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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 49:34-39

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, May 16, 2015

About Elam
34 This the word of the LORD that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning Elam, early in the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah. 35 This is what the LORD of Armies says.
“See, I will break the bow of Elam,
   the main part of their might.

Elam was a nation with an ancient history, but which was passing out of the world in Jeremiah’s time. Elam bordered on Babylon to the east, with the fierce Tigris River between them. Sometimes Elam’s sphere of influence was to the north, sometimes to the east, and sometimes to the south. The rich grasslands of today’s central Iran were where the Elamites drove caravans of donkeys and two-humped Bactrian camels and eventually became some of the earliest people to ascend the backs of horses and fight with the bow while riding.

The Elamites conquered and burned the city of Ur in about 1970 B.C., not long after Abraham and his family left for Canaan. The two great cities of Elam were Anshan and Shushan; this was the Shushan that is called Susa in the books of Daniel and Esther in the Bible. The history of the Elamite kingdom dwindles with the rise of Assyria, Babylon and finally Persia. One of the last kings of Anshan was Cambyses I, whose son Cyrus conquered Babylon and reigned as Cyrus the Great of Persia, freeing the Jews at the end of their long captivity in Babylon.

Some translations end verse 36 by calling the bow the “mainstay” of Elam’s might. Perhaps my hesitation to use such a word makes me a poor translator, since it would be understood in our culture. My hesitation comes from knowing that a “mainstay” is a sailing term from the 15th-19th centuries A.D. in English and American sailing ships. A mainstay is a stay (a heavy rope or sometimes even a chain) that extends from the maintop (the “crow’s nest” of the main mast) to the foot of the foremast of a sailing ship. Because it was such a well-understood term at one time in Britain, Australia and America, it appears in many English-language hymns in which God is called our “stay”—the support that ensures that we will not fall, no matter how severe the storm of life.

36 I will bring against Elam the four winds
      from the four corners of the sky.
I will scatter them to the four winds.
  There will not be a nation where the outcasts of Elam do not go.

The Elamites were rightfully proud of their ability to disappear into the wind in their huge grassland nation. In this way they had much in common with the American Indians or the Russians who faced off against Bonaparte and Hitler. But if we boast, we should boast in the Lord and not in the gifts he gives. If the Elamites appeared to scatter and vanish when attackers came, the Lord was the one, the only one, who could and would actually scatter them as they only seemed to do. They would scatter and disperse, but this time there would be no coming back.

37 I will make Elam terrified of their enemies,
      those who seek their life.
I will bring disaster on them,
  which is my fierce anger, declares the LORD,
and I will send the sword after them
  until I have consumed them.
38 I will set up my throne in Elam,
      and there I will destroy their king and princes,
declares the LORD.
39 Yet I will reverse the captivity of Elam in days to come,”
declares the LORD.

The throne described here is God’s judgment seat, from which he pronounced judgment on all nations. If they thought they were safe because the God of Israel was far, far away, then he wanted them to know that he was coming right into the middle of their land to judge them. There could be no hiding and no escape. The Elamites lived in a land that was further away than the exiled Israelites or Jews would go, and yet Elam, too, would be exiled.

But God does not withhold his gospel promises. Just as he did with the other nations, the Lord held out the offering of forgiveness even to this wild and distant land. The princes of Anshan and Susa would hear the word of the Lord, and anyone who puts their faith in God will be saved.

Could any of this have come about? For the answer to that we only have to turn to Acts 2:9 to be assured that God does not forget his promises, not even for a disappearing and ancient race like the Elamites.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.