The Living God

Jeremiah exposed the trade of idolatry as a worthless pursuit of self glorification. He spoke of those who practiced idolatry as being vain. He said, “For the customs of the people  are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold, they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must be borne, because they cannot go” (Jeremiah 10:3-5).

Idols were nothing more that inanimate objects that were portrayed as having superhuman powers that could harm people unless sacrifices were made to them. Jeremiah said, “Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good” (Jeremiah 10:5). At the heart of idolatry was a superstitious belief that a person could control his own destiny and did not need help from God to be successful in life.

Jeremiah pointed out that God’s role in the universe was to control the final outcome of his creation. He said, “But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king; at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation” (Jeremiah 10:10). The Hebrew word translated everlasting, ‘ôlâm (o – lawm´) refers to something that is concealed or the vanishing point when time no longer exists (5769). Another interpretation of olam is eternity. In the context of an everlasting king, it refers to the God who always has and always will rule over the earth.

Jeremiah’s reference to the LORD as the true God, the living God, was meant to emphasize the fact that God is alive and is a divine being with real superhuman powers. Jeremiah said, “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion” (Jeremiah 10:12). Jeremiah’s use of the words power, wisdom, and discretion to describe God indicate that he is an intelligent being with the ability to create a world that is stable in the midst of a chaotic universe.

Jeremiah acknowledged that there is no comparison between man’s ability and God’s ability. As much as we want to think we can control our own destiny, it is impossible. Without God, there is no way to know how our lives will change over the course of 40 – 50 years. Jeremiah said, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O LORD, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing” (Jeremiah 10:23-24).

 

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Uncircumcised heart

Jeremiah’s assessment of the situation in Judah revealed that the people were not following God’s commandments because they didn’t really know the LORD, they didn’t have a relationship with him (Jeremiah 9:3). Beginning with Abraham, God had made it clear that faith was the only way to enter into a relationship with him. Abraham believed in the LORD and God counted it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

God’s people thought the most important things in life were for them to be wise, powerful, and rich (Jeremiah 9:23). They wanted material success rather than a godly life. They didn’t realize that having a relationship with God was the only way for them to be truly happy. God had to explain to them that his way of life was the opposite of what they were trying to achieve. He said:

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

One of the ways Jeremiah described being committed to the LORD was to have a circumcised heart. He told the people of Judah to “circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart” (Jeremiah 4:4). Taking away the foreskin was symbolic of being stripped or to go naked (6188). In reference to the heart, it meant you would bare your soul or confess all your sins to God.

The LORD warned his people of a day when the entire world would be punished for sin. Previously, the Israelites expected God to pardon all their sins and establish an eternal kingdom for them in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:13). Because of their unfaithfulness, God would only pardon those of his chosen people who repented of their sins and received salvation through Jesus Christ. He said, “Behold the day cometh, saith the LORD, that I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart” (Jeremiah 9:25-26).

One language

After the flood that wiped out all living creatures on earth (Genesis 7:21), it says in Genesis 11:1 “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” What that meant was that not only did everyone speak the same language, but also used the same jargon or slang words. Therefore, everyone understood each other perfectly. The descendants of Ham, the son of Noah’s that was cursed by God, worked together on a building project known as the tower of Babel. When God discovered what they were doing, he 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 may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:6-7).

The Hebrew word translated confound, balal means to mix (1101). Literally, what this meant was that words began to have mixed meanings. For instance, today a guy might say a girl is hot, which means he thinks she’s attractive. Anyone that didn’t know the slang meaning of the word hot would be confused by what he said. With each generation, words take on new meanings, therefore our speech is no longer pure. The prophet Zephaniah spoke about a time in the future when God would “turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9). Essentially, what he was saying was there would come a time when God would  clarify the meaning of words so that everyone would understand each other again, so that the world could operate as a single, unified kingdom.

Throughout the Old Testament, God called his people to be separated from the rest of the world. Israel stood apart as the one righteous nation among all the wicked nations. Because Israel failed in keeping God’s commandments and even the holy city Jerusalem turned to idolatry, God decided to create a new world order under which all the people of the world could be united to serve him (Zephaniah 3:8-9). Rather than save only his chosen people, God would purge the world of evil and save all who would humble themselves and put their trust in the LORD (Zephaniah 3;11-12). Among those who would be saved would be a remnant of the nation of Israel that would also accept Jesus Christ as their Savior (Zephaniah 3:13).

A missed opportunity

The ambassadors of the princes of Babylon came to see Hezekiah king of Judah for a specific reason. They wanted “to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land” (2 Chronicles 32:31). A wonder is a divine act or a special display of divine power” (4159). In Hezekiah’s case, it was the healing of a sickness that would eventually cause his death. In other words, Hezekiah had a terminal illness and God cured him of it. The men that came to visit heard of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery and brought an offering as an act of worship.

The visit from the ambassadors of Babylon, was an opportunity for Hezekiah to share his faith with them. Their awareness of Hezekiah’s healing and their act of worship demonstrated their belief that Hezekiah’s God was real and could do things that no other god was capable of. In this situation, it says of Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 32:31 “God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” God had shown Hezekiah mercy by responding when he prayed, “I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight” (2 Kings 20:3). Hezekiah’s claim of having a perfect heart meant that he had been totally obedient to God’s word (8003).

God’s testing of Hezekiah’s heart was intended to show whether he believed God’s mercy was responsible for all the prosperity of his kingdom or whether Hezekiah believed he had earned everything God had given him through his good behavior. When 2 Chronicles 32:31 said, God left Hezekiah, it was saying that God let him handle the situation on his own (5800). God didn’t tell Hezekiah what to do. When the men from Babylon came to visit, “Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and showed them all the house of his precious things” (2 Kings 20:13). The Hebrew word translated hearkened, shama means that he gave the men his undivided attention (8085). Hezekiah was listening to what the men had to say, following their directions, rather than the other way around.

A clue to Hezekiah’s motivation is found in 2 Chronicles 32:25. It says, “But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up.” Seeing all of Hezekiah’s riches was not the purpose of the visit from the men from Babylon. They came because they had heard about the miracle God had done for him. Instead of taking them on a tour of his grand palace, Hezekiah should have been inviting the men to convert to Judaism.

Hezekiah didn’t understand that these men were not on his side. They were idolaters that needed to know how they could be saved. Hezekiah made it seem as if everything he had could be shared with the men from Babylon, but that wasn’t true. Only God’s people were under his protection and could share in the wealth of his kingdom. Because Hezekiah didn’t honor God and testify to his mercy toward his people, the men went away thinking God’s riches consisted only of silver and gold and it was theirs for the taking.

Power

In ancient times, the hand was a symbol of power. To be given into someone’s hands meant you were dominated by them and under their control (3709). To deliver someone out of another’s hands meant you released him from the other’s dominion or rule over him. One of the ways kings sought to increase their power, or at least their appearance of power, was to take other nations captive and rule over their people so that the size of their kingdom increased, making it seem as though they had become more powerful.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire existed for 300 years from approximately 911 B.C. to 612 B.C., during which time its population peaked and its territory expanded across more than a million square miles. The Neo-Assyrian Empire reached its greatest height politically and militarily under the reign of Sargon II who brought an end to the northern kingdom of Israel. Sargon’s son Sennacherib attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and conquered 46 of its strongest cities (Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah 701 B.C.).

When Sennacherib king of Assyria came and entered the fenced cities of Judah, it says in 2 Chronicles 32:1 that he “thought to win them for himself.” Sennacherib wanted to be the dominating power over Judah and Jerusalem so that he could claim himself to be their king. Sennacherib not only believed he was the most powerful man in the world, but he also believed he was more powerful than any god, including the God of the Israelites.

It says of Sennacherib in 2 Chronicles 32:17, “He wrote also letters to rail on the LORD God of Israel, and to speak against him, saying, As the gods of the nations of other lands have not delivered their people out of mine hand, so shall not the God of Hezekiah deliver his people out of mine hand.” The Hebrew word translated rail, charaph means to pull off or to expose as by stripping (2778). Another way of saying what Sennacherib was trying to do was to bring shame on God, to ruin his reputation.

Sennacherib was a very powerful man, and because of his position as the king of the Assyrian Empire, he was the most powerful man in the world in 701 B.C. His claim that no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people out of his hand (2 Chronicles 32:15) was partially true, but to compare God’s  ability to that of an idol was a huge mistake. God intervened in the situation and killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers in one night, while everyone was sleeping (2 Kings 19:35). It says of Sennacherib in 2 Chronicles 32:21, “So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that come forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword.”

Pride

We know that king Hezekiah’s healing took place sometime between 703 – 701 B.C. because of a visit he received from messengers of Berodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon (2 Kings 20:12). Berodach-baladan reigned in Babylon from 721 – 710 B.C. After being defeated and forced into exile by Sargon II king of Assyria, he returned to the thrown for a brief period from 703 – 702 B.C. His visit to Hezekiah most likely took place during that time period. Berodach-baladan wanted to form an alliance with Hezekiah and probably asked for his help in fighting against their common enemy Assyria. Although God had promised to deliver Jerusalem out of the hand of the king of Assyria, Hezekiah was not at liberty to form an alliance with Babylon and should have sent Berodach-baladan’s men away without any acknowledgment from him. Instead, Hezekiah not only welcomed the messengers into his palace, but also treated them as if they were his faithful friends (2 Kings 20:13).

Hezekiah’s action was in principle a denial of the covenantal nature of his royal office that was probably motivated by pride. Similar to when king David took a census of the people of Israel and Judah (2 Samuel 24:1), king Hezekiah was acting independent of God’s will. David’s census represented an unwarranted glorying in and dependence on human power rather than the LORD.  It says in 2 Kings 20:13 that Hezekiah hearkened unto Berodach-baladan’s men “and shewed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.” Clearly, Hezekiah was boasting in his riches.

The Hebrew word translated dominion in 2 Kings 20:13 refers to rulership over a designated realm or kingdom. King Hezekiah was acting as if Jerusalem were his kingdom when in actuality it was God’s kingdom and all that it contained belonged to him. Although Hezekiah had responsibility for managing God’s kingdom, God was still the ultimate King and he had dominion over all its resources. After he made this mistake, Hezekiah received a message from God. “And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD, Behold, the  days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried unto Bablyon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD” (2 Kings 20:16-17).

 

The elect

One of the issues God had with the children of Israel being his chosen people was their attitude of entitlement. In spite of their disobedience to God’s commandments, the Israelites saw themselves as better than the rest of the world, because they were consecrated to the LORD (Isaiah 65:5). God’s judgment of his people was intended to bring an end to their bad behavior (Isaiah 65:6-7).

God’s primary objective in the captivity of his people was to preserve the Messianic line of descendants until Christ was born. Although the nation of Judah was destined to spend 70 years in captivity, it took much longer to purge the idolatry from the people’s systems. Isaiah described this process in terms of wine making. He said, “Thus saith the LORD, as the new wine is found in the cluster: and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants’ sake, that I may not destroy them all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and mine servants shall dwell there” (Isaiah 65:8-9).

The “mine elect” (Isaiah 65:9) Isaiah was referring to in this passage was the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Upon his birth, Jesus became the heir to the throne of God’s  kingdom, which in Isaiah’s time encompassed only the Promised Land. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, a new covenant went into effect that determined God’s elect or chosen people would no longer be those born into the household of Jacob, but those who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Isaiah declared of those who rejected Christ, “And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen: for the Lord GOD shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name” (Isaiah 65:15).

The millennial reign of Christ that begins at the end of the great tribulation will be a time of transition from temporal to eternal life. During that time period, there will still be sinners alive on earth (Isaiah 6:20), but a new system of government will exist that mandates submission to God (Isaiah 32:1). It will be evident at that time that God’s elect are “chosen ones” (972) that have been called into the service of God on an individual basis rather than collectively as a group, as with the nation of Israel. Isaiah declared of these people:

They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and whiles they are yet speaking, I will hear. (Isaiah 65:22-24)