Zechariah 12 gives a prophecy that speaks to a future time when Jerusalem will be under siege. Understanding the accuracy of Biblical prophecy, this could make the people nervous. I think that it would make me nervous. If God doesn’t fail, and God is saying that I am going to be in a siege, it could certainly be frightening news.
However, even with that assurance, there is also positive prophecy as well.
Zec 12:2 Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem.
Zec 12:3 And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.
Verse three is powerful. Anyone who tries to burden themselves with Jerusalem is going to be defeated. God first assures Jerusalem and all of Judah that they are going to be attacked, but He also assures them that if they are attacked, they are not going to get very far.
Now, I’m not claiming that this prophecy is directly about the lives of the individual Christians today, but I do think there are parallels. For example, we are promised that there will be difficult times in the world. We might be under attack at certain times, and we might feel like there are more difficulties than we could ever want. However, there is a similar theme in the New Testament that Jesus has overcome the world, so we do not need to fear anything that happens in the world. Jesus overcame death itself.
As we look at this promise made to the people of Jerusalem and Judah, it is somewhat easier in my mind to try to parallel what might be at least comparable for those of us today.
Zephaniah is clearly not the most popular book of the Bible, and I have to be honest that the only time I have ever read it was when I committed to reading through the entire Bible in a year. Therefore, this is a lot of relatively new material for me as well. I think that I need to do more with the minor prophets.
Anyway, we’re clearly talking about judgment in this chapter, and one verse stood out to me as pretty much the summary of the entire chapter.
Zep 1:18 Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the LORD’S wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land.
The nation of Judah might have money. They might have political power, and they might be able to look good on the balance sheet. However, when God is bringing the judgment which is described previously in this chapter, it is not like they can buy their way out of it. They are subject to justice.
If you think about it, that is justice by definition. We don’t want our judges on earth to be convinced by money. We don’t want them to change their decisions based on cash. When the judge comes to a conclusion based on the evidence that there needs to be punishment, that is a decision that needs to be made irrespective of social status.
I know that sometimes people have a problem with the justice of God. Why does God have to punish? However, when you see situations like this, I think it makes a lot more sense. Clearly, there are things that are being abused, and isn’t it better to have a God who is going to call a spade a spade and bring people back to the right path? Doesn’t that ultimately work out better than having a God who doesn’t bring about justice?
The bottom line is that we don’t like justice when we want to be justified in our sin. However, removing that emotion from it, justice is a natural desire I feel, and it is good that God doesn’t pervert it by caring about things like social status or money.
In Hosea 5, we come across a judgment that is coming to the people of Israel and the people of Judah. They have left God, and they now have to handle the consequences of their actions. This somewhat parallels what had happened to Hosea’s wife Gomer. She had left her husband for greener pastures, but she ultimately ended up in slavery because of it.
Hos 5:4 They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and they have not known the LORD.
Hos 5:5 And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face: therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity; Judah also shall fall with them.
Hos 5:6 They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the LORD; but they shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them.
Hos 5:7 They have dealt treacherously against the LORD: for they have begotten strange children: now shall a month devour them with their portions.
They are continuing in their sin, and they want to live the way that they want to. However, the consequences are rather dire. They are going to still do the sacrifices to God that they have always done, but He has withdrawn Himself from them.
This might be a bit troubling for some people. Aren’t we always saying as Christians that no one is beyond salvation? Why would He withdraw Himself from certain people?
No one is beyond salvation, but keep in mind that salvation is an individual coming to God and responding to the Holy Spirit. The individual comes with the recognition of his or her need for a Savior, so it isn’t just the fact that you are coming to God, but you come to God with the right attitude and appropriate mindset.
Notice that these people are still in their iniquities. There is still a lifestyle problem that they don’t want to give up, but they also want to simultaneously come to God, and God is telling them that they are simply wrong.
Obviously, no one comes to the foot of the cross with everything together. No one is perfect. However, please remember that salvation is a lot more than fire insurance. It is a lot more than just a ticket into heaven. Accepting the free gift of salvation also puts us into a relationship with the God of the universe. Does God respond to our calls? Certainly. However, motivation is important, and it does not seem that the people of Israel or Judah were where they needed to be.
I know that we talk a lot about God being omniscient, but we don’t really live like that. We are kind of like the people in Ezekiel 8 who think that they can worship idols in secret and avoid the attention of God.
Eze 8:9 And he said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here.
Eze 8:10 So I went in and saw; and behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, pourtrayed upon the wall round about.
Eze 8:11 And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up.
Eze 8:12 Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? for they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth.
This stood out to me because it was a very clear vision. It wasn’t as if God said that there are some people among you who are doing bad things. Ezekiel was able to see the people and even name names. That points out to me that first of all God is able to see everything. After all, how could He communicate specifics to Ezekiel if He didn’t know them first?
I think that we can forget that. These were obviously elders in the community of Judah, and you would think that they would know best of all. You would think that they would be the ones who would stick to the teaching of God, but this is clearly a case where they didn’t. It seems as if they simply did not understand or remember the idea that God cares just as much about what we do in secret as what we do in public. He looks at our hearts.
This is a challenge for us. We can hide a lot from everyone else around us, but ultimately we cannot hide from God. Nevertheless, we can rest on the promise that He is faithful to forgive us if we confess our sins honestly to Him. It can be hard to want to own up and confess, but it releases the burden, and that is definitely a good thing.
It is pretty obvious that through the entire book of Ezekiel, God has been pretty upset with the people of Israel. They have been doing things that God does not want them to do, but even here in chapter 6, we see that God was not going to entirely wipe them off the face of the earth.
Eze 6:8 Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries.
Eze 6:9 And they that escape of you shall remember me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations.
It just amazes me how prophecy works. This is clearly referring to the Babylonian captivity where there were people that were taken back to Babylon for a time. Ezekiel was obviously written ahead of time. God knew that it wasn’t going to be an absolute demolition. He knew that even though Babylon would have the ability to entirely demolish the city of Jerusalem and kill everyone within it, they were not going to do it.
I know that taking prisoners is not incredibly rare in ancient history, but given the extremely difficult relationship that surely developed during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, it would also not have been surprising to see the troops be particularly brutal in retaliation when they finally broke in.
In short, this is another point where Biblical prophecy came true. It is historically obvious that there was a Babylonian captivity, and there were prisoners taken as a remnant of the people of Judah. This happens a lot in the Bible. The prophecy always comes through. Therefore, when you have a series of prophecies that are continually being fulfilled, it seems to point to certain conclusions.
This is a pretty fast book, and today we’re in the fifth and final chapter of Lamentations. This chapter is basically a prayer to God about all of the terrible things that the people of Judah were going through. It afflicted everyone from men to women, young to old and rich to poor. Everyone was suffering as a result of captivity, and here is now Jeremiah ended his prayer.
Lam 5:19 Thou, O LORD, remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation.
Lam 5:20 Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time?
Lam 5:21 Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.
Lam 5:22 But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us.
I wanted to point this out because it never says that God was not just. Of course, Jeremiah would prefer that the people come back to God and that the relationship be repaired. However, at the same time, he recognized that God was angry at the people for continually violating His law for a long time. Jeremiah never said that God was wrong for being angry.
This can be difficult one for all of us today. We get mad at God for bringing consequences. We say that God isn’t just, and we want something different to be happening. There are two separate issues here though. Asking God that something different happens is perfectly acceptable. Coming back to God and asking for forgiveness can be the first step in asking God to help us handle difficult situations.
However, it is a different thing to say that God is not just. Jeremiah understood that this was not the problem here. The people deserved the punishment because they had violated the law, and when people violate the law, there are consequences. That is the entire point of our justice system. I entirely understand that the courts are a human system and are occasionally faulty, but the ideal intent of the justice system is that people who break the law and receive appropriate punishment.
Why would we expect anything different of a perfect judge? God knows everything, so He can appropriately adjudicate cases. God’s justice system is certainly capable of bringing punishment when people have violated it, and that is what Jeremiah recognized.
I think that is why we never see Jeremiah say it wasn’t fair. While he certainly seemed to want things to be different, he never once said that God was not fair.
In Lamentations 4, Jeremiah talks about the perception of other nations in regards to this downfall that was happening in Judah.
Lam 4:11 The LORD hath accomplished his fury; he hath poured out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof.
Lam 4:12 The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem.
God’s people had been blessed for years. They were given many miraculous victories. In the not-too-distant past, David and then Solomon sat on the throne. They ruled a large kingdom through the grace of God. David was obviously a man after God’s own heart, and Solomon had been blessed with wisdom from God. Solomon had built the temple to glorify God. This was not that far in the past, but when you look at the way that the people of Judah were acting, you would have thought that that was ancient history. They had come so far from where they had been.
As a result, God was angry. God brought the consequences that He always said would come when the people drifted too far away from where God told them to be. Think about the end of Deuteronomy where Moses is talking about the blessings of following God or the curses of not following God.
It is interesting in verse 12 that the other people of the world would not believe that that the people of God had fallen. Again, given that miraculous history, it seemed impossible that there would finally be time where they failed. However, they did not fail because God failed to protect them; they failed because they lost touch with God and were exposed to the consequences of their actions.
I think that we have to be careful about this kind of thing in our everyday lives. God has blessed us in so many ways, but if we start to drift from God, He does not always take away the consequences of our actions. If we do drift, all I can say is that we do so at our own risk and need to recognize that.
Lamentations 2 demonstrate some of what it is like to fall under the judgment of God. I think it is sufficient to say that it is not a place you want to find yourself. God is certainly loving, but He is also a God of justice.
However, there is one thing that stood out to me about this entire chapter. The people of Judah were certainly responsible for their actions. After all, they had the Law, and they could have come back to God, but there was a major problem.
Lam 2:14 Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity; but have seen for thee false burdens and causes of banishment.
The advice that the leaders of Judah were taking was false. They were listening to people who told them things, but they were not things from God. These advisors were not recognizing the problems that were present because they were not obviously looking at what God had provided.
How often can this happen to any one of us? We need to be very careful about who we are listening to. We need to be careful that the advisors we are listening to actually base their advice on the word of God and not on other purposes. We are not necessarily told here where these advisors were coming from, but they were not pointing out what was going wrong in Judah.
When we are not being told that we are going down the wrong road but are actually being encouraged to continue on that way, we are probably going to find ourselves in a situation like the people of Judah. As has already been established, you don’t want to be on that side of God. The consequences of disobeying God are not pleasant.
The point of this is to be very discerning of who we listen to. Obviously, we are ultimately responsible for our own actions and reactions to advice given by others, but how much better is it to have people who are encouraging you in the right direction? Having brothers and sisters in Christ who are helping you stay on track rather than encouraging you to continue in your sin is a wonderful thing.
I find it particularly interesting that even though God was using Babylon as a way to handle the problem that had happened from the leadership of Judah, as is obvious by Jeremiah 50, it is not as if Babylon itself was going to escape its own judgment.
Let’s face it, the Babylonians were generally a rather brutal empire. They had plenty of issues of their own that did not make God happy.
Jer 50:11 Because ye were glad, because ye rejoiced, O ye destroyers of mine heritage, because ye are grown fat as the heifer at grass, and bellow as bulls;
Jer 50:12 Your mother shall be sore confounded; she that bare you shall be ashamed: behold, the hindermost of the nations shall be a wilderness, a dry land, and a desert.
Jer 50:13 Because of the wrath of the LORD it shall not be inhabited, but it shall be wholly desolate: every one that goeth by Babylon shall be astonished, and hiss at all her plagues.
Jer 50:14 Put yourselves in array against Babylon round about: all ye that bend the bow, shoot at her, spare no arrows: for she hath sinned against the LORD.
Nevertheless, God was still able to use them to accomplish His purposes. Babylon was definitely not perfect, and they even had imminent judgment coming on them at the hands of the Persians.
I think that we can see this demonstrated in our own lives as well. God might intervene by using people or situations that we would never expect. For example, God could use something that Richard Dawkins says to work for His purposes. I think about his comments regarding children with Downs’ Syndrome. Basically, he argued that it was morally better to abort them then to allow them to live. This has caused a lot of reaction online even from some atheists recognizing that Dawkins has gone too far on this one. Even in the midst of something that seems bad, when Richard Dawkins makes statements like this, God is able to use it for good.
We sometimes forget that God is in control of everything. Even things that are wrong and have judgment coming to them can be used by God to accomplish His purposes.
In Jeremiah 44, the people of Judah are already in trouble because they disobeyed the word of God and ran away to Egypt. Then, once they got there, they picked up idolatry with some of the Egyptian gods, and when Jeremiah called them out on it, here is how they responded:
Jer 44:16 As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee.
Jer 44:17 But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil.
Jer 44:18 But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine.
Jer 44:19 And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings unto her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour out drink offerings unto her, without our men?
Just for the sake of completeness, I give you Jeremiah’s response as well.
Jer 44:21 The incense that ye burned in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, ye, and your fathers, your kings, and your princes, and the people of the land, did not the LORD remember them, and came it not into his mind?
Jer 44:22 So that the LORD could no longer bear, because of the evil of your doings, and because of the abominations which ye have committed; therefore is your land a desolation, and an astonishment, and a curse, without an inhabitant, as at this day.
Jer 44:23 Because ye have burned incense, and because ye have sinned against the LORD, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD, nor walked in his law, nor in his statutes, nor in his testimonies; therefore this evil is happened unto you, as at this day.
The basic argument was that worshiping the idol worked before, so why should we stop? When we were doing it in Jerusalem, there were no consequences. In fact, everything seemed to be going well, so why not worship the goddess?
Jeremiah must have been mind-blown. The people were attributing the previous blessings to someone other than God, but where did the evidence point? The God of the Bible had been right about everything so far in regards to both the good and the bad. It was obvious that He knew what He was talking about when He spoke to Jeremiah. Wouldn’t that seem to imply that maybe He was the one in charge of everything, including the previous blessings, if every time He said something, it came to be?
I think that the biggest problem here was that the people were simply opposed to God as an explanation. We see that today in the natural sciences. It isn’t that there is a lack of evidence for the existence of some kind of intelligent designer behind the universe, but ideologically, many people are opposed to the supernatural by default. It is a presuppositional bias that obviously colors the way you interpret the results because you disqualify certain possibilities based on philosophy.
I hope that this never happens to us. I hope that we can recognize God for who He is and are not actively trying to attribute what He does to ourselves or anyone else.