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Previous article in this series: May 1, 2018, p. 346.

Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord; shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so. Jeremiah 5:29–31

Indeed, “wonderful,” that is, “astonishing”! “For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house I have found their wickedness, saith the Lord” (Jer. 23:11).

Calvin, here, is instructive.

It was no doubt enough to make all astonished, when these impostors assumed the name of prophets at Jerusalem, where God had chosen His habitation and His sanctuary: how great and how base a profanation was it of God’s name? There were indeed at that time impostors everywhere, who boasted that they were God’s prophets, who in many places passed as oracles the delusions of Satan; but to see the ministers of the devil in the very sanctuary of God (which was then the only one in the world), even in the very city where he had, as it has been said, His habitation and dwelling, was a monstrous thing, which ought to have made all men astonished.

Then there is this: “and my people love to have it so” (5:31).

“I have dreamed, I have dreamed,” said the prophets, thus claiming to be oracles of God, while they “prophesied lies” (23:25). And it was like music to the people’s ears.

“The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, are these,” the prophets intoned (7:4). Surely we are secure…in Jerusalem. Because the Lord has consecrated this house, the temple, for His abode. Surely He will defend it. Never will He let this house, and therefore this city, and this land, and this people fall into the hand of the enemy. Thus spoke the false prophets. And the priests (5:31) chimed in, saying, “Hear, hear!” “And my people love to have it so.”

And what was the answer of God?

But go now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because ye have done all these works, saith the Lord, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but you answered not; therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim (Jer. 7:12–15).

Nevertheless: “my people love to have it so.”

Why? Surely, at least partly because they preferred a promise of peace to a threat of destruction. But hardly was that the only reason. Or even the main one. More important, I think, was this, that, while the false prophets let them rest easy in their sins, Jeremiah did not. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel,” Jeremiah said, “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place” (Jer. 7:3).

“Amend our ways? What do you mean? We go to the temple. We bring our sacrifices. The priests offer burnt offerings, and they burn incense. Everything that the Lord requires is being done.”

Ah, yes, they did indeed frequent the temple. And they did not come empty-handed. Dutifully they brought the required sacrifices. Lambs from their flocks. And they were no doubt scrupulous in the observance of new moons and the appointed feasts. But it was all an abomination to the Lord.

One hundred years earlier the Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, had condemned their whole religious system. “Bring no more vain oblations,” the Lord said, “incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them” (Is. 1:13, 14). And now the Lord says the same through His prophet Jeremiah: “To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet to me” (Jer. 6:20).

Such was the force of “my people love to have it so.” Matthew Henry put it well:

If the priests and prophets will let them alone in their sins, they will give them no disturbance in theirs. They love to be ridden with a loose rein, and they like those rulers very well that will not restrain their lusts and those teachers that will not reprove them.

Hence the word of prophecy: “…because ye have done all these works, saith the Lord, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but you answered not; therefore…I will cast you out of my sight” (Jer. 7:13–15).

By whom? Jeremiah was even clear on that.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel…I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me. And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant (Jer. 27:4–6).

Judah and for that matter other little nations in the western part of the Fertile Crescent had already suffered at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. Twice before, the Chaldean army had made successful incursions into the land of Judah. In 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar, after encountering little opposition in the land, encamped outside the city of Jerusalem itself, and after a short siege was able to enter the city. He robbed the temple of many of its sacred vessels, in order to place them in the temple of his own god in Babylon (Dan. 1:2). He carried away captive the ablest of the young men of Jerusalem (including some of “the king’s seed”), in order that, in Babylon, they might be taught “the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (Dan. 1:1–4). That included Daniel and his three friends. It marked the beginning of the predicted 70 years of captivity (605–536 B.C.).

Nor had that been the end of it. The Chaldean army returned again to Judah in 597 B.C. to reassert Nebuchadnezzar’s authority after the king of Judah decided to stop paying the annual tribute that had been imposed in 605. Again, therefore, the armies of Nebuchadnezzar were outside the walls of Jerusalem. It seems that Nebuchadnezzar himself arrived on the scene when the fall of the city appeared imminent (II Kings 24:10, 11). Jehoiachin, recognizing the futility of further resistance, took his mother and his servants and his princes and his officers out to the king of Babylon and surrendered.

Entering the city, Nebuchadnezzar proceeded to ransack the temple and palace. He removed everything of value that remained after his first visit eight years earlier. And, already weary of the rebelliousness of this people, Nebuchadnezzar carried off the king and his servants and his princes and the best of his army and the craftsmen and smiths, leaving in Jerusalem only “the poorest sort of the people of the land” (24:14). Among the captives was the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:1, 2).

Nebuchadnezzar had then “made Mattaniah his [Jehoichin’s] father’s brother king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah” (II Kings 24:17).

And now, it is to this king, Zedekiah, that that word of the Lord through Jeremiah came. “And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant.” And this: “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live. Why will ye die, thou and thy people, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, as the Lord hath spoken against the nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?” (Jer. 27:12, 13).

Surely now the mouths of the false prophets will be silent, will they not? Surely now the king and his princes will heed the word of the Lord, will they not?

But such was not to be.

Zedekiah began to reign at the age of twenty-one. His eleven-year reign was marked by “evil in the sight of the Lord” (II Kings 24:19). One wicked king after another. Why? Interestingly, verse 20 of that chapter in II Kings provides the answer, for it traces the wicked rebellion of Zedekiah to God’s righteous anger against Judah and Jerusalem. “For through the anger of the Lord it came to pass in Jerusalem and Judah, until he had cast them out from his presence, that Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.” “My people love to have it so.” God gave them over to their sin, so that they quickly filled their cup of iniquity.

Next time: Nebuchadnezzar, my servant.