Ezekiel 25 has the prophet moving on to a new focus. Once the exiles had been awakened, Ezekiel’s next task was to instruct them further about God’s future purposes for them. He shows how God will deal with Israel’s former oppressors. God is the controller not only of Israel’s destiny but also of the destinies of other nations. He will not allow sin to go unpunished, and he will especially deal with the four neighboring nations who supported Babylon at the fall of Jerusalem – those being Ammon, Moab, Edom and the Philistines.
Ezekiel begins with the details for the people of Ammon. “Because you said, ‘Aha!’ against My sanctuary when it was profaned, and against the land of Israel when it was made desolate, and against the house of Judah when they went into exile, therefore, behold, I am going to give you to the sons of the east for a possession, and they will set their encampments among you and make their dwellings among you’. God isn’t going to allow nations to go beyond His plan in punishing His people. He now is dealing with the four nations who stepped over His line.
The Ammonites will be overrun by desert tribesmen from the east who will turn Ammon’s cities into pasture lands for their animals. “Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the scorn of your soul against the land of Israel, therefore, behold, I have stretched out My hand against you and I will give you for spoil to the nations. And I will cut you off from the peoples and make you perish from the lands; I will destroy you. Thus you will know that I am the Lord”. Moab will suffer the same fate as Ammon. Its sin was to despise God, by claiming that he was no different from the gods of other nations. They thought that he was powerless to protect His temple from devastation. He will now show his power by devastating Moab.
Edom had acted with unnecessary violence and treachery against Judah, and helped Babylon in the final destruction of Jerusalem. The Jews themselves will be God’s instrument in punishing Edom. The Philistines, ancient enemies of Israel, had also acted in bitter revenge against Jerusalem when they saw the city about to fall. Therefore, they too will cease to be a nation. In each case, God makes it clear that part of His retribution is to make sure they all know that He is the Lord. God is about establishing Himself as the true King and Lord of all! “I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes; and they will know that I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance on them”.
Ezekiel 19 is a “lamentation for the princes of Israel”. A lamentation is described as ‘the passionate expression of grief or sorrow; weeping’. Ezekiel knows that God’s judgment of the sinful people of Judah was just and right, yet he felt sorry for there situation. So he goes through a series of remembering the different reigns of kings as he describes how “young lions….became a lion” and then became king. They learned how to lead and fight and take on their enemies. But in some cases, they also lost and were captured and carried away.
So Judah was like a mother lion whose young lions became kings to rule over nations. However, when Egypt gained control of the region, Judah’s king Jehoahaz was captured, bound and taken to Egypt, where he later died. (2 Kings 23) The next lion with all the fierce and aggressive characteristics was Jehoiakim. Unlike the kings before and after him, Jehoiakim died in Jerusalem, not in a foreign land. His son and successor, Jehoiachin, was captured and taken prisoner to Babylon. Although Jehoiachin reigned only three months, he showed he had the same evil characteristics as his father.
Judah is pictured also as a strong healthy vine, and her kings as fruitful branches of that vine. “’Your mother was like a vine in your vineyard, planted by the waters; It was fruitful and full of branches because of abundant waters….And it had strong branches fit for scepters of rulers”. But the vine withered and was taken, along with its last rightful king, Jehoiachin, into the dry and thirsty land of Babylon. These lions put on a quite a show at times of their rule, but in the end, were “plucked up in a fury”.
In Jerusalem the king appointed by Babylon proved to be a fire who destroyed the little that remained of the vine. Through Zedekiah both the nation and the line of kings from David came to an end. “The east wind dried up its fruit. Its strong branch was torn off So that it withered; The fire consumed it. And now it is planted in the wilderness, In a dry and thirsty land. And fire has gone out from its branch; It has consumed its shoots and fruit, So that there is not in it a strong branch, a scepter to rule”. Ezekiel has plenty to lament over as he reviews the history of God’s people in Judah and their poor kings who led them badly.
Lamentations 3 has our prophet taking a different tact in how he writes this chapter. It is different in style from the previous two. The writer speaks as if he is the representative of all Judah, describing Judah’s sufferings as if they were his own. And those sufferings are God’s righteous judgment on himself as the front of God’s people. “I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of His wrath”. God has been in judgment mode with his people. And the weight of that punishment has worn the people, including our writer, down to a point they were desperate for some respite.
To the writer God seems like a wild animal that tears its prey to pieces, or like a hunter who has shot his prey with an arrow. Life has been difficult. God may punish, but the writer still trusts in him. He knows that God’s steadfast love does not change. It is constant and reliable. God disciplines and trains, but those who are patient will enjoy the fullness of his salvation. “Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail”.
God never leaves us. Our choices and sin gets in the way and causes a rift in our relationship with God. But it never changes the fact that God loves us. He never gives up and is waiting when we come back to Him in humility with a surrendered spirit. Each day is a new opportunity to come back to Him. “They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him”. We have to make the effort to return – to take the first step to confess, repent and receive His forgiveness and salvation.
And that’s how it happens. We recognize that sin creates a gap in our relationship with God. “Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord….We have transgressed and rebelled, you have not pardoned”. The writer knows sin is a problem. He confesses that it has been a barrier between him and God, preventing God from hearing his prayers for mercy. As a result he has been ruined and disgraced. “You have covered Yourself with anger and pursued us; You have slain and have not spared. You have covered Yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through”. But God is always waiting for us to return. Jesus was sent to help us do that. We have to take the steps to receive His grace and mercy!
Lamentations 2 has the prophet talking about the dire effects of God’s hand coming against His people. “The Lord has swallowed up; He has not spared…. He has poured out His wrath like fire”. The description given in this chapter is pretty clear. God has allowed His people to be punished and judged for what they have done. And it is all consuming. Sin does not go unnoticed nor unpunished. God doesn’t miss anyone. He doesn’t spare the rod of correction on any. And His people are reeling from the power of His hand.
In much of their history, they experienced God as their protector and provider. Now they see Him through different eyes – He is judge and punisher. “The Lord has become like an enemy”. And taken to the extreme, He’s become like an enemy to them. That’s a pretty big shift. God is angry with His people. God has been thorough in destroying Jerusalem’s wall. He has allowed the enemy to invade the city, and now all Jerusalem’s leaders are gone. This is intense and broad destruction.
And it impacts the prophet powerfully. These are his people too, and they are suffering in an intense way. “My eyes fail because of tears, My spirit is greatly troubled; My heart is poured out on the earth Because of the destruction “. Can you imagine having to watch this knowing you have warned for many years that this would be the outcome. God wants and demands repentance. And the prophet shouts that from the top of his lungs. “Let your tears run down like a river day and night; Give yourself no relief, Let your eyes have no rest”. Nothing will change until repentance happens.
One thing that we really need to learn is how to respond to things when it seems God is our adversary. It’s not the nature of God to be at odds with us – He loves us. But because of that love and His very nature, He does expect us to live in obedience to His Word. When we fall short, we need to get right with Him. It looks something like this – rather than running from God we need to run to Him. We need to confess our sin, repent and come back to Him. “Arise, cry aloud in the night At the beginning of the night watches; Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord; Lift up your hands to Him”. That’s the power of God’s love. He’s there with open arms waiting to receive us!
Jeremiah 39 has the prophet in Jerusalem as it comes under siege of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. This happens during the 9th year of Zedekiah’s reign, and the siege lasts for about 18 months before “a breach was made against the city”. The city was surrounded, preventing all business and trade from entering or leaving the city, and eventually starving the population into surrender – or the defenses of the city gave way and the surrounding army poured into the weakened city. It was not a pretty sight.
Zedekiah and his solders saw what has happening. “When Zedekiah king of Judah and all the soldiers saw them, they fled, going out of the city”. Probably there was a private passage underground, leading without the walls, by which Zedekiah and his followers might escape unperceived. They weren’t interested in being captured, so they took off but “the army of the Chaldeans pursued them” and eventually run them down out in the plains of Jericho. And as part of the work to be sure there was no question of who was in charge, another portion of the army “broke down the walls of Jerusalem”.
Zedekiah is captured along with his sons and leaders of the army. He is brought to Nebuchadnezzar and while the rest of his leadership were killed before him, he had his eyes put out and was bound. But the king of Babylon ordered the captain of his guard to find and care for Jeremiah. He had to wonder what would become of him when the Babylonians eventually conquered Jerusalem. God cared for His faithful servant, keeping him safe and in favor with Nebuchadnezzar and his captains. “Take him, look after him well, and do him no harm, but deal with him as he tells you.”
So Jeremiah was able to dwell among the people and was protected by the Babylonians, being released from his captivity in Zedekiah’s kingdom. He was able to live among the people once again after being isolated for some period of time by Judah’s king. God had promised his safety, and God did exactly what he promised. “For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me”. God is faithful. Jeremiah believed and trusted God. And God faithfully and fully delivered. God never fails!
Jeremiah 37 has the prophet beating his head against the wall again as King Zedekiah and all his team refuse to listen to God’s words. “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”. How frustrating that must have been. Jeremiah gets clear direction from God to pass along, but the king and his men just ignore it. However King Zedekiah does have a suspicion that something is up. So he sends some of his folks to talk with Jeremiah.
They ask him to “Please pray for us to the Lord our God”. They didn’t want to publicly appear that they were listening and heeding Jeremiah’s words from God, but down deep they were. Zedekiah knows he is the true prophet with a message from God. Jerusalem has been under attack by the Chaldeans, but now “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”.
Seems like great news doesn’t it. The enemy is gone and they are free to live again. Jeremiah hears from God that this is a temporary situation and that in fact the Chaldeans weren’t really going anywhere. The other pretenders were telling the king what he wanted to hear, that they were free from this enemy and life could return to normal. But Jeremiah says it like it is. “Do not deceive yourselves….they will not go away’. They accuse Jeremiah of being a traitor and “beat him and imprisoned him” for what he had done.
Jeremiah attempts to defend himself but to no avail. Fortunately King Zedekiah knows that Jeremiah is the true prophet and calls him to come to his place to give him the straight scoop. He tells him the truth, not what was pleasing to his ears like all the other pretenders were doing. And Jeremiah asks to be placed in a different prison that he would be cared for, which the king did allow. Jeremiah was placed in the court of the guard and given care until the bread was gone due to the Chaldean siege!
Jeremiah 20 has the prophet in a tight spot. Pashhur, the priest and chief officer of the house of the Lord has had enough of Jeremiah. “Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord”. Jeremiah was beaten and had to endure painful public disgrace. He wasn’t only regarded as a false prophet, but surely also as a traitor, discouraging the people who still trusted in help from God or Egypt against Babylon. Jeremiah doesn’t back down, but when Pashhur lets him out of the stocks the next day, he gives God’s words to him.
“I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends…. And you, Pashhur, and all who dwell in your house, shall go into captivity. To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely”. His position as priest and chief governor would not help him. He was one of those who prophesied lies, and he and his friends who heard him would all die in Babylon. There is a price to pay for dishonoring God, and it will be step and inclusive for Pashhur and his friends.
Jeremiah has a chat with God about his life. Jeremiah explained to God that he was compelled to his prophetic work. He had not desired it or pursued it, yet God prevailed upon him to take on this prophetic work. And now, it feels to him like he’s become a mockery for the people. Jeremiah is overwhelmed by the load he carries. “For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long”. He’s bummed out and since his prophecies were so long coming, the people around him were ridiculing him whenever he spoke of the future.
In his frustration, Jeremiah threatens to stop his prophesying work. But he can’t, as God’s Word “in in my heart as it were a burning fire”. He’s consumed with speaking truth from God. And as he wrestles with his life calling, he remembers “the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me….for to you have I committed my cause”. He knows that in the end God prevails and he will too. With that recognition, he shifts to praising God for who He is. While he knows his pain and problems aren’t over, he also knows who holds the future and is confident in Him!