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 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).

Perfection

Jeremiah’s account of Judah’s captivity included unmistakable details that made it not only reliable, but verifiable. According to Jeremiah, it was foretold, “Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land… and this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jeremiah 25:11).

Jeremiah delivered this proclamation in the first year of Nebuchadrezzar’s reign (Jeremiah 25:1), which was in 605 B.C. The seventy year period was most likely from 586 B.C., when king Solomon’s temple was destroyed, to 516 B.C., when Zerubbabel’s temple was completed. The Hebrew word translated serve, ‘âbad (aw – bad´) means to work or to be enslaved. What was implied by the phrase “serve the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11) was the involuntary service or worship of another god.

God’s reference to Nebuchadrezzar as “my servant” (Jeremiah 25:9) was an indication that even though the people of Judah would be serving Nebuchadrezzar, they would still be serving God indirectly because the LORD was in control of their circumstances. In some ways, Nebuchadrezzar was no different that the kings of Israel. He was established in his position to carry out God’s plan for his people. Nebuchadrezzar was unlike the kings of Israel though, in that, he did not have a choice as to whether or not he would serve God’s purposes, he was merely hired or appointed to do a job.

When the seventy years of Judah’s captivity was finished, God said he would punish Nebuchadrezzar (Jeremiah 25:12) and recompense the nations and kings that had harmed Israel (Jeremiah 25:14). Essentially, what God intended to do was bring an end to the powers that were hindering his plan of salvation from being implemented. The Hebrew word translated recompense in Jeremiah 25:14, shâlam (shaw – lam´) means to finish or complete, but it also refers to God’s ability to achieve a state of perfection. In his punishment of Nebuchadrezzar, God would ultimately bring about his divine intent of returning his people to the Promised Land so that their Messiah could be born.

It’s not fair

Jeremiah’s job as a prophet to the nation of Judah caused him to be a target of abuse and slander. It says in Jeremiah 20:1-2, “Pashur the son of Immer the priest, who was also chief governor in the house of the LORD, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things. Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the LORD.”

Pashur had heard Jeremiah say that God was going to punish the people of Judah because they would not repent. Pashur’s actions gave the people the impression that Jeremiah was lying and was not a true prophet of God. Jeremiah was severely beaten and placed in a torturous device that would have caused him severe pain and discomfort. Pashur’s intention was to scare Jeremiah into silence. Instead, Jeremiah proclaimed:

And thou, Pashur, and all that dwell in thine house shall go into captivity: and thou shalt die, and shalt be buried there, thou, and all thy friends, to whom thou hast prophesied lies.

Jeremiah’s bold proclamation was not given as a result of his own strength, but because he feared God more than he feared Pashur. Jeremiah complained to the LORD about the unfair treatment he received. He said, “I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me” (Jeremiah 20:7). Jeremiah had become a laughing-stock and was mocked for speaking the truth. He was so upset by what was happening, that he wanted to give up his calling (Jeremiah 20:9).

In a moment of complete despair, Jeremiah revealed his feelings of depression and thought of suicide. He openly declared, “Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed, cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, a man child is born unto thee; making him very glad…because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave…wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labor and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?” (Jeremiah 20:14-18).

Jeremiah’s death wish was in part a testimony to the hopelessness of the situation in Judah. Even though Jeremiah would have rather been able to encourage the people of Judah with a message of God’s mercy, he knew their destruction was imminent and all he could do was try to warn them. Showing us that he felt like a man stuck between a rock and a hard place, Jeremiah declared of the LORD, “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forebearing, and I could not stay”

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 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.”