless of whether they accepted it or not. And the real question for us is whether we will faithfully deliver God’s message regardless of how it is accepted by those who hear it. Are we willing to speak the truth of God and face the ridicule of men? Do we have what it takes to stand before hostile crowds and tell them the news of God’s judgment against sin and His offer of salvation through His Son?

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus gave these sobering words of warning to all those who would desire to be a part of His Kingdom:

“Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” – Luke 6:26 NLT

False prophets are popular. But those who speak the truth of God will often find themselves rejected by the very ones they are trying to reach. The good news they offer will be seen as nothing but bad news. Men don’t want to be convicted of their sins. People don’t want to be told they are under the wrath of God. And the threat of judgment causes many to close their ears to the offer of atonement made possible through the death of Jesus on the cross. But, like Jeremiah, we are to keep on sharing whether anyone listens or not. We are to keep speaking truth, regardless of the consequences or the apparent success or failure of our efforts.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Cup of God’s Wrath.

Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.”

So I took the cup from the Lord‘s hand, and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and officials, to make them a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse, as at this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his officials, all his people, and all the mixed tribes among them; all the kings of the land of Uz and all the kings of the land of the Philistines (Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod); Edom, Moab, and the sons of Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the coastland across the sea; Dedan, Tema, Buz, and all who cut the corners of their hair; all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the mixed tribes who dwell in the desert; all the kings of Zimri, all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of Media; all the kings of the north, far and near, one after another, and all the kingdoms of the world that are on the face of the earth. And after them the king of Babylon shall drink.

“Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.’

“And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts.’

“You, therefore, shall prophesy against them all these words, and say to them:

“‘The Lord will roar from on high,
    and from his holy habitation utter his voice;
he will roar mightily against his fold,
    and shout, like those who tread grapes,
    against all the inhabitants of the earth.
The clamor will resound to the ends of the earth,
    for the Lord has an indictment against the nations;
he is entering into judgment with all flesh,
    and the wicked he will put to the sword,
declares the Lord.’

“Thus says the Lord of hosts:
Behold, disaster is going forth
    from nation to nation,
and a great tempest is stirring
    from the farthest parts of the earth!

“And those pierced by the Lord on that day shall extend from one end of the earth to the other. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall be dung on the surface of the ground.

“Wail, you shepherds, and cry out,
    and roll in ashes, you lords of the flock,
for the days of your slaughter and dispersion have come,
    and you shall fall like a choice vessel.
No refuge will remain for the shepherds,
    nor escape for the lords of the flock.
A voice—the cry of the shepherds,
    and the wail of the lords of the flock!
For the Lord is laying waste their pasture,
    and the peaceful folds are devastated
    because of the fierce anger of the Lord.
Like a lion he has left his lair,
    for their land has become a waste
because of the sword of the oppressor,
    and because of his fierce anger.” Jeremiah 25:15-38 ESV

This is a relatively long section and, at first glance, not a very uplifting one. In it, Jeremiah is instructed by God to pour out His wrath on the nations. This was a symbolic action, in the sense that there was no literal cup given to Jeremiah by God. What God was commanding Jeremiah to do was to communicate His message of pending judgment on all the nations surrounding Judah. They were not going to escape God’s wrath, while the people of Judah suffered.

“And if they refuse to accept the cup, tell them, ‘The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: You have no choice but to drink from it. I have begun to punish Jerusalem, the city that bears my name. Now should I let you go unpunished? No, you will not escape disaster. I will call for war against all the nations of the earth. I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 25:28-29 NLT

Exactly how Jeremiah got this message to the various nations listed in the passage is not made clear. But Jeremiah claims to have obeyed the word of the Lord.

“So I took the cup of anger from the Lord and made all the nations drink from it—every nation to which the Lord sent me.” – Jeremiah 25:17 NLT

It is doubtful that Jeremiah made the lengthy trip to Egypt to hand-deliver his news to Pharaoh. More than likely, Jeremiah sent messages to the long list of nations provided to him by God. This was simply an action designed to let these nations know that God was going to deal with them as well. It was not a call to repentance, since they were not followers of Yahweh. It was a prophetic warning of coming judgment against each and every one of the nations named by God. And the cup of God’s wrath was not the message itself, but the actual devastation that would come in the form of the Babylonians. All of these nations would eventually drink from the cup of God’s wrath and “When they drink from it, they will stagger, crazed by the warfare I will send against them” (Jeremiah 25:16 NLT).

What we have here is a picture of God’s pending judgment against all mankind for its sin and rebellion against Him. In a sense, God is patiently putting up with the sins of men, patiently biding His time until the end, when He will mete out His justice once and for all. The judgment of God was going to come on all the nations contained in the list given to Jeremiah. But it would not result in their complete destruction. That is being reserved for a later date. In the meantime, God is putting up with the sins of mankind. Unlike the days of Noah, when God determined to wipe out all of mankind due to their unrestrained sin, God is choosing to tolerate sin for a time. It is not that mankind’s sinfulness is less egredious than it was in the days of Noah. It is that God chose to delay judgment until His Son came to earth to provide a means of reconciliation for sinful men. And once His Son came, God has been delaying the outpouring of His wrath on humanity until all those who will come to faith in His Son have had the opportunity. The apostle Paul spoke of this patient endurance of God when he wrote to the believers in Rome.

In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles. – Romans 9:22-24 NLT

God must punish sin. As God, He is obligated by His very nature to mete out justice and judgment on any and all rebellion against His divine will and authority. But He has chosen to delay His final judgment. But the apostle Peter would have us remember that God will not delay forever.

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. – 2 Peter 3:8-10 NLT

So, judgment will come. In Jeremiah’s day, it would be devastating, yet partial and incomplete. Many of the nations on the list still exist in some form or fashion. But there is a day coming when God’s judgment will be complete and final. And Jeremiah uses very graphic terms to describe what that day will look like.

In that day those the Lord has slaughtered will fill the earth from one end to the other. No one will mourn for them or gather up their bodies to bury them. They will be scattered on the ground like manure. – Jeremiah 25:33 NLT

God is patient. He is long-suffering. He has sent His Son as the sacrifice for the sins of men and as payment for the debt owed by men and women for their sins. And all those who accept God’s gracious gift of salvation made possible through His Son’s death and resurrection receive forgiveness of their sins and the assurance of eternal life with Him. But the sins of mankind are real and an offense to a holy and righteous God. They cannot and will not be overlooked by God. He must judge sin. And all those who refuse the gift of His Son, must pay their own debt with their own lives. For as Paul so clearly stated, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 ESV). All men have sinned and all deserve the judgment of death, including eternal separation from God. But God is patiently holding back His wrath, waiting until all who will be saved have been saved. Then His judgment will be unleashed. And His Son will return, not as Savior, but as Judge.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

But while God delays, we must be about the business of reconciliation, calling people back to God. We must share the good news of salvation with any and all. As Peter so aptly put it, “No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Method to God’s Madness.

The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (that was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), which Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the Lord persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets, saying, ‘Turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and evil deeds, and dwell upon the land that the Lord has given to you and your fathers from of old and forever. Do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, or provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Then I will do you no harm.’ Yet you have not listened to me, declares the Lord, that you might provoke me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm.

“Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste. I will bring upon that land all the words that I have uttered against it, everything written in this book, which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations. For many nations and great kings shall make slaves even of them, and I will recompense them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.” Jeremiah 25:1-14 ESV

According to the opening verse of this book, Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry in the 13th year of the reign of King Josiah. That would have been 627 B.C. Now, 23 years later, Jeremiah was still hard at it, having spent almost a quarter of a century calling the people of God to repentance. But his efforts had proved fruitless. He was well into the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign over Judah, which happened to be the same year that Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon. It would prove to be an eventful year, because not long after taking the throne, Nebuchadnezzar would lead his troops to defeat the Egyptians at Carchemish, shifting the balance of power in the Near East. Up until that time, Assyria had been the playground bully, but that was all about to change. And it was all part of God’s sovereign plan. In 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar and his forces would make their way into Palestine, laying siege to Jerusalem, and ultimately destroying the city, deporting a large portion of the people of Judah to Babylon. This would be the beginning of the end, and Jeremiah couldn’t help but take a well-timed opportunity to get in a jab at the people for their stubbornness and refusal to listen to him.

“For the past twenty-three years—from the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah, until now—the Lord has been giving me his messages. I have faithfully passed them on to you, but you have not listened.” – Jeremiahs 25:3 NLT

This almost comes across as an I-told-you-so from Jeremiah. He had faithfully done his job, for 23 years, and not a single individual had responded favorably to his words. But he had not been alone in his efforts to reach the people of Judah with his messages of repentance. There had been other prophets over the years who had tried to communicate God’s call to return to Him, but they too had been ignored. Some had even been killed for their efforts. So, now Jeremiah gives them yet one more word from the Lord to let them know what was going to happen.

“Because you have not listened to me, I will gather together all the armies of the north under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, whom I have appointed as my deputy. I will bring them all against this land and its people and against the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy you and make you an object of horror and contempt and a ruin forever. I will take away your happy singing and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard. Your millstones will fall silent, and the lights in your homes will go out. This entire land will become a desolate wasteland. Israel and her neighboring lands will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years.” – Jeremiah 25:8-11 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar didn’t just happen to appear on the scene at this particular period of time. This was not a case of happenstance or blind luck. He was appointed by God for the role he would play in the divine judgment against Judah. God refers to Nebuchadnezzar as His`ebed, a Hebrew word that refers to a slave or servant. Whether the Babylonian king realized it or not, He was operating according to a much higher power: God. And God was using this pagan king to punish the people of Judah for their centuries worth of rebellion against Him. What is interesting to note is that both Jeremiah and Nebuchadnezzar had been appointed by God for their various roles in the fate of Judah. When God had called the prophet, He had told Him:

“Know for certain that I hereby give you the authority to announce to nations and kingdoms that they will be uprooted and torn down, destroyed and demolished, rebuilt and firmly planted.” – Jeremiah 1:10 NLT

God had given Jeremiah power and authority to speak truth into the lives of the people. He was to warn them of the destruction to come. But then God had appointed Nebuchadnezzar to accomplish all that Jeremiah had pronounced. In a sense, Jeremiah had played the role of John the Baptist, heralding the coming of one greater than himself. Except that Nebuchadnezzar would prove to be anything but a savior. He would be God’s hand of discipline, His rod of punishment.

Not long after Jesus began His earthly ministry, he visited Nazareth, His hometown, and entered into the synagogue. He was invited to read from the Scriptures, and opened up the scroll to the book of Isaiah, where he read the following words:

“The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has chosen me.
He has commissioned me to encourage the poor,
to help the brokenhearted,
to decree the release of captives,
and the freeing of prisoners,
to announce the year when the Lord will show his favor…” – Isaiah 61:1-2 NLT

Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of that prophetic passage. He was the one who bring restoration to the people of God. He was promising to accomplish all that that Isaiah 61 had predicted would happen, including…

“to console all who mourn,
to strengthen those who mourn in Zion,
by giving them a turban, instead of ashes,
oil symbolizing joy, instead of mourning,
a garment symbolizing praise, instead of discouragement.” – Isaiah 61-2-3 NLT

But there would be sadness before the rejoicing. There would be mourning before any joy could be felt. There would be sackcloth long before any garments symbolizing praise would be worn. And Nebuchadnezzar would be the one to fulfill God’s divine will regarding Judah’s destruction. But there is good news in the midst of all this sadness. God lets the people of Judah know that His wrath has a time frame attached to it.

“Then, after the seventy years of captivity are over, I will punish the king of Babylon and his people for their sins…” – Jeremiah 25:12 NLT

God had a plan in place. He was not winging it or flying by the seat of His pants. He had already decreed a timeline for the length of Judah’s captivity and had plotted a plan for the fate of the Babylonians. Their day in the sun would come to an end. Their fifteen minutes of fame would abruptly cease and someone else would take their place at the top of the food chain. Habakkuk, a prophet of God and a contemporary of Jeremiah’s, wrote these words from God:

Be sure of this! The Lord who commands armies has decreed:
The nations’ efforts will go up in smoke;
their exhausting work will be for nothing.
For recognition of the Lord’s sovereign majesty will fill the earth
just as the waters fill up the sea. – Habakkuk 2:13-14 NLT

Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, Assyrians – they are all blips on the radar screen of history. Nations rise and fall. Dynasties begin and end. Kings reign and then their kingdoms come to an abrupt halt. It is God who is in control. It is God who directs the affairs of men. He places kings on their thrones, presidents in their offices, dictators in their palaces, and the Savior on a cross. God has a plan for mankind. We can’t always see it. When we do, we don’t always understand it. And very rarely do we like it. What appears to us as out of control and chaotic is all part of God’s divine plan for the future of mankind. The disciples couldn’t understand why Jesus had to die. But His suffering was an integral part of our salvation. Had Jesus not died, we would not have eternal life. The people of Judah could see no rhyme or reason behind God’s plan for their demise. His decision to allow the Babylonians to destroy their city, dismantle the temple and take them captive made no sense. But God knew exactly what He was doing.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Good Figs, By the Grace of God.

After Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the craftsmen, and the metal workers, and had brought them to Babylon, the Lord showed me this vision: behold, two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the Lord. One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. And the Lord said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.”

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

“But thus says the Lord: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat Zedekiah the king of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they shall be utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.” – Jeremiah 24 ESV

This chapter fast-forwards to events surrounding Nebuchadnessar’s capture of Jerusalem. In 595 B.C., after a lengthy siege, King Jehoachin surrendered the city and the Babylonians marched in unopposed. The book of 2 Kings chronicles the details of that day.

At that time the generals of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched to Jerusalem and besieged the city. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to the city while his generals were besieging it. King Jehoiachin of Judah, along with his mother, his servants, his officials, and his eunuchs surrendered to the king of Babylon. The king of Babylon, in the eighth year of his reign, took Jehoiachin prisoner. Nebuchadnezzar took from there all the riches in the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace. He removed all the gold items which King Solomon of Israel had made for the Lord’s temple, just as the Lord had warned. He deported all the residents of Jerusalem, including all the officials and all the soldiers (10,000 people in all). This included all the craftsmen and those who worked with metal. No one was left except for the poorest among the people of the land. He deported Jehoiachin from Jerusalem to Babylon, along with the king’s mother and wives, his eunuchs, and the high-ranking officials of the land. The king of Babylon deported to Babylon all the soldiers (there were 7,000), as well as 1,000 craftsmen and metal workers. This included all the best warriors. The king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in Jehoiachin’s place. He renamed him Zedekiah. – 2 Kings 24:10-17 NLT

The best of the best were taken captive. They were transported to Babylon and forced into the service of the king. Some would end up serving in his government, much like Daniel did when he was taken captive (Daniel 1:1-6). The same was true of Nehemiah, who would end up serving as the cup-bearer to the king (Nehemiah 1:11). Others would use their skills and craftsmanship in the many construction projects of King Nebuchadnezzar. In taking all these individuals captive, King Nebuchadnezzar left Jerusalem and Judah virtually void of leadership. But it’s interesting to note that there is no mention of the priests and false prophets being transported to Babylon. It seems that they were left behind and their presence would continue to have a negative influence on the people of Judah.

Nebuchadnezzar replaced King Jehoachin with his uncle, Mattaniah, and renamed him Zedekiah. He would become a puppet-king or vassal, serving at the whim of King Nebuchadnezzar. And this was God’s will for him. In fact, just a few chapters later in the book of Jeremiah, God has His prophet deliver the following message to Zedekiah:

“Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave.

“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 27:8-11 NLT

Zedekiah would find himself receiving very bad advice from the false prophets, fortune-tellers and sorcerers who served him. Obviously, he had not taken the fall of Jerusalem seriously and cleaned up his spiritual act. In spite of all that had happened, he continued to live in rebellion against God, and his rebellious spirit would lead him to stand against Nebuchadnezzar.

But God predicted that all this would happen. That was His message to Jeremiah. Utilizing the imagery of good figs and bad figs, God declares the fate of the people of Judah. Those that ended up in captivity would be spared and one day returned to the land of Judah. Those who remained in Judah would be discarded like rotten fruit. Jeremiah’s vision of the two baskets of figs revealed them in the court of the temple. They most likely represented the first-fruits offerings that people would bring to the temple. These were to be the first gleanings of the annual harvest and were dedicated to God. But it would appear that one basket, filled with bad fruit, was a sign of someone bringing less than the best. They were giving God the dregs, the rotten fruit, rather than the best.

While all of Judah was guilty of unfaithfulness to God, He would choose to show His mercy on a remnant of the people. They all deserved His wrath and judgment, but in His divine sovereignty, He would elect to spare and bless some. Even when God eventually allowed the people held in captivity to return to the land of Judah, He did not bring them all back. The book of Ezra, which describes the return of the people under King Cyrus, records that only 42,360 Jews were part of that initial group to make their way back to Judah. Most would remain in Babylon. God would spare a remnant. He would begin anew with just a relative handful. And even these would not be deserving of His grace and mercy. They had done nothing to earn His favor while living in exile in Babylon. They were not better than the rest. But God, in His sovereign will, chose who He would return to the land. This sounds so unfair to us. It comes across as arbitrary and inequitable on the part of God. But Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds us that God is free to show mercy on whomever He chooses. None deserve it. In fact, all deserve His wrath and judgment, because all have sinned. But He mercifully bestows His grace on some.

This son was our ancestor Isaac. When he married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.”

Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses,

“I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.”

So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it. – Romans 9:10-16 NLT

God’s mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it. It is a gift. And the Scriptures remind us that salvation is a gift provided by God, not doled out based on merit or good works on our part.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time–to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 1:8 NLT

But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” – Titus 3:4-5 NLT

God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:28-29 NLT

The good figs in Jeremiah’s vision were good only because God deemed them to be. They were no better than the bad figs. But God had chosen to show His mercy on them. It is interesting to note that those who were taken captive into Babylon probably saw themselves as getting the short end of the stick. They most likely saw their fate as being the worst. Those who remained in Judah most likely saw themselves as blessed. They were spared captivity. But they would end up suffering in ways they could never have imagined. God told them:

“I will make them an object of horror and a symbol of evil to every nation on earth. They will be disgraced and mocked, taunted and cursed, wherever I scatter them. And I will send war, famine, and disease until they have vanished from the land of Israel, which I gave to them and their ancestors.” – Jeremiah 24:9-10 NLT

Good figs. Bad figs. The truth is, we are all bad figs, rotten to the core and deserving to be discarded by God. But, in His mercy, He chooses to redeem some and restore them to usefulness and true fruitfulness. All according to His incomparable mercy and grace.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson