Good behavior

After Moses killed an Egyptian and hid him in the sand, his crime was discovered by Pharaoh, so he had to flee Egypt and he “dwelt in the land of Midian” (Exodus 2:15). While he was there, Moses developed a relationship with the priest of Midian, who later became his father in law. Forty years later, Moses was called to return to Egypt and deliver God’s people from their bondage (Exodus 3:10). Moses initially took his family with him to Egypt, but later sent them back to live with his father in law in Midian. After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and entered the desert, Moses was reunited with his family (Exodus 18:6). Moses’ father in law became an advisor to the Israelites and eventually his relatives joined with the Israelites and were a permanent part of their community, even though they were not entitled to live with them in the Promised Land.

The descendants of Moses’ father in law were known as the Kenites. It says about them in Judges 1:16, “And the  children of the Kenite, Moses’ father in law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which lie in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people.” The Kenites are mentioned in the genealogy of the sons of Israel. It says in 1 Chronicles 2:55, “And the families of the scribes which dwelt at Jabez; the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and the Suchathites. These are the Kenites that came of Hemath, the father of the house of Rechab.” One of the sons of Rechab, named Jehonadab, helped Jehu massacre all the  Baal worshippers in Israel during the reign of the wicked king Ahab (2 Kings 10:23-25). Afterwards, Jehonadab commanded his relatives, “Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever: neither shall ye build house nor sow seed, nor plant vineyard, nor have any: but all your days ye shall dwell in tents; that ye may live many days in the land where ye be strangers” (Jeremiah 35:7).

The Hebrew word translated strangers, guwr (goor) means to lodge somewhere as a guest. Jehonadab’s command to his family was meant to make sure they would be good guests or to behave properly, so as not to offend the God of the Israelites while they were living among his people. Nearly 250 years later, the Rechabites were commended for their good behavior. “And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Because you have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you: therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever” (Jeremiah 35: 18-19). In other words, Jehonadab’s family managed to work their way into heaven.

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No escape

The job of Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, was to make sure that the message Jeremiah received from the LORD was recorded accurately. In other words, what Baruch inscribed in his book was expected to match word for word what the LORD had spoken. In order to provide a detailed and accurate recounting of the message, Baruch would have had to clearly understand what was being said. Baruch was no doubt an educated man who was considered to be loyal to God and a devout student of the Mosaic Law. When Baruch heard the message from Jeremiah about Judah’s destruction, he would have known if it were true or not.

After Baruch recorded Jeremiah’s message in a book, he received a personal message from the LORD. Jeremiah said to him, “Thus saith the LORD the God of Israel, unto thee, O Baruch; thou didst say, Woe is me now! for the LORD hath added grief to my sorrow; I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest” (Jeremiah 45:3). Baruch’s reaction to God’s message for his people was uncontrollable sobbing and an inability to sleep. He was heartbroken and fearful about what was ahead. Clearly, the danger was real to Baruch and he knew the end was near. God’s personal message to Baruch showed that he wanted to reaffirm his involvement in what was going to happen and would not abandon his people altogether.

Jeremiah relayed these words to Baruch, “Thus shalt thou say unto him, The LORD saith thus; Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up, even this whole land” (Jeremiah 45:4). God’s responsibility for the destruction of Judah was important for Baruch to know because otherwise, he might think the Babylonians were able to thwart God’s plan for his people. God remained in control and would not allow any force to interfere with his ultimate goal, the salvation of his people.

In spite of God’s reassurance that he was behind the Babylonian attack, Baruch was told that his position would not make a difference in the outcome of his situation. There was no way he could escape the terror that was coming, but Baruch would survive and live to tell the story. God said to him, “And seekest thou great things for thyself, seek them not: for behold, I will bring evil on all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest” (Jeremiah 45:5).

 

Last Chance

In 605 B.C. Nebuchadrezzar became king of Babylon. At that time, Jehoiakim the son of Josiah was king of Judah and Pharaoh-nechoh was the ruler of Egypt. Pharaoh-nechoh killed king Josiah when he tried to stop him from aiding the Assyrians in their war with Babylon (2 Kings 23:29). After killing Josiah, Pharaoh-nechoh deported his heir to the throne and put in place a king that would enable him to control the government of Judah. It says in 2 Kings 23:34-35, “And Pharaoh-nechoh made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the room of Josiah his father, and turned his name to Jehoiakim, and took Jehoahaz away, and he came to Egypt, and died there. And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh; but he taxed the land to give the money according to the commandment of Pharaoh; he exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, of every one according to his taxation, to give it unto Pharaoh-nechoh.”

Jeremiah was instructed to write down the message he had received from the LORD about Judah’s destruction and have it read to the people (Jeremiah 36:2). God said to Jeremiah, “It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin” (Jeremiah 36:3). God wanted Jeremiah to give the people one last chance to repent. It had already been revealed that Nebuchadrezzar was the Babylonian king that would destroy Judah. Once Nebuchadrezzar became king, it was inevitable that he would carry out God’s plan. Just a few years before God’s people were to be taken into captivity, he gave them one final opportunity to be saved.

After Jeremiah’s message was recorded in a book, a fast was proclaimed and everyone in Judah came to observe it (Jeremiah 36:9). “Then read Baruch in the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of the LORD, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe, in the higher court at the entry of the new gate of the LORD’s house, in the ears of all the people” (Jeremiah 36:10). King Jehoiakim’s reaction to Jeremiah’s message indicated he intended to ignore the warning and continue to pay Pharaoh-nechoh tribute in exchange for military protection. In spite of the  evidence before him, Jehoiakim thought he was safe and could count on Pharaoh-nechoh to deliver Jerusalem from Nebuchadrezzar. It says in Jeremiah 36:24 when the word of God was read to Jehoiakim and his servants, “they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king, nor any of his servants that heard all these words.”

Babel

Not long after Noah and his sons were saved from the flood that destroyed every living creature on earth, a rebellion against God was led by the descendants of Noah’s grandsons. The sons of Noah were divided into nations, but everyone spoke the same language and understood things in the context of God’s will for mankind (Genesis 10:32-11:1). It says in Genesis 10:9 that Noah’s great-grandson Nimrod was a mighty hunter “and the beginning of his kingdom was Babel” (Genesis 10:10). Babel stands for Babylon and Nimrod’s kingdom represents the beginning of the Babylonian empire (894).

The intention behind the construction of Babel was to establish a permanent structure or fortress that would be impenetrable, such as Fort Knox where the U.S. gold reserves are located. It says in Genesis 11:5-7, “And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they many not understand one another’s speech.” The Hebrew word translated confound, balal means to overflow or to mix. In other words, the people’s language was useless, it was a wasted effort for them to try and communicate with each other.

The Babylonian empire was in some ways a fulfillment of the original intention with Babel. The wall surrounding Babylon was of double construction. The outer wall was 12 feet thick and was separated from the 21 feet thick inner wall by a dry moat that was 23 feet wide. Entering the city seemed impossible. The LORD said of Israel, “Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms” (Jeremiah 51:20). Babylon was symbolic of a world system that operated outside of God’s control. God intended to use his people as a means of judging the rebellion of all mankind. Because the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, God would destroy them.

Jeremiah expressed the heart of God when he said, “The violence done to me and to my flesh be upon Babylon” (Jeremiah 51:25). God’s vengeance was personal, he attributed Babylon’s violence to an attack against his own sovereign will and Lordship over the earth. Jeremiah proclaimed, “Therefore behold, the days come, that I will do judgment upon the graven images of Babylon: and her whole land shall be confounded, and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her” (Jeremiah 51:47).

The difference

God’s treatment of his chosen people may seem harsh unless you understand his goal for the nation of Israel. God wanted his people to be a peculiar people, a nation set apart and devoted to him (Deuteronomy 14:2). God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage  and formed them into what he wanted them to be; like a potter that forms a useful vessel out of clay. They were his handiwork. When the people of Judah were taken into captivity in Babylon, their customs and behavior differentiated them from everyone else. They were obviously not like their Babylonian captors because they prayed to a God that no one could see.

One of the things that God wanted his people to believe about him was that he would be faithful in keeping his promises to them. In spite of their rejection of his laws and commandments, God intended to deliver his people from sin. Jeremiah declared, “The LORD hath brought forth our righteousness: come, and let us declare in Zion the work of the LORD our God” (Jeremiah 51:10). The work that was to be declared in Zion was the salvation of God’s people. In essence, what was to be accomplished was the birth of the Messiah, but there was also a need for the relationship between God and his people to be restored in order for salvation to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

God’s control over humanity as the Creator of the Universe allows him to decide how to deal with sin. He determined that the penalty for sin would be death (Genesis 2:17). The purpose of salvation was to enable mankind to survive when God’s judgment was executed. Although physical death is inevitable, it is possible to die and yet not perish or cease to exist. The difference between someone who dies without receiving salvation and the person who is saved is life beyond the grave. In other words, death is not the end of life, but a new beginning for the person who has received salvation.

God illustrated this principle when he returned the remnant of Judah to their land after their captivity was completed. Instead of the city of Jerusalem remaining in ruins after it was destroyed by the Babylonians, it was rebuilt and the city still exists today. God destroyed many cities and even whole nations when he did away with the pagan rituals of idolatry that were prevalent in the Old Testament of the Bible. Jeremiah declared, “For their molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them. They are vanity, the work of errors; in the time of their visitation they shall perish. The portion of Jacob is not like them: for he is the former of all things” (Jeremiah 51: 17-19).

The remnant

After the Israelites  rebelled against Moses and Aaron and refused to enter the land God had promised to give them, they were forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years (Numbers 14:33). Eventually, the Israelites did enter the Promised Land, but their lack of faith continued to be a problem and they never completely overcame the enemies that surrounded them. As a result, the territory the descendants of Jacob occupied was in the end reduced to primarily just the city of Jerusalem.

In order to ensure that his promise to bless Abraham was fulfilled, God stipulated that a remnant of the people would be secured regardless of what happened to everyone else. He stated, “And ye shall be left few in number, whereas ye were as the stars of heaven for multitude; because thou wouldest not obey the voice of the LORD thy God” (Deuteronomy 28:62). Prior to the exile of Judah, God reminded his people several times that he intended to preserve a remnant of the people of Judah and enable them to return to their land after their captivity was completed. In fact, almost every one of the prophets from Isaiah on mentioned the remnant of God’s people in their message.

Jeremiah talked about the remnant that would be saved in the context of Babylon’s destruction. He said, “Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, as I have punished the king of Assyria. And I will bring Israel again to his habitation, and he shall feed on Carmel and Bashan, and his soul shall be satisfied upon mount Ephraim and Gilead. In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none;  and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve” (Jeremiah 50:18-20).

The release of the remnant from captivity was based on a special one-time act of God that enabled the people to be forgiven without any atonement sacrifice. The Hebrew word translated pardon in Jeremiah 50:20, calach indicated a divine restoration of an offender into favor (5545). The reason this was necessary was because God could not bless anyone that had not been forgiven of all his sins. In essence, everyone that returned to the Promised Land after they were released from captivity had their slates wiped clean. There was no record of them ever committing a sin. It was the same as if they had been born again.

The Chaldeans

The Chaldeans were a nomadic people that settled in Southern Mesopotamia around 1000 B.C. These people became the nucleus of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian empire. It says in Genesis 11:28 that Abraham’s brother “Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.” The LORD instructed Abraham to leave his country and to separate himself from his relatives. At that time, the post-Babel nations were considered to be the extent of civilization, so basically Abraham was being told to go out into unknown territory and start a new civilization, one that would worship the true, living God. The LORD told Abraham, “I will make thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make they name great; and thou shalt be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2).

Approximately 1300 years after Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees, what was left of the nation that was built by his descendants, Judah was about to be destroyed by the Chaldeans, a.k.a. Abraham’s own relatives. According to God’s promise, this made absolutely no sense. Why would God take Abraham from his homeland, build a nation from his descendants, and then let it be destroyed by the people Abraham had left behind? Even though Abraham had left his country, he had not left behind the ways of his people. In spite of Abraham’s faith in God, his descendants continued to practice idolatry. Jeremiah prophecy against the Babylonians stated:

The word that the LORD spoke against Babylon and against the land of the Chaldeans by Jeremiah the prophet. Declare ye among the nations, and publish, and set up a standard; publish and conceal not: say Babylon is taken, Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces; her idols are confounded, her images are broken in pieces. (Jeremiah 50:1-2)

God intended to publicly disgrace the gods of the Babylonians. It could probably be said that at the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Babylon was considered to be the idolatry capital of the world. The practice of worshipping idols was deeply rooted in the Chaldean and Babylonian cultures. The reason God’s people were taken into captivity by the Chaldeans may have been because God wanted the Israelites to see him destroy their false deities.

Jeremiah predicted about the fall of Babylon, “For out of the north there cometh up a nation against her, which shall make her land desolate, and not shall swell therein: they shall remove, they shall depart, both man and beast” (Jeremiah 50:3). God’s motive for destroying Babylon was vengeance. Jeremiah declared, “And Chaldea shall be a spoil…because ye were glad, because ye rejoiced, o ye destroyers of mine heritage…her foundations are fallen, her walls are thrown down: for it is the vengeance of the LORD: take vengeance upon her: as she hath done do unto her” (Jeremiah 50:10-11,15).