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.