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.”

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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.

A new status

From the time of Abraham, until the time of Jesus Christ, God did not have a relationship with any other people than the Israelites. Even though other nations had heard  about the God of Abraham, they were unable to receive his blessing and had no right to claim salvation. As the people of Judah were being prepared to be taken into captivity, Jeremiah was instructed to tell them that their special status was being removed. No longer would Israel’s children be entitled to God’s lovingkindness and mercies (Jeremiah 16:5), instead the LORD said, “Therefore will I cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers: and there shall ye serve other gods day and night, where I will not show you favour” (Jeremiah 16:13).

As God shifted his focus from the land of Israel to the entire world, he set out to sow his people like seed in a field that could be gathered at the time of his harvest. God’s people were told, “Therefore behold the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them:  and I will bring them again into their land that I gave their fathers” (Jeremiah 16:14-15). Although the remnant of Judah would return to the Promised Land after their captivity had  ended, the restoration of the nation of Israel wouldn’t take place until the Messiah began his rule over the entire earth.

In between the time when Christ was born and his reign on earth began, God intended to make himself known as the one true God that is sovereign over all mankind. Jeremiah was told, “Therefore behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know mine hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is The LORD” (Jeremiah 16:21). The Hebrew word translated know, yâda’ (yaw – dah´) means to know by experiencing. “‘To know” God is to have an intimate experiential knowledge of him” (3045). While his people were in captivity, God would use them to witness to the Gentiles in such a way that his authority would make it evident to everyone that there was no power on earth greater than his.

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).

 

False information

The people of Judah were dependent on false prophets and corrupt priests to guide them in their spiritual activities. One of the reasons God’s people were unrepentant was they thought their sacrifices were enough to guarantee God’s blessing on their nation. There was no real awareness among the people of Judah that they were in trouble. Jeremiah described their problem as a “perpetual backsliding” (Jeremiah 8:5). Jeremiah’s use of the term perpetual backsliding indicated there was a permanent separation between God and his people. Another way of describing their condition would be to say the people had abandoned their faith. They no longer believed in God.

It was difficult for Jeremiah to get through to the people because their consciences were unaffected by what they were doing. Jeremiah declared, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them  that fall: in the time of their visitation” (Jeremiah 8:12). A time of visitation was an appointed time when an officer or custodian would have to give an account for his area of responsibility. The nation of Judah was responsible to God for their worship activities. They were not free to worship in any other way than what had been prescribed to them by the Mosaic Law. God’s ultimate goal for his people was for them to receive salvation and eternal life. Because of their disobedience, God’s plan could not be carried out.

God was grieved over the situation in Judah. He didn’t want to punish his children, but he couldn’t overlook the fact that they had disassociated themselves from him and were going to die without their sins being atoned for. Jeremiah depicted God’s attitude toward his children as one of care and concern for their well-being. He said, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?

Recompense

God intended his children to be different than everyone else. He rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gave them the Promised Land so they could prosper and live there for ever. When the Mosaic Law was implemented, God made a way for his people to be forgiven of their sins and again to prosper even though they had made mistakes. As a result of their special treatment, the Israelites became wicked, and selfish, and took advantage of God’s mercy toward them (Jeremiah 5:27-28). In some ways, God’s people acted as if the LORD was their servant, instead of the other way around. God asked Jeremiah, “Do they provoke me to anger? do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces? (Jeremiah 7:19). In other words, God was saying that the people had lost sight of who they were and why he had delivered them from slavery.

The main thing the people of Judah had forgotten was their responsibility to do the will of God. The LORD reminded Jeremiah, “But this thing commanded I them saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you” (Jeremiah 7:23). Just because their sins were forgiven didn’t mean God’s children were exempt from suffering the consequences of their wrong behavior. In effect, God had told the Israelites from the beginning that it would go well for them if they obeyed his commandments, but if they didn’t, they would be punished (Deuteronomy 28:15). In condemnation of their wrong choices, the LORD stated, “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsel and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward” (Jeremiah 7:24).

Jeremiah warned the people  of Judah of terrible days to come. He described the scene of a great slaughter that would take place at a sight known as the “valley of the son of Hinnom” where children were burned in a fire pit as a sacrifice to pagan gods (note on Jeremiah 7:31). As if he was paying a recompense to the unfortunate children that had been killed there, the LORD said he would turn the valley of Hinnom into a cemetery when the people of Judah were slaughtered there by the Babylonian invaders. He said, “Therefore, behold, the days will come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Himmom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet till there be no place. And the carcasses of the people shall be meat for the fowls of heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away” (Jeremiah 7:32-33).

Backsliding

A constant problem for God’s people while they were living in the Promised Land was backsliding. The prophet Jeremiah declared “The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every  high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot” (Jeremiah 3:6) The Hebrew word translated backsliding , meshubah means backturning (4878), as in turning your back on someone. Another translation of meshubah is the word faithless. In other words, the people of Israel lacked faith. They did not believe in God and would not repent of their sins against him.

God used the northern kingdom of Israel as an example of his judgment when he sent them into captivity in 722 B.C. In spite of the fact that the northern kingdom ceased to exist after that, the southern kingdom of Judah followed down the same pathway to destruction. Jeremiah remarked, “And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole hart, but feignedly, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:10). The Hebrew word translated feignedly, sheqer (sheh´ – ker) refers to an untruth or sham (8267). Sheqer defines a way of life that goes contrary to the law of God. Sheqer is a relational term signifying ‘”one’s inability to keep faith” with what one has said or to respond positively to the faithfulness of another being.”

It could be said that Judah had become desensitized to sin. It no longer bothered the people when they made sacrifices to idols. They were like prostitutes that perform sex acts for money. It was just a way to earn a living. The LORD declared, “Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have you dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:20). The strong language used to describe Israel’s betrayal indicated that it was intentional act. The people treated God as if he were their enemy and could not be trusted with the truth. The people of Judah no longer considered themselves to be children of God, but instead were acting like children of the  foreign god Baal.

Even though the situation with Judah seemed hopeless, God did not intend to abandon them as he had the northern kingdom of Israel. God said to them, “Return ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings” (Jeremiah 3;22). In order to cure his rebellious children of their backsliding, God would turn them over to the Babylonians so that they could experience life apart from him. The objective of their Babylonian captivity was to remind God’s people of what slavery was like. It had been hundreds of years since the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt. Over the course of seventy years, God expected the people of Judah to come to a point where they would say:

We lie down in shame, and our confusion covereth us:  for we have sinned against  the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God. (Jeremiah 3:25)