October 15, 2000


Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church

Jeremiah 46-49

In the complicated military and political map of the middle east in the 7th and 6th centuries BC, one fact stands out in the Bible's record. God is the Lord of all the earth. The rise and fall of powerful nations is supervised by God. The gods of these nations, Ra, Amon, Molech, Marduk, and Chemosh seemed powerful when a nation was in the ascendancy, but the Lord God has no native country. John puts it, "God loved the world so much he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life."

Again, over the centuries, one or the other of the nine nations Jeremiah prophecies over in these last chapters swept others before it: Egypt, the Philistines, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Kedar and Hazar which are Arab tribes, Damascus, the Medes and Babylon. Each was a threat to Judah. Each, cruel and proud. Each is punished by the Lord of all the earth. And they deserved the punishment. In spite of this there is a surprising refrain at 48:47, 49:6, and 49:39, "Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab, of the Ammonites, of Elam." And in 46:26, " Egypt will be inhabited as in times past."

Since we want to give glory to the Lord of the nations, we read with fascination the account of the day of Pentecost where the Elamites, one of those nine nations, heard the Gospel in their own tongue in that grand outpouring of the Spirit that formed the Christian church. Egyptians were among those who heard the Gospel at Pentecost. So were the Arab tribes. The nations of the earth were conquered in Jerusalem at Pentecost.

Jeremiah had a unique call. You might have thought of him as the prophet of Judah, or as prophet to the king of Judah, but when Jeremiah is called in Jeremiah 1:4, God says to him, "I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." The nations are they to whom Jeremiah preaches these oracles in chapters 46-51. The same God who brought Abraham out of Haran and Israel out of Egypt, brought the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians (Arameans) from Kir. (according to Amos 9:7) God is the God of the nations.

If you remember Abraham, when God spoke first to him he said, "All the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you." John R. Mott (d. 1955) was a missionary statesman earlier in the 20th century. He once compared missionary work to blood circulation. "You will lose your vitality if you don't act for God in his world," he said. Mott realized something Jeremiah knew.

Jeremiah was a prophet to the nations and he had a prophet's message for them. Over and over in these chapters come words like, Egypt will be laid waste (46:19); the fall of Moab is at hand (48:16); the Ammonites will go into exile (49:3); I will shatter Elam before her foes (49:37). These are hard words, but they are not empty words.

What makes them not empty words is two phrases which appear over and over in these chapters. 1. This and this will happen, "declares the Lord." You can see this at 46:5 and 46:23 and other places. 2. Secondly, the name of God, "the Lord Almighty, Yahweh Sabaoth." 46:10, "That day belongs to the Lord, the Lord Almighty." 46:25, "The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says, 'I am about to bring punishment on Amon, god of Thebes, on Pharaoh, on Egypt and her gods and her kings. I will hand them over to Nebuchadnezzar'."
There are many times these words are repeated. It is God Almighty who is the Lord over these nations. 48:8, "The destroyer will come on Moab because the Lord has spoken." 48:15,16, "the fall of Moab is at hand, declares the king, whose name is the Lord Almighty." Or, in 49:13, "this is what the Lord Almighty says, 'I swear that Edom will be punished'." God is the Lord of history and over nations. That's Jeremiah's take on the events of history which were pressing his world.

We could reconstruct the ancient history behind these chapters - indeed I want to do that in one or two cases - but these chapters are more important than being about ancient history. They express the righteous indignation of God at sin and particularly the sin of pride. God will deal with nations who oppress others. God is sovereign. When nations fall into decay or are destroyed by war, that is not by chance. There is a futility to war that these chapters help us to see. The futility is that nations who go to war think they can win, think they are in control. The judgment of God falls on nations who become arrogant. In fact, these oracles by Jeremiah against the nations could be summed up by those words of Jeremiah 9:23 and 24,

Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight.

Let us look briefly at these oracles against various nations. They provide a picture of mighty empires falling and once proud nations, humbled. Chapter 46 concerns Egypt. Pharaoh Neco reigned in Egypt from 610-595 BC. He supported a failing Assyria against a rising Babylon. Neco was marching to aid Assyria in 609 BC when Josiah, one of the few good kings in the last years of Judah, attacked him and was killed; but that delay to the Egyptian forces led to the defeat of the Assyrians by the Babylonians. Four years later, in 605 BC one of the great battles of the ancient world was fought at Carcamesh, by the River Euphrates. Egypt was badly beaten there by the Babylonians, a defeat that Jeremiah 46 portrays in the striking imagery of the Bible at its best. In 601 BC the Babylonians marched on Egypt and Neco II of Egypt defeated Nebuchadnezzar and this led Jehoiakim to switch his allegiance and tributes from Babylon to Egypt. This, in turn, lead Babylon to destroy Jerusalem in 587 BC. Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon from 605-562 BC. In the 37th year of his reign, 568 BC, he marched against Ahmoses of Egypt and defeated him in battle. This battle resulted in moderate destruction to Egypt, but certainly demonstrated that Babylon was more powerful than Egypt. This was after the death of Jeremiah. Verse 17 puts the defeat of Egypt this way in the words of the NEB, "King Bombast (the noisy one), the man who missed his moment."

When great nations like these fall, what of Judah, this tiny land? In 46:27,28 Jeremiah speaks God's words to Judah. "Do not fear, O Jacob, my servant. I will not let you go unpunished because of your sin - but I will punish you with justice." What a sign of mercy on a rebellious people!

After Egypt the other nations are lined up like suspects at a police station. Philistia in chapter 47, verse 2, "See how the waters are rising in the north." This is a picture of Babylon, and verse 7 tells that what is happening to Philistia: "the Lord has commanded it." The Lord God Almighty rules these nations. That is Jeremiah's message.

Moab in chapter 48. The Moabites are descendants of Lot, according to Genesis 19:37. Verse 18, Moab is arrogant, "come down from your glory," the Lord says. Like a gunslinger faced down, in verse 20 she is disgraced and shattered. In verse 22, judgment has come on Dibon. Dibon is the place where the Moabite Stone was found in the 19th century. This stone commemorated the military and building activities of Moabite kings in the 9th C BC. It praises Chemosh, the Moabite god who, according to the Moabites, gave Moab victory over Israel. But these victories led to pride in verse 29, and as Proverbs says, "Pride goes before destruction." And so Moab is destroyed. What pride does is blind nations and people to the needs of others. That's what we see in Palestine today, but is the United States not guilty of pride? Pride goes before destruction. It is God who is the Lord of nations and God does not tolerate pride.

Chapter 49, Ammon is judged because of Molech, the god who demanded human sacrifices. In David's day the territory of Ammon had belonged to Israel (2 Samuel 12), but when Assyria raided Israel in 733 BC, Ammon saw her chance and took over. It was the Ammonite king, Baalis who hired Ishmael to assassinate Gedaliah, the governor appointed by the Babylonians in Judah. Baalis' act was a renewing of the old hostilities.

Rabbah in verse 2 is the modern Amman, the capital of present day Jordan, and it was in Jeremiah's time, the capital city of the Ammonites. In verse 6 the offer of salvation is held out to her. That offer is more than Ammon deserved, since they were cruel in war, committing atrocities against nations they conquered. God is more merciful than we imagine.

Edom, at 49:7, are the descendants of Esau, son of Abraham. Verse 16 calls Edom another nation living on pride, which goes before destruction. The punishment is, verse 15, Edom will be made small. If pride puffs up, God's judgment makes the proud small.

Damascus, verse 23ff. Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the middle east and it had been the capital of the Aramean state. Assyria annexed Damascus in 740-732 BC. Her feeble condition is pictured as being like a woman in labor. (verse 24)

The desert Arabs are named next, at least two tribes of them, Kedar and Hazor in verse 28 of chapter 49. They lived in the Syrian-Arabian desert somewhere East of the Jordan River. Again, in verses 31 and 32, we see that the Lord declares their destruction. God is the Lord of the earth.

At verse 34, Elam is named, one of those tribes whose people are converted at Pentecost. Elam was a nation east of Babylon in what is today southwest Iran. In the 7th century BC Elam aided Babylon in defeating the Assyrians. In 596-594 BC, they clashed with Nebuchadnezzar and in 540-539 BC they played a role in the overthrow of Babylon, but Elam was then absorbed into the Persian empire. In verse 35 we read that the Elamites were experts with the bow, as were the Parthians to the north. The expression, "a parting shot" is really "a Parthian shot" after the skill of the Parthian bowmen. The Elamite bowmen were no less skilled. To them also is promised in verse 39 a restoration, which I interpret as what came at Pentecost.

We could summarize what these nations relied on: Elam relied on her archers (49:35); Ammon on her god Molech (49:3); Edom on her cleverness and the crags of her mountains (49:7, 16). Here are the wise relying on their wisdom and the rich on their riches. We could put America in here. How close in character are we to these nations? Don't we rely on our military might? On our technological achievements? On our wealth as a nation? On being a superpower? At one time America relied upon God. You can see that etched into the nation in the 17th-19th centuries, and even earlier in the 20th century. But today? Today we ought fear God's judgment. Were Jeremiah prophesying today, would he not include America in his oracles?

But we can take the lessons from the nations and apply them personally to ourselves. On what do we rely? On our wealth? On our ancestry? On our skills? On our Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan? Shouldn't we rely on the Lord God, King of the earth? We say we believe in Him for our lives. The measure of that comes in how we respond to a navy ship being blown up in Yemen, to conflict in Palestine, to the cries of a hurting world of non-believers and a hurting people who are Christian believers who are being persecuted in the Sudan, in Egypt, in Laos, in Cuba, in Indonesia, in Saudi Arabia and in other places in the world. Do we believe that God is the Lord of the earth enough to turn first to him? To pray that God would work justice in the world? Or shall we be like those nations who in their pride were judged by God and disappeared from the history of the world or sank, to find in the very humbling that God would lift them up! That is the Christian Gospel and the hope of the world.