Posts Tagged 'Babylonian Captivity'

Jeremiah Was a Prophet, Part 6

The Fall of Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar

The Fall of Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar

When we began this survey of Jeremiah’s writings, we noted that he was referred to as “the Weeping Prophet” for  of a couple of reasons. First, Jeremiah’s message from God was not a popular one. In fact, it was so unpopular that on more than one occasion Jeremiah’s life was put in jeopardy on account of it. His message was not accepted by anyone who heard it.

The word of the Lord came to me again: “What do you see?” “I see a boiling pot, tilting away from the north,” I answered. The Lord said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the Lord. “Their kings will come and set up their thrones in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem;they will come against all her surrounding walls and against all the towns of Judah. I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me,in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made. (Jeremiah 1:13-16 | NIV84)

Nobody wanted to hear this, especially during years of relative prosperity. Add to that the many false prophets who were running around preaching the exact opposite and it’s no wonder Jeremiah wept! But there was another, very pathetic reason for the weeping: he loved his people and he didn’t want to see his beloved Jerusalem fall and his people hauled off and held in exile.

It’s sobering when we realize how oblivious the Jews were to their own spiritual condition and the consequences of their stubborn sin. Even following a great revival, the people continued to think they could renege on the covenant they had with Jehovah. They lived as though His Word meant nothing at all. It was a rude awakening when the citizens of Judah realized the wrath of God was about to hit in full force.

What happened to Judah (and Israel) is part of the historical record of that part of the world. But what happened to the God’s people should serve as a warning to all nations and individuals. No nation and no person can ignore God for long, and as blessed as a nation has been, if it continually turns its back on God, it will face dire consequences.

The fall of Jerusalem

So in the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army. They camped outside the city and built siege works all around it. The city was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. By the ninth day of the fourth month the famine in the city had become so severe that there was no food for the people to eat. (Jeremiah 52:4-6 | NIV84)

There at Riblah the king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes; he also killed all the officials of Judah. Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon, where he put him in prison till the day of his death. (Jeremiah 52:10-11 | NIV84)

The material contained in Jeremiah 52 is so important, it is found in 2 King 25:18 – 25:30. This shows just how important these events are in Hebrew history. What happened to Judah was the greatest catastrophe to ever befall any nation in Old Testament times. Yet, apparently once was not enough.  A similar event took place in 70 AD, also in Jerusalem, at the hands of the Romans. The simple fact is this: the destruction of Jerusalem vindicated the Word of the Lord. Jeremiah’s predictions – and in fact those of many prophets before him – did come to pass.

Already Nebuchadnezzar had swept into Judah and taken off many captives, exiling them in Babylon. At least there, these pesky Jews were kept under control. Not so back in the homeland. By 589 BC, Zedekiah, bowing to public pressure, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and in 588 BC Jerusalem was placed under siege. The rest of Judah was completely occupied by Babylonian troops.

Jeremiah bitterly predicted that the city would be destroyed if the rebellion continued and the only hope of survival lay in surrendering to Nebuchadnezzar and co-operating with him. Here’s what he told the people –

Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; he will escape with his life. (Jeremiah 21:9 | NIV84)

Naturally, patriotic Jews viewed this statement as treasonous. This coupled with a brief respite from the violence of Nebuchadnezzar and his armies caused the people to resent Jeremiah even more. A very similar thing had happened before during Sennacherib’s time, when another siege was lifted permanently. Surely, the people assumed, this would happen again. It didn’t. Jeremiah made sure the people understood this, and they hated him even more!

The prophet, taking a bit of a break during this brief time of peace, decided to take a trip back to Benjamin to look after some property he owned there. He was grabbed by some members of the army and accused of deserting to the Babylonians. Could things get any worse for the prophet of God? Well, yes, actually, because after denying the charges vigorously, Jeremiah was thrown into prison. According to some sources, it wasn’t just a prison but a dungeon, with no light, no water, and no food. Had it not been for Zedekiah’s timely, if not misguided, intervention, our faithful prophet might have died there.

Zedekiah the king was a conflicted man. He didn’t have much for God, but he didn’t care much for the Babylonians either and, not wanting to take any chances, had Jeremiah brought to him on the down low, so as not to anger the nationalists.

Then King Zedekiah sent for him and had him brought to the palace, where he asked him privately, “Is there any word from the Lord?” “Yes,” Jeremiah replied, “you will be handed over to the king of Babylon.” (Jeremiah 37:17 | NIV84)

In one form or another, Jeremiah remained incarcerated for the duration of the siege. Just like the apostle Paul, this Old Testament prophet kept up preaching God’s Word of immanent disaster. And yet, in spite of what was about to happen, Jeremiah did an unusual thing: he arranged for the purchase of some land in his home town. It was a leap of faith; an indication that even though the immediate future looked bleak, at some point in the future Judah would be Jewish once again.

Then, just as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’“I knew that this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. (Jeremiah 32:8-9 | NIV84)

“In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’ (Jeremiah 32:13-15 | NIV84)

Nebuzaradan, the captain of Nebuchadnezzar’s elite troops, took even more captives and in 587 BC, Jerusalem was sacked, it’s walls broken down, many buildings razed to the ground, and the glorious Temple, center of the Jewish faith, was completely destroyed. Zedekiah attempted to run but was caught and before his eyes were gouged out, he witnessed the execution of his children. There is a very high price to pay for not paying attention to the Word of the Lord. Zedekiah learned this, as did most of the citizens of Judah. All the work and accomplishments of David, Solomon, and a godly generation almost vanished during an evening of violence, fire, and bloodshed.

Life in exile

After two deportations (one more would take place), Judah lost much of its population. In Babylon, the exiles clung to their faith like they hadn’t in generations. While in exile, the Jewish faith was further developed and organized. Meanwhile, back in Judah, those Jews who hadn’t been put in exile continued to live as best they could and the form of Jewish faith practiced there soon became more superstitious in nature.

After the fall of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar took care of Jeremiah –

Now Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had given these orders about Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard: “Take him and look after him; don’t harm him but do for him whatever he asks.” So Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard, Nebushazban a chief officer, Nergal-Sharezer a high official and all the other officers of the king of Babylon sent and had Jeremiah taken out of the courtyard of the guard. They turned him over to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, to take him back to his home. So he remained among his own people. (Jeremiah 39:11-14 | NIV84)

While there, the prophet continued to minister to his people in the form letters; he sent letters to the exiles living in Babylon. Here’s an sample of what he wrote to 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.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7 | NIV84)

The interesting thing in that paragraph is the revelation that it wasn’t Nebuchadnezzar who carried the Jews into exile, it was the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel! There is no better example of God’s sovereignty than that!

Just like God was with His people during their desert wanderings after their exodus from Egypt, so He was with them in the Babylonian exile. In both instances, He was punishing them, yet He never left them. Jeremiah’s letter contains some of the most beautiful, comforting verses anywhere in the Bible, including these –

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.” (Jeremiah 29:13-14 | NIV84)

And they did seek the Lord. And 70 years later, the Jews returned home. But they never returned en mass, with many Jews choosing to remain in Babylon, or as it was becoming, the Persian Empire. Those who did return, though, found “strangers” living in their land, practicing an odd form of Judaism. Those “strangers” were in reality descendants of those left in Judah after the deportations to Babylon two generations earlier! There was some animosity between them and the returning exiles, and the exiles had a difficult time rebuilding Jerusalem, as detailed in the Old Testament historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

What of all the Jews who remained in Babylon? There were huge and important communities living and prospering in Babylon that actually helped in rebuilding Jerusalem and Judah by sending financial support to those engaged in those efforts. Even after the Temple was rebuilt and the walls around Jerusalem restored, these large Jewish communities throughout the Babylonian and Persian Empires persisted throughout the Old and New Testament era and beyond. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, these Jewish communities became the centers of Jewish life and culture for over a thousand years.

The Babylonian exile was more than just an “event” in Hebrew history. It wasn’t just a hiatus in the life of Judaism. It was, in fact, a vital stage in the development of not only Judaism, but also in that of Christianity and, unfortunately, Islam. The Babylonian exile may be viewed as the beginning of the Diaspora (Greek for “dispersion”). The Diaspora is a name given to Jewish communities living outside of Judah and Israel, and it continues to this very day, over 2,500 years after Nebchadnezzar’s time.  Viewing the Babylonian exile through the long lense of God’s involvement in history, we realize that, far from a terrible thing, it was actually fortuitous. Jewish theology and doctrine were further developed and firmed up and stored for all time.  Nebuchadnezzar was used by God to judge His people, yes, but thanks to God’s sovereignty, we have preserved for us divine beliefs and practices that otherwise may not have survived the reckless and haphazard treatment treatment at the hands of God’s own people.  God’s sovereignty is an amazing thing!

 

JEREMIAH, PART 1

Jeremiah 1:1—10

In 70 AD, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed and its inhabitants scattered to the four corners of the world; the result of a terrible judgment of the Jews’ rejection of the Messiah. But this wasn’t the first time God judged His people, nor was it the first time the Holy City was destroyed. In 586 BC, Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and most of Judah’s population was carried off as captives. For a century Mount Zion was little more than a wasteland, inhabited by a variety people; some Jews left behind by Nebuchadnezzar’s army, other people from other countries destroyed by the mighty Babylonians wandered around, settling in and around what was once Jerusalem. What an odd assortment of misfits; a rag-tag-band of fugitives, that now called the Holy City home.

Yet a scant century later, a remnant of exiles returned to what was left of Jerusalem, eventually rebuilding the city and the Temple. But the glory and splendor that was Mount Zion never returned. It won’t be until the dawn of the Millennial Age that the world will see that splendor and magnificence again.

The books the prophet Jeremiah wrote are key in understanding what happened in 586 BC, for they were composed just prior to and during Jerusalem’s destruction. They give us a glimpse into what his world was like and provide key historical data of the period. As Jeremiah’s book comes to an end, so does the very last remnant of what had been David and Solomon’s magnificent 12-tribe kingdom. Reading this part of Hebrew history brings to mind T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men—

This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.

The book called “Jeremiah” is one of five books in the Old Testament we call “The Major Prophets.” They are “major” because of their length. The book of Lamentations, also written by Jeremiah, is quite short, but it is part of the Major Prophets because it serves a kind follow-up to Jeremiah’s main book of prophecy. The shorter prophetic books—and there are many of them—form “The Minor Prophets,” again because of their brevity, not because they are any less unimportant than the Majors.

Though written in the sixth century BC, the books of Jeremiah are vitally important to those of us living in the 21st century. Though ancient, they paint a picture of a society frighteningly similar to ours. Today is a troubling time of sin and complacency, very much like Jeremiah’s day. Apostasy and hypocrisy are seen in seen in ever increasing frequency, just as in Judah of old. The balance of power among the nations was shifting in the sixth century BC, and today nations once thought unshakable are teetering on the brink of economic and moral collapse. Preachers of righteousness are in short supply today; and during Jeremiah’s day, nobody wanted to hear the truth of God’s Word, either.

It becomes painfully obvious as we read the book of Jeremiah that nations rise and fall, not of their own accord, but according to God’s plan. Our destiny as a people in not in our hands, but in God’s. We are living in the last days, and during these last days the message of Jeremiah is timely and inescapable. Jeremiah is sad book to read, not just because it was written during an extraordinarily sad time for God’s people, but because it forces its readers to confront the state of their own lives before the righteous demands of God. But at the same time, the book of Jeremiah is a book of hope that teaches believers that there are better days ahead; there is a Savior coming and a New Covenant is on the horizon. Jeremiah teaches us that for those who hold fast to their faith and serve God to the best of His ability, there is always hope!

As we begin our study of Jeremiah’s great book, we need to look at the man himself. Jeremiah, like the other Old Testament prophets, knew nothing of human ordination. He did not attend a seminary, take ordination exams, and sit before a denominational examination committee before he began his ministry. He also didn’t rush headlong into it. In fact, Jeremiah often shrank from the message he was compelled to preach. But in this, he was in good company! Moses offered God the lame excuse that he wasn’t eloquent enough to preach and Isaiah famously exclaimed that he was a man of “unclean lips” after God called Him to preach. Jeremiah said:

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” (Jeremiah 1:6)

The great voices for God of the Old Testament were no different than believers today who so often get all tongue-tied as they try to share their faith. Take heart, though, out of our weakness, God ordains strength.

1. Jeremiah’s Call, 1:5

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. 

Jeremiah was born in the small village of Anathoth, about two miles from Jerusalem, in 648 BC. He lived in and his ministry spanned tumultuous times spiritually, politically, and economically. He preached from the days of Judah’s last righteous King (Josiah) to Judah’s last actual King (Zedekiah). He lived long enough to see Jerusalem burned to the ground. All during his life and ministry, Jeremiah came to learn a profound truth: all events on earth, good or bad, are under God’s sovereign control. It is He, not kings or armies, that govern human history.

This sovereign God is also a personal God, and when Jeremiah was about 20 years old, God called him to be a prophet. In fact, in a personal conversation with Jeremiah, God told him that Jeremiah was created and “set apart” before he was born to be a prophet. What a stunning verse: he was called before he was created; set apart before he was even born! God had a plan for Jeremiah just as He has a plan for all of us.

Why did God choose Jeremiah? What was there about this man that set him apart from all others? We aren’t told. God didn’t explain it to Jeremiah and as far as we know Jeremiah never figured it out. God has a sovereign will that makes complete sense to Him, even if it doesn’t to us. Our part is to respect God’s sovereignty, not deny it or frustrate it. We don’t have to understand it to hear it and obey it. Jesus said this:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

Notice Jesus said His sheep “listen” to His voice; we don’t always understand completely what He’s saying! We listen and we follow in faith. We should never worry about God’s sovereignty as it concerns us and our destiny:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

When it came to serving God, Jesus never failed. And neither will you if go with God’s flow for your life!

2. Jeremiah’s excuse, 1:6

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

Like most excuses God hears from any of His children, Jeremiah’s was just as pathetic. Since when is a 20 year old a child? To Jeremiah, he was highly unfit to be a prophet. He came from a small village, born to a humble priest. But in a humorous turn, Hilkiah named his son “Jeremiah,” which literally means “Whom Jah [God] Appoints.” He certainly lived up to his name! God appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet. He didn’t ask Jeremiah or check with him to make sure he had the proper education and credentials! Clearly it is God who does the calling, not any man or organization.

Jeremiah, though he felt under prepared, would come to learn a valuable lesson: our sufficiency is NOT in ourselves but in God:

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. (2 Corinthians 3:5)

3. Jeremiah’s Commission, 1:7

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.”

Though Jeremiah felt inadequate and inexperienced, God knew his man better than he knew himself. Rarely does any of us have an accurate picture of ourselves; God does and it’s His opinion that counts. Verse 7 is a rebuke, make no mistake about it. Jeremiah has ONE master and ONE purpose in his life: to go where he is sent and to speak what God wants him to speak.

Jeremiah’s mission was clear, but he needed some encouragement:

Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (vs. 8)

When anybody declares the unadulterated Word of God, they will face opposition from all quarters. Jeremiah had much to fear, but God would be with him through it all. It is better to obey God and face trouble in this world than to cave into the demands of this world and face a disappointed God! At a young age, Jeremiah learned a lesson he would carry with him for a lifetime: God’s is always with those who serve Him.

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)

There is no way the darkness of this world can overtake any believer while the light of God’s presence is in him!

4. Jeremiah’s equipment, 1:9

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.”

Whom God calls, God equips! This divine touch, which the prophet Isaiah also experienced, serves as a kind foreshadow of the tongues of fire that touched the believers gathered in the Upper Room in Acts. His “touch” and His “words” are vitally connected. With a divine command comes a divine enabling! Jeremiah needed power as all believers need power in order to fulfill God’s purpose for them.

God put His Words in Jeremiah’s mouth, which is very poetic way of saying God would simply speak through His prophet. Now, that sounds great, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to become a preacher if God personally said, “I will put my words in your mouth?” As they say, however, the Word of God is a double-edged sword, and in Jeremiah’s case, more so! God’s Words in Jeremiah’s mouth were almost exclusively words of doom, gloom, and destruction. Through most of Jeremiah’s ministry, God’s Word was hard to speak and even harder to hear.

5. Jeremiah’s work, 1:10

“See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Gloomier words cannot be found anywhere: uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. That is not an encouraging message to give or hear. Yet, this was Jeremiah’s message from God. Yes, sometimes God’s Word is a big pill to swallow. Sometimes God’s Word is difficult and seemingly not very helpful or positive. It is, nonetheless, God’s Word.

In Jeremiah’s case, destructive work had to be performed before the constructive work could begin: build and plant. A garden must be weeded before it can be seeded! Sin always has to be be dealt with and put away before godly character can be established in a person. This is as true in the case of a nation as it is of the individual. God is about judge Jerusalem because they had been rejecting Him for years and years. God would restore them in time, but first, they had to be broken. It is the good and pure heart that produces good fruit. Jeremiah could preach and preach, sowing the Word everywhere, but if there were no pure hearts to receive it, no good fruit could be produced. This was the situation in Jerusalem. Hearts were not ready to receive the “good” Word of God. Those hard, dry hearts needed to be tilled up like fallow ground, cleaned out and made ready to receive what God wanted to give. In short, the people needed to be either broken or destroyed before God would be able to do anything in His people.

God gave His people every chance. Jeremiah preached for decades, warning them to get right. And he wasn’t alone; other prophets were preaching the same message! Sadly, the die had been cast. Hard hearts make for deaf ears. But God did His part in making sure Jeremiah would proclaim His Word.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5)

ISAIAH, Part 7

Serious Questions for the Backslider, Isaiah 50:1—3

On of the controversial aspects of the book of Isaiah is the identity of “the servant.” It is vitally important to have a correct understanding of his identity if you want to interpret certain chapters where the servant is spoken of in a prophetic sense correctly. While most Christians view the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah as Jesus Christ, Jews view him as the nation of Israel. However, the fact is, in Isaiah’s writings, there are two servants of the Lord, not one. There is the True or Perfect Servant of the Lord, who is identified prophetically as Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. But there is another, imperfect servant of the Lord, and that is the nation of Israel or Judah. A careful study of the context reveals which servant is being referenced at any given time.

As in chapter 42, in chapter 50 the True Servant of God is pictured as speaking to another of God’s servants, the rebellious servant, Israel.

Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one in covenant with me, blind like the servant of the LORD? (Isaiah 42:19)

In chapter 49, the tension between the perfect Servant of God and the imperfect servant of God is poetically played out. Of the imperfect servant of God, some marvelous things are noted:

Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” (Isaiah 49:1—3)

But now, the sin of idolatry, which in God’s sight is a form of spiritual adultery, had become so prominent throughout the land that, when pictured as a marriage, Israel’s marriage covenant with the Lord had been broken.

The immediate context of this chapter is the Babylonian Captivity, which was yet to occur in Isaiah’s time, and Isaiah, even though he was writing as though the nation was exiled already, he was really preaching to a generation not yet born, and admonishing them to return to the Lord and to forsake their idolatrous tendencies.

We know that while Judah (referred to by Isaiah as “Israel”) was in exile, they murmured and complained against God on account of the severity of their condition. They had become, generally speaking, a nation of “backsliders.” Of course, not all the exiled Jews in Babylon and later Persia had stopped following Jehovah, a large number of them were estranged or separated from God. They had not ceased to be God’s people; God had not left them, in fact He was still trying to win them back, but they were stubborn in their rejection of them.

Backsliders, Christians who are separated from God, are slow to blame themselves for their present miserable condition. And being separated from God is a miserable condition because it usually involves bondage to one sin or another. But, as we see this these verses, the Lord, their “spiritual husband,” demands that they face the cause of their estrangement head on, deal with that cause or causes, and then return to Him.

Here are the questions the Lord, the spiritual Husband of all believers, puts to the backslidden Jews. These penetrating questions can also be put to any Christian today who has strayed from his faith.

1. Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce with which I sent her away? (verse 1)

Under the Law of Moses, and because of the hardness of their hearts, the Lord allowed a man to divorce (“cut” or “cast off,” really) his wife if she was found unfaithful, by giving her an official “bill of divorcement.” This bill was proof to the community that she had been put away by her husband:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house… (Deuteronomy 24:1)

Exiled as they were (or rather would be), Judah, the Lord’s wife, had assumed that God, her spiritual husband, had cut them off and was ignoring them. In other words, the exiled Jews were so unhappy, discontented and miserable, they simply concluded that God had dumped them, and was therefore not having anything further to do with them. They expressed as much in 40:27—

Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”?

But here God, Judah’s husband, says He had definitely NOT divorced her; He had served no papers or posted no bills. Poetically, God demands that these rebellious children, born in Babylon of backsliding parents, produce His “bill of divorcement,” providing the proof that God was to blame for their present miserable state. Of course, no such document existed on Earth or in Heaven because God had never divorced Himself from His people. In fact, the people were separated from God, but it was on account of their sins, not due to any action on His part.

…because of your transgressions your mother was sent away. (verse 1)

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2)

2. Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? (verse 1)

Another provision of the Law allowed a father, if he was oppressed with debt, to sell his children in order to pay that debt. That is the background of this question. God’s question to his wayward people was simply, “Did I sell you because of My poverty?” In other words, did God have to sell His children off one by one because He was too poor to keep them?

At first, this may seem like a ridiculous argument to make, but consider what caused many a backslider to turn on God. How many Christians have left God because He didn’t answer a prayer they prayed? Or because, in their eyes, He didn’t bless them enough? The notion that God is unable to supply all our needs is still a motivating factor in the decision of some believers to turn from God to seek other means to fill a need.

But the truth is, God has all the resources of Heaven and Earth at His disposal and is therefore able to meet all our needs! It’s all matter of perception.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

And it’s all a matter of knowing what your real need is. Far too many believers get wrapped up in the temporal world; in things that they think will satisfy but never do because their need is spiritual and can only be met by the Lord. A Christian trying to find satisfaction from worldly things is as futile as trying force a square peg in a round hole.

Once again, the Lord’s answer is simple and direct:

Because of your sins you were sold… (verse 1)

If the people had been sold, it wasn’t God that had sold them! They had, in fact, sold themselves. God puts the blame His people’s present state squarely where it belonged: on their shoulders.

2. When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? (verse 2)

Verse 2 rebukes Judah’s unbelief. Even though the prophets of God had called to the people, nobody listened to them; nobody took their words seriously. The entirety of Hebrew history seems to be the story of God continuously reaching out to the people He loved so much, only to find the people either not interested or actively rebelling against Him.

You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ears have not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth. (Isaiah 48:8)

This is a truly sad situation; it pictures a loving husband coming home to his bride and finding only an empty house. He called and called, yet she never answered. This pathetic story continues to this day with Christians who become have so dissatisfied with their backslidden condition, yet, inexplicably, they still refuse to pay attention to God’s call to repent and return. It’s the only way out of bondage into freedom for them, yet like the wayward wife, they just can’t see it.

Through the Holy Spirit, God still calls out to the self-oppressed backsliders. Thankfully, He doesn’t give up on them as easily as they gave up on Him!

3. Was my arm too short to deliver you? (verse 2)

Sin alone is what separates from God. The problem was never with God; the problem was with the Jews. The problem is with the backslider., who may have wandered from the fold, but can he wander so far as to be beyond the reach of God? This is a question every backslider must answer: Is God unable to take you back? Is the precious Blood of Jesus Christ to weak to redeem the backslider?

When we read this question in connection with what follows it, it becomes a tragic picture indeed:

By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst. (verse 2)

Here, the Lord is likely referring to the Red Sea and to the deliverance of the Hebrews from their Egyptian bondage. The phrase “a mere rebuke” shows just how simple it is for God to deliver His people. It was nothing to change the course of nature to help His people. The Lord had demonstrated His power to save in history and in nature, yet still the people refused to bend.

Salvation is a relatively simple thing; we tend to complicate it with with all kinds of “classes”: discipleship classes, baptism classes, and so on, but really, getting saved is a snap:

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13 and Joel 2:32)

That’s pretty simple! But for the backslider, for the one who has wandered from God, calling out to Him is a monumental task.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

That simple act of confession is very difficult for one who has known a close relationship with Christ. Pride, embarrassment, or anger, whatever the reason that keeps the backslider from owning up to their problem must be overcome if they are to return. And God wants them back!

5. Do I lack the strength to rescue you? (verse 2)

From outward appearances, it seemed as though God was unable to do anything to help the Jews during their Babylonian bondage. This was yet another accusation of the Jews; God was powerless to help them because if He could have, He would have. What’s particularly nefarious about this question is that not only did the Jews think this way, but because of their sin and refusal to come back to the Lord, it appeared to the Babylonians that their God was weak and powerless.

As long as a backslider remains in their backslidden state, they are dragging the Name and Character of the Lord into public dishonor.

And now what do I have here?” declares the LORD. “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock,” declares the LORD. “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” (Isaiah 52:5)

If ever there was a good reason to live righteously, this must be it! How the believer lives in public reflects the Character and Nature of his God!

As if to remind them of all the good things He has done for them, God speaks of His actions in their history and in nature:

I clothe the heavens with darkness and make sackcloth its covering. (verse 3)

Imagine the great condescension of God of having to remind His wayward children of all the things He had done for them. It was as though love was not reason enough to return to Him.

Imagine the great condescension of God in giving His only Son to die for us on the Cross?

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4—6)

Do you really think God lacks the power to save the backslider?

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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