Jeremiah 47-52

Jeremiah 47-52…Conclusion of Jeremiah

Today we conclude our look at the book of Jeremiah. Despite occasional passages that are quite hopeful for the people of Judah (for example, Jer. 12:14–17; 31:31–37; 50:19–20), we have seen that most of Jeremiah’s prophecies are negative, foreseeing the sure destruction of Jerusalem and exile of Judah. How, then, did Jeremiah intend for the people of God to walk away after reading His work? What was his last word about the future of Jacob’s children?

We do not know how or when Jeremiah died, though many ancient traditions suggest he died in Egypt, where he was taken after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.(43:1–7). Chronologically speaking, Jeremiah’s final recorded words point to great trouble for the unfaithful Jews who escaped to Egypt (chap. 44). Yet Jeremiah does not conclude his work with those negative words; rather, he takes time in chapter 52 to narrate Babylon’s conquest of Jerusalem again, an event that took place some months or years prior to Jeremiah’s delivering his last prophecy before he died. The last thing he wanted the people of God to remember was not his final sermon but the fall of Jerusalem and the events related to it.

At first glance, it seems that Jeremiah wanted his original readers to walk away soberminded and sad, to not forget that impenitently disobeying the covenant Lord of Scripture leads finally to disaster. No doubt that is part of what he meant to convey. However, that is not the whole story, for chapter 52 ends not in devastated Jerusalem but rather in Babylon. Jeremiah concludes his work with a brief account of what happened to King Jehoiachin.

You will remember that Jehoiachin was the grandson of Josiah who reigned only three months in Judah. He and most of the royal family, as well as several leading officials in Jerusalem, were captured by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. and taken to Babylon when the Babylonians came to punish King Jehoiakim. By the time they got there, Jehoiakim was dead, so they took Jehoiachin instead and installed Zedekiah in his place (2 Kings 24:1–17).

Thirty-six years after Jehoiachin was captured, Nebuchadnezzar’s son Evil-merodach became king of Babylon and released Jehoiachin from prison. Although Jehoiachin had to remain in Babylon, he was given a higher seat, a more prominent place, than all the other kings Babylon had captured (Jer. 52:31–34). This is not an incidental detail but rather a hopeful sign that David’s throne had not been forgotten. The King of Judah would be exalted once more, which could only mean that God would indeed restore His people.

 

Jeremiah 44-46

Jeremiah 44-46…The Lord pursues His people.

Although Johanan the son of Kareah and the rest of the Jewish insurgents left behind in Judah after Jerusalem fell came to Jeremiah asking for a word from the Lord (Jer. 42:1–3), the people listened only to what they wanted to hear. Despite claiming that they would listen to whatever God said, the people rebelled as soon as the Lord said He did not want them to go to Egypt (42:4–43:2). They even accused Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch of setting the prophet against them (v. 3). Why they made this charge is unclear, but maybe the people thought Baruch, as a younger man, could easily confuse Jeremiah, who was quite elderly at that point. However, Baruch was nothing but a loyal servant of the Lord and His prophet.

In any case, Johanan and the others went to Egypt, forcing Jeremiah and Baruch to go with them (vv. 4–7). Though they rejected his counsel regarding the move to Egypt, perhaps they believed Jeremiah heard from the Lord at least occasionally, and they wanted to make sure they covered all their bases when it came to hearing from God. However, their sin indicates that they had no real desire to obey the truth. They thought they would escape Babylon’s sword in Egypt, but Jeremiah told the people that the sword would find them. Babylon would wreak devastation on Pharaoh’s land as it had on Judah (vv. 8–13).

Given the people’s sin in fleeing to Egypt, we are not surprised to find that the Jews soon got caught up in the paganism of their new home country. We read of this idolatry in Jeremiah 44. Chronologically, this chapter represents the last oracle Jeremiah spoke during his lifetime to be recorded in Scripture. The people had learned nothing from the destruction of Jerusalem but continued in the same idolatry that led to the exile. They were trying to serve the one true God and worship “the queen of heaven”—the goddess Astarte—at the same time (vv. 15–23). Confronted with their sin, the people refused to repent (vv. 24–30). This did not bode well for the repentance required for the true restoration of Israel, and the prophet Daniel tells us that such repentance still had not manifested itself decades later (Lev. 26:40–42; Dan. 9:1–19).

Due to their obstinacy, God would prevent Egypt from providing the shelter that the Judahites sought therein. Barely a remnant of that generation would survive to return to Judah (Jer. 44:11–14). The people sinned in going to Egypt but the Lord kept speaking to them anyway, and they would be judged for not obeying Him.

 

Jeremiah 41-43

Jeremiah 41-43…The discipline of Judah.

Egypt holds an interesting place in the Old Testament as both Israel’s greatest adversary and one to whom the old covenant community frequently turned for help. On the one hand, Egypt enslaved Jacob’s children for hundreds of years (Gen. 15:12–16; Ex. 12:40–42). However, once the Israelites were liberated, they grumbled about life in the wilderness, and longed for the melons and other treats they had eaten in Egypt (Num. 11:1–6). During the divided monarchy, prophets often had to warn the people not to trust in alliances with Egypt against foes such as Assyria and Babylon (Isa. 30:1–7). Try as it might, the old covenant community could not see why it should not ally itself with a world power such as Egypt.

Jeremiah 42 illustrates that God’s discipline of Judah via Babylon did little to get the ancient Judahites to reconsider that perspective. Having seen Jerusalem fall in fulfillment of the Lord’s revelation through Jeremiah and the other prophets (Isa. 39; Jer. 38–39; Hab. 1:5–11), one might think that the Judahites would have known that the prophetic warnings about trusting Egypt should be followed. In other words, one would expect that the few people left in the land after Babylon took the majority of citizens into exile would avoid the Egyptians “like the plague.” That, however, is not what happened.

Ishmael the son of Netaniah, a relative of King Zedekiah who had escaped Babylonian captivity, had recently murdered Gedaliah, the governor Babylon appointed to rule the few Judahites left in the land who were trying to eke out an existence (Jer. 40:13–41:10). Johanan the son of Kareah, a leader of the Judahite insurgents who had also escaped Babylon, forced Ishmael to flee (41:11–18), leaving the insurgents with the decision as to what they should do after Gedaliah was dead. Nebuchadnezzar was sure to have heard of Ishmael’s actions and would seek to restore order to the newest portion of his empire. So, Johanan and his crew set out for Egypt to escape the chaos that would ensue (v. 17), but not before consulting with Jeremiah as to whether that course of action was wise (42:1–6).

God promised safety if the people were to stay in Judah but certain destruction otherwise (vv. 7–20). Regrettably, their minds were made up, and in trying to escape famine and the sword in Judah, they would find it in the pharaoh’s land (vv. 21–22). Despite having seen the Word of the Lord come true with their own eyes in Jerusalem’s fall, the people still did not trust Him. This lack of trust did not bode well for the nation’s immediate restoration.

Jeremiah 38-40

Jeremiah 38-40…The Fall of Jerusalem

Jeremiah records the fall of Jerusalem twice in his book, and Jeremiah 39 is the first account of it. Commentators believe he recorded the event twice in order to mark the end of the portion containing the prophecies given to Judah before it fell to Babylon (chap. 39) and then to conclude the book, somewhat ironically, on a note of hope, as we will see next week (chap. 52). In any case, Jerusalem’s fall was the final act in Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of the city after Zedekiah rebelled against the empire. It actually took Babylon about two years to conquer Jerusalem. Although the empire came against Zedekiah and the city as soon as the king rejected its status as a client state of the Babylonian empire, there was a temporary reprieve when Egypt intervened. But once Egypt had been beaten back, the siege resumed in earnest and Jerusalem fell, fulfilling God’s warning that Babylon would capture the nation if His people did not repent (2 Kings 24:18–25:7; Jer. 32:1–2; 37:1–5; 39).

Ancient empires commonly used siege warfare to subdue a people, surrounding a city and effectively imprisoning its citizens within its walls. Without access to farms and wells outside the city walls, the people eventually used up the limited supplies of food and water, and both famine and pestilence ensued. Eventually, the people were too weak to resist any longer, and the army that was besieging the city would break through and conquer it. This is exactly what happened when Babylon conquered Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:3; Jer. 38:2). In keeping with ancient practices of shaming an enemy, Babylon slaughtered King Zedekiah’s sons and advisors, fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy that a refusal to surrender to Babylon would bring about the end of the house of Zedekiah (Jer. 39:6–8; see 38:17–23).

Zedekiah and his court fell to Babylon because of their faithlessness, but God did not overlook the service of Jeremiah and his friends. We read in today’s passage of how Nebuchadnezzar kept Jeremiah safe, ordering his captain of the guard, Nebuzaradan, to take good care of the prophet. Jeremiah was entrusted into the care of Gedaliah, the governor Babylon left behind to rule over the few impoverished Judahites that Nebuchadnezzar allowed to stay in Judah after he carried the vast majority of Jews into exile (39:10–14; see 2 Kings 25:22).

But God was also faithful to Gentiles who believed in Him. The Lord also preserved the life of Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian who helped rescue Jeremiah from the cistern (Jer. 39:15– 18; see 38:7–13). Our Creator is no respecter of persons but will save all who trust Him.

Jeremiah 35-37

Jeremiah 35-37…The Lord is patient.

Numbers 14:18 tells us that “the LORD is slow to anger,” and the ministry of Jeremiah is one of the best examples of this in Scripture. Prior to the prophet’s work, God had already been putting up with Judah for hundreds of years, disciplining the nation for its sin but not bringing it to an end (2 Kings 18:13–37; 2 Chron. 33:1–20). Jeremiah did not come on the scene until 627 B.C., just before Judah went into exile, but even then God was patient for a few more decades, not handing Jerusalem over finally to the Babylonians until 586 B.C.

Given passages such as Jeremiah 36, we are amazed the Lord waited that long. Even after the events recorded therein, God gave Judah further opportunities to repent. Zedekiah, not Jehoiakim, was the last king of Judah before the exile, which means that the episode recorded in today’s passage occurred prior to the events of chapters 32–33 that we considered yesterday. The year was 605–604 B.C. and Babylon had just reasserted itself as the dominant power in the region, forcing Jehoiakim and the kings of the surrounding nations to pay him tribute (2 Kings 24:1a). Jehoiakim would revolt against Babylon three years later (vv. 1b–7), which demonstrates his stubborn rejection of God’s Word because Jeremiah had long prophesied about the enemy from the north—Babylon (Jer. 1:14; 6:1). Yet Jehoiakim showed disbelief in the Lord even before then. While it was yet possible to turn back to the Lord, when God showed grace in 605–604 B.C. by proving His Word via bringing Babylon to Judah’s edge, Jehoiakim attempted to destroy the words of the Lord by fire (36:23).

Baruch the son of Neriah (see 32:12), Jeremiah’s faithful scribe, put Jeremiah’s prophecies into writing, as we read in today’s passage. He even read them aloud to the Judahites when the officials had banned “that troublemaker Jeremiah” from ministering openly (36:1–10). When Baruch did so during Jehoiakim’s reign, the king turned down his chance to repent. In fact, his burning of Jeremiah’s words marked a turning point in the history of God’s people. The Judahites had long been guilty of idolatry, which generally consisted of the worship of other gods alongside Yahweh—a great sin indeed. But from one perspective, it was not the worst rejection of the one true God possible because some attention was paid to Him. Jehoiakim, however, defiantly, fearlessly, and foolishly said that he wanted nothing at all to do with Yahweh by burning Jeremiah’s scroll (vv. 23–25). Despite the wickedness of Judah’s previous kings, none of them had rejected the Lord so brazenly.

 

 

Jeremiah 20-22

Jeremiah 20-22…King Jesus

Deuteronomy 17:14–20 ranks among the most influential biblical passages in history, though many people may not know it. It is one of the foundations for the traditional concept in Western jurisprudence and constitutional theory known as lex rex, the idea that the law is king—that rulers are subject to the laws of a nation no less than ordinary citizens. Long ago, God revealed through Moses that kings had no license to break the law but were subject to its dictates and responsible to know and enforce it.

In ancient Judah, good kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah (2 Kings 18:1–8; 22) kept the law of Moses and led the country’s citizens in obedience to its statutes. Bad kings broke God’s law, and prophets such as Jeremiah were tasked with calling such rulers to repentance along with the ordinary citizens. Jeremiah 22 contains oracles against several kings of ancient Judah and begins with general principles for every ruler (vv. 1–10). Verse 3 calls the king to “do justice and righteousness” by protecting foreigners residing in the country, victims of crime, widows, and orphans. Kings were also not to shed innocent blood, and this probably refers to a prohibition of child sacrifice or a command to maintain law and order so that people were not committing violence in the street. All of these rules are found in the Mosaic law (Ex. 22:21–22; Lev. 18:21; 19:33; Deut. 27:19), and the king was not doing his job when he failed to obey these statutes.

For a king and his household to remain on the throne of Judah, obedience to these laws was required (Jer. 22:4). Impenitent disobedience, on the other hand, would remove a king and his dynasty (v. 5). Of course, God’s solemn covenant with David guaranteed that his offspring would reign over the children of the Lord (2 Sam. 7), but that does not mean every offspring was promised the throne in Jerusalem. Flagrant covenant violation via persistent idolatry would lead to the fall of Jerusalem, and were this to happen, even the pagans would know why the city was destroyed (Jer. 22:8–10).

During Jeremiah’s lifetime, all of Judah’s kings with the exception of Josiah failed to live up to this ideal. Jehoiakim, for example, dwelled in Lebanon (v. 23). That is, he was content to live in a palace made from the choice cedar of Lebanon—he lavished resources on himself without paying attention to the true needs of the people. The wicked kings after Josiah proved that a new son of David was needed in Judah.

Jeremiah 17-19

Jeremiah 17-19…Heart change.

In the law of Moses, indeed in the Bible as a whole, there is much stress laid on outward behavior and how we are to treat our neighbors. Yet the Mosaic law is clear that mere external conformity to its demands is insufficient. The Lord demands an obedience that goes far deeper than that. His standards must be on our heart—they must impact our motives, thinking, emotions, and everything else that we are both inside and out (Deut. 6:6). This is a hard truth to grasp, which is why God emphasizes it from the beginning of His dealings with the people of Israel. The five books of Moses often stress the need for a circumcised heart that is set apart to love the Lord above all else (10:12, 16).

Jeremiah emphasizes the need for a changed heart in chapter 17, by reminding his readers of our hearts’ condition apart from God’s grace. Born in sin, our hearts are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). We do not, apart from Christ, love the truth. We rationalize the irrational and defend the indefensible. We harbor malice, lust, covetousness, and all manner of secret sins. This is what Scripture tells us from beginning to end (Rom. 1:18–32). Matthew Henry comments, “There is wickedness in our hearts which we ourselves are not aware of and do not suspect to be there.”

The prophet Jeremiah saw this so clearly because of the era in which he lived. During Josiah’s reign, Judah enjoyed what appeared to be a great revival, culminating in one of the grandest Passover celebrations ever (2 Chron. 34:1–35:19). However, though Josiah had true piety, the nation as a whole experienced only a skin-deep revival. Jeremiah 17:1–4 reveals that the people never truly gave up “their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills.” The hearts of the people under Josiah were far from God, and there was only rote observation of true religion. Ultimately, the people were not trusting God and His Word, but they looked to whoever was currently in charge to direct their piety. There was no deep personal attachment to the Lord, so the people were just as happy worshipping the gods of Canaan as they were praising Yahweh.

Josiah was a good man, much better than his grandfather Manasseh (2 Kings 21:1–18; 22:1–23:30). Nevertheless, because the Judahites trusted in the king, not in the Lord, reformation did not go far enough. It is always folly to trust mere men for one’s reconciliation to God, no matter how good and holy such men happen to be (Jer. 17:5–8).

 

Jeremiah 5-13

Jeremiah 5-13…False confidence.

Paying attention to only part of what God says always gets us into trouble. Today, for example, we routinely hear people confess, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Many who do this, however, then affirm that one can be saved apart from Christ. Such individuals might confess that even a professed atheist will go to heaven as long as he treats others kindly. These people pass over the fact that in His love, God sent His only Son as the one way of salvation for the world (John 3:16; 14:6). In not heeding all that Scripture says about divine love, they reach false conclusions about the exclusivity of Jesus.

Modern people are not the first to read God’s Word selectively. Today’s passage records Jeremiah’s famous sermon against those who trusted in the words “this is the temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7:3–4). The threefold repetition of this phrase could indicate the ultimate confidence the Judahites placed in possessing the temple. Or, it could mean the words formed a mantra the people spoke whenever Jeremiah warned them of divine wrath. Either way, the Judahites thought God’s choice of the nation and His placement of the temple in Jerusalem meant He would never allow the city to fall. This selective reading of Scripture, however, ignored the Lord’s purpose in choosing Judah.

The Lord chose the children of Jacob to be a holy nation (Ex. 19:6), and failure to keep His covenant would bring about the ultimate penalty of exile (Deut. 28). Professing faith in the covenant Lord of Israel and having Abraham as one’s forefather were not enough for salvation; the people had to possess faith in the Almighty and demonstrate it via love of God and neighbor. Thus, Jeremiah told Judah that they had to care for the destitute (evidencing love of neighbor) and abandon other gods (evidencing love of God) to be preserved from destruction (Jer. 7:5–7). Dr. John L. Mackay comments, “The Temple guaranteed them nothing if they were living lives of rebellion” (Jeremiah, vol. 1, pp. 301–302).

We do not gain the righteous status by which we are justified and given citizenship in His kingdom by obeying the Lord. Faith alone in the promises of God alone avails for justification, which is fulfilled as we trust in Christ alone (Rom. 3:21–26). But the signs that we have justifying faith are repentance and a good-faith effort to follow the Lord. Judah forgot this in Jeremiah’s day, but they should have known better. After all, the people’s possession of the ark at Shiloh in the days of Eli was no help to the impenitent (Jer. 7:8–15; 1 Sam. 4).