Your Maker Is Your Husband

1 “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
    break forth into singing and cry aloud,
    you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
    and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
    and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
    and your offspring will possess the nations
    and will people the desolate cities.

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
    be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
    and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
    like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
    says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
    but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
    I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord, your Redeemer.

“This is like the days of Noah to me:
    as I swore that the waters of Noah
    should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
    and will not rebuke you.
10 For the mountains may depart
    and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
    and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

11 “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
    behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
    and lay your foundations with sapphires.
12 I will make your pinnacles of agate,
    your gates of carbuncles,
    and all your wall of precious stones.
13 All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
    and great shall be the peace of your children.
14 In righteousness you shall be established;
    you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear;
    and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
15 If anyone stirs up strife,
    it is not from me;
whoever stirs up strife with you
    shall fall because of you.
16 Behold, I have created the smith
    who blows the fire of coals
    and produces a weapon for its purpose.
I have also created the ravager to destroy;
17     no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
    and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
    and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 54:1-17 ESV

This chapter speaks of the coming blessings of God, made possible by the suffering servant of God. The content of these verses is directed at the people of Judah and is intended to encourage their hope and trust in God, even in the midst of their present circumstances. God has clearly shown them that He has a long-term plan for them. While they would suffer because of their rebellion against Him, they would not be completely or permanently abandoned by Him. And, He comforts them by guaranteeing His commitment to them.

“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with great compassion I will take you back.
In a burst of anger I turned my face away for a little while.
    But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord, your Redeemer. – Isaiah 54:7-8 NLT

It is interesting to note that, in the 17 verses that make up this chapter, God is referred to by a range of different names. He is called their “Maker,” the one who fashioned them out of nothing. Their very existence was His doing. And not only had God given life to each and every Hebrew, He had created the nation of Israel to which they belonged.  And then He had made them His wife. He had betrothed Himself to the people of Israel. We see the language of the marital covenant reflected in Exodus 19 when God called them into a special relationship with Him.

“‘And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites.” – Exodus 19:5-6 NLT

And the people had responded to His proposal by declaring, “All that the Lord has commanded we will do!” (Exodus 19:8 NLT). And yet, the bride would prove to be unfaithful. She would not keep the covenant she made with her Husband. In fact, God later indicts His wife, accusing her of adultery.

“If a man divorces his wife
and she leaves him and becomes another man’s wife,
he may not take her back again.
Doing that would utterly defile the land.
But you, Israel, have given yourself as a prostitute to many gods.
So what makes you think you can return to me?”
says the Lord. – Jeremiah 3:1 NET

And yet, just a few verses later, God calls on His bride to do just that.

“Return, O faithless children, declares the Lord; for I am your master.” – Jeremiah 3:14 ESV

The Hebrew word translated as “master” was actually used as a play on words. It is ba`al, and you can see its similarity to the name of the pagan God, Baal. But what is even more significant is that the Hebrew word ba`al can be translated as “husband.” God was Israel’s master because of His role as their husband. And, as their husband, God had remained faithful to His covenant promises. He had not wandered or committed spiritual adultery. He had not chosen another bride. And the text goes on to explain why. Because He is the “Lord of hosts” and “the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 54:5 ESV). He is mighty in power and morally pure. This is what made His decision to wed Israel all that more remarkable. And it is because He is the Lord of hosts and the Holy One of Israel that He will keep His covenant promises to them.

The book of Deuteronomy emphasizes the unique relationship between God and the people of Israel.

For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure, His covenant wife.

“The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

Israel had not been more beautiful. The had not come with a sizeable dowry. There was no benefit to God in this relationship. He wed Himself to her because of the promise He had made to Abraham.

“I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” – Genesis 17:7 NLT

God, Israel’s faithful Husband, would become their kinsman-Redeemer, buying her back out of her slavery, which had happened as a result of her infidelity. This strange relationship between God and the people of Israel is outlined in the book of Hosea, where the prophet is told by God to marry a prostitute and bear children with her. Then, when Hosea’s wife proves unfaithful and falls back into prostitution and, eventually, becomes enslaved, Hosea is commanded by God to redeem her from her slavery.

And God will use this real-life scenario to illustrate His relationship with the people of Israel. He even uses the wordplay mentioned earlier, cleverly revealing the uncomfortable similarity between ba`al (husband) and Baal (a false god).

“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more.” – Hosea 2:16-17 ESV

The day was going to come when Israel would no longer confuse their true Master or husband with the false gods of the pagan nations. They would no longer prostitute themselves to a host of other gods, breaking their covenant promise with their one true Husband. Why? Because God would call them back. He would restore them.

For the Lord has called you
    like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
    says your God. – Isaiah 54:6 ESV

And God confirms this commitment when He tells them: “my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed” (Isaiah 54:10 ESV). And verses 11-17 contain an amazing account of how God will bless His wayward wife, showering her with gifts and His goodness, all in spite of her unfaithfulness.

While the peoples of Israel and Judah were currently experiencing affliction, all as a result of their unfaithfulness to God, Isaiah assures them that a day was coming when they would be redeemed and restored by God. And the imagery in these verses portrays a beautifully restored and repopulated city of Jerusalem. The walls, battlements, and foundations are described as being made of precious stones. The city is filled with children who are being instructed in the ways of the Lord. It will be a time of great peace, free from oppression and fear. This seems to coincide with the New Jerusalem, as seen by the apostle John and described in the book of Revelation.

“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” – Revelation 19:9-11 ESV

Jerusalem becomes the symbol of the bride, the nation of Israel. It will be the home where God will dwell with His people. But more important than the physical description of the city is the description of its two primary occupants:

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. – Revelation 19:22-23 ESV

Isaiah 54 is a prophetic promise outlining God’s intentions toward His covenant wife, Israel. At the time at which Isaiah penned this chapter, Israel and Judah were barren, desolate, afflicted, and facing more of the same. But God was reassuring them that He would remain faithful. He would be unwavering in His marital vows, even to the point of redeeming His wayward wife out of captivity and restoring her to a right relationship with Himself. And God closes the chapter with His personal guarantee to do all that He has promised.

“This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
    and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” – Isaiah 54:17 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

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Jacob’s Redeemer

1 “But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
    Israel whom I have chosen!
Thus says the Lord who made you,
    who formed you from the womb and will help you:
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
    Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
    like willows by flowing streams.
This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’
    another will call on the name of Jacob,
and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
    and name himself by the name of Israel.”

6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
    and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
    besides
me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.[
    Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
    Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
Fear not, nor be afraid;
    have I not told you from of old and declared it?
    And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God
besides me?
    There is no Rock; I know not any
.” Isaiah 44:1-8 ESV

Just as He had at the beginning of chapter 43, here God addresses His people by the two names of the son of Isaac: Jacob and Israel. Jacob had been his original name, given to him at birth, and it meant, “holder of the heel, supplanter, or layer of snares.” This name had to do with the circumstances surrounding the births of he and his brother.

And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. – Genesis 25:24-26 NLT

That was how Jacob came by his somewhat strange, but highly descriptive name. And this rather bizarre birth narrative reflects a message that God had given to Rebekah even before the boys were born. She had been barren and unable to give Isaac any children, so he had “pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife” (Genesis 25:21 NLT). And God heard his prayer and enabled Rebekah to become pregnant with twins.

But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked.

And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” – Genesis 25:22-23 NLT

Jacob, though technically not the first-born, was going to end up having dominion over his brother. And later on in the story, Esau. in an act of impulsiveness, driven by physical desires, would trade his birthright for a bowl of stew. And not long after that, when their father, Isaac, was on his deathbed, Jacob and his mother would trick Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for the firstborn. Jacob was a deceiver. And his actions brought the wrath of his brother down him, forcing him to run for his life and live in exile in Paddan-aram. But God eventually arranged for Jacob’s return, and that event was accompanied by a God-ordained name change

Now that Jacob had returned from Paddan-aram, God appeared to him again at Bethel. God blessed him, saying, “Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel. – Genesis 35:10 NLT

So, why is any of this important? Because God opens this passage by using both names of this man as a designation for the people of God. The first name, Jacob, is an apt description of the people of God. They were deceivers and supplanters, having replaced the one-true God with false gods. But the name Israel means “God prevails.” It describes the undeniable reality that God was going to use the people of Israel, in spite of the people of Israel.

His will for them would prevail, not because of them, but because He was a faithful God. All throughout his life, Jacob had tried to fulfill the will of God by using trickery, deceit, and his own human efforts. God had already told Rebekah that the older son would serve the younger, but she and Jacob were both guilty of trying to accomplish God’s will through human means. But in Isaiah 44, God seems to be reminding the people of Judah that it is He who will bring about their preferred destiny. He is the one who had made and chosen them. They had nothing to do with it.

And almost as if He is addressing Jacob himself, God assures him, “Don’t be afraid, my servant Jacob, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen!” (Isaiah 44:2 NLT). God was going to do all that He had promised to do.

When Jacob had been forced to flee the land of Canaan in order to escape the vindictive wrath of his brother, God had visited him in a dream and made a covenant promise to him.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

And here is Isaiah 44, God is reaffirming that promise to the people of Judah, the descendants of Jacob. He uses another name by which to refer to them: Jeshurun. It means “upright one” and seems to be used to describe the ideal character God expected of His chosen people. And this is not the first time God used this particular name for Israel.

“But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;
    you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with
abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
    to
gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
    and you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
– Deuteronomy 32:15-18 ESV

They had abandoned God, the one who gave the birth. They had gotten fat and happy, content with their lifestyle, and turned their backs on the one who had made them what they were.

And yet, here is God promising to bless them.

“For I will pour water on the parched ground
and cause streams to flow on the dry land.
I will pour my spirit on your offspring
and my blessing on your children.”
– Isaiah 44:3 NLT

God describes a future day when His people will once again take pride in being His children. Rather than boasting in their false gods, or taking pride in their wealth and material possessions, they will declare their job at being God’s chosen possession.

“One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord,’
and another will use the name ‘Jacob.’
One will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
and use the name ‘Israel.’”
– Isaiah 44:5 NLT

And just to ensure that the people of Judah understand just who it is that is going to bless them, God refers to Himself as “the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 44:6 NLT). He is the Lord, Jehovah, “the existing one.” He is their King and sovereign. He is their Redeemer, actually their ga’al or kinsman-redeemer, who will ransom them out of slavery to sin. And He is the Lord of hosts, the commanders of the armies of heaven. With these four designations, God sets Himself apart from all other gods.

“I am the first and I am the last,
there is no God but me.
Who is like me? Let him make his claim!”
– Isaiah 44:6-7 NLT

It’s a rhetorical question that requires only one answer: No one. But just to make sure they understand the answer, God expands on it.

“Don’t panic! Don’t be afraid!
Did I not tell you beforehand and decree it?
You are my witnesses! Is there any God but me?
There is no other sheltering rock; I know of none.”
– Isaiah 44:8 NLT

They have nothing to fear because they are the people of God. Their future is in His hands and not tied to their own ability to live up to His exacting standards. They had already proven their incapacity to remain faithful. They had repeatedly shown their propensity to rebel against Him. They were deceivers and tricksters, always ready, willing and able to supplant the one true God with a wide array of false gods. But God assures them that He remains Jacob’s Redeemer. Just as He restored Jacob from exile, He will restore the people of Judah from exile. And He has even greater plans in store for them when His Son returns again.

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

Striking and Healing.

16 In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the Lord of hosts shakes over them. 17 And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians. Everyone to whom it is mentioned will fear because of the purpose that the Lord of hosts has purposed against them.

18 In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord of hosts. One of these will be called the City of Destruction.

19 In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. 20 It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. 21 And the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. 22 And the Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.

23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” – Isaiah 19:16-25 ESV

egypt-assyria-israel-map.jpgThe key to understanding this section of the oracle delivered against the nation of Egypt is found in the repetitive statement, “in that day.” This is a reference to a future time when God will dramatically reverse the fortunes of the Egyptians. While, in the short-term, they would suffer defeat at the hands of the Assyrians, God reveals that there will be a day Egypt, Judah and the Assyrians will all worship Him together.

God describes a future period of time when the Egyptians would fear the people of God. Rather than Judah having to beg Egypt for help against their enemies, the Egyptians would tremble in fear before the people of Judah and their almighty God. The oracle describes five Egyptian cities where Hebrew will be the primary language. Not only that, the inhabitants of those cities will swear allegiance to Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts. Quite a remarkable change of events. And it is quite obvious to see that these things have not yet taken place. But as far-fetched as these prophetic statements may seem to us, they should not be written off as being allegorical or metaphorical in nature. God is providing a glimpse into the eschatological future, the end times – a day when He will rectify all that is wrong on this earth. He is the Creator-God, and He will one day restore His creation to its former glory. That includes those who are made in His image – men from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

The text mentions one of the five Egyptian cities being called “the City of Destruction.” In the Hebrew, the word is haheres, which translates into “City of Destruction.” But in several of the older manuscripts from which the Scriptures are translated, the word hakheres is found, which translates into “City of the Sun.” Because of the positive nature of this section of the oracle, it seems that this option is the appropriate one. The Greek rendering of hakheres is Heliopolis, which was the name of one Egypt’s most ancient cities where the sun god, Re, was worshiped. It would appear that the oracle is revealing that the Egyptians will one day abandon their worship of their false gods for worship of the one true God.

Another amazing aspect of “that day” is the mention of “an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border” (Isaiah 19:19 ESV). In a land that had been long known for its pantheon of false gods, the mention of an altar to Yahweh is significant. These monuments dedicated to the God of Israel will act as a sign, reminding the people of Egypt that He alone is their source of sustenance and salvation. In fact, the text tells us, “When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them” (Isaiah 19:20 ESV). The very God who had brought plagues against the Egyptians in the days of Moses, will one day be the God to whom they turn for help in times of trouble and, He will answer them, sending them a savior and defender. 

It is important to recall that, during the days in which Moses was attempting to free the people of Israel from Egypt, God had promised, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5 ESV). But the Egyptians had continued to reject God. Later on, after God had brought the seventh plague of hail against the land of Egypt, Moses had told Pharoah, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God” (Exodus 9:29-30 ESV).

In spite of all the plagues God brought against the people of Egypt, they would continue to reject Him as God and refuse to fear Him. But Isaiah describes a day, a future day when all that will change.

…the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. – Isaiah 19:21 ESV

The prophet Zechariah spoke of that very same day.

Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. – Zechariah 14:16-19 ESV

The oracle of God reveals the dual nature of His relationship with mankind. It speaks of Him “striking and healing” the Egyptians. He will bring judgment, but He will also extend mercy. The Hebrew word translated as “striking” is nagaph and it refers to the striking with a fatal plague, sickness or death. But the Hebrew word translated as “healing” is rapha’ and it is best understood as, not so much a physical healing, but a restoration to favor. In fact, the text describes the Egyptians as returning (shuwb) to the Lord.

they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them. – Isaiah 19:22 ESV

This is interesting phrasing because, in reality, the people of Egypt never worshiped God. And yet, they are described as returning to Him. This seems to be a picture of fallen mankind being restored to the former relationship Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden, before the fall. Man was made in the image of God and meant to have an ongoing, unbroken relationship with Him. But sin severed that relationship. And yet, God, in His mercy, will one day restore fallen men. This is not a promise that all men will be saved, but that men from every tribe, nation and tongue will one day worship before the God who made them. The book of Revelation speaks of a day when a great multitude will stand before God’s throne.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 NLT

And Isaiah tells of a day when the nations will exist together in harmony. There will be a road leading all the way from Egypt to Assyria, winding its way through the land of Judah. And rather than armies marching along this road to wage war against one another, the Egyptians and Assyrians will use this highway to worship God together. Isaiah describes a God-ordained alliance between Israel, Assyria, and Egypt. He will one day bring the nations together in unity, joined by a common worship of and reverence for Himself. And rather than bringing judgment against the nations, God will bless them.

“Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” – Isaiah 19:25 ESV

During Isaiah’s day, the people of God were attempting to create unity through alliances. But these alliances were premature and not God-ordained. God was not interested in Israel or Judah placing their hope in these nations. He wanted them to trust Him. If they would, He would bless them. In a sense, they were trying to face-forward God’s will by doing things their way. Too often, we fail to understand that God has a plan that far surpasses our comprehension. We can’t see into the future, and so, we find ourselves focusing on the here-and-now, and attempting to fix our problems in our own strength. But it is far better to trust in and wait on God.

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

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

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

Refusing to Take Refuge in God.

The word that the Lord spoke to Jeremiah the prophet about the coming of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to strike the land of Egypt:

“Declare in Egypt, and proclaim in Migdol;
    proclaim in Memphis and Tahpanhes;
say, ‘Stand ready and be prepared,
    for the sword shall devour around you.’
Why are your mighty ones face down?
    They do not stand
    because the Lord thrust them down.
He made many stumble, and they fell,
    and they said one to another,
‘Arise, and let us go back to our own people
    and to the land of our birth,
    because of the sword of the oppressor.’
Call the name of Pharaoh, king of Egypt,
    ‘Noisy one who lets the hour go by.’

“As I live, declares the King,
    whose name is the Lord of hosts,
like Tabor among the mountains
    and like Carmel by the sea, shall one come.
Prepare yourselves baggage for exile,
    O inhabitants of Egypt!
For Memphis shall become a waste,
    a ruin, without inhabitant.

“A beautiful heifer is Egypt,
    but a biting fly from the north has come upon her.
Even her hired soldiers in her midst
    are like fattened calves;
yes, they have turned and fled together;
    they did not stand,
for the day of their calamity has come upon them,
    the time of their punishment.

“She makes a sound like a serpent gliding away;
    for her enemies march in force
and come against her with axes
    like those who fell trees.
They shall cut down her forest,
declares the Lord,
    though it is impenetrable,
because they are more numerous than locusts;
    they are without number.
The daughter of Egypt shall be put to shame;
    she shall be delivered into the hand of a people from the north.” Jeremiah 46:13-24 ESV

Egypt’s defeat at battle of Carchemish would just be the beginning of her misery. Not long after his victory, Prince Nebuchadnezzar would return to Babylon, where he would receive his coronation as king. replacing his father Nabopolassar. Then, the newly crowned king of Babylon would set his sights on the land of Palestine, subduing Canaan and then moving west to once again to battle with Pharaoh, but this time Nebuchadnezzar would bring the fight to the land of Egypt. And the outcome of this conflict would be worse than the first. All of this would take place in 568-567 B.C., in exactly the manner God had prophesied.

Earlier in the book of Jeremiah, God had warned, But suppose a nation or a kingdom will not be subject to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Suppose it will not submit to the yoke of servitude to him. I, the Lord, affirm that I will punish that nation. I will use the king of Babylon to punish it with war, starvation, and disease until I have destroyed it.” (Jeremiah 28:8 NLT). A few verses earlier, in that same chapter, God refers to “my servant, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon” (Jeremiah 28:6 NLT). Nebuchadnezzar was an instrument in the hand of God to accomplish His divine will concerning the nations. 

Just as God had previously warned the nations of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon; He would warn the cities of Egypt. He specifically mentions Migdol, Memphis and Tahpanhes. These happened to be major cities in Egypt and are the same cities to which the refugees from Judah had fled.

They went on to Egypt because they refused to obey the Lord, and came to Tahpanhes. – Jeremiah 43:7 NLT

The Lord spoke to Jeremiah concerning all the Judeans who were living in the land of Egypt, those in Migdol, Tahpanhes, Memphis, and in the region of southern Egypt. – Jeremiah 44:1 NLT

Once again, these prophecies were intended as a warning to the people of Judah more than they. were for the Egyptians. Jeremiah would have shared these pronouncements from God with his own people as a reminder that their disobedience was going to have consequences. They had run away to Egypt against the will of God. They had placed their faith in a foreign land rather than listening to the words of Yahweh. And God had already warned them what was coming.

“Because of this, the Lord God of Israel who rules over all says, ‘I am determined to bring disaster on you, even to the point of destroying all the Judeans here. I will see to it that all the Judean remnant that was determined to go and live in the land of Egypt will be destroyed. Here in the land of Egypt they will fall in battle or perish from starvation. People of every class will die in war or from starvation. They will become an object of horror and ridicule, an example of those who have been cursed and that people use in pronouncing a curse. I will punish those who live in the land of Egypt with war, starvation, and disease just as I punished Jerusalem.’” – Jeremiah 44:11-13 NLT

But the people had no intention of returning to the land of Judah. They were stubborn and refused to heed Jeremiah’s warning. So now, God was making it all official. He was predicting the actual events that would bring about their judgment and Egypt’s fall. And God indicates that the many gods of Egypt would be helpless and hopeless in the days ahead.

Why are your mighty ones face down?
    They do not stand
    because the Lord thrust them down… – Jeremiah 46:15 ESV

They would be exposed for what they were: lifeless, powerless fabrications of men’s minds. They were not gods at all and therefore, they would be no help at all in the day of trouble. Egypt would experience the very same fate that Judah had. Their great cities would fall. Their people would die as a result of starvation or by the sword. Their troops would flee before the Babylonians. And eventually, thousands of the Egyptians would taken back to Babylon as slaves. Even the mercenary troops that Egypt had hired to assist them would turn and run like fattened calves. Their lives would be offered like sacrifices before the Lord of Hosts.

The description is one of utter defeat and devastation. The great cities of Egypt would be looted of all treasure and then burned to the ground. Its once formidable army would fall like a house of cards. The many gods of Egypt would prove useless, becoming little more than booty for the Babylonians to haul off when they returned home. Even the forests of Egypt would be cut down to make the siege engines used to destroy the walls or its cities. Everything would be laid waste. And the people of Judah would find that their chosen place of refuge was anything but that. They had run from Judah because they feared the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar. But God had told them that if they stayed in Judah, He would have protected them. It would have gone well for them. But they had chosen to ignore God’s promises. They had made the fateful decision to seek refuge somewhere else. And now, they would pay the price for the disobedience and lack of faith in 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

The Day of Vengeance.

The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the nations.

About Egypt. Concerning the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:

“Prepare buckler and shield,
    and advance for battle!
Harness the horses;
    mount, O horsemen!
Take your stations with your helmets,
    polish your spears,
    put on your armor!
Why have I seen it?
They are dismayed
    and have turned backward.
Their warriors are beaten down
    and have fled in haste;
they look not back—
    terror on every side!
declares the Lord.

“The swift cannot flee away,
    nor the warrior escape;
in the north by the river Euphrates
    they have stumbled and fallen.

“Who is this, rising like the Nile,
    like rivers whose waters surge?
Egypt rises like the Nile,
    like rivers whose waters surge.
He said, ‘I will rise, I will cover the earth,
    I will destroy cities and their inhabitants.’
Advance, O horses,
    and rage, O chariots!
Let the warriors go out:
    men of Cush and Put who handle the shield,
    men of Lud, skilled in handling the bow.
That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts,
    a day of vengeance,
    to avenge himself on his foes.
The sword shall devour and be sated
    and drink its fill of their blood.
For the Lord God of hosts holds a sacrifice
    in the north country by the river Euphrates.
Go up to Gilead, and take balm,
    O virgin daughter of Egypt!
In vain you have used many medicines;
    there is no healing for you.
The nations have heard of your shame,
    and the earth is full of your cry;
for warrior has stumbled against warrior;
    they have both fallen together.” Jeremiah 46:1-12 ESV

At this point in the book, as it comes to a close, the attention of God shifts to the other nations who have played significant parts in the stories of Israel and Judah. God will speak oracles concerning each of these nations, providing a glimpse into what their fates will be. In doing so, God reveals His sovereign will over all the nations and peoples of the world, not just the Jews. His divine will and sovereign plan encompasses the entire earth and all who live on it. And God will begin His revelation concerning His plans for the nations by focusing His attention on Egypt. This should not be surprising, considering the fact that a portion of the people of Judah had fled to Egypt for safety, and they had taken God’s prophet along with them.

Egypt had been a significant power in the region of Canaan for centuries. There was a time when they controlled significant portions of Canaan and Syria, but they had lost these regions in subsequent battles with the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. In this oracle, provided by God to Jeremiah, we are given God’s pronouncement of Egypt’s defeat by the Babylonians. It all began in 609 B.C. when Pharaoh Neco and his troops marched to Carchemesh which was located on the Euphrates River in Northern Syria. King Josiah of Judah attempted to stop Neco, but was killed in battle. In the fourth year (605 B.C.) of the reign of Jehoiakim, Josiah’s son, Prince Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians defeated Neco’s forces, providing the Babylonians with complete control of the region. In this passage, God predicts this event. And while, Jeremiah writes in the past tense, he actually penned these words long before the events took place.

In the opening verses, Jeremiah warns the Egyptians to prepare themselves for battle. They are to arm themselves for war, making sure they include their chariots and war horses. But in the very next verses, Jeremiah paints a picture of the Egyptian forces running way in terror. Even the bravest warriors are attempting to escape, as fast as they can, not bothering to look back. “They are terrorized at every turn” (Jeremiah 46:5 NLT). But they can’t escape. There is nowhere to run. The Egyptian’s took great pride in their army because of its invincible power. They boastfully compared its might to that of the Nile when it overflowed its banks during flooding.

It is the Egyptian army,
    overflowing all the land,
boasting that it will cover the earth like a flood,
    destroying cities and their people. – Jeremiah 46:8 NLT

God issues a challenge to the Egyptians and all their allies.

Charge, you horses and chariots;
    attack, you mighty warriors of Egypt!
Come, all you allies from Ethiopia, Libya, and Lydia
    who are skilled with the shield and bow! – Jeremiah 46:9 NLT

But God warns them that things are not going to turn out quite like they expected. This would be a day of defeat for them, because they were running headlong into the sovereign will of God, the Lord God of hosts. This would prove to be a day of vengeance, when God would bring His judgment on the nation of Egypt. There is no reason given for Egypt’s fall. Perhaps it was due to Pharaoh Neco’s murder of King Josiah. But God is not required to provide us with a rationale or justification for His actions. He is the God of the universe. His ways are not our ways. “His judgments are true and just” (Revelation 19:2 NLT).

The battle will end in defeat. The Egyptians will fall to the swords of the Babylonians. And God describes this event as a sacrificial offering. The blood of the Egyptians will be spilled as payment for their many sins and for their arrogance and pride, believing themselves to be unbeatable in battle. God is clearly showing that He alone is God. Pharaoh is not divine. His troops are not invincible. It would not be because of the superior nature of the Babylonian forces that Egypt would fall that day, but because of the sovereign will and almighty power of God.

God recommends that Egypt go to Gilead and take advantage of their healing balms. But they would find no medicine strong enough to restore their health. Egypt, long renowned for its healing arts, would be incapable of recovering from the devastation God was bringing upon them. There was no ointment that could heal the wounds inflicted by a vengeful God. There were not enough allies to prevent defeat at the hands of a sovereign God, the Lord of heaven’s armies. These mighty nations that had risen to power and whose kings believed they had the right to rule over all the world, would find that the scope of their power was limited and their dreams of world domination were controlled by a power outside of themselves.

It is likely that these oracles from God were intended to remind the people of Judah that their God was in control. While they had suffered defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, God wanted them to understand that all the events surrounding their circumstances were part of His divine plan. He was in control of all that was taking place in the world at that time. They were never to have placed their hopes in foreign nations. They were to trust in God alone. But Judah and Israel had made a habit out of trusting in anything and everything but God. They had repeatedly turned to alliances with foreign nations and to the worship of false gods as their sources of comfort and security. But God was reminding them that He alone could be trusted. He alone could provide true safety and security. He alone was powerful enough to rely upon in times of need.

It is interesting to look back in the history of Judah and recall the time when Sennacherib, the king of the Assyrians was invading Judah. He sent an emissary to King Hezekiah, with a word of warning.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – Isaiah 36:4-6 NLT

Even then, Judah was prone to place its trust in Egypt. And Sennacherib warned Hezekiah against putting the fate of his people in the hands of an unreliable “reed” like Egypt. But Sennacherib went on to warn Hezekiah not to put his trust in God either.

“But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem?” – Isaiah 36:7 NLT

Ah, the pride of man. It is inescapable and unavoidable. Time and time again, all throughout history, we see it raise its ugly head, as mere men set themselves up as the masters of their fate and the self-proclaimed kings of the world. But they fail to recognize that God alone is King. He alone rules and reigns. It is His will alone that matters. And these oracles from God concerning the fates of the nations surrounding Judah were designed to let the people of God know that He was still in control. In the midst of their dire circumstances, they could rest in the fact that their God was still on His throne.

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

Failure to Listen.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Go and say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will you not receive instruction and listen to my words? declares the Lord. The command that Jonadab the son of Rechab gave to his sons, to drink no wine, has been kept, and they drink none to this day, for they have obeyed their father’s command. I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me. I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to you and your fathers.’ But you did not incline your ear or listen to me. The sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have kept the command that their father gave them, but this people has not obeyed me. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, because I have spoken to them and they have not listened, I have called to them and they have not answered.”

But to the house of the Rechabites Jeremiah said, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Because you have obeyed the command of Jonadab your father and kept all his precepts and done all that he commanded you, therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Jonadab the son of Rechab shall never lack a man to stand before me.” – Jeremiah 35:12-19 ESV

The Rechabites had kept their word. Jeremiah had invited them to a private session somewhere within the temple and, under directions given to him by God, had ordered them to drink wine. But they had refused. They were not going to disobey the command given to them by Jonadad, their leader, and they were not going to break the vow they had made to him. When Jeremiah had placed the wine in front of them and ordered them to drink, they had politely deferred, saying:

“So we have obeyed him in all these things. We have never had a drink of wine to this day, nor have our wives, our sons, or our daughters. We haven’t built houses or owned vineyards or farms or planted crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed all the commands of Jehonadab, our ancestor.” – Jeremiah 35:8-10 NLT

Now, God commands Jeremiah to take yet another message to the people of Judah warning them of what is about to happen. Remember, this chapter is actually out of chronological order. It takes us back in time to the days when Jehoakim was king. Chapter 34 chronicled the last days of Zedekiah, the king who reigned after Jehoakim. There is no reason given for the out-of-order telling of these events, but it seems to be a simple retrospective recounting of just how things had gotten to the sad state of affairs that led to the fall of Judah and Jerusalem. God’s decision to bring judgment on His people had not been a spur-of-the-moment decision. He had not knee-jerk reacted and flown off the handle in a rage at a single, isolated incident. The nation of Judah, like its northern neighbor, Israel, had a long track record of disobedience and stubborn refusal to listen to the call of God.

And God allowed His prophet, Jeremiah, to see up close and personal what real faithfulness looks like. The Rechabites provided a living lesson of uncompromising, unwavering obedience. It’s interesting to note that the Rechabites were actually living within the city walls of Jerusalem when Jeremiah made his offer of wine to them. At first blush, this might aappear to be a violation of their vow to Jonadab.

“You and your descendants must never drink wine. And do not build houses or plant crops or vineyards, but always live in tents. If you follow these commands, you will live long, good lives in the land.” – Jeremiah 35:6-7 NLT

Yet, the Rechabites admitted that they were living in Jerusalem.

“But when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked this country, we were afraid of the Babylonian and Syrian armies. So we decided to move to Jerusalem. That is why we are here.” – Jeremiah 35:11 NLT

They made it clear to Jeremiah that their presence in Jerusalem was simply to escape destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. They were seeking refuge, not setting up residence. There is no indication that they had bought houses or had intentions of making Jerusalem their permanent home. Jonadab’s command restricted them from building homes. They were required to live in tents. And, more than likely, that was exactly what they had been doing when Jeremiah called on them and extended his invitation for a meeting in the temple.

God made it clear to Jeremiah just what the point of this little episode with the Rechabites was all about. Jeremiah was to tell the people of Judah: “Come and learn a lesson about how to obey me” (Jeremiah 35:13 NLT). Then, He had pointed out: “The Recabites do not drink wine to this day because their ancestor Jehonadab told them not to” (Jeremiah 35:14 NLT). These people were obeying the words of a man. But the people of Judah had refused to listen to or obey the words of God. “But I have spoken to you again and again, and you refuse to obey me” (Jeremiah 35:14 NLT). Jonadab spoke, and his people obeyed. God spoke, and His people refused to listen and obey. And God spoke repeatedly. He sent His prophets. They provided timely reminders. They warned and threatened. The offered promises of God’s blessings for obedience. They told of unprecedented curses for refusal to be faithful to their covenant with God. But the people refused to listen. They heard, but they did not obey. And makes a clear comparison between the Rechabites and the Judahites.

But you would not listen to me or obey me. The descendants of Jehonadab son of Recab have obeyed their ancestor completely, but you have refused to listen to me.” – Jeremiah 35:15-16 NLT

Then God drops the bomb. He says, “Therefore…”. As a result of their blatant disobedience, the people of Judah were going to suffer the judgment of God. And God describes Himself as “the Lord of Hosts”. The New Living Translation reads, “the God of Heaven’s Armies”. And in the Hebrew, it can be literally translated, “Yahweh of armies”. God presents Himself as the commander-in-chief of all the host of heaven. He is all-powerful and has a limitless number of heavenly hosts (angels) at His disposal. Jesus Himself referred to God’s heavenly host on the night he was betrayed in the garden. Peter, in a vain attempt to protect Jesus from capture, had cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Jesus immediately responded, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 NLT).

By presenting Himself as Yahweh of armies, God was emphasizing His sovereignty and power. He also described Himself as the God of Israel. The Rechabites had Jonadab. But the Israelites had God. And yet, they still refused to obey Him. So, warns God, “Because you refuse to listen or answer when I call, I will send upon Judah and Jerusalem all the disasters I have threatened” (Jeremiah 35:17 NLT). No obedience? No mercy. But then, God spoke a word to the Rechabites, describing Himself with the very same term.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘You have obeyed your ancestor Jehonadab in every respect, following all his instructions.’ Therefore, this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jehonadab son of Recab will always have descendants who serve me.’” – Jeremiah 35:18-19 NLT

The God of Israel was promising the people of Recab, who were Kenites and not Jews, that He was going to bless them. This group of people would have a place in God’s presence forever. They would be sustained and protected by God. This simple, nomadic people, would be rewarded for their faithfulness and obedience. And the people of Judah would suffer the consequences of their disobedience. It would seem that God would have us take away the obvious lesson found in this chapter regarding obedience. God puts a high value on faithfulness. When He speaks, He doesn’t just expect His words to be heard, but to be obeyed. It is not enough to read God’s Word. We must apply what we hear to our lives. Knowing what God expects of us is not sufficient. Awareness of His will is not the same thing as obedience to it. Like a sovereign over a nation, God, Yahweh of armies, stands over His people and demands their allegiance and obedience. He is Lord of all. He is the one true God. He is to be heard and obeyed. He is to be feared and revered. The Rechabites would never have considered disobeying their vow to Jonadab. But the people of God regularly and blatantly broke their commitments to God. As the prophet, Samuel, told the disobedient King Saul:

“What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.” – 1 Samuel 15:22-23 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≠≠

Divine Opposition.

Desolate! Desolation and ruin!
    Hearts melt and knees tremble;
anguish is in all loins;
    all faces grow pale!
Where is the lions’ den,
    the feeding place of the young lions,
where the lion and lioness went,
    where his cubs were, with none to disturb?
The lion tore enough for his cubs
    and strangled prey for his lionesses;
he filled his caves with prey
    and his dens with torn flesh.

 Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard. Nahum 2:10-13 ESV

 

You don’t want to be on God’s bad side. You don’t want Him for an enemy. And the one thing no human being should ever want to hear God say is, “I am against you.” Any time we see that statement, it is usually followed by some very unpleasant circumstances. The people of Judah themselves would eventually hear God say those same words:

“Behold, I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley,
    O rock of the plain,
declares the Lord;
you who say, ‘Who shall come down against us,
    or who shall enter our habitations?’
14 I will punish you according to the fruit of your deeds,
declares the Lord;
    I will kindle a fire in her forest,
    and it shall devour all that is around her.” – Jeremiah 21:13-14 ESV

Babylon, one of the nations that God would use to defeat the Assyrians, would also hear those four words:

“Behold, I am against you, O proud one,
    declares the Lord God of hosts,
for your day has come,
    the time when I will punish you.
The proud one shall stumble and fall,
    with none to raise him up,
and I will kindle a fire in his cities,
    and it will devour all that is around him.” – Jeremiah 50:30-31 ESV

God would one day say of the great city of Tyre:

“Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock.” – Ezekiel 26:3-4 ESV

God makes a great friend, but He is a formidable enemy. And Nahum, speaking on behalf of God, makes it quite clear that the Assyrians had overstepped their bounds and exceeded the limits of God’s patience. The Assyrians had more than met their match. While they were known for leaving a wake of destruction in their path, God was going to completely annihilate them. Their fall would leave nothing but desolation behind. Their once great city would be reduced to rubble, their vast horde of plunder and treasure would be removed. Their citizens would be taken captive or scattered to the four winds. And even their infamous chariots would be burned to ashes.

People will be left wondering what ever happened to Nineveh. Comparing the Assyrian king to a lion and Nineveh to his den, Nahum sarcastically asks, “Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb?” (Nahum 2:11 ESV). In time, the rubble of the city will look like just another part of the landscape. It will be difficult to tell that it was once the great capital of the mighty Assyrian empire. There had been a day when the king of Assyrian had “filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh” (Nahum 2:12 ESV), but that was about to change. Because God was against him. He had made an enemy of the Lord of Hosts. That term, Lord of Hosts, is a title for God that refers to His military might. It “pictures God as the sovereign king who has at his disposal a multitude of attendants, messengers, and warriors to do his bidding” (NET Study Bible notes). God commands the hosts of heaven, a countless force made up of angelic beings.

There is a wonderful story chronicled for us in the book of 1 Kings. It involves the prophet Elisha. It seems that the King of Aram had been setting traps and ambushes for the forces of Israel, and Elisha was prophetically warning the King of Israel about these situations before they happened. Of course, when the King of Aram found out what Elisha had been doing, it enraged him, so he sent troops to capture Elisha. One morning, Elisha’s servant woke up to find they were surrounded by troops.

When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha. – 2 Kings 6:15 ESV

But rather than panic, Elisha simply told his servant, “Don’t be afraid!” Then he calmed his anxious servant with the news: “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” (1 Kings 6: 16 ESV). But he could tell that his servant’s sense of panic was not exactly assuaged by this announcement. Because all his servant could see was one thing: The armies of Aram. There was nobody else in sight. What was Elisha talking about? And then Elisha prayed: “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” (1 Kings 6:17 ESV). And we’re told that God opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire. In other words, he got a glimpse of the host of heaven.

God has more than enough resources to enforce His will and to accomplish His sovereign plan. In the case of Elisha and his servant, God used the hosts of heaven to rescue them. In the case of the Assyrians, God would call upon the Medes and the Babylonians to attack and destroy the Assyrians. God used the waters of the Red Sea to destroy the armies of Pharaoh. He brought down fire and brimstone to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is no limit to God’s capabilities. That is why it is a dangerous thing to find yourself on the receiving end of His wrath. In the case of Egypt, God sent a single angel to take the lives of all the first born males in the nation. God can use His heavenly host or He can utilize human resources to accomplish His will. But the bottom line is, once the Assyrians found themselves on the wrong side of God’s wrath, their days were numbered. Daniel reminds us:

He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding… – Daniel 2:21 ESV

The Assyrians were no match for God. And those who would set themselves against the people of God will always find themselves as the enemies of God. It is one thing for God to sovereignly choose to use a nation to accomplish His divine will and mete out His just judgment on His own people. But when a nation independently assumes the right to attack what rightly belongs to God, they will find themselves opposed by Him. There will always be nations like Assyria to wreak havoc and demand their way in the world. Wicked nations will rise up and force their will on others. Their will be dictators and tyrants. There will be always be despots and megalomaniacs who use force to build and maintain their empires. And from our human perspective, it will always look to use as it did to Elisha’s servant. We will see ourselves surrounded by the forces of evil. We will feel like the odds are against us, and we will cry out to God, “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” But God would have us remember that we have the Lord of Hosts on our side. He is in control. As bad as things might appear, our God is still on His throne. He is still the Lord of Hosts and has the resources of heaven at His disposal. Not only that, He is in full and ultimate control of all that goes on around us, whether it seems like it or not. Nothing happens outside of His sovereign will. No king, president, or dictator ascends to power without His permission. We may not understand why God does what He does, but we should never question His motives. All those who stand opposed to His will eventually find themselves hearing those very same words the Assyrians heard: “I am against you.” And the apostle Paul would have us remember: “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31 NLT). Not only that, but, “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT).

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

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

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

Stand!

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. – Ephesians 6:14-18a ESV

Two times Paul told his readers to put on “the whole armor of God.” He was not providing them with a menu of optional items from which to choose. They were not to decide for themselves which piece of God’s divine equipment they were interested in wearing or utilizing. But the sad truth is, that is exactly the way many of us as Christians approach this passage. Whether we intend to or not, we jeopardize our spiritual well-being by self-selecting the armor of God we want to put on. But Paul would have us understand that when it comes to the armor of God, it’s all or nothing. He tells us to “put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (Ephesians 6:13 NLT).

Paul uses two Greek words, ἀνθίστημι (anthistēmi) and ἵστημι (histēmi). The first means “to stand against” and the other means “to stand” (“G436 – anthistēmi, G2476 – histēmi – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). To withstand in the evil day carries the idea of being able to stand your ground in the midst of battle. You are under attack. The enemy has you surrounded, but you refuse to surrender your position. You resist. It is a defensive posture, not an offensive one. The enemy is bringing the battle to you. Jesus told Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18 NET). Satan is out to destroy God’s people and has His church under constant assault both from without and within. But Paul calls us to stand our ground, to resist. James uses the same Greek word, ἀνθίστημι (anthistēmi), when he writes, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 ESV).

And Paul calls us to stand. It means to stand firm, immovable, ready and prepared for action. But how are we to pull that off? What is the secret to our standing firm? Paul makes it quite clear. It is the whole armor of God. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes for your feet comprised of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. This six items are to be the indispensable equipment for every soldier of God. You can’t survive without them. It isn’t a question of whether the enemy will attack and you will see battle. His is bringing the war to your doorstep each and every day. And God has given us all that we need to withstand and stand firm in the heat of the battle. The belt of truth is the first and most essential piece of equipment. It most likely refers to the truth as revealed in God’s Word. Truth is key to standing up to the lies of the enemy. Remember, the goal is to “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV). That word, “schemes” means “deceit or trickery.” Satan is a liar. He is cunning and clever and he uses falsehood as his primary weapon of choice. So truth is going to be one of our greatest assets as believers.

The breastplate of righteousness is probably referring the righteousness of Christ. Like the armor of a Roman soldier, this breastplate would provide protection from the neck to the thighs, covering all the vital organs. As believers, we are covered by the righteousness of Christ. It is His righteousness that has made us right with God. When the enemy attacks and hurls darts of accusations against our self-righteousness, we are protected or covered by the righteousness imputed to us by Christ at His death. Satan can accuse us, but he cannot harm us. We must daily take up Christ’s righteousness and understand that it is what He has given us that protects us from the assault of the enemy.

No soldier would go into battle without shoes. How can you stand firm without proper footwear? And Paul describes these shoes that are “the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15 ESV). The gospel of peace, the Good News is what provides us with the ability to stand firm, without slipping or sliding in uncertainty or losing our spiritual footing. Because of what Christ accomplished on the cross, we have peace with God. We are His and He is ours. That is why so confidently claimed, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 ESV).

The shield of faith is not something you wear, but something you hold. Like all of the other pieces of armor, it is given to you by God. It is His armor. Our faith is not self-manufactured, but it is a gift of the Spirit, provided for us by a gracious and loving God. As long as we stand behind our faith, we are safe. It is when we set aside our faith that we become vulnerable to the darts of the enemy. Our faith is our trust in God and in His promises regarding us. He will not leave us or forsake us. He has prepared a permanent place for us. He will fight our battles for us. He has placed His all-powerful Spirit within us. I must trust in these truths at all time. A weak shield is of little use in the heat of battle. Strong faith in a strong and faithful God will provide protection each and every time, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

The helmet of salvation protects our mind. It is the awareness and recognition of God’s ongoing saving work in our lives. It not only refers to our coming to faith in Christ, but to our ongoing sanctification and the daily saving work of God in our lives. Through His Son’s death, he saved us from sin and death, but He is also saving us from the flesh, the world and the enemy. We must keep our minds focused on the saving work of God in our lives. We must constantly remind ourselves that He is faithful and strong, and that the battle is already won.

The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. It is designed for hand-to-hand combat. The Scriptures are what we are to use when the enemy gets up close and personal. God’s Word provides us with the truth we need to deflect the lies thrown at us by Satan. It is both a defensive and offensive weapon, allowing us to protect ourselves, but also to bring harm to the enemy. Referring to the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “when he come he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment” (John 16:8 NLT). The Spirit of God in conjunction with the Word of God are essential in our fight against the forces of this world.

Finally, Paul tells us to keep “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18a ESV). Prayer is nothing more than communication with God. Like a soldier out on the field of battle, timely communication from headquarters is key to victory. We must listen to our heavenly commander, the Lord of Hosts. He is the captain of the armies of heaven and He has a battle plan in place. We are not to act as freelance mercenaries, operating based on our own agenda and implementing our own battle plan. It is through prayer and the reading of God’s Word that we receive instructions. It also provides us with a means of sharing our own needs and news from the battlefield. Staying in touch with God is essential to our survival.

The battle is real. The enemy is powerful. But our God is great and our armor is time-tested and proven reliable in the heat of battle. It has been made by God. It has been given to us by God. And our victory is assured because of God. “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4 NLT).

Committed to God.

But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause. – Jeremiah 20:11-12 ESV

Jeremiah 20:7-18

Jeremiah was facing some tough opposition. His own people refused to listen to his call to repentance and warning of coming destruction. He had face rejection, ridicule and even physical violence at the hands of those he was attempting to save. And yet, this shouldn’t have been surprising to Jeremiah, because God had forewarned him. “‘will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you,’ declares the Lord.I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless’” (Jeremiah 15:20-21 ESV). And it was to this earlier promise from God that Jeremiah returned. God had said that He would be with Jeremiah to save and deliver him. God had promised to deliver him out of the hand of the ruthless. The Hebrew word for “ruthless” is the same word Jeremiah used to describe God. It can mean “terrible one, mighty, or strong”. The NET Bible translates it as “awe-inspiring warrior” when used of God. Jeremiah’s opponents were terrible, violent and ruthless when it came to their treatment of him. But his God was going to put the, pardon the pun, dread of God in them. They would be greatly shamed and would not succeed. While Jeremiah was going through a temporary state of disgrace and dishonor, theirs would be everlasting.

In the midst of all his difficulties, Jeremiah was calling upon the Lord of hosts – literally, Yahweh of Armies. It is a shortened version of the title, Yahweh the God of Armies, which occurs five times in the book of Jeremiah. The abbreviated version occurs 77 times. This reference to God has to do with His sovereignty as King and creator. He not only leads the armies of heaven, but the army of Israel and the armies of the nations of the world, which He uses as He sees fit. It is to the Lord of hosts that Jeremiah appeals. He calls out to the one who rules over all and who knows all. Jeremiah recognizes that God knows his heart and the hearts of his opponents. God can see what is going on and can easily ascertain who is right and who is wrong. Jeremiah simply asks God to do the right thing and save him as He has promised to do.

In spite of all he was going through, Jeremiah has committed himself to God. The Hebrew word Jeremiah used was galah and it can mean “to make naked or lay bare”. Jeremiah had, in essence, exposed himself, making himself vulnerable on behalf of God. He had been so committed to God’s call and cause that he had been willing to suffer abuse and rejection. He had put it all on the line for God. Now he was asking God to avenge him, to justify his suffering by validating his message. Jeremiah had been faithful to do what God had called him to do. He wanted God to be faithful and do what He had promised to do. “I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless” (Jeremiah 15:21 ESV).

When we stand for the truth of God, we will face opposition, and not just from the world. Sometimes our own brothers and sisters in Christ will stand against us or misunderstand us. But it is always essential that we make sure the cause for which we stand is God’s and not our own. We must never make the mistake of causing dissension and strife among the people of God based on our own opinion or agenda. Jeremiah was committed to God’s cause, not his own. He was speaking the words of God, not men. The agenda he followed was God’s. It can be so easy for us to replace God’s words with our own. We can end up causing disruption in the body of Christ, not because we are speaking truth, but because we are sharing our opinion and promoting our own agenda. The apostle Paul told the believers in Corinth, “When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths” (1 Corinthians 2:13 NLT). His words were from God. We must always make sure that what we say is Spirit-inspired, biblically based and God-ordained. The cause to which we commit ourselves must be God’s, not our own. Because when we speak God’s word, we will always have God’s backing. When we commit to His cause, He will commit Himself to our care.

1 Chronicles 11-12, Philippians 3

An Army of God.

1 Chronicles 11-12, Philippians 3

For from day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God. – 1 Chronicles 12:22 ESV

The chronicler provides us with a flash-back that revisits the time in Israelite history when David was running for his life, hunted relentlessly by King Saul. He was a fugitive, hiding in caves and moving from place to place in order to escape the professional assassins who had been hired by Saul to eliminate David from the face of the earth. Those were dark days for David. And to make matters even worse, the Scriptures tell us that David quickly found his situation becoming increasingly complicated as time passed. “David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him” (1 Samuel 22:1 ESV). David, living in the rough confines of a cave and forced to eke out a living from the harsh Judean wilderness, suddenly finds himself having to care and protect all his family members. Then the real fun started. “And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men” (1 Samuel 22:2 ESV). Here was the man who had been anointed the next king of Israel, hiding in caves, and commanding an army made up of misfits and malcontents. These people were depressed, indebted, stressed out and more than a little bit disappointed in how things had turned out in life. What a way to start your reign as king! But God was not done yet.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The book of Chronicles tells us that God was not finished providing an army for His new king. Chapters 11 and 12 tell us of the mighty men of David. As David continued his period of exile in the wilderness, God brought a host of highly qualified fighting men to his side. “From day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God” (1 Chronicles 12:22 ESV). While David’s situation was less-than-ideal from a human perspective, God was providing him with a team of individuals who were “mighty and experienced warriors, experts with shield and spear, who faces were like the faces of lions and who were as swift as gazelles upon the mountains” (1 Samuel 12:8 ESV). They are described as valiant men, doers of great deeds, and mighty men who were renowned for their bravery and courage. God was not going to leave David defenseless and alone. Yes, David would have to suffer through a period of difficulty and unimaginable confusion as he watched Saul’s reign continue and his own kingship languish in obscurity in the desert. But God was preparing David to be a king and providing him with the army he would need once he ascended to the throne. And when David finally did take over as king of Israel, God would be there with him, providing him with a new capital, Jerusalem, and an army of faithful, seasoned warriors to fight by his side. “And David became greater and, for the Lord of hosts was with him” (1 Samuel 11:9 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

It would have been so easy for David to have thrown in the towel and given up on any hopes of every becoming the next king of Israel. But he continued to trust God. Even when given the opportunity to take the life of Saul and end his exile, he refused to take advantage of the situation by taking matters into his own hands. He would trust God and His timing. He may not have fully understood why God was doing what He was doing, but he knew that God’s ways were preferable to his own. God’s plan would be better in the long run. He just needed to keep pressing on. If his path included a bit of suffering and difficulty, so be it. God was in control. Paul had a similar attitude. He wrote, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV). In those years David spent in the wilderness, he had suffered the loss of his job on Saul’s royal payroll, he had lost his wife, his reputation, and his spiritual mentor, Samuel. But he pushed on. So did Paul. “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV). And Paul encouraged his readers to do the same thing. In essence, Paul was raising up an army of individuals who would be willing to face the obstacles of life and trust in the promises of God. “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There are days when it feels like I am facing life all on my own. Like Elijah the prophet, I can feel like I am the last man left standing. But I must never forget that God is always raising up “a great army, like the army of God.” He is sending men and women who are of like mind and like heart, who share a passion for His cause and a commitment to His Kingdom. Like the mighty men of David, they are brave, valiant, faithful, and doers of great deeds. We should all aspire to be those kind of individuals, fighting together for the faith and in the strength provided by God’s Spirit. Like Paul, we need to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:17 ESV). We need to keep our eyes focused on the promises of God and the consummation of His divine plan. He was not done with David. He was not done with Paul. And He is not yet done with me. He is making me a part of His great and powerful army, transforming me into a mighty man of God.

Father, I ask that You continue to raise up Your army on this earth that we might stand strong, fighting together side by side and carrying out Your divine battle plan against the spiritual enemies of this age. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org