Rejected and Despised.

18 Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood,
    who draw sin as with cart ropes,
19 who say: “Let him be quick,
    let him speed his work
    that we may see it;
let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near,
    and let it come, that we may know it!”
20 Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
    and shrewd in their own sight!
22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine,
    and valiant men in mixing strong drink,
23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
    and deprive the innocent of his right!

24 Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble,
    and as dry grass sinks down in the flame,
so their root will be as rottenness,
    and their blossom go up like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts,
    and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
25 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
    and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them,
    and the mountains quaked;
and their corpses were as refuse
    in the midst of the streets.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.

26 He will raise a signal for nations far away,
    and whistle for them from the ends of the earth;
and behold, quickly, speedily they come!
27 None is weary, none stumbles,
    none slumbers or sleeps,
not a waistband is loose,
    not a sandal strap broken;
28 their arrows are sharp,
    all their bows bent,
their horses’ hoofs seem like flint,
    and their wheels like the whirlwind.
29 Their roaring is like a lion,
    like young lions they roar;
they growl and seize their prey;
    They carry it off, and none can rescue.
30 They will growl over it on that day,
    like the growling of the sea.
And if one looks to the land,
    behold, darkness and distress;
and the light is darkened by its clouds.  – Isaiah 5:18-30 ESV

Isaiah has an additional four “woes” to pronounce against the people of Judah. Not only are they guilty of greed and debauchery, they seem to enjoy it. Isaiah describes them as leading their sins behind them like a favorite pet. He says that they “draw iniquity with cords of falsehood.” The Hebrew that is translated as “falsehood” is shav’ and it can mean “emptiness, vanity or worthlessness.” The New Living Translation reads, “who pull evil along using cords of emptiness.” There is an emptiness or meaninglessness to their efforts. Nothing good will come of it. And it’s as if they]re the weight of their sin is so great, that they are forced to use a heavy rope, like one designed for hauling a cart. 

And all the while they sinned, they goaded God, almost daring Him to act.

They even mock God and say,
    “Hurry up and do something!
    We want to see what you can do.
Let the Holy One of Israel carry out his plan,
    for we want to know what it is.” – Isaiah 5:19 NLT

No shame. No remorse. No fear of God. In fact, they were openly rebellious and blatantly disrespectful to God. Their sins weren’t accidental, but willful. It was as if they pulled them along behind them in broad daylight, virtually challenging God to do anything about it.

And they displayed no sense of right or wrong. Isaiah accuses them of confusing the two. They were guilty of saying “that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20 NLT). They were living morally subjective lives that contradicted the expressed command of God. He is the one who decides what is right and what is wrong. It is not something that He leaves up to mankind. We don’t get a vote. And with God, there are no grey areas in which we get the opportunity to apply our own personal opinions or outlooks. “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:5 NLT). And yet, the people of Judah were saying just the opposite, promoting darkness as the norm and light as something to be avoided at all costs. The apostle John put it this way:

God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. – John 3:19-20 NLT

Sinful man loves to justify and rationalize his sin. He goes out of his way to paint his actions as acceptable and thoroughly normal. But in doing so, he contradicts the truth of God.

If we say we have not sinned, we make him [God] a liar and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:10 NLT

The next two woes have to do with pride and injustice. So, not only are the people of Judah greedy, hedonistic, rebellious and morally subjective, they’re arrogant and unjust. Isaiah describes them as being “wise in their own eyes” (Isaiah 5:21 NLT) and proud of their own inherent cleverness. But the apostle Paul would have told them, “If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18 NLT). Human wisdom is insufficient and a lousy source discerning the will of God. Once again, Paul would remind them, “So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish” (1 Corinthians 1:20 NLT). No one ever came to know God based on their own intellect or reasoning powers.

God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom. – 1 Corinthians 1:21 NLT

A man who boasts in his own wisdom is no better off than a drunk who brags about how much liquor he can hold. There is no redeeming value in either boast.

And because they rely upon own their own faulty and misguided wisdom, marred by moral subjectivity, they end up committing acts of injustice. They see nothing wrong in taking a bribe that lines their own pockets while allowing the guilty to go unpunished. In a world ruled by their brand of wisdom, they guilty prosper, and the innocent suffer. It is a topsy-turvy, upside down world that is nothing like what God intended.

Therefore…

That word marks the transition point in this passage. As a result of all that Isaiah has just described, God is going to act. He will no longer overlook their blatant disregard for His will and arrogant rejection of His ways. Isaiah compares God’s judgment to a fire that burns up everything in its path. Why? Because “they have rejected the law of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies; they have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5:24 NLT). Isaiah leaves no doubt as to the reason for God’s coming judgment. They had rejected and despised. Those two words carry significant weight and meaning. In Hebrew, the word translated as “rejected” is ma’ac. It carries the idea of disdain or rejection based on contempt. They had rejected God’s law because they had no respect for it. And the second word, “despised,” is the Hebrew word, na’ats, and conveys the thought of rejecting God’s Word because it brings admonition and feelings of guilt.

The law of God was intended to bring conviction on the people of God, exposing their sins and calling them to repentance. Conviction should lead to confession. But the people of Judah rejected and despised God’s methodology, preferring to justify their own sins and turning a blind eye to God’s point of view.

And this was not the first time. God had punished the people of Judah before. He had been forced to judge them for their sins on numerous occasions over the years. And Isaiah warned his audience that God was not done yet.

For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still. – Isaiah 5:25 ESV

Past discipline would not cover their present state of sin. Their lack of repentance was going to require God to judge His people yet again. And Isaiah gave them a less-than-pleasant description of what was to come.

He will raise a signal for nations far away,
    and whistle for them from the ends of the earth;
and behold, quickly, speedily they come! – Isaiah 5:26 ESV

Just as He had done in punishing the northern tribes of Israel, God was going to use a foreign power to bring His judgment upon Judah. Israel had fallen to the Assyrians hundreds of years earlier. Now it was Judah’s turn. And, in their case, it would be the Babylonians who would show up on their doorstep. In verses 27-30, Isaiah provides his audience with a graphic description of what they have to look forward to, and it is not a pretty picture. It all ends in darkness and distress.

Rather than the light of God, they would experience the darkness of defeat. Instead of enjoying the blessings of God, they would undergo unbearable distress. They had allowed their own greed, love of pleasure, rebellious tendencies, moral subjectivity, pride and injustice lead them down the path of destruction. And Isaiah makes it painfully clear that “no one will be there to rescue them” (Isaiah 5:29 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

Misplaced Trust.

1 For behold, the Lord God of hosts
    is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah
support and supply,
    all support of bread,
    and all support of water;
the mighty man and the soldier,
    the judge and the prophet,
    the diviner and the elder,
the captain of fifty
    and the man of rank,
the counselor and the skillful magician
    and the expert in charms.
And I will make boys their princes,
    and infants shall rule over them.
And the people will oppress one another,
    every one his fellow
    and every one his neighbor;
the youth will be insolent to the elder,
    and the despised to the honorable.

For a man will take hold of his brother
    in the house of his father, saying:
“You have a cloak;
    you shall be our leader,
and this heap of ruins
    shall be under your rule”;
in that day he will speak out, saying:
“I will not be a healer;
    in my house there is neither bread nor cloak;
you shall not make me
    leader of the people.”
For Jerusalem has stumbled,
    and Judah has fallen,
because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord,
    defying his glorious presence.

For the look on their faces bears witness against them;
    they proclaim their sin like Sodom;
    they do not hide it.
Woe to them!
    For they have brought evil on themselves. – Isaiah 3:1-9 ESV

Like every other prophet of God, Isaiah was tasked with calling the people of God back to Him. He was to warn them of God’s pending judgment, an unavoidable outcome unless they repented of their unfaithfulness and returned to Him. And just two chapters into the book, we have seen God’s present more than enough evidence of Judah’s guilt. His punishment of them is not a matter of if, but when. And as chapter two revealed, there will be a now/not yet aspect to God’s judgment. They will experience His wrath in the immediate future, but also in a far-distant “day to come.”

Chapter two also ended with a summation of Judah’s problem. They had put their trust in men, rather than God. Even their worship of false gods was essentially a trust in men, because idols are nothing more than the result of man’s imagination and creativity.

Their land is filled with idols;
    they bow down to the work of their hands,
    to what their own fingers have made. – Isaiah 2:8 ESV

But the day was coming when they would rid themselves of all their fabricated gods.

In that day mankind will cast away
    their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
which they made for themselves to worship. – Isaiah 2:20 ESV

God was out to destroy their love affair with man. He is a jealous God who will share not share His peoples’ affection with anyone or anything else. Yet, the people of Judah loved worshiping man and the works of his hands – from the precious metals he mined to the fortified walls he built. From his hand-crafted gods to his beautifully crafted ships and cities.

God was going to hit them where it hurt. He was going to attack the very things in which they had placed their hope, faith, and trust. And He would start with their sources of sustenance.

…the Lord God of hosts
    is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah
support and supply,
    all support of bread,
    and all support of water… – Isaiah 3:1 ESV

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and there is a lot of truth to that old maxim.Our physical appetites drive much of our behavior. They can have a powerful influence over our lives. Think about the Israelites as they journeyed from Egypt to the promised land. When they got thirsty or hungry, they grumbled and complained against Moses. They demanded a solution to their problem and even threatened to return to Egypt.

“…there we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” –Exodus 16:3 NLT

Even when God had met their need for food and provided them with manna from heaven, the people reached a point where God’s provision was not enough.

“Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” – Numbers 11:4-6 NLT

Our physical appetites can be powerful and highly influential, causing us to turn away from God. The apostle Paul addressed this important issue with his young protege, Timothy.

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. – 1 Timothy 6:6-8 NLT

But the people of Judah didn’t share Paul’s outlook. So, God was going to take away those things on which they relied for their existence. And He wasn’t going to stop with food. He would also remove their leadership.

the mighty man and the soldier,
    the judge and the prophet,
    the diviner and the elder,
the captain of fifty
    and the man of rank,
the counselor and the skillful magician
    and the expert in charms. – Isaiah 3:2-3 ESV

They were guilty of placing more trust in man than they did in God. Having failed to recognize these individuals as gifts from and representatives of God, they were placing all their hope in them. So, God would take them away. And when the Babylonians eventually defeated Judah, these were the very people that King Nebuchadnezzar took as slaves.

He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land. – 2 Kings 24:14 ESV

And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war. – 2 Kings 24:16 ESV

God would leave Judah without their leaders. All the wisest and oldest of their men would be taken captive, leaving “boys their princes” and virtual “infants” ruling over them (Isaiah 3:3). The result of this lack of seasoned leadership would be chaos.

People will oppress each other—
    man against man,
    neighbor against neighbor.
Young people will insult their elders,
    and vulgar people will sneer at the honorable. – Isaiah 3:5 NLT

The people of Judah were going to learn what life was like without God-ordained and God-provided leadership. These men were to have been representatives of God, not His replacements. And things were going to get so bad and qualified leaders so rare, that people would appoint men to rule over them based on some pretty sketchy qualifications.

“Since you have a coat, you be our leader!
    Take charge of this heap of ruins!” – Isaiah 3:6 NLT

People will become desperate for someone to lead them. But, even then, they will fail to turn to God. Instead, they will seek out unqualified and incapable men who lack the wisdom and resources to do anything about their sorrowful condition.

“No! I can’t help.
I don’t have any extra food or clothes.
    Don’t put me in charge!” – Isaiah 3:7 NLT

And this pitiful situation was coming on the people of Judah because they had chosen to place their trust in something other than God. Their actions displayed an open disregard for God.

…they speak out against the Lord and refuse to obey him.
    They provoke him to his face. – Isaiah 3:8 NLT

And from God’s vantage point, He could see through their false piety and ritualistic religious observances. They were simply going through the motions. They had no real love for or fear of God.

They display their sin like the people of Sodom
    and don’t even try to hide it.
They are doomed!
    They have brought destruction upon themselves. – Isaiah 3:9 NLT

They deserved what they had coming to them. They had long ago lost any sense of moral responsibility. Their consciences had been seared by their constant exposure to false and faulty leadership. And, just a few chapters later, Isaiah will describe their spiritual condition in stark terms:

Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead,
who turn darkness into light and light into darkness,
who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter. – Isaiah 5:20 NLT

By turning away from God, they had left themselves with no moral compass by which to navigate life. Even their leaders had forsaken God, so that no one was able to provide them with wise and godly guidance. And this lack of divine leadership had created a moral void and a perfect environment in which every man did what was right in his own eyes. And the prophet Jeremiah provides an apt description of what happens when men reject God as their sole source of sustenance and strength. Their consciences become seared and their capacity for righteous living becomes impossible.

Are they ashamed of these disgusting actions? Not at all–they don’t even know how to blush! – Jeremiah 8:12 NLT

God had made His expectations perfectly clear: His people were to have no other gods but Him (Exodus 20:3). And that included gods of wood and stone, as well as flesh and blood. They were to worship Him and Him alone. But they had failed to keep that law. It wasn’t that they had stopped believing in Him, it was that they had ceased trusting in Him. Over time, they had put their hope in the things He had provided, rather than in the Provider. They had ended up worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. And replacement gods not only fail to deliver, they always lead us away from the one true 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

Return!

1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
    for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
    and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.”

Ah, sinful nation,
    a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
    children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the Lord,
    they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
    they are utterly estranged.

Why will you still be struck down?
    Why will you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
    and the whole heart faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head,
    there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores
    and raw wounds;
they are not pressed out or bound up
    or softened with oil.

Your country lies desolate;
    your cities are burned with fire;
in your very presence
    foreigners devour your land;
    it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
And the daughter of Zion is left
    like a booth in a vineyard,
like a lodge in a cucumber field,
    like a besieged city.

If the Lord of hosts
    had not left us a few survivors,
we should have been like Sodom,
    and become like Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
    says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
    or of lambs, or of goats.

12 “When you come to appear before me,
    who has required of you
    this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
    incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
    I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
    my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
    you shall be eaten by the sword;
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 1:1-20 ESV

As the name of this book implies, it was written by the prophet, Isaiah, during the reigns of the following kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. It is considered a pre-exilic book, which simply means it was penned before the southern kingdom of Judah was defeated and destroyed in 586 B.C. by King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian forces in 586 B.C. The result of this God-ordained calamity was that many of the people of Judah were taken captive and ended up living in exile in the nation of Babylon.

Isaiah was one of many prophets chosen by God to carry a message to the nation of Judah, warning them of pending judgment if they did not repent of their ways. He repeatedly called on them to return to Him or face destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. If they refused, they would find their capital of Jerusalem destroyed, their temple demolished, and their status as a major player in the region wiped out. If they ignored the message of Isaiah, they would find their exile from the land of promise lasting 70 long years.

So, Isaiah was chosen by God to deliver a stark message to the people of God, warning them of disaster to come. It would not be an easy task. Like all of God’s prophets, Isaiah would find an non-receptive audience who refused to listen to his words. And of the four kings during whose administrations Isaiah would prophecy, only two would show any interest in obeying God. They would attempt to apply the words of Isaiah and call the people to repentance, but their efforts would fall short.

But notice how God’s opens up His indictment of Judah. He addresses heaven and earth.

“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
    for the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 1:2 ESV

He wants everyone, in heaven and on earth, to know just exactly what He has against the people of Judah, who He describes as children He has reared and brought up. They were the descendants of Abraham. As such, they were the direct result of a promise God had made to Abraham many generations earlier.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – Genesis 12:2 ESV

The people of Judah were that great nation. They had been blessed by God and He had intended them to be a blessing to the other nations of the world. But as God makes perfectly clear, they had not been obedient children.

“…but they have rebelled against me.” – Isaiah 1:2 ESV

His criticism of His people is very blunt and far from flattering. He compares them to an ox and a donkey, two domesticated animals that aren’t known for being the brightest beasts in the barnyard. But God gives the ox and the donkey more credit than His own children. At least an ox recognizes its owner and a donkey knows where to go to get fed by his master. But the people of Judah were at a distinct disadvantage. Number one, they didn’t know God, their master. And they had no clue where to go to have their daily needs met. They were feeding themselves at the wrong trough.

Look at verse 4. God spares no mercy in describing the spiritual state of His people.

…sinful nation
…a people laden with iniquity
…offspring of evildoers
…children who deal corruptly
…they have forsaken the Lord
…they have despised the Holy One of Israel
…they are utterly estranged

Not exactly a flattering picture. But God isn’t done. He goes on to question the absurdity of their situation. Why in the world would they willingly continue to rebel against Him and suffer the consequences? They were bruised and beaten from the impact of it all. But they weren’t willing to do anything about it. God had already begun His judgments against them. Some of their cities were “desolate” because the enemies of the people of God were constantly attacking them. A lot of their problem was related to the failure of their ancestors to do what God had commanded them to do when He placed them in the promised land. They were to have completely destroyed all the inhabitants of the land so that they would not end up worshiping their false gods. But they had never fully followed through on their commitment, instead allowing the nations to remain in the land and to draw their hearts away from God. Now they were paying for it.

It was only the grace and mercy of God that had kept them from becoming a total wasteland like the once-flourishing cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God even refers to them Sodom and Gomorrah, asking whether they think their sacrifices were enough to prevent their coming destruction.

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
    or of lambs, or of goats. – Isaiah 1:11 ESV

God was fed up. He was worn out by their tendency to simply go through the motions. And He wanted them to know that He was running out of patience.

When you spread out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood. – Isaiah 1:15 ESV

He pulls no punches. He doesn’t sugarcoat the problem. And, He gives them very clear instructions as to what they need to do to remedy the issue.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
   learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause. – Isaiah 1:16-17 ESV

They had their work cut out for them, because they weren’t doing any of these things. But did God really expect them to pull this off? Was He going to sit back and wait for them to get their proverbial act together – on their own? No, look at what He says next.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
    you shall eat the good of the land.” – Isaiah 1:18-19 ESV

All they needed to do was return to Him. That was going to be the gist of Isaiah’s message. Just repent. Return to God and allow Him to do what He can only do. But God was clear what would happen if they refused to return.

“…if you refuse and rebel,
    you shall be eaten by the sword;
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 1:20 ESV

Wow! That’s just the first 20 verses of this entire book. And Isaiah hasn’t even said a word yet. But he will. In fact, he will have a lot to say. But he won’t find many takers on what he has to offer. He will warn. He will plead. He will pray. He will beg. But the people of Judah will prove to be stubborn and set in their ways.

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

No More.

21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying,

“So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence,
    and will be found no more;
22 and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters,
    will be heard in you no more,
and a craftsman of any craft
    will be found in you no more,
and the sound of the mill
    will be heard in you no more,
23 and the light of a lamp
    will shine in you no more,
and the voice of bridegroom and bride
    will be heard in you no more,
for your merchants were the great ones of the earth,
    and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.
24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
    and of all who have been slain on earth.”  Revelation 18:21-24 ESV

 

millstone2John is shown yet another mighty angel. Or perhaps it is the same angel he saw before. But this time, the angel took a large stone, similar to a millstone, and threw it into the sea.The imagery of this vision is very similar to a scene from the book of Jeremiah, in which the prophet sent a prince named Seraiah to Babylon with instructions to read the words from a scroll containing all the judgments against Babylon. Then, he was to “tie a stone to it and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disaster that I am bringing upon her, and they shall become exhausted’” (Jeremiah 51:63-64 ESV). Jeremiah was pronouncing judgment against Babylon for her role in the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of her people as captives. Even though Babylon had been used by God to bring about this punishment upon the people of Judah because of their rebellion against Him, the would suffer for the part they played in Judah’s fall. In a similar way, John sees the angel take the large stone and throw it into the sea, and he hears the angel call out, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more” (Revelation 18:21 ESV). As the heavy stone disappears into the sea, never to be seen again, so will Babylon disappear off the face of the earth, never to rise again to power or prominence. John’s use of the term, “millstone” to describe the stone he saw the angel hurl into the sea, has important implications. A millstone was a large, round stone that was used to grind grain, nuts and other food elements. Also known as a grinding stone, it provides an apt description for Babylon, because as a nation, they had been grinding other nations under their power, eventually crushing and consuming them. And the Babylon represented in chapters 17 and 18 of Revelation will be the ultimate grinding stone of Satan, used to crush and defeat the people of God and the saints during the days of the tribulation. But God will bring a sudden and abrupt end to Babylon’s world domination and remove its ability to persecute the people of God once and for all time.

And the angel describes the impact of God’s judgment against the city of Babylon. Six different times, the angel is heard to repeat the words, “no more,” expressing the full and irreversible fall of this once-great city. There will be no more music played within its walls. There will be no more craftsmen selling their wares. The sound of wheat being ground at the mill will cease. There will be no one to light a lamp. And there will be no more marriage celebrations taking place. The usual affairs of life will be no more. And it is no coincidence that the words the angel speaks are very similar to those spoken by God to the people of Israel, just before He gave them over to the Babylonians thousands of years earlier.

“Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. 10 Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. 11 This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. – Jeremiah 25:8-11 ESV

God is now going to bring this same degree of destruction on the nation of Babylon, the dominion of the Antichrist and the symbol of mankind’s rebellion against Him. God punished the people of Israel, but eventually restored them to the land. After 70 years in captivity, He faithfully kept His promise to place a remnant of them back in Canaan, allowing them to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple. But there will be no rebuilding or repopulating of Babylon. Its destruction will be final.

The angel provides three reasons for Babylon’s fall. First, it will be because her “merchants were the great ones of the earth” (Revelation 18:23 ESV). There is a sense in which Babylon and the businessmen who grow rich as a result of her power and prominence, will represent the pride of human achievement. The commercial success of this fallen, godless kingdom will be great and its influence will be felt around the globe. The pride and self-sufficiency that this kind of material success breeds, will become infectious, spreading like a cancer throughout the world. Secondly, Babylon will fall because it deceived the nations by means of sorcery. This metaphor is often used to describe the deceptions and seductions of idolatry. The worship of Antichrist will deceive many, leading them to succumb to his power and influence. They will see him as their savior, offering them everything they think they want and need, including joy, security, honor, and meaning in life. Babylon will become the source of all their wants and wishes. But they will be deceived. And finally, God will hold Babylon responsible for “the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth” (Revelation 18:24 ESV). This wicked world system, under the control of Antichrist, will be brought to an end because of its undeniable role in the death of God’s people. The Babylon of Revelation 18 clearly represents the city that will be in existence at that time, but it also represents the world system that has stood against God and His people for all time. Even during the days of Jeremiah, God had harsh words to say to the Babylon of his day, regarding their treatment of the people of Israel and His plan to repay them for their actions.

Babylon must fall for the slain of Israel,
    just as for Babylon have fallen the slain of all the earth. – Jeremiah 51:49 ESV

As the book of Revelation moves to its concluding chapters, John is seeing the days of the tribulation coming to a close. The time of the Gentiles is quickly coming to its final end. And this period of time, which has been in place for centuries, has been marked by false religions and a love affair with money and commercial success. Mankind has been deceived and distracted by countless false gods, offering themselves up as alternatives to the one true God. And the materialism and financial success marked by modernity has caused mankind to seek independence from God, thinking that money and the power it buys, can provide us with all we need to enjoy life. But false religions and a faulty dependence upon worldly possessions have never and will never satisfy. They are what the Bible describes as broken cisterns – man-made alternatives to God, which are designed to provide what only God can provide, but fail to do so. Once again, in the book of Jeremiah, we have the words of God spoken against the people of God. He accuses them of abandoning Him and of turning to false and faulty replacements for Him. And that is the primary problem with the age of the Gentiles, represented by the rise of Babylon during the days of the tribulation.

12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
    be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
13 for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
    the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
    broken cisterns that can hold no water. – Jeremiah 2:12-13 ESV

Self-sufficiency, pride and a refusal to place our hope in God. Those are the characteristics of our age and they will only become more pronounced during the dark days of the tribulation. They will come to a head and manifest themselves in the city occupied by Antichrist. But God will bring all of this to an end. He will destroy the false idols and all man-made institutions, set up as alternative sources of joy, happiness, contentment and fulfillment. They will be no more.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

 

God Has Given Judgment.

And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

“Alas! Alas! You great city,
    you mighty city, Babylon!
For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.

14 “The fruit for which your soul longed
    has gone from you,
and all your delicacies and your splendors
    are lost to you,
    never to be found again!”

15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,

16 “Alas, alas, for the great city
    that was clothed in fine linen,
        in purple and scarlet,
    adorned with gold,
        with jewels, and with pearls!

17 For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.”

And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,

“What city was like the great city?”

19 And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out,

“Alas, alas, for the great city
    where all who had ships at sea
    grew rich by her wealth!
For in a single hour she has been laid waste.
20 Rejoice over her, O heaven,
    and you saints and apostles and prophets,
for God has given judgment for you against her!”  Revelation 18:9-20 ESV

 

detail-of-a-lion-found-along-the-processional-way-from-ishtar-gate-into-the-city-of-babylon-the-ishtar-gate-was-constructed-around-575-bc-by-king-nebuchadnezzar-iiKings, businessmen and commercial shippers will all mourn the loss of Babylon. The fall of this great city will have devastating implications on all who live on the earth. But the question remains as to whether John is seeing a vision of the fall of the literal city of Babylon or merely its commercial, political and religious representation. Some commentators turn to passages like Isaiah 13:19-22, which prophesies the destruction of Babylon, indicating that it will become uninhabitable.

19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
    the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
    when God overthrew them.
20 It will never be inhabited
    or lived in for all generations;
no Arab will pitch his tent there;
    no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there. – Isaiah 13:19-21 ESV

This passage, taken out of its context, makes it sound like Babylon was to soon be destroyed and never rebuilt or re-inhabited. But if we look a few verses earlier, we see that the prophecy indicates that its destruction is tied to “the day of the Lord.”

Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;
    as destruction from the Almighty it will come! – Isaiah 13:6 ESV

Just a few verses later, Isaiah expands on the nature of that day.

Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
    cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
    and to destroy its sinners from it.
10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
    will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
    and the moon will not shed its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
    and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
    and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. – Isaiah 13:9-11 ESV

The use of the phrase, “the day of the Lord”, is almost always tied to the end times or the final days where God intervenes directly into the affairs of mankind, bringing judgment on the earth for its sins. Jeremiah 51 is another Old Testament passage that prophesies the fall of Babylon and it infers that its fall will be sudden and unexpected.

Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken;
    wail for her! Jeremiah 51:8 ESV

And the prophet makes it clear that it will be God who brings about the fall and destruction of this once great city.

12 “Set up a standard against the walls of Babylon;
    make the watch strong;
set up watchmen;
    prepare the ambushes;
for the Lord has both planned and done
    what he spoke concerning the inhabitants of Babylon.
13 O you who dwell by many waters,
    rich in treasures,
your end has come;
    the thread of your life is cut.
14 The Lord of hosts has sworn by himself:
Surely I will fill you with men, as many as locusts,
    and they shall raise the shout of victory over you.” – Jeremiah 51:12-14 ESV

But this event has yet to take place. The city of Babylon has never experienced the kind of sudden fall and complete devastation outlined in these verses. Babylon was eventually overtaken by the Assyrians, but they did not destroy the city. They simply re-purposed it for their own use. The city of Babylon remained in existence for generations. It was the nation of Babylon that fell. The city itself simply became the property of those nations that ruled long after the fall of the nation of Babylon. This included the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman, and Sassanid empires.

The sudden and final destruction of Babylon has yet to happen, and that is exactly what John is seeing foretold in this vision. John is seeing the aftermath of the great city’s eventual fall at the hands of God Almighty, and he is told that it will take place suddenly.

For in a single hour your judgment has come. – Revelation 18:10 ESV

It seems evident that the city of Babylon will be rebuilt and repopulated during the days of the tribulation. Located in what is today the nation of Iraq, the rebuilding of Babylon began during the long reign of Saddam Hussein. There is no reason to doubt that the Antichrist might not choose to locate his government in this significant geographic region. And with the vast financial resources at his disposal, he will have more than enough money to complete the rebuilding process.

There will be much mourning over the sudden loss of this prosperous and powerful city. The rulers of the earth will have benefited greatly from their association with the Antichrist’s government. The merchants of the earth will weep over the loss of revenue as a result of the city’s fall. Even those who ship goods, including the sailors on the ships, will mourn her loss, saying:

“Alas, alas, for the great city
    where all who had ships at sea
    grew rich by her wealth!
For in a single hour she has been laid waste. – Revelation 18:19 ESV

But it will be another matter in heaven, where there will be rejoicing over her demise.

“Rejoice over her, O heaven,
    and you saints and apostles and prophets,
for God has given judgment for you against her!” – Revelation 18:11 ESV

In fact, in the opening verses of the very next chapter, John hears the following words emanating from heaven.

1 “Hallelujah!
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
    for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
    who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” – Revelation 19:1-2 ESV

The prophet Jeremiah foretold of this great day and the rejoicing in heaven that it would bring.

47 “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.
48 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. – Jeremiah 51:47-48 ESV

This passage makes clear that the destruction of Babylon will be sudden and complete. Three separate times, John is told that it will all take place in an hour.

For in a single hour your judgment has come. – Revelation 18:10 ESV

For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste. – Revelation 18:17 ESV

For in a single hour she has been laid waste. – Revelation 18:19 ESV

In just a matter of minutes, God will completely and utterly destroy this great city and remove from it all the trappings of wealth and prosperity for which it was known. He will eliminate its political and military power, transforming it into a smoking wasteland.

In his first letter, John warned his readers to not fall in love with the things this world offers. He described them as “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ESV). Each of those are representative of the city of Babylon, which God destroys in the last days. It becomes the icon for worldliness and immorality. But John also warned his readers to remember that “the world is passing away along with its desires” (1 John 2:17 ESV), and that is exactly what we see happening in this 18th chapter of Revelation. The world system, represented by the physical city of Babylon, will be destroyed. All that mankind has placed its faith and hope in will be destroyed in less than 60 minutes of time. The luxury, wealth, power, prestige, and god-like successes of man will be laid waste by the God of the universe – “for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her” (Revelation 18:8 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

 

Mighty Is the Lord God.

1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice,

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
    She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
    a haunt for every unclean bird,
    a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.
For all nations have drunk
    the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,
and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,
    and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
    lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
    and God has remembered her iniquities.
Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,
    and repay her double for her deeds;
    mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.
As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,
    so give her a like measure of torment and mourning,
since in her heart she says,
    ‘I sit as a queen,
I am no widow,
    and mourning I shall never see.’
For this reason her plagues will come in a single day,
    death and mourning and famine,
and she will be burned up with fire;
    for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her. Revelation 18:1-8 ESV

 

detail-of-a-lion-found-along-the-processional-way-from-ishtar-gate-into-the-city-of-babylon-the-ishtar-gate-was-constructed-around-575-bc-by-king-nebuchadnezzar-iiIn this chapter, John records yet more specific information regarding the fall of Babylon. In the previous chapter, he provided us with a description of the false religious system associated with the city and its government. While some commentators choose to see all references to Babylon in these two chapters as symbolic only, it seems clear that the geographic location of the former city of Babylon is in view as well. The Scriptures appear to indicate that the city will yet again become a center of power from which the Antichrist operates during the days of the tribulation. It will become the political, religious and economic focal point of the world during that time, with the Antichrist operating his government from within its borders.

In chapter 17, John was shown the destruction of the false religious system, also referred to as Babylon or the great prostitute. Now, in chapter 18, he is given a vision of the destruction of Babylon’s financial system. If you recall, one of the things the false prophet did, along with establishing the apostate church built around the worship of Antichrist, was to institute the requirement of the mark of the beast. This visible symbol or mark was required to be affixed to the right hand or forehead of every individual on earth.

16 Also it [the false prophet] causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. – Revelation 13:16-17 ESV

The mark was a non-negotiable requirement that became the means by which anyone could participate in the economy set up by the Antichrist and his world-wide government. The monopoly created by this kind of manipulative control would greatly influence the Antichrist’s power and fill the treasuries of his government. And John is given just a glimpse into the outcome of this kind of economic control.

…the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living. – Revelation 18:3 ESV

There appear to be two falls of Babylon described in these two chapters. The first involves the fall of the false religious system that was set up by the false prophet. Chapter 17 describes its fall, which takes place at the midway point of the 7 years of tribulation. But chapter 18 describes the fall of Babylon in its political and commercial form, which will take place at the end of the great tribulation, 3-1/2 years later. John was given a partial view of Babylon’s ultimate destruction back in chapter 16.

17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings,[c] peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. – Revelation 16:17-19 ESV

It seems clear that this is referring to an actual city, the city of Babylon. And the result of this event will be that the city falls, literally and physically, resulting in its location becoming desolate and abandoned by mankind. The angel describes it as becoming, “a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast” (Revelation 18:2 ESV). This formerly great city will become the abode of the demonic, an apt description of what it had really been all along. This geographic location on the planet has had a long history of immoral and unrighteous behavior associated with it, stretching all the way back to the tower of Babel, when mankind attempted to disobey the will of God.

“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4 ESV

In this account, we see that, from day one, the territory known as Babylon, was associated with the sins of self-sufficiency, self-determinism, and self-glorification. Rather than obey God, men attempted to control their own fate and set themselves up as gods. And Babylon would become an ever-lasting symbol of man’s endless pursuit of autonomy and self-idolatry. But John is shown the final outcome God has in store for this great city. It will fall. And its fall will be great. All those nations that “have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality” will fall along with her. And notice what the second angel says about the city:

As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,
    so give her a like measure of torment and mourning. – Revelation 18:7 ESV

During the tribulation, Babylon will yet again become a prosperous and highly influential city. It will be restored to its former glory, replicating its glory days under King Nebuchadnezzar. But as great as Babylon will become, it will prove no match for Almighty God. As powerful, wealthy and influential as it will be during the waning days of the tribulation, it will experience a devastating fall – at the hands of God. The city’s pride, self-sufficiency, and love affair with immorality will come to an end. And so, a voice from heaven calls all believers living at that time to remove themselves from the city. They are to flee from her borders, distancing themselves from her immorality and rebellion against God. Like Lot running from Sodom and Gomorrah, the tribulation saints are to vacate the premises of Babylon, in anticipation of God’s judgment against her.

It is payback time. The voice from heaven that John hears describes the sins of Babylon being heaped up as high as heaven, an obvious comparison to the bricks heaped up by the people living in Babel. The sins of Babylon are obvious to God, and He will pay her back double for all that she has done. Like all those who stand opposed to God and who set themselves up as their own gods, Babylon and its inhabitants saw themselves as invulnerable and untouchable.

I sit as a queen,
I am no widow,
    and mourning I shall never see.” – Revelation 18:7 ESV

But as the proverb says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 ESV). And in a single day, judgment would come against Babylon. God will bring about the fall of this once-great city, “for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her” (Revelation 18:8 ESV)

The ultimate fall of Babylon will be real, but also symbolic. It represents the defeat of any and all who stand against God. Mankind has long opposed the will of God, refusing to accept Him as God and choosing to turn to man-made religions, making gods out of wealth, materialism, politics, government, and prosperity. Babylon will become a real-life representation of all these things, an actual city where godlessness reigns and rebellion against the God of the universe emanates. But Babylon will prove no match for God. The Antichrist will be exposed as a lousy stand-in for the real Savior of the world: Jesus Christ. And it is the one-and-only Christ who will return to the earth and set up the one true kingdom where righteousness will reign. The false kingdom of the Antichrist will be destroyed, to be replaced with the true kingdom of God on earth.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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 Great Prostitute.

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly. Revelation 17:1-6 ESV

In chapters 17 and 18, John is going to be given a detailed description of the destruction of Babylon, but as it represents the religious apostasy of the day (chapter 17) and the political power established by the Antichrist (chapter 18). Much of what John is being shown in these two chapters actually takes place before the events of chapter 16. The content of these two chapters provides us with a more precise understanding of just what will take place for the apostate church to rise to power and prominence during the first half of the tribulation. And chapter 18 will explain how Antichrist rose out of seeming obscurity to a position of global dominance.

An angel, who carried one of the seven bowls of judgment, appears to John and offers to introduce him to “the great prostitute.” As John will discover, this woman is actually the personification of the decadent and immoral religious system set up by the false prophet. We were first introduced to the false prophet in chapter 14, where he was introduced to John in a vision and appeared as the second beast.

12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. – Revelation 14:12-17 ESV

This individual will operate under the direct jurisdiction of Antichrist, and set up a mandatory religious system that worships the image of the Antichrist. Much like emperor worship during the days of the Caesar in Rome, the people living during the tribulation will be forced to bow down to the Antichrist and treat him like a god. And the angel describes this false religious system as a prostitute. This is a common metaphor used in Scripture to describe spiritual adultery and the sin of idolatry.

At the end of seventy years, the Lord will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. – Isaiah 23:17 ESV

19 Your evil will chastise you,
    and your apostasy will reprove you.
Know and see that it is evil and bitter
    for you to forsake the Lord your God;
    the fear of me is not in you,
declares the Lord God of hosts.

20 “For long ago I broke your yoke
    and burst your bonds;
    but you said, ‘I will not serve.’
Yes, on every high hill
    and under every green tree
    you bowed down like a whore.” – Jeremiah 2:19-20 ESV

And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
    graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
    and peoples with her charms.

Behold, I am against you,
    declares the Lord of hosts,
    and will lift up your skirts over your face;
and I will make nations look at your nakedness
    and kingdoms at your shame. – Nahum 3:4-5 ESV

This religious system, set up by the false prophet, is guilty of having lured and enticed the kings of the earth. In other words, other world leaders will “get in bed” with this false religion, seeing it to be to their benefit to do so. And the people of the earth will become drunk with the wine of her immorality. They will drink in all the lies associated with this religion and worship an idol in place of the one true God. And John is shown a vision of this woman or false religion “sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns” (Revelation 17:3 ESV). This is an almost word-for-word repeat of the description of the Antichrist, provided in chapter 13.

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. – Revelation 13:1 ESV

This false religious system will have direct ties to the rule and reign of Antichrist. They will have a symbiotic relationship, each benefiting the other. The false prophet will come to power only because the Antichrist has assumed supreme authority over the earth. And the false prophet will cause the people of the earth not only to submit to Antichrist’s leadership, but to worship him as a god. He will delude and deceive the people, performing signs and wonders, much like the Old Testament prophets of God did. But he will speak lies and blaspheme the name of God Almighty. Paul wrote about this coming day in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 ESV

The imagery associated with John’s vision of this false religion conveys the idea of luxury and royalty. She is “arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls” (Revelation 17:4 ESV). This religious system will be marked by wealth. It will have the trappings of financial success and be marked by pomp and circumstance. It is interesting to note that during the Reformation of the 16th-Century, many of the Reformers labeled the Pope as the Antichrist and the Catholic church as the false religion or apostate church. They did this, in part, because of its decadence, obsession with material wealth and for what they believed was false teaching regarding salvation.

Whereof it followeth Rome to be the seat of Antichrist, and the pope to be very antichrist himself. I could prove the same by many other scriptures, old writers, and strong reasons. (Thomas Cramner, Works by Cranmer, vol.1, pp.6-7).

Yea, to speak it in plain words; lest that we submit ourselves to Satan, thinking that we submit ourselves to Jesus Christ, for, as for your Roman kirk, as it is now corrupted, and the authority thereof, whereon stands the hope of your victory, I no more doubt but that it is the synagogue of Satan, and the head thereof, called the pope, to be that man of sin, of whom the apostle speaks. (John Knox, The History of the Reformation of Religion in Scotland, p.65).

…nothing else than the kingdom of Babylon and of very Antichrist. For who is the man of sin and the son of perdition, but he who by his teaching and his ordinances increases the sin and perdition of souls in the church; while he yet sits in the church as if he were God? All these conditions have now for many ages been fulfilled by the papal tyranny. (Martin Luther, First Principles, pp. 196-197).

You can see how they could have used the description provided by John in this chapter to reach their conclusions. But what John is seeing is something far greater and more significant than anything the Reformers could have ever imagined. This false church is described as having a name of mystery written on its forehead: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (Revelation 17:5 ESV). The name, Babylon, has a long association with false religions and idolatry. Throughout the Scriptures, Babylon is used to refer to the influence of pagan religions upon the people of Israel, but also the New Testament church. It represents any and all counterfeit religions that offer up alternatives to the way of God. Even several of the seven churches to whom Jesus addressed His words in chapters two and three, were guilty of succumbing to the influence of the false teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:14-15). The church in Thyatira was guilty of allowing the influence of a woman “who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20 ESV).

The deadly influence of Babylon, the false religious system that permeate our world, has been around since the beginning. Paul describes how it came to be.

22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. – Romans 1:22-25 ESV

And these individuals who chose to worship the creation rather than the Creator, have never been content to coexist with those who worship the one true God. From day one, they have stood opposed to all those who claim God as the one and only God. And the false prophet and his false religious system will not tolerate the people of God, the Jews, or the followers of Christ, including those who come to faith during the tribulation. John is told that this apostate religious system will be “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6 ESV). One of the greatest acts of rebellion on the part of this false religious system will be its role in the death of both Jews and Christians during the great tribulation. Satan, the power behind Antichrist’s rule, is ultimately opposed to anything and everyone associated with God and His Son. The whole purpose of the Antichrist’s rise to power is to marshal the forces of earth against the people of God. And the false prophet will create the ultimate one-world religion that unites the people of earth under one umbrella of religious expression, making illegal the worship of God or His Son, Jesus Christ. And while all of this is slated to happen during the days of the tribulation, we are already seeing the world’s slow, but steady shift in this direction. While we do not yet see the people of earth united under a single religious system, we do see the increasing hostility toward both Judaism and Christianity. The intolerance and hatred being expressed toward all those who worship the one true God is increasing exponentially. And the great tribulation will bring it all to a head.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

 

They Did Not Repent.

13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. 16 The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. 17 And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. Revelation 9:13-21 ESV

How bad does it have to get before the world will recognize that God is not to be trifled with? What will it take to bring the nations to their knees before their Creator God? According to the book of Revelation, quite a lot. In this second half of chapter nine John reveals his vision of the sixth trumpet judgment. And what he is about to describe is going to be far worse than anything he has mentioned thus far. And it was set up by his warning in verse 12: “The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.

This sixth trumpet blast will signal the beginning of the second of the three woes. And while the first woe brings demonic persecution upon the unbelieving population of the earth, it will not result in their deaths. In fact, John noted that those whom the locusts or demons torment “will long to die, but death will flee from them” (Revelation 9:6 ESV). But with the second woe, death comes with a vengeance. One-third of the earth’s population will suffer death at the hands of God. During the five months of relentless torment by the demons, many will want to die and even attempt to take their own lives, but they will fail. Death will escape them. But with the second woe, death comes calling and it is all on God’s time table and according to His divine agenda.

John mentions that he heard something from heaven. This time, instead of a vision, he hears a voice calling out “from the four horns of the golden altar before God” (Revelation 9:13 ESV). We’re not told how he knew the location from which this voice called, but based on his description, it may be that the voice was that of the angel mentioned in Revelation 8:3:

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne

John heard the voice call out to the sixth angel, commanding him to “release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates” (Revelation 9:14 ESV). But who are these angels and why are they bound? Due to their description as being bound, it would seem that these are fallen angels. The book of Jude provides us with insight into their identity.

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day – Jude 6

These fallen angels have been kept in confinement by God, awaiting the very day that John is describing and he tells us they have “been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year” (Revelation 9:15 ESV0. This is yet another clear reference to, and reminder of, God’s sovereign hand over all things, including the coming day of judgment. These four fallen angels had been locked away by God and with a future purpose in mind. Their confinement had been preordained and the timing of their release perfectly orchestrated to occur precisely as God had planned it. And the purpose behind their release is unquestionably clear: “to kill a third of mankind.” They will not torment. They will not harass. They will not possess. They will bring death.

The location of their captivity and place of release is important to note. The river Euphrates had formed a natural barrier between Israel and their enemies to the northeast, the nations of Assyria and Babylon. This river plays a significant part in the end times story, and is referenced a second time by John later in his book. He describes seeing this same river drying up, creating an entry point for the enemies of God to begin their assault on Jerusalem.

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. – Revelation 16:12 ESV

The river runs through the land most closely associated with Babylon, and that city figures prominently in the end times chronology. We know from the Genesis account, that this particular river and the region through which it flowed, provides a link all the way back to the creation story.

10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. – Genesis 2:101-14 ESV

Everything is coming full circle. God is returning to the scene of the crime, where Adam and Eve rebelled against God. And Babylon stands as the poster boy for mankind’s moral, religious and political rebellion against God. This land, long associated with the Garden of Eden, became a wild garden where idolatry and immorality grew unchecked, and the pride of man became personified by the nations who rose up out of its sin-saturated soil.

And God is going to deal with the wicked and rebellious. He calls for the release of the four fallen angels, who will bring with them an army of unprecedented and almost unfathomable size. John states that they will number 200 million. Is this a literal army? Is it made up of human beings or demons? John doesn’t tell us. But he does say, “this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths” (Revelation 9:17 ESV). What is it that John is seeing? We can’t be sure. But the fantastic nature of his description would seem to indicate that these are not human soldiers, but demonic forces of some kind. What’s interesting to note is that these forces, whoever they are, do not wield swords or spears. John states that fire, smoke and sulfur came from the mouths of the horses. It is these three things, which John calls plagues, that will bring death to one-third of the earth’s population.

There are many who believe John’s mention of fire, smoke and sulfur is a reference to modern weapons of warfare, including guns, tanks, aircraft, etc. But there is no reason to assume that God must accomplish this event by ordinary means. He is not obligated or relegated by our existing technology. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah without help from modern-day weapons of mass destruction. If anything, the book of Revelation seems to imply that God is going to reduce to insignificance the achievements of mankind. He will bring forces to bear that no man has ever seen or could have ever imagined or invented. God’s destructive powers are on the same level as His creative powers. The God who spoke forth the universe has more than enough power to call for its destruction without the help of human technology or the latest advancements in state-of-the-art weaponry.

Who God uses to enact His judgment and what resources He calls forth to bring it about are far less important than the John’s sad assessment that the two-thirds of those who survive this devastation will remain stubbornly unrepentant and unwavering in their commitment to reject God.

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. – Revelation 9:20-21 ESV

Millions upon millions of their fellow citizens will die right in front of their eyes, but the survivors will remain unmoved and unrepentant. It will be business as usual. They will continue to worship their false gods and to live their immoral lifestyles just as they always have. What a stunning statement regarding man’s stubbornness and self-destructive bent. Rather than bow the knee to God, they will prefer to die at His hands. What is truly sad is that idolatry is essentially the worship of anything other than the one true God. There are no other gods. And all that we worship in this world is nothing more than a false representation of or stand-in for God. In his first letter, John warned us:

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 ESV

These people will love the world more than God. They will worship the things of this world. In essence, they will worship the demonic forces that control the things of this world. The book of Deuteronomy makes it painfully clear that this is true.

16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with abominations they provoked him to anger.
17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
    to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded. – Deuteronomy 32:16-17 ESV

And those who survive this coming destruction will continue to worship the very source of their own misery. Rather than turn to God in repentance, they will turn back to those things that brought God’s judgment upon them. They will worship the creation instead of the Creator. They will continue to love the things of this world, even as they see the world disintegrating before their eyes.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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 Best Is Yet To Come.

And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest, and Zephaniah the second priest and the three keepers of the threshold; and from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the men of war, and seven men of the king’s council, who were found in the city; and the secretary of the commander of the army, who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land, who were found in the midst of the city. And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. And the king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was taken into exile out of its land.

This is the number of the people whom Nebuchadnezzar carried away captive: in the seventh year, 3,023 Judeans; in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar he carried away captive from Jerusalem 832 persons; in the twenty-third year of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive of the Judeans 745 persons; all the persons were 4,600.

And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, until the day of his death, as long as he lived. – Jeremiah 52:23-34 ESV

In the closing verses of this chapter, and as way of a wrap-up to the entire book, Jeremiah logs the number of individuals who were taken captive by the Babylonians. But first, he mentions the name of Seraiah, the chief priest. This is evidently a different Seraiah than the one mentioned in chapter 51. This Seraiah, will provide a link back to the reign of Josiah, the last godly king of Judah who had attempted to institute religious reforms in the land. Seraiah’s grandfather, Hilkiah, had been King Josiah’s high priest. It was Hilkiah who had discovered the book of the Law, while supervising renovations to the temple in Jerusalem. And it was this discovery that radically changed the spiritual climate of Judah during the days of King Josiah. But after Josiah’s death, things had taken a markedly negative turn for the worse. The kings who followed Josiah overturned most of his reforms and, once again, led the people in apostasy and idolatry. Hilkiah’s grandson, Seraiah, is listed as one of those murdered by King Nebuchadnezzar. As the high priest, he had failed to live in accordance with the will of God and had not led the people of God to remain faithful. And yet, we know that Seraiah’s sons would be spared and be transported to Babylon along with the other exiles.

Many years later, during the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, there was a man named Ezra. He was the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah – Ezra 7:1 NLT

Ezra would become a reformer, leading the people of Judah from exile in the land of Babylon, back to the land of Canaan. And it would be another grandson of Seraiah, named Jeshua, born to his son Jehozadak, who would become high priest and, alongside Zerubbabel, lead the people in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.

Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jehozadak responded by starting again to rebuild the Temple of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them and helped them. – Ezra 5:2 NLT

So, while Seraiah would die an ignoble death, his sons, descendants of Aaron, the original priest of God, would play significant roles in the reestablishment of the nation of Judah. God punished those who had played roles in leading the people astray. But God would raise up future leaders who would play significant parts in the restoration of the nation of Judah, the repopulating of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple. He would start with a new generation.

But Jeremiah makes it clear that there were thousands who found themselves bound as prisoners and deported to a life of slavery in Babylon. He states the number of exiles as 4,600, but the book of 2 Kings says the figure was 10, 800. The discrepancy is probably a case of Jeremiah counting only the males and not the women and children who were also taken captive. But suffice it to say, there were many who found their lives radically and irrevocably changed due to the fall of Jerusalem. The emphasis Jeremiah seems to be making is that the number of Jews taken captive was relatively small. This remnant would be transported to Babylon, where they would remain for 70 long years. But at the end of that time, more than 97,000 will return to the land of Judah to rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and restore the former glory of the temple of God. They would experience the blessings of God, even as they lived in exile. He would multiply them and create a remnant to return that far outnumbered those who had been taken captive. Even in the midst of their disobedience and God’s discipline, He would prosper them.

The final section of the book chronicles the fate of Jehoiachin, the former king of Judah. He has the somewhat sad distinction of having been king for only three months.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. His mother was Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan from Jerusalem. Jehoiachin did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his father had done.

During Jehoiachin’s reign, the officers of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up against Jerusalem and besieged it. Nebuchadnezzar himself arrived at the city during the siege. Then King Jehoiachin, along with the queen mother, his advisers, his commanders, and his officials, surrendered to the Babylonians.

In the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, he took Jehoiachin prisoner. – 2 Kings 24:8-12 NLT

So, Jehoiachin had been a prisoner of the Babylonians since 597 B.C., a total of 35 years. But the time came when the new king of Babylon, Evil-merodach, showed him mercy and released him from prison. He replaced his prison clothes with royal robes. He made Jehoiachin a permanent guest at his table and provided him with a regular allowance. In essence, he treated Jehoiachin as the king of Judah, showing him respect, deference and honor, in spite of his defeated status and the non-existent state of his kingdom. So, here is where the book of Jeremiah ends. The king of Judah is in exile and the throne in Jerusalem remains empty. The city is a ghost town. The nation is in disarray. The people are dispersed and disheartened. And for 70 long years, that would remain the state of the people of Judah. But God was not done yet. He had further plans for His people. He would raise up a new high priest. He would call on Zerubbabel and Ezra to lead His people back to the land. Later on, He would raise up Nehemiah to return to Judah and carry on the work. At the close of the book of Jeremiah, things are left in a confused and uncertain state. But God is behind the scenes, working out His divine plan and orchestrating events in such a way that the former exiles would take part in a second exodus, be set free from bondage and miraculously returned to the land of promise. God was far from finished. The story was not yet complete. And the book of Ezra opens up with the next chapter of God’s sovereign plan for His people.

He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom:

“This is what King Cyrus of Persia says:

“The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you! Wherever this Jewish remnant is found, let their neighbors contribute toward their expenses by giving them silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a voluntary offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:2-4 NLT

The best was yet to come.

 

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

All Is Lost.

In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard, who served the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord, and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down all the walls around Jerusalem. And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive some of the poorest of the people and the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the artisans. But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen.

And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of the Lord, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the Lord, the Chaldeans broke in pieces, and carried all the bronze to Babylon. And they took away the pots and the shovels and the snuffers and the basins and the dishes for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service; also the small bowls and the fire pans and the basins and the pots and the lampstands and the dishes for incense and the bowls for drink offerings. What was of gold the captain of the guard took away as gold, and what was of silver, as silver. As for the two pillars, the one sea, the twelve bronze bulls that were under the sea, and the stands, which Solomon the king had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these things was beyond weight. As for the pillars, the height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, its circumference was twelve cubits, and its thickness was four fingers, and it was hollow. On it was a capital of bronze. The height of the one capital was five cubits. A network and pomegranates, all of bronze, were around the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with pomegranates. There were ninety-six pomegranates on the sides; all the pomegranates were a hundred upon the network all around. – Jeremiah 52:12-23 ESV

It can be quite easy to read the description of the fall of Jerusalem in a flippant and somewhat disconnected manner. The prophet, Jeremiah, is quite stingy in his use of words, painting a quite matter-of-fact image of the city’s fall. But if we look at other passages in the Scriptures, we get a much fuller and more terrifyingly chilling depiction of all that went on during the nearly 20-month-long siege of Jerusalem and its eventual fall. The book of Lamentations records a particularly disturbing aspect of the siege.


Those killed by the sword are better off

    than those who die of hunger.
Starving, they waste away
    for lack of food from the fields.

Tenderhearted women
    have cooked their own children.
They have eaten them
    to survive the siege. – Lamentations 4:9-10 NLT

The residents of the city had been forced to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. These were not easy days. Starvation was an everyday reality. Parents had to stand back and watch their young children die. And when the walls were finally breached, the death and destruction was like nothing the people of Judah had ever witnessed before. In their weakened state, there was nothing they could do to defend themselves against the Babylonian troops who had were more than ready to seek their revenge on the stubbornly rebellious people inside the walls. The book of Lamentations provides another grisly look at just how bad things were when the walls fell.

Our enemies rape the women in Jerusalem
    and the young girls in all the towns of Judah.
Our princes are being hanged by their thumbs,
    and our elders are treated with contempt.
Young men are led away to work at millstones,
    and boys stagger under heavy loads of wood. – Lamentations 5:10-13 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar took many of the people as captives, leaving nothing but the poorest of the poor to occupy the destroyed city. He stripped the city bare, taking all that was of value, including the treasures of the palace and the temple, as well as the most gifted of all the people. We are provided with a detailed description of the items taken from the temple. The Babylonians left nothing of value untouched. Every ounce of gold, silver or bronze was stripped away and taken as plunder. The sacred vessels, set apart by God for use in the sacrificial system, were hauled off as booty. Not only that, we read in the next section of this chapter that “Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, took with him as prisoners Seraiah the high priest, Zephaniah the priest of the second rank, and the three chief gatekeepers” (Jeremiah 52:24 NLT).

The detailed description of the items taken by the Babylonians is similar to what we read in the book of 1 Kings, that describes Solomon’s painstaking and extremely costly construction of the temple many years earlier.

So Solomon finished building the Temple. The entire inside, from floor to ceiling, was paneled with wood. He paneled the walls and ceilings with cedar, and he used planks of cypress for the floors. He partitioned off an inner sanctuary—the Most Holy Place—at the far end of the Temple. It was 30 feet deep and was paneled with cedar from floor to ceiling. The main room of the Temple, outside the Most Holy Place, was 60 feet long. Cedar paneling completely covered the stone walls throughout the Temple, and the paneling was decorated with carvings of gourds and open flowers.

He prepared the inner sanctuary at the far end of the Temple, where the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant would be placed. This inner sanctuary was 30 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet high. He overlaid the inside with solid gold. He also overlaid the altar made of cedar. Then Solomon overlaid the rest of the Temple’s interior with solid gold, and he made gold chains to protect the entrance to the Most Holy Place. So he finished overlaying the entire Temple with gold, including the altar that belonged to the Most Holy Place.

He made two cherubim of wild olive wood, each 15 feet tall, and placed them in the inner sanctuary. The wingspan of each of the cherubim was 15 feet, each wing being 7 1⁄2 feet long. The two cherubim were identical in shape and size; each was 15 feet tall. He placed them side by side in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. Their outspread wings reached from wall to wall, while their inner wings touched at the center of the room. He overlaid the two cherubim with gold.

He decorated all the walls of the inner sanctuary and the main room with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. He overlaid the floor in both rooms with gold. – 1 Kings 6:14-30 NLT

In a case of divine deconstruction, God reversed the process and turned the former glory of the temple into an empty shell. All that had been set apart to Him was now the property of the Babylonians. The vessels and tools, once integral to the sacrificial system, were now the property of pagans. And the not-so-subtle message to the people of Judah was that, in their determination to reject God, they had rejected all that was associated with Him, including access to His temple and the availability of atonement made possible through the sacrificial system. The temple was destroyed. The priests were now prisoners. And the people had no way of receiving forgiveness for their sins. The people were to learn that turning their backs on God would have dire consequences.

Once again, we must turn to the book of Lamentations to get a clearer understanding of how the fall of Jerusalem impacted the people of God. It is believed that Jeremiah was the author of the book of Lamentations and he is often referred to as “the weeping prophet” because of his close association with this book. In the closing verses of the book, we read the following prayer, described as coming from the mouths of the people of Judah.

But Lord, you remain the same forever!
    Your throne continues from generation to generation.
Why do you continue to forget us?
    Why have you abandoned us for so long?
Restore us, O Lord, and bring us back to you again!
    Give us back the joys we once had!
Or have you utterly rejected us?
    Are you angry with us still? – Lamentations 5:19-22 NLT

The devastation had created a renewed dependency on God in the hearts of the people. The destruction they had witnessed had led to a greater desire for God. Isn’t it interesting how that works? When things are going well, we can find ourselves forgetting all about God. We don’t see the need for Him. But as soon as something goes wrong; our health takes a turn for the worse, our finances falter, our marriage goes south, or our sunny skies turn dark and foreboding, we turn to God. We call out. We question His faithfulness. We demand that He restore our fortunes and make everything bright and cheery again. It’s interesting to note that the people accuse God of rejecting them, but they say nothing of their own rejection of God. They feel abandoned and alone. But they don’t seem to understand that their adandonment by God was due to their own abandonment of Him. But they were right in understanding that God is faithful. They were right in turning to Him. He is our hope in time of need. He is our rock when all else around us is shaky and unstable. He is our faithful Father and loving God. But we must be careful to learn an important lesson from the people of Judah. In their prayer, they state, “Give us back the joys we once had!” Notice what is behind that statement or demand. They want things to go back to the way they were. They want restoration of their former good fortunes. In other words, they want a return to the status quo. They want their old lives back, not God. God was simply a means to an end for them. And we can be guilty of treating God the same way. We go to Him, asking Him to return us to health, to restore our marriage, to fix our financial problems, to make all the hurts and heartaches of life to go away. But what God really wants is for us to desire Him. He wants us to long for Him above anything and everything else in life. The people of Judah didn’t need their old lives back, they needed 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.

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