Babylon, or Bust

Jeremiah 26–29

Introduction: This chapter begins a section that is more biographical in nature. It starts with the early years of Jehoiakim. Other material on Jehoiakim has already occurred in chapters 11:1-13:14; 14:1-15:21; 16:1-17:2; 22:1-30; 23:1-8, 9-40; 25:1-14. We find in the beginning of this narrative that from very early in Jehoiakim’s reign, Jeremiah experienced serious opposition. His words were interpreted as unpatriotic and treasonous.  

I.  Jeremiah is commanded to take a position in the court of the Temple and continue with unpopular message, one that he had begun during the reign of Josiah, although Josiah had initiated many reforms

This appears something of a flashback, for it occurred in the “beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim.” Jeremiah 25 gives material from the fourth year of Jehoiakim; there he gave the prophecy of seventy years captivity (25:8–11). Jeremiah 26 does a flashback of four years and illustrates how clear and forceful the Lord’s call to repentance was. The dual results of punishment for failure and of blessing for prompt obedience are striking.

A. The message of Jeremiah 26 began with a call to repentance annexed to a message of hope.

He is commanded not to hold back a word of the Lord’s declaration (2). Only the full display of God’s revealed word will bring about the right kind of response. We must not seek to curry favor with people by omitting any portion of what God has revealed. 

B.  Should they respond fittingly to the message as revealed by God, their disaster from the Lord’s hand still could be averted (3). 

Our knowledge of the principle of divine sovereignty and his prerogative of election does not diminish the revealed truth that genuine repentance always brings an offender into the realm of God’s gracious provision for the forgiveness of sins. We earnestly hope that the blessing of repentance will be granted to the most destitute of sinners and to those that seem the most beyond hope. This proclamation is commanded to be given even though Jeremiah has been told not to pray for them (11:14). 

C. Their refusal to listen to the message of the prophets and their continued promotion of heartless surface formal worship would certainly bring God’s rendering them irrelevant for worship and bring a curse on them.

They not only had the prophets ringing a message of warning in their ears (5), but they had the Law (4) as a constant reminder of God’s expectation (4-6).

II. Jeremiah provokes opposition—The false prophets’ hostile disagreement with Jeremiah over this (26:7_24). 

A.  Because of the prominence of the place, Jeremiah was commanded to prophesy against the Priests and prophets.

They seized him and intended to charge him with a capital crime (26:7-11). They cried, “A death sentence for this man!”

B.  Jeremiah (12-15) defended himself by saying that his message was from the Lord, and he reiterated the message of the necessity of repentance in order to escape the threatened disaster.

They may do with him as they see fit, but they will have innocent blood on their hands, for he has not sought to incite rebellion but has only been faithful to his charge as a prophet. Not only would they kill one who has committed no crime, they would demonstrate their lack of recognizing the purity of a message from God, including both its hope and its threat, but would show that they despise God’s condescension to reveal his truth to them.

C. Jeremiah’s life is spared.

    1. Two anecdotes about the treatment of other prophets are told as Jeremiah’s guilt or innocence is considered. At this point the officials seem open to Jeremiah as giving a message that could save them. They refer to Hezekiah’s response to the prophecies of Micah of Moresheth. We have Micah’s prophecy among the minor prophets in the OT. Hezekiah’s response of repentance avoided the threat of disaster. This response to Jeremiah accentuates the tragedy of their continuing unrepentant lives. They heard him with interest, they remembered the past, and still they did not repent.
    2. The case of Uriah (20-23) could be given by those seeking Jeremiah’s protection as an example of a failure to listen to the same message and, therefore, they still are under the threat of invasion. Others believe that this is a word from the opposition stating the case that the king himself considers such a prophetic stance as worthy of death. Others think that this anecdote is inserted by the historian himself, Jeremiah or Baruch, in order to highlight how amazing a deliverance from death this was for Jeremiah. At any rate, God delivered Jeremiah through the favor of an official, Ahikam son of Shaphan (24).

III. Jeremiah prophesies against the nations and, through messengers tells the Jews to submit to Babylon.

A.  Jeremiah is given a commission during the reign of Zedekiah to show the nations. Nebuchadnezzar, at the time of this prophecy, already has taken into captivity Jeconiah and many of the nobles and some of the material from the temple. 

B.  All nations are under the sovereignty of God (27:5, 6); Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar will rule until their time of judgment comes (7). 

C. Judah should submit to Babylon (27:8–14; cf 21:8–10). They must be willing, as a matter of divine mandate, to bring their “neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him” (12). In this yield to captivity, they will find life. 

D. Babylon, serving unwittingly as the chastening instrument of God, does so with evil intent and in haughtiness and will be punished (27:7, 8; 25:12–14). 

Babylon was as much under the sovereign hand of God for his purposes of righteousness as was Jeremiah. The latter, by God’s grace had received a worshipping spirit, while the former retained its pagan position.

E. Jeremiah warns against the prophets and priests that say the siege, captivity, and confiscation will soon be over (27:16–22).

Speaking the truth is not always a pleasant task, but is always the safest policy for everyone involved. The false prophets and conniving priests sought personal popularity through their assurances but actually were making the people susceptible to “sword, famine, and pestilence” (8, 9). Concerning Jeremiah’s instruction to submit, Matthew Henry commented, “Some would condemn this as the evidence of a mean spirit, but the prophet recommends it as that of a meek spirit, which yields to necessity, and by a quiet submission to the hardest turns of Providence makes the best of bad.”

IV.  Hananiah’s false prophecy and its results (chapter 28)

Hananiah is an example of the kind of false prophecy that Jeremiah warned against. Jeremiah, still costumed with the straps and yoke that God instructed him to make and wear, now is challenged in the temple before the priests.

A. Hananiah prophesies that both the vessels of the temple and the royal family soon will be restored, and Nebuchadnezzar’s power will be broken (1–4).

My, how lovely this would have been. Just a short time of testing with full glory again intact and the enemy put down. 

B.  Jeremiah, sensing what a pleasant scenario Hananiah had set forth, gives sympathy to the prevailing sentiment (“Amen!)…

showing his own desire for the continued prosperity of Judah, (28:5,6) but then calls to mind the test of a true prophet, that is, does his prophecy actually come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:22). Jeremiah points to two conflicting streams of prophecy and asks the people to judge when Hananiah’s prophesied peace comes (28:5–9). 

C.  Hananiah seeks to match the drama of Jeremiah by removing the latter’s yokes and breaking them.

Jeremiah simply left. He gave place to wrath and did not seek to answer on his own, but waited for a word from God. “If what we have spoken be the truth of God, we must not unsay it because men gainsay it” [Matthew Henry]. 

D.  Later the Lord instructed Jeremiah to go to Hananiah with a prophecy directly to him (12–17).

    1. The wooden yoke, broken by Hananiah, would become bars of iron.
    2. Hananiah, as a false prophet, would die within the year, because he had uttered rebellion against the Lord.
    3. This happened.

V.  Jeremiah’s letter to the Captives in Babylon (29:1–32). John Gill points out, “Though the prophet was the amanuensis, God was the author of it, as well as their captivity.”

A. The circumstances of the sending of Jeremiah’s letter (vv. 1–3)

    1. This was a written communication to the elders, priests, prophets, and people of the exile.
    2. It happened after the large deportation of Jeconiah, the queen mother, the royal court and officials, and a variety of skilled craftsmen.
    3. Somehow, in God’s providence, Jeremiah was able to use ambassadors sent from King Zedekiah to deliver his letter. The message from Jeremiah to the people was more important than any negotiation with Nebuchadnezzar that Zedekiah was seeking. It was a word of plain and hard truth, penetrated with clear words about God’s own faithfulness to his present word and his eternal covenant.

B. The letter informed the captives that their stay in Babylon would not be short. They should plan to make it their home for many years (vv. 4–7).

    1. Though this exile was a judgment for gross unfaithfulness, it was not a tragedy. God emphasized “I have caused” the exiles to be carried away. They would not return until his purpose was accomplished.
    2. They were, therefore, to treat this as home by building houses, planting gardens, and eating of the fruit of their gardens. This was consistent with the original command given to humanity through Adam and Eve in the garden situated in Eden. The earth was theirs and existed to show the bounteous natural blessings of God, his care for his image-bearers, and as an expression of their lordship within the creation. They were to see their place of superiority and subdue the earth and “have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
    3. They were to increase in population by marriage and fruitfulness (6): “Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease.” Again, this expresses God’s original intent, a natural reality with metaphysical cogency. The first commandment recorded to humanity in its male and female progenitors and representatives, Adam and Eve, stated, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth.” Those fearful of human occupation and industry on the earth reason from a naturalistic framework antithetical to the order and purpose of creation as well as the superior dignity of man as the crown of creation and as the one under whose feet God placed all things (Psalm 8).
    4. They were to seek the welfare of the city through their industry and prayers. The city’s prosperity would be their prosperity. The nation now was in a dispersion that would forecast the kind of lives that the new covenant community, the church, would be called on to live. Churches dispersed throughout the world are covenanted people among unbelieving nations. All of this is consistent with Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2:1–4, in which he wrote about the response of the church to the character of their witness in a pagan society (Acts 19:28-34). “I exhort first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings, and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” People of every nation would be saved as the gospel spread to more and more nations. Holy living in a fallen and godless society has a transforming effect on at least the morals of the population. Four words are used to indicate how we should turn our attention foremost to the triune God and ask for his intervention in the lives of various sorts of rulers and authorities, including thanksgiving. The Bible contains narratives of the effect of Mordecai, Esther, Daniel, his three faithful companions, Ezra, and Nehemiah to show how God uses this permeating witness of his covenant people in cultures dominated by fallenness.

C. Judah must refuse to listen to false prophets (vv. 8-9).

False prophets know neither the true severity of divine wrath and God’s intention of discipline for his children nor his true goodness in his covenantal faithfulness. They focus much on the immediacy of personal success, material gain, physical health, and the power of positive thinking than they do on spiritual maturity through divine discipline, mortification of the flesh, and transformation through renewing the mind by revealed truth. Jeremiah’s message was gloomy, repressive, and conspiratorial they claimed. It would discourage the people and they needed a good pep talk with promises of prosperity coming very soon.

D. God’s promise of future blessing (vv. 10–14) was embedded in the message revealed to Jeremiah.

    1. The exile will last for seventy years, then God will visit them with release (10). Verse 11 is a favorite “promise” verse.  One should look carefully at its context and see that the assurance is given specifically to Israel for their preservation in light of the necessity of fulfilling the Messianic promises through them. He would bring through this nation the “righteous Branch” from David whose suffering and then conquering would fulfill God’s original promise of Genesis 3:15, the covenant with Abraham, with David, and the new covenant announced in Jeremiah 31.
    2. When God by grace grants to them a new heart, they will pray and seek the favor of God and the light of his countenance with all their heart (12, 13). To this, requests arising from renewed spirits and grace-filled consciences, God will listen. Left in his natural state of rebellion and spiritual blindness, the most powerful external provocations will not cause true belief. Not even the one informed by all the words of God given through Moses, the prophets, David, Solomon, and the symbols of the laws of the altar will be stirred to true repentance and supplication for forgiveness and righteousness.
    3. Verses 13 and 14 are in anticipation of their return to Jerusalem and Judah from the various cities of exile. Second Chronicles 36:22, 23 shows the beginning of this return. Also see Ezra 6 for a reaffirmation of this edict. See Ezra 7:11–28 for additional providential affirmations of the surety of God’s promises and his effectual working. A newly intense attention was given to God’s requirement as revealed in the Mosaic law (Ezra 9, 10; Nehemiah 13). This passage also pictures prophetically and typologically the gathering of the elect from all nations in the new covenant as described by Peter in 1 Peter 2:1–16: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (9, 10).

E. Another warning against listening to false prophets and God’s judgment of them (vv. 15–32).

    1. Their attention to false prophets even in Babylon has increased the severity of judgment on the ones remaining in Jerusalem. None have responded to the true prophets, but all have embraced the demonstrably false words of the false prophets. Now, even in Babylon, they still cling to falsehood in the face of the fulfillment of the message “that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen” (19).
    2. God gives the names of three of the false prophets along with judgments that he will bring on them. 
      • Ahab and Zedekiah not only prophesied falsely but committed adultery with the neighbors’ wives. They were roasted by the king of Babylon in the fire (21–23).
      • Shemaiah sent letters from Babylon seeking to instruct those that remained in Jerusalem concerning the priesthood and concerning Jeremiah. Even though he was in exile, he wanted them to rebuke Jeremiah for his letter instructing the exiles to settle down and live stable lives.
      • God instructed Jeremiah to write another letter. Shemaiah would die, all his descendants would die and none of them would see the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon.

VI.  Expansion

A. Truly God’s word in like a fire and like a hammer that breaks the rock.

It outrages people and draws out the sinful opposition of those that do not receive its message of judgment and the exclusive rights of Jehovah, the triune God. This offense of the divine word continues through the New Testament (2 Timothy 4:1–5). The reason for this is its probing nature and its thorough clarity concerning human sin and dependence (Hebrews 4:11–13). “Truth is bitter, and those preaching it are filled with bitterness. For with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth the Lord’s Passover is kept, and it is eaten with bitter herbs.” [Jerome “Against Jovinianus.” ACC, 196]

B.  In the midst of very disturbing and restrictive providences, we still may exhibit a trust in God through meek submission to the yoke placed on us, combined with effort to be stewards of the resulting condition.

C.  Modern prosperity preachers make promises of temporal blessings, both material and emotional/mental, or physical healing without any sobriety about the sinfulness of the human heart and the necessity of repentance and a new heart towards God.

The gospel concerning the redemptive suffering of Christ is minimized for the promise of immediate pleasure through a positive expectation of worldly advantage. A promise of peace without the great work of redemption is false prophecy. “False prophets always promise pleasant things and please for a time.” [Jerome, “Against Jovinianus.” ACC, 196]

In Arctic frost or Sahara’s sand
There is no place God has not made.
Each atom flew out from his hand,
The mighty oak, the fragile blade.

There is no place he does not live,
No place where we must not obey;
Wrath will reign till He forgives,
For dark transgression plagues our way.

He lets us live though Eden’s past.
The earth we still must fill with fruit,
Bear children, for the race must last,
And pray, for God is in pursuit.

The world must see that work is good,
The benefit that comes from toil.
It lifts the soul and gives us food,
Subdues the curse, renews the soil.

Lies abound and falsehood woos
By silly dreams from selfish minds.
God’s word consists of vital truths
That men are dead, yet God is kind.

When covenanted mercy reigns, 
When promised good can still revive,
The God of mercy yet remains
His people’s hope, his people’s life.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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