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).

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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.

Complete destruction

Habakkuk was a godly man that was burdened by the condition of the nation of Judah at the time of its destruction. Habakkuk saw that God was letting circumstances get to a point where there was no more hope of repentance and forgiveness and he asked, “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2). Habakkuk no doubt had heard the preaching of Jeremiah and knew God’s judgment was coming, but he wondered why it was taking so long for the inevitable to happen.

It must have seemed to Habakkuk that God’s delay was a sign that things had not gotten completely out of control yet. Habakkuk’s cry for help probably was his way of saying, I can’t take anymore, this situation is too much for me. Really, what Habakkuk was trying to say was he wanted God to hurry up and get it over with, the suspense was killing him. Habakkuk knew judgment was coming and saw no reason for God to delay it any longer.

God’s response to Habakkuk’s prayer showed that he was not wasting time, but waiting for the right moment. He said, “For lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land” (Habakkuk 1:6). The Chaldeans, or people of Babylon, were going to take over the land that had been occupied by the nations of Israel and Judah for hundreds of years. When the Chaldeans were finished, there would be no evidence of God’s presence ever having been there.

Habakkuk couldn’t fully comprehend what God was about to do. He still thought God’s mercy would soften the blow and complete destruction would be avoided. God told him, “They shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust and take it” (Habakkuk 1:10). The Chaldeans were a violent people that had overthrown the Assyrian Empire. Whereas the Assyrians had conquered the nation of Israel and taken its people out of the land, the Chaldeans would level the city of Jerusalem and leave nothing behind but dust and ashes.

The parable of the girdle

Jeremiah revealed his anger and confusion when he prayed openly about what appeared to be an unjust situation. He said, “Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of they judgments. Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root: they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit: thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins” (Jeremiah 12:1-2) In what appeared to be a sarcastic tone, Jeremiah suggested that the LORD, “pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of slaughter: (Jeremiah 12:3).

In his candid response, God told Jeremiah he was being too sensitive and needed to buck up or as he phrased it, “contend with horses” (Jeremiah 12:5). The Hebrew word translated contend, tachârâh (takh – aw – raw´) means to vie with a rival (8474). It conveys the idea of a strong emotion in the sense of a visible expression such as burning with anger, to be red-faced, or in the heat of jealousy when a person might seek revenge. The LORD’s use of a horse as the rival Jeremiah needed to contend with implied that Jeremiah was outmatched and could not possibly overcome his opponent in his own strength. With this illustration, the LORD set the stage for a lesson he planned to teach Jeremiah about humility.

The  parable of the girdle was intended to show Jeremiah how God could get his people back on track when there seemed to be no hope of them ever repenting or seeking salvation from the LORD. A linen girdle was a belt that was tied around the waist that symbolized holiness. One of the ways the girdle was used was to fasten up the clothing around the waist for ease of movement or to prevent clothes from being damaged during work. The girdle was an essential item for what was considered to be a civilized man or gentleman. God told Jeremiah to wear a girdle around his waist, but not to wash it, so that it would become soiled. Then, he was told to “hide it there in a hole of a rock” (Jeremiah 13:4), until it rotted and was no longer useful (Jeremiah 13:7).

After Jeremiah recovered the rotten girdle, the LORD explained to him that by sending his people into captivity, God was allowing them to experience the effects of  not having their sins forgiven. When they were taken into captivity, the people of Judah would know that God was angry with them and was punishing them for their sins. Pride had been keeping them from confessing their sins, or even admitting to themselves they had done anything wrong, but when their punishment was carried out, the people of Judah would no longer be able to deny the truth. As if to mock their fate, Jeremiah declared, “And if thou say in thine heart, Wherefore come these things upon me? For the greatness of thine iniquity are thy skirts discovered, and thy heels made bare. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good,  that are accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:22-23).

 

The imagination of the heart

Jeremiah’s message to the people of Judah about obedience to God’s commandments was met with death threats (Jeremiah 26:8). The priests and prophets had been lying to the people about the consequences of their sins and were unwilling to let God’s message interfere with the corrupt practices they had established (Jeremiah 8:11). After approaching the people in the temple, Jeremiah was told to take his message to the streets of Jerusalem. There he was to remind the people of their covenant with God and to warn them that judgment was coming. (Jeremiah 11:6,11).

The LORD’s argument against the people was their stubborn refusal to listen to what God was saying to them. Jeremiah was told, “For I earnestly protested unto your fathers in the day that I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, even unto this day, rising early and protesting, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear, but walked every one in the imagination of their evil heart” (Jeremiah 11:8). Imagination refers to the thoughts in one’s mind. The people had gotten the idea in their heads that idolatry was necessary for their survival. Idolatry had become a way of life for them and they couldn’t imagine giving up that lifestyle.

God described the situation in Judah as a conspiracy (Jeremiah 11:9). What he meant by that was an alliance had been formed between the leaders of Judah and the priests and prophets of the temple that excluded God from the government of his people. Normally, the people were expected to seek God for direction and to thank him for his provision, but instead the people were expected to pay tribute to the king of Egypt (2 Chronicles 36:3) and to mock God for his inability to deliver them from their enemies (2 Chronicles 36:4).

Jeremiah’s frustration and humiliation at being condemned to death for speaking the truth is evident in his statement of rejection. He said, “But I was like a lamb or an ox that is led to the slaughter’ and I knew not that they had devised devices against me saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be no more remembered” (Jeremiah 11:19). In spite of his desperate situation, Jeremiah didn’t lose hope in God. He prayed, “But, O LORD of hosts, that judgest righteously, that triest the reins and the heart, let me see vengeance on them: for unto thee have I revealed my cause” (Jeremiah 11:20).

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).

A dangerous mission

At the end of king Josiah’s reign, when Jeremiah was probably in his early thirties, the king of Egypt took control of the kingdom of Judah by taking Josiah’s son Jehoahaz into captivity and by placing his brother Jehoiakim on the throne instead. Jehoiakim was loyal to the king of Egypt and taxed the people in order to pay an annual tribute to him of 100 talents of silver and a talent of gold. In the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign, the LORD sent Jeremiah to deliver a message to the people. It began, “Thus saith the LORD; Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the LORD’s house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word” (Jeremiah 26:2)

The LORD was about to give a strong warning to the people of Judah and he wanted Jeremiah to understand that he was not to soften the blow in any way. Jeremiah was to quote the LORD exactly as the message was given to him, speaking word for word what he was told. No doubt, Jeremiah was afraid to confront Jehoiakim, but he understood the seriousness of the situation, and was willing to do what the LORD asked him to. As soon as Jeremiah was finished speaking what the LORD told him to, it says in Jeremiah 26:8, “that the priest and the prophets and all the people took him, saying, Thou shalt surely die.”

Jeremiah displayed great courage in the face of grave danger. When the princes of Judah heard what was going on in the temple, they went to investigate. The priests and the prophets told them Jeremiah should be killed because he prophesied against the city of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 26:11). The charge against Jeremiah revealed the corruption of the temple priests and prophets. As far as they were concerned, the city of Jerusalem was exempt from God’s judgment. Not only were the priests and prophets willing to ignore God’s message, they were also willing to kill Jeremiah in order to make it look like he was not really speaking for God.

In a strange twist of fate, the princes of Judah defended Jeremiah. It says in Jeremiah 26:16, “Then said the princes and all the people unto the priests and to the prophets; This man is not worthy to die: for he hath spoken to us in the name of the LORD our God.” More than likely, the declaration of Jeremiah’s innocence was a result of divine intervention. A prophet named Urijah spoke a similar message to king Jehoiakim and he was hunted down and killed by the king (Jeremiah 26:23). In order to protect Jeremiah, a man named Ahikam became his personal bodyguard. It says in Jeremiah 26:24, “Nevertheless the hand of Ahikam the son of Shephan was with Jeremiah, that they should not give him into the hand of the people to put him to death.”