A Monument to Man’s Futility

1 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. Genesis 11:1-9 ESV

With the opening verses of chapter 11, Moses provides an explanation of an earlier comment he made regarding Peleg, a descendant of Shem.

To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided – Genesis 10:25 ESV

The genealogy of Shem found in chapter 10 contains no lineage for Peleg. It simply mentions his name, then moves on to his brother Joktan. But Moses had a good reason for leaving out Peleg. He wanted to emphasize another major turning point in mankind’s story of expansion and moral degeneration. The sons of Noah were filling the earth, just as God had commanded. But as the genealogy of Ham revealed, the spread of mankind was accompanied by a rising number of people groups who would later be characterized as idolatrous, licentious, and evil. The existence of nations like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon was the direct result of Noah’s sons fulfilling God’s mandate to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. Their efforts had been successful.

the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood. – Genesis 10:32 ESV

And Moses opens chapter 11 with a stunning revelation. There had been a time when all the nations of the earth shared a common language. This never-disclosed-before insight would have come as a shock to Moses’ Jewish audience. They were already having to deal with the fact that all mankind shared the same lineage. Their enemies, the Egyptians, Assyrians, Canaanites, and Babylonians, were actually their long-lost brothers. And now, they were learning for the first time, that there had been a point in time when all these disparate people groups had shared the same language.

One of the underlying and often overlooked themes in the book of Genesis is mankind’s reticence to obey God’s command to fill the earth. After the fall, the two sons of Adam and Eve chose domestication over migration and expansion.

Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. – Genesis 4:2 ESV

There is nothing inherently wrong with either of these professions. But it is apparent from the context that the two sons had both chosen to remain close to home. They had settled down not far from their mother and father. And their close proximity proved to be deadly. It was not long before “Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him” (Genesis 4:8 ESV). And, as a result, God cursed Cain.

“When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” – Genesis 4:12 ESV

As part of his divine punishment, Cain was cast out of the comfort of his familial surroundings. He was forced to leave home. And his ban from his homeland is reminiscent of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden.

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:22-24 ESV

Adam and Eve had been cast out of Eden, but the divine mandate remained intact. They were to fill the earth. Ever since the fall, the trajectory of mankind was always intended to be away from Eden and into the world. But it seems that Adam and Eve didn’t wander far from the border of Eden. And their two sons chose to remain nearby as well. But after his sin, Cain was cursed to live the life of a wanderer – a nomad.

Yet, Cain ignored God’s edict and “settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16 ESV). He blatantly refused to live under God’s curse, choosing instead to settle down.

Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. – Genesis 4:17 ESV

Rather than wander, Cain settled down once again. And this same predisposition to ignore God’s mandate can be seen in Noah. When the floodwaters had receded and Noah was able to exit the ark, he and his three sons were assigned the task of fulfilling the divine mandate to fill the earth. But Noah decided to settle down instead.

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. – Genesis 9:20 ESV

And Noah’s seemingly innocuous decision had devasting consequences. It resulted in the cursing of his own grandson and a growing division among all his progeny.

As each new generation came into existence, they continued the slow but steady movement away from Eden. Moses indicates that “as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there” (Genesis 11:2 ESV). Whether they realized it or now, they were filling the earth. But, once again, mankind’s inherent desire for autonomy and self-determination raised its ugly head.

During Peleg’s lifetime, some of his relatives made the same fateful decision that Cain and Noah had made. They chose to settle down.

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

These industrious individuals decided to make bricks and build a tower to the sky – intended as a monument to their own ingenuity and industry. Their ambitious building project was motivated by a desire to “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). They wanted to be the determiners of their own fate and to control their collective destiny. Nowhere in this passage does Moses relate a command issued from God that they should construct a city. This had been their decision and it was purely self-centered and aimed at self-glorification. They wanted to make a name for themselves. Rather than choosing to glorify God, they attempted to glorify themselves. That same attitude is reflected in the words of one of their descendants, a powerful man who would build a great city and then one day proclaim:

“Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” – Daniel 4:30 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon, would attempt to rob glory from God and suffer the consequences. He gloried in his greatness as a self-made man. But God would give this egotistical king a painful lesson in humility and divine sovereignty.  Nebuchadnezzar would have to learn “that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses” (Daniel 4:32 NLT).

And the overly ambitious and egotistical builders of the tower would learn a similar lesson about God’s sovereignty. When the Almighty saw what they were doing, He reacted immediately.

“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.” – Genesis 11:6-7 NLT

There are some who believe that these people were attempting to build a tower that would allow them to access God. But up until this point in the story, mankind had always considered Eden to be the home of God. It’s interesting to note that Adam and Eve had been banned from the garden, the place where they had enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God. And when their son, Cain, had been cursed by God, he “went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16 ESV).

The story of mankind is characterized by a constant movement away from God. Made in His image and designed to reflect His glory, humanity has made a habit out of distancing itself from God. And the apostle Paul paints a rather bleak portrait of the fallen state of mankind.

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:28-32 NLT

In order to disrupt the self-aggrandizing efforts of the tower builders, God created an instant source of confusion by confounding their ability to communicate. In an instant, God turned their call to make a name for themselves into a cacophony of disparate languages. They could no longer understand one another. And with no common language, their ability to conspire against God evaporated.

Moses indicates that “the Lord scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city” (Genesis 11:8 NLT). This was a divine punishment that had sovereign consequences. God knew what He was doing. He was forcing humanity to obey His kingdom mandate and fill the earth. It was only in the fulfillment of that command that humanity could act as His image-bearers and bring glory to His name. His will would be done, whether they wanted to participate or not. And Moses states that “in this way, he scattered them all over the world” (Genesis 11:9 NLT).

But while the people dispersed, the tower and the city remained. The site became known as Babel. There is a powerful sense of irony in this story because the name Babel would become synonymous with the future nation of Babylon. In their language, Babel came to mean “the gate of God.” But in Hebrew, the word meant “confusion.” The site of Babel would become the future home of the mighty city of Babylon, the resplendent capital of Nebuchadnezzar’s vast domain. The very city over which he gazed and pridefully proclaimed, “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.”

Man’s incessant pride is nothing more than misplaced glory that always results in confusion and conflict. Man’s consistent attempts to dethrone God have always produced nothing but chaos. The psalmist provides a sobering assessment of humanity’s ill-fated and futile attempts to replace God.

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

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

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Just As the Lord Had Promised

1 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 by night by the way of the 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 him 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, and they passed sentence on him. They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains and took him to Babylon.

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. 10 And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. 11 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. 12 But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen.

13 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 the bronze to Babylon. 14 And they took away the pots and the shovels and the snuffers and the dishes for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service, 15 the fire pans also and the bowls. What was of gold the captain of the guard took away as gold, and what was of silver, as silver. 16 As for the two pillars, the one sea, and the stands that Solomon had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weight. 17 The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and on it was a capital of bronze. The height of the capital was three cubits. A latticework and pomegranates, all of bronze, were all around the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with the latticework.

18 And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest and Zephaniah the second priest and the three keepers of the threshold; 19 and from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the men of war, and five 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 city. 20 And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. 21 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. – 2 Kings 25:1-21 ESV

Zedekiah, formerly known as Mattaniah, received his new name and his right to rule over Judah from King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He replaced his nephew, Jehoiachin, who had surrendered to the Babylonians in order to end the siege of Jerusalem. And rather than allowing Jehoiachin’s son, Coniah, to become king, Nebuchadnezzar chose Mattaniah, who became a vassal of the Babylonian state. But Mattaniah’s new role and newly acquired Babylonian name did not make him amenable to Nebuchadnezzar’s plans for Judah. So, he decided to rebel against the Babylonians. But in doing so, Zedekiah was actually rebelling against the will of God. The prophet Jeremiah had warned Zedekiah to submit to the Babylonians as divinely ordained agents of judgment.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: With my great strength and powerful arm I made the earth and all its people and every animal. I can give these things of mine to anyone I choose. Now I will give your countries to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who is my servant. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control. All the nations will serve him, his son, and his grandson until his time is up. Then many nations and great kings will conquer and rule over Babylon. So you must submit to Babylon’s king and serve him; put your neck under Babylon’s yoke! I will punish any nation that refuses to be his slave, says the Lord. I will send war, famine, and disease upon that nation until Babylon has conquered it.” – Jeremiah 27:4-8 NLT

But King Zedekiah was getting bad advice from false prophets who were telling him, “The king of Babylon will not conquer you” ( Jeremiah 27:14 NLT). Yet Jeremiah warned the king not to listen to these men.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘I have not sent these prophets! They are telling you lies in my name, so I will drive you from this land. You will all die—you and all these prophets, too.’” – Jeremiah 27:15 NLT

These charlatans had even prophesied that all the golden articles plundered from the temple would soon be returned. They assured the king that everything was going to be okay. But Jeremiah had let Zedekiah know the painful truth. It was actually going to get much worse.

“For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has spoken about the pillars in front of the Temple, the great bronze basin called the Sea, the water carts, and all the other ceremonial articles. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon left them here when he exiled Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, to Babylon, along with all the other nobles of Judah and Jerusalem. Yes, this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says about the precious things still in the Temple, in the palace of Judah’s king, and in Jerusalem: ‘They will all be carried away to Babylon and will stay there until I send for them,’ says the Lord. ‘Then I will bring them back to Jerusalem again.’” – Jeremiah 27:19-22 NLT

But all these warnings fell on deaf ears.

“…neither King Zedekiah nor his attendants nor the people who were left in the land listened to what the Lord said through Jeremiah.” – Jeremiah 37:2 NLT

Yet, Zedekiah would have the audacity to ask Jeremiah to pray that God would reverse His plans to destroy the city. He had become encouraged and emboldened by the sudden arrival of the Egyptian army. It seems that their unexpected appearance had caused the Babylonians to call off their siege of Jerusalem. Zedekiah must have seen this as a good sign and proof that the false prophets had been right all along. So, he asked Jeremiah to seek confirmation from Yahweh that the city of Jerusalem had been spared. But Jeremiah would not tell Zedekiah what he was hoping to hear.

“This is what the Lord says: Do not fool yourselves into thinking that the Babylonians are gone for good. They aren’t! Even if you were to destroy the entire Babylonian army, leaving only a handful of wounded survivors, they would still stagger from their tents and burn this city to the ground!” – Jeremiah 37:9-10 NLT

Infuriated by the prophet’s message, Zedekiah would eventually have the prophet flogged and imprisoned, falsely accusing him of treason. But undeterred by this treatment, Jeremiah would later give the king another ultimatum.

“This is what the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the Babylonian officers, you and your family will live, and the city will not be burned down. But if you refuse to surrender, you will not escape! This city will be handed over to the Babylonians, and they will burn it to the ground.’” – Jeremiah 37:17-18 NLT

In the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, his worst fears were realized. The Babylonians returned. And for two long years, they laid siege to the capital. In time, conditions inside the walls of Jerusalem would become so bad that the people began to starve to death. When the Babylonians eventually breached the walls of the city, King Zedekiah and some of his troops attempted a nighttime escape. But as soon as they got outside the walls of Jerusalem, Zedekiah’s men abandoned him, leaving him completely defenseless and an easy target for the Babylonians.

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 NLT

Zedekiah suffered a fate worse than death. He was forced to watch the execution of his own sons, then was blinded and led away in captivity, never to see the city of Jerusalem again. But had he been able to look upon the devastating scene taking place on Mount Zion, he would have been appalled. The great city of David was aflame and in every quarter of the capital, the Babylonians were enacting a reign of terror. Those who were not killed were taken captive, soon to be transported as slaves to Babylon. And King Nebuchadnezzar ordered the systematic destruction of all the city’s infrastructure. The walls were torn down. The royal palace and all the administrative buildings were destroyed. There wasn’t a single house left standing, including the house of God. The Babylonians plundered every last item of value from the temple, just as the prophet Jeremiah had said they would.

The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars in front of the Lord’s Temple, the bronze water carts, and the great bronze basin called the Sea, and they carried all the bronze away to Babylon. They also took all the ash buckets, shovels, lamp snuffers, ladles, and all the other bronze articles used for making sacrifices at the Temple. The captain of the guard also took the incense burners and basins, and all the other articles made of pure gold or silver. – 2 Kings 25:13-15 NLT

Then they burned the temple to the ground. For the Jews, this scene would have been incomprehensible. For them, the temple was the symbol of God’s power and presence. To watch it being plundered and then go up in flames would have been inconceivable. But Jeremiah had warned them that this would happen.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 7:9-11 NLT

They had placed their hope in a building rather than in the one for whom it was built. And God had warned them that He would destroy the temple because they had turned it into an idol – a replacement for Him.

“I will now destroy this Temple that bears my name, this Temple that you trust in for help, this place that I gave to you and your ancestors. – Jeremiah 7:14 NLT

And not only did God commission Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the temple, but He also ordained the execution of those men who had been responsible for its care and for the spiritual well-being of the people. And with the smoke of the city rising up behind them, the disheveled and demoralized citizens of Judah began their long march to Babylon and back into captivity.

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

Stubborn to the End

Now the rest of the deeds of Jehoiakim and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers, and Jehoiachin his son reigned in his place. And the king of Egypt did not come again out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken all that belonged to the king of Egypt from the Brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Nehushta the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father had done.

10 At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. 11 And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, 12 and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself and his mother and his servants and his officials and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign 13 and carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the Lord had foretold. 14 He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land. 15 And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. 16 And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war. 17 And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.

18 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. 19 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. 20 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. – 2 Kings 24:5-20 ESV

Eliakim was the second son of Joash to sit on the throne of Judah. The reign of his younger brother, Jehoahaz, had only lasted three months before he was deposed and taken captive by Neco, the king of Egypt. He became the puppet-king of the Egyptians, forced to pay an exorbitant annual tribute to secure his throne. He even faced the indignity of having his name changed to Jehoiakim. But the time came when his Egyptian overlords were displaced by the new kid on the block – the Babylonians. The army of King Nebuchadnezzar defeated the combined forces of the Assyrians and Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. This decisive victory dramatically altered the political landscape of the Middle East and set the stage for Judah’s eventual fall.

The fall of the Egyptians provided Jehoiakim with a brief reprieve, but it was not long before he found himself facing yet another Gentile superpower with aspirations of global dominance. Nebuchadnezzar eventually set his sights on Judah and for three years he forced Jehoiakim back into his familiar, yet unpleasant, role as a vassal. For eight years of his 11-year reign, Jehoiakim had served as the virtual slave of the Pharaoh. Now, after three more years of Babylonian oppression and control, he decided enough was enough and rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar. But Jehoiakim failed to realize that this entire scenario was the handwork of God Almighty. Yahweh had sovereignly appointed the Babylonians to be His agents of judgment against the rebellious nation of Judah. So, when Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, he was really attempting to resist the will of God.

Then the Lord sent bands of Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite, and Ammonite raiders against Judah to destroy it, just as the Lord had promised through his prophets. These disasters happened to Judah because of the Lord’s command. He had decided to banish Judah from his presence because of the many sins of Manasseh… – 2 Kings 24:2-3 NLT

The fall of Judah was inevitable because God had ordained it, and there was nothing Jehoiakim could do to avoid or escape it. And eventually, God repaid Jehoiakim for his stubborn resistance to His will by allowing the Babylonians to capture the capital city of Jerusalem.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and captured it, and he bound Jehoiakim in bronze chains and led him away to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also took some of the treasures from the Temple of the Lord, and he placed them in his palace in Babylon. – 2 Chronicles 36:6-7 NLT

Jehoiakim, dethroned and disgraced, was replaced by his 18-year-old son, Jehoiachin. And just like his father and his uncle before him, “Jehoiachin did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” (2 Kings 24:9 NLT). Not only did Jehoiachin offend God by encouraging idolatry and apostasy, but he also attempted to resist the will of God by rebelling against the Babylonians whom God had sent. This forced Nebuchadnezzar to lay siege to the city of Jerusalem, which he eventually captured. With Jerusalem’s fall, Jehoiachin found himself without a capital city or a throne. He and the royal family were taken captive and deported to Babylon.

Then King Jehoiachin, along with the queen mother, his advisers, his commanders, and his officials, surrendered to the Babylonians. – 2 Kings 24:12 NLT

And none of this should have come as a shock to King Jehoiachin because God had warned that it would happen. He had repeatedly sent His prophets to deliver His message of pending destruction. But they would not listen. The prophet Jeremiah had given Jehoiachin’s father, Jehoiakim, a stark description of what God had planned for the nation of Judah.

“You made me furious by worshiping idols you made with your own hands, bringing on yourselves all the disasters you now suffer. And now the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Because you have not listened to me, I will gather together all the armies of the north under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, whom I have appointed as my deputy. I will bring them all against this land and its people and against the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy you and make you an object of horror and contempt and a ruin forever. I will take away your happy singing and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard. Your millstones will fall silent, and the lights in your homes will go out. This entire land will become a desolate wasteland. Israel and her neighboring lands will serve the king of Babylon for seventy years. – Jeremiah 25:7-11 NLT

And in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, the prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled.

King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land. – 2 Kings 24:14 NLT

But this would prove to be just the beginning of the end. Over time, there would be far more people deported from the land of Judah to Babylon. Despite the fall of Jerusalem, the stubbornness of the people of Judah was not yet abated. Those who remained in the land still refused to bow their knees to Yahweh. And when Nebuchadnezzar placed Jehoiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah, on the throne, they seemed to assume that life would go on as usual. But when Nebuchadnezzar changed Mattaniah’s name to Zedekiah, the people should have realized that they were far from an independent nation. They were little more than slaves of a foreign power and, in time, many of them would find themselves joining their exiled brothers and sisters in Babylon.

The people had a new king and that king had a new name, but little else changed in the nation of Judah. They continued in their old rebellious ways, and Zedekiah proved to be just as evil as all those kings who had occupied the throne before him. And the author of 2 Kings makes it painfully clear that their persistent and pervasive rebellion had finally brought upon them the righteous wrath of God.

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. – 2 Kings 24:20 NLT

But even the judgment of God failed to get the attention of the king and his people. They remained stubbornly unrepentant and persistently unfaithful, right to the bitter end.

Zedekiah was a hard and stubborn man, refusing to turn to the Lord, the God of Israel. Likewise, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful. They followed all the pagan practices of the surrounding nations, desecrating the Temple of the Lord that had been consecrated in Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 36:13-14 NLT

Zedekiah had been given ample warning but he had refused to listen. The prophet Jeremiah had specifically told him, “you must submit to Babylon’s king and serve him; put your neck under Babylon’s yoke! I will punish any nation that refuses to be his slave, says the Lord. I will send war, famine, and disease upon that nation until Babylon has conquered it” (Jeremiah 27:9 NLT). And then he had advised the king to submit to King Nebuchadnezzar as an agent of God Almighty.

“If you want to live, submit to the yoke of the king of Babylon and his people. Why do you insist on dying—you and your people? Why should you choose war, famine, and disease, which the Lord will bring against every nation that refuses to submit to Babylon’s king? Do not listen to the false prophets who keep telling you, ‘The king of Babylon will not conquer you.’ They are liars. This is what the Lord says: ‘I have not sent these prophets! They are telling you lies in my name, so I will drive you from this land. You will all die—you and all these prophets, too.’” – Jeremiah 27:12-15 NLT

But Zedekiah refused to heed the words of the prophet. And in the ninth year of his reign, the stubborn king of Judah would learn the painful lesson that resistance to the will of God never ends well.

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

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

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

The Inescapable, Unavoidable Will of God

28 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 29 In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him. 30 And his servants carried him dead in a chariot from Megiddo and brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king in his father’s place.

31 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 32 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. 33 And Pharaoh Neco put him in bonds at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and laid on the land a tribute of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. 34 And Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the place of Josiah his father, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz away, and he came to Egypt and died there. 35 And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land to give the money according to the command of Pharaoh. He exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, from everyone according to his assessment, to give it to Pharaoh Neco.

36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. 37 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. 

1 In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord would not pardon. – 2 Kings 23:28-24:4 ESV

In his ongoing attempt to redeem the spiritual soul of the nation, King Josiah had bitten off more than he could chew. His many reforms and his ongoing battle against idolatry and apostasy were more than enough to keep him busy. But as the king of a powerful nation, he also had the responsibility to keep abreast of all the military and political machinations taking place in the region. At his point in history, the Assyrians were still the dominant force in the region, but the Babylonians were beginning to exert their formidable influence. They were an up-and-coming superpower that posed a real threat to Assyria’s global empire.

Josiah received word that the Egyptian army was on its way to Carchemish on the Euphrates River, where they were to join Assyrian forces in a battle against the upstart Babylonians. For some reason, Josiah made the fateful decision to oppose this military alliance between Egypt and Assyria.

After Josiah had finished restoring the Temple, King Neco of Egypt led his army up from Egypt to do battle at Carchemish on the Euphrates River, and Josiah and his army marched out to fight him. But King Neco sent messengers to Josiah with this message:

“What do you want with me, king of Judah? I have no quarrel with you today! I am on my way to fight another nation, and God has told me to hurry! Do not interfere with God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.” – 2 Chronicles 23:20-21 NLT

Perhaps Josiah was hoping that the Babylonians would bring an end to Assyria’s longstanding stranglehold on the region. Long after the Assyrians had called off their siege of Jerusalem, they remained a constant threat to Judah. So, Josiah rallied his troops and intercepted the Egyptian army as it made its way to Carchemish. But King Neco, the Pharaoh of Egypt, warned Josiah not to interfere, claiming to have a divine mandate from God.

But Josiah refused to listen to Neco, to whom God had indeed spoken, and he would not turn back. Instead, he disguised himself and led his army into battle on the plain of Megiddo. – 2 Chronicles 23:22 NLT

Josiah refused to believe that Yahweh was behind this unholy alliance between the Egyptians and the Assyrians. He couldn’t see any reason why God would direct the pagan king of the Egyptians to join forces with the already powerful and deadly kingdom of Assyrian. It made no sense. But Josiah failed to understand that God was orchestrating His sovereign will and raising up the nation of Babylon as His agent of judgment against Assyria for its role in the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. And Josiah was also unaware that God was preparing to use Babylon to destroy the nation of Judah.

Ignorant of God’s plans, King Josiah decided to take matters into his own hands and led his troops into battle against the Egyptians. They intercepted the Egyptian army at a place called Megiddo and in the ensuing battle, King Josiah was killed. The author of 2 Kings states that “Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him” (2 Kings 23:29 ESV). But in 2 Chronicles 35, we’re told that Josiah had disguised himself. It seems that Josiah’s little ploy to hide his kingly identity failed. King Neco recognized Josiah instantly and ordered his death.

But the enemy archers hit King Josiah with their arrows and wounded him. He cried out to his men, “Take me from the battle, for I am badly wounded!” – 2 Chronicles 35:23 NLT

The wounded king was placed in another chariot and returned to the city of Jerusalem, where he died. After giving their fallen king a state funeral, the people chose Jehoahaz as his replacement. This choice seems a bit odd because Jehoahaz was Josiah’s middle son and, therefore, not the next in line to the throne. But it seems that the people were looking for a king who would bring back the old way of life to which they had grown accustomed. They missed the days of Manasseh and were regretting all the reforms that Josiah had instituted in Judah. So, they chose the son of Josiah who represented their best chance at bringing back the good old days. And it appears that picked just the right man for the job.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestors had done. – 2 Kings 23:32 NLT

But Jehoahaz’s reign would be short-lived. The people failed to take into account that King Neco might have something to say about who took Josiah’s place on the throne of Judah. Just three months into his reign, Jehoahaz was deposed by the Pharaoh and taken captive to Egypt, where he died. Neco filled the vacancy with Eliakim, the older brother of Jehoahaz, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. This young man became little more than a vassal to the Pharaoh and was forced to make an annual tribute payment to the Egyptians. To do this, he imposed a debilitating tax on the people of Judah. The prophet provides a brief but sobering summary of the sad state of affairs in the southern kingdom of Judah after the death of Josiah.

Do not weep for the dead king or mourn his loss.
    Instead, weep for the captive king being led away!
    For he will never return to see his native land again.

For this is what the Lord says about Jehoahaz, who succeeded his father, King Josiah, and was taken away as a captive: “He will never return. He will die in a distant land and will never again see his own country.” – Jeremiah 22:10-12 NLT

With Josiah’s death, the period of reformation in Judah came to an abrupt end. He had been the heart and soul behind all the changes that had taken place. And without him, the people would revert to their old ways. Virtually overnight, the conditions in Judah took a dramatic turn for the worse. Judah was now a vassal state, ruled by a puppet king who answered to the Pharaoh of Egypt. Josiah’s attempt to stop the Egyptians from joining forces with the Assyrians had failed. In 605 BC, just four years after Josiah’s death, these two armies would be defeated by the Babylonians at the Battle of Carchemish. This unexpected victory by the Babylonians over the Egyptians and Assyrians would prove to be a game-changing event in the history of the middle east. It was catapult Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, into the role of the most powerful ruler on earth. With his defeat of the Assyrians, Nebuchadnezzar took over all the lands they had conquered, dramatically increasing the size and influence of his empire.

Eventually, the Babylonians would rest control of Judah from the hands of King Neco of Egypt. And Jehoiakim would find himself answering to yet another, more powerful, king. But as we will see, Jehoiakim will try to resist his new overlord, refusing to submit to his authority. Like his father, Josiah, Jehoiakim fails to see the sovereign hand of God behind all that is taking place. He is short-sighted in his outlook, and intent on making the most of his less-than-ideal circumstances. And the prophet Jeremiah records God’s stinging condemnation of Jehoiakim’s arrogant and self-centered approach to leadership.

And the Lord says, “What sorrow awaits Jehoiakim,
    who builds his palace with forced labor.
He builds injustice into its walls,
    for he makes his neighbors work for nothing.
    He does not pay them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build a magnificent palace
    with huge rooms and many windows.
I will panel it throughout with fragrant cedar
    and paint it a lovely red.’
But a beautiful cedar palace does not make a great king!
    Your father, Josiah, also had plenty to eat and drink.
But he was just and right in all his dealings.
    That is why God blessed him.
He gave justice and help to the poor and needy,
    and everything went well for him.
Isn’t that what it means to know me?”
    says the Lord.
“But you! You have eyes only for greed and dishonesty!
    You murder the innocent,
    oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly.” – Jeremiah 22:13-17 NLT

Unlike his reform-minded father, Jehoiakim had no heart for God. He was a self-obsessed man who used his power and position to improve his own lot in life while allowing the nation of Judah to continue its slide into apostasy. When Neco was forced to abandon his hold on Judah, Jehoiakim saw it as an opportunity to assert his independence. But he failed to understand the gravity of his situation. He had no clue that Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians had been chosen by God to bring judgment against the nation of Judah. In attempting to resist the Babylonians, Jehoiakim was actually opposing the will of God. And he would pay dearly for his obstinance. For three years, God would send the Babylonians, Arameans, Moabites, and Ammonites against the rebellious nation of Judah. And the author leaves no doubt as to the purpose behind these raids.

These disasters happened to Judah because of the Lord’s command. He had decided to banish Judah from his presence because of the many sins of Manasseh. – 2 Kings 24:3 NLT

Little did Jehoiakim know that he was facing the beginning of the end. The coming judgment of Judah was imminent and unavoidable.

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

Enough is Enough

7 Be silent before the Lord God!
    For the day of the Lord is near;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice
    and consecrated his guests.
And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice—
“I will punish the officials and the king’s sons
    and all who array themselves in foreign attire.
On that day I will punish
    everyone who leaps over the threshold,
and those who fill their master’s house
    with violence and fraud.

10 “On that day,” declares the Lord,
    “a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate,
a wail from the Second Quarter,
    a loud crash from the hills.
11 Wail, O inhabitants of the Mortar!
    For all the traders are no more;
    all who weigh out silver are cut off.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
    and I will punish the men
who are complacent,
    those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
    nor will he do ill.’
13 Their goods shall be plundered,
    and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
    they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
    they shall not drink wine from them.”Zephaniah 1:7-13 ESV

The message of Zephaniah is one of judgment. He is a messenger of God delivering a series of prophecies that outline specific acts of divine retribution awaiting Judah for its persistent apostasy. His message contains the “what” but not the “when.” Zephaniah has no idea of the timeline involved in God’s judgment. But God had made it clear that the “what” was going to be significant and inescapable. The entire world would bear the brunt of God’s righteous indignation.

“I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth…” – vs. 2

I will sweep away man and beast;…the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea…” – vs. 3

I will cut off mankind from the face of the earth…” – vs. 3

God warns of the global and all-encompassing nature of His coming judgment. The entire world will experience the wrath of God being poured out on the sins of mankind.  But God also directs the prophet’s attention to the fate of Judah.

I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem…” – vs. 4

There seems to be a separate series of judgments reserved for the nation of Judah. The “what” God has in store for them is distinctly different than the one He has planned for the rest of the world. And as we will see, the “when” or the timeline concerning their judgment will also differ.

Judah’s status as God’s chosen people had always set them apart. They had enjoyed the distinct privilege of being His treasured possession (Exodus 19:5), a people holy to the Lord (Deuteronomy 7:6), and had been called to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). So, it only makes sense that God would have a separate and distinct judgment in store for His chosen people. Their unmerited status as His chosen people had afforded them unprecedented blessings and had set them apart from all the nations of the earth.

Centuries earlier, Moses had told the Jews who had been released from captivity in Egypt: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV). And God had graciously provided them with His law to establish His criteria for holy conduct. If they were to be a holy nation they would have to live holy lives. And for those times when they failed to live up to God’s law, He had provided the tabernacle and the sacrificial system as a means for receiving atonement for their sins. God had given them the land of Canaan as their inheritance. A land flowing with milk and honey, rich in produce, and abundant in natural resources. They had been richly blessed. And yet, they had proven to be deeply unfaithful.

The oft-quoted phrase, “with great power comes great responsibility” applies here. The people of Judah had enjoyed periods of tremendous power and prestige. They had benefited greatly from their relationship with God. But as Jesus Himself once said, When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required (Luke 12:48 NLT).

So, we see in this prophecy from the pen of Zephaniah a two-fold description of coming judgment. There will be a judgment reserved for the nation of Judah and one that will encompass the rest of mankind. In the text, the two are woven together, creating an overwhelming sense of God’s righteous anger with the state of His creation and the spiritual apostasy of His chosen people. God is not happy, and He will not continue to tolerate the current state of affairs in the world or in the nation Judah. The question remains, who will He punish first, when He will do it, and how.

Verses 4-6 contain God’s indictment against the people of Judah. They were guilty of idolatry. They worshiped Baal, Molech, and a host of other false gods representing the sun, moon, and stars. And while the people still swore allegiance to God, they committed spiritual adultery by giving themselves to the gods of the Canaanites. They had turned their backs on God. They had repeatedly displayed their unfaithfulness through acts of infidelity.

So, Zephaniah warns them, “the day of the Lord is near” (Zephaniah 1:7 ESV). And he commands the people of Judah to “be silent.” Now that they were hearing about God’s coming judgment, they were to keep their mouths shut. It was too late to cry out for mercy. Notice that in verse six, the people of Judah are described as those “who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.” They had stopped calling on God. They were too busy bowing down to their false gods. And now that judgment was coming, God denied them the right to call out to Him for mercy.

Zephaniah describes the familiar scene of a sacrifice. But in this case, God is the one offering the sacrifice, and He has invited guests to join Him for the occasion. In this case, Judah represents the sacrificial animal and the Babylonians are the guests. When the time is right, God will issue an invitation to the Nebuchadnezzar and his army to feast on the sacrifice that God has offered. In 586 BC, the nation of Judah would fall to the Babylonians. The city of Jerusalem would be plundered and destroyed. The temple would be ransacked and left as a pile of stones. The people would be taken captive and returned to Babylon as slaves.

And God warns “And on the day of the Lord‘s sacrifice — ‘I will punish the officials and the king’s sons’” (Zephaniah 1:8 ESV). With great power comes great responsibility. To whom much has been given, much will be required. The kings of Judah would be held responsible by God. Rather than using their power and positions to lead the people in the faithful service of God, they had displayed a pattern of disdain and disobedience. And God warned that they would suffer the consequences.

According to 2 Kings 23:34, Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah who would ascend to the throne after him, was taken captive to Egypt. The next king, Jehoiakim, would fall to the Babylonians (2 Kings 24:1-6). Jehoiachin, the grandson of Josiah, was taken captive to Babylon (2 Kings 24:8-10). Zedekiah, the last son of Josiah to reign in Jerusalem, was eventually blinded by Nebuchadnezzar and taken captive to Babylon (2 Kings 24:18-25:7). Each of these men had been guilty of idolatry and of making alliances with foreign nations, rather than trusting in God. Zephaniah describes them as having arrayed themselves in foreign attire. They had modeled themselves after pagan kings, emulating their appearance and worshiping their false gods.

But not only the kings of Judah will suffer judgment at the hands of God. The nation as a whole stands guilty and worthy of divine punishment. Zephaniah describes “everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud” (Zephaniah 1:9 ESV). The exact meaning of this phrase is unclear, but it seems likely that Zephaniah is accusing the people of Judah of practicing injustice, in direct violation of God’s commands.

Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. – Jeremiah 22:23 ESV

And yet, the people of Judah had made a habit out of taking advantage of one another.

The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice.
 – Ezekiel 22:29 ESV

They were marked by greed, violence, and fraud. And they would pay for dearly for their decision to ignore God’s commands.

On that day – when the judgment of God comes – the impact will be felt throughout the city of Jerusalem. From the Fish Gate to the Second Quarter and from the hills to the marketplace, every single inhabitant of Jerusalem would feel the heat of God’s wrath. “Their goods shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste” (Zephaniah 1:13 ESV). No one will escape judgment because all will stand as guilty before God.

And while there will be those who think that God is disinterested in their affairs and has turned a blind eye to their behavior, they will be in for a rude awakening.

“I will punish the men
who are complacent,
    those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
    nor will he do ill.’” – Zephaniah 1:12 ESV

God would no longer tolerate sin among His people. He would not allow them to continue denigrating His name and defaming His holy character by their actions. They were His people and their behavior was leaving a black mark on His name. But God was about to rectify that problem.

“And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” – Ezekiel 36:23 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

   

 

Misplaced Trust.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English Standard Version (ESV)

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

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

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

Return!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 One True God.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes:Take in your hands large stones and hide them in the mortar in the pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. He shall come and strike the land of Egypt, giving over to the pestilence those who are doomed to the pestilence, to captivity those who are doomed to captivity, and to the sword those who are doomed to the sword. I shall kindle a fire in the temples of the gods of Egypt, and he shall burn them and carry them away captive. And he shall clean the land of Egypt as a shepherd cleans his cloak of vermin, and he shall go away from there in peace. He shall break the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt, and the temples of the gods of Egypt he shall burn with fire.’” Jeremiah 43:8-13 ESV

Reading the story of the lives of the people of Israel and Judah can be a depressing and frustrating experience. Depressing, because they bring so much unnecessary misery upon themselves through sheer disobedience. Frustrating, because they bring so much unnecessary misery upon themselves through sheer disobedience. If they had just done what God had said, their lives could have been so much easier. But no, they had to do it their way. They stubbornly refused to obey God, because they were determined to do what they wanted to do.

Johanan and his companions, along with those they had taken captive from Judah, had made their way all the way to Tahpanhes, an important city on the northern border of Egypt. And it was at this point that God determined to deliver yet another message to His wayward children. Jeremiah and Baruch had been forcefully dragged along to Egypt by Johanan. Since Johanan had murdered Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah, who had been tasked with the responsibility of caring for Jeremiah, Johanan simply took the prophet and his scribe with him To Egypt. And God continued to speak to Jeremiah, giving him yet another strange object lesson to act out in front of the people of Judah.

“While the people of Judah are watching, take some large rocks and bury them under the pavement stones at the entrance of Pharaoh’s palace here in Tahpanhes.” – Jeremiah 43:9 NLT

This rather bizarre bit of theatrics is not explained to Jeremiah or to us. We are not told what the rocks were meant to represent, but we are told that King Nebuchadnezzar would set his throne over them.

“I will certainly bring my servant Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, here to Egypt. I will set his throne over these stones that I have hidden.” – Jeremiah 43:10 NLT

Perhaps the two large stones were meant to represent the people of Judah, who had chosen to hide from the Babylonians by escaping to Egypt. But God was letting them know that there was no escape from His divine will. He had commanded that they remain in Judah and subject themselves to the will of King Nebuchadnezzar, whom He had set over them. But since they had chosen to disobey God and follow their own plan, God let them know that their will was no match for His own. They would still find themselves subject to Nebuchadnezzar and, albeit unwillingly, submitting to the will of God. Not only that, their decision to escape to Egypt would bring destruction on the people of Egypt.

“And when he comes, he will destroy the land of Egypt. He will bring death to those destined for death, captivity to those destined for captivity, and war to those destined for war.” – Jeremiah 43:11 NLT

The prophet, Ezekiel, also spoke of the fall of Egypt to the Babylonians.

“Son of man, the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon fought so hard against Tyre that the warriors’ heads were rubbed bare and their shoulders were raw and blistered. Yet Nebuchadnezzar and his army won no plunder to compensate them for all their work. Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He will carry off its wealth, plundering everything it has so he can pay his army. Yes, I have given him the land of Egypt as a reward for his work, says the Sovereign Lord, because he was working for me when he destroyed Tyre.” – Ezekiel 29:18-20 NLT

Just a few verses earlier, God gave His reason for destroying Egypt, addressing the pride and arrogance of Pharaoh.

“Because you said, ‘The Nile River is mine; I made it,’ I am now the enemy of both you and your river. I will make the land of Egypt a totally desolate wasteland, from Migdol to Aswan, as far south as the border of Ethiopia.” – Ezekiel 29:9-10

And God had made a similar accusation against the king of Tyre, the very nation whom He used the Babylonians to destroy.

“In your great pride you claim, ‘I am a god!
    I sit on a divine throne in the heart of the sea.’
But you are only a man and not a god,
    though you boast that you are a god. – Ezekiel 28:1 NLT

“Because you think you are as wise as a god,
    I will now bring against you a foreign army,
    the terror of the nations.
They will draw their swords against your marvelous wisdom
    and defile your splendor!” – Ezekiel 28:6-7 NLT

Both Pharoah and the king of Tyre were guilty of claiming to be divine. They had arrogantly set themselves up as gods. But they would both discover the painful truth that there is but one true God. He made it perfectly clear that they were nothing but men. Their wisdom and glory were limited. Their power, while extensive from an earthly perspective, was nothing when compared to God’s might.

God had used Nebuchadnezzar to punish the king of Tyre. And as a form of “reward”, God would allow Nebuchadnezzar to plunder Egypt. The thing that Johanan and his friends failed to understand was that God had far greater plans at work. He was doing things behind the scenes of which they were completely oblivious. Their little trip to Egypt, which had made so much sense to them at the time, was going to place them right in the middle of God’s divine strategy concerning the fates three nations: Egypt, Tyre and Babylon. Little did the Johanan know that his expedition to Egypt would end in disaster, and that the very fate he was attempting to escape would find him there.

King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt somewhere around 568-567 B.C., and he did to Egypt what he had done to Judah. His troops burned the temples of their gods and hauled away their idols as plunder. The people of Egypt were slaughtered or taken captive. Anything of value was seized as booty and hauled back to Babylon. And the nation was left desolate.

There is an easily overlooked lesson in all of this, and God makes it perfectly clear when He speaks through His prophet, Ezekiel.

“And when I put my sword in the hand of Babylon’s king and he brings it against the land of Egypt, Egypt will know that I am the Lord. I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, dispersing them throughout the earth. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 30:25-26 NLT

He is Lord. No debate. No arguments. Case closed. And if anyone should have known that, it was the people of God. The people of Judah should have been the first to recognize that God alone is Lord. But they had set themselves up as gods, making their own decisions, following their own plans, and refusing to listen to the words of God. All people – whether kings or commoners, pagans or Jews, powerful or weak – will have to one day recognize that God is Lord. The king of Tyre would learn the painful lesson that he was anything but a god. Pharaoh would have to learn the same thing. And, ultimately, even Nebuchadnezzar, in his pride, would be brought low by God. At the zenith of his power, God would deliver a message to King Nebuchadnezzar through a disturbing dream, which Daniel would interpret for him.

For you have become great and strong. Your greatness is such that it reaches to heaven, and your authority to the ends of the earth.…You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and you will become damp with the dew of the sky. Seven periods of time will pass by for you, before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes. – Daniel 4:22, 25 NLT

Even the great king was going to learn the painful lesson that there was only one true God. And not long after Daniel interpreted the king’s dream, Nebuchadnezzar found himself standing on the balcony of his palace, surveying his magnificent kingdom.

The king uttered these words: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” – Daniel 48:30 NLT

In the midst of his self-glorification, the king suddenly lost his sanity. He went from ruling over the most powerful nation in the world to wandering around the land and acting like an animal. But then something happened. The text says that the king, in his dementia, looked up to heaven and his sanity suddenly returned to him. And he said:

“I extolled the Most High,
and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever.
For his authority is an everlasting authority,
and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.
All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he wishes with the army of heaven
and with those who inhabit the earth.
No one slaps his hand
and says to him, ‘What have you done?’” – Daniel 4:4-5 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar discovered the hard way that God alone is Lord. The king of Tyre and the Pharaoh of Egypt learned the same lesson. But what about Johanan and the people of Judah? Would they come to the point where they recognized and willingly confessed the sovereignty of God and their need to submit to His will for their lives? Time will tell. But one way or another, all men will be forced to acknowledge that God is who He says He is. They will have to stand before Him as judge and ruler over nations and kings. And at that time, they will know that He is Lord.

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

He Would Not Hear.

Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. And concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah you shall say, ‘Thus says the Lord, You have burned this scroll, saying, “Why have you written in it that the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land, and will cut off from it man and beast?” Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: He shall have none to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night. And I will punish him and his offspring and his servants for their iniquity. I will bring upon them and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem and upon the people of Judah all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, but they would not hear.’”

Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them. – Jeremiah 36:27-32 ESV

Jehoaikim could burn the scroll, but he couldn’t eliminate the words of God. He could consign God’s words to the fire, but it would do nothing to alter the plans of God. Judgment was coming. And to prove just how inevitable God’s will was, Jeremiah was instructed to take yet another scroll and dictate the words of God so that Baruch could write them down. But this time, God gave Jeremiah a few additional words just for Jehoiakim.

Then say to the king, ‘This is what the Lord says: You burned the scroll because it said the king of Babylon would destroy this land and empty it of people and animals. Now this is what the Lord says about King Jehoiakim of Judah: He will have no heirs to sit on the throne of David. His dead body will be thrown out to lie unburied—exposed to the heat of the day and the frost of the night. I will punish him and his family and his attendants for their sins. I will pour out on them and on all the people of Jerusalem and Judah all the disasters I promised, for they would not listen to my warnings.’” – Jeremiah 36:29-31 NLT

The original scroll had contained God’s dire predictions of coming judgment due to the sins of Judah. If you recall, when God had instructed Jeremiah to record these words of warning on the scroll, He had also said: “Perhaps the people of Judah will repent when they hear again all the terrible things I have planned for them. Then I will be able to forgive their sins and wrongdoings” (Jeremiah 36:3 NLT). When Jehoiakim’s father, Josiah, had been king of Judah, he had rediscovered the book of the Law and, when he had heard it read, he had repented. He had immediately launched an effort to bring spiritual reform to the nation of Judah. He tore his clothes as a sign of mourning and conviction over the sins of he and his people. But Jehoiakim had reacted quite differently. Rather than tear his clothes, he had cut the scroll containing God’s words. Instead of burning the high places where false gods were worshiped in Judah, like his father had done, Jehoiakim had burned God’s message. But his efforts to destroy the words of God would fail miserably. And, eventually he would find that what God says, goes. What He predicts, happens. What He decrees, comes to pass. Ignoring God does not make Him go away.

Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God. Against him came up Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. – 2 Chronicles 36:5-6 NLT

There seems to be a bit of confusion as to what exactly happened to Jehoiakim. God predicts that “His dead body will be thrown out to lie unburied—exposed to the heat of the day and the frost of the night” (Jeremiah 36:30 NLT). This same prophecy is recorded earlier in the book of Jeremiah.

He will be buried like a dead donkey—
    dragged out of Jerusalem and dumped outside the gates! – Jeremiah 22:19 NLT

But the book of 2 Chronicles records that he was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and taken to Babylon. So, did he die in Judah or Babylon? It would seem the the Chronicles passage simply states that Nebuchadnezzar had Jehoiakim arrested and “bound in chains” with the intent of taking him to Babylon. But God’s prophecy was fulfilled before that could happen. Jehoiakim would die an ignominious death in Judah, and his body thrown outside the city walls, just as God had said. And while his son, Jehoiachin would claim the thrown after his father’s death, it would not be according to God’s will and his reign would be short-lived – a mere three months. Nebuchadnezzar would remove him and replace him with his uncle, therefore fulfilling God’s prophecy that Jehoiakim would “have no heirs to sit on the throne of David” (Jeremiah 36:30 NLT).

The will of God can be ignored, but it cannot be stopped. Even the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar would be unable to alter the will of God. He may have had plans to take Jehoiakim back to Babylon, but that is NOT what God had said would happen. God’s will trumps man’s plan every time.

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. – Proverbs 16:9 ESV

Jehoiakim could despise the words of God, but he could not alter the outcome they predicted. He could attempt to eliminate the scroll containing God’s words along with the prophet who spoke them and the scribe who penned them. But his efforts would prove futile. Men and nations refuse to honor God as God. They deny His will and attempt to live their lives as if he doesn’t even exist. But Jehoiakim and, eventually, Nebuchadnezzar, would learn that God is sovereign over all.

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

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

God’s will will be done. His plans will be fulfilled. What He says will come to pass will do so without any alteration or interference. Kings and nations can rage against Him. Individuals can attempt to act as if He does not exist. But God continues to rule and reign. His will continues to happen just as He has planned it. Jehoiakim could burn the scroll of God, but he would never make a dent in the plans of God.

 

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

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

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