Posts Tagged 'fall of Jerusalem'

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!

 

EZEKIEL AND THE HYPOCRITES

hypocrite

Ezekiel 33:30-33

It is December, 586 BC and Jerusalem has lain in ruins for three months.  It took that long for a lone fugitive to reach the exiled Jews in Babylon with the news.  The fall of Jerusalem was the pivot point in Ezekiel’s ministry and his book.  Up to the end of chapter 32, Ezekiel had been prophesying the end of Israel as a nation and explaining to the exiles why this had to happen.  It was because of their continual disobedience to the Covenant.  It’s not like they hadn’t been warned, because they had been.  For generations, prophets came warning the people to smarten up and start abiding by the terms of the Covenant.  But the more they were warned, the more stiff-necked they became; determined to go their own way, doing their own thing.

Verses 21 and 22 set the scene for what we are looking at in this study:

In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen!”  Now the evening before the man arrived, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he opened my mouth before the man came to me in the morning. So my mouth was opened and I was no longer silent.  (Ezekiel 33:21-22 NIV84)

So what we are reading is a message Ezekiel gave the evening before this fugitive arrived with the news.  It was a long series of messages, actually, that took a day to deliver.  Part of his sermon included a message to the small remnant of Jews that had survived the destruction of Jerusalem and was now living among its ruins.  And God’s message to these people was not good:

“Say this to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, those who are left in the ruins will fall by the sword, those out in the country I will give to the wild animals to be devoured, and those in strongholds and caves will die of a plague.'”   (Ezekiel 33:27 NIV84)

There is no escaping God’s judgment!  The people of God needed to judged – all of them – even those who had cleverly hid out in caves when Nebuchadnezzar’s army rolled over Jerusalem.  He didn’t find them, but others would – other armies, animals and sickness.  God’s judgment would be complete and it would be obvious to the exiles that He had spoken; that He had kept His Word.

But what about these exiles in Babylon?   They had escaped death and Ezekiel had been doing his best to set the record straight:  they were in exile because they had been rebellious; they had turned their collective backs on the Lord, and they were being punished.  They were spared death because they needed to see firsthand that when God promises He will do something, He does it.  But the truth is these exiles in Babylon were no better than any other Jew.  They were, as Bunyan said, “a saint abroad and a devil at home.”  In other words, at this point in Ezekiel’s ministry, he’s not dealing with out-and-out idolaters and obviously wicked people.  No, they’re worse than that.  The people Ezekiel is dealing with now actually seemed like him!  But they’re hypocrites.

Let’s look at them.

1.  How they treated Ezekiel

“As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’   (Ezekiel 33:30 NIV84)

There isn’t a pastor or minister who hasn’t experienced exactly what is being described here.  These people crowded around the prophet; they put on a form of Godliness as long as it served their own personal interests.   They assumed the role of God’s people; they did what God’s people would do.  But in secret the made fun of Ezekiel and mocked God’s Word.  The only time they exposed themselves God’s Word was when Ezekiel was preaching.  The only time they fellowshipped with God’s people was when Ezekiel was preaching.

This sounds a lot like modern Christianity.  How many Christians, do you suppose, flock to church on a Sunday, are entertained by their pastor, glad-hand all the members and talk to them like “best friends,” but have virtually nothing to do with them during the week?  The only Bible teaching they get comes from their pastor, whom they support when they are in church, but the rest of time is the object of their scorn or mockery.  They hear the Word but do nothing with it.

Given the state of the Church of Jesus Christ today, it seems like there are is a majority of “Christians” that behaves just like that.  They’re saved, but going nowhere.  They look the part, but lack the power.  And they are befuddled when their prayers seem to go unanswered.

The reality is, if Christians took their faith seriously, churches would be full.  If Christians took their faith seriously, their marriages would work and their children wouldn’t be all mixed up.  If Christians took their faith seriously, they’d elect officials with at least a Biblical worldview.  If Christians took their faith seriously they’d have peace, joy, contentment, a positive outlook, and all the things that “mysteriously” elude them.

Christian, you either believe the Bible or you don’t.  You either crave good Christian fellowship or you don’t.

2.  How they treated God’s Word

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.  (Ezekiel 33:31 NIV84)

These exiles put on a good show.  They did and said everything that was expected of them.  If it were possible to look back in time, you’d probably be very impressed with how these exiles were behaving.  They hear that Ezekiel is going to preach, and they tell their friends and neighbors and they hurry over to hear him.  They hung on his every word.  Ezekiel must have been an attractive preacher!

Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.   (Ezekiel 33:32 NIV84)

What a stinging indictment of God’s people.  But God sees into the hearts of His people.  Nobody can put on the dog-and-pony-show and expect God to buy it.  God is looking into your hearts right now.  He knows what you really think about the Bible, your church, your pastor, and He knows the true state of your soul.

These exiles seemed to be impressed with Ezekiel.  His wholly Scriptural messages sounded like music in their ears.  They just didn’t take them (or him) seriously.  They heard it with their ears, but rejected it in their hearts.  The prophet Isaiah said something very similar:

The Lord says:  “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”  (Isaiah 29:13 NIV84)

Isaiah is describing Israel, but he could easily be describing the modern Church of Jesus Christ.  How many denominations make up rules and change their own rules at the drop of a hat?   What was once unacceptable for a Christian is now acceptable.  What was once called a sin is now called anything but.   How many denominations try to appeal to the worst in sinful man rather than demanding the best?

Something you won’t hear from a lot of church pulpits today is that the Word of God never tries to accommodate your sin.  The Word of God insists that YOU change; that you conform to IT, not the other around.  When you treat the Bible like that you set yourself up as a hypocrite.  Jesus had a low opinion of hypocrites:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”  (Matthew 23:27-28 NIV84)

If you are a Christian, you’d do well to remember these words spoken by Samuel:

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.  (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV84)

The exiles needed to know the truth.  Jerusalem had fallen.  Ezekiel had been proven to be a genuine prophet of God.   Yet still the people refused to obey the Word of the Lord he gave them.  You don’t get tricked into unbelief; it’s wilful.  It’s not that you cannot accept what God says, it’s that you will not act on it.  The real problem that plagued the Jews is the real problem that plagues the church today:  we prefer our sin; we’d rather not change; we choose to hear the Word, but then choose to do nothing with it.

With God, it’s all about the choice.  God saves you, but then it’s up to you; you must choose to live for God.  God gave each of us a rational, thinking mind, capable to making the right choice.  Do it!  Use your God-given rational, thinking mind to make the only rational choice possible:  choose to devote yourself 100% to God.  Enjoy His blessing.  Enjoy the promises of God reaching their fulfilment in your life.

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24:15 NIV84)

EZEKIEL: GOD’S WATCHMAN

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Ezekiel 33:7-11

This chapter marks a turning point in the book of Ezekiel. Up till now, the prophet prophet had been fulfilling his call as Israel’s watchman. A major emphasis of Ezekiel’s preaching was personal responsibility, a theme which reached it climax in chapter 18. This was something the exiled Israelites needed to understand and appreciate. They viewed themselves one way, but God viewed them the correct way. A sort of religious and nationalistic pride had taken hold of the people. They were God’s people, after all. Their’s was a divine heritage; a kingdom formed in God’s mind and forged with His power. They had generations of godly heroes: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, and Solomon. And they were the custodians of God’s Word and Presence. They foolishly thought they could coast along on their Godly heritage; that the blessings would just keep on flowing. They took God’s grace for granted and assumed He would always forgive them and that they could do no wrong.

God, though, had to wake them up. Exiling them was punishment for generations of rebellion and they needed to realize that. They needed to know that He was not a mean, malicious Deity who took joy in watching His people suffer. They needed to know that they, the exiles, and that Jerusalem, on the verge of collapse, were getting exactly what they deserved.

Ezekiel also had harsh words for the nations that surrounded Judah and Jerusalem. Some of those nations shared borders with the land of Israel. And some of those pagan nations were related to Israel – related by blood. All of these prophecies were given before the fall of Jerusalem. Now we come to the second part of the book, a collection of sermons and prophecies given after the fall of Jerusalem.

Up to the end of chapter 32, Ezekiel’s prophecies concerned the immanent fall of Jerusalem and the reasons for that fall. They were prophecies when Ezekiel gave them, but with chapter 33, they become history. Jerusalem fell exactly as predicted. Now the prophet looks forward to Israel’s future – Israel’s far future, and ours – and to the coming of the glorious Millennial Kingdom when the glory of the Lord will again be on this planet.

1. Another commission

The word of the Lord came to me… (Ezekiel 33:1)

As always, Ezekiel had to preach God’s Word, not his own. Not one word of Ezekiel’s messages was his own. The prophets of God were never like the sun, with light shining from within themselves. They were more like the moon. The moon shines brightly in the night sky but emits no light of its own. Instead, it reflects the light of the sun. None of the prophets, including Ezekiel, had any light in them to give. They gave the Word of God to the people as God gave it to them.

Before Ezekiel gives the people a glimpse into the far future – a future of great blessing – he give them one final reminder why, in the present, they were being punished and Jerusalem lay in ruins. His message was a simple one: Now is the time to repent and turn back to the Lord!

Ezekiel was the Israel’s watchman, and the Lord reminded him of this fact:

But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.’ (Ezekiel 33:6)

God had to remind His prophet that he was a watchman. There was still a very real danger to what was left of Israel. That’s why a city needed a watchman: danger. The enemy of God’s people is always trying to get to them. No wonder our Lord, generations after Ezekiel told His prophet to “Watch,” gave us the same command:

What I say to you, I say to everyone: `Watch!’ ” (Mark 13:37)

2. What the watchman does

The watchman of Israel – the literal one as well as Ezekiel, the spiritual watchman – had a two-fold responsibility:

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.” (Ezekiel 33:7)

(A) He had to “hear the word I speak.” Ezekiel had to hear God’s Word. A watchman needed to keep his eyes open to see, but also had to keep his ears open to hear. We are spiritual watchmen, and we have all been called to “hear the Word of the Lord.” We must hear the Word and to understand it so that we may give it to others intelligibly.

To a sinner in peril of losing his soul, the only word that can save him is God’s Word. Your best wishes, as helpful as they may be, won’t bring about the salvation his soul. He needs God’s Word, and if it is in you, you can give it to him. You are God’s watchman, and it is your responsibility to ready.

(B) He had to “give them warning from God.” The sinner needs to be warned that he is in danger and that his only hope for life is a relationship with Jesus Christ. The wayward believer – and there are many of those – needs to be warned to get right with God; to get serious in his relationship with His Savior. There is an ever-present danger swirling all around man; a battle for his very soul, and that’s why you have been called into service as a watchman for the Lord.

3. What the people must do

We, as God’s watchmen, have our responsibility to perform, just as Ezekiel did. But those who hear the Word of the Lord we give them, also have a responsibility once they hear it.

(A) Their condition: LOST!

When I say to the wicked, `You wicked people, you will surely die, ‘ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, those wicked people will die for their sins, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. (Ezekiel 33:8)

Man without Christ is wicked, regardless of how nice and pleasant they are. Once you understand that, you will see the urgency of getting the Word to them. We do the lost a great disservice when we don’t stress their sinful state. It’s out of fashion nowadays to preach against sin, yet we have a solemn responsibility to warn the lost that they are not “good people” in the sight of God. They wicked and they are lost.

(B) Their opportunity

God has sent us to the lost to “warn them for God.” God needs to speak through someone, why not you? Every sinner is given a chance to make his life right; every sinner is given the opportunity to repent.

(C) Their responsibility

But if you do warn the wicked to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sins, though you yourself will be saved. (Ezekiel 33:9)

Here’s that “personal responsibility” theme again. The sinner will be held accountable for NOT heeding the Word of the Lord. As surely as you, a believer, is responsible for the Word God gives you, so the sinner is responsible for the Word you give them. The warning is “to turn from their ways.” In other words, as we might say today: “Get right with the Lord!” If they do not, they will be held accountable for their decision. A lot of sinners will say things like, “I know you’re right. I know I need to get my act together.” But nice sentiments like that count for nothing. Putting off the decision to repent and follow Christ is the same thing as saying NO.

Regeneration is completely a work of God, but conversion – turning from sin – is an act of man’s own will. God cannot make the decision for the sinner. He respects the free will He gave mankind. That’s why the sinner will be held accountable for what they do with God’s Word.

4. What God thinks

Say to them, `As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11)

This is the agony of God’s love that found its ultimate expression in the words of His Son: Father forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.

God wants to bless, He takes no delight in cursing. But both blessing and cursing are part of the way God works with His people. They are very much a part of God’s covenants with Israel.

The Fall of Jerusalem was the pivot point of Ezekiel’s prophecy. All the warnings from accumulated generations of prophets went unheeded. Time and again as God spoke to His people,He promised blessings if they obeyed, and curses if the rebelled. The warnings came to pass with fall of Jerusalem. In addition, God would also deal with other nations that refused to repent.

But God was not finished with the exiles. God would restore the nation to its former glory. But at the same time, God sees the individual needs of His people. God sees the painful, pitiful state of a lost soul.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Ezekiel as Israel’s watchman had a job to do. We as modern-day watchmen have a job to do. It’s the same as Ezekiel’s. Let’s take our job seriously. Let’s take the Word of the Lord to people who are dying to hear it.

DELIVERANCE OF THE KING

The Nebuchadnezzar Tablet

The Nebuchadnezzar Tablet. It reads: “In the thirty-seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the country of Babylon, he went to Egypt [Misr] to make war. Amasis, king of Egypt, collected [his army], and marched and spread abroad.”

THE KING’S DELIVERANCE

Jeremiah 52:31-34

We come to the final chapter of the book of Jeremiah. What started out as prophesy is now recorded for us as history. The events of this chapter are seen in 2 Kings 24 and 25 and this shows why the book of Jeremiah is so important. This one book of prophesy, more than any other book of prophesy in the Bible, shows us the dynamic nature of the prophetic ministry. If anybody has doubts about the veracity of Biblical prophecy, they need to be pointed to the book of Jeremiah.

The Fall of Jerusalem vindicated Jeremiah. Every word he prophesied came to pass. But this was no cause for rejoicing. The Fall of Jerusalem was the worst thing that ever happened to God’s people. Jerusalem would again fall in 70 AD, but when it fell to the Babylonians, even though it was rebuilt and restored later, it would never be the kingdom that David and Solomon envisaged. And there is a real lesson here for all of God’s people. Had the ancient Israelites remained faithful to God and lived in obedience to His Law, who knows what the Middle East would look like today. Because of their constant disobedience and their obsession with idolatry, God caused the amazing kingdom built by David to fall. It would never look the same, even though God allowed the Jews to rebuild and restore Jerusalem. Sin has consequences. Try as they might to make Jerusalem the city it was generations ago, it was never the same, and today, Israel and Jerusalem are the palest images of the glorious jewels they were during the Davidic years.

The Fall of Jerusalem was God’s punishment for the disobedience of His people. Some people who are ignorant of what the Bible teaches think God went over the line; that His punishment was too extreme. Some ignorant people look at the Old Testament and don’t see a God of love. These people need to stop talking and read Leviticus 26. That whole chapter is summed up by two verses in the New Testament:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow. Those who sow to please their sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7, 8)

Sin brings ruin to any individual and any nation that indulges in it. Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon, but he was also “God’s servant,” and that is how he is described three times in the book of Jeremiah (see chapters 25, 27, and 43). He was God’s servant in the sense that he was God’s sword of vengeance in the punishment of Judah for their rebellion against Him.

Jehoiachin, then-king of Judah, was taken captive and thrown into a Babylonian prison, where he stayed for 47 years. Nebuchadnezzar’s son and successor with the unfortunate name of Evil-Merodach (Awel-Marduk in the TNIV), restored Jehoiachin’s freedom and changed his life. What happened to King Jehoiachin serves as an excellent picture of the grace of God.

1. Deliverance

In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Awel-Marduk became king of Babylon, on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month, he released Jehoiachin king of Judah and freed him from prison. (Jeremiah 52:31)

Here is an excellent picture of God’s grace in action: the new king of Babylon did something for Jehoiachin that Jehoiachin could not do for himself. Awel-Marduk didn’t have to release the king. There were other national leaders in prison that didn’t get released. What the king of Babylon did for the former king of Judah is exactly what God does for the repentant sinner:

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. (PSALM 40:2)

What happened to Jehoiachin happened to us. By His royal authority, God released us from the prison of sin.

2. Comforted and exalted

He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. (Jeremiah 52:32)

Generally speaking, laws are not very comforting. But grace is! “Grace” means being treated better than you deserved to be treated.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God… (Ephesians 2:8)

Salvation – being set free from bondage to sin – is completely a work of God from start to finish. Even the faith needed in salvation is given to us by God! When our sins are forgiven and we are saved, the Holy Spirit comes in and takes up residence in our hearts, and one of the many things He does for us, in us, and to us, is to communicate the assurance of salvation to us.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:16)

God’s grace in salvation is a topic that never ends. God’s grace is as wide and as deep as eternity itself. In the coming ages, God’s people – all of God’s people – will testify to the greatness of God’s grace:

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6, 7)

Isn’t that exactly what Awel-Marduk did for Jehoiachin? He gave the former king of Judah a seat of honor in the court of Babylon. Jehoichin of Judah was not the only king in Babylon. As Babylon rolled over all the nations in its way, it absorbed their citizens, and took captive their royal families. But of all the captive kings, the one from Judah was exalted. What a picture of the spiritual uplifting enjoyed by Christians. Full of sin and prone to failure, believers are lifted up and strengthened and the sin that once hounded them is conquered once and for all by the blood of Jesus Christ! If man’s fall from grace through sin was great, how much greater is the grace that restores us to God’s favor? Like the words to that great hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” we can all say,

Oh, to grace how great a debtor!

3. Clothed and honored

So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. (Jeremiah 52:33)

What an amazing verse! Do you remember another man in the Old Testament called Mephibosheth? He was a descendant of King Saul. After David became king of Israel, he wanted to make sure Saul’s family was taken care of.

David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1)

There was, and his name was Mephibosheth. David showed this cripple undeserved grace:

Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.) (2 Samuel 9:9, 10)

Oh, to grace how great a debtor! Jehoiachin was not only released from prison, but for the rest of his life was given the privilege to eating at the king’s table. From prison to pinnacle! From prison clothes to dinner jackets. From slop to caviar.

When God’s grace changes a life, it changes everything.

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.” (Zechariah 3:1-4)

This is what grace does for the redeemed. It cleans us up; it takes the filthy rags of our righteousness and replaces them with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. We are cleaned up and made ready eat at the king’s table.

4. Supplied

Day by day the king of Babylon gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived, till the day of his death. (Jeremiah 52:34)

Notice what else the king of Babylon did for the former king of Judah:

Pension

For the rest of his life, Jehoiachin was given a pension! Who knew Babylon had Social Security? Jehoiachin did! Having needs met is another wonderful provision of grace. When God saves us, He doesn’t stop. His grace continues to work in us. He promises to meet all our needs.

Daily payments

This pension was daily. For every day, for the rest of his life, the king’s needs were met. He had no more worries. Jehoiachin could have written a verse like this one because he experienced it:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

A pension from the king

Notice that Jehoiachin’s pension payments came from the king, probably from the palace.

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

Conclusion

And so the book of Jeremiah ends on an upbeat note, at least for one person. Why did Jehoiachin suddenly receive all these blessings? Certainly we are given a real-life illustration of grace. But the exiles in Babylon were given hope. If their captive king had been treated well by the Babylonians, maybe they would receive the same treatment. It took three more decades, but eventually the Jews were shown grace and allowed to return to Jerusalem.

Jehoiachin didn’t live long enough to go home. He died in Babylon. Jeremiah had prophesied that no king from this family like would ever sit on throne of David. The Davidic line through Solomon ended with Jehoiachin. But the Son of David who will come and sit on that throne through eternity was born through another line, the line of Nathan. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was from that line and it is in that line that Jesus Christ can lay claim to the throne of David.


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