Jeremiah 47 has the prophet once again getting a word from the Lord. This time it was “concerning the Philistines” who were concerning the Philistines. The prophecy was given before the calamity came upon Gaza, a significant Philistine city. Jeremiah’s prophecy talks about “waters are rising out of the north, and shall become an overflowing torrent”. The Babylonians did not only come to conquer the Kingdom of Judah and the Egyptians, but to rule the entire region as their empire. They would also come from the north to overwhelm the Philistines as flood waters overwhelm a land.
It’s going to be a painful and crushing victory for the Babylonians over the Philistines. “Men shall cry out, and every inhabitant of the land shall wail. At the noise of the stamping of the hoofs of his stallions, at the rushing of his chariots, at the rumbling of their wheels, the fathers look not back to their children, so feeble are their hands”. Fear will be the action of the day and men will run for their lives, ignoring even their own children as they are consumed by fear of their enemy.
But Jeremiah makes it clear that “the Lord is destroying the Philistines”. This is not a victory won solely by the enemy army but one appointed by God. He is in control of all things, even the evil enemy that is coming to destroy the Philistines. God wants them all to be killed, down to the remnant along the coast and the allies who were going to assist the Philistines in their battle. God is in control of all things in all places at all times. And Jeremiah hears clearly and passes on the coming truth – the Philistines are going down.
It can’t get much clearer than how Jeremiah describes the “sword of the Lord”. The very sword of God’s judgment that came heavily upon the Philistines. The sword of God still has the same ability and responsibility today. “How can it be quiet when the Lord has given it a charge”? We read these old testament stories and think God’s work then is somehow different than it is today. That’s not the case. He is still in the business of dealing with evil and bringing people to justice. His sword is alive and active today. He may not use it in exactly the same ways now as He did in the old testament times, but never wonder if the charge has changed. It hasn’t!
Jeremiah 46 has the prophet receiving another word from the Lord – this time about Egypt and Pharaoh Neco who was king. Most of Jeremiah’s writings are about God’s judgment of Judah, but He didn’t neglect or ignore the Gentile nations and Jeremiah speaks of the judgment that is coming over the next five chapters. Jeremiah describes the judgment that would come upon Egypt, especially at the Battle of Carchemish when the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians. When Jeremiah gave this prophecy the battle was yet in the future.
Jeremiah does a play by play as he prophecies the coming battle. “Prepare buckler and shield, and advance for battle”! He sees the soldiers getting ready and then, they run away. “They are dismayed and have turned backward. Their warriors are beaten down and have fled in haste”. Not exactly the picture you’d expect to see from the mighty Egyptian army. But Jeremiah described a full retreat of the Egyptian army before the Babylonians. They may run, but they can’t hide and are pursued by the Babylonians to the Euphrates where they would be caught and fight the battle of Carchemish.
Egypt is going to be destroyed. Jeremiah has seen it. God has made it happen. “He made many stumble, and they fell”. God is in control of all things. He is the Master of the Universe and controller of all things. It wasn’t only the power of the Babylonian army at work. God was also determined to drive away the defenders of Egypt to bring a vast judgment upon them. Pharaoh didn’t lead well. “Call the name of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, Noisy one who lets the hour go by”. Pharaoh was no longer a ruler of great power and authority.
God makes it clear that this isn’t an accident. “Behold, I am bringing punishment upon….Pharaoh and Egypt and her gods and her kings, upon Pharaoh and those who trust in him”. God is addressing a problem of pride and evil. Egypt will be ashamed and delivered into the hand of the people of the north (the Babylonians) when this massive army came against them God would bring punishment on the cities and rulers of Egypt. God ends the chapter reminding His people that He loves them, even though the punishment they had to endure. God’s judgment upon His people was evidence of His great love and care for them.
Jeremiah 45 is one of the shortest chapters our prophet penned. Five short verses written to Baruch. “The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a book at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah”. Baruch was the long-time, trusted associate of Jeremiah. Both he and Jeremiah were taken to Egypt against their will. He was a faithful partner with Jeremiah and served him well over the years.
Baruch had to endure a lot of opposition and abuse. He certainly suffered much for his faithfulness to God and Jeremiah, and he therefore felt that God could in some way be blamed for his grief and sorrow. “Woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest”. A little whining going on here by Baruch to the prophet Jeremiah and ultimately to God. He has been through many challenges with God’s people and is now exposed to fear about the future. But his focus is on one thing – me, myself and I – he used five personal pronouns in his one short verse of complaining to God. Baruch is definitely on the me train here.
The world was falling apart around them. God was moving their cheese. “Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land”. Baruch typically recorded Jeremiah’s words from God to His people. This time, he writes down God’s words to himself. We should note that God heard and responded to Baruch’s words or prayer. That should give us hope and assurance that God hears us too. God makes it clear that He alone has the power and authority to do whatever He pleases. And that His power is sometimes expressed in judgment – God’s nature requires that He address disobedience and sin. And the real news – God wasn’t done with that yet.
Then God addresses the root of Baruch’s issue – he wanted great things for himself. “And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord”. Some of Baruch’s discouragement and disappointment came from seeking great things for himself. He expected to be at a better and different place in his life than where he found himself at the time. The disappointment of great things sought and unfulfilled weighed heavily on him. But God wanted Baruch to have the right mindset – not obsessed or overly-concerned about his own advancement and perceived success.
What God says is that to seek a name for yourself, a place of importance and distinction among men, is to look for the wrong thing in the wrong place. It’s not wrong to have ambition, but it needs to be focused on exalting God, not ourselves, and making Him known. God’s desire for us is to exalt Christ crucified, not ourselves. God does give Baruch strong assurance that He would take care of him. “But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.” It doesn’t mean there was smooth sailing. But the very suffering through which Baruch passed because of his loyalty to Jeremiah gained him honor beyond anything he could have anticipated.
Jeremiah 44 has the prophet in Egypt with the remnant of Judah and God’s word again comes to him. God wants to explain why their future was not bright, because the “did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their evil and make no offerings to other gods”. They chose to sin against God, plain and simple. They served other gods, were idol worshipers, and went to Egypt in spite of very clear direction from God that they should stay where they were. And yet they seem confused as to why things weren’t going their way.
So God makes it clear through Jeremiah. “Therefore my wrath and my anger were poured out and kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, and they became a waste and a desolation, as at this day”. Sin carries a huge price. We cannot do whatever we want and expect God to ignore it. His very nature won’t allow that. He will deal with sin, and unfortunately we’re all guilty. We have to deal with our sin problem and need to do it differently than this remnant of Judah who just went about doing things their own way hoping God would eventually just bless them. It doesn’t work that way.
So Jeremiah delivers the real truth. “I will set my face against you for harm, to cut off all Judah. I will take the remnant of Judah who have set their faces to come to the land of Egypt to live, and they shall all be consumed…..so that none of the remnant of Judah who have come to live in the land of Egypt shall escape or survive or return to the land of Judah”. Do you see how total God’s words are here – ‘none’ are going to escape. Sin is individual and each has to pay for their own choice. What a price to pay so they could do it their way.
As if Jeremiah hasn’t made it clear already, there seems to still be some confusion. So he makes another run at it. “The Lord could no longer bear your evil deeds and the abominations that you committed. Therefore your land has become a desolation and a waste and a curse, without inhabitant, as it is this day”. The facts are pretty clear. God has already began the work of cleaning up the disobedience and sin by laying waste to Jerusalem and most of Judah. But as is often the case, there doesn’t seem to be a connecting of the dots by the people. So Jeremiah draws a very straight line to the root of the problem.
“It is because you made offerings and because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey the voice of the Lord or walk in his law and in his statutes and in his testimonies that this disaster has happened to you”. Look people – you brought this on yourself. You can’t blame anyone else. This is your problem caused by your choice and comes with a very personal pricetag. The people make all sorts of confessions and promises as to how they were going to clean up their lives. Jeremiah has one simple response: “Then confirm your vows and perform your vows”. We can’t merely talk about obedience. We have to live it. We have to make choices that align with God’s ways. It isn’t words that get us in trouble but what we do. Jeremiah is clear that the walk has to match the talk before God will pay any attention. Oh that we’d learn that lesson!
Jeremiah 43 has the response of the people to Jeremiah’s word from God. Remember in the last chapter, the people had asked the prophet to seek God about what they should do. He came back to them with the response – they were to stay put and not go to Egypt. Before he asked, they had assured him that they wanted to hear from God and would obey whatever his reply was. So now we see how that is carried out. Jeremiah is standing before the people and telling them the “words of the Lord their God, with which the Lord their God had sent him to them”.
So what should have happened? Maybe a little gratitude and then a discussion of how to obey. Instead, some of the leaders get combative and say “You are telling a lie”. They really didn’t want to hear God unless what He said was what they planned to do already. These guys were going to Egypt and just looking for God to bless their plan. Unfortunately that is how we often pray. We seek God’s blessing on what we are going to do rather than seek what He wants us to do. Big difference. In the first case, if the answer isn’t what we wanted, we either ignore it or have to tell God He’s wrong.
Of course, God is never wrong, but it doesn’t occur to us that we might be. In this case “Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces and all the people did not obey the voice of the Lord, to remain in the land of Judah”. They loaded up the people and they took off to the land of Egypt, in spite of the direct word from God to stay put. It’s so easy to sit here today and realize just how stupid the people were. But we tend to do the same things. We make choices in violation of God’s ways and plans for us. And like these people, we end up where we shouldn’t be. “They came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the Lord”.
Jeremiah continues to hear from God, and it isn’t good. God has the prophet make very clear the coming pain that will befall these folks. He is instructed to bury some large stones in the pavement at the entrance of Pharaoh’s palace and talk about how the King of Babylon will come and set up shop right there. God’s plan is in motion and will happen. And it won’t end well for the people that have gone to Egypt as “he shall clean the land of Egypt as a shepherd cleans his cloak of vermin, and he shall go away from there in peace”. Disobedience never ends well. We have to learn to hear and obey God’s voice!
Jeremiah 42 has the prophet being approached by the leaders of the remnant wanting help. “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the Lord your God for us, for all this remnant—because we are left with but a few, as your eyes see us—that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do”. Those who were left after the massacre at Mizpah wanted a word from the Lord. It wasn’t going anything like they had expected, so it was time to check in. Isn’t that how we live far too often? We do things our way until it doesn’t work, and then we want to run to God.
Jeremiah is willing to seek God. But before he does, the people offer this promise. “Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God”. One of the problems with prayer and seeking God’s will is that it may not come back the way we want it to. God may have a plan that is different than what we want to do. But here, the people seem to be humbly seeking God’s will. They want His protection.
Jeremiah agrees and seeks God on their behalf. It was ten days later that he received a word from the Lord. That likely felt like an eternity to them, but God doesn’t move on our timeline. He tells Jeremiah to pass this along. “If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you”. It’s pretty simple – stay where you are and God will protect and establish you again as a nation. If you move, that is not the outcome.
To make sure they didn’t miss the severity of the decision, Jeremiah gives them more. “If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die”. Can it get much clearer? So now it comes down to choices. And like so many of us, they are determined to make the wrong one. They are determined to disobey God and attempt to run from death (in their own mind) but will in fact, run directly to death because they choose to disobey God’s plan. Obedience matters. We can’t seek God and then do what we were going to anyway.
Jeremiah 41 has the prophet recording a massacre at Mizpah. It began with the killing of Gedaliah who was governor of the land, but extended to many others. Gedaliah had been warned that Ishmael was coming to kill him, but he didn’t believe it. They met and the governor extended hospitality to the visitors by inviting them to eat with him at his table. It is likely that Gedaliah knew Ishmael based on the fact he wouldn’t believe the word that he was coming to destroy him, and the fact that he invited him to a meal. That makes what happened all the worse.
Ishmael was thorough. He “struck down Gedaliah….and killed him….all the Judeans who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah, and the Chaldean soldiers who happened to be there”. Ishmael was only there with ten men, so it seems likely the locals were not at all suspicious of their guest. Ishmael was of the royal family and of the officers of the king, a descendant of David. He was probably jealous that Gedaliah was appointed governor, making him more willing to do the work of the king of the Ammonites.
Ishmael’s crime was startling because he lived through God’s judgment in the fall of Jerusalem and Judah. But it did not make him fear or honor the Lord. In fact, as another group of 80 arrived to sacrifice from around the area. These worshippers were “from Shechem and Shiloh and Samaria” and they came to offer sacrifice and worship God. Ishmael put on a good show, meeting them as they approached the city and inviting them in. Then he and his men killed them and put their bodies into a cistern. This guy is one bad egg.
Ishmael takes the survivors captive from the city and returns them to the Ammonites. He likely sold them as slaves to this foreign king. There was a good guy in this story. “When Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done, they took all their men and went to fight against Ishmael”. Johanan had been the one who had warned Gedaliah about Ishmael before his murder. Now he is making it his business to try and right the wrong Ishmael did. He chases him and frees his captives but Ishmael escapes. But Johanan does much good in trying to free those whom Ishmael intended for harm.