Category Archives: Jeremiah

Jeremiah 51 & 52 – The Ultimate Destruction of Babylon – God’s Promises are Certain

These chapters bring us to the end of Jeremiah’s story, and confirm what we already know: It’s not going to go well with Babylon. Even though the Lord used them to meet out judgment on Judah, Babylon will pay for their own sins. Chapter 51 describes the destruction in detail, and Babylon will be no more. The picture above indicates that the Lord wasn’t kidding. This is all that remains of the great Babylon. But when Jeremiah was alive Babylon was still a great empire.

The words of this chapter were written on a scroll and given to a man who was hauled off to Babylon with King Zedekiah. Jeremiah instructed the man that when he got to Babylon he was to read all these words aloud to the people exiled there. Then he is to finish with this:

62 Then say, ‘Lord, you have said you will destroy this place, so that neither people nor animals will live in it; it will be desolate forever.’

I’m sure he people found this hard to believe. By that time the Babylonian empire had been around for over a thousand years, and probably much longer. Sure, Lord, they must have thought, Babylon is just going to disappear. Yes it is. But that would take a least 70 years.

Chapter 52 describes the fall of Jerusalem in detail, and why it happened:

It was because of the Lord’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence.

It tells again of the sad story of young king Zedekiah (he would have only been 32), how we was blinded and hauled away to rot in a Babylonian prison until his death. The perfect ending for the futility of the kings of Israel to rule in the name of the Lord. One day a king will come that will rule successfully, just not one they expect.

We also see in this chapter one of the possible reasons the Lord wanted to wipe out Babylon forever:

17 The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars, the movable stands and the bronze Sea that were at the temple of the Lord and they carried all the bronze to Babylon.

And the following verses describe how they took everything, which would include the holy of holies. Obviously the Lord didn’t look kindly on the desecration of his dwelling place with his people.

We also are told of the number of people who were taken into captivity, a surprisingly small number, only 4,600. But these were the people left from those taken to Babylon earlier. Out of this small remnant will come Israel’s true king one day, and God’s people will be like the Lord promised, the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky.

The book ends with a hint that God will indeed bless his people again some day. The king of Judah, Jehoiachin, was released from prison after 37 years by a new Babylonian king, given a place of honor and dined daily at the king’s table. (I was confused about who this king was related to Zedekiah. This article clears it up. Jehoiachin was taken as a young king—either 8 or 18, with the initial captives, the higher elements of society, to Babylon. The poor and lower classes were left behind, and Zedekiah became their king. When he’s finally taken, it’s over.) Even in what appears a hopeless situation for his people, the Lord is giving them hope.

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Jeremiah 34-50 – In Whom or What Will We Put Our Trust

These chapters cover a narrative of destruction. Chapter 34 starts with Jeremiah telling Zedekiah that Babylon is coming. For some reason, maybe the Jubilee, Zedekiah makes a covenant with the people to free all the slaves. But for some other reason, we’re not told, he and the people who made the covenant change their minds and take back their slaves. Not a good move. It almost seems like a last straw. Proclaiming liberty to the captives is God’s MO, and his people do the right thing then almost immediately remind us that they are hopeless. Then the Lord declares their destruction, again.

In the next several chapters we see again the leaders of Judah refusing to listen to the Lord, and in a brazen way. They refuse to pay attention to anything Jeremiah has to say. Over and over, in these and previous chapters, they are told the Babylonians are coming to destroy the city. This is obviously getting obvious. The city is under siege. But what do the leaders do? They throw Jeremiah in a cistern—tough job being God’s prophet in ancient Israel. He is rescued and King Zedekiah asks him what the Lord’s message is for him and the city. Well, king, it hasn’t changed: surrender to the Babylonians and all will go well. Of course he doesn’t. Chapter 39 tells of the fall of Jerusalem, and here is what happens because the king and the leaders would not listen to Jeremiah:

There at Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes and also killed all the nobles of Judah.Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon.

If only he had listened to the Lord . . . . Jeremiah, by contrast did:

17 But I will rescue you on that day, declares the Lord; you will not be given into the hands of those you fear. 18 I will save you; you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life, because you trust in me, declares the Lord.’”

Because you trust in me . . . . And think about what Jeremiah had to go through, the constant threats and danger from those who hated everything he had to say to them. Yet he still trusted in the Lord. Maybe he knew the story of Job, and Job’s declaration that, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” This is the theme of all these chapters, either trust the Lord and live, or trust in anything else and suffer the consequences.

As the Babylonians destroy the city and begin to haul the population off to Babylon, they find Jeremiah in chains and release him. He ends up staying in Jerusalem. The story of the remnant, those few left who were not hauled off to Babylon takes over in chapter 40, and trust becomes the issues again. They are all still afraid of the Babylonians, and they ask Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord for them. He tells them the Lord says to stay in the land and trust him, and all will be well. But of course, they don’t, and are determined to flee to Egypt, whom they obviously trust more than the Lord to keep them safe. Bad decision.

The Lord then prophecies bad news for all the nations around Israel, including Egypt, and finally Babylon in chapter 50. Here is the theme for all the peoples, but addressed specifically to Moab:

Since you trust in your deeds and riches,
    you too will be taken captive,

Since Moab was often a thorn in Israel’s side, it’s interesting that the Lord would judge them for trusting in their deeds and riches. But the Lord expects everyone to trust in him alone, for whatever else we might trust in to bring us safety, or happiness, or fulfillment, or purpose is idolatry. We were created to be in communion with him alone as our ultimate meaning.

Finally, even though he pronounces judgment on these peoples, for each of them he ends by saying he will restore their fortunes. Only of Babylon is that not true, and there is nothing left of that civilization to this day. Even in judgement the Lord leaves hope of his mercy.

Jeremiah 33 – God’s Covenant Promise: Israel’s Restoration and Ours

This chapter continues the themes of the previous one, but give us a more concrete definition of the Lord’s salvation. It starts with Jeremiah still confined in the courtyard of the king, and again the word of the Lord coming to him, again with the Lord affirming his authority based on his being the Creator:

“This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name:

I’m still amazed, although I shouldn’t be, that this is a constant theme throughout the OT. No wonder that Satan would use something like evolution to undermine exactly this. Creator? What Creator? But exactly because the Lord  is the Creator, he has the authority and the power to do absolutely anything he wants. And whatever he does is right because he sets the rules. His being is the plumb line against which all things are measured. Then he tells Jeremiah something that I memorized back in the day no doubt thinking it applied to me:

‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’

I would know this isn’t addressed to me if I’d only read the context. The “great and unsearchable” things are the Lord’s judgment, including his “wrath and anger” against his people, and their ultimate salvation which starts early in this chapter with verse six when he says, “Nevertheless.” So in spite of all the wickedness they’ve committed, and how wicked they are, he is going to save them. And he spends the rest of the chapter, the next 20 verses, proclaiming his salvation.

There are plenty of promises of him restoring the land and their prosperity, but this salvation is something much bigger:

15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteousness.’

In the fifth century BC, the people reading or hearing this message could not have grasped exactly what was meant by the Lord himself becoming our righteousness. Now we know. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

Paul, a Pharisee in his previous life, very well knew his Jeremiah. He was declaring that Jesus is, “Yahweh our righteousness.” There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that Jesus was divine, was God in human flesh. His entire theology depended on it.

The final nine versus are the Lord declaring his determination that this salvation is something his people can depend on. Given what we now know about what Jesus on the cross, these verses almost don’t make sense:

‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, 18 nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.’”

The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus doesn’t continually need to offer sacrifices because his sacrifice was once for all, but this seems to say they will continue. I think you have to read this in light of Hebrews, not the other way round. The efficacious nature of Christ’s sacrifice is as if what the sacrifice accomplishes never ends. And it doesn’t!

In the final verses the Lord compares the reliability of his covenant promise to day and night, and “the fixed laws of heaven and earth.” He does this twice just so they, and we, get the message. Our salvation doesn’t depend on us, any more than Israel’s salvation (from exile and captivity) depended on them. Our salvation, this righteousness that becomes ours, is rooted in the covenant promises of Almighty God. That is our ultimate security and our only hope.

Jeremiah 32 – God’s Promise to Never Stop Doing Good to His People

We see Jeremiah imprisoned by King Zedekiah to start this chapter. The king can’t believe that Jeremiah would prophesy that Jerusalem will fall and he’ll be captured and dragged away to Babylon, even though at that very moment the city is under siege! Like many of those who refuse to accept God’s word, he’s oblivious to the obvious.

Then the Lord tells Jeremiah to buy a field as an object lesson for what he will do with Israel in his mercy: they will again buy fields and vineyards in the land. Then Jeremiah begins a great prayer with these words:

17 “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.

This is a constant theme throughout the OT, asserted and affirmed more than any other, that God as Creator is the ultimate justification for his purposes. And these purposes are always affirmed in the context of the redemption of his people. The Bible, after all, is redemptive history, the history of the redemption of his people.

The Lord then affirms Jeremiah’s affirmation with his own rhetorical question:

27 “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?

Uh, no! Yet how often do we treat stupid little frustrations in life or situations that don’t exactly line up with our expectations as if God is a bystander. Or worse, we blame him for malevolent intentions. As the chapter goes on we’ll see that he won’t let us get away with either, if we’re willing to believe what he says.

After he declares his power, he yet again recites the litany of Israel’s sins. You’d think they, and we, would have gotten the point by now, but I think the point isn’t to rub their noses in it. Rather, it’s purpose is to contrast the sins with the mercy and grace he will show to such sinners, both ancient and modern. In v. 36 he in effect says, you all are saying look at this calamity the Lord has brought upon you, but you are focusing on the wrong thing:

37 I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. 38 They will be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. 40 I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.

Yet again the Lord points to the material-temporal while pointing to something much bigger in the spiritual-eternal. Yes he will bring Judah and Israel back to the land where they will be able to buy fields and vineyards, but what he’s really after is the heart of his people. The physical-material circumstances of his people, while important, are always secondary.

God’s people are those whose hearts he has transformed so that they will alone reverence him—singleness of heart and action is a far cry from the rebellion Israel and Judah have been guilty of for centuries. What changed? God! His “furious anger and great wrath” have been satisfied in Christ! As “Our Father who art in heaven,” he will “never stop doing good to” us, and he “will rejoice in doing” us good. He will “assuredly plant” us in the eternal land, and do it with all his being.

We can trust God’s good intentions toward us because his change of heart is not arbitrary, as it is with the God of Islam. His good intentions, i.e. his love, is based on something he has done, and demonstrated, something objectively we can point to and say, “See, look how our God loves us!” Paul tells us what that is:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God himself gave himself in the person of Christ for us! No wonder he will never stop and rejoices in doing us good. The everlasting covenant he makes with us he first made with himself in the councils of his Triune being. That is why when he forgives our sin he is faithful and just. His forgiveness is not dependent on the depth of our remorse or the sincerity of our repentance (as if we could gauge such things), but on his character! This we can live, albeit imperfectly, in the words of Isaiah:

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.

Amen!

Jeremiah 31 – The Ultimate Victory for God’s People

Chapter 31 starts with the familiar phrase, “At that time,” not unlike, “In that day.” Both convey fulfillment, that God’s purposes shall not be thwarted, ever. The Lord declares that when this time comes:

“I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.”

And for the next thirteen verses he describes what life will be like for his people when he brings them back to Zion. But again as we’ve seen, there is both temporal-material as well as eternal-spiritual implications to the Lord’s promises. No doubt this message through Jeremiah was meant for God’s people exiled in Babylon. They needed hope that they would not be captives of the Babylonians forever, but there are hints throughout these verses, I think, that point to something much greater than a physical homecoming for God’s people. Take this verse:

11 For the Lord will ransom Jacob
    and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.

To ransom and redeem implies payment and transaction. This is exactly what God did for his people in Christ, but from the sin stronger than us. The result of all this he says in verse 14 is “my people will be filled with my bounty.” Then in the very next verse we read these prophetic words, horrifying to those of us who know to what they actually refer:

15 This is what the Lord says:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

Matthew tells us this describes Herod having all the little boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger killed in his attempts to destroy the Messiah—didn’t work. But this is not the most obvious Messianic reference in the chapter. That comes some verses later in a much more direct declaration about a new covenant he will make with the house of Israel. This can only be fulfilled in Christ. Unlike the old covenant which could be, and was, broken, this one can never be broken, and here is why:

33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.

This is the radical relational reversal, or spiritual surgery, I’ve spoken of before. This covenant will not be a matter of external observance, but of internal transformation. God’s will becomes the desire of our heart, or as Isaiah says to the Lord, “your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” The reason this covenant is a sure foundation for the future of God’s people is based on our sins being dealt with, which is the sole reason we are alienated from God:

For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.

He cannot just forgive our sins by willy nilly; they must be paid for, and they have been.

In the last verses the Lord again states his bona fides to make all this happen: he is the Lord Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. He speaks of “the city” being rebuilt, and that it will “never again be uprooted or demolished.” For those to whom these words were written, they would take that to mean the physical city of Jerusalem. It would be rebuilt. But what the Romans did to it in AD 70 confirms that the never in “never again” ultimately refers to the eternal city where God will dwell forever with his people.

Jeremiah 30 – The Lord’s Good News for His People

This chapter starts with God’s promise that he will bring back the people of Israel and Judah from captivity and restore them to “the land I gave their forefathers to possess.” This of course has to do with the physical land in the Middle East directly, but the land is never about just “the land.” The latter has eternal significance, and Israel’s captivity always points to our captivity in sin, the wages of which Christ died to pay.

That this points beyond the historical moment it depicts is shown in the following verse describing the salvation the Lord will provide. He uses the phrase, “In that day” to pinpoint the time their bondage will be broken, and when they will no longer be enslaved by foreigners. Here is what comes next:

Instead, they will serve the Lord their God
    and David their king,
    whom I will raise up for them.

How could they serve David if he died over 400 years earlier? In Scripture references to David are almost always Messianic, and we know now that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Davidic reign. The physical-temporal almost always points to the spiritual-eternal, as it does here.  The Lord’s promise to Israel then and us now:

I am with you and will save you.

What do we need saving from? Captivity to sin a la Israel, and spiritual death a la all humanity. In this same verse (9) the Lord says the people must be disciplined, but with justice. Their sins must be punished, and we read yet again the case laid out against them in the following verses. But at the same time he continues to affirm that he will restore his people. The Lord never proclaims judgment without the hope of salvation, justice without mercy. He again points much further with this verse about the leader he will raise up:

21 Their leader will be one of their own;
    their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me—
    for who is he who will devote himself
    to be close to me?’
declares the Lord.
22 “‘So you will be my people,
    and I will be your God.’”

This leader will be known by the closeness of his relationship to Yahweh. The question the Lord asks here is a rhetorical one: the Leader! Nobody else wants to be close to a holy God who will judge them for their sin. We know that among God’s people none could be found to fulfill the ultimate role of Savior. God himself would have to do it. We read in Isaiah 6 why this is:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King,the Lord Almighty.”

This Leader is “David their king” of verse 9, all of which allows Yahweh to have a relationship with his people and be their God. Paul tells us how this happened in I Corinthians 5:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

And what is the nature of this reconciliation: not counting his people’s sins against them. And what does reconcile mean exactly?  To restore to friendship or harmony. What Adam lost, Christ restored. Now we live in harmony with our Father because he no longer counts our sins against us. A simple gospel message with profoundly eternal questions right here in Jeremiah.

The final words of the chapter say that God’s wrath and anger will be satisfied against the wicked, but the ultimate enemy we know is death. I think the word “fully” in the last verse looks to a much bigger cosmic victory won in Christ:

24 The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back
    until he fully accomplishes
    the purposes of his heart.
In days to come
    you will understand this.

We live in the days to come! The revelation of God in Christ makes all the shadows and types of the OT Clear.

Jeremiah 29 – The Lord’s Promise to Exiled Judah Ultimately Fulfilled in Us

What a rich chapter this is. There are two sets of people, those who have already gone into exile, who’ve listened to the Lord and submitted to his judgment, and those who remain in Jerusalem. The latter preferred to listen to other prophet’s lies. It starts with a letter Jeremiah had delivered to the exiles in Babylon, of how they are to conduct themselves there as exiles. These people had no experience of how their ancestors lived, wanderers without a home. They had lived in their own land for hundreds of years, but will now once again be exiles.

Jeremiah drafts a letter and has it delivered to the exiles in Babylon. Even in the midst of punishment, the Lord is reaching out to his people, teaching them what they should do to prosper where he has placed them.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

God commands his people in exile to have children; if they don’t increase, the implication is that they will decrease. You wonder why he would command such a thing. It’s likely their initial reaction to being hauled off to Babylon was that this wouldn’t last long. But the Lord says it will last long, 70 years long—so settle in. And there must be new generations alive who he will be able to bring back to the land of promise. I think there is some redemptive-historical significance for we 21st century Christians, ourselves exiles in a strange land. We need to increase, not decrease, to pray for “the city” that it might prosper. One day when the time is right, he will bring all of us back to the eternal land of promise.

Then the Lord tells them it’s going to be 70 years, and then he “will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.” Then there are well-known verses that are often applied as if they were speaking directly to us outside of their redemptive-historical significance. Their meaning is specifically to these Babylonian exiles, but they point to something far more grand, even cosmic in scope:

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

In history, the Lord will definitely bring them back to the land. We call that the post-exilic period. But the ultimate promises here can only come from the transformation of the human heart, and that can only come from what I’ve called a “radical relational reversal.” This happens at the cross where Jesus pays the price for our sin, and satisfies God’s wrath. This is called in Bible speak, propitiation, a word you will likely never hear in almost any church:

The word propitiation carries the basic idea of appeasement, or satisfaction, specifically towards God. Propitiation is a two-part act that involves appeasing the wrath of an offended person and being reconciled to them.

This reconciliation is the reversal, from God as our judge, jury, and executioner, to God as our loving father. Our hearts are transformed from stone, which is enmity and rebellion toward our maker, to affection and love. It’s supernatural heart surgery, and the only way we could ever seek the Lord with all our heart. We don’t seek our way into the reversal, we are transformed into it. This captivity the Lord speaks of is ultimately pointing back to the captivity of sin.

The chapter ends, in fact it’s the majority of the verses, with the Lord’s warnings to not listen to the lies of false prophets. This common theme throughout Israel’s history is a lesson for the ages; we must listen to the Lord alone. He has given us his Word and his Spirit that we may now do so.