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As King Zedekiah of Judah seals his alliance with Pharaoh Hophra [HO-fruh] of Egypt to join forces against the Babylonian Empire, Jerusalem is two short years away from starting a long and very painful death. King Nebuchadnezzar [NEBB-uh-cud-NEZZ-er] of the mighty Babylonian Empire has learned about Judah’s treachery and he is preparing to launch a massive siege against Jerusalem. This time, he will be successful.
Now before Nebuchadnezzar’s army moves into position, there is another prophet that we need to talk about: Joel. Joel is one of the minor prophets in the Bible. His book is only three chapters long but it is quite dramatic.
JOEL, God’s Prophet
Interpreting the message of Joel has been turned into a complicated mess because scholars can’t tell when it was written and they don’t do a good job of separating literal from metaphorical. So Joel is a bit of a mystery, yet here we’re going to give you our interpretation of it and you need to check with the Holy Spirit yourself for accuracy.
We are placing Joel before the final destruction of Jerusalem because there are references to the Temple still standing, and yet Yahweh is threatening to bring in a massive army which will rip the place apart. The first chapter of Joel describes a massive plague of locusts which suddenly invade the land of Judah and strip it down to nothing in a shockingly short period of time. Many interpret this as a literal event that actually took place in Judah. We do not. We interpret the whole thing as a metaphorical vision which Yahweh gives to Joel. It is quite common for Yahweh to show His prophets shocking sequences of events and then have them describe the events as if they have already happened. The point of such visions is to help people emotionally connect with just how terrible God’s coming discipline will be, and He often uses metaphorical imagery to capture the extent of the damage He plans to do.
In the first chapter of Joel, we find Yahweh describing the land of Judah being utterly devastated by a massive swarm of locusts. Locusts were a very frightening symbol to agricultural societies because farmers knew firsthand how much damage those grasshopper-like bugs could do. In the first chapter of Joel, we find Yahweh describing all the devastation the locusts have done, and then calling the people to mourn and fast because the Day of Yahweh—a day of terrible judgment—is about to come. Now if the land was actually devastated by locusts, God would be going on and on about what sins have caused Him to unleash this terrible plague. But instead we find Him focusing on a future day of judgment which is at the door—the terrors of which are being symbolized by the vision of a plague of locusts.
“Blow the horn in Zion; sound the alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the residents of the land tremble, for the Day of Yahweh is coming; in fact, it is near—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and dense overcast, like the dawn spreading over the mountains; a great and strong people appears, such as never existed in ages past and never will again in all the generations to come.” (Joel 2:1-2)
Notice the extreme language—the terrible judgment that’s about to be unleashed is going to be worse than anything that’s ever happened before. What a perfect description of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Yahweh’s holy Temple. Notice also how God describes “a great and strong people” appearing. This will be the mighty Babylonian army, which will be so vast in number that they will seem like the massive swarm of locusts which God has just described in Chapter 1. And like invading locusts, the Babylonian army will destroy the land. God describes their destruction like this:
“A fire destroys in front of them, and behind them a flame devours. The land in front of them is like the Garden of Eden, but behind them, it is like a desert wasteland; there is no escape from them. Their appearance is like that of horses, and they gallop like war horses. They bound on the tops of the mountains. Their sound is like the sound of chariots, like the sound of fiery flames consuming stubble, like a mighty army deployed for war.” (Joel 2:3-5)
Notice how when this army invades, Judah is not already devastated, as it would be if it had actually been ravaged by locusts shortly before. Instead, God describes the land as being as lush and fertile as the famous Garden of Eden.
“Nations writhe in horror before them; all faces turn pale. They attack as warriors attack; they scale walls as men of war do. Each goes on his own path, and they do not change their course. They do not push each other; each man proceeds on his own path. They dodge the arrows, never stopping. They storm the city; they run on the wall; they climb into the houses; they enter through the windows like thieves.” (Joel 2:6-9)
Multiple nations writhe before this invading army—this also fits the Babylonians, who devoured many nations into their massive empire. Warriors running along walls implies a successful siege, and that siege is about to start happening as soon as Nebuchadnezzar arrives. During a siege, the invading army builds ramps and other equipment that will enable them to climb up and over a city’s fortified walls. It’s better to storm into the city in large numbers than to try and squeeze all your men through one gate.
In the last half of Joel 2, Yahweh suddenly changes tone and begins to speak of restoring Israel again. This is a common pattern that we’ve seen many times up until now. But when Yahweh speaks of the future restoration of Israel in the Old Testament, He is often referring to the start of the New Covenant. In this next passage, notice the reference to Yahweh pouring out His Spirit on all humanity—this is a hint about the coming of the Holy Spirit under the New Covenant:
“After this I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions. I will even pour out My Spirit on the male and female slaves in those days.” (Joel 2:28-29)
So first Yahweh talked about the immediate judgment of Israel—the “Day of Yahweh.” Then He hinted about a new era of blessing in which His Spirit would be poured out on all the world. What comes after this? The end of the world, and that is exactly what Yahweh starts speaking of next as He then speaks of another “Day of Yahweh”—the final season of judgment which will culminate in the destruction of the whole world.
“I will display wonders in the heavens and on the earth: blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and awe-inspiring Day of Yahweh comes. Then everyone who calls on the Name of Yahweh will be saved, for there will be an escape for those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, as Yahweh promised, among the survivors Yahweh calls.” (Joel 2:30-32)
By now, “those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem” is a reference to all believers—these are the ones who will be escaping the eternal wrath of God. In Joel 3, God then describes Himself as judging all the nations who abused His people. There is a lot of doubletalk in this passage as the foreigners become a symbol for all who are opposed to Yahweh and the Israelites become a symbol for all who are faithful to Yahweh.
“Then you will know that I am Yahweh your God, who dwells in Zion, My holy mountain. Jerusalem will be holy, and foreigners will never overrun it again.” (Joel 3:17)
The only reason foreigners were ever allowed to attack Israel is because God brought them in as a means of disciplining His people. So when God says no one will attack Israel again, He is really saying He will never feel the need to discipline His people again. The only way this could happen is if His people were perpetually faithful to Him. We’re never going to see this kind of large scale obedience to Yahweh on earth—God is speaking symbolically here of the eternal peace He will have with His people in Heaven.
“In that day the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk. All the streams of Judah will flow with water, and a spring will issue from Yahweh’s house, watering the Valley of Acacias. Egypt will become desolate, and Edom a desert wasteland, because of the violence done to the people of Judah in whose land they shed innocent blood. But Judah will be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. I will pardon their bloodguilt, which I have not pardoned, for Yahweh dwells in Zion.” (Joel 3:18-21)
Notice the extreme bias: Israel has the perfect life while her nasty neighbors are reduced to a desert wasteland. Is Yahweh trying to tell us He loves Hebrews more than everyone else? Of course not. As we learned in our last lesson, God does a lot of doubletalk in His prophecies. All this talk about Israel being restored to some lush, wonderful, peace-filled place is going to give hope to the few souls in Judah who still care about pleasing Yahweh at the time that Joel speaks this message. At the same time, God is underscoring the long-term benefits of obeying Him. For the obedient, suffering is a temporary thing which ends in eternal bliss. But for the wicked, suffering will only increase until they are banned from all pleasure. We find these two principles repeated many times throughout the Old Testament prophetic books. Yahweh’s bottom line is clear: “Obey Me now. It’s the only way you’re going to be happy later.”
After hearing about the coming destruction of Jerusalem for years and years, and after warning his neighbors in Babylon about it over and over again, it had to be quite a shock for Ezekiel to hear Yahweh suddenly say:
“Son of man, write the name of the day, this very day. The king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day.” (Eze. 24:2)
Wow. So this is it. It’s finally starting to happen. Of course sieging a city as massive as Jerusalem is going to take years to do. But this time Nebuchadnezzar is prepared to stick it out. He’s fed up with Zedekiah’s rebellion and he’s determined to make an example out of Judah that will discourage other nations from trying to rebel against his authority.
This is a big moment for Israel, and what better way to commemorate it than with another one of Yahweh’s parables? See The Rusty Stewpot to learn about the parable He tells the people through Ezekiel at this time. Next, He has another acting job for Ezekiel, but this one is going to be tough.
PROPHETIC ACTION: EZEKIEL DOESN’T MOURN HIS WIFE’S DEATH
Ezekiel has a wife who he loves very much. God is going to suddenly strike her dead as a sign to the people. Ouch.
“Son of man, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you with a fatal blow. But you must not lament or weep or let your tears flow. Groan quietly; do not observe mourning rites for the dead. Put on your turban and strap your sandals on your feet; do not cover your mustache or eat the bread of mourners.”
I spoke to the people in the morning, and my wife died in the evening. The next morning I did just as I was commanded. (Eze. 24:16-18)
There’s just no way to feel good about this. Why did God have to kill Ezekiel’s wife? Why did He have to go and break His prophet’s heart? Is this how He rewards Ezekiel for his loyalty? And then to tell the prophet not to mourn—that was really over the top. The Jews were a very vocal, expressive people. When your loved one died, the therapeutic thing to do was to get together with friends and wail at the top of your lungs, tear your clothes, throw dirt on yourself, and just let it all out. But instead Ezekiel has to remain silent. He can’t do any of the theatrical rituals of his culture. Imagine if you were exploding with anger and God told you not to show it. That would be very difficult to do, wouldn’t it? It would feel like all that intense emotion is tearing you up inside. This is an extremely difficult assignment, yet our faithful prophet does his best, and all the people are shocked when they learn about the death and observe Ezekiel’s strange behavior.
Then the people asked me, “Won’t you tell us what these things you are doing mean for us?”
So I answered them: “The word of Yahweh came to me: ‘Say to the house of Israel: This is what the Lord Yahweh says: I am about to desecrate My sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the desire of your heart. Also, the sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword. Then you will do just as Ezekiel has done: You will not cover your mustache or eat the bread of mourners. Your turbans will remain on your heads and your sandals on your feet. You will not lament or weep but will rot away because of your sins and will groan to one another. Now Ezekiel will be a sign for you. You will do everything that he has done. When this happens, you will know that I am the Lord Yahweh.” (Eze. 24:19-24)
So Ezekiel’s wife dying is a symbol of God destroying His own Temple: the glorious symbol of His Presence among His people. Even though the Jews have been abusing the Temple for years, the idea of it actually being destroyed is shocking. And yet, when news of this tragedy reaches the exile colony along with reports of mass slaughter in Jerusalem, the exiles will be too overwhelmed to go into their theatrical mourning rituals. Instead, they’ll sit around in a numbed out state and groan as they rot away in their sins. What a grim picture. This is very bleak news, and meanwhile Ezekiel has still lost his dear wife. And his tongue is still stuck to the roof of his mouth whenever Yahweh isn’t speaking through him. A prophet could get tired of all this. Ezekiel could really use some good news right now.
“Son of man, know that on the day I take their stronghold from them, their pride and joy, the delight of their eyes and the longing of their hearts, as well as their sons and daughters, on that day a fugitive will come to you and report the news. On that day your mouth will be opened to talk with him; you will speak and no longer be mute. So you will be a sign for them, and they will know that I am Yahweh.” (Eze. 24:25-27)
At last, some good news! This is the first positive prophetic sign that Yahweh has come up with: Ezekiel being able to talk again. Suddenly the fall of Jerusalem takes on a positive spin. Of course Ezekiel hates to think of the Temple being destroyed, but getting his tongue back in working order sounds extremely appealing…
EGYPT TO THE RESCUE
When Pharaoh Hophra hears that Nebuchadnezzar has begun his siege on Jerusalem, he assembles his Egyptian warriors and marches out to the rescue, honoring his alliance with King Zedekiah of Judah. When word reaches Judah that the Egyptian army has set out, the Babylonians break off their siege and march out to head off these new troublemakers. It’s much better to fight Egypt alone than wait until she has time to combine forces with Judah.
Inside the walls of Jerusalem, the people breathe a huge sigh of relief when they see the Babylonians pack up and leave. Well, that was close. Hooray for Egypt for coming to the rescue! And ha-ha to Jeremiah—the old windbag! Was this the great siege Yahweh has been talking about for so long? This was nothing! Jerusalem will never fall!
“This is what Yahweh says: Do not deceive yourselves, thinking, ‘The Babylonians will surely leave us.’ They will not! Even if you were to defeat the entire Babylonian army that is attacking you and only wounded men were left in their tents, they would come out and burn this city down!” (Jer. 37:9-10)
Yeah, sure. Whatever, Jeremiah. We can all see what’s happening: the Babylonians are running scared and Pharaoh Hophra is going to give them the spanking they deserve. Jerusalem is safe…right? King Zedekiah sidles up to the prophet and asks if Yahweh has any comment about this sudden interruption in the siege. Not that Zedekiah isn’t confident about his ally’s abilities…but, well, Yahweh does know things.
Then the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah the prophet: “This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of Me, ‘Pharaoh’s army, which has marched out to support you, will go back to its own land, to Egypt. Then the Babylonians will return and attack this city; they will capture it and burn it down.’” (Jer. 37:6-8)
This is exactly why it’s so annoying to talk to Jeremiah: the man never says what Zedekiah wants to hear. How irritating. Oh, and what is this about Jeremiah trying to sneak out of the city while the siege is stopped? Where does he think he’s going?
JEREMIAH IS ARRESTED
After the Babylonian army had withdrawn from Jerusalem because of Pharaoh’s army, Jeremiah started to leave the city to go to the territory of Benjamin to get his share of the property among the people there. But when he reached the Benjamin Gate, the captain of the guard, whose name was Irijah [e-RI-juh] son of Shelemiah [shell-eh-MY-uh], the son of Hananiah [han-nuh-NIGH-yuh], arrested him and said, “You are deserting to the Babylonians!”
“That’s not true!” Jeremiah said. “I am not deserting to the Babylonians.” But Irijah would not listen to him; instead, he arrested Jeremiah and brought him to the officials. They were angry with Jeremiah and had him beaten and imprisoned in the house of Jonathan the secretary, which they had made into a prison.
Jeremiah was put into a vaulted cell in a dungeon, where he remained a long time. (Jer. 37:11-16)
Sometimes it really sucks to be one of Yahweh’s prophets. Jeremiah didn’t do anything wrong, and God just stands there while His prophet is beaten, thrown into prison, and left to rot. Ever feel like God left you high and dry when you really needed Him? Jeremiah can relate. He’s down in the dungeon so long it frightens him. He’s afraid he’s going to die in that miserable hole, but then two-faced Zedekiah orders that Jeremiah be brought to him for a private conference.
Then King Zedekiah sent for Jeremiah and had him brought to the palace, where he asked him privately, “Is there any word from Yahweh?”
“Yes,” Jeremiah replied, “you will be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon.” (Jer. 37:17)
Try that on for size, Zed: you’re going to be handed over to your enemies, which is code for “you’re going to be tortured, degraded, and probably die a hideous death.” We can just imagine Zedekiah’s disapproving expression, but before he can say anything, the frustrated Jeremiah protests.
Then Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, “What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison? Where are your prophets who prophesied to you, ‘The king of Babylon will not attack you or this land’? But now, my lord the king, please listen. I beg you not to send me back to the house of Jonathan the secretary, or I will die there.” (Jer. 37:18-20)
Now Zedekiah doesn’t care much for Jeremiah, but at this point the prophet is his only reliable connection to Yahweh and Yahweh knows things. So Zedekiah decides that it would be in his own best interest to keep Jeremiah alive. No more dank dungeon. He has Jeremiah confined to the much more pleasant courtyard of the guards instead and orders that he be given a loaf of bread every day while supplies last.
JEREMIAH IS THROWN INTO A CISTERN
Well, now that He’s positioned His prophet around people again, Yahweh has more to say. Jeremiah starts instructing everyone to run out and surrender themselves as soon as the Babylonian army returns to continue the siege. If they surrender, things will go well for them—at least they’ll stay alive while they’re dragged off to foreign lands. But if they try to stay holed up inside of Jerusalem and fight, well then it’s going to be mass slaughter. Yahweh is telling everyone to surrender: that’s the only way He’s going to help them.
Even though Jeremiah cares deeply about his people, his messages make him sound like a treasonous rat and the soldiers get ticked. They don’t appreciate this blabbermouth eroding the delicate morale of the troops who are waiting nervously for the Babylonians to return and continue their attack. Someone needs to shut this prophet up.
Then the officials said to the king, “This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.”
“He is in your hands,” King Zedekiah answered. “The king can do nothing to oppose you.” (Jer. 38:4-5)
Well, thanks for nothing, Zedekiah. Jeremiah gets seized and thrown into a cistern—an underground water collection basin. There isn’t much water in it, but there’s enough muddy sludge for a man to sink down and drown in. Jeremiah is sinking down, because there’s no firm ground for him to stand on. The mud’s getting higher up on his body. He can see where this is going. After preaching for Yahweh for over twenty years, he’s going to die with a mouth full of mud. Terrific.
Just when a man thinks he has no friends, some total stranger comes to the rescue. Read Saving Jeremiah: the Story of Ebed-Melek to learn about the man who rescued Jeremiah from the cistern before the prophet drowned. And because of his concern for Yahweh’s man, Ebed-Melek gets a special promise from God.
THE BABYLONIANS RETURN
Just as Yahweh predicted, Pharaoh Hophra ends up returning to Egypt without conquering the Babylonians. The Babylonians then return and continue their siege on Jerusalem. Eventually, there is no more food inside the city. The people resort to cannibalism. It’s an ugly, desperate scene. Then that dark day comes when the Babylonians break through the wall. Just as Yahweh predicted through Ezekiel in our last lesson, that rat Zedekiah tries to flee with his army in the night. But he’s caught by the Babylonians, who kill his sons in front of him and then gouge his eyes out before hauling him off to Babylon. We could feel sorry for him…but we don’t, because the man has done nothing but spit in Yahweh’s face. Our loyalties are with Yahweh.
JEREMIAH IS SET FREE
While Jerusalem is being invaded and burned, Jeremiah is chained up in the courtyard of the guard and he can’t get out. At this point King Nebuchadnezzar [neb-uh-kuh-NEH-zar] is back in Babylon and his right hand man Nebuzaradan [neb-uh-zuh-RAY-dan] is handling the attack on Judah. But Nebuchadnezzar is well acquainted with the messages that Jeremiah has been speaking all this time—especially the ones in which Jeremiah kept insisting that the Babylonians would level Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar likes the kinds of messages this prophet preaches—they really show the right priorities. So he has instructed his commander Nebuzaradan to show favor to the prophet Jeremiah and see that he is treated well.
Nebuzaradan found Jeremiah bound in chains among all the captives from Jerusalem and Judah who were being carried into exile to Babylon. When the commander of the guard found Jeremiah, he said to him, “Yahweh your God decreed this disaster for this place. And now Yahweh has brought it about; He has done just as He said He would. All this happened because you people sinned against Yahweh and did not obey Him. But today I am freeing you from the chains on your wrists. Come with me to Babylon, if you like, and I will look after you; but if you do not want to, then don’t come. Look, the whole country lies before you; go wherever you please.” However, before Jeremiah turned to go, Nebuzaradan added, “Go back to Gedaliah [ged-AL-e-yah] son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan [SHAY-fun], whom the king of Babylon has appointed over the towns of Judah, and live with him among the people, or go anywhere else you please.”
Then the commander gave him provisions and a present and let him go. So Jeremiah went to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah [MIZZ-puh] and stayed with him among the people who were left behind in the land. (Jer. 40:1-6)
When you conquer new territory for your empire, you don’t want to leave it abandoned or all the good farmland will become overgrown with weeds. It’s better to leave just enough people behind to keep the land productive—but not the kind of people who will get big ideas about revolting. You want to leave behind submissive folks who are used to poverty. This is what Nebuzaradan does: he leaves behind some of the poor people of Judah to work the land. But of course there still needs to be a sense of government and officials who will police the place and report any anti-Babylonian sentiment. So Nebuzaradan sets up some officials to watch over things while he’s gone and then he leaves with a whole bunch of captives in tow.
When the Babylonians leave Judah, they leave behind a scene of total devastation, just as Yahweh predicted. The author of our Chronicles miniseries says it best:
Yahweh, the God of their ancestors, repeatedly sent His prophets to warn them, for He had compassion on His people and His Temple. But the people mocked these messengers of God and despised their words. They scoffed at the prophets until Yahweh’s anger could no longer be restrained and nothing could be done.
So Yahweh brought the king of Babylon against them. The Babylonians killed Judah’s young men, even chasing after them into the Temple. They had no pity on the people, killing both young men and young women, the old and the infirm. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar. The king took home to Babylon all the articles, large and small, used in the Temple of God, and the treasures from both Yahweh’s Temple and from the palace of the king and his officials. Then his army burned the Temple of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces, and completely destroyed everything of value. The few who survived were taken as exiles to Babylon, and they became servants to the king and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power.
So the message of Yahweh spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said. (2 Chron. 36:15-21)
It’s going to be seventy long years before any exiled Jews are allowed to return to Jerusalem. Meanwhile the city’s walls are a heap of rubble, and the magnificent Temple has been reduced to an ugly pile of rocks. Yahweh’s glorious Presence is no longer abiding in His holy House. There is no more Holy Place or Holy of Holies. There is no way to atone for sins through sacrifices. There are dead bodies strewn all over the place with familiar faces frozen in anguished expressions. It’s the darkest day in Israel’s history. She is no longer a nation. Yahweh has cast her out of His sight and He’s going to need seventy years to calm down before He’s going to be willing to deal with her again. This is what she gets for defying her God.
EZEKIEL MEETS THE NEW EXILES
It’s a very long trek from Jerusalem to Babylon—especially when you’re a frightened prisoner of war. When this large new batch of prisoners finally makes it to the city of Babylon, some of them end up in the Jewish colony of exiles where Ezekiel lives and they run up to tell him the news.
Now in the twelfth year of our exile, on the fifth of the tenth month, the refugees from Jerusalem came to me, saying, “The city has been taken.” Now the hand of Yahweh had been upon me in the evening, before the refugees came. And He opened my mouth at the time they came to me in the morning; so my mouth was opened and I was no longer speechless. (Eze. 33:21-22)
Ah…that feels good. Ezekiel finally has his tongue back. He’s been muted for seven long years. Anyone want to volunteer to be a prophet for God?
OBADIAH, God’s Prophet
So what were Israel’s neighbors doing while she was getting pounded into pulp by Nebuchadnezzar’s mighty army? Some of them were snickering. In the very brief book of Obadiah, we find Yahweh railing against Israel’s southwest neighbor of Edom—apparently the Edomites found the destruction of Jerusalem to be quite humorous. Instead of helping, they cheered the Babylonians on. Yahweh does not approve.
“When they were invaded, you stood aloof, refusing to help them. Foreign invaders carried off their wealth and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem, but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.
You should not have gloated when they exiled your relatives to distant lands. You should not have rejoiced when the people of Judah suffered such misfortune. You should not have spoken arrogantly in that terrible time of trouble. You should not have plundered the land of Israel when they were suffering such calamity. You should not have gloated over their destruction when they were suffering such calamity. You should not have seized their wealth when they were suffering such calamity. You should not have stood at the crossroads, killing those who tried to escape. You should not have captured the survivors and handed them over in their terrible time of trouble.
The day is near when I, Yahweh, will judge all godless nations! As you have done to Israel, so it will be done to you. All your evil deeds will fall back on your own heads. Just as you swallowed up My people on My holy mountain, so you and the surrounding nations will swallow the punishment I pour out on you. Yes, all you nations will drink and stagger and disappear from history.
But Jerusalem will become a refuge for those who escape; it will be a holy place. And the people of Israel will come back to reclaim their inheritance. The people of Israel will be a raging fire, and Edom a field of dry stubble. The descendants of Joseph will be a flame roaring across the field, devouring everything. There will be no survivors in Edom. I, Yahweh, have spoken!” (Oba. 1:11-18)
It’s going to be all bad for Edom. Yahweh is going to exterminate their whole race. Today there are no Edomites living in the world because Yahweh wiped them out. So the next time you see some nation or individual getting pounded on by God, be careful how you respond. Don’t go trying to profit off of their misery. Keep your eyes focused on your own walk with God and make sure you’re doing what He’s telling you to do. In the end we will all be held accountable for our own attitudes.
THE BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS
Our prophet Jeremiah is a man of many talents. He’s not just a prophet, he’s also an artist of words. He’s a poet and a composer of songs. The book of Lamentations is one long poem that Jeremiah wrote. It’s an acrostic poem—one in which each stanza begins with the next letter of the alphabet. If we were to write a poem in English like the poem Jeremiah wrote, we’d have to have 26 stanzas because there are 26 letters in the English alphabet. The first word of our first stanza would have to start with A. The second verse would start with B, the third verse with C, and so on until we got all the way down to Z. This is what Jeremiah does, only he goes through the Hebrew alphabet. In some Bible versions (like the HCSB) you’ll see a Hebrew letter written in front of each verse, showing how Jeremiah is working his way through the alphabet. Remember that anytime you see sentences broken up in short phrases in a Bible passage, it indicates poetry. Compare the books of Psalms and Lamentations to the long paragraphs of 1 & 2 Chronicles. The stacks of short phrases that you find in Lamentations indicates that the original language was poetic, whereas the normal block paragraphs indicate regular text (aka prose). Once you learn how to recognize this, you’ll notice that Yahweh often speaks poetically when He prophesies.
Lamentations is about the fall of Jerusalem and the subsequent devastation of the land. Remember that Jeremiah chose to stay behind with the poor people when the Babylonian army left with large numbers of captives in tow. As he looks around at the devastated land, it’s a very depressing sight.
How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.
Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are on her cheeks. Among all her lovers there is no one to comfort her. All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies. (Lam. 1:1-2)
Yahweh has rejected all the warriors in my midst; He has summoned an army against me to crush my young men. In His winepress Yahweh has trampled Virgin Daughter Judah. (Lam. 1:15)
Jeremiah is fiercely patriotic, but this virgin daughter business is taking things a bit too far. Judah is hardly a virgin—she’s been doing it with every idol she could get her hands on for centuries, and Jeremiah knows it. But in this poem, we find his perspective rather skewed as he gets so focused on the devastation that he loses his grip on the justice of it all. Instead, he spends a lot of time wanting Yahweh to spank those who helped bring Judah down.
People have heard my groaning, but there is no one to comfort me. All my enemies have heard of my distress; they rejoice at what You have done. May You bring the day You have announced so they may become like me.
Let all their wickedness come before You; deal with them as You have dealt with me because of all my sins. My groans are many and my heart is faint. (Lam. 1:21-22)
We’d be a lot better off if we stopped focusing on everyone else’s sins and dealt with our own instead. Jeremiah crosses the line of respect several times in this poem as he gushes on and on about poor Israel and emphasizes Yahweh’s harshness.
How Yahweh has covered Daughter Zion with the cloud of His anger! He has hurled down the splendor of Israel from heaven to earth; He has not remembered His footstool in the day of His anger.
Without pity Yahweh has swallowed up all the dwellings of Jacob; in His wrath He has torn down the strongholds of Daughter Judah. He has brought her kingdom and its princes down to the ground in dishonor.
In fierce anger He has cut off every horn of Israel. He has withdrawn His right hand at the approach of the enemy. He has burned in Jacob like a flaming fire that consumes everything around it.
Like an enemy He has strung His bow; His right hand is ready. Like a foe He has slain all who were pleasing to the eye; He has poured out His wrath like fire on the tent of Daughter Zion.
Yahweh is like an enemy; He has swallowed up Israel. He has swallowed up all her palaces and destroyed her strongholds. He has multiplied mourning and lamentation for Daughter Judah. (Lam. 2:1-5)
Look, Yahweh, and consider: Whom have You ever treated like this? Should women eat their offspring, the children they have cared for? Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of Yahweh? (Lam. 2:20)
Yes, they should, Jeremiah. Hello, what has God been saying for the last twenty years out of your own mouth? In the light of how horrifically Judah has treated God, what’s with all these protests?
I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of Yahweh’s wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, He has turned His hand against me again and again, all day long.
He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.
He has walled me in so I cannot escape; He has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help, He shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; He has made my paths crooked. (Lam. 3:1-7)
As he begins Chapter 3, Jeremiah’s complaints take on a personal tone as he stops talking for the nation of Judah and starts talking about himself. His view of Yahweh is so bleak that we wonder what is going on between him and God. Why does Jeremiah think that Yahweh isn’t listening to his prayers? Perhaps it’s because Jeremiah is praying for the wrong things—for mercy and grace on Israel. We Christians are often guilty of this today. As soon as God does something harsh—like bringing on some violent storm or disaster—we don’t stop to think that He has reasons for what He does. We don’t stop to consider His feelings and wonder if He’s upset about something. Instead, we pray against what He’s doing, shamelessly accusing Him of doing bad things and making wrong choices. This is not a reverent way to talk to God, and we could all use to seek the Holy Spirit’s wisdom on ways that we can improve our prayer language to be more honoring to God.
The punishment of my people is greater than that of Sodom, which was overthrown in a moment without a hand turned to help her. (Lam. 4:6)
And rightly so, for as Yahweh explained in our last lesson, Jerusalem’s sins were worse than Sodom’s in His sight.
Rejoice and be glad, Daughter Edom, you who live in the land of Uz. But to you also the cup will be passed; you will be drunk and stripped naked.
Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion; He will not prolong your exile. But He will punish your sin, Daughter Edom, and expose your wickedness. (Lam. 4:21-22)
This specific complaint against Edom reminds us of Obadiah’s prophecy regarding Edom’s nasty treatment of Jerusalem during her fall.
After moaning and groaning for four chapters, Jeremiah ends with this prayer to God:
Remember, Yahweh, what has happened to us; look, and see our disgrace. Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners. We have become fatherless, our mothers are widows. We must buy the water we drink; our wood can be had only at a price. Those who pursue us are at our heels; we are weary and find no rest. We submitted to Egypt and Assyria to get enough bread. Our ancestors sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment. Slaves rule over us, and there is no one to free us from their hands. We get our bread at the risk of our lives because of the sword in the desert. Our skin is hot as an oven, feverish from hunger. Women have been violated in Zion, and virgins in the towns of Judah. Princes have been hung up by their hands; elders are shown no respect. Young men toil at the millstones; boys stagger under loads of wood. The elders are gone from the city gate; the young men have stopped their music. Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning. The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, for we have sinned! Because of this our hearts are faint, because of these things our eyes grow dim for Mount Zion, which lies desolate, with jackals prowling over it. (Lam. 5:1-18)
This descriptive picture adds to our understanding of just how horrible things have become in the land of Judah. Well, this is what Yahweh said would happen for decades. The Chronicler had it right when he said:
Yahweh, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of Yahweh arose against His people and there was no remedy. (2 Chron. 36:15-16)
And though Yahweh has said over and over again that this punishment is going to last for seventy long years, we find Jeremiah closing with an insulting, complaining prayer that is just not appropriate for a man in his position.
You, Yahweh, reign forever; Your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do You always forget us? Why do You forsake us so long? Restore us to Yourself, Yahweh, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless You have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure. (Lam. 5:19-22)
We can like Jeremiah as a prophet, we can admire his perseverance and appreciate his humanity, but we also need to learn from his mistakes. The attitude he portrays in Lamentations is just not okay. How dare he say to Yahweh “Why do You always forget us?” Yahweh does not deserve to be spoken to in such a rude manner. Yahweh has been remembering His people for centuries while they’ve felt free to forget Him. If He was truly just, He would have killed all of the little jerks off in the desert when the high priest Aaron had the gall to make a new golden calf in Moses’ absence (Lesson 5). But instead, He’s put up with their rebellion for centuries only to have His prophet suggest that He has forsaken them for too long. Right. It’s probably only been a matter of weeks. So Yahweh can eat our abuse for centuries but if He gives us the spanking we deserve, He’s being unreasonable? No, Jeremiah is way out of line here. But instead of striking him down for his irreverence, Yahweh lets him live and continues to help him. Why? Because Yahweh continues to be good, gracious, and merciful, even when no one can scrape up a sincere “thank You.” Let’s not follow in Jeremiah’s lousy Lamentations example.
THE FLIGHT TO EGYPT
So now what? Ezekiel’s got his tongue unhinged in Babylon. Jeremiah’s sitting around in a funk down in Judah. Nebuchadnezzar is back home in his palace thinking about how irritating it was that Egypt tried to interfere with his assault on Judah. Someone needs to teach that pharaoh a lesson. But meanwhile, trouble breaks out in Judah. The Jews revolt against the local puppets that Nebuzaradan left in charge. All the officials are killed and the Jews panic, afraid of how Nebuchadnezzar will retaliate when he finds out what they’ve done. Someone hatches a plan: let’s all run away to Egypt. After all, Egypt and Judah are supposed to be allies. Egypt should be a safe place to hide. They ask Jeremiah what Yahweh thinks. Yahweh says it’s a lousy plan. He tells them to stay put. He says if they try to run off to Egypt, He’ll follow them and kill them. They ignore what Yahweh says. They run off to Egypt against His instructions and they even make Jeremiah come away with them.
Once Jeremiah is relocated to Egypt, Yahweh starts prophesying through him there. He prophesies against the rebellious Jewish runaways and then He prophesies against Egypt and against that twerp Pharaoh Hophra who tried to rescue Judah from Yahweh’s wrath. Towards the rebellious Jews, He says:
“I am determined to bring disaster on you and to destroy all Judah. I will take away the remnant of Judah who were determined to go to Egypt to settle there. They will all perish in Egypt; they will fall by the sword or die from famine. From the least to the greatest, they will die by sword or famine. They will become a curse and an object of horror, a curse and an object of reproach. I will punish those who live in Egypt with the sword, famine and plague, as I punished Jerusalem. None of the remnant of Judah who have gone to live in Egypt will escape or survive to return to the land of Judah, to which they long to return and live; none will return except a few fugitives.” (Jer. 44:11-14)
Now let’s remember that Jerusalem has just been reduced to a pile of smoke and rubble. You’d think maybe these guys would have regained some respect for Yahweh by now. But do you know who they actually have renewed reverence for? Asherah, aka the Queen of Heaven. Asherah is that female goddess that the Jews have been carving grotesque statues for for centuries. See, these rebels have it all figured out. Ever since they stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven, their lives haven’t been going so smooth.
“We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.” (Jer. 44:17-19)
To these Jews, the solution is obvious: they’ve been slacking in their devotion to the most important deity around—and that’s the Queen of Heaven, of course, not Yahweh. As soon as they keep the vows they made about sacrificing and worshiping her, everything will turn around.
Wow. What can we say in the face of such defiance? Isn’t there anyone left who really cares about Yahweh?
“Go ahead then, do what you promised! Keep your vows to the Queen of Heaven! But hear the word of Yahweh, all you Jews living in Egypt: ‘I swear by My great Name,” says Yahweh, “that no one from Judah living anywhere in Egypt will ever again invoke My Name or swear, ‘As surely as the Sovereign Yahweh lives.’ For I am watching over them for harm, not for good; the Jews in Egypt will perish by sword and famine until they are all destroyed. Those who escape the sword and return to the land of Judah from Egypt will be very few. Then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will stand—Mine or theirs.
This will be the sign to you that I will punish you in this place,” declares Yahweh, “so that you will know that My threats of harm against you will surely stand.” This is what Yahweh says: “I am going to deliver Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hands of his enemies who want to kill him, just as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the enemy who wanted to kill him.” (Jer. 44:25-30)
Yahweh is going to kill nearly all of the Jews who ran off to Egypt and He’s going to kill the rebellious Pharaoh Hophra as well. Then He’s going to hand the whole nation of Egypt over to Nebuchadnezzar because He’s fed up with Hophra’s arrogance. In Egypt, as in many other nations, the king claimed to be a divine being. Where do these scrawny humans get off? It’s time to give Ezekiel another message.
Thus says the Lord Yahweh: “Behold, I will bring upon you a sword and I will cut off from you man and beast. The land of Egypt will become a desolation and waste. Then they will know that I am Yahweh. Because you said, ‘The Nile is mine, and I have made it,’ therefore, behold, I am against you and against your rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt an utter waste and desolation, from Migdol to Syene and even to the border of Ethiopia. A man’s foot will not pass through it, and the foot of a beast will not pass through it, and it will not be inhabited for forty years. So I will make the land of Egypt a desolation in the midst of desolated lands. And her cities, in the midst of cities that are laid waste, will be desolate forty years; and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations and disperse them among the lands.” (Eze. 29:8-12)
Later, when Yahweh is in a more merciful mood, He’ll restore Egypt. He’ll restore Israel. He’ll restore many of the nations He’s been brutalizing and He’ll press on with these wearying humans. But for right now, He’s getting some of His own back.
THE END OF AN ERA
This brings us to the end of Period 5. Whew! Just look at all of the books we’ve covered:
If you’ve been reading this series in order, think about how much you’ve learned. By now you know way more about the Old Testament than most of the Christians you’ll ever meet. You even understand things that many scholars don’t get, such as how Yahweh intentionally misleads people with His prophecies and how He is purposely hiding the existence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Why do so many of our Bible “experts” today trip over the fact that God lies? Why do they try to deny the reality of God’s wrath? Why do they cling to the idea that Israel is some shining star in God’s eyes? Because they aren’t listening to the Holy Spirit as they read, they’re just paying big money to get brainwashed with foolishness at fancy seminaries. Well, you’re bypassing all of that rot and getting a far more useful education because you’re letting God talk to you Himself as we walk through the Bible’s dramatic plot. You don’t need to get some silly manmade degree to become an expert on the Bible. You just need to have an open heart towards the Holy Spirit and enough wisdom to recognize that He is your only Source of truth. Look to God alone to guide you, and you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll learn.
PERIOD 6: THE POST-EXILE PERIOD
Period 5 was filled with drama, wasn’t it? All those kings and prophets and warring nations. Well, there’s a lot more drama to come as we dive into Period 6 and learn about what happens as the Jews sit through their seventy years of exile. At the end of Period 5, we see Yahweh spanking the whole Biblical world using one man: King Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonian Empire. Nebuchadnezzar succeeds at everything he touches because Yahweh is pouring down blessing and favor on his head. A king could get used to all this success—a bit too used to it, in fact. After a while, Nebuchadnezzar starts feeling like he’s pretty impressive. He’s unstoppable. He’s amazing. He’s practically ruling the whole world—at least the part of the world that he cares about. Who can stop the incredible Nebuchadnezzar? As Yahweh listens to the king’s arrogant musings, He decides it’s time to send him another prophetic dream…
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 37: Man Turns Cow
Click here to see all the lessons in this series.