The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Know Your Bible Lesson 28: A New World Power

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In our last lesson, we met the prophet Jeremiah—a man who will be walking with us all the way to the end of Period 5. We’re in a highly active period right now and to keep things sorted out in our minds, let’s see where we’re at on our king and prophet timeline. 163

We’ve met Jeremiah, but who are these other two prophets? The first one, Nahum, has a very short message that will be directed at the city of Nineveh. Nineveh is the capital of the mighty Assyrian Empire. Assyria is the current world power. But before we get into what Nahum has to say, let’s take a moment to look at the world from the Assyrian point of view.

ASSYRIA

Bear in mind that this is before the days of planes, trains and cars. People traveled by foot, horse, and ships, so their world was a much smaller place than our world is today. When people talk about “the whole world” in the Bible, they don’t mean the entire globe, they mean their little piece of it—the part of the world that feels relevant to them. Later on, Jeremiah will say that he carried God’s messages to every nation in the world, but he won’t be including places like Australia, Canada and Greenland. Those places didn’t even exist on Jeremiah’s mental map. He’ll just be referring to the part of the world he knows about—and for us that means the region east of the Mediterranean Sea. Right now, Assyria has conquered most of that world. Let’s have a look: 164

Greed always blows up in our faces and Assyria is very greedy. Is it really necessary to be this huge—to gobble up this many nations? No, it’s not. All throughout history we find militant men who are utterly obsessed with a lust for more land. They’ve already got a big piece of the world to themselves, but, well, they want your piece, too. Just as Isaiah predicted, Assyria has been conquering nation after nation. The problem is that we humans don’t like being bossed about, and every empire ends up with some major thorn in their side—some group of people who really give them a lot of trouble. The Chaldeans are that group for Assyria. Saying “Chaldean” is like saying “Jewish”—it’s an ethnic term. The city of Babylon was to the Chaldeans what Jerusalem was to the Jews—it was their national capital, their pride and joy. But for centuries now it’s been polluted with icky Assyrians who think they own the place. Well, the Chaldeans aren’t going to take this lying down. They rebel. They’re chopped down by Assyrian soldiers. They wait awhile, then they rebel again. They get chopped down again. They wait awhile, then they rebel again. There’s just no tiring these rebels out. No matter how many of them get killed and made public examples of, still more rise up. Everywhere the king of Assyria goes, he knows in the back of his mind that the Chaldeans are watching and waiting for some opportune time to start another revolt. They’re always looking for some weakness in the Assyrian king—some time when he’s too caught up in battle to rush over to Babylon with his troops.

So what is the solution to this problem? The Assyrian kings have tried different things. One tried making Babylon the capital of the empire. That didn’t work out so well, so the capital was moved back to Nineveh. Another king tried sacking the city. (When historians talk about a city being sacked, they mean its attackers went to extra lengths to severely damage or utterly destroy it). Finally the last king of Assyria—Assurbanipal [ass-er-BAN-uh-paul]—tried putting his brother in charge of Babylon. Unfortunately his brother became influenced by those pesky Chaldeans and started seeing things from their patriotic point of view. When Assurbanipal gets wind of his brother’s conspiracy, he comes up with a new hefty tax for the Chaldeans, knowing that they’ll refuse to pay it. When they do refuse, he uses their defiance as an excuse to siege the city. He sieges it for three years until finally his brother inside the city lights his own palace on fire and commits suicide. Assurbanipal then repairs the damage to the city and appoints a Chaldean as its leader—a Chaldean who agrees to abide by Assyria’s rule, that is. There. Maybe if the Chaldeans have one of their own on the throne in Babylon, they’ll calm down.

Assurbanipal is reigning in Assyria while King Josiah is reigning in Judah. Assurbanipal is a very arrogant fellow. After several successful military campaigns, he looks around at his grand empire and announces that he has conquered the whole world. He then holds a festive parade in his own honor during which he rides about on a chariot that is carried by the kings of four different nations he has conquered. Assurbanipal’s ego is as large as his name is long. As he rides about in great pomp, he never dreams that in just a short while, his great empire will fall into the hands of those pesky Chaldeans.

NAHUM, God’s Prophet

One hundred and fifty years ago, Assyria’s capital city of Nineveh was visited by a man who had spent three days in the belly of a great fish and lived to tell about it. That man’s name was Jonah, and he claimed to be a prophet of Yahweh. He said that Yahweh was so furious with the evil in Nineveh that He was going to completely destroy it in forty days. Everyone panicked. Everyone repented. God had mercy.

Now it’s 150 years later and Nineveh is once again wallowing in evil when a second prophet of Yahweh comes onto the scene. His name is Nahum. His message is terrifying.

“A jealous and avenging God is Yahweh; Yahweh is avenging and wrathful. Yahweh takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies. Yahweh is slow to anger and great in power, and Yahweh will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” (Nah. 1:2-3)

Once again, Yahweh is very angry with the Ninevites, and this time, there’s not going to be any mercy.

“Mountains quake because of Him and the hills dissolve. Indeed the earth is upheaved by His Presence, the world and all the inhabitants in it. Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire and the rocks are broken up by Him.” (Nah. 1:5-6)

Nahum is talking a few decades before the fall of Nineveh. Nineveh is situated on a river and she considers herself to be an impenetrable fortress.

Yahweh is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him. But with an overwhelming flood He will make a complete end of Nineveh’s site, and He will pursue His enemies into darkness. (Nah. 1:7-8)

God never loses track of the souls who sincerely care about pleasing Him. Here He reminds any faithful souls in Nineveh that He knows their names. But as for everyone else: they’re going to be destroyed.

This mention of a flood is quite significant. No one viewed the river that Nineveh was situated on to be a threat until the day that Yahweh caused the river to flood so massively that it washed away a large portion of Nineveh’s fortress wall. Whoops. That makes a very convenient opening for her enemies to storm through, and they did. Decades in advance, Yahweh is hinting at exactly how He’s going to wipe the city out.

Yahweh has issued a command concerning you, Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are contemptible.” (Nah. 1:14)

You know you’re in big trouble when God breaks out the “contemptible” language. He is fed up with Nineveh’s violence, rebellion and arrogance.

“I am against you, Nineveh!” declares the Sovereign Yahweh. “I will burn up your chariots in smoke, a sword will devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the land, and no longer will the voice of your messengers be heard.” (Nah. 2:13)

“I am against you!” declares the Sovereign Yahweh. “I will lift your skirts over your face.
I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your disgrace. I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. All who see you will flee from you and say, ‘Nineveh is in ruins—who will mourn for her?’ Where can I find anyone to comfort you?” (Nah. 3:5-7)

Raising a woman’s skirt over her face and thus exposing her naked body was a way of publicly shaming prostitutes in these times. In the book of Nahum, God accuses Nineveh of acting like a prostitute with all of her idolatries and sorceries.

“Are you better than Thebes, which was situated by the waters of the Nile? The river was her defense, the waters her wall. Cush was her strength, and Egypt too, without limits. Put and Lubim were among her allies. But Thebes was captured and went into captivity. Her small children were beaten to death at every street corner. Lots were thrown for her important men, and all of her leaders were put in chains.” (Nah. 3:8-10)

This reference to Thebes is extremely personal, for it was the Assyrians who sacked Thebes and did all of the things Yahweh describes here. Like Nineveh, Thebes was also situated by a major river. Thebes went down, and Nineveh will, too. In fact, it was the arrogant Assurbanipal who sacked Thebes, and Nahum is speaking during his reign. A few decades later in 612 BC, a Chaldean named Nabopolassar will finally defeat the Assyrian Empire, freeing his people from 300 years of oppression. Nabopolassar will set up what historians call the Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean Empire. In the Bible, these people will simply be called the Babylonians. Babylon will be the capital city of this great empire, which will quickly take over most of the territory that was once held by Assyria. Let’s do a comparison: 165

“Your shepherds are sleeping, O king of Assyria; Your nobles are lying down. Your people are scattered on the mountains with no one to gather them. Nothing can heal your wound; your injury will not heal. Everyone who hears about your destruction applauds, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?” (Nah. 3:18-19)

“Endless cruelty”—this is how Yahweh describes the Assyrian Empire, and after hearing how they beat the small children of Thebes to death, we understand where He’s coming from. And yet we must remember the irony of how God works. Yes, He is punishing the Assyrians for all of their cruelty towards others, but at the same time, He has used that cruelty to accomplish His own purposes. The Assyrians only conquered those who Yahweh gave into their hands, and the nations He gave to them were rebellious in their own right. So God uses rebels to punish rebels: this is a theme we find all throughout the Bible and one which is still prevalent in the world today. When we read the news, it’s so easy to think of crimes in terms of evil perpetrator and innocent victim, but in many cases it is actually two rebellious souls and God is using one to discipline the other. This is not true in every case, for we also learn in the Bible that not all suffering is a form of punishment. God also inflicts suffering on the righteous to push them on to new levels of maturity. Whatever His motivations, we know that God is just, He is good, and He is very gracious. So although an act might seem cruel from our limited perspective, we must remember the Character of the One who is running this entire universe. Is God letting evil run amuck in His own Creation? Of course not. Everything that happens down here is according to God’s own plan and He uses evil both to increase good, and to stomp out other evil.

ZEPHANIAH, God’s Prophet

Nahum isn’t the last prophet to predict the end of Assyria. Also during the reign of Josiah, God raises up a another prophet named Zephaniah who also predicts the fall of this massive empire.

He will stretch out His hand against the north and destroy Assyria, and He will make Nineveh a desolation, parched like the wilderness. Flocks will lie down in her midst, all beasts which range in herds; the desert owl and the screech owl will roost on her columns. Their hooting will echo through the windows, rubble will fill the doorways, the beams of cedar will be exposed.

This is the city of revelry that lived in safety. She said to herself, “I am the one! And there is none besides me.” What a ruin she has become, a lair for wild beasts! All who pass by her scoff and wave their hands in contempt. (Zeph. 2:12-15)

Understanding when these prophets are speaking on the biblical timeline really helps us make sense of their messages. Unlike Nahum, Zephaniah addresses multiple nations. He predicts the fall of Philistia, Moab, Ammon, and Judah.  Now when God is talking to Jews, He talks like a Jew, and that means He uses very extreme, exaggeratory language.

“I will completely remove all things from the face of the earth,” declares Yahweh. “I will remove man and beast; I will remove the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea, and the stumbling blocks along with the wicked; and I will cut off man from the face of the earth.” (Zeph. 1:2-3)

At first this sounds like Yahweh is describing the obliteration of the entire planet.  But He’s actually just whipping up how epic its going to feel to the Jews when He obliterates their personal homeland.  If we keep reading past these opening lines about global destruction, Yahweh clarifies that this message is aimed specifically at the Jews living in Judah.

“So I will stretch out My hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place, and the names of the idolatrous priests along with the priests. And those who bow down on the housetops to the host of heaven, and those who bow down and swear to Yahweh and yet swear by the idol Malcam, and those who have turned back from following Yahweh, and those who have not sought Yahweh or inquired of Him.” (Zeph. 1:4-6)

“At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘Yahweh will do nothing, either good or bad.’ Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.” (Zeph. 1:12-13)

The Day of Yahweh (or the day of the LORD) is a term that Yahweh uses a lot in the Old Testament to refer to a time of Divine judgment.

“Near is the great Day of Yahweh–near and coming very quickly; Listen, the Day of Yahweh! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and the high corner towers. I will bring distress on men so that they will walk like the blind, because they have sinned against Yahweh; and their blood will be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them on the day of Yahweh’s wrath; and all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy, for He will make a complete and terrifying end of all of the inhabitants of the earth.” (Zeph. 1:14-18)

Today many try to associate the Day of Yahweh with the end times.  Yet the end of the world is not what Yahweh is talking about in Old Testament prophecies.  Instead, He’s predicting specific acts of Divine judgment that are going to be aimed at very specific targets.  The exaggeratory language He uses is what throws us off, but this is due to the cultural context that He is speaking in (see Distinguishing Between the Real End Times & the Day of Yahweh).

JEREMIAH: A Wanted Man

By now the prophet Jeremiah has earned quite the negative reputation for himself in Judah. The people are fed up with this prophet’s constant scoldings and they’ve started talking about how nice it would be if someone shut him up—permanently.

Yahweh showed me that people were making plans against me. Because He showed me what they were doing, I knew they were against me. Before this, I was like a gentle lamb waiting to be butchered. I did not know they had made plans against me, saying: “Let us destroy the tree and its fruit. Let’s kill him so people will forget him.”

But You, Sovereign Yahweh, who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You I have committed my cause. (Jer. 11:18-20)

It turns out these schemers are from Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth. They’re his own friends and neighbors. That’s depressing. Yahweh assures Jeremiah that He will soon be annihilating everyone in the town of Anathoth when He dishes out the discipline. Well, it’s still depressing and quite frankly, Yahweh takes a very long time to do what He says He’s going to do. Jeremiah is tired of waiting and he says so. In Chapter 12 of his book, Jeremiah gives God the usual “Why do You let the wicked prosper?” routine. God gets this from a lot of people in the Bible, as well as from many of us today. We just can’t help it. His ways can be downright aggravating.

Now when it comes to us demanding that God justify His methods, He usually responds with, “Hello, I’m God and you’re not.” He often adds, “It’s way too complicated for you to grasp.” This is the reply Jeremiah gets, then Yahweh sends him out to preach some more. Well, he tried.

Sometimes God really doesn’t seem to have very much sympathy for our frustration. But then, after we resign ourselves to trying to press on without answers, He’ll often do something encouraging. This is what He does with Jeremiah, and He uses some underwear to do it. Hey, God can turn anything into a spiritual lesson.

PROPHETIC ACTION: Jeremiah’s Underwear

God knows His prophet is frustrated with how long justice is taking to arrive. On another day, Jeremiah’s mood will shift and he’ll be pleading with God to postpone His justice. But right now God is dealing with the current source of frustration and He sends His little man out to go buy a new pair of underwear. Now this was before the day of briefs and elastic waistbands. A man called his underwear a loincloth. When you hear “loin”, think “groin” because to talk about a man’s loins was to refer to his groin area. A loincloth was simply a strip of cloth that you tied about your waste to preserve modesty. 166

As a priest, Jeremiah wears a linen loincloth under his tunic, and this is what he goes out to buy. God tells him to put it on, then go to the Euphrates River where he should then take the loincloth off again and bury it under a rock. Well, this is random, but hey, it’s Yahweh. Our God is unpredictable. This would be like God telling you to drive out to some park with a pond, then take off your underwear so you can bury it under a rock. It’s a rather embarrassing activity. Naturally you’d look around to see if anyone’s watching.

After many days pass, Yahweh sends Jeremiah back out to retrieve his new underwear from under the rock. By now the bugs have been munching on those all natural fibers and the thing is decayed, gross and utterly useless.

“This is what Yahweh says: ‘In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. These wicked people, who refuse to listen to My words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this loincloth—completely useless! For as a loincloth is bound around the waist, so I bound all the people of Israel and all the people of Judah to Me,’ declares Yahweh, ‘to be My people for My renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.’” (Jer. 13:9-11)

It’s one thing to hear Yahweh say He’s going to trash a place, but when you’re looking at a pair of rotten underwear, somehow it feels more real. Jeremiah will bring his underwear back into the city and let everyone else take a gander as he repeats Yahweh’s message.

God likes to have His prophets act in weird ways to make a point. In Lesson 22, we learned about how He made Isaiah walk around in the nude for three years as a warning to Egypt and Cush. People pay attention when someone starts acting like a freak in public. But it’s not so fun to be the freak, and when we get to the prophet Ezekiel, we’ll learn that Yahweh can dish out some pretty brutal assignments.

SPEAKING THE TRUTH WITHOUT THE LOVE

The messages Yahweh is speaking through Jeremiah are very unsettling. When God gets really angry, He gets graphic, sarcastic, and bitter.

“Lift up your eyes and see those coming from the north. Where is the flock that was given you, your beautiful sheep? What will you say when Yahweh sets over you those you cultivated as your special allies? Will not pain grip you like that of a woman in labor? If you say in your heart, ‘Why have these things happened to me?’ It’s because of the magnitude of your sins that your skirts have been removed and your heels have been exposed.” (Jer. 13:20-22)

Every culture has its euphemisms for genitals. The Jews referred to human privates as “heels” and to pubic hair as “the hair of the feet.” Go figure. Yet it’s important to understand these terms so that we can grasp just how crude God is being. There are strange rumors floating about in the Church today that God always speaks like a polite Gentleman—that He always “speaks the truth in love”. No, He doesn’t—at least not according to our warped definition of that term.

“Can the Cushite change his skin color or the leopard his spots? Neither can you do good, you who are accustomed to doing evil. I will scatter you like chaff driven by the desert wind. This is your lot, the portion I have decreed for you,” declares Yahweh, “Because you have forgotten Me and trusted in false gods and alliances with idolatrous nations. So I Myself have also stripped your skirts off over your face, that your shame may be seen. I have seen all of your abominations: your adulteries and your lustful neighing like a horse in heat; the lewdness of your prostitution on the hills in the field. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will you remain unclean?” (Jer. 13:23-27)

Notice the degrading language. We don’t like to think about our loving Lord throwing a woman’s skirt up over her head and degrading her in public. But this is how God talks when He gets angry, and violent degradation is exactly what’s in store for Judah. It’s very important that we learn to face the reality of God’s wrath without letting Satan drag us down into shame and cowering. Yes, God’s wrath is terrifying—but as we learned in our last lesson, when you sincerely care about pleasing Him, you never have to worry about Him talking to you this way. At the same time, you don’t want to go around promoting Him as some doormat who pretends not to notice when own His kids are spitting in His face. God disciplines His rebellious children. Will He throw Christians into Hell? No. But there are plenty of terrible things He will do to us on this earth if we insist on constantly defying Him.

THE DEATH OF JOSIAH

By now the Babylonians have delivered the deathblow to Assyria and positioned themselves to become the new world power. Nineveh has fallen just as God said it would through the mouths of His prophets. Now let’s learn about the end of Josiah’s story.

Josiah has been very obedient up until this point, but then we’re told that he gets involved in a war that is none of his business. Pharaoh Neco of Egypt is trying to slow down the Babylonian army’s rapid assault on Assyria.  It’s not that he’s a fan of Assyria–in fact he’s been quite irked by Assyria’s oppression of Egypt.  But compared to the brutal Babylonians, the Assyrians suddenly aren’t looking so bad.  It’s into this messy scene that Josiah marches, determined to block Neco’s efforts to help.

But Neco sent messengers to him, saying, “What have we to do with each other, O King of Judah? I am not coming against you today but against the house with which I am at war, and God has ordered me to hurry. Stop for your own sake from interfering with God who is with me, so that He will not destroy you.” (2 Chron. 35:21)

It turns out that this was a legitimate warning from Yahweh for Josiah to back off and go home. But Josiah doesn’t listen. Instead, he disguises himself as a regular soldier and continues to fight. He gets shot by an archer and dies. We’re told that the poetic Jeremiah composes a funeral song which he sings in the king’s honor…and that is the end of our last good king.

JEHOAHAZ, King of Judah

After Josiah’s death, his son Jehoahaz [Jeh-HO-a-has] succeeds him and the author of Kings tells us that Jehoahaz did evil in the sight of Yahweh. After only three months, God helps Egypt subjugate Judah and Pharaoh Neco hauls twenty-three-year-old Jehoahaz off as a prisoner to Egypt. So much for that disobedient king. And after Jehoahaz has been hauled off in humiliation, we hear the prophet Jeremiah shouting in the streets:

Don’t weep for the dead; do not mourn for him. Instead, weep bitterly for the one who has gone away, for he will never return again and see his native land. For this is what Yahweh says concerning Jehoahaz son of Josiah, the king of Judah, who became king in place of his father Josiah: “He has left this place—he will never return here again, but he will die in the place where they deported him, never seeing this land again.” (Jer. 22:10-12)

JEHOIAKIM (aka ELIAKIM), King of Judah

Pharaoh Neco is now making Judah pay tribute to him. Back in Lesson 23, we learned that tribute is a form of blackmail. A stronger nation threatens to destroy a weaker nation unless that weaker nation makes payments to them. And once you’re in a position to force someone to pay you, you tend to be rather greedy about how much you charge.

While the Chaldeans are getting their new empire organized, Pharaoh Neco of Egypt is doing a little expanding of his own. Conquering Judah is a profitable affair, but he doesn’t want to have to babysit them. It would be much more convenient if he could find some Jewish king who will be subservient to him while still keeping the respect of the locals. Since the Jews have a very clear royal line established, Neco plays it safe by grabbing another descendant of David: Jehoiakim [jeh-HOY-uh-kim], who is another one of Josiah’s sons. Sticking with tradition will help avoid a revolt and once Jehoiakim is on the throne, he starts making the payments Neco is demanding. But Neco is being greedy, of course, so Jehoiakim has to heavily tax the people in order to meet Neco’s demands.

Jehoiakim will reign for eleven years and our two historians make it clear that he was a very evil man. It is during the reign of Jehoiakim that another one of our minor prophets speaks: Habakkuk [HABB-uh-cuck].

HABAKKUK, God’s Prophet

Up until now, the Assyrians have been the destroying force that God keeps referring to. But now that there’s been a change in world powers, we suddenly find God talking about the Chaldeans who are also known as the Babylonians. It will be them, not the Assyrians, who will be marching in to destroy Judah.

Habakkuk’s letter reads rather like a personal diary entry. He starts off by recording his own complaint to God: he’s fed up with all the evil in Judah and he wonders why God isn’t doing anything about it. Where is the justice? Where is the Divine intervention?

Yahweh’s answer is not what Habakkuk wants to hear. The Babylonians will be brought in to play the part of God’s Divine spanking paddle.

“Look at the nations and watch— and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own. They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor. Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like an eagle swooping to devour; they all come intent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. They mock at kings, and rulers are a laughing matter to them. They laugh at every fortress and heap up rubble to capture it.” (Hab. 1:5-10)

As Yahweh explains in this passage, the Babylonians have a terrifying reputation. Everyone is afraid of them, especially Habakkuk. The very idea of God using such a wicked people to punish Judah seems, well, wrong.

“O God, Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they? Why have You made men like the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler over them? The Babylonians bring all of them up with a hook, drag them away with their net, and gather them together in their fishing net. Then they rejoice and are glad. The enemy offers sacrifices to his net and burns incense to worship it, because it lets him live like the rich and enjoy the best food. Will he keep on taking riches with his net? Will he go on destroying people without showing mercy?” (Hab. 1:13-17)

Habakkuk can’t get on board with this idea of Yahweh showing the Babylonians such favor. The evil are supposed to be punished, not rewarded. What Habakkuk is forgetting is that his own people are hardly winning prizes for righteousness right now. The Jews are every bit as wicked as the Babylonians, only they have less of an excuse because they have known about Yahweh from the start.

Well, God is not going to waver from His plan to use the Babylonians to punish Judah. But He assures Habakkuk that the Babylonians will eventually get their comeuppance as well.

“But all the nations the Babylonians have hurt will laugh at them. They will make fun of the Babylonians and say, ‘How terrible it will be for the one that steals many things. How long will that nation get rich by forcing others to pay them?’ One day the people from whom you have taken money will turn against you. They will realize what is happening and make you shake with fear. Then they will take everything you have. Because you have stolen from many nations, those who are left will take much from you. This is because you have killed many people, destroying countries and cities and everyone in them. How terrible it will be for the nation that becomes rich by doing wrong, thinking they will live in a safe place and escape harm.” (Hab. 2:6-9)

It’s all grim news, but at least Yahweh is being fair. Habakkuk ends his revelation on a note of reverent submission to God’s will.

“I heard and my inward parts trembled, at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in Yahweh, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Yahweh is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the high places.” (Hab. 3:16-18)

Habakkuk won’t have long to wait for calamity to come, for it will be during the reign of Jehoiakim that Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon will invade Judah. But meanwhile, Jeremiah’s having troubles of his own in the Temple.

JEREMIAH SPEAKS IN THE TEMPLE

“This is what Yahweh says: Stand in the courtyard of My Temple and speak all the words I have commanded you to speak to all Judah’s cities that are coming to worship there. Do not hold back a word. Perhaps they will listen and return—each from his evil way of life—so that I might relent concerning the disaster that I plan to do to them because of the evil of their deeds. You are to say to them: “This is what Yahweh says: If you do not listen to Me by living according to My instruction that I set before you and by listening to the words of My servants the prophets I have been sending you time and time again, though you did not listen; If you don’t obey Me, I will destroy My Temple in Jerusalem as I destroyed My Holy Tent at Shiloh. I will make this city an object of cursing for all the nations of the earth.” (Jer. 26:2-6)

The reference to Shiloh refers to a very traumatic event which happened way back before the reign of King David (Period 4). Once when the Israelites were battling against the Philistines, God allowed His Ark to be captured by the enemy and hauled out of Israel. Remember that to the Jews, the Ark was like God’s personal throne. Where the Ark went, Yahweh went, so when the Philistines captured the Ark, it felt like Yahweh had intentionally abandoned His people (see Lessons Learned when the Philistines Stole the Ark).

God now promises similar abandonment. If the people don’t shape up, He’s going to destroy His Temple and make Jerusalem look pathetic in the eyes of the other nations. Well, this message immediately causes tempers to flare. The Jews are fiercely patriotic and they are fed up with this prophet and his constant yammering about God’s coming judgment.

Then the priests, the prophets, and all the people took hold of him, yelling, “You must surely die! How dare you prophesy in the Name of Yahweh, ‘This Temple will become like Shiloh and this city will become an uninhabited ruin’!” Then all the people assembled against Jeremiah at Yahweh’s Temple. (Jer. 26:8-9)

Shiloh is a very sensitive subject, which is why God used it. He knew He would hit a nerve. But where is Yahweh now that the people are trying to get Jeremiah executed? Judges hear the commotion and come out to give a ruling. Jeremiah has to be panicking inside, and yet he boldly says:

“Yahweh sent me to prophesy all the words that you have heard against this Temple and city. So now, correct your ways and deeds and obey the Voice of Yahweh your God so that He might relent concerning the disaster that He warned about. As for me, here I am in your hands; do to me what you think is good and right. But be certain of this: if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood on yourselves, on this city, and on its residents, for I tell you the truth when I say that Yahweh sent me to speak all these things directly to you.” (Jer. 26:13-15)

The Holy Spirit intervenes on Jeremiah’s behalf and freaks everyone out about bringing judgment down on their heads. Suddenly they change their tune and decide that Jeremiah shouldn’t be killed in cold blood. In fact, now that they think about it, his message does sound rather familiar…

Some of the elders of the land stood up and said to all the assembled people, “Micah the Moreshite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah and said to all the people of Judah:

‘This is what Yahweh the God of hosts says: Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become ruins, and the Temple mount a forested hill.’ [Mic. 3:12]

Did King Hezekiah and all the people of Judah put Micah to death? Didn’t the king fear Yahweh and plead for His favor, and then didn’t Yahweh relent concerning the disaster He had pronounced against them? We are about to bring great harm on ourselves!” (Jer. 26:17-19)

God now raises up a man with political clout to get Jeremiah off the hook. Whew, that was close! Unfortunately, Jeremiah learns that another prophet named Uriah wasn’t as blessed. Uriah also preached against Jerusalem in Yahweh’s Name, but then nasty King Jehoiakim heard about it and set out to kill him. When Uriah found out, he tried to flee to Egypt, but the king’s men chased him all the way there, captured him, dragged him back to the king in Jerusalem who promptly executed him. Yikes! It’s scary business prophesying for Yahweh.

Now Yahweh really frowns on kings who chop down His prophets. He sends Jeremiah right into the line of fire by giving him this message to speak against the king:

“Woe to the one who builds his palace through unrighteousness, his upper rooms through injustice, who makes his fellow man serve without pay and will not give him his wages! He says, ‘I will build myself a massive palace, with spacious upper rooms.’ He will cut windows in it, and it will be paneled with cedar and painted with vermilion. Does having a lot of cedar in your house make you a great king? Your father Josiah was satisfied to have food and drink. He did what was right and fair, so everything went well for him. He helped those who were poor and needy, so everything went well for him. This is what it means to know God,” says Yahweh. “But you only look for and think about what you can get dishonestly. You are even willing to kill innocent people to get it. You feel free to hurt people and to steal from them.” Therefore, this is what Yahweh says concerning King Jehoiakim the son of Josiah: “The people of Judah will not cry when Jehoiakim dies, saying: ‘Oh, my brother,’ or ‘Oh, my sister.’ They will not cry for him, saying: ‘Oh, master,’ or ‘Oh, my king.’ He will be buried like a donkey, dragged off and thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem!” (Jer. 22:13-19)

This donkey business is extremely insulting language. Today it would be like someone saying, “Your mother is an ugly cow.” Some remarks make us feel instantly hateful towards the people provoking us. Yahweh is really turning Jeremiah into a man that no one likes to see coming.

NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S FIRST ATTACK ON JUDAH; DANIEL IS TAKEN TO BABYLON

Let’s remember what Yahweh said to Habakkuk: the Babylonians would attack. Now they do, catching Judah off guard and hauling a bunch of captives back to Babylon. It’s a long 580 mile hike, and among the captives taken is a young man named Daniel who is about 23-years-old. Yes, this is our famous Daniel who will survive being thrown into a lions’ den. But right now he’s just a frightened captive who has no idea what great plans God has in store for him in Babylon.

Judah was having to pay tribute to Egypt, now she’s having to pay to Babylon. It’s about this time that General Nebuchadnezzar hears that his father King Nabopolassar has died. Nebuchadnezzar will now inherit the throne and become the next king of Babylon. It’s time to take a break from war and go home to get his government organized.

Meanwhile, back in Babylon, a gutsy Daniel and his three friends are trying to negotiate for a better diet. The Babylonians have some very disgusting delicacies—things that a good Jewish man considers very unclean. The manager of the captives nervously agrees to let Daniel and his three Jewish peers go the vegetarian route. Much to his surprise, they aren’t wasting away. In fact, they’re looking more healthy than everyone else so he lets them continue with their special diet. When the new king arrives home from war and interviews his captives to see who will be useful in his new government, he is quite impressed with this veggie eating quartet. So he sets them up with high ranking jobs and includes them among his inner circle of advisers. In fact, he finds them ten times better than his other advisers. Who knew wimpy Judah had such brains in her midst? Nebuchadnezzar has really scored.

LOOKING AHEAD

It’s no picnic being a prophet in these times. It’s no picnic being a prophet’s scribe, either, and Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch is fed up. In our next lesson, we’ll hear what Yahweh has to say to burned out Baruch. We’ll also see what He has to say to some other nations that are on His hit list. Jeremiah’s reputation as a prophet of doom and gloom is going to spread far beyond the borders of Judah.

Meanwhile over in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar has had a very disturbing nightmare and he’s fed up with the bumpkins that he has for advisers. When they can’t tell him what his dream was about, he decides to murder them all. Can young Daniel act fast enough to save the day?

UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 29: The Dream

Click here to see all the lessons in this series.

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