Free to Choose

1 How lonely sits the city
    that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
    she who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
    has become a slave.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
    with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
    she has none to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her;
    they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile because of affliction
    and hard servitude;
she dwells now among the nations,
    but finds no resting place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her
    in the midst of her distress. – Lamentations 1:1-3 ESV

Like the book of Job, Lamentations deals with the theology of suffering, but from a national, rather than a personal perspective. Written as poetry, Lamentations is a dirge, a song of mourning commemorating the fall of the city of Jerusalem and the desolation of Judah. But the book is far more than a reciting of the sad state of affairs in Judah. It is a theological treatise on God’s justice, love, and sovereignty.

The seeming contradiction between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are on display throughout the pages of Lamentations, and they are never fully resolved. Even at the close of the book, the unavoidable and inexplicable tension between these two truths remains.

The people of Israel had been given a choice by God. He had made a bilateral covenant with them that spelled out His expectations regarding their behavior. If they obeyed, they would be blessed. If they chose to disobey, the would experience the consequences, in the form of curses. The blessings and the curses had been covered in detail in the book of Deuteronomy.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. – Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV

The choice had been theirs. But God had made sure that the logical choice would be a clear and compelling one. There should have been no confusion or debate. God had promised that obedience to His commands would be accompanied by the benefit of His blessings on their cities, fields, flocks, agriculture, families, military exploits, business ventures, physical health, and financial prospects. They would enjoy status as “a people holy to himself” (Deuteronomy 28:9 ESV). And God assured them that this unique distinction would be accompanied by some significant implications:

all the peoples of the earth will see that you belong to the Lord, and they will respect you.” – Deuteronomy 28:10 NLT

But what if they chose to disobey God? What would happen then? God had made that outcome painfully clear. Everything He had promised to bless would be cursed.

“The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. – Deuteronomy 28:20 ESV

Their crops, cities, families, flocks, and fortunes would be cursed because God would remove His hand of protection and provision. If they chose to live in ways that were contrary and contradictory to God’s plans for His chosen people, they would experience the dire consequences. But again, the choice had been theirs to make. And we know from the history of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures, that they ultimately chose to live in disobedience to God. They proved unfaithful to Him, regularly rejecting His will for their own. And while God had warned them repeatedly that destruction was coming unless they repented and returned to Him, they rejected the words of the prophets and followed the desires of their hearts.

A pattern of disobedience and unfaithfulness marked the history of God’s people. And it eventually resulted in the split of the kingdom, resulting in the nation of Israel in the north, and the nation of Judah in the south. And in 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and destroyed by the Assyrians just as God had warned. And while the southern kingdom of Judah had watched the fall of its northern neighbor, they learned nothing from the experience. Because in 586 B.C., they would experience a similar fate, conquered by the forces of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

And here, in the opening verses of Lamentations, we read the somber words describing the sad state of affairs in Jerusalem, the once flourishing capital of Judah. Jeremiah describes the city as a veritable ghost town. Its once-bustling streets are empty, its houses and buildings destroyed. The former glory of the temple has been reduced to rubble and the gates and walls of the city have been demolished. The book of 2 Kings describes the extent of the devastation.

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to 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 the walls around Jerusalem.  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 multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen. – 2 Kings 25:8-12 ESV

Jeremiah describes the fallen city of Jerusalem as a princess who has fallen on hard times. Formerly married and accustomed to great wealth and privilege, she finds herself widowed and reduced to a state of abject poverty. Her fortunes have been drastically and dramatically altered. Having formerly enjoyed the benefits of royal sovereignty, she is now reduced to a state of slavery.

But while her fate may leave us feeling sorry for her, it is not undeserved. Jeremiah goes on to describe Jerusalem as an unfaithful wife. She cries but finds no one to comfort her, in spite of her long list of lovers. Those whom she once considered her friends have ended up abandoning and turning against her. And in the book that bears his name, Jeremiah had warned Judah that all of this was going to happen, long before it did.

And you, Zion, city doomed to destruction,
you accomplish nothing by wearing a beautiful dress,
decking yourself out in jewels of gold,
and putting on eye shadow!
You are making yourself beautiful for nothing.
Your lovers spurn you.
They want to kill you. – Jeremiah 4:30 NET

Judah had made a habit of making alliances with other nations, seeking safety and security through treaties and military pacts, rather than trusting in God. When God had warned that the Babylonians were coming, the leaders of Judah had sought to stay off destruction through partnerships with pagan nations that were in direct violation of God’s will. But these “friends” would prove unfaithful and incapable of delivering Judah from the hands of the Babylonians.

Verse three paints a stark contrast between God’s preferred future for Judah and the reality of their current circumstances. As God’s chosen people, they had been given the land of Canaan as their inheritance. It was a rich and abundant land, filled with tangible expressions of God’s love in the form of orchards, vineyards, fields of grain, and abundant sources of water. They had lived in homes they had not built located in cities they had not constructed. They had enjoyed safety and security from their enemies provided by the hand of God. But now, Judah had “been led away into captivity, oppressed with cruel slavery” (Lamentations 1:3 NLT).

Instead of enjoying the peace and rest of the promised land, the people of God were experiencing the pain and suffering of exile in the land of Babylon. God had promised them that if they would only remain faithful to Him, He would ensure that they remained at the top of the food chain.

“…the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you will always be on top and never at the bottom.“ – Deuteronomy 28:13 NLT

But Jeremiah reveals that their choice to disobey God had produced a far different outcome.

She lives among foreign nations
    and has no place of rest.
Her enemies have chased her down,
    and she has nowhere to turn. – Lamentations 1:3 NLT

The people of Judah had made a choice, and now there were reaping the consequences of that choice. God had warned them, but they had refused to listen. He had pleaded with them repeatedly to repent, but they had rejected those calls. They had not acted out of ignorance, but out of pride and stubbornness. They had chosen to live according to their own ways, living in keeping with their own selfish agendas. And now, they were experiencing the error of 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

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Broken Beyond Repair

1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” – Matthew 27:1-10 ESV

509px-judasThe rooster crowed and the sun came up, just as it always does. Yet, this would be anything but just another morning. Jesus, the Son of God, had been betrayed, denied, libeled, mocked, and falsely condemned. Now, He was being dragged before Pilate, the Roman governor, because the Jews were going to demand His death. They were forbidden by Roman law from practicing capital punishment on their own. In John’s gospel, he records the Sanhedrin’s response when Pilate demanded that they judge Jesus according to their own law. He saw this as nothing more than a petty religious squabble. But they made their true intentions known when they demanded, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” (John 18:31 ESV). They weren’t interested in a trial. They were intent on seeing Jesus put to death. These men had already pronounced their judgment against Jesus, when they stated, “He deserves death” (Matthew 26:66 ESV). And with the opening of this chapter, Matthew makes it clear that their plans were aimed at having Jesus crucified, the primary means of capital punishment practiced by the Romans.

…the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. – Matthew 27:1 ESV

But then, Matthew provides a brief detour from the journey of Jesus to the cross. He changes scenes and brings his readers up to speed on the whereabouts of Judas. His last appearance had been in Gethsemane, where he had betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Evidently, Judas had not gone far, having followed the guards who had arrested Jesus and taken Him to Caiaphas, the high priest. There are some who speculate that Judas was the second disciple John refers to in his gospel.

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. – John 18:15-16 ESV

Judas would have been known by the high priest. And it might explain why this particular disciple had not received the same treatment as Peter.

But somehow, Judas received the news that Jesus had been condemned, and Matthew states that he had a change of mind. The Greek word is metamelomai, and it is similar to metanoeō, the Greek word for “repent.” Judas had a change of mind. He regretted his decision to betray Jesus. It would appear that the news of Jesus’ death sentence was far more than he had anticipated. It is likely that Judas never expected the Sanhedrin to take things that far. We will never know what was in the heart of Judas when he made his fateful decision to betray Jesus, but Matthew makes it clear that he lived to regret it. But he wouldn’t live long.

Judas, in a state of despair, returned to the high priest and the Sanhedrin, bringing his 30 pieces of silver with him. Attempting to return the blood money, Judas confessed his guilt before these religious leaders: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4 ESV). But they showed no compassion and exhibited no remorse of their own. They simply replied, “What is that to us? See to it yourself” (Matthew 27:4 ESV). These so-called religious leaders could have cared less about the emotional or spiritual well-being of Judas. They had one thing on their minds: The death of Jesus. The only semblance of conscience they revealed was their refusal to return the money Judas had returned to the temple treasure.

“It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” – Matthew 27:6 ESV

So, when Judas cast the tainted money onto the temple floor, the Sanhedrin took the 30 pieces of silver and purchased “the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers” (Matthew 27:7 ESV). This would have been a field outside the city gates where the potters discarded their broken or marred products. It was a landfill for broken pottery. Matthew reveals that this decision by the religious leaders was in keeping with Old Testament prophecy. He references Jeremiah but then quotes from a passage found in the book of Zechariah.

And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter. – Zechariah 11:12-13 ESV

But why did Matthew mention Jeremiah? It is probably because he was combining the two prophecies of Zechariah and Jeremiah into one composite prophecy, fulfilled in the actions of the Sanhedrin. In his book, Jeremiah records a message he received from God.

Thus says the Lord, “Go, buy a potter’s earthenware flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you.”  – Jeremiah 19:1-2 ESV

Jeremiah was to purchase a clay pot and then take it to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. In Hebrew, this place was called ge-hinnom. The Greek transliteration was gehenna. This valley south of Jerusalem had a sordid history, having been the location where the ancient Israelites “passed children through the fire” (sacrificed their children) to the Canaanite god Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3). Because of its reputation, it became a site dedicated to the disposal of waste. The smoke of the fires used to burn the city’s refuse could be seen rising into the sky, marking this area as unclean. Jesus would later speak of Gehenna when referring to the reality of hell.

This is where God told Jeremiah to take the pot he had purchased. And it was in Gehenna that he was to break the pot “in the sight of the men who go with you” (Jeremiah 19:10 ESV). This was to be a visual illustration of what God was going to do to the people of Judah and Jerusalem for their rejection of Him. And God made the details of their guilt quite plain.

“…the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents…” – Jeremiah 19:4 ESV

Matthew saw the parallel. And he describes the actions of the Jewish religious leaders of his day as having fulfilled these two ancient prophecies. The high priest and the members of the Jewish high council were as guilty as their ancestors had been. They had forsaken God, and they had done so by rejecting the Son of God. And they had profaned the temple of God by actually worshiping a god of their own choosing. While they claimed to be faithful to Yahweh, the God of the Jews, Jesus accused them of having no relationship with God at all.

“Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.” – John 8:19 NLT

“…you don’t even know him. I know him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But I do know him and obey him.” – John 8:55 NLT

These men could not truly know God if they were incapable of recognizing the Son of God. The Messiah, the one they had longed to see, had shown up in their midst, but they had refused to accept Him. All because Jesus did not come as they expected or desired. They were blind to the reality of who He was, and Jesus pointed out their problem.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” – John 5:39-40 NLT

Yet, these men had no regrets. They showed no remorse. And they displayed no repentance. Like their ancestors, they remained stubbornly defiant. And they would end up like broken pots, discarded, and of no use to God. And yet, consider these comforting words written by the apostle Paul. He would pick up the theme of the clay pot and give it a whole new perspective. Having in mind all those who place their faith and hope in Jesus as their Savior, Paul wrote:

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT

Faith in Christ can transform broken clay pots into vessels of honor. When the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ takes up residence in a sinner’s life, the power of God is revealed through the cracks and flaws. Rather than being discarded as useless and of no value, the sinner is redeemed and made acceptable to God by the presence of the righteousness of Christ.

But what about Judas? After three years with Jesus, he would end up a broken man. And, in his desperation, he would take his own life. His time with Jesus had not resulted in the great power of God shining through his life, but with his life snuffed out and his legacy of betrayal sealed for generations to come. Like the religious leaders, Judas had been blind to the reality of who Jesus was. He had spent three years of his life with Jesus but had failed to recognize Him and accept Him as His Messiah and Savior. He would die a broken and shattered man.

But all those who place their faith in Jesus as their Savior will live eternally. Their brokenness is the key to their healing. Their recognition of their own unworthiness is the basis of their hope in Christ. It is through our brokenness and inherent uselessness that God chooses to reveal His great power. By placing our faith in Jesus, we become “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 ESV).

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

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

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

Fishers of Men.

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. Matthew 4:18-25 ESV

In Luke’s Gospel, he records that immediately after His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus had returned to Nazareth, His hometown. While there, He had attended the synagogue one day and was given the privilege of reading from the Old Testament Scriptures, as was the custom. He opened up the scroll containing the writings of the prophet, Isaiah, and read from a particular passage.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:16-19 NLT

Having read the passage, Jesus sat down and then stated in the hearing of all those in attendance: “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). Jesus had taken an Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah and applied it to Himself. He was claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic prediction of the coming of the anointed one – He who would bring good news to the poor. And as Matthew pointed out earlier, Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the great light that was to dawn, illuminating the spiritual darkness of the world.  

Jesus had begun His earthly ministry with the anointing of the Holy Spirit and was now prepared to take His message concerning the gospel of the kingdom to the world. But rather than begin His ministry within the confines of Jerusalem, the spiritual and political capital of Israel, Jesus had focused His attention on the region of Galilee, to the north. And instead of appealing to the powerful religious leaders of His day, Jesus took His message of good news to the peasants, even focusing His attention on common fishermen. Matthew specifically mentions two sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew and James and John. In his own Gospel account, John records that Jesus had actually met Simon, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael some time earlier.

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).” – John 1:35-42 ESV

After their initial encounter with Jesus, it seems that Simon and Andrew had returned to their nets, having failed to sense any clear calling from Jesus to become His disciples. But when Jesus met them the second time, He made His intentions perfectly clear, commanding the two brothers to follow Him.

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:19 ESV

This statement must have sounded odd to the two men. What could Jesus have meant by the phrase, “fishers of men”? It seems unlikely that the men to whom Jesus uttered His command to follow Him understood what He was talking about. But Jesus’ wording was intentional and carried great significance. He was calling these men to a task that was far greater than anything they could have ever imagined. Their lives were about to be radically changed and the entire focus of their existence was to become irreversibly altered. Four common fishermen were about to become key players in a drama that would have eternal implications on not only the nation of Israel, but the entire world.

Jesus’ use of the term, “fishers of men” was a direct reference to another Old Testament passage in which God spoke of His plan to return His people from their captivity in Babylon. Because of the generations of unfaithfulness on the part of the people of Judah, God had allowed them to suffer defeat at the hands of the Babylonians and sent them into exile for a period of 70 years. But God had also promised to restore them to the land.

14 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 15 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.

16 “Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. – Jeremiah 16:14-16 ESV

The Hebrew word for “fishers” is dayag, and it refers to fishermen. God had promised to send fishermen to catch all those who were in exile, returning them to the land of promise. And while God had fulfilled this promise, eventually returning the people of Judah from their captivity in Babylon and restoring them to the land, they were still living in open rebellion to Him. Even at the time Jesus had begun His ministry, the nation of Israel was marked by spiritual darkness, living in the land, but still separated from God by their unrighteous and unfaithful behavior. What was missing was any kind of a right relationship with God. And Jesus was calling these four men to a task that would involve the seeking and searching for all those whom God desired to be returned to a right relationship with Himself. Simon, Andrew, James and John had spent their lives casting their nets in the waters of the Sea of Galilee, hoping to catch fish. Now, Jesus was calling them to assist in His mission to catch men.

These four unimpressive men from inauspicious backgrounds, were going to be used by God to accomplish something far greater than any of them could have ever imagined. They were to be part of a divine plan to restore sinful mankind to a right relationship with God. And these common Galilean fishermen would end up making an impact on the world that would have far-reaching implications for generations to come – on not only the Jewish people, but the nations of the world. Jeremiah wrote the words of God, promising to restore the lost and wandering people of God to a right relationship with Him.

Behold, I will bring them from the north country
    and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
    the pregnant woman and she who is in labor, together;
    a great company, they shall return here. – Jeremiah 31:8 ESV

Notice that God focused on the needy? He emphasized the blind, the lame, the helpless and vulnerable. And Matthew records that Jesus began His ministry by focusing on those who had needs, “healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matthew 4:23 ESV). Matthew emphasized that “they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them” (Matthew 4:24 ESV). The hurting, the helpless and the hopeless were the focus of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He enlisted the aid of the unimpressive and unqualified in order to minister to the unwanted and undesirable. And Jesus’ fame spread and His following grew.

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

Fallen, But Not Finished.

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. For because of the anger of the Lord it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence.

And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem, and laid siege to it. And they built siegeworks all around it. So the city was besieged till the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. Then a breach was made in the city, and all the men of war fled and went out from the city by night by the way of a gate between the two walls, by the king’s garden, and the Chaldeans were around the city. And they went in the direction of the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho, and all his army was scattered from him. Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, and he passed sentence on him. The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and also slaughtered all the officials of Judah at Riblah. He put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him in chains, and the king of Babylon took him to Babylon, and put him in prison till the day of his death. – Jeremiah 52:1-11 ESV

Approximately five years has passed since Seraiah had traveled to Babylon as part of the king’s royal retinue to visit King Nebuchadnezzar. While there, Seraiah had followed Jeremiah’s instructions and had read the contents of the scroll he had been given, containing God’s oracles against Babylon. Then, he had tied a stone to the scroll and thrown it into the Euphrates River. King Zedekiah, Seraiah, and the rest of the officials from Judah who had traveled to Babylon had eventually returned. And after a five year hiatus, the Babylonians had shown up at the gates of Jerusalem. During the five years since his trip to Babylon, Zedekiah had chosen to rebel against King Nebuchadnezzar, attempting to make alliances with other nations, including Egypt. God had warned Zedekiah and the people of Judah to submit to the Babylonians. If they did as God had said, things would go well for them. If they disobeyed, things would go extremely bad. Zedekiah’s decision to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar’s authority was really an act of rebellion against God. God had made it perfectly clear what He expected the people of Judah to do.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life. They will live!’” – Jeremiah 38:2 NLT

But King Zedekiah and the people refused to listen to the words of God as spoken through the prophet, Jeremiah. And chapter 39 of the book of Jeremiah records what happened.

In January of the ninth year of King Zedekiah’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came with his entire army to besiege Jerusalem. Two and a half years later, on July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, a section of the city wall was broken down. All the officers of the Babylonian army came in and sat in triumph at the Middle Gate: Nergal-sharezer of Samgar, and Nebo-sarsekim, a chief officer, and Nergal-sharezer, the king’s adviser, and all the other officers of the king of Babylon. – Jeremiah 39:1-3 NLT

In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem. Just ever two years later, the Babylonians breached the walls of the city and the destruction began. Zedekiah and his troops attempted to escape the city, but were overtaken by the Babylonians. Zedekiah was forced to watch as his sons were murdered right in front of him. Then, he had his eyes gouged out. The last sight he would have seen was his own sons’ brutal deaths.

Jeremiah makes it quite clear why these things happened.

But Zedekiah did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as Jehoiakim had done. These things happened because of the Lord’s anger against the people of Jerusalem and Judah, until he finally banished them from his presence and sent them into exile. – Jeremiah 52:2-3 NLT

Zedekiah, like so many of the kings of Judah before him, was evil. He was idolatrous and full of pride and arrogance. He had refused to listen to God. He had determined to rule his kingdom according to his own standards. And, in spite of God’s persistent warnings of looming judgment, Zedekiah continued to disobey and disregard God’s words. He thought he could somehow escape the destruction God had ordained. He truly believed that he could make an alliance with Egypt and get their help in overthrowing the Babylonians. But even Egypt would fall to the Babylonians at the battle of Carchemish. And while the Egyptians would eventually show back up and attempt to aid Judah against the Babylonians, they would end up returning to Egypt with their tails between their legs, leaving Judah on their own. And did fall.

Zedekiah represents the last of the kings in the Davidic line. There would be no other king to reign from the line of Judah. It would not be until Jesus showed up and was born to Mary, a descendant of David, that the line of David would be reestablished. Jesus is and will be the next king of Israel. He is the rightful heir to the throne of David. In the genealogy of Jesus, found in Matthew 1, He is shown to be a descendant of Abraham and David through Joseph, His legal father. In the genealogy recorded in Luke 3, His lineage is traced through Mary, and reveals that Jesus is a descendant of David by blood. And in Romans, chapter 1, Paul reminded his audience that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, the fulfillment of God’s promise to David.

The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 1:3-4 NLT

God had made a promise to David.

“‘Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod, like any father would do. But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your sight. Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’” – 2 Samuel 7:11-16 NLT

While Solomon would be the short-term answer to this promise, his kingdom would end. His disobedience and unfaithfulness would result in God splitting the kingdom of Israel in half. And the kings of Judah who would follow him would be anything but faithful to God. But Jesus, the Son of God and the son of David, would be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise. While Solomon built a physical temple for God, Jesus would build a spiritual temple. Paul would tell the believers in Corinth, “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16 NLT). He said the very same thing to the believers in Ephesus:

Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:20-22 NLT

So, while the temple of Solomon would be destroyed by the Babylonians, the temple of God, made up of all of those who place their trust in Jesus as their Savior, is alive and well. The kingdom of Jesus has no end. His temple, the body of Christ, is incapable of being destroyed. King Zedekiah would live out his days in Babylon, blind and as a slave to those who had conquered him. The kings of Judah had abandoned God, but it was He who ended up abandoning them. But He will be faithful to His people. He will one day provide them with a true King, a righteous and just King. And this coming King will rule once again from the throne of David in the royal city of Jerusalem. And His reign will last 1,000 years. Then, God will remake the heavens and the earth. He will restore creation to its original glory. And He will establish a new Jerusalem. And as the apostle John reveals in his book of the Revelation, this new Jerusalem will have no need of a physical temple.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. – Revelation 21:22-27 NLT

Something new and better is coming. God is not done yet. The fate of Jerusalem and the people of God is not yet complete. And, in spite of the unfaithfulness of the kings of Israel and Judah, God is going to remain faithful, keeping His Word and fulfilling every promise He has made.

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

One Final Word.

The word that Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah the son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, when he went with Zedekiah king of Judah to Babylon, in the fourth year of his reign. Seraiah was the quartermaster. Jeremiah wrote in a book all the disaster that should come upon Babylon, all these words that are written concerning Babylon. And Jeremiah said to Seraiah: “When you come to Babylon, see that you read all these words, and say, ‘O Lord, you have said concerning this place that you will cut it off, so that nothing shall dwell in it, neither man nor beast, and it shall be desolate forever.’ When you finish reading this book, 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.’”

Thus far are the words of Jeremiah. – Jeremiah 51:59-64 ESV

In 593 B.C., King Zedekiah of Judah, who had been placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, was summoned by the Babylonian king to make a trip the royal capital. The prophet, Jeremiah, found out about this trip, because his scribe, Baruch, had a brother who was on the payroll for the king. In fact, he was the king’s quartermaster, which probably meant that he took care of all the housing needs of the king when he traveled. So, Jeremiah became aware of the king’s travel plans and provided Seraiah, the brother of Baruch, with a scroll containing all the oracles of God against the nation of Babylon. It is important to recognize that this story takes place long before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. It was at that time, Zedekiah the king was captured by the Babylonians and brutally repayed for his rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar.

They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:6-7 NLT

But seven years earlier, Nebuchadnezzar had summoned Zedekiah to Babylon for what was likely a conference of all the vassal kings who reigned over their respective nations at the whim of the Babylonian king. So, when Zedekiah and his retinue made the lengthy trip to Babylon, Seraiah carried something extra in his luggage: A scroll containing God’s very detailed description of Babylon’s coming fall. And Seraiah had very clear instructions from the prophet what he was to do when he arrived in the capital city of Babylon. He was to read the scroll out loud, then pronounce the words, “Lord, you have said that you will destroy Babylon so that neither people nor animals will remain here. She will lie empty and abandoned forever” (Jeremiah 51:62 NLT). At that point, he was to tie a stone to the scroll and toss it into the Euphrates River.

All of this sounds a bit odd to us. It comes across as a tad too theatrical and unnecessary. Was it really that important, in the grand scheme of things, that Seraiah carry a scroll all the way to Babylon, read its dire pronouncements out loud and then toss it into a river? Well, it seems that God had deemed it so. This was likely not Jeremiah’s idea. And it was not the first set of strange instructions God had given His prophet. By this time, Jeremiah had grown accustomed to God’s somewhat strange penchant for dramatic displays. God does not provide Jeremiah with any reasons for this bizarre bit of dramatic activity. And it unlikely that what Seraiah had been asked to do was in way necessary for God to accomplish His divine plans for Babylon’s eventual fall. The reading of the contents of the scroll and its submersion in the waters of the Euphrates were not meant to act as some kind of magical charm or curse against Babylon. They were purely symbolic statements of God’s power and His sovereignty over the nations. God was using Zedekiah, the rebellious king of Judah, to carry a divine decree against the enemies of Judah. It is unlikely that Zedekiah knew anything about the scroll hidden in Seraiah’s luggage. Had he known, he would have taken action against his employee and destroyed the scroll. And it also unlikely that Seraiah read the scroll in the hearing of Zedekiah and the rest of the royal retinue, let alone in the hearing of the people of Judah. The would have resulted in a death sentence on Seraiah. And it was not necessary. It was not important that anyone heard the words the Seraiah read. This would be a symbolic gesture, where God arranged for His words against Babylon to be carried right through the gates of the great city and thrown into the very waters of the great river that flowed through the land.

It is interesting to note that, in the book of Revelations, written hundreds of years later, the apostle John records the following vision concerning Babylon, given to Him by God.

Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a huge millstone. He threw it into the ocean and shouted,

“Just like this, the great city Babylon
    will be thrown down with violence
    and will never be found again.” – Revelation 18:21 NLT

Seraiah would tie a simple stone to a scroll and throw it in the waters of the Euphrates. But God would turn eventually reenact that scene, with the stone being transformed into a bolder. His Word, written on the scroll, would have a powerful impact on the nation of Babylon. When Seraiah had completed his task, he probably stood back and watched the scroll sink into the water, and then walked away, unimpressed. Nothing had happened. There was not change in the circumstances of his day. He would go back to the king and eventually make the return trip to Judah along with the rest of his coworkers. But God had spoken. His Word had been proclaimed, in Judah and all the way to the streets of Babylon.

There was destruction coming to the land of Babylon. God had made that perfectly clear. And while the Babylon of Jeremiah’s day would not be fully and completely destroyed when the Persians defeated them, that does not disqualify the prophecies contained in the book of Jeremiah. There seems to be an indication that Babylon carries a symbolic meaning. Whether or not the actual city of Babylon will one day be rebuilt and the nation of Babyon restored is not clear. And it is probably not necessary for the oracles declared in Jeremiah’s book to be fulfilled. Chapters 17 and 18 of the Book of Revelation describe the future fall of Babylon, but this does not have to mean a literal nation of Babylon. It may simply refer to a reincarnation of the spirit of Babylon in the form of another nation or alliances of nations. Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian Empire were accused by God of pride, idolatry and rebellion against God and His people. And that spirit is alive and well. We have seen more than a few examples of nations who set themselves up against God and the people of God. We have plenty of examples in our current cultural context of nations that practice all kinds of idolatry and who refuse to acknowledge God as the one true God. This tendency on the part of men and the governments they establish will only increase over time. And the day is coming when there will arise either a literal or figurative Babylon, a mighty nation that will stand in opposition to God and all that He represents. But that nation, like the one in Jeremiah’s day, will fall. The pride of man, exhibited in the governments and nations established by men, will prove defenseless before the sovereignty of God Almighty. As God so clearly states at the end of this chapter:

“In this same way Babylon and her people will sink, never again to rise, because of the disasters I will bring upon her.” – Jeremiah 51:64 NLT

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

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

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

The War of the Wills.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it happened just as God had said it would.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The God of Destiny.

Therefore thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I will plead your cause
    and take vengeance for you.
I will dry up her sea
    and make her fountain dry,
and Babylon shall become a heap of ruins,
    the haunt of jackals,
a horror and a hissing,
    without inhabitant.

“They shall roar together like lions;
    they shall growl like lions’ cubs.
While they are inflamed I will prepare them a feast
    and make them drunk, that they may become merry,
then sleep a perpetual sleep
    and not wake, declares the Lord.
I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter,
    like rams and male goats.

“How Babylon is taken,
    the praise of the whole earth seized!
How Babylon has become
    a horror among the nations!
The sea has come up on Babylon;
    she is covered with its tumultuous waves.
Her cities have become a horror,
    a land of drought and a desert,
a land in which no one dwells,
    and through which no son of man passes.
And I will punish Bel in Babylon,
    and take out of his mouth what he has swallowed.
The nations shall no longer flow to him;
    the wall of Babylon has fallen.” – Jeremiah 51:36-44 ESV

Babylon was the greatest nation on earth during the time in which this oracle of God was written. They had been on a significant winning streak, having conquered a wide range of nations, both large and small. They were the playground bully of that age. And all lived in fear of them. No one had been able to stand against them. The mightiest armies had fallen before them. But God has made it perfectly clear that His sovereign rule and Almighty power was greater than that of Nebuchadnezzar and his vaunted troops. It was Yahweh, the God of Israel and Judah, who was invincible and a force to be reckoned with. It was He who commanded the greatest army on earth or in heaven. He was the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The chariots, infantrymen, archers and siege engines of Babylon were no match for Him. And the very fact that Nebuchadnezzar and his administrative cronies believed they were the top dog in the kennel was laughable at best. King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and far-reaching empire we nothing but a minor dot on God’s eternal timeline.

The great king of Babylon would eventually be replaced by yet another king, who deemed himself a virtual deity, with all the power and influence to match. In fact, Nebuchadnezzar would eventually give way to Belshazzar, who would rule over the expansive and highly impressive Babylonian empire. And during his reign, God would pay a special visit to the king and his guests at a special banquet where they were using the sacred vessels his predecessor had plundered from the temple in Jerusalem many years before. 

Many years later King Belshazzar gave a great feast for 1,000 of his nobles, and he drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking the wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver cups that his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. He wanted to drink from them with his nobles, his wives, and his concubines. So they brought these gold cups taken from the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. While they drank from them they praised their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. – Daniel 5:1-4 NLT

What audacity. What arrogance. Here was this pagan king, entertaining his drunken assemblage of courtiers and guests, and using the holy vessels from the temple of God to serve his wine. Not only that, they ridiculed God by praising their own false gods, attributing to them honor for their victory over the nation of Judah. But God was watching, and He was not amused. So, God Almighty decided to crash the king’s party.

Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him. Daniel 5:5-6 NLT

The finger of God had written a message for the king, but it was illegible and undecipherable. None of his enchanters, astrologers, or fortune-tellers could tell him what the writing on the wall meant. So, the queen’s mother suggested he send for Daniel, the Hebrew who King Nebuchadnezzar had appointed as chief over all his magicians, wise men, and fortune-tellers. The king’s mother describes Daniel in flattering terms: “This man Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, has exceptional ability and is filled with divine knowledge and understanding. He can interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve difficult problems” (Daniel 51:12 NLT). And when Daniel showed up in the king’s court, he interpreted the handwriting on the wall and delivered its meaning to the king.

Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. He made him so great that people of all races and nations and languages trembled before him in fear. He killed those he wanted to kill and spared those he wanted to spare. He honored those he wanted to honor and disgraced those he wanted to disgrace. But when his heart and mind were puffed up with arrogance, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them.” – Daniel 51:18-21 NLT

Daniel gave the king a brief history lesson on his predecessor’s painful lesson on pride that he had suffered at the hands of God. While King Belshazzar had known all about this event in Nebuchadnezzar’s life, he had chosen to ignore it and learn nothing from it – as his recent behavior at the party clearly revealed. So, Daniel gives the king some bad news.

“You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven and have had these cups from his Temple brought before you. You and your nobles and your wives and concubines have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone—gods that neither see nor hear nor know anything at all. But you have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny! So God has sent this hand to write this message.” – Daniel 5:22-24 NLT

Belshazzar had a pride problem, just like Nebuchadnezzar had. And Daniel reminds the king that his kingdom and his life were given to him by God. His destiny was in God’s hands, not his own. And the future of his kingdom was far from being controlled by lifeless gods “that neither see nor hear not know anything at all.” Then, Daniel gives the king the meaning behind the indecipherable words written on the wall.

“This is what these words mean:

“Mene means ‘numbered’—God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.
Tekel means ‘weighed’—you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up.
Parsin means ‘divided’—your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” – Daniel 5:26-28 NLT

The end was near. Belshazzar’s days were numbered. His great kingdom and his overblown pride were about to be destroyed by God. Which brings us back to our passage in Jeremiah. God uses the metaphor of drinking and drunkenness to warn the nation of Babylon of their coming doom.

“And while they lie inflamed with all their wine,
    I will prepare a different kind of feast for them.
I will make them drink until they fall asleep,
    and they will never wake up again,”
    says the Lord. – Jeremiah 51:39 NLT

The Babylonians would ultimately fall to the Medes and Persians. But the eschatological Babylon, the personification of all that is evil and wicked in the world, will also be destroyed when Christ returns to earth. The pride of man will be snuffed out once and for all. The arrogance of the creation will removed by the Creator. The false gods of the earth will be eliminated, never to be seen or worshiped again. It is God who holds the fate of the world in His hands. It is God who gives life and takes it away. It is God who controls the destinies of all, from kings to commoners, dictators to despots, and the prideful to the hopeless.

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

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

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

The Pride of the Nations.

“You are my hammer and weapon of war:
with you I break nations in pieces;
    with you I destroy kingdoms;
with you I break in pieces the horse and his rider;
    with you I break in pieces the chariot and the charioteer;
with you I break in pieces man and woman;
    with you I break in pieces the old man and the youth;
with you I break in pieces the young man and the young woman;
    with you I break in pieces the shepherd and his flock;
with you I break in pieces the farmer and his team;
    with you I break in pieces governors and commanders.

“I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea before your very eyes for all the evil that they have done in Zion, declares the Lord.

“Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain,
declares the Lord,
    which destroys the whole earth;
I will stretch out my hand against you,
    and roll you down from the crags,
    and make you a burnt mountain.
No stone shall be taken from you for a corner
    and no stone for a foundation,
but you shall be a perpetual waste,
    declares the Lord.

“Set up a standard on the earth;
    blow the trumpet among the nations;
prepare the nations for war against her;
    summon against her the kingdoms,
    Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz;
appoint a marshal against her;
    bring up horses like bristling locusts.
Prepare the nations for war against her,
    the kings of the Medes, with their governors and deputies,
    and every land under their dominion.
The land trembles and writhes in pain,
    for the Lord‘s purposes against Babylon stand,
to make the land of Babylon a desolation,
    without inhabitant.
The warriors of Babylon have ceased fighting;
    they remain in their strongholds;
their strength has failed;
    they have become women;
her dwellings are on fire;
    her bars are broken.
One runner runs to meet another,
    and one messenger to meet another,
to tell the king of Babylon
    that his city is taken on every side;
the fords have been seized,
    the marshes are burned with fire,
    and the soldiers are in panic.
For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:
The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor
    at the time when it is trodden;
yet a little while
    and the time of her harvest will come.”

“Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon has devoured me;
    he has crushed me;
he has made me an empty vessel;
    he has swallowed me like a monster;
he has filled his stomach with my delicacies;
    he has rinsed me out.
The violence done to me and to my kinsmen be upon Babylon,”
    let the inhabitant of Zion say.
“My blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea,”
    let Jerusalem say. Jeremiah 51:20-35 ESV

Ten times in this section, God refers to an unknown entity with whom He would break the nation of Babylon. He calls this unnamed nation or alliance of nations “my hammer and weapon of war.” Repeatedly He states, “with you I break in pieces”, and then describes the various people and places He will destroy using this instrument of destruction. And the primary focus of their attention will be the nation of Babylon.

“I will repay Babylon
    and the people of Babylonia
for all the wrong they have done
    to my people in Jerusalem,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 51:24 NLT

God describes Babylon as a “ destroying mountain,” but they will prove no match for Him. Mountains are an image of stability and power, immovable and virtually insurmountable. They appear as barriers and serve as protection to nations, denying easy access to their borders by their enemies. Babylon was massive and a force with which to be reckoned, but God warns them, “When I am finished, you will be nothing but a heap of burnt rubble” (Jeremiah 51:25 NLT).

God issues a battle cry, summoning the forces of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz. These were nations located to the north of Babylon. They would join the Medes in forming a massive army, with the horses of this combined army descending on Babylon like locusts. The result of this alliance on Babylon would be devastating. They would stand no chance. And in just a limited amount of time, the once great nation of Babylon would be completely destroyed, wiped off the map.

Babylon will be left desolate without a single inhabitant. – Jeremiah 51:29 NLT

But as we have noticed before, this has to refer to an as-yet-unfulfilled event, because when the Babylonians fell to the Persians in 539 BC, the nation was not wiped off the face of the earth. The city of Babylon was spared and made a part of the Persian empire. The people of Babylon were simply assimilated into the Persian culture. But what God is describing here, through His prophet, Jeremiah, is the complete annihilation of Babylon. That has not yet happened. And while there is no nation of Babylon at the present time, there is a day coming when Babylon will rise again and become a major force during the end times. Whether or not the actual city of Babylon will be rebuilt is not entirely clear. But the spirit of the nation of Babylon has continued on through the centuries, even after its fall to the Persians. It’s love for wealth, power, and domination can be found throughout the nations of the earth and will only increase in intensity after the rapture of the church. The period of the tribulation will be marked with the rise of the antichrist, who will rule at the head of a world-confederation of nations. This new-Babylon will put the original nation to shame in terms of its decadence, power, and devastating influence over the world scene. Daniel provides a glimpse of what this day will look like.

Then he said to me, “This fourth beast is the fourth world power that will rule the earth. It will be different from all the others. It will devour the whole world, trampling and crushing everything in its path. Its ten horns are ten kings who will rule that empire. Then another king will arise, different from the other ten, who will subdue three of them. He will defy the Most High and oppress the holy people of the Most High. He will try to change their sacred festivals and laws, and they will be placed under his control for a time, times, and half a time.

“But then the court will pass judgment, and all his power will be taken away and completely destroyed. Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey him.” – Daniel 7:23-27 NLT

This was part of a vision given to Daniel who was exiled to Babylon along with the rest of the people of Judah. God gave him this vision during the reign of King Belshazzar of Babylon. This vision was a God-ordained glimpse into the distant future, providing a detailed description of the fall of this future “Babylon.” And the book of Revelation provides yet another description of her fall.

“She glorified herself and lived in luxury,
    so match it now with torment and sorrow.
She boasted in her heart,
    ‘I am queen on my throne.
I am no helpless widow,
    and I have no reason to mourn.’
Therefore, these plagues will overtake her in a single day—
    death and mourning and famine.
She will be completely consumed by fire,
    for the Lord God who judges her is mighty.” – Revelation 18:7-8 NLT

Like the Babylon of Jeremiah’s day, this future Babylon will be marked by pride, arrogance, a love of wealth and luxury, and an obsession with world domination. But all the nations of the world that chose to do business with her would one day stand back in wonder, dumbstruck at her devastating demise.

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    She was clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens,
    decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls!
In a single moment
    all the wealth of the city is gone!” – Revelation 18:16-17 NLT

To this day, we see nations who wield great power and enjoy tremendous wealth and privilege. Their economies flourish while other nations struggle to exist. They buy and sell goods, profiting from their international commerce. They are self-sufficient, having no need of God. They worship the gods of money, power, and pleasure. But all of these nations will eventually fall. Their day in the sunshine will one day end. Their place of prominence on the world stage will not last forever. They are no match for God. He may choose to use them to accomplish His will, but He does not need them. And He will not share His glory with them. Their prideful arrogance will be broken. Their egotistical belief that they are self-made and unstoppable will end in disaster and devastation. They will all suffer the same ignoble fate as King Nebuchadnezzar and his great nation of Babylon.

“King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has eaten and crushed us
    and drained us of strength.
He has swallowed us like a great monster
    and filled his belly with our riches.
    He has thrown us out of our own country.
Make Babylon suffer as she made us suffer,”
    say the people of Zion.
“Make the people of Babylonia pay for spilling our blood,”
    says Jerusalem. – Jeremiah 51:34-35 NLT

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

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

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