Next Sunday we will move to the New Testament book of Hebrews for our weekly Bible Study.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
THE FINAL REBELLION
Rejection the Prophet\Rejecting the Word
What a strange turn of events occurs in this chapter. Johanan and the people in Mizpah asked Jeremiah to pray and tell them what the Lord said about their plan to go to Egypt. This means they recognized Jeremiah as God’s prophet. It also means they thought God’s word on the matter was important.
But immediately upon receiving God’s word through Jeremiah, they rebelled. They rejected Jeremiah’s status as God’s prophet. They refused to obey God’s instruction.
We see in verse 2 that they say Jeremiah was lying. This is a big turn around. Why would they ask him to seek the Lord and then reject his message?
I think the answer is at the beginning of verse 2. The text says “all the insolent men”. Now, if you look back to the original request in 42:1-6, they appear to be humble, godly men. They ask for God’s guidance and they promised to obey God’s word. But, in reality, they had decided what they wanted to do and what they thought was best. They did not see any way God’s judgment could be different than their judgment. They just wanted God’s stamp of approval. When they did not get it, they rebelled. They saw God as a power to enlist to help them, not a Lord to obey.
We today do the same thing. We want something and we ask God to give us his stamp of approval. What we should do is examine God’s word first.
Here is an example. A man comes to you and says my wife is just no fun any more. I found someone who would be more fun. I think God would want me to be happy. After all, God is love. Do you agree? You say Jesus said no. Let’s read Matthew 19:3-9. He gets mad and leaves and gets a divorce anyway.
Any time you read or hear the word of God and say I do not think God really means that, you are saying his word is a lie and you are rebelling just like these men of Judah.
One final thought is that you can hear the hiss of the serpent here. The men say “the Lord our God did not send you to say”.(2) The serpent asked Eve “did God actually say”. (Genesis 3:1) Next he directly contradicted God’s word by saying “you will not surely die”. (Genesis 3:4) Eve accepted Satan’s word rather than God’s word.
The Lord Imposes Consequences
Defying the Lord, the Judahites leave Judah and travel along the coast through Sinai to Egypt. They settled first in Tahpanhes. The Greeks called this city Daphne.
Once they arrive in Egypt, the Lord has Jeremiah give an object lesson and an explanation. These together are the Lord’s word of judgment on the Judahites who traveled to Egypt.
Jeremiah was to go to Pharaoh’s house and stack up stones near the entrance while all of the people watched. The meaning of the object lesson was that Judah would not escape the Babylonians by going to Egypt. Instead, they just brought the Babylonians to Egypt to conquer it. So, Nebuchadnezzar’s throne would be over the throne of Egypt. He would defeat Egypt and rule it.
It was God’s will that the Jews come under the rule of Babylon. He said “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him and his people and live”. (Jeremiah 27:12)They would do so whether in Babylon, or in Judah or even in Egypt. This was God’s judgment on them. They would not escape it.
In addition, God would destroy temples and idols in Egypt through the Babylonians. This is the meaning of verses 12-13. Remember that the primary reason God destroyed Israel was to punish their worship of idols. The worship of idols, or false gods, is the rejection of the Lord, the one true God. Nebuchadnezzar was the instrument that God chose to execute this judgment. Now that the Jews are in Egypt, God extended the judgment to it, destroying temples and gods. He would break them down and burn them, just as he had one to Jerusalem. This was common in the Middle East. Remember the Philistines taking the ark when they defeated Israel.
Nebuchadnezzar did invade Egypt in 568 and subjected Pharaoh Ahmose to his authority.
Verse 13 contains an accurate historical reference. The entrance to the temple in Heliopolis was lined with obelisks. The Hebrew word for the temple was “beth-shemesh”, which means House of the Sun God. An obelisk is a tall column that tapers toward the top. If you are an American or familiar with Washington D.C., think the Washington Monument. That is an obelisk.
Monday, January 21, 2013
YET ANOTHER REBELLION
Starting in verse 6, we see Gedaliah governing the few remaining people in Judah. Nebchadnezzar appointed him. He governed from Mizpah. Jeremiah lived there with him. An interesting facet of this is that Gedaliah was another descendant of Shaphan. The family of Shaphan was faithful to Jeremiah. In 26:24, for example, Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, kept him from being put to death for his prophecy. Gemariah, another son, let Baruch use his chamber in the upper court to read the scroll of Jeremiah’s messages. (36:10)
Mizpah is a town five or so miles north of Jerusalem. It is an old town. It is where Samuel led the Israelites to repent after the Philistines took the ark. It is where he raised the stone and named it Ebenezer.
As the Babylonian army withdrew, people who had hidden in the countryside came out. They heard that Gedaliah governed in Mizpah and they went to him. Some of them had fighting men with them. (8) One of these men was named Ishmael. (8) He was actually a surviving member of the royal family. (41:1)
Gedaliah told them to live in the land, but to serve Babylon. He would govern them and represent them to the Babylonians. They could gather food from the fields of those taken into captivity and live in their houses. This further fulfilled the word of the Lord that the properties of people would given to others. (Jeremiah 6:12)
The word spread even further. Hebrews in neighboring countries also came back.
The fighting men who came to Mizpah warned Gedaliah that Ishmael, who had also come to Mizpah, was plotting to kill him. Ishmael was evidently working on behalf of the Ammonite king Baalis. Baalis probably wanted to kill Gedaliah because he was appointed by the Babylonians. He was trying to start a rebellion.
Johanan even offered to kill Ishmael to prevent the attack. He correctly thought that Gedaliah’s murder would bring another attack by the Babylonians that would wipe out the few remaining Hebrews in Judah. But Gedaliah did not believe the threat and forbid the killing.
Gedaliah seemed like a good man. Unfortunately, he did not seek the Lord in this matter even though Jeremiah was living in his house. Had he done so, he might have avoided the evil to come.
Ishmael was treacherous. He and his men came to dinner with Gedaliah. He murdered him during dinner. Then he and his men slaughtered the Judeans living in the town as well as the Chaldean soldiers who were on guard there.
The next day Ishmael slaughtered a group of men who had come to worship at the temple, evidently not knowing it was destroyed. Ishmael threw all the bodies down into a cistern to hide them.
It seems likely that the root of this insurrection was Ishmael’s royal blood. With the backing of a neighboring king, he could overthrow the governor and become king. Then he could also throw off the yoke of the Babylonians. It was unrealistic, because he had no chance of defeating the Babylonians. It was also ungodly, killing the man appointed to govern. What a contrast this is to David, who would not harm Saul.
THE FAILED ESCAPE
Ishmael took the survivors as captive and took off for Ammon. Evidently he thought it would be better to be an Ammonite than to serve the king of Babylon. But Johanan and his men gave chase and overtook Ishmael at the great pool of Gibeon. This was the site of a great battle during the time of David. The fight between the soldiers of Joab and those of Abner took place beside the Pool of Gibeon (2 Samuel 2:12).
The captives of Ishmael fled to Johanan. Ishmael escaped to Ammon.
So, Johanan and the survivors had to decide what to do next. Their first thought was to go to Egypt, the only other great power in the area. They were afraid the Babylonians would kill them in retaliation for Ishmael’s actions.
SEEKING THE LORD
For one brief moment, something good happened in Judah. Johanan and his followers sought the will of the Lord. They came to Jeremiah the prophet. The asked him to pray for them, to ask the Lord what they should do. It was a great prayer and request. They seemed to cast themselves fully on the Lord’s mercy. The only thing I do not like about their request is that they refer to “the Lord your God” rather than “the Lord our God”. Nonetheless, they did seek the Lord. In addition, they promised to obey God whether they liked his instruction or not. (6)
So, Jeremiah agreed to pray for them and present their request. He promised to give them God’s answer. (4)
THE LORD’S ANSWER
After 10 days, the Lord answered Jeremiah. He called the people to come and hear the Lord’s answer and instruction. The Lord told them, through Jeremiah, not to go to Egypt. They were to stay in the land. If they obeyed, God would build them up. He would deliver them from the king of Babylon. God would give them mercy and cause the king to give them mercy. (12) The Lord even said he would relent of the disaster he brought on them. (10)
God’s instruction to the remnant of Judah reminds me of his instructions to Isaac in Genesis 26. There was a famine in Canaan then. Isaac thought of going to Egypt, but the Lord told him to stay in the land. If he did the Lord would be with him and bless him. (Genesis 26:1-5)
Egypt is always portrayed in the Bible as the enemy of God. They worshipped idols. Their Pharaoh considered himself a god. Egypt enslaved God’s people. The great act of redemption and type of our redemption is God’s redeeming of Israel from slavery in Egypt. To go back at any time would be to reject God and embrace sin. It would be to reject God’s salvation.
But if they did not obey, the Lord would impose a penalty. If they went to Egypt, thinking Egypt would provide for them and protect them, the Lord would have them die by the sword, by famine and by sickness. (17)
Evidently the people had already decided to go to Egypt. Jeremiah said “you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord”. (21) So Jeremiah pronounced God’s curse on them, they would die and they would suffer the wrath of the Lord as Jerusalem had. (18, 22)
So, yet again, the Hebrews rejected God. Despite the fact that God did all he said he would do, they refused to believe and obey.
That is the heart of the matter. And the matter of the heart.
Every human being that will ever live on this planet must believe God and obey him or face judgment.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
THE FALL OF JERUSALEM: JEREMIAH 39
The Wall Is Breached
God finally brought to Jerusalem the punishment that he decreed. This event is also described in chapter 52. Nebuchadnezzar brought the whole of army of Babylon back to Jerusalem and attacked. After six months, they breached the wall and took seats in the gate. This is a declaration that they now control the city. It is also a symbol of the right to judge.
All through the book of Jeremiah we saw him deliver the message of God. That message was that God will destroy this city and give it to the Babylonians unless you repent. In 3:12, God told them to return to him and acknowledge their guilt and he would be merciful. They never did.
In chapter 1, God said he would bring people from the north (Babylon) who would set up their thrones in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem. (1:14) Here in 39:3 that word is fulfilled.
When the Babylonians breached the gate, Zedekiah (the king of Judah) tried to escape with his officials. The Arabah was a wilderness area in the south. Its name literally means “desolate and dry area”. Zedekiah would soon learn that Jeremiah was the true prophet of God. He would also learn that God would do as he said. He would fulfill his word.
Ezekiel 24:1-14 also deals with this. On the day it happened, God told Ezekiel, who was in exile in Babylon already, what he was doing and why.
Zedekiah did not get far before he was captured. The Babylonians caught him in the plains of Jericho, about 15 miles away. The Babylonians were brutal. They killed Zedekiah’s sons and nobles in front of him. Then they gouged out his eyes so that would be the last thing he saw. Finally, the shackled him and took him to Babylon as a prisoner of war.
In Jeremiah 38, we saw God extend mercy to Zedekiah one last time. He told Zedekiah to surrender to the Babylonians. If he did, he and his family would live in exile. The city would also be saved. But, if he did not, he family would suffer, he would be captured and the city would be burned. (38:17-18) Zedekiah refused God’s offer of mercy. The Lord fulfilled all that he spoke through Jeremiah. Zedekiah was captured. His family suffered. His nobles were slaughtered.
Why was Nebuchadnezzar so hard on Zedekiah? Remember that the reason for this invasion goes back to the relationship between Babylon and Judah. Babylon had already conquered Judah. Judah surrendered. To avoid destruction, Judah, through Zedekiah the king, surrendered and became a vassal of Babylon. Judah paid tribute to Babylon. Had it continued to do so, all would have been well. Nebuchadnezzar was the one who put Zedekiah on the throne when his predecessor rebelled. But Zedekiah rebelled and quit paying tribute. This is detailed in 2 Kings 25 and 2 Chronicles 36.
The City Burned
The Babylonians burned the city, including the palace. They broke down the walls. All but the very poorest people were taken into exile. Again, the Lord fulfilled his word. He told Zedekiah “this city will be burned down”. (38:23)
The only people left were the very poorest. They were left to tend the vineyards and fields. In Jeremiah 6:12, the Lord said “their houses will be turned over to others together with their field and their wives when I stretch out my hand against those who live in the land.”
Nebuchadnezzar had Jeremiah released from confinement in the court of the guard and returned to his own house. Nebuchadnezzar likely did this because he knew Jeremiah had been counseling people to leave Jerusalem and surrender to the Babylonians. That is what the Lord told him to say. Some people had believed God’s word and obeyed by going out and surrendering to the Babylonians. Chapter 38 showed us that Zedekiah was afraid of the Jews who had gone over to the Babylonians. (38:19) Jeremiah was arrested for preaching this message of surrender. (38:2)
The Babylonians turned Jeremiah over to Geldaliah, who was to care for him and get him home. Geldaliah would be appointed as a type of governor to take care of the few people who were left in Judah.
Ebed-melech was the Ethiopian eunuch who rescued Jeremiah from death in the cistern. God sent Jeremiah to him to say God would save him when the city fell. He would not die. This was because he put his trust in God. (18) I think God meant that Ebed-melech acted to save Jeremiah because he believed God’s word concerning Jerusalem and he trusted God to protect him from Jeremiah’s enemies.
This reminds us of Rehab in Jericho, who was rewarded for protecting the Hebrew spies. Even in the Old Testament times, God brought Gentiles to himself and rewarded the faithful with life in Israel.
So, what happened here? Well, two things happened. First, God brought judgment on his rebellious people as he said he would. Second, though, God’s people suffered a huge loss at the hands of Satan’s people. Although God withdrew his protection from Israel, and although he sent the Babylonians as his tool of judgment, they were still the forces of the god of this world, not the forces of Christ. The Book of Revelation uses Babylon as a symbol for the world order that opposes Christ and his people. Satan must have howled in victory.
We see that the dwelling place of God was destroyed. God refused to dwell there because of Israel’s idolatry and other sins. The elements used in worship of God were taken away to the dwelling place of a pagan king and his false god who was just Satan in disguise.
The holy land was defiled. God’s people were taken into a pagan land. He thrust them out of his land as he said he would. In 6:8 he said he would make them a desolation and an uninhabited land. The Davidic king was tortured and imprisoned, leaving his people to be ruled by a pagan king, the emissary of Satan. It seemed that all was lost by God and won by Satan.
But God told us through Isaiah that he would preserve a faithful remnant. In 5:18, he said “I will not make a full end of you.” In 16:15, God said “I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers”.
He also said that from this remnant, another king would arise and rule. In 23:5, he said “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.”
So, Israel’s story was not over.