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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 49:23-27

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, May 2, 2015

About Damascus
23 Concerning Damascus:
“Hamath and Arpad are troubled
   for they have heard evil news.
They melt in fear.
  Like a troubled sea
  they cannot find rest.

This oracle of judgment is not just against Damascus, but on other small nations making up an area we would call Syria. These are the nations which are included in God’s judgment on the nations in chapter 25. There, the “kings of Arabia” (Jeremiah 25:24a) probably include Damascus, and the city-states of Hamath and Arpad could well be the “foreign peoples who live in the desert” (Jeremiah 25:24b), or at least they would be included with “all the kings of the north, far and near” (Jeremiah 25:26). All of these were nations that would fall under God’s wrath.

Hamath was an important town on the Orontes river not far from the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea. The city is famous for its many norias, huge paddle-wheels which transport water from the Orontes river high up into tall aqueducts, where gravity delivers fresh water all through the city and eventually to irrigate the surrounding fields. Although the present norias are only five or six hundred years old, they probably replaced earlier counterparts dating back to biblical times.

Arpad is another city in the far north, near Aleppo. These cities are said to be troubled because of what they hear about Damascus, their most powerful and reliable neighbor. If Damascus fell, it would not be long before Hamath and Arphad would fall, too.

Jeremiah uses a brilliant image when he says that they are like a troubled sea that “cannot find rest.” The ocean never settles down to the calm of a glassy pond; it is always stirred up by something. And the people of Hamath and Arpad are very nervous indeed.

24 Damascus has become feeble.
      She turns to flee
      and panic has seized her.
Anguish and sorrows have taken hold of her,
  Like that of a woman in labor.
25 Why is the famous city not forsaken,
      my joyful city?
26 Surely her young men will fall in the streets,
        and all her warriors will be destroyed on that day,”
        says the LORD of Armies.
27 “I will set fire to the walls of Damascus,
        and it will devour the palaces of Ben Hadad.”

I wonder what people might have thought of a prophecy that involved the mighty Damascus turning “to flee” (verse 24)? Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth, and it might have already had that reputation 2,500 years ago when this oracle was first delivered. The mighty, immovable Damascus, standing like a fence to hold back the Arabian desert—this is the Damascus that would run away in terror.

Verse 25 is a problem. The Hebrew clearly says, “Why is the famous city not forsaken?” Many translations omit the negative lo, “not,” and this seems to make better sense, yet the “not” clearly stands there in the Hebrew text. There might be some different explanations for this:

The lo (לֹא) might be a miscopied le- (-ל), perhaps an emphatic lamed: “Why is the famous city so forsaken?” The problem with this is that it is an extremely rare, almost unique use of the preposition (a scholar named Nötscher wrote about this in 1953).

The whole comment might be a comment of dismay from a fleeing citizen of Damascus: “Why is the famous city not forsaken?” could mean: “Why doesn’t everyone leave?!” This could be the thought or cry of a man who knows that the city is doomed and wonders why more people don’t run for their lives. This second possibility is probably the better of the two. Although it is not marked as a special quotation in the text, this would not be uncommon in poetry.

Damascus, too, is doomed. God’s judgment over sin means only one thing for those who do not repent: destruction. No one can defiantly stand in their sins before the Lord and survive his holy wrath. So God invites us to turn to him. It was here, in Damascus, that the Apostle Paul was baptized and was first instructed in the faith (Acts 9:17-19). He began to preach “at once” in the synagogues, and baffled the Jews there with his fire for the gospel (Acts 9:20, 9:22).

What God’s wrath has brought down, only his gospel and forgiveness can restore. And you are restored through faith.

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.