The Judge of all the Earth

Jeremiah 46-52

Jeremiah shows the judicial, moral, and providential authority and power that the Lord has over all the nations. In the thick fabric of the tapestry of judgment on nations for the variety and uninterrupted consistency of their godlessness, Jeremiah is the channel for revealing the peculiarly beneficent purpose God has toward his covenant people.

I. Jeremiah, in receiving “the word of the Lord … concerning the nations, begins with a severe word of judgment against Egypt (46:1–26).

This prophecy and those that follow against other nations could well be the content of the message delivered when Jeremiah came before Zedekiah in 27:1–11.

A. He describes scenes of panic among the Egyptians (46:1–12).

B. Nebuchadnezzar is the instrument of punishment (46:13, 25–26).

C. In spite of this being consistent with the aggressive cruelty and power-mongering thirst of Nebuchadnezzar, it is the Lord’s work (15b, 18).

D. Israel would be preserved though chastened.

    1. Jacob is assured of their return and their “quiet and ease.” Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:1, 2 that we should pray for political leaders that we might live “peaceable and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way.”
    2. The nations that were God’s instruments of chastisement for Israel will be punished thoroughly (28).
    3. Jacob will be punished for the purpose of discipline. Out of all the peoples of the earth, God chose Abraham, and through Abraham, Isaac, and from Isaac, Jacob. Jacob’s family formed the nation of Israel through whom the Messiah would come and find his human lineage and fulfill all of God’s covenants established successively through the generations. This preservation and chastening established the historical and theological context into which Christ would be born. Israel must be preserved, must be disciplined, and the words of the prophets must be established as the Word of God.


II. The destruction of the Philistines by Egypt – 47

A. The horror of the devastation is given in both visual and auditory images, but the most impressive figure is this: “The fathers look not back to their children, so feeble are their hands” (3b).

“Baldness has come upon Gaza” – the phrase makes an image of emptiness and devastation out of the common practice of the Philistines to shave their heads. Delilah was a Philistine; Goliath was a Philistine. At the conquest, the Hebrews did not destroy any of the great cities of the Philistines (Joshua 13:3; Judges 3:3) and they were a constant threat to Israel and a perverting influence. During the time of Eli, they captured the ark; David carried out raids on them and in fleeing from Saul lived among them for a while. The last biblical mention of the Philistines is Zechariah 9:5-7, where their devastation gives way to hope through the concept of their being a “remnant for our God.”

B. Again, this is the work of God (47:6, 7). “Ah, sword of the Lord, how long will you not be quiet? … How can it be quiet, when the Lord has given it an order?”


III. In chapter 48, judgment on Moab proceeds with similar severity because of “his haughtiness, his pride, his arrogance, and his self-exaltation” as well as his “fury” and his “idle boasts” (48:29, 30).

A. Moab was the son of Lot by an incestuous relation with his daughter after their escape from Sodom.

Moab was the country from which Ruth came. Its country was located on a plateau east of the Dead Sea. The Moabites refused to let Israel cross their plateau as they approached entrance into the Holy Land. Balak, King of Moab, sought help from Balaam to curse Israel. Moabite and Midianite women seduced Israelites (Numbers 25). Fluctuation between oppression by Moab and freedom from Moab, control of Moab by Israel and Moab’s independence punctuate the OT (2 Sam 8; 2 Kings 3:4-27; 2 Chron 20).

B. The description of the devastation carries an oppressive power for its thoroughness, naming city by city that are shrouded in terror. Interviews with those fleeing add to the impression. “Ask him who flees and her who escapes, ‘What has happened?’” (19)

C. They ceased to exist as an independent nation sometime after Nebuchadnezzar’s attack and their subjugation by the Persians although they were recognized as a people group (cf. 48:42, 47).

D. The thoroughness of their subjugation and the horror involved in it came from their corrupting influence on Israel, their hostility to Israel (26, 27), their own idolatry (35), and the wasting away of any opportunity they had to learn of the one true God.

Ruth the Moabitess came to trust in the God of Israel through the influence of Naomi and said, “Your God shall be my God” (Ruth 1:18).

E. Such words of judgment end, nevertheless, with a word of inclusion in the “latter days,” that the Lord “will restore the fortunes of Moab.”


IV. Judgment on Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar, Elam – Jeremiah 49

A. All of these were people that had sought to repress Israel, were in opposition to Israel’s peace and safety, and sought to be corrupting influences. (e.g. Judges 3:13, Judges 11; 2 Chronicles 20).

B. Ammon had incited the assassination of Gedaliah. “I am going to bring terror upon you” (5). Says the Lord, but also says, “Afterwards I will restore the fortunes of the sons of Ammon” (6).

C. “Edom will become an object of horror” (17).

Though having a sense of security because of its apparently impregnable position in the cliffs and rocks (16), their overthrow will be like Sodom and Gomorrah: “No one will live there; nor will a son of man reside in it” (18).

D. Distress and pangs will come to Damascus, and “all the men of war will be silenced on that day” (26).

E. Similar devastations would come from the Lord on Kedar and Elam. Hazor, the larger area in which Kedar was located, would become a “desolation forever,” (33), but God said, “I will restore the fortunes of Elam” (39).


V. Judgment on Babylon 50–51

A. The initial announcement, “through Jeremiah the prophet,” states the fact of Babylon’s coming destruction (50:1-3).

The trust she put in her idols has been put to shame for “her idols have been shattered.” From the north, the Medes and the Persians would come and inflict the judgment of God on haughty Babylon (3 and verse 9). This would happen after the death of Nebuchadnezzar who experienced individual judgment and a restoration by a marvelous invasion of grace in his life (Daniel 4:36, 37). For the quick report of the victory of Darius over Belshazzar see Daniel 5:30.


B. Jeremiah prophesies a return of heart and body to the land of promise for Israel and Judah.

He also reiterates the coming destruction of Babylon. God looks on the distressed state of Israel. Interspersed through his discussion of the ravages of his wrath on Babylon, an antiphonal chorus of his covenantal love for Israel gives relief. This antiphonal return to discussion of Israel occurs 4-7; 17-20; 28, 29; 33m 34.

    1. The people of God’s covenant will begin to weep for their sin and for the judgment of God on them; they will yearn for the glory of God in their midst and for manifestations of his covenantal love. As they did so many times at the times of festival in Jerusalem they yearn for the path to Zion. ”Blessed is the man whose strength is in you, whose heart is set on pilgrimage. … They go from strength to strength; Each one appears before God in Zion” (Psalm 84:5, 7). Those days of favor and worship in the place designated by God himself has begun to recapture their hearts, Jeremiah prophesies, and they “will come that they may join themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten” (5). The forgetting is not done by God but by the people. Those who partake of the covenant of Jeremiah 31 are those who will not forget (31:31–34). Judah is instructed to leave Babylon with confidence and in dignity as the people of God (8). Paul discusses this return of Jews to the salvific intention of the covenant in Romans 11:25–32.
    2. Their judgment and exile came in large part because of unfaithful shepherds (6). They did not prophesy truth and the priests did not obey the regulations concerning the sacrifices or speak to them of the need for heart repentance in light of the spiritual realities indicated in the sacrifices (Psalm 51:15–19). For a post-exilic example of the resumption of this unacceptable way of offering sacrifice as well as God’s determination to be honored fittingly see Malachi 1:7–14.
    3. Babylon bore peculiar guilt, because they came against God’s heritage and justified themselves in doing it (7). Like the man in Romans 3:7, they argued that the truth of God has increased through their sin, so that it was unreasonable to hold them guilty. The Babylonians did not remit themselves of positive guilt in their attacks on Judah by claiming that Judah had disobeyed the righteous law of their God. Judah had committed no offense against Babylon to provoke the attack and Babylon’s attempt to justify their cruelty was vain and did not exempt them from divine judgment for their unprovoked attack and slaughter. God may use any instruments he sees fit to use in his just actions, for Judah’s offense was against him. His instruments, however, still are responsible for the moral content of their intentions and actions. They were, in fact, jubilant and celebratory in the outrage they inflicted on Israel (11). So it has been with nations and cultures who felt justified in mistreatment of Jewish people in light of their failure to receive the Messiah, Jesus the Christ. A culture that feels justified in such actions heaps on itself double iniquity, both for the wrong itself and for their false sense of justifying it.
    4. Verses 11–16 carry a particular horror at the thoroughness of the divine execution of wrath against Babylon. Its inhabitants would be completely subdued, overwhelmed, and overtaken by another people, a hostile power, the Medes and the Persians under the leadership of Darius, whose expertise in war was fully demonstrated in the devastation of the power and people of Babylon. Like Babylon against Judah, Darius would serve as the executor of divine honor and indignation in manifesting some degree of the anger of God against human injustice and sin. “Because of the indignation of the Lord she will not be inhabited, but she will be completely desolate; everyone who passes by Babylon will be horrified” (13). At the defeat of Babylon, others who have been captured by her rapacity will find leave to escape and return to their native land (16).
    5. This devastation was an earthly example of the just vengeance of God. “She has sinned against the Lord. … This is the vengeance of the Lord” (14, 15).
    6. The Lord reiterates his determination to judge all unjust use of power as well as a covenantal commitment to restore and avenge his people (17, 18). Babylon is brought to account for its actions as Assyria had been brought to account for its haughtiness, independence, cruelty, and arrogance although God called them “the rod of my anger” (Isaiah 10:5–12).
    7. Babylon becomes an enduring image of arrogant hostility to God and the certainty of God’s judgment on all that oppose him, glory in their own supposed strength, and feel that the flourishing of riches and pleasure will never end (Revelation 18).

C. Israel and Judah receive promises of a final, complete, thorough redemption.

    1. As an indication of God’s mighty power to rescue from a situation of judgment, God will “bring Israel back to his pasture and he will graze on Carmel and Bashan, etc v” (19). Though under judgment in Babylon, God will restore these under judgment to their promised inheritance. This is emblematic of the moral reality that God is able to remove a just curse justly.
    2. If the rescue then from the land of their exile, initially under Babylon and then under Cyrus of Persia, was great, an even greater deliverance will be demonstrated. This promise is made for those that are described as “a remnant.” This remnant also is emphasized in Isaiah 10:20–23. From Israel in part and from the nations in part, God will execute a redemption that completely removes iniquity and any reason for punitive justice on them. “In those days and at that time … search will be made for the iniquity of Israel, but there will be none; and for the sins of Judah, but they will not be found; for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant” (20). The iniquity will not be found for it is removed from them as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:10-12). And why is this the case? A substitute is found for the people deserving the eternal curse; God will forgive, yet maintain his perfect righteousness and even use the act of ransom, redemption, and substitutionary death as a manifestation of his righteousness (Romans 3:24–26).
    3. Verse 34 pictures the One who has brought on them this judgmental oppression and the One who is strong for their defense and who then pleads for them in declaring them just. “Their Redeemer is strong, the Lord of Hosts is his name; He will vigorously plead their case so that he might bring rest to the earth” (34). This is rest for the weary of sin, rest for those oppressed by conscience, rest for those who live under the terror of the just and eternal judgment of God. He will give them rest, for He Himself pleads their case. “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1, 2).
    4. A testimony to this erupts in chapter 51 as God again intersperses words of redemption among those of ultimate judgment, “For neither Israel nor Judah has been forsaken by his God, the Lord of hosts, although their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel” (51:5). God will make a way for the removal of this guilt. “The Lord has brought about our vindication; Come and let us recount in Zion the work of the Lord our God” (51:10). This vindication means justification before God and his immutable law, a vindication provided by God himself. Though filled with guilt, God’s covenantal arrangement provided for forgiveness and cleansing.


VI. Jeremiah closes with a narrative of the fall of Jerusalem, just as he had been warning through prophecy (Jeremiah 52; cf 2 Kings 24:18–25:21).

A. Zedekiah, having been installed by Nebuchadnezzar as king, rebelled.

Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to the city. Zedekiah sought to escape, was captured, saw his sons and Judah’s officials killed before his eyes, and had his eyes put out. He was imprisoned until his death (1–11.).

B. The Temple was burned and the walls were destroyed (12–16).

C. All the accoutrements of worship were broken down and carried to Babylon (17–23).

D. Jeremiah gives an account of those killed and those taken into captivity (24-30).

The prophecy of Jeremiah about Jehoiachin is fulfilled (31–34).


VII.  Observations

A. God’s rule over the nations does not extend just to those to whom he has given special privileges of revelation. The whole world stands responsible and guilty before God (Romans 3:9–20).

B. All nations, and all people, and every person, are responsible to God for all their actions and will be judged in accordance with an exact standard of truth.

None will be held guiltless, but some will incur greater judgment because of the greater advantage they had, others for the level of atrocity in their aggression toward their enemies.

C. God claims to be the active cause of the events of judgment. He may use nations and people as he sees fit.

His activities in this world are not limited to displays of mercy, or to proclamation of his word, but the “terror on every side” so often announced by Jeremiah was from the direct will of God. Severe judgment here is only a faint reflection of the unending and merciless infliction of wrath in hell.

D. Though judgment is severe and in accordance with divine justice, Jeremiah is not without the message of hope that breaks through periodically.

God will maintain a remnant and even has a place for representatives from all these pagan nations among his people.

E. Though he was opposed from the start, the book of Jeremiah ends with the evidence that Jeremiah was a true prophet of God; Jehoiachin, after thirty-seven years was taken out of prison and treated kindly, but never returned to Judah, nor did any of his sons reign. His grandson, Zerubbabel was responsible for rebuilding the temple.


The righteous rule of God extends
To all men of all time.
How grace and judgment both consent
Speaks mystery sublime.

While judgment is delayed in time,
Its every point is charged.
The fearsome truth of mounting crime
Demands a wrath enlarged.

When righteous retribution falls,
Excuses all turn cold.
Objections gone, all warrant stalls-
Who speaks? Who can be bold?

Though nations hate and devils scour
The remnant of God’s choice,
They come to him by gracious pow’r,
They come with praiseful voice.

Iniquity is washed away,
Transgression hidden fast;
In perfect justice God holds sway
And makes His anger past.

The remnant walks this saving path,
Redemption’s priceless worth.
The Father chose, the Son bore wrath,
The Spirit gave new birth.

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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