We’ve been thinking about God’s intervention in this world. We’ve noted that usually God’s interventions are ‘providential’ using apparently normal events to bring about his plans and purposes. As we think of God’s interventions in the nations, we see a pattern of judgment for sin.
When does God intervene in such a way? I suspect that we cannot really know, but there are at least some occasions in which we see God waiting until the degree of sinfulness in a nation reaches a ‘full’ stage. In Genesis 15 we read: ‘the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.’ The implication is that God would not bring judgment until the sin had reached a certain point, he would not act before the nation had a chance to turn around. But there would come a time when judgment would come. In the time of the Northern kingdom, the prophet Amos was shown a basket of rip fruit – ready to be eaten. The Lord declared, ‘The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer (Amos 8).’ Judgment was coming for a people who were ‘ripe for judgment.’ All this should not ignore a final judgment that awaits the nations.
In this 49th chapter we will meet 5 nations that were ‘ripe for judgment.’ They each seem to have had a particular dependency that is called out as the basis for their judgment.
- Ammon who relied on a false God
Ammon lies to the north of Moab (see notes on chapter 47/48) to the east of the river Jordan. The people were descendants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot. The people of this nation had been in conflict with Israel over many generations and in fact Ammon joined Nebuchadnezzar’s forces when Babylon quashed a revolt by the Jews led by king Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24). After Jerusalem was destroyed, the Babylonians set up a local administration in Judah under the governorship of Gedaliah. It was through the Ammonites that Gedaliah was assassinated (Jeremiah 40). The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that in 582 BC, Nebuchadnezzar attacked Ammon and Moab and by the middle of the 6th century, Ammon no longer existed as a nation.
The god of the Ammonites was Molech (aka Milcom). Sadly, King Solomon worshipped some of the gods of his many wives, including Molech – a god to whom people sacrificed children. The Ammonites had taken possession of part of Israel (the area given to the tribe of Gad) and had given credit for their conquest to their false god, Molech (verse 1). For this reason, Ammon would be judged: ‘But the days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will sound the battle cry against Rabbah of the Ammonites; it will become a mound of ruins, and its surrounding villages will be set on fire (verse 2).’ Rabbah was the main city in Ammon and is the present-day Amman, capital of Jordan. The judgment against Ammon would render their god useless: ‘3 ‘Wail, Heshbon, for Ai is destroyed! Cry out, you inhabitants of Rabbah! Put on sackcloth and mourn; rush here and there inside the walls, for Molek will go into exile, together with his priests and officials.’
Like many nations, Ammon not only worshipped a false, invented god, but they boasted of their wealth and were fooled into thinking that their wealth brought them security: ‘you trust in riches and say, “who will attack me.”’ Neither false gods nor wealth would be of any value when faced with the wrath of God!
Despite their coming judgment, Ammon is one of these 9 nations of Jeremiah 46-51 that is given hope: 6 ‘Yet afterwards, I will restore the fortunes of the Ammonites,’ declares the Lord.’ This seems most likely a future hope tied to the hope of the future restoration of Israel.
- Edom who relied on wisdom
The land of Edom lay south of Moab, to the south east of the Dead Sea. The Edomites were descended from Esau, the man who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew! The rivalry between Jacob and Esau (despite their reconciliation) was handed down through the subsequent generations. When the Judean king Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar in 589 BC, the Edomites joined the fight against Judah. Ultimately Edom was overrun by Arab tribes, after which some of the Edomites moved into Southern Judea.
I recall once trying to find an office in London. I had the address: it was in Bloomsbury Square, but despite walking backwards and forwards, I just couldn’t find the place. It turned out that I was in the wrong part of the square and once I have my orientation sorted out it, the meeting place was easy to find. I note in our society today that the thinking of most people has been corrupted by atheism and its sister, evolution. If three is no God, then there is no absolute morality, and if there is no morality we should just do as we please. This is now the mainstream view in our society. If you are a man and you feel attracted to other men, then go ahead and fulfil your desires – there are no absolute rules after all. Now we teach our children if you are a girl and feel inside a bit like a boy, then no problem, we’ll give you hormones that will wreck your body and put you through a process that will wreck your mind for good measure. Why? Because we should ‘be who you are,’ they say and some Christians even state that they should be ‘who God made them to be.’ This is the logic we have today. Of course, it’s an inconsistent ‘wisdom.’ What about the people who their DNA defines them as paedophiles or rapists, aren’t they being who they are, shouldn’t we be celebrating their diversity too? If you start with a faulty view of the world, your ‘wisdom’ will soon begin to look pretty foolish. People complain about our parliamentarians – they are not fit to govern, but our MPs by and large represent the people of the nation, and they are exhibiting the ‘wisdom’ that is the fruit of atheism and evolution.
I suspect that the Edomites were not so different. We read the rhetorical question: ‘had their wisdom decayed.’ Well, yes it had! The people were proud and had lost their ability to think straight. We hear a lot about people who are proud of themselves too!
God was going to bring disaster on Edom. In Deuteronomy, the people of Israel were told that when the gathered grapes from their vines, they were to refrain from going over the vines a second time – they were thus to leave some for the foreigners, the orphans, and the widows. Jeremiah, likens those who will come to bring God’s judgment on the Edomites, as like grape pickers who will ‘strip Esau bare (verse 10).’ Nothing would remain: there would be nowhere to hide. The clefts of the rocks would offer no hiding place (verse 16) and if the Edomites were to ‘build (their) nest as high as the eagles’, they would be brought down.
Jeremiah gives two more poetic pictures of Edom’s fate: first the judgment will be like a lion coming to the rich pastureland of grazing flocks and second the attack will be like as eagle swooping down to catch its prey. How would Edom feel: ‘the hearts of Edom’s warriors will be like the heart of a woman in labour.’ We, in our society should take note.
- Damascus who relied on fame
The kingdom of Damascus was located to the north east of Israel, to the north of Ammon. Like many of its neighbours, Damascus was invaded by Assyria in 732 BC and later became a vassal state to Babylon in 605 BC. Damascus was once famed and is described as a city of renown, but no longer. It sometimes comes as a shock when we see once famous people when they are old and have lost their defining edge. No one could stand up to Margaret Thatcher in her pomp, she was the iron lady! But as an elderly woman, suffering from dementia, she became just a shell of her former self. So too Damascus: ‘Damascus has become feeble, she has turned to flee and panic has gripped her (verse 24),’
The specific sin of Damascus is not named, but one cannot help but wonder if it was pride in their own fame. Their fame could do nothing to protect them from God’s judgment however; ‘27 ‘I will set fire to the walls of Damascus; it will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad.’ Ben-Hadad was the ruling dynasty. When God’s judgment comes, none can stand against it.
- Kedor & Hazor who relied on location
Hazor was the name of an Arab tribe of the eastern desert area and Kedar was a nomadic tribe. One suspects when these people heard of a judgment coming from the hand of God that they were somewhat smug in the belief that since they were mobile and not easily tracked down, and since they were small and of little interest to other armies, that they would be safe. Not so! No one can escape the God of the universe! It’s just dumb to think we can escape from the hand of the one who made the world, the planets, the moon, the sun and the stars.
The Lord states through Jeremiah that these nations would be attacked as nations ‘at ease, which lives in confidence.’ They thought they were safe, but they were not. The Babylonians were coming and could not be resisted. They would bring ‘terror on every side.’ Unlike those defending fortified cities, when the attack came, there would indeed be disaster from every side. Their camels and herds would be taken from them. Their settlements would become deserted and desolate.
- Elam who relied on military strength
Before the final prophecy concerning Babylon is given in chapters 50 and 51, there is one more nation-prophecy; for the nation of Elam. Elam is nowhere near Judah! It was 200 miles east of Babylon, and Babylon was at least 900 miles from Jerusalem. The area of ancient Elam was located in modern day Iran, to the East of the Persian Gulf. The nation had been conquered by the Assyrians, but on Assyria’s defeat to Babylon, Elam regained its independence and it joined with Babylon in the defeat of Assyria at Ninevah in 612 BC. It was ultimately the Elamites who overthrew the might of Babylon in 539 BC. The timing of the message is given: ‘34 This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning Elam, early in the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah.’ The places the prophecy around the time Zedekiah was enthroned in 597 BC. The fact that there is a prophecy towards a nation that up to that time had no contact with Judah tells us that no nation is outside the scope of God’s judgment.
The Elamite army was renowned for its archers. Their bows were constructed of a composite of bone and wood laminated together with resin: they were formidable and powerful weapons in their day. Apparently, boys would learn how to use the bow from the age of 5, by the time they reached fighting age, they were highly skilled killers! Judgment was however coming on these fearsome soldiers: ‘35 This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘See, I will break the bow of Elam, the mainstay of their might.’
Some nations rely on the might of their army; the USA spends a staggering 650 billion dollars per year on its military (the UK spends less than a tenth of that). Perhaps the Elamites spent proportionately similar amounts on their military, whatever they spent, it would be of no value before the judgment of God: ‘37 I will shatter Elam before their foes, before those who want to kill them; I will bring disaster on them, even my fierce anger,’ declares the Lord.’ There would be no escape. It seems that rather than using another nation as the agency of his judgment, God would use natural means to defeat Elam: ‘36 I will bring against Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven.’ The judgment would involve removing the leaders and rulers of the nation: ‘38 I will set my throne in Elam and destroy her king and officials, declares the Lord.’ Apparently as a show of strength to defeated nations, the conquering nation would set up their thrones in prominent places in the defeated territory. God would show his strength to Edom in a similar way.
The message for Elam ends in positive way; their fortunes will be restored ‘in days to come.’ This may be referring to the time when Elam’s capital city, Susa became the centre of the Persian empire in 539 BC.
We can take from this series of prophecies concerning the nations that justice will ultimately be done. Despite the seeming strength of nations, when God’s judgment comes no, nation will be able to stand against it. The wrongs of nations will be rectified finally when the Messiah comes and takes up his throne on earth. As believers we can take great confidence from this – we may be few in number, we may be dismayed as the philosophies of men lead nations and people away from the truth, but we know that God is working out his plans and purposes.