After many warnings by geologists that were monitoring Mt. St. Helens in Washington, the mountain erupted on May 18, 1980, from a growing bulge on its north side. Fifty-seven people died, some more than 15 miles from the summit. Only one person was in the danger zone illegally, and refused to leave, even after repeated warnings. What can we learn from Mt. St. Helens? We discovered that the destructive force was even greater than anticipated. We can also learn that lives that felt safe were still lost. How many today are living with a false sense of security as the day of God’s judgment approaches?
What happens when God is talking but we are not listening? Maybe even more critically, what if God is warning us of upcoming danger and judgment, but we ignore what is being said? One aspect of God’s loving nature is that He does warn us when we are deviating from the right path. The problem begins when our deviation is about to destroy us and others in the process. What happens then? What does God do, and how is this action ultimately the source of our restoration? In Jeremiah 25, we will discover how God is finally heard.
What we learn is the scope of Jeremiah’s early ministry where he prophesied for twenty-three years primarily through the reign of Josiah, the last godly king of Judah, to the people. The response had been disheartening to say the least. God’s servants were simply ignored or persecuted for simply telling people what they needed to hear, but refused to respond. Here in Jeremiah 25, we have a summation of all that has transpired in the first 24 chapters, but a new theme is introduced for the first time at the end of the chapter.
Here Jeremiah looks beyond the punishment of his people. After ‘seventy years,’ God will punish the tool of his vengeance, the Babylonians themselves.[i]
In this chapter of Jeremiah, we learn about the dangers of ignoring God’s warnings in our lives, and how He ultimately will arrest our attention. Are we currently hearing what God is saying, and how are we responding to His message? There are four things we need to learn about what God expects.
THE FIRST THING WE NEED TO LEARN ABOUT WHAT GOD EXPECTS IS TO ACT ON WHAT HE SAYS
We need to do what He says, or another way of saying it is that we need to obey. If we are to avoid terrible consequences in our lives, then we need to hear what God is saying and do what is required of us. God never warns without ultimately acting on what He is saying. Though God is patient and gives us many opportunities to respond, we must never take it for granted that God will not act upon His threat of discipline.
The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.
So Jeremiah the prophet said to all the people of Judah and to all those living in Jerusalem:
For twenty-three years — from the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah until this very day — the word of the LORD has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened.
And though the LORD has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention.
They said, ‘Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the LORD gave to you and your ancestors for ever and ever.
Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not arouse my anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you.
But you did not listen to me,’ declares the LORD, ‘and you have aroused my anger with what your hands have made, and you have brought harm to yourselves.[ii]
What was the problem as spelled out by Jeremiah? They refused to listen and obey. God was calling the nation to repentance, to turn from their evil ways so they could retain the blessings that they had inherited from God. The idea that how we live is tied to God’s blessings, needs to be understood. God’s blessings can easily be withdrawn from our lives. We can begin to experience hardships and difficulties if we keep perpetuating our sinful lifestyle. We see from verse 6, that they were serving other gods and worshiping them. This is the nature of idolatry. They were being influenced by the nations living both in the land and those around them. They were not living a holy life devoted to the Lord.
So, how does this apply to our lives today? What defines how we live? Are we living to please ourselves? Or are we living to please God? Do we love Jesus above every other person including ourselves? How do we know what pleases God, except for what He explains to us in His word? Is the teaching from the Bible guiding our decisions? C. S. Lewis wonderfully captures how all good things can either lead us to God, or become an idol, a substitute for God.
…we see that every created thing is, in its degree, an image of God, and the ordinate and faithful appreciation of that thing a clue which, truly followed, will lead back to Him. …we see that created thing, the highest devotion to moral duty, the purest conjugal love, the saint and the seraph [angel], is no more than an image, that every one of them, followed for its own sake and isolated from its source, becomes an idol whose service is damnation.[iii]
John, the beloved apostle, related that the great battle in life was actually to keep ourselves from idols (1 John 5:20). Simply put: Is doing God’s will the motivating principle of our lives? Is knowing Him, loving Him and obeying God what our lives are about? If not, then we need to return to Him and possibly come to Him for the very first time thereby discovering the very reason for our purpose and existence. Why did God create us in the first place? We were made for His honor, glory and pleasure (cf. Colossians 1:16, Revelation 4:11 KJV).
THE SECOND THING WE NEED TO LEARN ABOUT WHAT GOD EXPECTS IS THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR DISOBEDIENCE AND NEGLECT
Will we do as God says? Or will we ignore and neglect what God is communicating to us? In Jeremiah we see the constant warnings that were being ignored which led to the Babylonian exile.
A. The first consequence is conflict and exile.
This speaks to the idea of a separation from God and His blessings in their lives. They were to be banished from the land and the Temple where God dwelt. Jeremiah begins with the cause and then moves on to the consequences. “Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: ‘Because you have not listened to my words (Jeremiah 25:8).” Another translation states: because you have not ‘obeyed my words.’ The idea is disobedience to what God had been saying through his prophets who were pointing out that the people were in violation of the covenant with God, and now God was about to act upon their disobedience. Here is where we need to understand that listening means to act upon what God is saying from His word, because if we are only hearers, and mentally assenting to the truth, but are not acting in obedience upon it, we are as guilty as these people were. The issue in our lives is one of trusting God which is expressed by acting upon what He says. When we refuse to obey and act upon his words, we can also expect correction and discipline to occur in our lives, just like these covenant people from the Old Testament who experienced consequences for their sins.
I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin.[iv]
Tremper Longman relates here that Nebuchadnezzar is considered God’s servant, the instrument of God’s justice, though he is unaware of it.
From what we know about Nebuchadnezzar, he had no awareness that he was God’s servant when he conquered Judah. The language suggests that God can use the most powerful people even when they are not conscious of it.[v]
It was shocking to think that God would use Gentiles who were more unrighteous, to judge His people. We see that a contemporary prophet of Jeremiah, Habakkuk, struggled when God revealed that the Babylonians were about to discipline His people.
‘Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.
I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own.
They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor.[vi]
Habakkuk makes his protest to God, that a people that were more wicked would be used by Him for any reason. Then, to follow up on that is the idea is there an end to the destruction that Nebuchadnezzar would bring upon the nations in the Middle East.
Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate the treacherous.
Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy?[vii]
B. The withdrawal of God leads to the loss of joy, gladness and wellbeing.
I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp.
This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.[viii]
Here we see that God is removing the delights of daily life from the lives of those His people who have been living in rebellion. The sense of wellbeing, the joys of the wedding and upcoming marriage, as well as the daily aspects of a normal life are now removed from these people. How often sin becomes so overwhelming that the joys of daily life are removed. We are constantly reminded of the destructive nature of sin’s addiction destroying marital love and relationships. We see the impact of this destructive behavior on families and friends and the loss of jobs. Life becomes solely a fixation on getting the next ‘high’; whether it be on narcotics, promotion or striving for the accolades of others.’ But that soon dissipates into emptiness and cravings, a slave to whatever we are serving to find meaning and significance within ourselves. All meaning in life ultimately fades.
THE THIRD THING WE NEED TO LEARN ABOUT WHAT GOD EXPECTS IS A PROPER RESPONSE BRINGING HOPE AFTER A TIME OF CORRECTION
The idea of discipline is to bring about repentance and restoration. Here we see that after the seventy years a season of implied blessing will come their way as the discipline is removed.
‘But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians for their guilt,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will make it desolate forever.
I will bring on that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations.
They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.’[ix]
Why seventy years? When the Israelites came into the land, God commanded them to give the land rest every seventh year. It was an act that required faith to believe in God’s provision. However, they failed to obey and God now was requiting that rest as they had been in the land for 490 years. Walter Brueggemann explains how God not only used Babylon as an instrument of judgment against Judah and the nations around her, but that God himself would judge Babylon.
God did authorize Babylon against Judah (Isa. 47:6). But Babylon, without mercy and with much brutality, overstepped its mandate and was too severe (Isa 47:6). Babylon is caught in a ‘no-win’ situation, for it is judged by criteria about which it knew nothing. Babylon did not know that Yahweh, even in judgment on Judah (‘my people, my heritage’) sets limits on what is to be done as punishment. The very agent of punishment is in turn now to be punished.[x]
What now brings hope to Judah is that even God’s instrument of chastisement is about to be punished. Brueggemann continues:
No nation is immune, not even mighty Babylon. For Jews in exile, the inclusion of Babylon in the list for judgment is decisive. This nation which seemed beyond all accountability is judged. In that judgment Judah has a basis for future and hope.[xi]
How does this moment of history apply to us in our current context as a covenant people like the Old Testament Jewish people? Philip Ryken reminds us that all our troubles, trials and moments of discipline have a time duration.
For the Christian, all troubles are temporary. Most of them will not even last seventy years, although some may last a lifetime. The Apostle Peter had a wonderful way of talking about the limits of tribulation. He was completely honest about the griefs, sufferings, and trials of the Christian life. But he insisted on saying that these things would last only “a little while.” “Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6). “The God of all grace … after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (5:10). Peter shrank sufferings down to size by placing them next to the yardstick of eternity. Thanks to God’s overcoming grace, they will only last “a little while.” Soon Christ will come to take us home for good.[xii]
THE FINAL THING WE NEED TO LEARN ABOUT WHAT GOD EXPECTS IS TO ANTICIPATE THE JUDGMENT TO COME
We live in a world that decries judgment and does everything it can to defer the consequences of their actions, but ultimately we end up facing the results of our lives. Justice demands judgment. Too often ancient people saw their gods in the context of their own worlds. Jeremiah reveals to us that Yahweh is not only the Lord of Israel and Judah but of all nations. All peoples ought to listen and respond to Him for they are all accountable to Him.
This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of the wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.
When you drink of it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them.[xiii]
A couple of thoughts here are important to consider. This cup is symbolic of God’s judgment being poured out and received by those who have disobeyed God and sinned. Is there any hope for humanity? The apostle Paul rightly points out, ‘that all have sinned against our Creator (cf. Romans 3:23).
A. Jesus drank this cup of judgment for all people.
When Jesus was in Gethsemane praying just before He was about to be crucified, we gain a sense of the magnitude of what He was about to do as His soul struggles with drinking of the cup of God’s wrath in place of repentant humanity.
Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.
Going a little further, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.[xiv]
Jesus’ willingness to die a substitutionary death addressed the justice of God against sin. Only as we come to Jesus and receive him as our Savior are our sins forgiven. In our text from Jeremiah, we see that judgment is addressed and begins with God’s people and then extends beyond to all peoples. Judgment is universal in scope because of the nature of sin’s universality.
So I took the cup from the LORD’S hand and made all the nations to whom he sent me drink it: Jerusalem and the towns of Judah, its kings and officials, to make them a ruin and an object of horror and scorn, a curse —as they are today;
Pharaoh king of Egypt, his attendants, his officials and all his people, and all the foreign people there; all the kings of Uz; all the kings of the Philistines (those of Askelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the people left at Ashdod); Edom, Moab and Ammon; all the kings of Tyre and Sidon; the kings of the coastlands across the sea; Dedan, Tema, Buz and all who are in distant places; all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the foreign people who live in the wilderness; all the kings of Zimri, Elam and Media; and all the kings of the north, near and far, one after the other-all the kingdoms on the face of the earth. And after all of them, the king of Sheshak will drink it too.[xv]
The list includes not only all the kingdoms in the near east that surround Judah, it extended outward until every kingdom on the face of the earth was included. No one is outside the scope of God’s gaze and judgment. All are accountable to Him for their actions and lives. The statement that afterwards the king of Sheshak will also be judged is a code name for Babylon. God’s instrument in judgment will ultimately be judged. Peter reminds us that if God’s judgment begins among God’s people, then surely this judgment will extend beyond to all people.
For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
And, ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[xvi]
We see that these texts in both Jeremiah and Peter are only a foreshadowing of what is to come upon our world. God will judge His people and then all peoples. Ultimately, God will judge the instrument He uses to bring about this judgment, even as He used Babylon here in Jeremiah’s hour to bring about judgment, and then God judged that instrument. We can certainly see this as God uses our enemy, Satan as a tool of judgment. God releases the enemy to cause havoc upon the land.
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth —Gog and Magog —and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.
They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night and for ever and ever.[xvii]
What is God saying? If you won’t listen, I’ll make you listen. How many realize that judgment cannot be ignored? God’s voice will be heard against all our rebellion and unwillingness to listen and do what is asked of us. God, in His grace, warns us repeatedly; but then when we refuse to repent, He allows the consequences of our sins to judge us.
Now prophesy all these words against them and say to them: ‘The LORD will roar from on high; he will thunder from his holy dwelling and roar mightily against his land.
He will shout like those who tread the grapes, shout against all who live on the earth.
The tumult will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD will bring charges against the nations; he will bring judgment on all mankind and put the wicked to the sword,’ declares the LORD.
This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Look! Disaster is spreading from nation to nation; a mighty storm is rising from the ends of the earth.[xviii]
What we glean here is that there is a moral standard that every nation is evaluated by, and here we see that the nations succumbing to evil will be judged.
At that time those slain by the LORD will be everywhere —from one end of the earth to the other. They will not be mourned or gathered up or buried, but will be like dung lying on the ground.[xix]
The intensity and the extensiveness of the judgment is such that death will overtake the ability to mourn the losses. Even mass graves will not be able to keep up with what is transpiring. The final word is directed toward the failure of human leadership and the ensuing result of human carnage.
Weep and wail, you shepherds; roll in the dust, you leaders of the flock. For your time to be slaughtered has come; you will fall like the best of the rams.
The shepherds will have nowhere to flee, the leaders of the flock no place to escape.
Here the cry of the shepherds, the wailing of the leaders of the flock, for the LORD is destroying their pasture.
The peaceful meadows will be laid waste because of the fierce anger of the LORD.
Like a lion he will leave his lair, and their land will become desolate because of the sword of the oppressor and because of the LORD’S fierce anger.[xx]
God expects us to act on His warnings in obedience so we can avoid the consequences of our sin. God expects us to realize that after correction comes restoration if we respond and repent. Ultimately, God expects that we realize that there is judgment coming and the only way to avoid that ‘cup of wrath’ is to accept the gift of forgiveness given to us by Him, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus drank that cup of wrath for us. When we drink of the cup at the Lord’s table, we are drinking of the blood that speaks of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Which cup would you prefer to drink from? The cup of God’s wrath for sin, or the cup of the Lord’s blood shed for our sin? Will we drink the cup of judgment or the cup of salvation and forgiveness? Will we listen to what He is saying to us today?
[i] Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 170.
[ii] Jeremiah 25:1-7, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[iii] C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams, Arthurian Torso, 1948 quoted by Wayne Martindale & Jerry Root, ed. The Quotable Lewis, (Wheaton, Il: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990), 611.
[iv] Jeremiah 25:9.
[v] Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, 171.
[vi] Habakkuk 1:5-7.
[vii] Habakkuk 1:13, 17.
[viii] Jeremiah 25:10-11.
[ix] Jeremiah 25:12-14.
[x] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 223.
[xi] Ibid, 225-226.
[xii] Philip Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope, (Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 2001), 365.
[xiii] Jeremiah 25:15-16.
[xiv] Matthew 26:38-39
[xv] Jeremiah 25:17-26.
[xvi] 1 Peter 4:17-18.
[xvii] Revelation 20:7-10.
[xviii] Jeremiah 25:30-32.
[xix] Jeremiah 25:33.
[xx] Jeremiah 25:34-38.