Spiritual manipulation

One of God’s key characteristics is the reliability of his word. Jeremiah frequently used the phrase “thus saith the LORD” to indicate God’s authority over what he said. As in the creation of the world, God speaks things into being and can cause something to happen by merely saying that it will. Therefore, God only says things that are consistent with his will. God does everything he promises to, because to him, saying and doing are essentially the same thing.

The commandments that were given to the Israelites were like a contract between God and his people that bound their actions together so that an obligation existed whenever obedience or disobedience occurred. If the Israelites kept the commandments, God rewarded them, and if they didn’t, he punished them. So, over time, the Israelites learned how to get what they wanted from God.

Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, was told to become a servant to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11). Instead of submitting himself to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority, Zedekiah continually resisted and fought against going into captivity. In his attempt to change the outcome of his situation, Zedekiah used one of God’s commandments to manipulate God’s behavior. Zedekiah made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to let their Hebrew slaves go free (Jeremiah 34:8-9).

Zedekiah’s interpretation of the law was correct in that he understood it was wrong for the Israelites to make slaves of their own people, but the law of liberty or year of jubilee did not mean that letting the people go free would prevent Judah from going into captivity. And yet, God recognized Zedekiah’s  action and told him, “And ye were now turned, and had done right in my sight, in proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbor” (Jeremiah 34:15).

Unfortunately, Zedekiah wasn’t sincere in his effort to follow God’s commandment. When he saw that Pharaoh’s army was coming from Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar’s army stopped attacking Jerusalem (Jeremiah 37:5). And so, it says in Jeremiah 34:11, “But afterwards they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and handmaids.”

As soon as Zedekiah thought he got what he wanted, Nebuchadnezzar stopped attacking Jerusalem, he did an about face and recanted his promise to let the Hebrew slaves go free. God responded to Zedekiah’s broken promise by sending Nebuchadnezzar’s army back. He told Zedekiah, “Behold, I will command, saith the LORD, and cause them to return to this city; and they shall fight against it, and take it, and burn it with fire: and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without an inhabitant” (Jeremiah 34:22).

Advertisements

God’s power

God’s ability to control the world we live in is due to his active, sovereign, and mighty involvement in the affairs of men. Not only does God rule directly over his people, but he also governs them through every person in authority that affects their lives. The LORD told Jeremiah, “I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me” (Jeremiah 27:5).

God gave Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon all the land in and around the nations of Israel and Judah to rule over while his people were in captivity. God described Nebuchadnezzar as his servant, a term usually reserved for his chosen people. It would have been fair to say that Nebuchadnezzar was nothing more than a hired hand, but as the king of Babylon, he had more power and control than probably any other individual in history. Nebuchadnezzar was the first king to rule over what was considered to be at that time the entire civilized world.

Jeremiah was told to warn the kings of the world that God was going to subject them to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority. He declared, “And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant…And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the LORD, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand” (Jeremiah 27:6,8).

The symbol of the yoke was used to convey the idea of having an attitude of submission to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority. It was unlikely Jeremiah’s message was taken seriously because false prophets were contradicting everything Jeremiah said (Jeremiah 27:9). As a sign of his sovereign control, God promised he would bless those who obeyed his command. Jeremiah declared, “But the nations that bring their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, those will I let remain still in their own land, saith the LORD; and they shall till it, and dwell therein” (Jeremiah 27:11).

Choosing

Jeremiah’s vision of the figs illustrated God’s natural inclination to choose good rather than evil. Choice is an important theme in the Old Testament of the Bible, especially in connection with living in the Promised Land. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses presented the people with a choice that they needed to make. He said, I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Before he died, Joshua reiterated the choice that each person had to make and emphasized the need to serve or worship the LORD instead of idols (Joshua 24:15). In spite of their promised to do so, the people of Israel and Judah were not faithful to God, but continually chose idolatry as a way of life. The tendency of man to choose evil rather than good was first demonstrated in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden. Even though God told them they would die if they ate it, “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6).

In his vision, Jeremiah was shown two baskets of figs that were set before the  temple of the LORD as if they were an offering to God. Jeremiah recorded, “One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten they were so bad” (Jeremiah 24:2). Jeremiah’s reference to the second basket of figs as “naughty figs” was intended to portray the character rather than the condition of the people they represented. The Hebrew word translated naughty, ra‘ is a word that “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences” (7451). Ra‘ characterizes the ungodly man that has chosen a life of evil. “One of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and every one around him.”

Jeremiah was told that the good figs had been chosen or set apart by God to fulfill his plan of salvation. Jeremiah declared:

Thus saith the LORD, the  God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive in Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart. (Jeremiah 24:5-7)

In order to differentiate which of his people were the evil figs, God stated, “And as the evil figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so evil; surely thus saith the LORD, So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt: and I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them” (Jeremiah 24:8-9). In 597 B.C., 3,023 Jews, the best of Judah’s leaders and craftsmen were taken captive by Nebuchadrezzar and they went into exile in Babylon. In 588 B.C., Nebuchadrezzar’s army attacked those who remained in Jerusalem. After a two year battle, the Babylonian army finally penetrated the walls of Jerusalem and the city fell to Nebuchadrezzar who completely destroyed it.

The last king

King David’s reign began a 400 year monarchy in Israel that ended with king Zedekiah in 586 B.C. Initially, David was told his kingdom would be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:16), but when Solomon became king, God established a conditional covenant with him that stated, “If thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart, and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded thee, and wilt keep my statutes and my judgments: then I will establish the throne of thy kingdom upon Israel for ever, as I promised David thy father, saying, There shall not fail thee a man upon the throne of Israel” (1 Kings 9:4-5).

After Solomon’s death, Jereboam rebelled and was given rulership over 10 of the tribes of Israel which became the northern kingdom of Israel. The southern kingdom of Judah was left to the descendants of David. The LORD said, “he shall have one tribe for my servant David’s sake and for Jerusalem’s sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel…Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in mine eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments” (1 Kings 11:32-33).

About 588 B.C., king Zedekiah went to Jeremiah and said, “Inquire, I pray thee, of the LORD for us; for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon maketh war against us: if so be that the LORD will deal with us according to all his wondrous works, that he may go up from us” (Jeremiah 21:2). King Zedekiah was hoping for a miraculous deliverance from Nebuchadrezzar’s army. Because God had stepped in at the last moment numerous times in Israel’s history, Zedekiah thought it might not be too late to ask him for a miracle. Unfortunately, Zedekiah hadn’t been paying attention to the prophecies Jeremiah had been sharing for more than 30 years.

Zedekiah had actually been appointed to his position of king of Judah by Nebuchaddrezzar (2 Chronicles 36:10). Initially, Zedekiah paid tribute to Nebuchadrezzar, but later rebelled against him and must have thought God would come to his aid. The response to Zedekiah’s petition for help indicated God had switched sides and would be fighting against his own people. Jeremiah stated, “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the king of Babylon, and against the Chaldeans, which besiege you without the walls, and I will assemble them into the midst of the city. And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath” (Jeremiah 21:4-5).

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.”

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.