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.”

Ruined

Habakkuk believed that God would do what he said he was going to, and, therefore, Habakkuk knew that his life was about to be ruined. God had said the Chaldeans would come and completely destroy the nation of Judah. He also said everyone would be killed except for a small portion of the population that would be taken into captivity and would become slaves of the king of Babylon. Given what he knew, Habakkuk prayed, “O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid. O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years in the midst of the years make known, in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2).

Somehow, Habakkuk knew that God could show his people love in the midst of their punishment. He asked that God would revive his work and make himself known to his people while they were in captivity in Babylon. Habakkuk was most likely referring to God’s work of salvation. One of the key components to God’s plan was that the Messiah had to be a descendant of king David. In order for God to accomplish this, he had to preserve the royal blood line. Habakkuk didn’t know what would happen to him or his family when his country was invaded, but he believed that his salvation was assured and that was enough for him to trust God with the outcome of his situation.

Habakkuk declared, “Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundest the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah” (Habakkuk 3:13). Habakkuk was able to see there was more at stake than the occupation of the Promised Land by God’s people. Where they lived was not as important as the fact that the Israelites remained alive until God’s plan of salvation was completed. Habakkuk understood that God was preserving, as well as punishing, his chosen people by sending them into captivity.

Habakkuk’s concluding statement of faith showed that he was able to trust in God’s providence regardless of his circumstances. His anticipation of what was to come, caused Habakkuk to set his mind ahead of time that he would survive against all odds. Habakkuk confidently stated, “The LORD is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places” (Habakkuk 3:19). Although Habakkuk’s fate is unknown, it is possible he escaped Jerusalem before it was invaded and became a member of the first wave of what has been described as the dispersion of the Jews. He may have set out for a far off land, leaving behind his prophetic writing as a testament to his belief that God would protect and preserve those of his people who truly put their trust in him.

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.

A consolation

Jeremiah cared about the people of Judah and was distressed because God was going to destroy them. Just as others thought it was against God’s nature to harm his chosen people, so Jeremiah thought he might be able to intercede and change God’s mind about what he planned to do. In response to Jeremiah’s plea for mercy, God said, “Thus saith the LORD unto this people, Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet, therefore the LORD doth not accept them; he will now remember their iniquity, and visit their sin. Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good” (Jeremiah 14:10-11).

Jeremiah’s concern for God’s people prompted the LORD to give him an answer to the question, What’s going to happen to us? The LORD told Jeremiah, “And it shall come to pass, if they say unto thee, Whither shall we go forth? then thou shalt tell them, Thus saith the LORD; Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for famine, to the famine; and such as are for captivity, to the captivity” (Jeremiah 15:2). God did not intend for everyone to die. He would intervene on behalf of a segment of the population referred to as the remnant (Jeremiah 15:11). God would save these people from death, “so as to demonstrate the divine intervention in the normal course of events to bring about or fulfil a divine intent (6485), specifically, the birth of Christ.

The people that would escape death would still be punished for their sins by having to go into captivity. These people would lose everything with regards to their possessions and would likely lose many family members and friends. The only consolation would be they would be treated well by their enemies. God explained, “Verily it shall be well with thy remnant; verily I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well in the time of evil, and in the time of affliction…And I will make thee to pass with thine enemies unto a land which thou knowest not: for a fire is kindled in mine anger, which shall burn upon you” (Jeremiah 15:11,14).

The only clue as to who would be appointed to go into captivity rather than to die when Jerusalem was destroyed may be found in Jeremiah 15:16, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them: and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.” It is likely when the book of the law was found in the temple in 621 B.C., during king Josiah’s reign (2 Kings 22:8), that some of the people actually took the word of God to heart and made an attempt to follow its instructions. Although these people probably did not repent and confess their sins to God, they may have believed the word of God was true and wanted to receive salvation.

 

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).

 

Broken relationships

One of the consequences of the people of Judah going into captivity was broken relationships. While God’s people were dwelling in the Promised Land, land ownership laws kept them in the same general location for hundreds of years. Although it was possible to sell land, every 50 years ownership returned to the family of origin. Therefore, there was little change in the city of residence for most people. As a result, relationships were stable and the majority of families remained in tact. Like when the Nazis tried to exterminate the Jews in the 1940s, family members were probably separated and forced into different transient camps by their Babylonian captors. It is possible family members were scattered throughout the Babylonian empire during their captivity so that relationship structures that supported the Israelite culture would cease to exist.

Jeremiah declared, “Therefore thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will lay stumblingblocks before this people, and the fathers and the sons together shall fall upon them; the neighbor and his friend shall perish” (Jeremiah 6:21). The stumblingblock was a symbol of being broken. Jeremiah’s reference to the fathers and the sons together falling on the stumblingblock was most likely meant to convey the idea of a joint effort to sustain the family being a futile attempt against the cruel and merciless Babylonian army (Jeremiah 6:23). The neighbor and his friend were people that had lived in close proximity to each other their entire lives and were like extended family members to each other. In all likelihood, the word perish meant that these kinds of relationships would cease to exist. and every man would suffer alone during his time in captivity.

Jeremiah described a scene of devastation in which everyone would be weeping bitterly. He said, “O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation: for the spoiler shall suddenly come upon us” (Jeremiah 6:26). The Hebrew word translated spoiler, shadad (shaw – dad´) may have been a term used to describe a calamity. Figuratively, shadad refers to something or someone powerful (7703), but it also carries the connotation of a rushing wind or a tempestuous storm (7665, 7722), something like a tornado that moves quickly and leaves behind a path of destruction. Jeremiah predicted the spoiler would come quickly and unexpectedly as when a child dies of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). In the end, the peoples’ lives would be left empty and worthless. Jeremiah declared, “Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the LORD hath rejected them” (Jeremiah 6:30).

 

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)

Hidden

Within the framework of the Mosaic Law was a provision for God’s people to receive mercy if they would repent from their sins. Because they had taken advantage of this provision numerous times, there came a point when God basically said, that’s enough. You will have to be punished in order to learn your lesson. The way that God chose to discipline his children was to allow them to be taken into captivity by their enemies, the Babylonians. Before the end of their time in the Promised Land, God spoke to the people of Judah and warned them that the end was coming. In one last attempt to spare them from destruction, God sent the prophet Zephaniah to tell the people that “the great day of the LORD” was near (Zephaniah 1:14).

Zephaniah did not offer the people of Judah an opportunity to escape their punishment, but he did say there was a way they could escape death. He said, “Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger” (Zephaniah 2:3). Zephaniah told the people the way for them to be saved was through humility, asking the LORD’s help. The Hebrew word translated seek, baqash means to search out by any method, but specifically it refers to worship and prayer (1245). God’s ultimate goal was to restore his relationship with his people. It was only because they had turned away from him repeatedly that he was forced to discipline them.

The best way to understand the process of salvation was for Zephaniah to let the people know they were lost. Jesus often told parables about things being lost to illustrate God’s desire to reconcile with those people that had been separated from him by sin (Matthew 10:6, 15:24, 18:11). When Cain killed his brother Abel, he was sent out and prevented from ever seeing God’s face again (Genesis 4:14). In actuality, what happened was that Cain was hidden from God’s sight. In a sense, you could say he was invisible to God. The Israelites had committed so many sins while they was living in the Promised Land that God could no longer look at them. They were too disgusting for him to look at. The only way God could reconcile with them was to punish his children and force them to repent.

Zephaniah’s call to repentance included the possibility that God might still show mercy to those people that humbled themselves before him. In the same way that they had been hidden from God’s sight, Zephaniah suggested the people “seek righteousness, seek meekness; it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger (Zephaniah 2:3). In this instance, the word hid refers to someone hiding or sheltering a person from his enemies (5641). In other words, God could conceal the repentant sinner from the Babylonian army so that his life would be spared and he would be taken into captivity instead of killed. If God’s people remained alive, God promised he would allow them to return to Jerusalem when their captivity was over (Zephaniah 2:7).

Repentance

A requirement for repentance is an awareness that you have done something wrong. You don’t necessarily have to be aware of a law in order to break it, but you do have to be aware of it in order to feel sorry that you broke it. An example of this is the person that gets a speeding ticket. Before he was stopped by a police officer, he may not have been aware that he was driving 15 mph over the speed limit. Depending on whether or not he can afford the fine or wants to have the ticket on his driving record, he may feel sorry afterwards that he broke the law.

“To repent means to make a strong turning to a new course of action…Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action” (5162). Before the Israelites were taken into captivity, they formed alliances with the nations around them and often paid tribute to foreign kings in order to avoid war. The children of Israel stopped expecting God to defend and protect them and were arrogant about their military capabilities (Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah 701 B.C.). One of the reasons the people didn’t repent was they were no longer reading God’s word (2 Kings 22:8).

God intended the exile of the nation of Israel to bring the people of the southern kingdom of Judah to their senses. Whereas they had been dwelling safe and secure in the city of Jerusalem for hundreds of years, Sennacherib’s successful attacks on Judah’s fortresses served as a warning that God was no longer protecting his people as he had before (Isaiah 36:1). Judah’s appeal to God shows they were beginning to get the message. Isaiah declared, “O that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, as when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence” (Isaiah 64:1-2).

By the time the people of Judah were taken into captivity they had become aware of their moral failure. Isaiah declared, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as the leaf; and our iniquities like the wind have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6). Isaiah was speaking prophetically, so at that time, the people were still rebelling against God. It wasn’t until they were in captivity that the people began to repent.

Isaiah spoke of the inevitability of Judah’s captivity, but the actual event was still almost a hundred years away. Isaiah indicated that in the end, everyone would abandon their faith and turn away from God. He said, “And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou has consumed us, because of our iniquities” (Isaiah 64:7). In essence, Isaiah was saying that God was no longer paying attention to what was going on with his people. Although he hadn’t abandoned them completely, the LORD was not working for, but against them.

Only a remnant of God’s people would return to the Promised Land after their captivity in Babylon. Those that would return were expected to do so because they had repented of their sin. One of the characteristics of repentance is submission to the will of God. Isaiah described a change of heart that would be evident in the remnant in terms of clay, that which can easily be molded and shaped into a usable vessel. He said, “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thine hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

Phase Two

The LORD identified Cyrus king of Persia as the shepherd that would lead his people out of captivity (Isaiah 44:28). God referred to Cyrus as his anointed (Isaiah 45:1), a term associated with Israel’s Messiah. In Cyrus’ case, this title meant that he was consecrated by God for a special office or function. Cyrus was a pagan king that did not know God. The LORD declared about him, “For my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me” (Isaiah 45:4).

God intended to use Cyrus for his own purposes in order to demonstrate his sovereign control over all his creation. In explaining this strategy the LORD said, “That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:6-7). Cyrus’ connection to Israel’s Messiah made it possible for God’s people to see that Jesus was to be the savior of the world, not just Israel.

The idea that God would save the world was a new concept for the Israelites because up to that point the Gentiles were excluded from having a relationship with God. If Israel had kept God’s commandments, they might have been able to retain their exclusive rights to his inheritance (Isaiah 48:18), but as it were, they chose to rebel and forfeited that right (Isaiah 48:19). Therefore, the LORD said, “Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them” (Isaiah 48:6).

The Israelites’ captivity would prepare them for a new assignment. Phase two of God’s redemption plan required his people to become messengers, spreading God’s word throughout the earth. The scattering of God’s people was not just to punish them. God had always intended for the world to hear of his fame. What the Israelites didn’t know, and were being told for the first time, was they would be sharing their story with the Gentiles in order to get them to repent.

Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob. And they thirsted not when he led them through deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out. There is no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked. (Isaiah 48:20-22)