Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jeremiah 46-52: Prophecies against Other Nations

What's interesting to me about the prophets is that they have prophecies to other nations (that is, besides Israel and Judah) at all.  After all, Israel and Judah are the nations God sent them to.  So I think in a way these prophecies were for their benefit, to show them that God wasn't just picking on them, and also that the nations around them who were corrupt or whatever would get punished too.  Also there are asides in some of these that are directly for the Jews - for instance, at the end of the prophecy against Egypt God tells his own people that even though he's going to destroy Egypt, he's going to save the nation of Israel - they're going to be punished, but not wiped out completely.

The other interesting thing to me about these prophesies are that sometimes God says he's going to completely destroy a nation - such as Kedar and Hazor and Babylon - but with some of the other nations, God promises eventual restoration.  He says, "I will restore the fortunes of _____" sometime in the future, and he says it of Moab, Ammon, and Elam.  I have no idea who Elam is, but Moab and Ammon were the sons of Lot's daughters (and also of Lot . . . eww), so they were kind of cousins to the Israelites.  So that's kind of neat I guess.

In the prophecy against Babylon, God promises to return Judah to the promised land and that in those days "search will be made for the iniquity of Israel, but there will be none; and for the sins of Judah, but they will not be found; for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant."

The wording at the end of that sentence is very important for Christians, I think - "for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant."  I have been reflecting recently on the difference between a pardon and an exoneration in legal terminology.  When a defendant is exonerated, it means that it is officially declared they did not commit the crime and therefore cannot be charged for it; they are innocent.  A pardon is when a person who has already been convicted of a crime is forgiven of that crime.  It's still understood that they were guilty of the crime, but they no longer have to serve the consequences of doing it (jail time or whatever it is).

When we are saved, we are not exonerated.  God, for whatever reason, doesn't remove our pasts and make it so that we never sinned.  He also doesn't pretend like we never sinned (God doesn't pretend, I don't think). Instead he gives us a pardon: he says "yes, you did these crimes against me, but you are no longer responsible for the punishment - I'll take care of that."  He frees us from our prisons and lets us live again.  And it's not because we deserved it.

Some people might think it's unjust of God to pardon criminals, especially if they don't do anything to deserve that pardon.  God is just - he does require that the debt be paid - but it was paid by Jesus when he shed his innocent blood in our place.  God is just, but he is also merciful, and he loves us so much that he made a way to come to us when we lacked the strength to go to him.  The great thing about God is, and Jeremiah 51 makes this point, nobody can tell God he did the wrong thing and get him in trouble for it.  When I was in college, my history professor was the chair of the history department.  He would cancel class from time to time when he was going to visit his grandchildren out of state or something like that.  And nobody could tell him not to, because he was the head of his department (I guess the dean or vice president or president could've told him not to, but on the other hand he'd been there longer than any of them put together so they pretty much let him do things the way he wanted).  There's nobody above God.  He gets to make the rules.  That would be a scary thought if you didn't trust God.  If you believe that God is good and just, then it's a comfort.

In chapter 52, the fall of Jerusalem is described again, including the blinding of Zedekiah and the murder of his sons (not in that order).  But at the very end it says that Jehoiachin, who was the king of Judah before Pharaoh put Zedekiah up, finds favor with the king of Babylon (this is after Nebuchadnezzar), and the king restores him to his former title, although he stays in Babylon, and he gets to eat at the king's table the rest of his life.  I don't really know why the king of Babylon did that or what affect it had on Jehoiachin or the people of Judah, but I think it's a nice note to end such a depressing book on.

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