Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Prophecy Against Babylon, Part 2 (Jeremiah 50-51)

The following quotes are taken from

 "Kill All Of Babylon - "Go up, my warriors, against the land of Merathaim and against the people of Pekod. Yes, march against Babylon, the land of rebels, a land that I will judge!  Pursue, kill, and completely destroy them, as I have commanded you," says the LORD.  "Let the battle cry be heard in the land, a shout of great destruction".   (Jeremiah 50:21-22 NLT)

"Kill Old Men and Young Women - "You are my battle-ax and sword," says the LORD.  "With you I will shatter nations and destroy many kingdoms.  With you I will shatter armies, destroying the horse and rider, the chariot and charioteer.  With you I will shatter men and women, old people and children, young men and maidens.  With you I will shatter shepherds and flocks, farmers and oxen, captains and rulers.  "As you watch, I will repay Babylon and the people of Babylonia for all the wrong they have done to my people in Jerusalem," says the LORD.  "Look, O mighty mountain, destroyer of the earth!  I am your enemy," says the LORD.  "I will raise my fist against you, to roll you down from the heights.  When I am finished, you will be nothing but a heap of rubble.  You will be desolate forever.  Even your stones will never again be used for building.  You will be completely wiped out," says the LORD."  (Jeremiah 51:20-26, NLT)

(Note that after God promises the Israelites a victory against Babylon, the Israelites actually get their butts kicked by them in the next chapter.  So much for an all-knowing and all-powerful God.)"

This passage is part of a larger prophecy against Babylon at the end of the book of Jeremiah.  You can read the full passage here:

            As in Isaiah chapters 13-14, this passage was written about an event that would occur in the future.  In Jeremiah chapter 52, the Babylonian army conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and exiled the people living there to Babylon.  However, the events described in chapters 50-51 were not a prophecy of what would happen immediately - the prophecy was fulfilled about 50 years later (circa 539 BCE), when Babylon was conquered by Persia under Cyrus the Great.
           Why did God allow Babylon to be conquered?  The Babylonian Empire angered God because of their arrogance, wickedness and pride (Isaiah 13:11, 14:13-15).  "Since this is the vengeance of the Lord, take vengeance on her; do to her as she has done to others...Babylon must fall because of Israel’s slain, just as the slain in all the earth have fallen because of Babylon" (Jeremiah 50:15, 51:49, NIV).  God allowed Babylon to conquer Judah because of their rebellion, sin and idolatry, but Babylon was so cruel in their oppression of Judah and other nations that God determined to punish them.  In essence, Babylon was conquered in the same way that they had conquered other nations.
            As in previous passages concerning war, it must be noted that God does not desire that these things should happen.  He always gave the nations he was about to destroy ample warning and an opportunity to repent (Jeremiah 18:7-8, NIV; see also Jonah chapter 3).  Babylon defied God and did not pay attention to the warnings, and so they were overthrown (Jeremiah 50:11-13, 24).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Plague on the Firstborn (Exodus 11-12)

The following quote is taken from

"God Kills all the First Born of Egypt - "And at midnight the LORD killed all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn son of the captive in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed.  Pharaoh and his officials and all the people of Egypt woke up during the night, and loud wailing was heard throughout the land of Egypt. There was not a single house where someone had not died."  (Exodus 12:29-30 NLT)

This passage is part of the much larger story of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt.  You can read the full story here:

            There are a few things that we need to consider when reading this passage.  First, Pharaoh had been given multiple warnings by God through Moses, commanding him to let the Israelites go free, but Pharaoh would not listen or obey, even after nine plagues had afflicted Egypt (Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7).  Egypt had held the Israelites in slavery for 400 years (Genesis 15:13), and these plagues were a judgment on Pharaoh and the Egyptians for their cruelty and oppression of the Israelites (Exodus 1:8-14, 5:1-21).
            Also, a generation earlier, Pharaoh had commanded the murder of thousands of Israelite baby boys (Exodus 1:15-22).  One of the purposes of the plague on the firstborn Egyptian males was as punishment for the murder of the Israelite baby boys.  A common question in response is: Why did the first born males of Egypt have to die when it was Pharaoh who gave the earlier command to kill the Israelite males?  The answer is that the Egyptian people participated in the murder of the Israelite babies (Exodus 1:22).  They did not object to the command or disobey it, as the Israelite midwives had done earlier when they had been given the same command (Exodus 1:15-21).  Because they did this, they would in turn know the pain of the death of their sons.
            It should be noted that God's judgment on Egypt could have been much worse.  As punishment for their sins, he could have wiped out the entire nation with a single plague, but he chose not to do so (Exodus 9:15-16).  God is willing to show mercy to anyone who is willing to repent and have faith in him.  After the ten plagues on Egypt, when the Israelites fled into the desert to worship God, some Egyptians left their life in Egypt and went with them (Exodus 12:38).
            Something else significant here is that the plague of the death of the firstborn would finally, definitively show Egypt who the one true God is.  The death of Pharaoh's firstborn son in God's final plague on Egypt would have flown in the face of the Egyptian belief that Pharaoh was a god [1].  It conclusively demonstrated that the idols that Egypt worshipped had no power against the only true, living God.  "This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth" (Exodus 9:14, NIV; see also Exodus 12:12).
            Finally, the Passover foreshadowed a future event - the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God, on the cross as atonement for the sins of the world (John 1:29).  When the Israelites slaughtered a lamb and placed it's blood on their doorframes to avert the angel of death from killing the firstborn males within, God was illustrating what he was going to do much later - send his Son into the world, who was without sin, to bleed and die for all those who would place their faith in him.  Faith in Jesus' sacrifice on the cross saves us from God's wrath (1 Corinthians 5:7).

[1] Footnote on, for Exodus 11:5.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Judgment on the Idolaters (Ezekiel 9)

The following quote is taken from
"Kill Men, Women, and Children - "Then I heard the LORD say to the other men, "Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked.  Show no mercy; have no pity!  Kill them all – old and young, girls and women and little children.  But do not touch anyone with the mark.  Begin your task right here at the Temple."  So they began by killing the seventy leaders.  "Defile the Temple!" the LORD commanded.  "Fill its courtyards with the bodies of those you kill!  Go!"  So they went throughout the city and did as they were told."  (Ezekiel 9:5-7 NLT)

These verses are part of a larger vision that the prophet Ezekiel had.  You can read the entire chapter here:

            In Ezekiel chapters 1-24, God sent his message of doom against the nation of Judah; those who were not killed during the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians were going to be taken into captivity, and Jerusalem (including the First Temple, the one built by King Solomon) would be destroyed.  Ezekiel received these messages only about 7 years before the Babylonian captivity (which occurred circa 586 BCE).  In Ezekiel chapter 9, Ezekiel was given a vision of the destruction that would occur when the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem.
            The reason for the Babylonian captivity is because the people of Judah had completely turned away from God, choosing to worship idols instead, and had even defiled God's Temple by placing idols inside of it and worshipping them there (Ezekiel 5-8).  On top of that, the people were constantly committing murder, foolishly thinking that God did not see or care what they did (Ezekiel 5:5-7, 7:23, 8:17-18, 9:9-10).  "Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations.  Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again" (Ezekiel 5:8-9, NIV).
            The charge of idolatry is a very grievous sin, which God does not take lightly (see Exodus 20:3-6, 23; 23:13, 23-24; 34:17; Leviticus 19:4; 26:1; Deuteronomy 4:15-28; 5:7; 6:14-15; 8:19; 12:31; 17:2-7; 27:15; 29:17-18).  God warned the Israelites on several occasions that if they committed idolatry, it was a crime that warranted the death penalty.  The Israelites' covenant with God demanded that they worship and serve him only.  They were not supposed to worship other gods or fashion idols for themselves.  God had warned them that if they did these things, it would lead to their destruction: "If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed" (Deuteronomy 8:19, NIV).  
            Why is idolatry considered such a serious crime?  The severity of the judgment, capital punishment, is due to the severity of the sin.  God is the only God, the Lord and creator of all the universe.  When anyone bows down and worships or pays tribute to a false god or idol, they are taking credit away from God and giving it to something undeserving of that credit.  "I am the LORD; that is my name!  I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols" (Isaiah 42:8, NIV).  The crime of idolatry was so serious that it was often referred to as adultery against God (Ezekiel 6:9).
            With all of this in mind, the many verses in Ezekiel that describe the death of the people, including women and children, are shocking and cause for grief.  The people of Israel and Judah had been given multiple warnings by God through many prophets over the course of nearly 300 years, and they still did not repent and turn to God for forgiveness.  If they had, they would have been spared, and all of the death and destruction could have been avoided.  "If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned" (Jeremiah 18:7-8, NIV; see also Jonah chapter 3).
            As in previous passages, it should be noted that God does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and he takes no pleasure in the death of anyone (Ezekiel 18:32).  However, there comes a time when his patience runs out and he abandons those who have rejected him to their fate.  The conquest of Judah by Babylon was such a time. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas in the Shadow of Tragedy

             I wanted to take a moment to share what my experience has been this Christmas.  Like others in our country and around the world, I was horrified and deeply grieved at the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, when 20 children and 6 adults were murdered at an elementary school.  It has been difficult to look forward to Christmas after this tragedy, grieving with those who have lost loved ones.
            This year, I have approached the story of the birth of Jesus with a heavy heart, with questions, and with tears.  But as I re-read the familiar account in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, I am reminded that there is a deep purpose for the Christmas story, even (perhaps especially) in the aftermath of sorrow and loss.  God became a human being; a real, historical person who actually lived and died.  Jesus left his glory behind and came to earth to experience life as one of us.   "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”) (Matthew 1:23, NIV).
            Of all religions and belief systems I have ever studied, this story strikes me as the most baffling, the most strange, and yet the most hopeful.  God is not totally separate from humanity, indifferent to our lives, refraining from becoming involved with us.  He could have left us to live and die on our own, permanently separated from him by sin.  Instead, he chose to live and die as one of us.
            Jesus came to earth as a baby, helpless and dependent on his parents just like any other baby.  He was born, not in a palace or place of high honor and wealth, but in a stable in a tiny, obscure town, to a poor couple living under Roman oppression.  He grew to adulthood just like any of us.  He experienced hunger and thirst (Matthew 4:2; John 19:28), grew tired (Matthew 8:24), wept (Matthew 26:38; John 11:35), and was subject to all of the temptations and frustrations that we face (Hebrews 4:15).  No human experience was spared him, not even suffering and death.  Moreover, his death on the cross to make us right with God gave life and hope to all humanity, forever (John 3:16; Romans 3:21-26; 1 John 5:11-12).  His resurrection from the dead was the first of many, for all who believe in Jesus will someday be raised to eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:12-26). 
            What does this mean for us?  This world is still full of pain and hardship.  Until Jesus returns, we will all experience pain, loss, suffering and death.  Tragedies such as natural disasters, sickness, abuse, and mass murder like the incident in Connecticut, still occur.  The story of Christmas will not stop these tragedies for now, nor will all of our pain instantly cease.  But this year as I approach the story of Christmas and think about the baby in the manger, I have begun to see the story in a new light.
            Jesus, God in human flesh, mourns with us.  He has entered our pain.  He has come down, not to immediately vanquish all of our enemies or eliminate all of our suffering, but to experience it with us.  He has come to give us love in the midst of hatred (John 13:34), light in the midst of darkness (John 8:12), and hope in the midst of despair.  Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, NIV).
            This Christmas as we grieve, let us remember why he came.