Too Stubborn to Listen.

Now when the Chaldean army had withdrawn from Jerusalem at the approach of Pharaoh’s army, Jeremiah set out from Jerusalem to go to the land of Benjamin to receive his portion there among the people. When he was at the Benjamin Gate, a sentry there named Irijah the son of Shelemiah, son of Hananiah, seized Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “You are deserting to the Chaldeans.” And Jeremiah said, “It is a lie; I am not deserting to the Chaldeans.” But Irijah would not listen to him, and seized Jeremiah and brought him to the officials. And the officials were enraged at Jeremiah, and they beat him and imprisoned him in the house of Jonathan the secretary, for it had been made a prison.

When Jeremiah had come to the dungeon cells and remained there many days, King Zedekiah sent for him and received him. The king questioned him secretly in his house and said, “Is there any word from the Lord?” Jeremiah said, “There is.” Then he said, “You shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon.” Jeremiah also said to King Zedekiah, “What wrong have I done to you or your servants or this people, that you have put me in prison? Where are your prophets who prophesied to you, saying, ‘The king of Babylon will not come against you and against this land’? Now hear, please, O my lord the king: let my humble plea come before you and do not send me back to the house of Jonathan the secretary, lest I die there.” So King Zedekiah gave orders, and they committed Jeremiah to the court of the guard. And a loaf of bread was given him daily from the bakers’ street, until all the bread of the city was gone. So Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard. Jeremiah 37:1-10 ESV

Verse 5 of this chapter tells us that there was a brief respite in the siege against Jerusalem when the Babylonians abandoned their camps outside the walls in order to deal with a threat from the Egyptians. During this break in the action, Jeremiah made an attempt to leave the city in order to conduct some personal business in the nearby area belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. But as Jeremiah tried to leave the city, he was recognized by one of the guards and accused of trying to defect to the Babylonians. Obviously, Jeremiah was well known in Jerusalem. He had a reputation and it was not a good one. He was the prophet who was always prophesying doom and gloom. He was not well-liked or appreciated by the people. And even the sentry, a man named Irijah, thought Jeremiah was up to no good. His accusation that Jeremiah was defecting to the Babylonians was essentially a charge of treason. And Irijah probably remembered the words of Jeremiah, spoken to the people of Jerusalem, and assumed that Jeremiah was taking advantage of the lifting of the siege to escape the coming destruction.

“Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who go out and surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life!” – Jeremiah 22:9 NLT

In the very next chapter, we will see the officials of the city accuse Jeremiah of treason.

“Sir, this man must die! That kind of talk will undermine the morale of the few fighting men we have left, as well as that of all the people. This man is a traitor!” – Jeremiah 38:4 NLT

And the “kind of talk” they refer to are the words of Jeremiah encouraging the people to leave the city and surrender to the Babylonians.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life. They will live!’” – Jeremiah 38:2 NLT

So, it seems that Irijah had every right to suspect Jeremiah’s intentions. And while Jeremiah would vehemently deny the accusation, he was arrested and dragged before the city officials. They were incensed and had Jeremiah flogged and imprisoned. This is a markedly different reaction from the city officials than the one they had when Baruch read the scroll containing the words of God recorded back in chapter six. On that occasion, they had responded positively. In fact, they had told Baruch and Jeremiah to hide. And when they had brought the scroll to King Jehoiakim and he had burned it, they pleaded with him to stop. But something had changed. At this point in the story, they are fed up with Jeremiah. There is a new king and the intensity of the Babylonian siege has everybody on edge. So, when they get the change to take out some of their frustration and anger on Jeremiah, they do so. He was eventually moved to a dungeon cell, where he remained for many days.

Some time later, King Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah and asks him an interesting question: “Do you have any messages from the Lord?” (Jeremiah 37:17 NLT). This is an interesting question. What was Zedekiah expecting Jeremiah to say? For several decades not, Jeremiah had said the same things over and over. His messages had not changed. His words of warning from God had not varied one iota. So, what was Zedekiah thinking the prophet was going to say? Did he really believe that throwing Jeremiah in prison was going to force him to give an upbeat message, rather than a negative one. Was brute force and intimidation against God’s prophet going to change the will of God? We aren’t told what the motivation behind Zedekiah’s question was, but we can assume that he was looking for good news. Yet, he would be disappointed, once again.

Jeremiah’s news was short and sweet: “You will be defeated by the king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 37:17 NLT). Probably not what Zedekiah was hoping to hear. But Jeremiah told him the truth. He could have lied and told the king that all would be well. Jeremiah could have told Zedekiah what he wanted to hear and been freed for doing so. But he would not lie. He could not bring himself to speak anything but what he had heard from God.

He did have a question for the king though. He wanted to know why he was being held a prisoner. He had committed no crime. All he had done was prophecy truth. In fact, he challenged the king to compare the words of Jeremiah with those of the false prophets who had been saying that all would be well. What was right? Who had been telling the truth? The siege engines were just outside the walls. The signs of famine, disease and death were everywhere. Jeremiah’s predictions had come true, signifying that they were from God. So, the only thing Jeremiah could be accused of was speaking the truth. And Jeremiah pleads with the king not to put him back in the dungeon for fear that he would die there. Zedekiah agrees to move Jeremiah from the dungeon, but still keeps him a prisoner, placing him in “the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace” (Jeremiah 37:21 NLT), and ordering that he be fed as long as any bread remained available in the city. It seems that Zedekiah still feared that Jeremiah might attempt to run away, so he kept him under lock and key. He was going to make sure that Jeremiah was there to experience every single aspect of the prophecies he had delivered against the city of Jerusalem.

Zedekiah was looking for a way to get out of this terrible jam. He had been placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar. And as soon as he was made king, he had gone out of his way to rebel against Babylon. He attempted to make an alliance with Egypt, which is why the Babylonians had temporarily lifted their siege. They were off dealing with a potential threat from the Egyptians. But it wouldn’t last. The Egyptians would run and the Babylonians would return. And yet, Zedekiah kept looking for ways to change the outcome. He kept hoping for a way out of the predicament they were in. But rather than repent, he kept scheming. Instead of returning to God in humility, he kept searching for ways to escape God’s wrath. Zedekiah represents all those who have heard the call of God, but refuse to heed it. He is that stubborn, hard-headed individual who knows what God requires, but is determined to find another way. He has been offered mercy from God if he will only do what God says. He doesn’t want to do thing God’s way. He has a mind of his own. His will takes precedence over God’s will. He thinks he knows what is best. But he will be proved dramatically wrong. His stubbornness will be his downfall. His refusal to submit to God will result in his humiliation before Nebuchadnezzar.

Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. – Proverbs 11:2 NLT

Haughtiness goes before destruction; humility precedes honor. – Proverbs 18:12 NLT

Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor. – Proverbs 29:23 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

Pray For Us!

Zedekiah the son of Josiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah, reigned instead of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim. But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land listened to the words of the Lord that he spoke through Jeremiah the prophet.

King Zedekiah sent Jehucal the son of Shelemiah, and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, to Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “Please pray for us to the Lord our God.” Now Jeremiah was still going in and out among the people, for he had not yet been put in prison. The army of Pharaoh had come out of Egypt. And when the Chaldeans who were besieging Jerusalem heard news about them, they withdrew from Jerusalem.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet: “Thus says the Lord, God of Israel: Thus shall you say to the king of Judah who sent you to me to inquire of me, ‘Behold, Pharaoh’s army that came to help you is about to return to Egypt, to its own land. And the Chaldeans shall come back and fight against this city. They shall capture it and burn it with fire. Thus says the Lord, Do not deceive yourselves, saying, “The Chaldeans will surely go away from us,” for they will not go away. For even if you should defeat the whole army of Chaldeans who are fighting against you, and there remained of them only wounded men, every man in his tent, they would rise up and burn this city with fire.’” Jeremiah 37:1-10 ESV

Fast-forward about 18 years. Chapter 37 chronicles events that take place almost two decades after those recorded in chapter 36. Zedekiah is now the king of Judah and the Babylonians, referred to as the Chaldeans, are laying siege to Jerusalem. Jehoiachin (Coniah), the son of Jehoiakim, took the throne after his father, but only lasted three months before he surrendered to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and was taken captive. Then, Nebuchadnezzar replaced him with his uncle, Mattaniah, whose name was changed to Zedekiah.

The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign and carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the Lord had foretold. He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land. And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war.  – 2 Kings 24:12-16 ESV

Jehoiachin’s surrender was costly. It not only meant his own captivity and deportation, but that of his mother, wives and all his chief officials. On top of that. the Babylonians plundered the palace and the temple; and took thousands of leading citizens of Jerusalem back to Babylon as slaves.

Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah became a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar, answering directly to the Babylonian king and commanded to pay an annual tribute tax. In the face of the ongoing presence of the Babylonians in Judah and the knowledge that God had predicted the fall and destruction of Jerusalem, Zedekiah sent two emissaries to plead with Jeremiah to pray to God on the nation’s behalf. But this time, Zedekiah would have been well aware of God’s predictions of the coming fall of the nation and the less-than-pleasant end that Zedekiah would face.

Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire. You shall not escape from his hand but shall surely be captured and delivered into his hand. You shall see the king of Babylon eye to eye and speak with him face to face. And you shall go to Babylon. – Jeremiah 34:2-3 ESV

Of course, this prophecy doesn’t sound so bad, but the actual way it all panned out paints a much more bleak and painful image.

Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, they waited for nightfall. Then they slipped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden and headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and caught him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:4-7 NLT

But in spite of God’s warnings against Zedekiah, he refused to repent. Instead, he asked the prophet to pray for he and the nation. He wanted to God’s forgiveness without showing any signs of repentance. He wanted God to show grace and mercy, while he and the people were unwilling to show any signs of true heart change. Part of what seems to have motivated Zedekiah’s request for prayer was the presence of the Egyptians. It seems that he had made a deal with the Egyptians to help bail them out of trouble. In the book of 2 Kings, we read that: “Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon” (2 Kings 24:20 NLT). But while Zedekiah had high hopes that God might use the Egyptians to buy relief from the onslaught of the Babylonians, it was not to be. God gave him bad news:

“Pharaoh’s army is about to return to Egypt, though he came here to help you. Then the Babylonians will come back and capture this city and burn it to the ground.” – Jeremiah 37:7-8 NLT

Zedekiah’s trump card was about to turn and run. They would prove to be no help. And God was not going to rescue them from all that He had predicted would happen. God wasn’t interested in Zedekiah’s request for help, because Zedekiah had not plans to repent. Zedekiah and the people may have been high-fiving one another when the Babylonians vacated their camps outside the walls. They may have excitedly assumed that the worst was over. But they were wrong.

“Do not fool yourselves into thinking that the Babylonians are gone for good. They aren’t! Even if you were to destroy the entire Babylonian army, leaving only a handful of wounded survivors, they would still stagger from their tents and burn this city to the ground!” – Jeremiah 37:9-10 NLT

They couldn’t pray away the Babylonians. Begging God to change His mind wasn’t going to cut it as long they refused to change their ways. They were essentially asking God to repent, to change His mind about destroying them, when they were the ones in the wrong. I am reminded of the response God gave to King Solomon on the day that the temple of God was dedicated. He told the people of Israel:

“At times I might shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you. Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.” – 2 Chronicles 7:13-16 NLT

Notice what God wants: Humility that reflects an awareness of their guilt and their need for God’s forgiveness; and a turning to Him and away from their sin. THEN, God will hear, forgive and restore. Prayer without humility, a seeking of God and a rejection of sin is pointless and powerless. Those prayers will not be heard or answered. And what is amazing is that Zedekiah and the people of Judah, who had refused to listen to one thing that God had said to them through Jeremiah, had the audacity to expect God to hear their requests to spare them.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

He Would Not Hear.

Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. And concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah you shall say, ‘Thus says the Lord, You have burned this scroll, saying, “Why have you written in it that the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land, and will cut off from it man and beast?” Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: He shall have none to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night. And I will punish him and his offspring and his servants for their iniquity. I will bring upon them and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem and upon the people of Judah all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, but they would not hear.’”

Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them. – Jeremiah 36:27-32 ESV

Jehoaikim could burn the scroll, but he couldn’t eliminate the words of God. He could consign God’s words to the fire, but it would do nothing to alter the plans of God. Judgment was coming. And to prove just how inevitable God’s will was, Jeremiah was instructed to take yet another scroll and dictate the words of God so that Baruch could write them down. But this time, God gave Jeremiah a few additional words just for Jehoiakim.

Then say to the king, ‘This is what the Lord says: You burned the scroll because it said the king of Babylon would destroy this land and empty it of people and animals. Now this is what the Lord says about King Jehoiakim of Judah: He will have no heirs to sit on the throne of David. His dead body will be thrown out to lie unburied—exposed to the heat of the day and the frost of the night. I will punish him and his family and his attendants for their sins. I will pour out on them and on all the people of Jerusalem and Judah all the disasters I promised, for they would not listen to my warnings.’” – Jeremiah 36:29-31 NLT

The original scroll had contained God’s dire predictions of coming judgment due to the sins of Judah. If you recall, when God had instructed Jeremiah to record these words of warning on the scroll, He had also said: “Perhaps the people of Judah will repent when they hear again all the terrible things I have planned for them. Then I will be able to forgive their sins and wrongdoings” (Jeremiah 36:3 NLT). When Jehoiakim’s father, Josiah, had been king of Judah, he had rediscovered the book of the Law and, when he had heard it read, he had repented. He had immediately launched an effort to bring spiritual reform to the nation of Judah. He tore his clothes as a sign of mourning and conviction over the sins of he and his people. But Jehoiakim had reacted quite differently. Rather than tear his clothes, he had cut the scroll containing God’s words. Instead of burning the high places where false gods were worshiped in Judah, like his father had done, Jehoiakim had burned God’s message. But his efforts to destroy the words of God would fail miserably. And, eventually he would find that what God says, goes. What He predicts, happens. What He decrees, comes to pass. Ignoring God does not make Him go away.

Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God. Against him came up Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. – 2 Chronicles 36:5-6 NLT

There seems to be a bit of confusion as to what exactly happened to Jehoiakim. God predicts that “His dead body will be thrown out to lie unburied—exposed to the heat of the day and the frost of the night” (Jeremiah 36:30 NLT). This same prophecy is recorded earlier in the book of Jeremiah.

He will be buried like a dead donkey—
    dragged out of Jerusalem and dumped outside the gates! – Jeremiah 22:19 NLT

But the book of 2 Chronicles records that he was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and taken to Babylon. So, did he die in Judah or Babylon? It would seem the the Chronicles passage simply states that Nebuchadnezzar had Jehoiakim arrested and “bound in chains” with the intent of taking him to Babylon. But God’s prophecy was fulfilled before that could happen. Jehoiakim would die an ignominious death in Judah, and his body thrown outside the city walls, just as God had said. And while his son, Jehoiachin would claim the thrown after his father’s death, it would not be according to God’s will and his reign would be short-lived – a mere three months. Nebuchadnezzar would remove him and replace him with his uncle, therefore fulfilling God’s prophecy that Jehoiakim would “have no heirs to sit on the throne of David” (Jeremiah 36:30 NLT).

The will of God can be ignored, but it cannot be stopped. Even the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar would be unable to alter the will of God. He may have had plans to take Jehoiakim back to Babylon, but that is NOT what God had said would happen. God’s will trumps man’s plan every time.

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. – Proverbs 16:9 ESV

Jehoiakim could despise the words of God, but he could not alter the outcome they predicted. He could attempt to eliminate the scroll containing God’s words along with the prophet who spoke them and the scribe who penned them. But his efforts would prove futile. Men and nations refuse to honor God as God. They deny His will and attempt to live their lives as if he doesn’t even exist. But Jehoiakim and, eventually, Nebuchadnezzar, would learn that God is sovereign over all.

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury. – Psalm 2:1-5 NLT

God’s will will be done. His plans will be fulfilled. What He says will come to pass will do so without any alteration or interference. Kings and nations can rage against Him. Individuals can attempt to act as if He does not exist. But God continues to rule and reign. His will continues to happen just as He has planned it. Jehoiakim could burn the scroll of God, but he would never make a dent in the plans of God.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

The Folly of Fools.

So they went into the court to the king, having put the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, and they reported all the words to the king. Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary. And Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king’s son and Seraiah the son of Azriel and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel to seize Baruch the secretary and Jeremiah the prophet, but the Lord hid them. – Jeremiah 36:20-26 ESV

This section of chapter 36 provides a sharp contrast between Jehoiakim, the current king of Judah, and that of Josiah, his father. During the reign of Josiah, when the scroll containing the law of God was found during renovation work on the temple, he had reacted quite differently to its reading.

Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a scroll.” Shaphan read it out loud before the king. When the king heard the words of the law scroll, he tore his clothes. – 2 Kings 22:10-11 NLT

Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. And the king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant. – 2 Kings 23:1-3 NLT

Quite a difference. Josiah had received the word of God with fear and reverence. He had recognized the sins of the people and understood the gravity of their rebellion against God. And he took full responsibility for it.

But what about Jehoiakim? How did he respond when he heard the words of God as spoken to Jeremiah the prophet and recorded by Baruch?

Each time Jehudi finished reading three or four columns, the king took a knife and cut off that section of the scroll. He then threw it into the fire, section by section, until the whole scroll was burned up. – Jeremiah 36:23 NLT

Arrogantly and fearlessly, he personally burned the scroll containing the words of God – piece by piece – until it was completely destroyed. And he did this even as Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah begged him to stop. But the king and his advisors were completely unmoved by the warnings of God contained in the scroll. Slowly but surely, the king threw them in the fire, to be consumed, and to illustrate his disdain for them. And the text makes it very clear that, “Neither the king nor his attendants showed any signs of fear or repentance at what they heard” (Jeremiah 36:24 NLT).

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 ESV

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. – Psalm 14:1 ESV

These verses provide a vivid description of what is going on in the winter room of the palace as Jehoiakim slowly destroys the words of God found on the scroll. He has no fear of God. He is a fool. And, in reality, he is acting as if there is not God. But he was not alone. The prophet Ezekiel was given a vision by God, in which he was able to see hidden things going on in Judah, that no one was aware of, but God.

“Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say, ‘The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.’” – Ezekiel 8:12 NLT

The elders of the people were guilty of committing sins against God, in secret, and justifying their actions because they believed that God was unable to see them. In essence, they were acting as if there was no God. They were fools. They were acting just like the wicked described in Psalm 10: “The wicked think, “God isn’t watching us! He has closed his eyes and won’t even see what we do!” You see this attitude reflected throughout the psalms, revealing a disturbing trend among God’s people.

“The Lord isn’t looking,” they say,
    “and besides, the God of Israel doesn’t care.” – Psalm 94:7 NLT

But they were wrong. Their assessment of God’s sovereignty and omniscience was way off the mark. And God lets them know it.

Think again, you fools!
    When will you finally catch on?
Is he deaf—the one who made your ears?
    Is he blind—the one who formed your eyes?
He punishes the nations—won’t he also punish you?
    He knows everything—doesn’t he also know what you are doing?
The Lord knows people’s thoughts;
    he knows they are worthless! – Psalm 94:8-11 NLT

God was watching as Jehoiakim threw the pieces of the scroll on the fire. As each section containing the words of God was consumed, God’s righteous anger intensified. And the fate of Judah became more permanently sealed. Rather than repent, Jehoiakim sent men to arrest Jeremiah and Baruch. Not content with the destruction of the scroll, he wanted to get his hands on the ones who had produced it. He thought that, by eliminating Jeremiah, his problems would be over. He wrongly assumed that his nemesis was a man, but in reality, Jehoiakim was choosing to do battle with the Lord of Hosts, God Almighty. And that was a battle he was not going to win. He could refuse to listen to the words of God. He could even burn them in a fire. He could attempt to eliminate the prophet of God. But he could not make God go away. And none of his efforts would alter the plan of God one iota.

Think about it, you rebels!
Remember what I accomplished in antiquity!
Truly I am God, I have no peer;
I am God, and there is none like me,
who announces the end from the beginning
and reveals beforehand what has not yet occurred,
who says, ‘My plan will be realized,
I will accomplish what I desire,’
who summons an eagle from the east,
from a distant land, one who carries out my plan.
Yes, I have decreed,
yes, I will bring it to pass;
I have formulated a plan,
yes, I will carry it out. – Isaiah 46:8-11 NLT

Jehoiakim was a king. He had a palace. He had some semblance of power and authority. He could strike fear into the hearts of men. But he was not God. He was no match for God. While he could burn a scroll in a fire, God could consume an entire nation with a single word. He could bring destruction in the form of the Babylonians and reduce Jehoiakim’s palace and capital to ashes. But in his pride, Jehoiakim acted as if God didn’t exist. In his foolishness, he assumed God didn’t see and, even if He did, He wouldn’t act. He was wrong. Dead wrong. And God was about to let him know just how wrong he was.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

Read It and Weep.

In the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.”

Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord that he had spoken to him. And Jeremiah ordered Baruch, saying, “I am banned from going to the house of the Lord, so you are to go, and on a day of fasting in the hearing of all the people in the Lord‘s house you shall read the words of the Lord from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the men of Judah who come out of their cities. It may be that their plea for mercy will come before the Lord, and that every one will turn from his evil way, for great is the anger and wrath that the Lord has pronounced against this people.” And Baruch the son of Neriah did all that Jeremiah the prophet ordered him about reading from the scroll the words of the Lord in the Lord‘s house.

In the fifth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, in the ninth month, all the people in Jerusalem and all the people who came from the cities of Judah to Jerusalem proclaimed a fast before the Lord. Then, in the hearing of all the people, Baruch read the words of Jeremiah from the scroll, in the house of the Lord, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the secretary, which was in the upper court, at the entry of the New Gate of the Lord’s house.

When Micaiah the son of Gemariah, son of Shaphan, heard all the words of the Lord from the scroll, he went down to the king’s house, into the secretary’s chamber, and all the officials were sitting there: Elishama the secretary, Delaiah the son of Shemaiah, Elnathan the son of Achbor, Gemariah the son of Shaphan, Zedekiah the son of Hananiah, and all the officials. And Micaiah told them all the words that he had heard, when Baruch read the scroll in the hearing of the people. Then all the officials sent Jehudi the son of Nethaniah, son of Shelemiah, son of Cushi, to say to Baruch, “Take in your hand the scroll that you read in the hearing of the people, and come.” So Baruch the son of Neriah took the scroll in his hand and came to them. And they said to him, “Sit down and read it.” So Baruch read it to them. When they heard all the words, they turned one to another in fear. And they said to Baruch, “We must report all these words to the king.” Then they asked Baruch, “Tell us, please, how did you write all these words? Was it at his dictation?” Baruch answered them, “He dictated all these words to me, while I wrote them with ink on the scroll.” Then the officials said to Baruch, “Go and hide, you and Jeremiah, and let no one know where you are.” – Jeremiah 36:1-19 ESV

It has been about 22 years since Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry in Judah. He started when Josiah was king in Judah. Now Jehoiakim sits on the throne. In the two decades he has been acting as God’s spokesman, he has said many things. He has provided the people of Judah with many warnings and pleaded with them repeatedly to return to God and find grace, mercy and forgiveness. But there has been little to no positive response to his messages. The people remain stubbornly opposed to any form of repentance. They refuse to change their ways. So, God instructs Jeremiah to put it all in writing on a scroll. This would create a permanent record of God’s words and a tangible reminder of just how many times He has patiently pleaded with His people to change their ways.

Jeremiah enlisted the aid of Baruch, who carefully recorded on the scroll all that Jeremiah dictated to him. When this process was complete, Jeremiah instructed Baruch to take the scroll and read it in the presence of all the people at the temple on a fast day. It seems that Jeremiah was under some sort of civil restriction that prevented him from going to the temple himself, which is why he sent Baruch. And when the day came, Baruch did as instructed and read from the scroll. The text tells us, “People from all over Judah had come to Jerusalem to attend the services at the Temple on that day” (Jeremiah 36:9 NLT). It was a full house. We’re told that Baruch “stood in front of the Temple room of Gemariah, son of Shaphan the secretary. This room was just off the upper courtyard of the Temple, near the New Gate entrance” (Jeremiah 36:10 NLT). This is an important point of interest, because Gemariah’s father, Shaphan, was the one who had read the rediscovered book of the Law to King Josiah. During Josiah’s reign, he had committed himself to restoring and revitalizing Judah’s spiritual heritage. He instituted a wide range of reforms, including making much-needed repairs to the temple of God. In the process, they discovered the book of the Law.

And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord.” Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. – 2 Kings 22:8-10 NLT

Now, nearly two decade later, Baruch is reading the scroll containing God’s pronouncements against Judah from the room that belonged to the secretary for the temple, Gemariah, son of Shaphan. This note provides a tangible link back to the days when the book of the Law had been rediscovered and read to the king. And when King Josiah had heard what was written in the book of the Law, he had responded in fear and remorse. He told his spiritual advisors:

“Go, seek an oracle from the Lord for me and the people—for all Judah. Find out about the words of this scroll that has been discovered. For the Lord’s fury has been ignited against us, because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this scroll by doing all that it instructs us to do.” – 2 Kings 22:13 NLT

These men ended up seeking the help of a woman known as Huldah the prophetess. And she gave them a word from God.

Say this to the man who sent you to me: “This is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to bring disaster on this place and its residents, the details of which are recorded in the scroll which the king of Judah has read. This will happen because they have abandoned me and offered sacrifices to other gods, angering me with all the idols they have made. My anger will ignite against this place and will not be extinguished!’” – 2 Kings 22:15-17 NLT

Fast-forward twenty years later and you have Baruch reading a scroll containing the words of God given to Jeremiah. Nothing had changed. The reforms of Josiah had failed to change the hearts of the people. They had continued to abandon God and follow after false gods. Their wickedness had increased rather than diminish.

And when Micaiah, the son of Gemariah and grandson of Shaphan, heard the words that Baruch read, he went immediately to the palace and reported what he had heard to a group of administrative officials who in the midst of a meeting. Notice that these men were not attending the fast day at the temple. They were too busy working. But when Micaiah told them what was happening at the temple, they immediately sent for Baruch and, when he arrived, they had him read the contents of the scroll to them. Upon hearing the words read by Baruch and, after having determined that they were from Jeremiah himself, they decided that this news needed to get to the king. And knowing that this news was not going to be received well, they instructed Baruch:

“You and Jeremiah should both hide,” the officials told Baruch. “Don’t tell anyone where you are!” – Jeremiah 36:19 NLT

They told Baruch and Jeremiah to go into hiding and then they secreted the scroll itself in the secretary’s office in the palace. Once again, it is interesting to note that there had been a group of men gathered for a meeting in the secretary’s office. One of them was Elnathan son of Acbor. Elnathan’s father had been present at the reading of the law scroll in Josiah’s day, and he had been one of the men sent to seek an omen from the prophetess. So, there is another detail provided that forms a generational link between the days of King Josiah to those of King Jehoiakim. Twenty years had passed, but no read change had taken place, except that the people had actually become worse, not better. The sins of Judah had increased, not decreased. The book of 2 Kings tells us that King Josiah, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2 ESV). But of Jehoaikim it says: “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Kings 23:37 ESV).

Two decades had passed. Three different kings had reigned in Judah. And during that time, God had spoken time and time again through Jeremiah, calling the people of Judah to repentance. But no one would listen. And yet, God had told Jeremiah, “Perhaps the people of Judah will repent when they hear again all the terrible things I have planned for them. Then I will be able to forgive their sins and wrongdoings” (Jeremiah 36:3 NLT). That was not to be the case. And God was not surprised by their response. He knew the condition of their hearts. They were incapable of turning from their sins. They were addicted to their spiritual adultery and apostasy. So, judgment was inevitable.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

Failure to Listen.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Go and say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will you not receive instruction and listen to my words? declares the Lord. The command that Jonadab the son of Rechab gave to his sons, to drink no wine, has been kept, and they drink none to this day, for they have obeyed their father’s command. I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me. I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to serve them, and then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to you and your fathers.’ But you did not incline your ear or listen to me. The sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have kept the command that their father gave them, but this people has not obeyed me. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, because I have spoken to them and they have not listened, I have called to them and they have not answered.”

But to the house of the Rechabites Jeremiah said, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Because you have obeyed the command of Jonadab your father and kept all his precepts and done all that he commanded you, therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Jonadab the son of Rechab shall never lack a man to stand before me.” – Jeremiah 35:12-19 ESV

The Rechabites had kept their word. Jeremiah had invited them to a private session somewhere within the temple and, under directions given to him by God, had ordered them to drink wine. But they had refused. They were not going to disobey the command given to them by Jonadad, their leader, and they were not going to break the vow they had made to him. When Jeremiah had placed the wine in front of them and ordered them to drink, they had politely deferred, saying:

“So we have obeyed him in all these things. We have never had a drink of wine to this day, nor have our wives, our sons, or our daughters. We haven’t built houses or owned vineyards or farms or planted crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed all the commands of Jehonadab, our ancestor.” – Jeremiah 35:8-10 NLT

Now, God commands Jeremiah to take yet another message to the people of Judah warning them of what is about to happen. Remember, this chapter is actually out of chronological order. It takes us back in time to the days when Jehoakim was king. Chapter 34 chronicled the last days of Zedekiah, the king who reigned after Jehoakim. There is no reason given for the out-of-order telling of these events, but it seems to be a simple retrospective recounting of just how things had gotten to the sad state of affairs that led to the fall of Judah and Jerusalem. God’s decision to bring judgment on His people had not been a spur-of-the-moment decision. He had not knee-jerk reacted and flown off the handle in a rage at a single, isolated incident. The nation of Judah, like its northern neighbor, Israel, had a long track record of disobedience and stubborn refusal to listen to the call of God.

And God allowed His prophet, Jeremiah, to see up close and personal what real faithfulness looks like. The Rechabites provided a living lesson of uncompromising, unwavering obedience. It’s interesting to note that the Rechabites were actually living within the city walls of Jerusalem when Jeremiah made his offer of wine to them. At first blush, this might aappear to be a violation of their vow to Jonadab.

“You and your descendants must never drink wine. And do not build houses or plant crops or vineyards, but always live in tents. If you follow these commands, you will live long, good lives in the land.” – Jeremiah 35:6-7 NLT

Yet, the Rechabites admitted that they were living in Jerusalem.

“But when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked this country, we were afraid of the Babylonian and Syrian armies. So we decided to move to Jerusalem. That is why we are here.” – Jeremiah 35:11 NLT

They made it clear to Jeremiah that their presence in Jerusalem was simply to escape destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. They were seeking refuge, not setting up residence. There is no indication that they had bought houses or had intentions of making Jerusalem their permanent home. Jonadab’s command restricted them from building homes. They were required to live in tents. And, more than likely, that was exactly what they had been doing when Jeremiah called on them and extended his invitation for a meeting in the temple.

God made it clear to Jeremiah just what the point of this little episode with the Rechabites was all about. Jeremiah was to tell the people of Judah: “Come and learn a lesson about how to obey me” (Jeremiah 35:13 NLT). Then, He had pointed out: “The Recabites do not drink wine to this day because their ancestor Jehonadab told them not to” (Jeremiah 35:14 NLT). These people were obeying the words of a man. But the people of Judah had refused to listen to or obey the words of God. “But I have spoken to you again and again, and you refuse to obey me” (Jeremiah 35:14 NLT). Jonadab spoke, and his people obeyed. God spoke, and His people refused to listen and obey. And God spoke repeatedly. He sent His prophets. They provided timely reminders. They warned and threatened. The offered promises of God’s blessings for obedience. They told of unprecedented curses for refusal to be faithful to their covenant with God. But the people refused to listen. They heard, but they did not obey. And makes a clear comparison between the Rechabites and the Judahites.

But you would not listen to me or obey me. The descendants of Jehonadab son of Recab have obeyed their ancestor completely, but you have refused to listen to me.” – Jeremiah 35:15-16 NLT

Then God drops the bomb. He says, “Therefore…”. As a result of their blatant disobedience, the people of Judah were going to suffer the judgment of God. And God describes Himself as “the Lord of Hosts”. The New Living Translation reads, “the God of Heaven’s Armies”. And in the Hebrew, it can be literally translated, “Yahweh of armies”. God presents Himself as the commander-in-chief of all the host of heaven. He is all-powerful and has a limitless number of heavenly hosts (angels) at His disposal. Jesus Himself referred to God’s heavenly host on the night he was betrayed in the garden. Peter, in a vain attempt to protect Jesus from capture, had cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Jesus immediately responded, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 NLT).

By presenting Himself as Yahweh of armies, God was emphasizing His sovereignty and power. He also described Himself as the God of Israel. The Rechabites had Jonadab. But the Israelites had God. And yet, they still refused to obey Him. So, warns God, “Because you refuse to listen or answer when I call, I will send upon Judah and Jerusalem all the disasters I have threatened” (Jeremiah 35:17 NLT). No obedience? No mercy. But then, God spoke a word to the Rechabites, describing Himself with the very same term.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘You have obeyed your ancestor Jehonadab in every respect, following all his instructions.’ Therefore, this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jehonadab son of Recab will always have descendants who serve me.’” – Jeremiah 35:18-19 NLT

The God of Israel was promising the people of Recab, who were Kenites and not Jews, that He was going to bless them. This group of people would have a place in God’s presence forever. They would be sustained and protected by God. This simple, nomadic people, would be rewarded for their faithfulness and obedience. And the people of Judah would suffer the consequences of their disobedience. It would seem that God would have us take away the obvious lesson found in this chapter regarding obedience. God puts a high value on faithfulness. When He speaks, He doesn’t just expect His words to be heard, but to be obeyed. It is not enough to read God’s Word. We must apply what we hear to our lives. Knowing what God expects of us is not sufficient. Awareness of His will is not the same thing as obedience to it. Like a sovereign over a nation, God, Yahweh of armies, stands over His people and demands their allegiance and obedience. He is Lord of all. He is the one true God. He is to be heard and obeyed. He is to be feared and revered. The Rechabites would never have considered disobeying their vow to Jonadab. But the people of God regularly and blatantly broke their commitments to God. As the prophet, Samuel, told the disobedient King Saul:

“What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.” – 1 Samuel 15:22-23 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

The Original Promise Keepers.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: “Go to the house of the Rechabites and speak with them and bring them to the house of the Lord, into one of the chambers; then offer them wine to drink.” So I took Jaazaniah the son of Jeremiah, son of Habazziniah and his brothers and all his sons and the whole house of the Rechabites. I brought them to the house of the Lord into the chamber of the sons of Hanan the son of Igdaliah, the man of God, which was near the chamber of the officials, above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, keeper of the threshold. Then I set before the Rechabites pitchers full of wine, and cups, and I said to them, “Drink wine.” But they answered, “We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, ‘You shall not drink wine, neither you nor your sons forever. You shall not build a house; you shall not sow seed; you shall not plant or have a vineyard; but you shall live in tents all your days, that you may live many days in the land where you sojourn.’ We have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he commanded us, to drink no wine all our days, ourselves, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, and not to build houses to dwell in. We have no vineyard or field or seed, but we have lived in tents and have obeyed and done all that Jonadab our father commanded us. But when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against the land, we said, ‘Come, and let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans and the army of the Syrians.’ So we are living in Jerusalem.” – Jeremiah 35:1-11 ESV

The events in this chapter actually precede those recorded in chapters 32-34. King Jehoiakim is sitting on the throne when the Babylonians make their first foray into Judah. As a result of the Babylonian invasion of that area of the Middle East, Jehoiakim will become a vassal of King Nebuchadnezzar, an arrangement that will last three long years, until 602 B.C., when he will rebel against Babylon. The book of 2 Kings records what happened as a result.

During Jehoiakim’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked. Jehoiakim was his subject for three years, but then he rebelled against him. The Lord sent against him Babylonian, Syrian, Moabite, and Ammonite raiding bands; he sent them to destroy Judah, as he had warned he would do through his servants the prophets. – 2 Kings 24:1-2 NLT

Jehoiakim found himself having to deal with not only the Babylonians, but raiding parties made up of Syrians, Moabites and Ammonites as well. Jehoakim could attempt to resist the control of Babylon and refuse to submit to King Nebuchadnezzar’s control, but he would not succeed. What he failed to realize was that this was all part of God’s plan. Jehoakim succeeded Josiah as king of Judah. But he did not continue Josiah’s efforts to bring reform to the nation.

Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. His mother was Zebidah, the daughter of Pedaiah from Rumah. He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestors had done. – 2 Kings 23:36-37 NLT

God has given Jeremiah some fairly stern words to speak to King Jehoakim regarding his reign.

“But you! You have eyes only for greed and dishonesty!
    You murder the innocent,
    oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly.” – Jeremiah 22:17 NLT

“I warned you when you were prosperous,
    but you replied, ‘Don’t bother me.’
You have been that way since childhood—
    you simply will not obey me!” – Jeremiah 22:21 NLT

Jehoakim was greedy and godless. He was unjust and disobedient to God. And God had some bad news for this egotistical, money-hungry king:

“It may be nice to live in a beautiful palace
    paneled with wood from the cedars of Lebanon,
but soon you will groan with pangs of anguish—
    anguish like that of a woman in labor.” – Jeremiah 22:23 NLT

So, sometime in the middle of Jehoakim’s reign, God sent Jeremiah on a mission. He was to go to a settlement where the Recabites lived. The Rechabites were descendants of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. Jethro had been a Kenite, or non-Hebrew, and Moses had married his daughter. When the Hebrews entered the land of Canaan, the Kenites accompanied them, many of them settling into their own towns and villages. But Jonadab, the son of Rechab, had forbidden his people to drink wine or to live in cities. Instead, they were to live nomadic lives, set apart and compliant with the wishes of their patriarch. And, they had done so for hundreds of years.

God commands Jeremiah to extend an invitation to the Rechabites, requesting that they join him at one of the inner rooms of the temple in Jerusalem. And, oddly enough, God instructed Jeremiah to offer them wine, which he did.

I set cups and jugs of wine before them and invited them to have a drink – Jeremiah 35:5 NLT

These men, representing their families and clan, found themselves within the city walls of Jerusalem and sitting in a room located in the inner recesses of the temple. There, hidden from view, they were tempted by the prophet of God, under orders from God Himself, with the chance to drink wine. But we’re told, they refused. ‘No,’ they said, ‘we don’t drink wine, because our ancestor Jehonadab son of Recab gave us this command: ‘You and your descendants must never drink wine. And do not build houses or plant crops or vineyards, but always live in tents. If you follow these commands, you will live long, good lives in the land.’ So we have obeyed him in all these things. We have never had a drink of wine to this day, nor have our wives, our sons, or our daughters. We haven’t built houses or owned vineyards or farms or planted crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed all the commands of Jehonadab, our ancestor’” (Jeremiah 35:6-10 NLT).

They flatly said, “No!” They turned down Jeremiah’s offer. It didn’t matter to them that the wine was offered by the prophet of God in the very temple of God. They were not going to disobey their vow. We are not told why Jonadab required his people to make this vow. That point doesn’t seem to matter. What seems to be the issue is that Jehoakim, the king of Judah, had been accused by God of disobedience. He had not kept the laws of God or lived in keeping with the will of God for His people. He did what was evil in the sight of God. But here were the Kenites, these non-Jews, who, when offered the chance to break their vow to abstain from wine, refused to do so. Even though it was being set in front of them by the prophet of God in the house of God. They were committed. They were faithful. There’s was a vow made to a man, but as far as they were concerned, it was unbreakable. And yet, Jehoakim, the king of Judah, and the people over whom he ruled, were guilty of having broken their covenant with God. Not once, but many times and over many centuries.

As we will see in the rest of this chapter, God will use this example of faithfulness and obedience as a living lesson of what He expected from His own people. But they had failed to follow through. Their lives had been a perpetual display of what it means to be unfaithful and unwilling to keep their commitments to God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

Slaves to Sin.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them, that everyone should set free his Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should enslave a Jew, his brother. And they obeyed, all the officials and all the people who had entered into the covenant that everyone would set free his slave, male or female, so that they would not be enslaved again. They obeyed and set them free. But afterward they turned around and took back the male and female slaves they had set free, and brought them into subjection as slaves. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I myself made a covenant with your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, saying, ‘At the end of seven years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you must set him free from your service.’ But your fathers did not listen to me or incline their ears to me. You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name, but then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back his male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your slaves.

“Therefore, thus says the Lord: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the Lord. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts—the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. And Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials I will give into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives, into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon which has withdrawn from you. Behold, I will command, declares the Lord, and will bring them back to this city. And they will fight against it and take it and burn it with fire. I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant.” – Jeremiah 34:8-22 ESV

It is approximately 588 B.C. and the city of Jerusalem is surrounded. Things are not looking good. Outside the walls of the city, the Babylonian troops can be seen busily at work building siege walls and preparing to assault the city. In the midst of all the chaos and with the words of Jeremiah the prophet ringing in his ears, Zedekiah, the king of Judah, convinces the people to make a covenant with him to release any and all their fellow Hebrews that they owned as slaves. Now, it makes sense to ask why any Hebrew would have a fellow Hebrew as a slave. This was actually quite common in those days. In most cases, the enslavement or servitude was linked to indebtedness. If a Hebrew borrowed money from another Hebrew and could not pay the debt, he become the servant or slave of the lender until the debt was paid off. The book of Proverbs speaks to this situation, warning: “the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:17 ESV). We find some strong words from God regarding the abuse of this system in the book of Amos.

“The people of Israel have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They sell honorable people for silver and poor people for a pair of sandals.” – Amos 2:6 NLT

The people of Judah and Israel had taken advantage of the poor and needy within their midst. Once again, the book of Proverbs speaks to this problem.

Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty. – Proverbs 22:16 NLT

Don’t rob the poor just because you can, or exploit the needy in court. – Proverbs 22:22 NLT

God had made provision for those who found themselves in debt and in need of help. A Jew who found themselves with no means of income could voluntarily offer themselves as a servant to another Jew. If they owed a debt they could not pay, they could voluntarily become the lenders servant.

“If a fellow Hebrew sells himself or herself to be your servant and serves you for six years, in the seventh year you must set that servant free.

“When you release a male servant, do not send him away empty-handed. Give him a generous farewell gift from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. Share with him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were once slaves in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you! That is why I am giving you this command. – Deuteronomy 15:12-15 NLT

But notice that God made provision for their release. They were not to remain in servitude indefinitely. And the lender had no right to sell the debtor in order to profit from their sale. At the seventh year, all Hebrews were to release their Hebrew slaves or servants. Their debt was to be considered paid. And the lender was not to send them away empty handed. So, in this chapter, we see Zedekiah making a covenant with the people to release all their Hebrew slaves. We are not told why Zedekiah made this announcement, but we can speculate that he was hoping this action might appease God in some way. Perhaps it was an attempt to increase the number of free men able to serve in the army in the defense of the city. Whatever his motivation, Zedekiah convinces the people to agree to the conditions of the release. But then they change their minds. They renege on their commitment.

but later they changed their minds. They took back the men and women they had freed, forcing them to be slaves again. – Jeremiah 34:11 NLT

We do know from verses 21 and 22, that the Babylonians had evidently disappeared for a period of time. It could be that their unexpected departure led the people to change their minds. They could have believed that the siege was over and they had been delivered from destruction. So, they decided not to keep their commitment. What had appeared to be an act of repentance turned out to be nothing of the sort. Even though they had been faced with their own destruction and possible enslavement themselves, the people were not willing to set free their fellow Hebrews. This all reminds me of a parable that Jesus told in response to a question from Peter regarding the topic of forgiveness.

“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” – Matthew 18:23-35 NLT

The people of Judah were indebted to God. They owed Him for the sins they had committed against Him. And they would have longed for Him to show them mercy and forgive their sins. But here they were, refusing to forgive the debts of those who owed them so much less. It should bring to mind the words of Jesus in His model prayer found in His Sermon on the Mount: “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 ESV). And Jesus would go on to comment about the issue of forgiveness of debts. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV).

God reminds Zedekiah and the people that their actions were reminiscent of the sins of their ancestors. God had given them the command regarding the seventh year, but they had refused to obey. Now, the people of Judah had made a covenant with God and were breaking it.

“Recently you repented and did what was right, following my command. You freed your slaves and made a solemn covenant with me in the Temple that bears my name. But now you have shrugged off your oath and defiled my name by taking back the men and women you had freed, forcing them to be slaves once again.” – Jeremiah 34:15-16 NLT

So, God gives them the bad news. Since they didn’t keep their vow and set their fellow Hebrews free, God was going to set the offenders free to suffer at the hands of the Babylonians. “I will set you free to be destroyed by war, disease, and famine” (Jeremiah 34:17 NLT). At the end of the day, the people of Judah were slaves to sin. They were addicted to wrongdoing. They just couldn’t give up their love affair with evil, even when faced with their own destruction. And they would learn the hard way, that the wages of sin is death.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

No Escape.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army and all the kingdoms of the earth under his dominion and all the peoples were fighting against Jerusalem and all of its cities: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire. You shall not escape from his hand but shall surely be captured and delivered into his hand. You shall see the king of Babylon eye to eye and speak with him face to face. And you shall go to Babylon.’ Yet hear the word of the Lord, O Zedekiah king of Judah! Thus says the Lord concerning you: ‘You shall not die by the sword. You shall die in peace. And as spices were burned for your fathers, the former kings who were before you, so people shall burn spices for you and lament for you, saying, “Alas, lord!”’ For I have spoken the word, declares the Lord.”

Then Jeremiah the prophet spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah, for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained. – Jeremiah 34:1-7 ESV

Chapters 30-33 provided a  pleasant diversion from all the prophecies that Jeremiah had been required by God to proclaim to the people of Judah. They contain much more optimistic news regarding the long-term future of Judah. But now, in chapter 34, Jeremiah goes back to his original predictions of Judah’s looming destruction. The Babylonians are at the  gate – literally. They have the city besieged and it’s only matter of time before the walls fall, the troops descend, and the destruction begins. And God has a special message for King Zedekiah.

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am about to hand this city over to the king of Babylon, and he will burn it down. You will not escape his grasp but will be captured and taken to meet the king of Babylon face to face. Then you will be exiled to Babylon.” – Jeremiah 34:2-3 NLT

God doesn’t pull any punches. He doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of what is about to happen. It’s not going to be pretty. And Zedekiah is not going to escape the inevitable outcome of Judah’s apostasy and disobedience. Even the king will fall. He will be taken captive. But God has some good news for Zedekiah.

“You will not be killed in war but will die peacefully. People will burn incense in your memory, just as they did for your ancestors, the kings who preceded you. They will mourn for you, crying, “Alas, our master is dead!” – Jeremiah 34:4-5 NLT

Granted, at first blush this probably didn’t come across as the best of news to Zedekiah. And it doesn’t completely provide the details of Zedekiah’s ultimate demise. That comes later in the book of Jeremiah.

But the Babylonian troops chased King Zedekiah and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath. There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. The king of Babylon made Zedekiah watch as he slaughtered his sons. He also slaughtered all the officials of Judah at Riblah. Then he gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him in bronze chains, and the king of Babylon led him away to Babylon. Zedekiah remained there in prison until the day of his death. – Jeremiah 52:8-11 NLT

God was going to bring Zedekiah’s reign to an end. He would live out his days in captivity, blind and with the last scene he could remember being the death of his own sons. And this would happen because Zedekiah refused to heed God’s warning and submit to the authority of Nebuchadnezzar as a representative of God’s judgment. Jeremiah 52 tells us: “Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 52:3 NLT). This is what had led to the siege of Jerusalem, a situation that would last three years, leaving the citizens starving to death within the walls and awaiting their inevitable end at the hands of the Babylonians.

The end was coming. The very outcome of God’s prophecies concerning Judah was going to come to pass just as He had said – down to the last detail. And while the preceding chapters had outlined God’s future restoration of Judah and Israel, they would first go through a demoralizing and humiliating fall from God’s grace. They would suffer for their unfaithfulness. God would not and could not overlook their sin. He couldn’t turn a blind eye to their apostasy and spiritual adultery. How would it look if God simply excused their behavior? What would the nations of the earth think if the God of Israel did nothing about the blatant rebellion of the people of Israel? He would be seen as weak and incapable of ruling His own people. There would be no fear of Him among the pagan nations. He would be seen as impotent and inconsequential, rather than a force with which to be reckoned.

Before the grace of God could be experienced, the wrath of God would have to be assuaged. His justice would have to be meted out and the disobedience against His sovereign will would have to be punished. And while Israel and Judah would suffer for their sins, their complete reconciliation to God would eventually happen. There was a day coming when they would be restored to a right relationship with Him. Not because they deserved it. Not because they willingly returned to Him in repentance. But because He would choose to shower them with His grace and mercy, and make available to them the forgiveness made possible through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

A Righteous Branch.

 

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

“For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.”

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me.”

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Have you not observed that these people are saying, ‘The Lord has rejected the two clans that he chose’? Thus they have despised my people so that they are no longer a nation in their sight. Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.” – Jeremiah 33:14-26 ESV

God continues to assure Jeremiah that the future is far more bright than it may immediately appear. Yes, the Babylonians have Jerusalem surrounded, Jeremiah is in jail and God has promised that the nation will fall and many of its citizens will go into captivity. But that’s not the full extent of God’s plans for Judah. In chapter 29, God had reassured Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). The fall of Jerusalem was part of the plan, but not its final fulfillment. There was more to come. Their destruction by the Babylonians would be the result of their own sin and rebellion against God – they had broken their part of the covenant they had made with Him. During the time of the Exodus, when God was leading them out of slavery in Egypt to the land He had promised to Abraham, He laid out His law for them. God clearly articulated the conditions for their relationship with Him. And when they heard it, they had agreed to it.

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” – Exodus 24:3 ESV

They had not kept their promise to God, and the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel years earlier, and the impending fall of Judah were the result of their disobedience. But God was going to keep His word. He had promised David that his kingdom would last forever.

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 ESV

“When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.” – 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 ESV

This promise to David was only partially fulfilled in the reign of Solomon, David’s son, because Solomon’s reign did come to an end, because of his idolatry. And as a result of Solomon’s unfaithfulness to God, the nation of Israel was split in two, with the ten northern tribes becoming the nation of Israel and the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin becoming Judah. Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians because of their sin. Now Judah was on the brink of suffering the same fate. It won’t be long until there is not king anywhere to be found in the former land of Israel. But God is telling Jeremiah that a new day is coming. And this was simply a reiteration of what God had told Jeremiah earlier, as recorded in chapter 23.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.” – Jeremiah 23:5-8 ESV

A righteous branch. An offshoot of David. A godly ruler who would live in obedience to the law of God and rule according to the will of God. And that individual would be Jesus, a descendant of David and the Son of God. It is interesting to note that in the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus gave as part of His Sermon on the Mount, He used these words: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 ESV). And that prayer will be ultimately fulfilled by Him when He returns to earth to rule and reign in Jerusalem.

And along with the return of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom in Israel, the New Covenant, which replaced the old one with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, will see the reestablishment of the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system. During the time of Jeremiah, the priesthood had become corrupt and immoral. With Christ’s return, God will also return the practice of the offerings, but instead of them looking forward to the coming of the unblemished Lamb of God, they will be commemoration and celebrations of what Jesus accomplished on the cross.

“For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.” – Jeremiah 33:17-18 ESV

This will all take place in the Millennial Kingdom, the period of Christ’s thousand year reign on the earth. For all of this to happen, God is going to have to bring about a major change within the people of Judah and Israel. To restore the priesthood to its intended holiness, God will have to do a work. For the people to honor Christ as their King, they will have to have their hearts transformed. And God has promised to do that as well.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses.” – Ezekiel 36:25-29 ESV

The days are coming. A righteous Branch. New hearts. A new spirit. Those are some pretty incredible promises. And despite the fact that everything around Jeremiah looks like it is falling apart, God is trying to let him know that the future is bright. God has everything under control. He will do for His people what they could never have done for themselves. He will redeem and restore them. He will forgive their sins. He will return them to the land. He will reestablish the sacrificial system, not for the forgiveness of sins, but as a form of thanksgiving for the sacrifice of His Son that made the redemption of men possible. Ultimately, it is the righteous Branch who died a sinner’s death that will make the restoration of unfaithful Israel possible.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠