Power, Possessions and Prestige

1 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” – Isaiah 39:1-8 ESV

There is little doubt that Hezekiah had a love for Yahweh. And he had a deep appreciation for the miraculous healing from his terminal illness and for Yahweh’s gracious pronouncement that his life would be extended an additional 15 years. Hezekiah had even ended his poem with the declaration:

“The Lord will save me,
    and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
    at the house of the Lord.” – Isaiah 38:20 ESV

But in the days that followed his healing, a darker side of Hezekiah’s personality becomes apparent. He struggled with pride, and this was not a new characteristic in his life. It had been a problem all along. In fact, the book of 2 Chronicles informs us that, even shortly after his healing, Hezekiah’s pride problem reared its ugly head.

But Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud. So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah humbled himself and repented of his pride, as did the people of Jerusalem. So the Lord’s anger did not fall on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime. – 2 Chronicles 32:25-26 ESV

While this rendering makes it appear as if Hezekiah’s pride suddenly appeared, the truth is, it was already there. The phrase, “he became proud” is actually one word in Hebrew, and it means “exalted” or “arrogant.” The passage literally reads, “his heart was haughty.” We aren’t told how Hezekiah’s pride manifested itself, but it could have been that he saw his healing by God as a sign of his value to God. There is a good chance that Hezekiah saw himself as somehow indispensable to God. The book of 2 Chronicles goes on to describe Hezekiah as very wealthy and successful. In the Jewish culture, material wealth was often viewed as a sign of God’s favor.

Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored. He built special treasury buildings for his silver, gold, precious stones, and spices, and for his shields and other valuable items. He also constructed many storehouses for his grain, new wine, and olive oil; and he made many stalls for his cattle and pens for his flocks of sheep and goats. He built many towns and acquired vast flocks and herds, for God had given him great wealth. He blocked up the upper spring of Gihon and brought the water down through a tunnel to the west side of the City of David. And so he succeeded in everything he did. – 2 Chronicles 32:27-30 NLT

Now, with his health restored and a divine guarantee of an additional 15 years of life, Hezekiah must have considered himself a truly blessed man. He had it all: Health, wealth, power and prosperity. But he also had a problem: Pride. And God, knowing exactly what was in Hezekiah’s heart, determined to put the king to a test, in order to expose the true nature of his condition.

However, when ambassadors arrived from Babylon to ask about the remarkable events that had taken place in the land, God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart. – 2 Chronicles 32:31 NLT

And this is where Isaiah picks up the story. It seems that news of Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery had spread, and enjoys from Babylon showed up with a message of congratulations from Merodach-baladan, the son of the king. But this little expedition was probably far more than a goodwill gesture. Babylon was an up-and-coming force in the Middle East and shared a mutual dislike for the Assyrians with Judah. It is likely that Merodach-baladan was simply attempting to build an alliance with Hezekiah, presenting the king with gifts and convincing him of Babylon’s good intentions toward Judah.

And this is where Hezekiah’s pride goes on full display. Isaiah provides us with a not-so-flattering picture of Hezekiah’s giddy delight at showing off his great wealth to these visiting dignitaries.

Hezekiah was delighted with the Babylonian envoys and showed them everything in his treasure-houses—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the aromatic oils. He also took them to see his armory and showed them everything in his royal treasuries! There was nothing in his palace or kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. – Isaiah 39:2 NLT

Hezekiah was out to impress, and his pride took precedence over his prudence. He gave these Babylonian envoys a private viewing of every state secret concerning Judah’s wealth and military capabilities. It’s unclear whether these men had shown up with the intention of spying out Jerusalem’s power and prosperity. But it really didn’t matter, because Hezekiah showed them everything they would want to see.

And, when Isaiah approached Hezekiah and asked him who the men were and what they had seen, the king was blatantly honest.

“They saw everything,” Hezekiah replied. “I showed them everything I own—all my royal treasuries.” – Isaiah 39:4 NLT

You can almost sense Hezekiah’s giddy pride at having been able to impress his guests with his vast wealth. He was like a kid on Christmas day showing off all his presents to his friends in the hopes that they would be impressed and just a tad jealous at his good fortune. But God was not impressed. In fact, God was angry with Hezekiah’s blatant display of worldly affection, and He had Isaiah deliver a sobering message to the king.

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Listen to this message from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: ‘The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. ‘Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.’” – Isaiah 39:5-7 NLT

Hezekiah was going to learn the brutal reality of the truth found in the Proverbs.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace… – Proverbs 11:2 ESV

Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. – Proverbs 18:12 ESV

Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor. – Proverbs 29:23 NLT

The condition of Hezekiah’s heart had been exposed. He loved the things of this world more than he loved God. He took more pride in his material wealth and physical health than he did in his relationship with God Almighty. And Hezekiah was more concerned with impressing men than honoring God. The apostle John provides a powerful warning to avoid the mistake that Hezekiah made.

Don’t love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you cannot love the Father. – 1 John 2:15 CEV

Even Jesus warned of the danger of falling in love with material wealth.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:24 NLT

And the apostle James adds another stern warning that strongly discourages friendship with the world and all that it offers.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. – James 4:4 NLT

There was nothing inherently wrong with Hezekiah’s possession of wealth. It had been given to him by God. But his wealth should have never become a substitute for God. His material possessions were never intended to replace his trust in and love for God. Hezekiah’s problem was that he saw himself as a self-made man. His identity was wrapped up in what he owned and how others viewed him. He had completely forgotten that his very life was a gift from God. He had been at the brink of death, and God had spared him. Had God allowed him to die, all his treasures and trinkets would have been left behind. God was not impressed with Hezekiah’s affluence. What God wanted from Hezekiah were his undivided attention and unwavering devotion. But Hezekiah worshiped wealth. He bowed down at the altar of worldly pleasure and temporal prosperity.

And the truly amazing thing is that Hezekiah took the report from Isaiah as good news.

“This message you have given me from the Lord is good.” For the king was thinking, “At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.” – Isaiah 39:8 NLT

While Judah may one day fall to the Babylonians and his own sons be taken captive, he was pleased to know that he would enjoy peace and security as long as he was alive. What a short-sighted and selfish outlook. He showed no concern for the future well-being of his own sons, let alone the nation for which he was responsible. Hezekiah was in it for himself. His love of things was directly tied to his love of self. Even the admiration of the Babylonian envoys fed his already swollen ego. Their delight in his vast wealth added fuel to the fire of Hezekiah’s raging pride.

One of the most telling proofs of Hezekiah’s pride problem was his refusal to repent of his actions. Rather than hear the word of God and turn to Him in prayer and repentance, Hezekiah simply rejoiced in the news that God’s judgment would be delayed. He would continue to enjoy his power, possessions, and prestige. And that was all that seemed to matter to him. And the book of 2 Chronicles provides the epitaph to Hezekiah’s life.

When Hezekiah died, he was buried in the upper area of the royal cemetery, and all Judah and Jerusalem honored him at his death. And his son Manasseh became the next king. – 2 Chronicles 32:33 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

 

 

Drunk on Success.

1 Ah, the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,
    and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
    which is on the head of the rich valley of those overcome with wine!
Behold, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong;
    like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest,
like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters,
    he casts down to the earth with his hand.
The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim
    will be trodden underfoot;
and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
    which is on the head of the rich valley,
will be like a first-ripe fig before the summer:
    when someone sees it, he swallows it
    as soon as it is in his hand.

In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory,
    and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people,
and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment,
    and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.

These also reel with wine
    and stagger with strong drink;
the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
    they are swallowed by wine,
    they stagger with strong drink,
they reel in vision,
    they stumble in giving judgment.
For all tables are full of filthy vomit,
    with no space left.

“To whom will he teach knowledge,
    and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
    those taken from the breast?
10 For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little.”

11 For by people of strange lips
    and with a foreign tongue
the Lord will speak to this people,
12     to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
    give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
    yet they would not hear.
13 And the word of the Lord will be to them
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
    and be broken, and snared, and taken. – Isaiah 28:1-13 ESV

Now, God turns His attention to Ephraim, referring to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Ephraim was the second son born to Joseph in Egypt. In fact, Ephraim’s mother, Asenath, was an Egyptian. Years later, when Joseph’s father, Jacob, adopted his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, intending to treat them as his own.

“And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.” – Genesis 48:5 ESV

In giving his patriarchal blessing to Jacob’s two sons, he intentionally awarded Ephraim the blessing intended for the firstborn. When Joseph tried to correct what he believed was a mistake, Joseph told him: “Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19 NLT). The tribe of Ephraim was later awarded land in Canaan, just north of the Dead Sea and would become a leading tribe of the Northern Kingdom after God split the nation in two. The city of Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, was located within the territory of Ephraim.

Ephraim, representing to ten northern tribes, is called out by God for its pride and arrogance. It was located in a fertile valley at the southern tip of the Jordan River. It benefited from the frequent flooding of the river valley and enjoyed the fruits of its rich and fertile soil. God even refers to them as “the drunkards of Ephraim” – probably a reference to literal drunkenness from the wine they produced and the spiritual drunkenness that resulted from their intoxication with idolatry. The prophet, Amos, had this to say about Ephraim.

You drink wine by the bowlful
    and perfume yourselves with fragrant lotions.
    You care nothing about the ruin of your nation. – Amos 6:6 NLT

In a sense, they were drunk on their own self-importance. Amos warned them, “you who feel secure in Samaria! You are famous and popular in Israel, and people go to you for help. But go over to Calneh and see what happened there” (Amos 6:1-2 NLT). Calneh had been overrun by Shalmaneser III of Assyria in 854-846 B.C., and God was letting Israel know that the same thing was going to happen to them.

For the Lord will send a mighty army against it.
    Like a mighty hailstorm and a torrential rain,
they will burst upon it like a surging flood
    and smash it to the ground. – Isaiah 28:2 NLT

The Assyrians were poised to bring the same devastation and destruction to the Northern Kingdom that had happened in Calneh. And God doesn’t sugarcoat the news regarding Israel’s fate.

The proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel—
    will be trampled beneath its enemies’ feet.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
Whoever sees it will snatch it up,
    as an early fig is quickly picked and eaten. – Isaiah 28:3-4 NLT

But God, always rich in mercy, declares that He will spare a remnant of the Northern Kingdom. Yes, He will bring judgment upon Israel in the form of the Assyrian army, but there will be a handful within rebellious Israel who recognize Him as their true source of hope and help.

He will be the pride and joy
    of the remnant of his people.
He will give a longing for justice
    to their judges.
He will give great courage
    to their warriors who stand at the gates. – Isaiah 28:5-6 NLT

But what about Judah, the Southern Kingdom? They are Isaiah’s primary target audience, and his message is intended for them. So, God reveals that He has issues with them as well. They stand guilty of the same sin of pride. They suffer from the same condition of spiritual intoxication.

Now, however, Israel is led by drunks
    who reel with wine and stagger with alcohol.
The priests and prophets stagger with alcohol
    and lose themselves in wine.
They reel when they see visions
    and stagger as they render decisions. – Isaiah 28:7 NLT

God’s indictment against the governmental and religious leaders of Israel has less to do with physical inebriation than spiritual apostasy. They are described as staggering drunks, but their real problem was spiritual confusion resulting from their steady consumption of the lies of false gods. They were incapable of making wise decisions. Their words of advice were no better than vomit from the mouth of a drunk. And they despised everything that Isaiah had to say.

“Who does the Lord think we are?” they ask.
    “Why does he speak to us like this?
Are we little children,
    just recently weaned?
He tells us everything over and over—
one line at a time,
    one line at a time,
a little here,
    and a little there!” – Isaiah 28:9-10 NLT

Isaiah’s words were simple and easy to understand, but the people of Israel rejected them. His incessant call to repentance was despised by them. His repeated warnings of God’s judgment were obnoxious to them. They were tired of Isaiah’s message. So, Isaiah let them know that the next words they would hear would be in a language they couldn’t understand.

So now God will have to speak to his people
    through foreign oppressors who speak a strange language! – Isaiah 28:

Over the centuries, God had constantly reminded His people that the land of Canaan had been intended to be a place of rest. Their relationship with Him as His chosen people was meant to be marked by peace, blessing and the joy of His presence. But their disobedience had marred their relationship with God, resulting in the split of the kingdom, constant civil unrest, rampant idolatry, and anything but peace and rest. And while God had graciously sent His messengers, the prophets, with a call to repent, the people had refused to listen. So, Isaiah lets them know that their stubborn refusal to hear and obey will result in their fall.

So the Lord will spell out his message for them again,
one line at a time,
    one line at a time,
a little here,
    and a little there,
so that they will stumble and fall.
    They will be injured, trapped, and captured. – Isaiah 28:13 NLT

And all of this was in keeping with God’s warning, delivered centuries earlier by Moses to the people of Israel. He had called them to live in obedience to God’s commands or face the inevitable consequences.

“The Lord will bring a distant nation against you from the end of the earth, and it will swoop down on you like a vulture. It is a nation whose language you do not understand, a fierce and heartless nation that shows no respect for the old and no pity for the young. Its armies will devour your livestock and crops, and you will be destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine, olive oil, calves, or lambs, and you will starve to death. They will attack your cities until all the fortified walls in your land—the walls you trusted to protect you—are knocked down. They will attack all the towns in the land the Lord your God has given you.” – Deuteronomy 28:49-52 NLT

And the fulfillment of God’s warning had come. The people of Israel and Judah, drunk on their own success and self-significance, were about to experience the hangover of a lifetime as the wrath of God fell. Their intoxication with the things of this world and the false gods of the Canaanites were going to leave them staggering and stumbling under God’s righteous wrath and just judgment.

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

Don’t Celebrate Too Soon.

28 In the year that King Ahaz died came this oracle:

29 Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you,
    that the rod that struck you is broken,
for from the serpent’s root will come forth an adder,
    and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent.
30 And the firstborn of the poor will graze,
    and the needy lie down in safety;
but I will kill your root with famine,
    and your remnant it will slay.
31 Wail, O gate; cry out, O city;
    melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you!
For smoke comes out of the north,
    and there is no straggler in his ranks.

32 What will one answer the messengers of the nation?
“The Lord has founded Zion,
    and in her the afflicted of his people find refuge.” – Isaiah 14:28-32 ESV

The Philistines were another powerful nation that had made its presence known during the days that Isaiah prophesied. They occupied land to the west of Judah between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Their presence in the Land of Promise, the land promised to Abraham by God and conquered under the leadership of Joshua, was due to the failure of Israel to remain obedient to God. The book of Judges tells us that God left the Philistines in the land as a test.

“Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua. – Judges 2:20-23 ESV

SouthernTribalAllotments2Earlier, in the book of Judges, we are told that the tribe of Judah had been successful in conquering the cities of Gaza and Ashkelon, located in the Philistine territory along the Mediterranean coast. They had also taken possession of the hill country, located to the east, along the Jordan River. But they had failed to take the area in between, known as “the plains.” This was a region occupied by the Philistines.

Judah also captured Gaza with its territory, and Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. – Judges 1:18-19 ESV

So, as a result of Israel’s failure to obey God and cleanse the land of its immoral and idolatrous occupants, God allowed those pagan nations to remain in the land. With their various false gods, they became a constant source of temptation to the people of Israel, drawing them away from the one true God. They remained a constant thorn in the side of the people of God, conducting raids and plundering their towns and villages. Interestingly enough, the very name, “Philistine” is derived from the Hebrew word, Philistia. In the Greek, it is rendered palaistinei, from which we get the English word, “Palestine.” Even to this day, those who occupy this land to the west of Jerusalem and along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, remain a threat to the people of Israel.

But in this oracle, Isaiah delivers a message from God to the Philistine people. And Isaiah ties the oracle to the year of the death of King Ahaz. The book of 2 Kings provides us with a bit of insight into the life of Ahaz.

Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 16:2-4 ESV

We’re also told that at one point during his reign, Ahaz made a visit to Damascus in Syria, where he met with the Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser. Syria and Israel had formed an alliance against Judah, threatening to destroy them. So, Ahaz had made a treaty with Assyria, paying Tiglath,pileser tribute money for his assistance against Syria and Israel.

Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin. – 2 Kings 16:8-9 ESV

While visiting Damascus, he saw the altar that the Syrians used to worship their false god. So, he sent word back to Judah, providing Uriah the priest with detailed instructions to make a replica of the pagan altar in Jerusalem.

When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus. – 2 Kings 16:11-12 ESV

Ahaz then had the brazen altar removed from the temple and replaced with this new pagan altar, where he offered sacrifices to the false gods of the Syrians. He repurposed the brazen altar, using it for divination.

So, this oracle is tied directly to the death of Ahaz. He died in 715 BC and his death marked a low point in the spiritual condition of the people of Judah. They had wandered from God about as far as they possibly could. Their land was filled with altars and high places to false gods. They were immoral and idolatrous. And yet, God focuses His attention on the Philistines.

God warns the Philistines not to be too quick to celebrate.

Don’t be so happy, all you Philistines,
just because the club that beat you has been broken! – Isaiah 14:29 NLT

It’s not exactly clear who is being referred to here. The “club” may be a reference to the house of David. All throughout his reign, David had waged war against the Philistines. As a young boy, he had defeated their champion, Goliath, in battle. And the tribe of Judah and the Philistines had remained enemies up until the days of Isaiah.

With the death of Ahaz, the Philistines could have been rejoicing over the loss of yet another king from the dynasty of David. It may be that they knew of Ahaz’ agreement to serve Assyria in return for their aid against Syria and Israel. Ahaz had told Tiglath-pileser, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me” (2 Kings 16:7 ESV).

The Philistines would have seen this alliance between Assyria and Judah as a good thing, further weakening Juhah’s power in the region. But it seems more likely that the Philistines were rejoicing over the removal of Syria as a threat to the region. These recurrent power struggles were taking place constantly, causing tremendous instability in the region. And the fall of one nation in the area was viewed as good news by all the rest. But God warns the Philistines to tap the break on their enthusiasm. In fact, rather than rejoice, they should weep and mourn.

Wail, O city gate!
Cry out, O city!
Melt with fear, all you Philistines!
For out of the north comes a cloud of smoke,
and there are no stragglers in its ranks. – Isaiah 14:31 NLT

While the people of Israel had failed to remove the Philistines from the land, God had plans for them. They could sit back and relish the troubles taking place in Judah, but the fate of the Philistines was sealed by God. There was judgment coming, and they could not escape it. While the nations could rejoice over the struggles of Israel and Judah, the would not escape from God’s wrath. God had promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt” (Genesis 12:3 NLT).

God had vowed to bring His curses upon any and all nations that attempted to treat His people with contempt. And the Philistines were part of a long list of nations that had made a habit of mistreating the people of God. So, Isaiah warned them:

How will they respond to the messengers of this nation?
Indeed, the Lord has made Zion secure;
the oppressed among his people will find safety in her.  – Isaiah 14:32 NLT

We know that, in 712 BC, the Assyrians invaded Philistia. And again, in 701 B.C. they returned under the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, meting out judgment against all those, including the Philistines, who stood opposed to them.

But there is a future judgment reserved for all those nations who have stood opposed to God and His people. There is a day coming when Christ will return, and He will wage war against the nations of this earth – all those who, in their pride and arrogance, have chosen to reject the reign of God Almighty. During the final days of the Tribulation, they will join the Antichrist, choosing to worship him instead of God. They will persecute the people of God, putting many of them to death. But at just the right time, God will send His Son again. And this time, He will come as a conquering King, not a baby in a manger.

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

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

There Is Only One God.

24 The Lord of hosts has sworn:
“As I have planned,
    so shall it be,
and as I have purposed,
    so shall it stand,
25 that I will break the Assyrian in my land,
    and on my mountains trample him underfoot;
and his yoke shall depart from them,
    and his burden from their shoulder.”

26 This is the purpose that is purposed
    concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
    over all the nations.
27 For the Lord of hosts has purposed,
    and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
    and who will turn it back? – Isaiah 14:24-27 ESV

God makes it perfectly plain: What He has said, He will do. What He has planned, He will accomplish. His words are not idle threats. His prophecies of doom and destruction are not potential possibilities, but certain realities. And God points a divine finger at Assyria, declaring that it will be one of the nations which succumb to His divine wrath.

In the previous verses, God outlined the pride and arrogance of Babylon. While this nation had not yet risen to its full power and prominence in Isaiah’s day, it would eventually become a major player on the scene. And it would be Babylon, under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar, that would defeat Judah, destroy Jerusalem, demolish the temple, and deport many of the people as slaves. Throughout the Bible, Babylon is used as the personification of man’s pride, arrogance, and self-exaltation. It comes to be the epitome of fallen mankind under the influence of the prince of this world: Satan.

But in these verses, God focuses His attention on Assyria. They were going to be the “Babylon” of Isaiah’s day, representing the most recent manifestation of man’s hubris and arrogant opposition to God. Assyria was the nation that had begun to dominate the landscape of Isaiah’s day, conquering the area that is now made up of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. In 733 BC, the Assyrians, under King Tilgath-pileser, came against the Northern Kingdom of Israel and took many of its people captive. Not many years later, they returned under King Shalmaneser and besieged Samaria, the capital city of Israel, finally defeating and destroying it.

And Isaiah had already warned the people of Judah that God would use the Assyrians to punish them as well.

The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria! – Isaiah 7:17 ESV

In Isaiah 10, God refers to Assyria as “the rod of my anger.” He will use them to bring judgment against the people of Israel and, eventually, the nation of Judah. It was in 701 BC that the Assyrians captured 46 of Judah’s fortified cities and laid siege to the capital city of Jerusalem. During that siege, King Sennacherib sent an emissary to the king of Judah, with a word of warning.

“Tell Hezekiah: ‘This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: “What is your source of confidence? Your claim to have a strategy and military strength is just empty talk. In whom are you trusting, that you would dare to rebel against me? Look, you must be trusting in Egypt, that splintered reed staff. If someone leans on it for support, it punctures his hand and wounds him. That is what Pharaoh king of Egypt does to all who trust in him! Perhaps you will tell me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God.’ But Hezekiah is the one who eliminated his high places and altars and then told the people of Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship at this altar.’ Now make a deal with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, provided you can find enough riders for them. Certainly you will not refuse one of my master’s minor officials and trust in Egypt for chariots and horsemen. Furthermore it was by the command of the Lord that I marched up against this land to destroy it. The Lord told me, ‘March up against this land and destroy it!’”’” – Isaiah 36:4-10 NLT

Sennacherib, the pagan king of the Assyrians, ridiculed the people of Judah, claiming that their king had eliminated the sacred high places and altars of their God, forcing them to worship at one location. But the trust was that Hezekiah had instituted a series of religious reforms, in an attempt to rid Judah of its many idols and return the people to the worship of Yahweh alone. But Sennacherib mocked them, claiming to have been sent by God to destroy their land. You can sense his arrogance and pride throughout this passage.

But while Sennacherib saw himself as the conqueror and the ultimate victor in this lopsided circumstance, he had no idea who he was fighting. He saw a demoralized and defeated enemy in the people of Judah. But he failed to see God Almighty standing alongside them, ready to protect and preserve them. God would use Assyria to punish Hise people but on His terms. They could only do what He allowed them to do, and no more. Sennacherib was an instrument in the hands of God, the rod of His anger. And when God had accomplished His divine purpose through Assyria, He would deal with them appropriately.

“I will break the Assyrian in my land,
    and on my mountains trample him underfoot;
and his yoke shall depart from them,
    and his burden from their shoulder.” – Isaiah 14:25 ESV

The kings of Assyria, like the kings of Babylon who would follow them, saw themselves as gods, limitless in their power and unstoppable in their quest to dominate the world. But like Satan, their power was limited by God. They existed only by the will of God.

Yet, man has always seen himself as the master of his fate and the sole arbiter of his future. From his vantage point here on earth, man sees things through the cloudy lens of his limited perspective, failing to take into account the sovereign will of God in the affairs of the world. But God makes it clear that He is the one who is in control.

“This is the purpose that is purposed
    concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
    over all the nations.” – Isaiah 14:26 ESV

God is the one who mocks at the futile and flawed aspirations of mere men. He looks down on their vain attempts to usurp His authority and mimic His divine power and laughs.

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury. – Psalm 2:1-5 NLT

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. – Psalm 46:67 ESV

Man, in all his misplaced arrogance and pride, has attempted to make himself like God. But the Almighty wants us to know that there is no one else like Him. The kings of the earth can plot and plan, dreaming of world domination and a global kingdom of their own making. But they will fail. And the day is coming when God will defeat all the kings and nations of the earth, bringing to a final and abrupt end their attempt to replace Him as the sovereign ruler of the universe. And in Revelation 11, John hears the voices of the 24 elders as they bow before God, seated on His throne in heaven, and sing:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty,
    the one who is and who always was,
for now you have assumed your great power
    and have begun to reign.
The nations were filled with wrath,
    but now the time of your wrath has come.
It is time to judge the dead
    and reward your servants the prophets,
    as well as your holy people,
and all who fear your name,
    from the least to the greatest.
It is time to destroy
    all who have caused destruction on the earth.” – Revelation 11:16-17 NLT

God eventually dealt with the Assyrians. And when the Babylonians showed up on the scene, He handled them as well. All the great nations of the earth have come and gone. Every single king, dictator, president, ruler and human authority has eventually fallen from power and, in time, died. And most of their kingdoms have come to untimely ends.

The absurdity is that others have followed them, thinking that they will be the ones to establish their own dominions and rule the world according to their own sovereign will. But they fail to recognize one very important thing: God. He is in charge. The world and all that exists within it and on it belongs to Him. His purpose is supreme. His will is certain. His power is unmatched. And His plan will be accomplished.

For the Lord of hosts has purposed,
    and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
    and who will turn it back? – Isaiah 14:27 ESV

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

How the Mighty Have Fallen.

12 “How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
13 You said in your heart,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 But you are brought down to Sheol,
    to the far reaches of the pit.
16 Those who see you will stare at you
    and ponder over you:
‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble,
    who shook kingdoms,
17 who made the world like a desert
    and overthrew its cities,
    who did not let his prisoners go home?’
18 All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
    each in his own tomb;
19 but you are cast out, away from your grave,
    like a loathed branch,
clothed with the slain, those pierced by the sword,
    who go down to the stones of the pit,
    like a dead body trampled underfoot.
20 You will not be joined with them in burial,
    because you have destroyed your land,
    you have slain your people.

“May the offspring of evildoers
    nevermore be named!
21 Prepare slaughter for his sons
    because of the guilt of their fathers,
lest they rise and possess the earth,
    and fill the face of the world with cities.”

22 “I will rise up against them,” declares the Lord of hosts, “and will cut off from Babylon name and remnant, descendants and posterity,” declares the Lord. 23 “And I will make it a possession of the hedgehog, and pools of water, and I will sweep it with the broom of destruction,” declares the Lord of hosts. – Isaiah 14:4-23 ESV

Pride, arrogance, self-exaltation and an unquenchable thirst for power. These are just a few of the characteristics identified with the leadership of Babylon – both historically and eschatologically. As we have seen, there is a future resurrection of Babylon in some form or fashion during the period known as the Tribulation. In the end times, it will resurface as a major player on the global scene, and its rise to power will be marked by many of these same characteristics.

Over the centuries, there has been much debate as to whether verses 12-15 speak of the fall of Satan. And there is another Old Testament passage that has been recognized as evidence of Satan’s fall. It is found in the book of Ezekiel and is part of a prophecy aimed at the king of Tyre. But there are aspects to the words of God that seem to be speaking to someone far different and more significant than a mere human king.

“You were the signet of perfection,
    full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden, the garden of God;
    every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
    beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
    and crafted in gold were your settings
    and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
    they were prepared.
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created,
    till unrighteousness was found in you.
In the abundance of your trade
    you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
    and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
    from the midst of the stones of fire.
Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
    you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
    I exposed you before kings,
    to feast their eyes on you.” – Ezekiel 28:12-17 ESV

Both the Ezekiel and Isaiah passages speak of someone falling from heaven and being cast to the ground. And in the gospel of Luke, he records the words of Jesus, seeming to refer to this same individual.

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. – Luke 10:18 ESV

In these verses, it would seem that Jesus is trying to downplay the disciples’ enthusiasm regarding their power over demons by letting them know that He was there when Satan was cast out of heaven. Any power they had over demons, who are nothing more than fallen angels, was due to God’s casting out of Satan. He and his fellow fallen angels are no match for God or the servants of God.

But are the verses in Ezekiel and Isaiah referring to the fall of Satan? It seems that the language, borrowed by Jesus Himself, is at least intended to tie the actions of the Babylonian leadership to pride, arrogance and self-exaltation of Satan himself. Over in the book of Revelation, John is given a vision that describes the fall of Satan.

Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth.  – Revelation 12:3-4 NLT

Verse nine goes on to reveal who this large red dragon represents.

This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels. – Revelation 12:9 NLT

So, while it would be difficult to definitively assert that the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel are referring to the fall of Satan, it seems quite clear that there are similarities. The actions of the Babylonian kings emulate those of Satan himself. Their pride and arrogance are evidence of their relationship with Satan and their control by him. Jesus spoke some harsh words to the Jewish religious leaders of His day, that would apply to any and all who refuse to accept Him as Savior and His Father as God Almighty.

“For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44 NLT

The apostle John would have us recognize that those who live lives marked by unrepentant sin are acting according to the will and wishes of Satan.

…when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. – 1 John 3:8 NLT

And the apostle Paul warns us that Satan has the power to deceive and distract the minds of unbelievers, causing them to reject the good news of Jesus Christ, and live in keeping with his pride-filled, arrogant and rebellious nature.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

So, as God levels His charges against the Babylonian kings, there can be little doubt that He is fully aware of and recognizes the hand of Satan behind their actions. Notice that five different times, God accuses the king of Babylon of saying, “I will…”

I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God

I will set my throne on high

I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north

I will ascend above the heights of the clouds

I will make myself like the Most High

What a vivid picture of man’s ridiculous pride and unjustified arrogance. But these pride-filled statements reflect the fallen heart of man. Left to his own devices, man will almost always end up worshiping self. When God is removed from the picture, man tends to make himself god. And Paul described this sad state of affairs in stark terms:

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

But how does God respond to the unjustified arrogance of mankind? As the proverb so aply puts it, “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall” (Proberbs 16:18 NLT). So, God warns the mighty kings of Babylon of the fall that awaits them.

…But you are brought down

…but you are cast out

I will rise up against them

…I will cut off from Babylon name and remnant, descendants and posterity

I will make it a possession of the hedgehog

…I will sweep it with the broom of destruction

Satan will prove no match for God Almighty, so what hope do the human powers of this world have? Man can brag and boast about his power and take credit for his seeming successes, but in the end, God will prevail. He will cast down all those who, in their pride and arrogance, have set themselves up as their own gods. Just look at the track record of history. The Pharaohs of Egypt, once worshiped and revered as gods, are no more. King Nebuchadnezzar, who once bragged, “Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor” (Daniel 4:30 NLT), is long gone. The Caesars of Rome, who at one time decreed that they worshiped as gods, are nothing more than an historical footnote.

Neither Satan or the men he controls, will ever be able to stand against the Lord of Hosts, the God of heavens armies. Man’s pride is no match for God’s power. Man’s arrogance will prove ineffective in the face of God’s anger. And man’s self-exaltation will prove short-lived when it comes into contact with the glory and majesty of God.

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 Destruction of the Destroyer.

Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger;
    the staff in their hands is my fury!
Against a godless nation I send him,
    and against the people of my wrath I command him,
to take spoil and seize plunder,
    and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
But he does not so intend,
    and his heart does not so think;
but it is in his heart to destroy,
    and to cut off nations not a few;
for he says:
“Are not my commanders all kings?
Is not Calno like Carchemish?
    Is not Hamath like Arpad?
    Is not Samaria like Damascus?
10 As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
    whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
11 shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols
    as I have done to Samaria and her images?” 

12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. 13 For he says:

“By the strength of my hand I have done it,
    and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I remove the boundaries of peoples,
    and plunder their treasures;
    like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.
14 My hand has found like a nest
    the wealth of the peoples;
and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken,
    so I have gathered all the earth;
and there was none that moved a wing
    or opened the mouth or chirped.”

15 Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it,
    or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?
As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
    or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!
16 Therefore the Lord God of hosts
    will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors,
and under his glory a burning will be kindled,
    like the burning of fire.
17 The light of Israel will become a fire,
    and his Holy One a flame,
and it will burn and devour
    his thorns and briers in one day.
18 The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land
    the Lord will destroy, both soul and body,
    and it will be as when a sick man wastes away.
19 The remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few
    that a child can write them down. Isaiah 10:5-19 ESV

God’s ways are not our ways. His actions are not always understandable by us. In fact, there are times when, from our vantage point, the ways of God appear unjust or unfair. We can read many of the accounts recorded in Scripture and wonder how a loving God can act so harshly, even to His own people. When confronted with stories like the flood that wiped out an entire generation of people, we can end up questioning His goodness. And, of course, His command to the people of Israel to eliminate all the nations occupying the land of Canaan is particularly difficult for us to reconcile with our belief in an all-loving and merciful God.

And, as today’s passage so clearly portrays, there were times when God used the pagan nations to punish His chosen people, then turned around and punished the very ones He used for their actions. It sounds so capricious and temperamental. God comes across more as a tyrant than a loving and gracious sovereign. But our perspective is limited by our vantage point. We see things only from our earth-bound and man-focused point of view. So, we must be careful in judging God or indicting Him based on a limited understanding of His will or His ways. As Moses so eloquently and accurately stated:

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

In today’s passage, we find God describing the nation of Assyria as “the rod of my anger” and “a club to express my anger” (Isaiah 10:5 NLT). He will use them to punish Judah, His own chosen people, whom He describes as “a godless nation.” God will utilize Assyria like a workman uses a tool to accomplish a task. He will go on to compare Assyria to an ax or a saw, a rod or a wooden cane. These instruments are lifeless and incapable of accomplishing anything of significance apart from the one who picks them up and puts them to work according to his will.

But God makes it clear that the king of Assyria “will not understand that he is my tool; his mind does not work that way” (Isaiah 10:7 NLT). His own pride and arrogance will not allow him to see himself as an unwilling instrument in the hands of a sovereign God. From his perspective, his actions will be according to his own will. He will attack Judah because he wants to, not because God has sovereignly ordained it.

His plan is simply to destroy,
    to cut down nation after nation. – Isaiah 10:7 NLT

He will be doing what he wants to do, unaware that his actions are part of the sovereign will of God. In attacking Judah and Jerusalem, he will be doing what he has always done. He will be following a well-established strategy that had resulted in the defeats of other nations. He will not recognize the hand of God in this victory any more than he had in all the others. In fact, he arrogantly boasts:

So we will defeat Jerusalem and her gods,
    just as we destroyed Samaria with hers. – Isaiah 10:11 NLT

Little did the king of Assyria know or understand that his coming victory over Judah would be God’s doing and not his own. His success would be God-ordained, not the result of his own strategic thinking or military might. But that will not be how he sees it.

“By my own powerful arm I have done this.
    With my own shrewd wisdom I planned it.
I have broken down the defenses of nations
    and carried off their treasures.
    I have knocked down their kings like a bull.
I have robbed their nests of riches
    and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs.
No one can even flap a wing against me
    or utter a peep of protest.” – Isaiah 10:13-14 NLT

And yet, God makes it perfectly clear that, when the Assyrians have completed the task He has set out for them, He will turn His judgment against them. He will punish them for their role in the destruction of His people – even though He is the one who ordained it.

After the Lord has used the king of Assyria to accomplish his purposes on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, he will turn against the king of Assyria and punish him—for he is proud and arrogant. – Isaiah 10:12 NLT

Yes, God would use Assyria to punish godless Judah, but their actions would not be against their will. The king of Assyria, like the people over whom he ruled, would be acting in keeping with his nature. He was proud and arrogant. He was power hungry and convinced of his own invincibility. And God would use the king of Assyria’s pride-filled ambition like a workman wielding a sharpened ax. But unlike a lifeless, inanimate ax, the king of Assyria would boast in his accomplishments, taking full credit for the destruction of Jerusalem. But God points out the absurdity of this kind of arrogance in the face of His sovereign will.

But can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it?
    Is the saw greater than the person who saws?
Can a rod strike unless a hand moves it?
    Can a wooden cane walk by itself? – Isaiah 10:15 NLT

And God goes on to describe the ramifications for Assyria’s part in the fall of Judah. God would punish them, not because they did exactly what He ordained them to do, but because they did it joyfully and with no recognition of His hand in it. They acted arrogantly and willingly in all that they did. So, He warns them that their punishment would be severe. He threatens them with a plague among their all-powerful troops. He predicts the destruction of their once-glorious army. As the Holy One and the Light of Israel, He would consume them as easily as fire destroys thorns and briers. The once great nation of Assyria would be destroyed in a single night.

The Lord will consume Assyria’s glory
    like a fire consumes a forest in a fruitful land;
    it will waste away like sick people in a plague.
Of all that glorious forest, only a few trees will survive—
    so few that a child could count them! – Isaiah 10:18-19 NLT

This pattern is repeated all throughout the Scriptures – all the way to the book of Revelation. God will use the Antichrist to bring judgment on the world, then cast him into hell for his efforts. In the end, God will unleash demonic hordes on humanity to torment and kill them. But, after their work is done, God will cast them and Satan into hell for all eternity.

We may not understand the ways of God. We may not even like the ways of God. But as God will point out much later on in the book of Isaiah:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

His ways are always right and just. His divine will is always perfect and His actions are never in error or motivated by injustice or unrighteousness. That may be difficult for us to comprehend, but our inability to understand God’s ways does not diminish God’s character. Our limited perspective may not allow us to fully grasp the ways of our unlimited, all-powerful God, but rather than question His goodness, we should find comfort in the fact that He is in complete control of any and all things.

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

Follow the Leader.

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:1-12 ESV

Christ-and-the-pharisees_by-Ernst-Zimmerman.jpegJesus had left the Pharisees speechless. Matthew records that, “no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:46 ESV). They had come with their questions, designed to trip Jesus up and expose Him to. the people as a fraud and a fake. But Jesus had turned the tables on them, asking them a question of His own and exposing their ignorance of the Scriptures they revered and their blindness to the reality of His position as their Messiah.

There men were part of the spiritual leadership of Israel. They were the revered and looked up to by the people. They, along with the Sadducees and scribes, were experts in the law of Moses. And yet, Jesus revealed that their knowledge of the Scriptures was insufficient and incomplete. In fact, in John’s gospel, we have these powerful words of Jesus, pointing out their obsession to the written word of God, but their stubborn refusal to accept the incarnate Word of God who came that they might have life.

“You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.” – John 5:39-40 BSB

Immediately after His latest and last confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus turned to those around Him and delivered a blistering attack on the scribes and Pharisees. Chapter 23 of Matthew is one of the harshest sections found in the Scriptures. In it, we find Jesus unloading on the Pharisees in a rather uncharacteristic way. But this is NOT a personal attack. He was dealing with those who had become roadblocks to the Kingdom. By rejecting Him, they were rejecting the rule and reign of God Himself. These men were supposed to be pointing people to God, but were actually doing just the opposite!

Earlier in His earthly ministry, the Pharisees had accused Jesus of working for and by the power of Satan. But He had responded to their accusation by saying, “Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven – except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven.” (Matthew 12:30-31 NLT).

The religious leaders had positioned themselves against Jesus and therefore, against God. They were denying the work of God as manifested by the power of God (the Holy Spirit), and attributing it all to Satan. So, in this particular teaching moment, Jesus pronounced a series of warnings or “woes” against the religious leaders of Israel. But rather than direct His attack at the source of the problem, Jesus chose to speak to those who were the unsuspecting victims of the Pharisees’ influence.

All of the warnings found in this passage would have come as a shock to the average Jew because they looked up to and admired the religious leaders as icons of virtue and the keepers of religious law. But Jesus gives His audience a few pieces of advice regarding these men.

Don’t follow their lead

The Pharisees had set themselves up as the official interpreters of the Law of Moses. They were the “experts.” But they were usurpers to the title. God had not appointed them as such. They were a man-made organization, and their name was derived from an Aramiac word that means “separated.” They were separatists and saw themselves as the true keepers of the law of Moses. And they certainly KNEW the law, which is why Jesus told the people to listen to and obey what the Pharisees SAID concerning the law.

“So practice and obey whatever they tell you…” – Matthew 23:3a NLT

But notice what Jesus said next:

“…but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.” – Matthew 23:3b NLT

In other words, don’t follow their example. As long as they are talking about the content of the Law, listen. But when it came to conduct based on the Law, the people were not to use them as a model.

Don’t do what they do

Jesus made it painfully clear. These men were nothing but hypocrites. The Greek word Jesus used was a term commonly used of actors in a Greek play. In those days, the actors would commonly play multiple roles and simply don a different mask to assume a new character. So, the word hypocrite made its way into the common vernacular to refer to anyone who was a “mask-wearer.” They were not what they appeared to be. For the Pharisees, everything was all about appearances. They had perfected the art of performance. Which is why Jesus warned, “Everything they do is for show” (Matthew 23:5 NLT).

Don’t love what they love

These men loved recognition and being noticed for their “spirituality.” In fact, they were addicted to being the center of attention. It showed up in their obsession with titles. They enjoyed being called “rabbi” or “teacher.” They took great pride in being recognized for their knowledge and expertise. Not only that, they saw their superior intellect and spiritual elitism as deserving of the peoples’ praise. They expected to be served, not serve. They loved themselves more than they loved God or others. In essence, these men were religious exhibitionists! They were little more than performance artists who had perfected the art of impressing others. But they failed to impress God and His Son.

A higher standard

Jesus seems to have focused His attention directly on His disciples when He said, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers” (Matthew 23:8 ESV). He didn’t want His followers to be obsessed with titles. He didn’t want them seeking the praise of men. They were to be brothers. Their role in the Kingdom of God was not to be about rank and privilege or power and position. In fact, their whole perspective was to change, as they recognized the heavenly nature of their new relationship with God.

“…call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven…” – Matthew 23:9 ESV

And they were not to seek the title of “teacher” or “instructor.” In other words, they were not to covet the role of the expert like the Pharisees did.

“Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ…” – Matthew 23:10 ESV

Contrary to what the Pharisees believed, Jesus was to be their sole instructor in the things of God. The word Jesus used is kathēgētēs and it means, “master, guide, or instructor.” The Messiah was to be their source of all wisdom. Even the written word of God points to the incarnate Word of God. To become an expert in the Scriptures, but fail to obey the One of whom the Scriptures speak, would be futile and, ultimately, folly.

Finally, Jesus reminded His disciples of their need to live lives of servitude, not significance.

“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:11-12 ESV

Their lives were to mirror His own, not those of the Pharisees. This was not new information to the disciples. Jesus had already told them, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 ESV). They were to model their lives after His. And in just a matter of days, they would stand by and watch as their rabbi, teacher, friend, and Messiah gave His life as a ransom for many. They would see Him betrayed, unjustly tried, brutally beaten, wrongly accused, and violently crucified. All so that they might have eternal life. Jesus was anything but a play actor. He was far from a hypocrite. He would prove to the way, the truth and the life. And the role model for every Christ-follower.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
      and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 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.

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

The War of the Wills.

“Go out of the midst of her, my people!
    Let every one save his life
    from the fierce anger of the Lord!
Let not your heart faint, and be not fearful
    at the report heard in the land,
when a report comes in one year
    and afterward a report in another year,
and violence is in the land,
    and ruler is against ruler.

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming
    when I will punish the images of Babylon;
her whole land shall be put to shame,
    and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her.
Then the heavens and the earth,
    and all that is in them,
shall sing for joy over Babylon,
    for the destroyers shall come against them out of the north,
declares the Lord.
Babylon must fall for the slain of Israel,
    just as for Babylon have fallen the slain of all the earth.

“You who have escaped from the sword,
    go, do not stand still!
Remember the Lord from far away,
    and let Jerusalem come into your mind:
‘We are put to shame, for we have heard reproach;
    dishonor has covered our face,
for foreigners have come
    into the holy places of the Lord‘s house.’

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will execute judgment upon her images,
and through all her land
    the wounded shall groan.
Though Babylon should mount up to heaven,
    and though she should fortify her strong height,
yet destroyers would come from me against her,
    declares the Lord.

“I will make drunk her officials and her wise men,
    her governors, her commanders, and her warriors;
they shall sleep a perpetual sleep and not wake,
    declares the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts:
The broad wall of Babylon
    shall be leveled to the ground,
and her high gates
    shall be burned with fire.
The peoples labor for nothing,
    and the nations weary themselves only for fire.” – Jeremiah 51:45-58 ESV

We’ve all met strong-willed individuals. Perhaps you have raised or are in the process of raising a child with a stronger-than-normal will. They tend to want to get their way. They can be very demanding and are usually not afraid to let others know what they are thinking and what it is they think they deserve, want or need. Can you imagine how many strong-willed people God deals with on a daily basis? Consider the number of people He has run into over the centuries who thought their will was more important than His own. If you think about it, every person who has ever lived fits into that category. Because of the fall, all of mankind was born strong-willed and self-obsessed. We all came out of the womb like little gods, demanding our way as soon as we could make a sound. The human will is the battleground on which the war between mankind and their Creator wages day after day, and it has been going on since God made Adam. When God told Adam, “Thou shall not…”, there arose in the first man’s heart the spark of self-awareness that responded, “Yes, I shall…” And the battle over control began. Adam and his newly formed bride didn’t take long to decide that their wills were more important than God’s. Their passions and desires quickly took precedence over God’s commands. Their attraction to the forbidden fruit and all that the enemy said it offered them overwhelmed any desire they had to obey God. Their wills won the day.

As God continues His quite lengthy oracle concerning Babylon, it is important to note that much of what He is dealing with is man’s innate need to be in control, to be the master of his own fate. The nations God has addressed over the last few chapters of the book of Jeremiah are corporate representations of man’s fallen state, and Babylon holds the distinction of being the epitome of willful arrogance and pride. Nebuchadnezzar was the poster-boy of pride. The book of Daniel tells the story of his pride reaching its zenith and God’s divine response to his unchecked arrogance and self-adulation.

God had given the king a dream, which Daniel had interpreted for him. Daniel had given the king the meaning of the dream, warning him:

You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.” – Daniel 4:25 NLT

But the king didn’t take Daniel’s words seriously. And in a relatively short period of time, Nebuchadnezzar would learn the painful truth behind what Daniel had told him.

“But all these things did happen to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later he was taking a walk on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon. As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’

“While these words were still in his mouth, a voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’” – Daniel 4:28-32 NLT

And it happened just as God had said it would.

“That same hour the judgment was fulfilled, and Nebuchadnezzar was driven from human society. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven. He lived this way until his hair was as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws. – Daniel 4:33 NLT

He went from walking along the parapets of his palace, bragging about his many exploits and personal accomplishments, to crawling around on all fours, eating grace like an animal. What separates man from the rest of creation is the fact that he was made in the image of God. But when man attempts to replace God’s image with his own, he becomes little more than an just another animal. Mankind’s capacity for reasoning, while it may set him apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, can also be his downfall. That was the lesson to be learned in God’s ongoing oracle against Babylon. God warns the pride-filled residents of Babylon:

“Though Babylon reaches as high as the heavens
    and makes her fortifications incredibly strong,
I will still send enemies to plunder her.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 51:53 NLT

God’s wording brings recalls the days in which he destroyed the tower of Babel, a pride-motivated building project taken on by the ancient predecessors of the Babylonians. God had commanded Adam and Eve, along with their descendants, to fill the earth. But the book of Genesis tells us that the people decided to do things their way, according to their own wills.

At one time all the people of the world spoke the same language and used the same words. As the people migrated to the east, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia[a] and settled there.

They began saying to each other, “Let’s make bricks and harden them with fire.” (In this region bricks were used instead of stone, and tar was used for mortar.) Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.” – Genesis 11:1-4 NLT

Essentially they said, “We know better.” They decided their plan was better than God’s. They desired fame more than they did following God’s revealed will. So, God stepped in and, just as He did with King Nebuchadnezzar, God knocked the residents of ancient Babel down a few notches.

But the Lord came down to look at the city and the tower the people were building. “Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.”

In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city. That is why the city was called Babel, because that is where the Lord confused the people with different languages. In this way he scattered them all over the world. – Genesis 11:5-9 NLT

King Nebuchadnezzar had his thinking confused and literally lost his mind. The people of Babel had their language confused and literally lost the capacity to communicate. Adam and Even had their moral compass confused and literally lost their communion with God. And in each case, the human will was the culprit. They had decided to do battle with God over and engage in a war of the will – and they lost. Man will always lose that battle. Oh, there may appear to be times with man’s will wins out. It may look as though we are getting our way and reaping the benefits of our own self-centered, egotistical plan. But in the end, God’s will always wins. Adam and Eve got what they wanted: The forbidden fruit. But they lost what they really needed: Communion with God. Nebuchadnezzar got the joy of standing on his palace roof and marveling over the mighty kingdom he had built. But he lost his mind. The people of Babel began an aggressive building program to construct a monument to their own human ingenuity and corporate capabilities. But they lost the ability to understand one another.

Man’s ongoing attempt to win the battle of the wills is a lost cause. Any minor victories we enjoy will always end in defeat. Any attempt on our part to exert our wills and force our way on the sovereign plans of God will prove hopeless and futile in the end. And God’s dire warning to Babylon should be a sobering reminder to us all that God’s will always wins.

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:
“The thick walls of Babylon will be leveled to the ground,
    and her massive gates will be burned.
The builders from many lands have worked in vain,
    for their work will be destroyed by fire!” – Jeremiah 51:58 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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Just God.

I have heard a message from the Lord,
    and an envoy has been sent among the nations:
“Gather yourselves together and come against her,
    and rise up for battle!
For behold, I will make you small among the nations,
    despised among mankind.
The horror you inspire has deceived you,
    and the pride of your heart,
you who live in the clefts of the rock,
    who hold the height of the hill.
Though you make your nest as high as the eagle’s,
    I will bring you down from there,
declares the Lord.

“Edom shall become a horror. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its disasters. As when Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring cities were overthrown, says the Lord, no man shall dwell there, no man shall sojourn in her. Behold, like a lion coming up from the jungle of the Jordan against a perennial pasture, I will suddenly make him run away from her. And I will appoint over her whomever I choose. For who is like me? Who will summon me? What shepherd can stand before me? Therefore hear the plan that the Lord has made against Edom and the purposes that he has formed against the inhabitants of Teman: Even the little ones of the flock shall be dragged away. Surely their fold shall be appalled at their fate. At the sound of their fall the earth shall tremble; the sound of their cry shall be heard at the Red Sea. Behold, one shall mount up and fly swiftly like an eagle and spread his wings against Bozrah, and the heart of the warriors of Edom shall be in that day like the heart of a woman in her birth pains.” Jeremiah 49:14-22 ESV

Edom’s destruction was inevitable and unavoidable. God was going to deal them a fatal blow that would leave them permanently eliminated as a nation. They would suffer a fate similar to that of the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. While those two cities experienced supernatural destruction in the form of fire and burning sulfur falling from the sky, the cities of Edom would fall to the sword as the Babylonians swept through their land. Their fortified cities, well-protected by their seemingly impregnable locations on the cliff tops, would eventually succumb to the relentless pressure of Nebuchadnezzar’s forces.

“You live in a rock fortress
    and control the mountain heights.
But even if you make your nest among the peaks with the eagles,
    I will bring you crashing down,”
    says the Lord. – Jeremiah 49:16 NLT

There was not going to be any place of safety or seclusion from God’s wrath. They could hide, but God would find them. They could place their hope and trust in their fortified cities, but they would prove worthless against the sovereign will of God. And God makes it clear that He will be the one behind the fall of Edom.

“I will come like a lion from the thickets of the Jordan,
    leaping on the sheep in the pasture.
I will chase Edom from its land,
    and I will appoint the leader of my choice.
For who is like me, and who can challenge me?
    What ruler can oppose my will?” – Jeremiah 49:19 NLT

Who can stand against God? Who is capable of withstanding His judgment when it comes? In the face of God’s discipline and overwhelming power, the pride and arrogance of man is exposed for what it is: Weak and pathetic. Even the most powerful kings are nothing when compared to the God of the universe. The most secure and well-protected cities cannot stand the onslaught of a God whose will has called for their destruction. A legion of false gods will prove to be no match for Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts.

“The earth will shake with the noise of Edom’s fall,
    and its cry of despair will be heard all the way to the Red Sea.” – Jeremiah 49:21 NLT

As has been the case with God’s oracles against Egypt, Philistia, Moab and Ammon, He makes it clear that the people of Edom will be defenseless before Him. They will have no chance. They will have no hope. The will of God and the word of God will be fulfilled – just as He has said. And that should be a source of encouragement to the remnant of the people of Judah. While they themselves had suffered greatly at His hands, they should find comfort in knowing that God was going to pay back all those who had turned their backs on Judah, or who had taken advantage of their predicament. In spite of the unfaithfulness of Judah, God was still watching out for them. He was still holding all of their enemies accountable, and meting out the justice they deserved.

All of this was part of God’s plan.

“Listen to the Lord’s plans against Edom
    and the people of Teman.
Even the little children will be dragged off like sheep,
    and their homes will be destroyed.” – Jeremiah 49:20 NLT

Yes, His plan involved death and destruction. Many would suffer, including innocent children. But the sin of men has always had consequences. Rebellion against God has always carried a stiff price. And when we choose to ignore His will and His Word, there will always be ramifications. And while we may sometimes feel that the wicked get away with murder, both literally and figuratively, God is always watching. He is fully aware of what is going on. Nothing escapes His all-seeing gaze. And even if we may sense that He is ignorant of what is going on or simply indifferent to the wickedness taking place in the world, God is all-knowing and has a plan for dealing with all those who live in disobedience to His will or set themselves up as enemies of His people.

I said to myself, “In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds.” – Ecclesiastes 3:17 NLT

God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad. – Ecclesiastes 12:14 NLT

It was King David who wrote so eloquently concerning the justice righteous judgment of God.

God is my shield,
    saving those whose hearts are true and right.
God is an honest judge.
    He is angry with the wicked every day.

If a person does not repent,
    God will sharpen his sword;
    he will bend and string his bow.
He will prepare his deadly weapons
    and shoot his flaming arrows.

The wicked conceive evil;
    they are pregnant with trouble
    and give birth to lies.
They dig a deep pit to trap others,
    then fall into it themselves.
The trouble they make for others backfires on them.
    The violence they plan falls on their own heads.

I will thank the Lord because he is just;
    I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. – Psalm 7:10-17 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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Did It My Way.

When Jeremiah finished speaking to all the people all these words of the Lord their God, with which the Lord their God had sent him to them, Azariah the son of Hoshaiah and Johanan the son of Kareah and all the insolent men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.” So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces and all the people did not obey the voice of the Lord, to remain in the land of Judah. But Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces took all the remnant of Judah who had returned to live in the land of Judah from all the nations to which they had been driven—the men, the women, the children, the princesses, and every person whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan; also Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch the son of Neriah. And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord. And they arrived at Tahpanhes. Jeremiah 43:1-7 ESV

Everyone has a right to their own opinion. But when the God who created the universe speaks, it would seem that His opinion should carry a bit more weight. And in the case of the people of Judah, you would think that they would learned to listen to what He had to say. Up until this point, every single prophecy Jeremiah had verbalized on behalf of God had come to pass, down to the last detail. So, when Jeremiah had returned to Johanan and the others with God’s word concerning whether they should escape to Egypt or remain in the land, he gave them God’s clear-cut, non-negotiable answer. And they refused to accept it. They accused Jeremiah of lying. They insinuated that it was all part of a plot instigated by Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe. Reading this passage as somewhat objective, third-party observers, it is difficult to understand how these people could be so stubborn or so stupid. How could they refuse to accept the words that Jeremiah spoke as having come from God? What possible reason could he have to lie to them? And how in the world did they arrive at the conclusion that Baruch was somehow to blame?

It seems rather clear that Johanan and his companions in crime had never intended to do anything but run away to Egypt. They were looking for God’s blessing on their plan, not insight into what He would have them do. When they didn’t get the answer they were looking for from God, they accused Jeremiah of lying and Baruch of plotting. Their minds had been made up a long time ago. Staying in the land had never been a viable option for them. And I think they knew in their hearts all along that God was going to tell them to do just that.

It would appear that there were other factors going on here. Their decision to go to Egypt was impacted and influenced by some personal factors that carried significant weight for Joahana and Azariah. They must have believed that this move to Egypt was going to have a particularly positive influence on them personally. Perhaps they believed that the Pharoah, who had not love affair with Babylon, would welcome them with open arms and reward them for bringing additional forces to use in his campaign against King Nebuchadnezzar. After all, Azariah was a guerilla leader who had troops under his command. Johanan may have been planning to auction off all the people he was taking with him once he got to Egypt. There had to be other factors involved in their decision-making process. And, inevitably, when anyone rebels against God’s revealed will, it is motivated by selfishness and pride. Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptations of the serpent and ate the fruit of the tree denied to them by God, because they desired to be like God. Absalom, the son of King David, staged a successful coup against his own father, because he desired to be king – even though it was not the will of God. He had been driven by pride, anger, and a lust for power. And he had been willing to depose the prophet-anointed, God-appointed king of Israel to get what he wanted.

In the book of Isaiah, there is recorded a word from God spoken against the king of Babylon. But it is also believed to be a prophetic statement regarding the original fall of Satan after he had rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven.

“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O shining star, son of the morning!
You have been thrown down to the earth,
    you who destroyed the nations of the world.
For you said to yourself,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars.
I will preside on the mountain of the gods
    far away in the north.
I will climb to the highest heavens
    and be like the Most High.’” – Isaiah 14:12-14

The desire to play god had always been a problem for mankind, ever since the fall. The innate and inbred desire for autonomy and control has always plagued us. And we are perfectly content to listen to God as long as what He says complements our own decision-making. But should God tell us to do something we find distasteful or in direct opposition to our own will, we simply reject it as untrue or flat out refuse to obey. Pride is a powerful force. Autonomy is a seductive mistress, with the ability to dull our senses and cause us to turn away from the sovereign and holy will of God.

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about this matter and provides ample warning regarding the need for wisdom and the fear of the Lord.

Wisdom will save you from evil people,
    from those whose words are twisted.
These men turn from the right way
    to walk down dark paths.
They take pleasure in doing wrong,
    and they enjoy the twisted ways of evil.
Their actions are crooked,
    and their ways are wrong.

Wisdom will save you from the immoral woman,
    from the seductive words of the promiscuous woman.
She has abandoned her husband
    and ignores the covenant she made before God.
Entering her house leads to death;
    it is the road to the grave.
The man who visits her is doomed.
    He will never reach the paths of life.

So follow the steps of the good,
    and stay on the paths of the righteous.
For only the godly will live in the land,
    and those with integrity will remain in it.
But the wicked will be removed from the land,
    and the treacherous will be uprooted. – Proverbs 2:12-22 NLT

Notice all the references to paths, steps, the right way and the wrong way. Johanan and his companions have been given the right way – the godly, righteous way. Jeremiah had told them exactly what God would have them do. But they were going to walk down the wrong path, the dark path. And in doing so, they would step out from under God’s gracious provision and protection. They would reject His wisdom and turn to their own sin-dominated wills for direction. And this section of chapter 43 ends with the sobering and prescient-filled statement:

The people refused to obey the voice of the Lord and went to Egypt, going as far as the city of Tahpanhes. – Jeremiah 43:7 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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson