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