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Jeremiah’s Prophecies and the Sovereignty of God
By Gary F. Zeolla
The following article is adapted from Chapter Eleven of my book The LORD Has It Under Control: What the Bible Teaches About the Sovereignty of God. It is a sampling of passages from the Book of Jeremiah, followed by my comments thereupon. The chapter in the book itself contains many more passages with comments, being 38 pages long in the hardcopy formats.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture passages are taken from: Analytical-Literal Translation of the Old New Testament (ALT): Volume IV: The Prophetic Books. Copyright © 2014 by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org).
We now move on to the Book of Jeremiah and then Lamentations, which was also written by Jeremiah. The Book of Jeremiah has fewer chapters than Isaiah (52 vs. 66), but it is actually longer, having more words than Isaiah (41,425 vs. 39,601 in the ALT). And many of these words are used to assert the sovereignty of God.
1The word of God which came upon Jeremiah [“Appointed by the LORD” – LXX, Jeremias] the [son] of Hilkiah [LXX, Chelcias], from the priests, who was dwelling in Anathoth in [the] land of Benjamin, 2[to] whom [the] word of GOD came to him in the days of Josiah son of Amom [LXX, Amos] king of Judah [LXX, Juda], in [the] thirteenth year in his reign. 3And it was in the days of Jehoiakim, son of Josiah king of Judah, until [the] eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month. [i.e., 608-586 BC]
Jeremiah was a priest from the tribe of Benjamin, the smaller of the two tribes in the southern kingdom of Judah. He prophesied during the reigns of three kings, for 22 years.
11And [the] word of the LORD came to me, saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “A rod [fig., branch] of an almond tree.” 12And the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I have raised up My words to perform them.”
13And [the] word of the LORD came to me for a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “A caldron being on the fire, and the face of it away from [the] face of [the] north.” 14And the LORD said to me, “From [the] face of [the] north there will be kindled the evil [things] upon all the ones inhabiting the land. 15For behold, I call together all the kingdoms from [the] north of the earth,” says the LORD; “And they will come and will set each his throne at the entrances of the gates of Jerusalem and against all the walls round about her and against all the cities of Judah.
The LORD first gives Jeremiah a “test” prophecy. He then gives him his first true prophecy. The LORD will call together the kingdoms from the north to come down against Jerusalem and the rest of the cities of Judah. Those kings will think they are acting on their own accord; but in fact, it is the LORD who is causing them to come down, as He turns the hearts of kings wherever He wills (Prov 21:1).
16“And I will speak to them with judgment, concerning all their wickedness, as they forsook Me and sacrificed to strange gods and prostrated in worship to the works of their hands. 17And you wrap a belt around your waist, and stand up, and speak to them all, as many [words] as I shall command to you; you shall not be afraid because of their face, neither shall be you be terrified before them, for I am with you to be delivering you,” says the LORD. 18“Behold, I have made you in the today day [fig., this very day] as a strong city and as a bronze wall, strong against all the kings of Judah and her princes and the people of the land. 19And they will fight you, but they shall by no means prevail against you, because I am with you to be delivering you,” says the LORD.
Judah has forsaken the LORD and turned to false gods. As a result, the LORD will judge them, and Jeremiah is to proclaim this judgment. But he is not to fear as the LORD will be with him. Knowing that the LORD is sovereign over all enables us to be brave in the face of adversities.
Jeremiah now begins to proclaim God’s prophecies against Judah.
“Behold, I judge against you, [because] you are saying, ‘I did not sin.’ 36Why did you greatly despise to repeat your ways? So you will be put to shame by Egypt, just as you were put to shame by Assur [Heb., Assyria]. 37For so you will go forth from here and [fig., with] your hands on your head, for the LORD rejected your hope, and you will not be prospered in it.
Judah is trusting in Egypt to deliver them from the Babylonians, but they should be trusting in the LORD. The Jews do not think they have sinned, but that is the reason their sin is so grievous. As such, they will be taken into captivity for it. To an outside observer, it would appear that Judah’s captivity occurred because Babylon was more powerful than Judah or its ally Egypt. But the LORD is the ultimate cause as He controls the actions of Babylon, Judah, and Egypt.
27Thus says the LORD, “The whole land will be desolate, but by no means will I make a full end. 28For these [things] let the earth be mourning, and let the sky grow dark above, for I spoke, and I will not change My mind; I rushed, and I will not turn back from it.”
Judah will be desolated, but not totally, as the LORD has complete control over even the degree of its desolation. This result is assured as the LORD spoke it, and He does not change His mind.
22Behold, a sound of a report comes, and a great earthquake from [the] land of [the] north, to designate the cities of Judah for a vanishing and a resting-place of ostriches. 23I know, O LORD, that the way of a person [is] not his, neither will a man walk and keep his journey straight. 24Discipline us, O LORD, but with judgment and not in wrath, lest You make us few. 25Pour out Your wrath upon [the] nations not knowing You and upon [the] generations which did not call upon Your name, for they devoured Jacob and annihilated him and made his pasture desolate.
Judgment is coming from the north upon Judah, but Jeremiah prays that the ones attacking Judah should be judged as well. In the midst of these judgments is an interesting verse. Jeremiah seems to be saying that the way people go is not of their own accord. But a person needs to be disciplined to go in the correct way. The wording of verse 23 is so important it will be quoted from several other versions.
O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps (KJV).
O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps (NKJV).
I know, O LORD, that a man’s way is not in himself, Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps (NASB).
I know, O LORD, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps (NIV).
I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps (ESV).
I know, O LORD, that the way of human beings is not in their control, that mortals as they walk cannot direct their steps (NRSV).
I know, LORD, that a person’s life is not his own. No one is able to plan his own course (NLT).
However it is worded, it is clear from this verse that we need the LORD to direct our steps. But what is not clear is if Jeremiah is saying that the LORD is working within us to turn us where He wants us to go, or if this is Jeremiah asserting that the LORD needs to discipline us for us to go in the correct path. In other words, is this an inner working of the LORD controlling our wills, or is it an outer working of the LORD, punishing us to cause us to change our ways? The former is definitely possible given all that has been discussed previously in this book, but the context seems to favor the latter in this verse.
3Then Jeremiah said to them, “Thus you* will say to Zedekiah king of Judah, 4‘Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I turn the weapons of war with which you* fight with them against the Chaldeans having besieged you* from outside the wall into the midst of this city. 5And I will fight you* with a having been stretched out hand and with a mighty arm, with wrath and anger and great irritation. 6And I will strike all the ones dwelling in this city, the people and the beasts of burden, with great death [Heb., pestilence]; and they will die.
7“And after these [things],” thus says the LORD, “I will give Zedekiah king of Judah and his servants and the people having been left in this city from the death [Heb., pestilence] and from the famine and from the sword into [the] hands of their enemies, the ones seeking their lives, and they will cut them in pieces with the mouth [fig., edge] of a sword; I will not spare them, and by no means will I have compassion on them.”’
Chaldeans is another term for Babylonians. They are besieging Jerusalem. King Zedekiah has sent to Jeremiah to ask if the LORD will deliver Jerusalem from them. But the LORD declares He will be fighting with the Babylonians against Judah. As a result, most of the Jews will be killed, and those who are not will be taken into captivity. It will appear like this is occurring solely through the power of the Babylonians, but it is in fact the LORD who is in control of all that is transpiring.
8“And you will say to this people, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I have put before your* face the way of the life and the way of the death. 9The ones sitting [fig., remaining] in this city will die by [the] sword and by famine, but the one going out to advance to the Chaldeans having besieged you* will live, and his life will be for spoils, and he will live. 10For I have established My face against this city for evil [things] and not for good [things]; it will be delivered into [the] hands of [the] king of Babylon, and he will consume it with fire.”’”
The LORD has determined Babylon will be victorious. As such, the only way to avoid death is to surrender. That idea goes against all that human beings generally believe. “Give me liberty, or give me death.” But if the LORD is against you, such an attitude is futile, as it will just end in a meaningless death.
23I am a God coming near,” says the LORD, “and not a God afar off. 24A person will not hide himself in secret [places], and I will not see him, will he? I fill the heaven and the earth, do I not?” says the LORD.
The LORD is near us and sees all that we do, as He is everywhere. It is because the LORD is omniscient and omnipresent that He can also be sovereign.
1The LORD showed to me two baskets of figs, lying toward [the] face of [the] temple of the LORD, after Nebuchadnezzar [LXX, Nabuchodonosor] king of Babylon resettled Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, and the princes and the craftsmen and the prisoners and the rich [people] out of Jerusalem and brought them to Babylon. 2The one basket of very good figs, as the early figs; and the other basket of very bad figs, which will not be eaten, because of their bad condition. 3And the LORD said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “Figs; the good, very good; and the bad, very bad, which will not be eaten, for their bad condition.”
The practice of using parables (or allergies) to teach spiritual lessons did not originate with Jesus. Such is used throughout the Bible.
4And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5“Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: ‘As these good figs, thus I will acknowledge the Jews having been resettled, whom I sent forth out of this place into [the] land of the Chaldeans for good [things]. 6And I will fix My eyes upon them for good [things], and I will restore them into this land for good [things]; and I will rebuild them and by no means pull [them] down; and I will plant them, and by no means pluck [them] up. 7And I will give to them a heart for them to know Me, that I am the LORD; and they will be to Me for a people, and I will be to them for God, for they will be turned to Me with their whole heart.
With this parable, the LORD is showing to Jeremiah why He told the Jews to surrender to the Babylonians. Those who did not die but were taken captive and resettled in Babylon will be blessed by Him. Thus, even in their difficult situation, they will prosper. But the reason they will prosper is because the LORD will enable them to know Him, and He will turn them to Him. Note the passive tense of “turn.” This indicates the Jews will be turned by God to Himself. It is only by the LORD so enabling us that we can turn to Him and known Him. We cannot turn to Him of our own accord.
15Thus said the LORD, the God of Israel: “Take the cup of this unmixed wine from My hand, and you will cause all the nations to drink, to whom I send you to them. 16And they will drink and vomit and go raving mad because of [the] presence of the sword which I send among them.”
Note the reference to “unmixed wine.” The word “unmixed” does not occur in the Hebrew, but it does in the LXX. And it is important as it is a reference to the way wine was unusually drunk in Biblical times. It was usually mixed 50/ 50 with water. This mixing of wine with water is seen in Proverbs 9:1-5, where wisdom personified mixes her wine for the ones she is inviting to her dinner.
The wine at that time was already lower in alcoholic content than today’s wine, and mixing it further lowered the alcoholic content. As such, it would be difficult, though not impossible, to get drunk on it. But here, the LORD says He will give unmixed wine to the nations. As such, they will easily get drunk on it, indicating they will be in a stupor and unable to defend themselves against their invaders. Thus, the LORD has even the mental state of people under His control.
4“Thus said the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the resettlement which I resettled from Jerusalem: 5‘Build houses, and inhabit [them]; and plant gardens, and eat the fruits of them. 6And take wives, and father sons and daughters; and take wives for your* sons, and give your* daughters to husbands, and be continually multiplied, and you* shall not be diminished. 7And seek for peace of the land into which I resettled you* there, and pray concerning them to the LORD, for in its peace there will be peace to you*.’
The Jews should not believe the false prophets who are saying the deportation will only be for a short while. It is important that the Jews believed Jeremiah and not the false prophets. If they listen to the latter and do not marry and have children, then in the seventy years of their captivity, the Jewish people will die out. It takes faith in the LORD’s sovereignty to believe such a sobering prophecy, but it is vital to their very existence.
8“For thus says the LORD: ‘Stop letting the false prophets among you* be persuading you*, and stop letting your* diviners be persuading you*, and stop hearing your* dreams which you* dream. 9For they prophesy to you* unjust [words] in My name, but I did not send them.’ 10“For thus said the LORD: ‘When seventy years shall be about to be fulfilled in Babylon, I will visit you* and will establish My words to you*, to bring back your* people to this place. [cp. Daniel 9:2] 11And I will reckon for you* a reckoning of peace and not evil [things] to give to you these [good things]. 12And pray to Me, and I will hear you*. 13And diligently seek Me, and you* will find Me, for you* will seek Me with your* whole heart. 14And I will appear to *you;’ [Heb., +an utterance of the LORD, ‘and I will return captives and will gather you* from all the nations and from all the places where I have banished you* there,’ an utterance of the LORD, ‘and I will bring you* back to the place from where I sent you* into exile].’ 15because you* said, ‘The LORD appointed for us prophets in Babylon.’”
The LORD continues to tell the Jews not to believe the false prophets telling them the captivity will be for a short while. But He also assures the Jews there will be a time when they will return to their homeland. They might not see it, but their children and grandchildren will. That is why they are to marry and have children. And they can be assured this prophecy is true because the LORD spoke it. We will see later that Daniel will believe and act upon this prophecy.
31“Behold, [the] days are coming,” says the LORD, “and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers in [the] day of My having taken hold of their hand to bring them out of [the] land of Egypt, for they did not persevere in My covenant, and I disregarded them,” says the LORD. 33“For this [is] the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel; after those days,” says the LORD, “putting, I will put [fig., I will surely put] My laws into their mind and write them on their hearts, and I will be to them for God, and they will be to Me for a people. 34And by no means shall they teach each his fellow-citizen and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD!’ for all will know Me, from [the] least [one] of them and as far as [the] great [one] of them, for I will be merciful to their iniquities, and by no means shall I be reminded of their sins any longer.” [Heb 8:8-12]
This is a wonderful prophecy that is quoted in the New Testament. The Law will no longer be external but internal; it will be in people’s minds and hearts. This requires that the LORD can change people from within. And that is exactly what the LORD does when He brings a person to faith in Christ. As Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone [is] in Christ, [he is] a new creation; the old [things] passed away, behold, all [things] have become new!” (2Cor 5:17).
Being changed from within:
This concept is so important it bears elaboration. Salvation in Christ is not a matter of keeping rules; it is the LORD changing people from within; their thoughts and desires change. They no longer desire the things of the world but the things of God. They no longer desire to be sinning but to be serving the LORD and others. They desire to read His Word and to learn more about Him. The LORD reveals Himself to them within their hearts. Their hearts break over the ungodliness and suffering in the world. Their thoughts about what is important in life change. In short, their entire attitude towards life changes.
That is what true conversion entails. But for all of these changes to occur requires the LORD to be able to change people’s innermost desires, their emotions, their minds, their hearts, and their volitions. If you believe the LORD can so change a person, then you must believe He has control over all such things.
7And it happened after ten days, [the] word of the LORD came to Jeremiah. 8And he called Joanan and the leaders of the army and all the people from small as far as great. 9And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD [Heb., +God of Israel to whom you sent me to cause your* petition to fall before His face]: 10‘If having stayed, you* shall stay [fig., you* will indeed stay] in this land, I will build you* and by no means pull [you*] down, but I will plant you* and by no means pluck [you*] up, for I have ceased from the evil [things] which I did to you*. 11You* shall not be afraid because of [the] king of Babylon, of whom you* are fearing because of his presence; you* shall not fear,’ says the LORD; ‘for I am with you* to be delivering you* and to be rescuing you* out of his hand. 12And I will give to you* mercy and pity you*, and I will return you* to your* land.
Jeremiah is now in Babylon with the other deported Jews. But he assures them that the LORD is finished punishing them. God is now with them to comfort them in their resettlement. If they listen and accept their resettlement, the LORD will prosper them in their new situation, and He will eventually return them to their homeland.
Accepting a Bad Situation:
When the LORD puts us in a situation that we do not like and did not want; we can be assured the LORD will use us in that situation, if we accept it and trust Him in it. But if we spend all of our time trying to get out of the situation, then we will accomplish nothing.
I know this to be true. There are two aspects of my life that many would find intolerable. I suffer from many health problems which severely limit my life, and I am single (never married). In regards to the former, there was a period of a several years when I spent much of my time going from doctor to doctor, both traditional and alternative, looking for a cure for my many aliments. I tried every possible traditional and alternative treatment I could find, all to no avail. And throughout that time, I was accomplishing little in my life other than wasting large amounts of money. There were times when I felt like the woman in Mark 5:26:
and having suffered many [things] under many physicians and having spent all the [things] with her [fig., everything that she had] and not having been benefited at all, but rather having come to [be] much worse …
But I finally got to the point of just accepting my health problems. Maybe there is a treatment out there somewhere, but I refuse to spend the rest of my life and all of time and resources trying to find it.
Similarly, for much of in my life I spent a lot of time trying to “find someone.” Before I became a Christian, it was quite an obsession. Then after my conversion, I wasted a lot of time going to Christian single groups and dating a few women that I met there, with nothing even close to long term coming of it. Then as my health began failing, I wasted time and money first responding to personal ads in my local newspaper, then later joining various online dating sites.
The latter were really a waste. Very often I would take the time to write up a response to a woman’s profile, only to find out later she had only signed up for the service when it had a free weekend or the like, but she did not actually join it, but the site left her profile up. As such, I saw her profile, but she was not able to even see my response let alone respond to it; that more than anything else soured me on such sites, as it was such a frustrating waste of time. And for the record, for all of my efforts, I never even got a date out of all of it. And now with my health such as it is; dating would be very difficult anyway.
As such, I have decided to accept my lot in life and trust the LORD to bear me up in it and to enable me to accomplish as much as possible for His kingdom while still afflicted with health problems and feeling lonely from singleness. Being single actually helps in accomplishing stuff as if I were dating someone that would severely decrease the amount of time and energy I’d have to serve the LORD. That is Paul’s point in 1Corinthians 7:32f:
32But I want you* to be free from anxiety; the unmarried [man] is anxious for [or, concerned about] the [things] of the Lord, how he will please the Lord. 33But the married [man] is anxious for [or, concerned about] the [things] of the world, how he will please his wife.
By accepting my health problems and my singleness, I have accomplished much more over the last few years than I ever did while I was spending all of my time and resources looking for a cure or trying to find someone. It is safe to say I would never have finished the ALT and would not be writing this book if I was still in that mode.
I am not saying it is wrong to try to improve your lot in life. But there comes a time when it is best to accept it and to live as worthwhile a life as possible while in it, rather than wasting all of your time and resources trying to change it. The LORD knows your situation, amd He will enable you to endure it and even to prosper in it.
The LORD Has It Under Control: What the Bible Teaches About the Sovereignty of God. Copyright © 2015 by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org). All rights reserved.
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