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).

 

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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.”

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).

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.

Egypt

Jeremiah received a message from the LORD about the fate of all the nations that were enemies of Israel. The first kingdom to be dealt with was the one that had been a continual stumbling block to the descendants of Abraham. Egypt had been a refuge that the Israelites often retreated to during difficult times. Egypt was the eventual destination of Jacob and his sons when a famine wiped out all life sustaining crops in the region of Mesopotamia (Genesis 43:12).

The descendants of Jacob spent 430 years in Egypt as slaves of Pharaoh as the result of their dependence on a foreign economy to sustain themselves. During their time in bondage, the Israelites learned the culture of the Egyptians and were influenced by their pagan worship system. One of the key factors in the downfall of the nation of Israel was their worship of the two golden calves made by king Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:28). A turning point for the nation of Judah was the death of king Josiah who was killed by Pharaoh-nechoh king of Egypt in the valley of Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29).

The message Jeremiah received pronounced an end to the reign of Pharaoh-nechoh. Jeremiah declared, “They did cry there, Pharaoh king of Egypt is but a noise; he hath passed the time appointed…Egypt is like a very fair heifer, but destruction cometh; it cometh out of the north…And I will deliver them into the hand of those that seek their lives, and into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 46:17, 20, 26). Josiah king of Judah had tried to intervene in the battle of Charchemish and was unsuccessful. God intended to end Egypt’s age-long claims to power and pretensions once and for all. The defeat of Egypt by the king of Babylon in the battle of Charchemish brought and end to Egypt’s dynasty.

Jeremiah was assured that Babylon’s destruction of the Egyptian empire would not mean the end of Judah also. He was told, “Fear thou not, O Jacob my servant, saith the LORD: for I am with thee; for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee: but I will not make a full end of thee, but correct thee in measure; yet will I not leave thee wholly unpunished” (Jeremiah 46:28). God would impose the penalty against his people for breaking his Ten Commandments, but he would not abandon them completely. Once they were purged of their idolatrous habits, God would bring his people back to their homeland.

The vision

The vision Habakkuk received of the punishment that would come to the people of Judah by the Chaldeans (Habakkuk 1:5-10) was so distressful that Habakkuk couldn’t comprehend that God would actually carry out such a plan against his own people. Habakkuk questioned God’s motives and asked, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13). Habakkuk didn’t understand how a God that couldn’t stand to see his people sin could tolerate such an injustice as was described to him.

The vision Habakkuk received was intended to be a final warning to any who would be willing to put their trust in God before it was too late. It says in Habakkuk 2:3-4, “And the LORD answered me, and said, write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it, for the vision is yet for the appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not lie. Though it tarry, wait for it’  because it will surely come; it will not tarry.” God’s  instruction to make the vision plain meant that it should be obvious to everyone that it was definitely going to happen. It was not a matter of if, but when the end would come to the nation of Judah.

The end that the LORD was referring to was not just an end to the political and religious structure that kept the nation of Judah functioning, but an end to the Old Covenant that promised salvation through the keeping of the Mosaic Law. Habakkuk was given an advance presentation of the New Covenant when he was told, “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him, but the just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). Many in Jerusalem at the time of its destruction thought they would be saved, but God told Habakkuk only those who had faith, believed that God would do what he said he would (530), would remain alive and be taken into captivity.

In contrast to the promise that the just would live by their faith, Habakkuk was told that the unrighteous or nonbelievers would suffer a terrible death and eternal punishment (Habakkuk 2:5). Five woes were pronounced, similar to those recorded in Isaiah 5:8-23. In the New Testament, Matthew addressed the religious leaders who were referred to as “scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 23:13) and pronounced woes upon them. Matthew labeled these teachers of the law as hypocrites, men who acted as if they believed in God, but in actuality they were depending on their knowledge of God’s rules and regulations to condemn others instead of examining their own hearts to see if they were guilty of any sin.