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.”

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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).

One God

Moab was the son of Abraham’s nephew Lot who was born to him through an incestuous relationship with his oldest daughter after God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:37). Lot had a second son, Ben-ammi through his younger daughter. Ben-ammi was the father of the children of Ammon and Moab the father of the Moabites. The location of Sodom and Gomorrah is thought to have been on the eastern coast of the Salt Sea because the Moabites and Ammonites occupied the area surrounding that region. The territory of the Moabites was excluded from the Promised Land, but their land was given to the tribes of Ruben, Gad, and Manasseh after they tried to prevent the Israelites from receiving their inheritance. The Moabites were only partially conquered and they were allowed to coexist with the Israelites even though they had been cursed by God.

The Moabites continually waged war with the Israelites  and influenced them to worship foreign gods. The primary deity of the Moabites was Chemosh. King Solomon had many foreign wives, among whom were women of the Moabites. When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, “And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon” (1 Kings 11:4-7). These high places or altars to foreign gods remained in Jerusalem for hundreds of years until king Josiah removed them around 620 B.C., not long before the people of Judah were taken into captivity.

The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the older twin brother of Jacob whose birthright was sold for a bowl of soup (Genesis 26:34). Like the Moabites and Ammonites, the Edomites were relatives of Abraham that did not receive God’s blessing. All of these people caused problems for the Israelites while they were living in the Promised Land and were determined to be destroyed by the Babylonians during the reign of Nebuchaddrezzar. Jeremiah’s prophecies about these nations had a common theme, they were to be removed from the area that belonged to God’s chosen people.

A clear directive from God was the establishment of a government system that would be subject to his authority. The reason for this was so that the captivity of God’s people would be controlled by him. The LORD established beginning and end dates for their captivity that were not to exceed 70 years based on his judgment against the nation of Judah. Before Nebuchaddrezzar entered Jerusalem, it was already known that his kingdom would be temporary and Cyrus king of Persia would make it possible for the people of Judah to return to their homeland. God used Nebuchaddrezzar to remove the powers that had been a problem to his people. In addition, all of the foreign gods that Israel had worshipped would be eliminated from the scene and the only divine source of strength remaining would be the LORD, God, Almighty.

The Philistines

The Philistines were like a thorn in the side of the Israelites. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the Philistines were occupying the coastal region of Palestine and had established five major cities along the Mediterranean coast: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. “Originally a part of Judah’s tribal allotment, the coastal area was never totally wrested away from the Philistines, who may have begun their occupation as early as the time of Abraham” (Five Cities of the Philistines). Some of the Israelites most notable battles were fought with the Philistines. Samson was captured by the Philistines who “put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza”  (Judges 16:21) where he later killed more than 3,000 men and women by toppling two pillars of a temple. David killed Goliath, a giant from Gath who threatened Saul’s army (1 Samuel 17:10).

The Israelites inability to drive out the Philistines left them vulnerable to attack on the western side of Judah. When Assyria invaded Judah during the reign of Sennacherib in 701 B.C., the Assyrian army marched down the coast through Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza, and then proceeded west to Jerusalem through Gath. Sennacherib drove out more than 200,00 people of Judah (Sennacherib’s Campaign Against Judah), leaving the nation with little resources to defend itself against Nebuchaddrezzar king of Babylon when he invaded Jerusalem in 605 B.C. The last mention of the Philistines in Israel’s history indicated they had encroached on territory previously occupied by the nation of Judah and were being used by God to humble his people (2 Chronicles 28:18).

The message Jeremiah received concerning the Philistines emphasized the sudden destruction they would experience when they were delivered into the hands of Nebuchaddrezzar king of Babylon. Jeremiah declared, “At the noise of the stamping of the hoofs of his strong horses, at the rushing of his chariots, and at the rumbling of his wheels, the fathers shall not look back to their children for feebleness of hands; because of the day that cometh to spoil all the Philistines, and to cut off from Tyrus and Zidon every helper that remaineth; for the LORD will spoil the Philistines, the remnant of the country of Caphtor” (Jeremiah 47;3-4). The superior power of the Babylonian army was not given credit for the Philistine’s defeat. God intended to remove the Philistines so that they would no longer be a threat to his people. Setting the stage for the return of the remnant of Judah to the Promised Land, God was securing their borders and ensuring that their enemies would remain contained until the arrival of the Messiah.

Ruined

Habakkuk believed that God would do what he said he was going to, and, therefore, Habakkuk knew that his life was about to be ruined. God had said the Chaldeans would come and completely destroy the nation of Judah. He also said everyone would be killed except for a small portion of the population that would be taken into captivity and would become slaves of the king of Babylon. Given what he knew, Habakkuk prayed, “O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid. O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years in the midst of the years make known, in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2).

Somehow, Habakkuk knew that God could show his people love in the midst of their punishment. He asked that God would revive his work and make himself known to his people while they were in captivity in Babylon. Habakkuk was most likely referring to God’s work of salvation. One of the key components to God’s plan was that the Messiah had to be a descendant of king David. In order for God to accomplish this, he had to preserve the royal blood line. Habakkuk didn’t know what would happen to him or his family when his country was invaded, but he believed that his salvation was assured and that was enough for him to trust God with the outcome of his situation.

Habakkuk declared, “Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundest the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah” (Habakkuk 3:13). Habakkuk was able to see there was more at stake than the occupation of the Promised Land by God’s people. Where they lived was not as important as the fact that the Israelites remained alive until God’s plan of salvation was completed. Habakkuk understood that God was preserving, as well as punishing, his chosen people by sending them into captivity.

Habakkuk’s concluding statement of faith showed that he was able to trust in God’s providence regardless of his circumstances. His anticipation of what was to come, caused Habakkuk to set his mind ahead of time that he would survive against all odds. Habakkuk confidently stated, “The LORD is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places” (Habakkuk 3:19). Although Habakkuk’s fate is unknown, it is possible he escaped Jerusalem before it was invaded and became a member of the first wave of what has been described as the dispersion of the Jews. He may have set out for a far off land, leaving behind his prophetic writing as a testament to his belief that God would protect and preserve those of his people who truly put their trust in him.