God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, April 6, 2015
The Yoke of Babylon
27 Early in the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, a message came to Jeremiah from the LORD.
This seemingly simple verse is troubling. The Hebrew text says literally “In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah…,” yet the rest of the passage, including 27:3, 27:12 and 28:1 all refer to Zedekiah and not Jehoiakim (both Zedekiah and Jehoiakim were sons of Josiah, 2 Kings 23:34, 24:17). It seems as if an early copyist transposed 26:1 to this point by accident, or else was copying the verse as translated above but accidentally wrote Jehoiakim’s name. Many ancient translations (Syriac, Arabic) and a few Hebrew manuscripts have “Zedekiah.” The Greek Septuagint does not have this verse at all. I have followed the translating tradition of substituting Zedekiah’s name.
Another point of interest here is that for the first time in the book, the Hebrew spelling of Jeremiah is different. Up to now, the prophet’s name has been spelled Yermiyahu (יִרְמְיָהוּ), but here it is spelled Yermiyah (יִרְמְיָה). The spelling Yermiyah will continue nine times throughout chapters 27 and 28 and up to 29:1, and then it will revert once again to Yermiyahu.
2 This is what the LORD said to me: “Make a yoke and straps and put them on your neck.
This yoke was an ox yoke, a wooden bar to lay across the back of the neck secured with leather straps. Such a yoke made pulling a load easier (Matthew 11:30) by distributing the burden evenly across more than just one point of the body. It also bound an animal to its master’s will, to pull whatever burden its master would give it. This is what Jeremiah crafted and put around his own neck as a living prophecy.
3 Then send word to the kings of Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, Tyre, and Sidon through the messengers who came to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah.
Edom, Moab and Ammon were small nations to the east and south of Judah. Tyre and Sidon were to the north. These messengers were attempting to negotiate a treaty with Zedekiah to form a rebellion against Babylon. Another factor in this attempted revolt may have been the Egyptian succession. Pharaoh Neco II had died, and his son Psammetichus II was beginning his reign. This Syrian coalition may have hoped that Egypt would join them in driving off the Babylonians.
Nebuchadnezzar’s own Babylonian chronicles tell the same story from his point of view. In about 595 B.C., he was attacked by a nearby enemy (possibly Elam). The following year, 594, there was a revolt within Babylon. Then in 593 (Zedekiah’s fourth year), Nebuchadnezzar led a campaign into Syria—certainly to do battle with the coalition of nations listed in this passage. Perhaps they saw the attack from Elam and the rebellion as an opportunity to throw off the Babylonian yoke, but Jeremiah was commanded by God to tell them otherwise.
4 Give them a message for their masters. Say: The LORD of Armies, the God of Israel says, Tell your masters: 5 By my great power I made the earth, the people and the animals that are on it. I give it to whomever I please. 6 Now I will give all these lands to my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. I will even make the wild animals serve him. 7 All the nations will serve him, his son, and his grandson, until the time for his own land comes. Then he will serve many nations and great kings.”
The Lord’s message is clear. The one giving the message is the Creator of everything, and he has given Nebuchadnezzar authority for a time. All of God’s creation will be under Nebuchadnezzar, not only the domestic animals and livestock (behemah, verse 5) but the wild animals, too (chayat hasadeh, verse 6). Babylon would reign supreme in the world for a time.
Ten years earlier, God had given Nebuchadnezzar a dream of an immense statue with a golden head. No astrologer or wise man in Babylon knew about this dream, but the young prophet Daniel knew, and interpreted it for the king: “The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold” (Daniel 2:37,38).
What God has established cannot be changed or redirected by mankind. Paul said, “there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted” (Romans 13:1-2).
We praise God because he chooses every right way to keep order in the world, to preserve us his people, and to guide history so that his plan will unfold as it should. “God reigns over the nations” (Psalm 47:8). His wisdom is most often beyond our comprehension, but our salvation is always his goal.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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