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 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).

A legal case

Jeremiah’s message to Judah began with the presentation of a legal case against God’s people. According to the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were forbidden to worship any other God besides YHWH, the name of God translated into English as LORD. God chose this name as the personal name by which he related specifically to his chosen or covenant people (3068). The first three commandments of the Mosaic Law stated:

  1. Thou shalt have not other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
  3. Thou shalt not bow down thyself  to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children  unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. (Exodus 20:3-5)

The first three of the Ten Commandments given to the children of Israel dealt with idolatry because the covenant between God and his chosen people depended on a relationship existing between the two parties of the agreement. In some ways, the Ten Commandments were like a marriage contract that specified the terms for a divorce to take place. It was implied that both God and his people would be faithful to each other and remain in the relationship for ever. The reason why idolatry was off limits for them was because like adultery, it undermined the intimacy that was necessary for a loving relationship to exist. The only way the Israelites would trust God and depend on his provision for them was knowing God and God alone could take care of all their needs.

God’s issue with his people was not so much that they had broken his commandments , but that they had abandoned him for worthless idols. Speaking through Jeremiah, the LORD declared, “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns; broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). A cistern was a man-made storage tank designed to capture rain and make it available throughout the year. The cistern was representative of an idol because it was cut or carved out of stone and signified man’s ability to live independent of God’s ongoing provision. God’s reference to broken cisterns that could hold no water was meant to highlight the fact that a cistern was useless without rain, which God still had to provide.

The Israelites’ desire for independence was seen by God as being the same as an unfaithful spouse. Particularly in the book of Hosea, God’s people were likened to “a wife of whoredoms” (Hosea 1:2). Rather than being thankful for what God had provided, the Israelites preferred to fend for themselves (Jeremiah 2;25) and to worship whomever they pleased (Jeremiah 2:31). In spite of their flagrant idolatry, God’s people claimed to be innocent of the charges God brought against them. It was only because they refused to repent that God proceeded with his judgment. Jeremiah declared the truth about the people’s attitude when he said, “Yet thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me. Behold, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned” (Jeremiah 2:35).

The day of the LORD

The prophet Zephaniah talked about the day of the LORD as if it could happen at any moment (Zephaniah 1:7). This was probably because he was looking at it from an eternal perspective. The phrase “day of the LORD” can refer to any time the Lord openly intervenes in the affairs of man. Thus it often applies to separate events in different time periods (footnote on Zephaniah 1:7). Zephaniah’s ministry took place during the reign of king Josiah, not long before Judah was taken into captivity in Babylon. Therefore, his prophecies had a certain amount of correlation to Judah’s current circumstances, but his overall message was about the end times.

The nation of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. At that time, the nation ceased to exist. The people that were taken into captivity eventually returned and reestablished their legal and worship systems, but they did not have a king to rule over them. Zephaniah made it clear in his message that the day of the LORD he was referring to was the final destruction of not only Judah, but also the entire world (Zephaniah 1:2). Zephaniah said, “I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the LORD. I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumblingblocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the LORD” (Zephaniah 1:2-3).

Judah’s captivity was to a certain extent an illustration of God’s judgment of the world. Living in peace and prosperity for hundreds of years had desensitized the people to the reality of their sinful condition. The kings of Judah had managed to keep the nation stable during the expansion of the Assyrian empire, giving everyone the impression that God’s chosen people were immune to punishment. More than 200 years had transpired since Isaiah had first begun to warn the people of Judah of God’s anger towards them. Because they had been spared from going into captivity in Assyria with the northern kingdom of Judah, the people of Judah were probably thinking they could escape God’s wrath indefinitely.

In order to make the  people understand that there would be an end to their special treatment, Zephaniah spoke in terms of all things and all people being consumed by the LORD. It was only through the association of God’s people with the heathen of the world that they could see themselves as sinners. Zephaniah used language that conveyed a sense of urgency so that the people of Judah would realize that time was of the essence if they were to avoid getting caught up on the destruction that was about to take place. Unlike other prophetic messages the people may have heard in the past, Zephaniah warned of a sudden ending that would catch even the most valiant warrior off guard. He said, “The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly” (Zephaniah 1:14).

Judgment

The prophet Amos was an ordinary man that God used to deliver a universal message of judgment to all the inhabitants of the land promised to Abraham. Unlike Isaiah who had a formal role in the kingdom of Judah, Amos worked for a living as a sheepmaster. Although Amos was probably uneducated, he spoke eloquently, perhaps a sign that the words he spoke came directly from God.

Amos used the same phrase to introduce each of the eight judgments he pronounced. “For three transgressions…and four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof” (Amos 1:3). The Hebrew word translated transgression, pesha’ means a revolt (7588). “Basically, this noun signifies willful deviation from, and therefore rebellion against, the path of godly living.” Amos’ reference to three transgressions, and four that they would be punished for indicated there was a repeated or habitual tendency that remained unchanged.

Amos’ testimony of God’s judgment on the nations revealed that all were guilty and deserved punishment. No one, including Israel and Judah, had met God’s expectations of a peaceful co-existence. Much like Jacob’s family, the conflict was continual and bitter dissention kept the nations divided. Among the list of offenders were enemies that had plagued Israel since they had arrived in the Promised Land; Damascus, the capital of Syria; the Philistine territory of Gaza; Tyrus and Edom; Ammon and Moab, who were the descendants of Lot.

Prominent in the description of eight judgments was the failure of Israel to conform to God’s standards. Amos’ indictment stated, “Because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes; that pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go into the same maid, to profane my holy name” (Amos 2:6-7). God wanted his people to reflect his character, but instead they resembled the heathen who were cruel and oppressive, and eager to take advantage of those who couldn’t defend themselves.

Israel’s powerful army had enabled them to withstand numerous attacks by the Syrians. Because they had come to rely on their military skill rather than God’s protection and defense, their punishment would be an overwhelming defeat by the king of Assyria:

Therefore the flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not strengthen his force, neither shall the mighty deliver himself: neither shall he stand that handleth the bow; and he that is swift of foot shall not deliver himself, and he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day; saith the LORD. (Amos 2:14-16)