A STUDY OF THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH
Obedience Must Never Depend Upon Our Circumstances
GOD PERSONALLY DECLARES THE OUTCOME BEFORE IT HAPPENS
Verse 1-3 God sent a warning to King Zedekiah through Jeremiah, while Nebuchadnezzar was fighting against Jerusalem v 1. Zedekiah's rebellion against Babylon in 589 B.C. had prompted the siege (2 Kings 24:18-25:1; Ezek. 17:11-21). The message was that Zedekiah’s rebellion against Babylon's authority would not succeed. God said: (1) I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he will burn it with fire v 2. (2) You will not escape from his hand v 3. (3) You will surely be captured ... you will go to Babylon. This was fulfilled exactly (39:4-7; 52:7-11). He would stand before Nebuchadnezzar face to face as a prisoner of war. He does not know details. God withholds those.
Verse 4-5 Yet...Zedekiah will not die by the sword v 4. You will die in peace...they will burn spices for you [king’s funeral 2 Chronicles 16:14; 21:19]. Dying in peace is contrasted between a death in battle with a death not in battle, which would have been peaceful by comparison. And they will lament for you v 5 in contrast to Jehoiakim (22:18-19).
Verse 6-7 Jeremiah delivered his message to King Zedekiah as Babylon continued its attack v 6. Only Jerusalem and Lachish and Azekah...remained as fortified cities among the cities of Judah v 7. The rest had all fallen to the Babylonians. The Lachish letters discovered in 1935 were written on clay pottery. These final communications which mentioned the political and religious turmoil of the last days of Judah reveal the intensity of this time period and confirm that which was written in the Bible by the prophet Jeremiah. They came from an officer named Hoshaiah who was in charge of a military outpost. He was writing to Ya'osh, military commander at Lachish, as the situation worsened. From letter 5 …but when morning comes round [---]. And may (my lord) be apprised that we are watching for the fire signals of Lachish according to all the signs which my lord has given, because we cannot see Azeqah. Hoshaiah who was stationed at an outpost north of Lachish, was apparently responsible for interpreting the signals from Azekah and Lachish in the hill country during the time when the Babylonians came.
Application: God places His reputation on the line by speaking into the future before events unfold. He is able to do so not only because He is sovereign and omniscient but because future circumstances cannot interrupt His plans like ours. We can determine to speak into the future but never guarantee that future since we cannot control any circumstances to ensure the outcome. God is in charge of your circumstances and able to perform His plans through them even now, like Zedekiah, in your life.
WHEN CIRCUMSTANCES DICTATE OBEDIENCE WE JEAPARDIZE OBEDIENCE
Verse 8-11 One evil thing that practiced in Judah was making permanent slaves of fellow Judeans. This was strictly forbidden in the Mosaic Law (Ex 21:2-11; Lev 25:39-55; Deut 15:12-18). Zedekiah had taken an oath with all Jerusalemites to free their fellow Israelite servants who sometimes entered into servanthood to pay off a debt they owed to the person who became their master. While Babylon was about to capture the city, King Zedekiah proclaimed each man should set free his male servant and each man his female servant, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman; so that no one should keep them, a Jew his brother, in bondage v 8-9. They obeyed, and set them free v 10. The people of Jerusalem entered into a covenant to free their servants, and they at first followed through with their promise and liberated them.
We do not know their precise motives. But then we read, but afterward they turned around and took back the male servants and the female servants, whom they had set free, and brought them into subjection v 11.
What happened? In verse 22, at the end of the chapter, we read that God will bring them [the Babylonians] back to this city. Where had the attacking Babylonians gone? In 37:4-13 we read that the Egyptians left Egypt to come to the assistance of the Judeans. So the Babylonians left Jerusalem to go fight the Egyptians. The Jews evidently thought the siege was over, so they took their slaves back into slavery. It was a predictable response from people who had long ago and repeatedly demonstrated that they were covenant-breakers. But God says, the Chaldeans will return...and they will capture it [Jerusalem] ...do not deceive yourselves...even if you had defeated the entire army of Chaldeans...and there were only wounded men left...they would rise up and burn this city with fire (37:8-10).
Application: The Judeans didn’t obey, then they obeyed, then they didn’t obey. Their obedience depended on their circumstances. If it was going well, they saw no reason to obey God. When they were attacked and it looked like they would lose, they chose to obey God. They used obedience to try to manipulate God. We also try to manipulate God. For example, there are the “foxhole prayers” “Lord, save me, and I will...” But when the danger passes, life goes back to the way it was. God is not the one who is deceived by their actions. They are the ones who are deceiving themselves (see 37:9).
Verse 12-16 Gods Word came again in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage v 12-13. They of all people should have shown mercy to others in bondage. The Passover commemorated their emancipation from Egyptian slavery. God made a covenant with Israel, saying, At the end of seven years each of you shall set free his Hebrew brother v 14. No Israelite was to be forced into permanent bondage again, as they were in Egypt. But your forefathers did not obey Me. They permanently enslaved their fellow Jews. But the forefathers had disobeyed the Lord and disregarded His word.
Although recently you had turned and done what is right in My sight, each man proclaiming release to his neighbor, and you had made a covenant before Me in the house which is called by My name v 15. So they had pledged to God in the Temple that they would not permanently enslave their fellow Jews. But then each man took back his male servant and female servant, whom you had set free...and brought them into subjection v 16. The people had started to follow through but then they changed their minds and forced them back into servitude. The fact that they had made this covenant in the temple indicates it was made with the Lord, not just with one another. Breaking it profaned the Lord's name (reputation), because they had made a pledge in His name.
NB: God takes vows seriously. It is never appropriate to make vows. First, God holds us accountable to them and second, we cannot guarantee the vow no matter the sincerity. We are unable to control circumstances to ensure we can and will. Jesus said let your yes be yes and no, no.
Verse 17-20 God’s punishment matched their sin. They did not obey God in giving freedom to their slaves. So the Lord was going to release them to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine from His protection to experience death v 17. Because the people had not released their servants, they would die without the privilege of a burial; birds and beasts would consume their carcasses v 20. When they made their covenant in the Temple, they cut the calf in two and passed between its parts v 18. By walking through the parts of the animal, the officials of Judah…Jerusalem…the court officials, and the priests and all the people of the land were symbolizing the judgment that would occur upon them if they violated the agreement—they would be hacked to pieces like the calf v 19.
Significantly, when God made His covenant with Abraham, Abraham did not pass between the parts of the animal, only God did (symbolized by the blazing torch—Genesis 15:4-18). The Abrahamic Covenant rested on God’s character, not on man’s obedience. Here God will treat those who broke the covenant like the calf they had slaughtered. They will be handed over to their enemies, and like the parts of the calf, their dead bodies would lie on the ground as food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth v 20.
Verse 21-22 The people, the leaders, and the king all turned away from God. Though the king of Babylon has gone away from you v 21 (currently away attempting to fight the Egyptian army) God would also give Zedekiah and his officials into the hand of the Babylonians, even though at the time of this message the Babylonian army had withdrawn from Jerusalem, temporarily. ...I will bring them back to this city; and they shall...take it and burn it with fire; and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant v 22. The sovereign Lord was going to command the Babylonian army to go back to Jerusalem, to fight against it, to take it, and to burn it. Indeed, they did so 52:12-14. This was a humiliating defeat and permanent destruction. It was systematic, devastating and horrifying.
First, we can live comforted by the fact that our God has plans that He intends to carry out but we can participate in those by our faithful obedience. Stay faithful while God works those out for you.
Second, do not be fickle about your obedience. Circumstances must not be the basis of how, when, where we obey God. Gods Word must be the basis of our obedience. Circumstances are the laboratory.