Friday, February 6, 2015

Perhaps, or Perhaps Not

Inquire of the Lᴏʀᴅ for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us.  Perhaps the Lᴏʀᴅ will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us.  (Jer 21:2)

The armies of Babylon had captured Jerusalem, looted the temple treasury, deposed King Jehoiachin, and seated a different king, Zedekiah, upon the throne before returning to Babylon with the booty and important men (2 Ki 24:10-17).  Eventually, the armies returned to besiege Jerusalem, which prompted Zedekiah to ask the prophet Jeremiah to inquire of  YHWH if He might look with favor on the people and turn back the invaders.  YHWH had done this before and perhaps would do so again.

The request seems legitimate.  Time and again, the Lord had intervened for Israel and Judah, turning back enemies of overwhelming numbers for His name’s sake.  God does give a response according to His name, however it is quite jolting:
Thus you shall say to Zedekiah, “Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ, the God of Israel: Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands and with which you are fighting against the king of Babylon and against the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside the walls.  And I will bring them together into the midst of this city.  I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath.  And I will strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast.  They shall die of a great pestilence.  Afterward, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ, I will give Zedekiah king of Judah and his servants and the people in this city who survive the pestilence, sword, and famine into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of their enemies, into the hand of those who seek their lives.  He shall strike them down with the edge of the sword.  He shall not pity them or spare them or have compassion.”  (Jer 21:4-7)
In other words: “You are utterly without hope and will endure much at My hand because of your sin.”  Judah had been suffering from a spiritual malaise for decades, briefly repenting under a few good kings.  At this time in their existence, God had already said that He would remove them from the land because they refused His prophets’ calls for repentance.  When Zedekiah was installed to his position, he showed his true colors:
And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lᴏʀᴅ, according to all that Jehoiakim had done.… And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.  (2 Ki 24:19-20)
Rather than endure the thought of being subject to anyone but himself, Zedekiah rebelled against God and His servant of judgment, Nebuchadnezzar.  We can see that the king’s request was either a misguided attempt to curry divine favor or a last ditch effort to save his pride and throne.  In either case, the die had already been cast, and the residents of Jerusalem, from small to great, were to suffer greatly from the siege, then be deported and spend most of their years in a foreign land.  Divine intervention was not coming.

Two things of note come as part of Jeremiah’s prophetic message.  The first concerns God’s mercy in judgment.  In a previous post, I had mentioned how God had warned Egypt of the coming plague in order to allow them time to care for their servants and livestock.  In the same way, the Lord tells Jeremiah that the people are to surrender in order to save his life (Jer 21:8-10).  The consequences of sin and resulting discipline do not need to extend beyond what is intended.  If the people willing give up, they will save their lives, otherwise the result will most likely be death.

The second is a call to the house of David and the people:
Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed.  And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.  For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people.  But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ, that this house shall become a desolation.  (Jer 22:3-5)
Though they may not have recognized it, by affirming the house and throne of David, God is telling the people that there yet remains a certain hope.  If David’s offspring will do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with his God (Micah 6:8), all of the elect will be the beneficiaries; but of he should fail, the line will be cut off.  David’s line had no ability to do as God asked—not perfectly.  The descendants would all fail.  That is, except for One.

Jesus, the root and offspring of David, is the only one qualified to properly sit and administer kingship on the thrones of both His human predecessor and divine Father.  And as a result of His taking the judgment for our sin upon Himself, we walk free in His righteousness.  We are able to obey His word.  Not that these are yet done perfectly through our effort, but by virtue of faith that is ours in Jesus’ sacrifice for sin, we are enabled and strengthened by the Holy Spirit to do what is pleasing and good before God.

One day Jesus will return and assume His rightful place.  We will have perfect justice: sin will be no more, and all things will be made new.  The King will be on His throne forever.  Hallelujah!

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