wrath

The Righteous Wrath of God

19 “The Lord saw it and spurned them,
    because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters.
20 And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them;
    I will see what their end will be,
for they are a perverse generation,
    children in whom is no faithfulness.
21 They have made me jealous with what is no god;
    they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with those who are no people;
    I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
22 For a fire is kindled by my anger,
    and it burns to the depths of Sheol,
devours the earth and its increase,
    and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.

23 “‘And I will heap disasters upon them;
    I will spend my arrows on them;
24 they shall be wasted with hunger,
    and devoured by plague
    and poisonous pestilence;
I will send the teeth of beasts against them,
    with the venom of things that crawl in the dust.
25 Outdoors the sword shall bereave,
    and indoors terror,
for young man and woman alike,
    the nursing child with the man of gray hairs.
26 I would have said, “I will cut them to pieces;
    I will wipe them from human memory,”
27 had I not feared provocation by the enemy,
    lest their adversaries should misunderstand,
lest they should say, “Our hand is triumphant,
    it was not the Lord who did all this.”’ – Deuteronomy 32:19-27 ESV

We love to talk about God’s love, mercy, and grace. And while these divine characteristics are essential to understanding His nature and bring us great comfort, they can also paint a rather one-dimensional image of God. An overemphasis of these positive aspects of God’s character can cause us to downplay His righteous anger and just judgment. This is one of the reasons so many people find such a disparity between the Old and New Testaments. They see conflicting images of God portrayed and choose the kind and compassionate God of the New Testament over the harsh and seemingly heartless God of the Old Testament.

But there is only one God, and He is unchanging in His nature. Yes, we may prefer to dwell on His more loving and father-like characteristics, but that does not mean He is incapable of displaying anger or dispensing harsh justice when necessary. And while the Old Testament is the primary place where this darker side of God’s character is displayed, it does not mean He has mellowed with time. Here are just a few reminders of God’s unchanging nature.

“For I the Lord do not change…” – Malachi 3:6 ESV

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
    but you are the same, and your years have no end. – Psalm 102:25-27 ESV

And there countless passages in both the Old and New Testaments that reveal the righteous indignation of God.

“I, the LORD, will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sin. I will crush the arrogance of the proud and humble the pride of the mighty.” – Isaiah 13:11 NLT

In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries;
    you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble. – Exodus 15:7 ESV

“Now I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you, and judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. 9 And my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. I will punish you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord, who strikes.” – Ezekiel 7:8-9 ESV

But when he [Jesus] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” – Matthew 3:7 ESV

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. – Romans 2:5 ESV

And in this portion of the song given by God to Moses, the anger of God is clearly revealed.

“They have made me jealous…” – vs. 21

“…they have provoked me to anger.” – vs. 21

“…a fire is kindled by my anger…” – vs. 22

“…I will heap disasters upon them…” – vs. 23

“I will spend my arrows on them…” – vs. 23

“I will send the teeth of beasts against them…” – vs. 24

Not exactly the kind of sentiments you might find on a Hallmark card. These are clear expressions of God’s anger against the people of Israel and the tangible means by which He intends to manifest His indignation. He even goes so far as to say that He would have completely “cut them to pieces” and wiped them “from human memory” (Deuteronomy 32:26 ESV), but He knew their enemies would have taken credit for it.

God knew that, if He completely destroyed His people, their enemies would arrogantly assume that they were the ones responsible for Israel’s demise.

“Our hand is triumphant,
    it was not the Lord who did all this.” – Deuteronomy 32:27 ESV

And God hates the prideful and arrogant as much as He does the unfaithful and spiritually adulterous. He was not about to give the pagan nations the pleasure of taking credit for something He had done. They were simply instruments in His hands, doing His bidding and acting as His servants. Neither Babylon or Assyria, whom God would use to punish His rebellious people, could take credit for their success. God would raise them up and use them to accomplish His divine will by meting out His just and righteous judgment against His chosen people.

And God points out that His anger was brought on by the actions of those whom He had redeemed and rescued from slavery. His own adopted children had spurned His love and thrown His mercy and grace back in His face through their unfaithfulness.

They stirred him to jealousy… – vs. 16

They sacrificed to demon… – vs. 16

You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you… – vs. 19

…and you forgot the God who gave you birth. – vs. 19

And God makes His damning assessment of His rebellious people.

“…they are a perverse generation,
    children in whom is no faithfulness.” – Deuteronomy 32:20 ESV

What God describes here is serial apostasy. This is not a case of the occasional failure to remain faithful, but of the habitual and willful refusal to follow God’s will. This song is revealing what will become Israel’s because of Israel’s faithlessness.

God will spurn them and hide His face from them. Why? Because that is exactly how they will treat Him. They will turn their backs on Him, choosing instead to worship false gods and demons. They will hide from Him, attempting to disguise their spiritual infidelity and mask their apostasy by feigning faithful adherence to His laws. And so, God will give them a taste of their own medicine. But when God hides His face, the consequences are devastating. When He spurns them, they will experience a form of loss they could have never imagined or anticipated.

God warns of disasters, hunger, plagues, and pestilence. He describes suffering caused by “the teeth of beasts” and “the venom of things that crawl in the dust” (Deuteronomy 32:24 ESV). He foretells of death brought on by the sword and arrows. And no one will be spared. Young men and women will suffer. The nursing child and the old man with gray hair will each endure the same fate. There will be no mercy shown and no grace given.

And while we might not like this image of God, we cannot assume it is somehow incorrect or inconsistent with His character. He is God. And He is fully righteous. All that He does is right, just, and good. In fact, the opening stanza of this poem declared the justice of God.

“The Rock, his work is perfect,
    for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
    just and upright is he.” – Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV

He is not the one we should judge. He does not deserve our criticism and, most certainly, does not merit our disdain.

“They have dealt corruptly with him;
    they are no longer his children because they are blemished;
    they are a crooked and twisted generation.” – Deuteronomy 32:5 ESV

God had poured out His love, mercy, and grace upon the people of israel. He had redeemed and rescued them from captivity in Egypt. He had led them across the wilderness and put up with their repeated displays of ingratitude and constant bickering and complaining. He had brought them to the border of the land of promise and watched as they stubbonrly refused to enter in because they didn’t believe He would see them through.

And now, as the next generation stood at the very same border, preparing to enter into the land under the leadership of Joshua, God was informing them that their unfaithfulness would continue. They would conquer the land, but would never enjoy victory over their own apostasy. They would experience the power and presence of God, but would constantly turn their back on Him, seeking instead to give their affections to and place their hopes in false gods.

But God had long ago warned them about what He would do if they proved unfaithful.

“You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.” – Exodus 20:5-6 NLT

We might not like reading about God’s anger. We may find His judgment difficult to understand or justify. But it is the righteous judgment of God that makes the grace and mercy of God so meaningful. The fact that God would spare a remnant of the people of Israel so He could send His Son as their Messiah, shows us just how loving He really is. If we do not understand how just God is in judging those who reject Him and rebel against Him, we will never fully appreciate the value of the mercy and grace He offers. God has chosen to provide justification in place of judgment. He has made a way for sinful men and women to enjoy exoneration rather than condemnation. He has made a way possible for those dead in their trespasses and sins to experience forgiveness and eternal life. And it was all made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

It is not until we fully understand the justice of God’s wrath, that we will fully appreciate the joy of God’s love.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Rejected and Despised.

18 Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood,
    who draw sin as with cart ropes,
19 who say: “Let him be quick,
    let him speed his work
    that we may see it;
let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near,
    and let it come, that we may know it!”
20 Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
    and shrewd in their own sight!
22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine,
    and valiant men in mixing strong drink,
23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
    and deprive the innocent of his right!

24 Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble,
    and as dry grass sinks down in the flame,
so their root will be as rottenness,
    and their blossom go up like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts,
    and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
25 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
    and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them,
    and the mountains quaked;
and their corpses were as refuse
    in the midst of the streets.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.

26 He will raise a signal for nations far away,
    and whistle for them from the ends of the earth;
and behold, quickly, speedily they come!
27 None is weary, none stumbles,
    none slumbers or sleeps,
not a waistband is loose,
    not a sandal strap broken;
28 their arrows are sharp,
    all their bows bent,
their horses' hoofs seem like flint,
    and their wheels like the whirlwind.
29 Their roaring is like a lion,
    like young lions they roar;
they growl and seize their prey;
    They carry it off, and none can rescue.
30 They will growl over it on that day,
    like the growling of the sea.
And if one looks to the land,
    behold, darkness and distress;
and the light is darkened by its clouds.  – Isaiah 5:18-30 ESV

Isaiah has an additional four “woes” to pronounce against the people of Judah. Not only are they guilty of greed and debauchery, they seem to enjoy it. Isaiah describes them as leading their sins behind them like a favorite pet. He says that they “draw iniquity with cords of falsehood.” The Hebrew that is translated as “falsehood” is shav' and it can mean “emptiness, vanity or worthlessness.” The New Living Translation reads, “who pull evil along using cords of emptiness.” There is an emptiness or meaninglessness to their efforts. Nothing good will come of it. And it’s as if they]re the weight of their sin is so great, that they are forced to use a heavy rope, like one designed for hauling a cart. 

And all the while they sinned, they goaded God, almost daring Him to act.

They even mock God and say,
    “Hurry up and do something!
    We want to see what you can do.
Let the Holy One of Israel carry out his plan,
    for we want to know what it is.” – Isaiah 5:19 NLT

No shame. No remorse. No fear of God. In fact, they were openly rebellious and blatantly disrespectful to God. Their sins weren’t accidental, but willful. It was as if they pulled them along behind them in broad daylight, virtually challenging God to do anything about it.

And they displayed no sense of right or wrong. Isaiah accuses them of confusing the two. They were guilty of saying “that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20 NLT). They were living morally subjective lives that contradicted the expressed command of God. He is the one who decides what is right and what is wrong. It is not something that He leaves up to mankind. We don’t get a vote. And with God, there are no grey areas in which we get the opportunity to apply our own personal opinions or outlooks. “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:5 NLT). And yet, the people of Judah were saying just the opposite, promoting darkness as the norm and light as something to be avoided at all costs. The apostle John put it this way:

God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. – John 3:19-20 NLT

Sinful man loves to justify and rationalize his sin. He goes out of his way to paint his actions as acceptable and thoroughly normal. But in doing so, he contradicts the truth of God.

If we say we have not sinned, we make him [God] a liar and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:10 NLT

The next two woes have to do with pride and injustice. So, not only are the people of Judah greedy, hedonistic, rebellious and morally subjective, they’re arrogant and unjust. Isaiah describes them as being “wise in their own eyes” (Isaiah 5:21 NLT) and proud of their own inherent cleverness. But the apostle Paul would have told them, “If you think you are wise by this world's standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18 NLT). Human wisdom is insufficient and a lousy source discerning the will of God. Once again, Paul would remind them, “So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish” (1 Corinthians 1:20 NLT). No one ever came to know God based on their own intellect or reasoning powers.

God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom. – 1 Corinthians 1:21 NLT

A man who boasts in his own wisdom is no better off than a drunk who brags about how much liquor he can hold. There is no redeeming value in either boast. 

And because they rely upon own their own faulty and misguided wisdom, marred by moral subjectivity, they end up committing acts of injustice. They see nothing wrong in taking a bribe that lines their own pockets while allowing the guilty to go unpunished. In a world ruled by their brand of wisdom, they guilty prosper, and the innocent suffer. It is a topsy-turvy, upside down world that is nothing like what God intended. 

Therefore…

That word marks the transition point in this passage. As a result of all that Isaiah has just described, God is going to act. He will no longer overlook their blatant disregard for His will and arrogant rejection of His ways. Isaiah compares God’s judgment to a fire that burns up everything in its path. Why? Because “they have rejected the law of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies; they have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5:24 NLT). Isaiah leaves no doubt as to the reason for God’s coming judgment. They had rejected and despised. Those two words carry significant weight and meaning. In Hebrew, the word translated as “rejected” is ma'ac. It carries the idea of disdain or rejection based on contempt. They had rejected God’s law because they had no respect for it. And the second word, “despised,” is the Hebrew word, na'ats, and conveys the thought of rejecting God’s Word because it brings admonition and feelings of guilt.

The law of God was intended to bring conviction on the people of God, exposing their sins and calling them to repentance. Conviction should lead to confession. But the people of Judah rejected and despised God’s methodology, preferring to justify their own sins and turning a blind eye to God’s point of view.

And this was not the first time. God had punished the people of Judah before. He had been forced to judge them for their sins on numerous occasions over the years. And Isaiah warned his audience that God was not done yet.

For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still. – Isaiah 5:25 ESV

Past discipline would not cover their present state of sin. Their lack of repentance was going to require God to judge His people yet again. And Isaiah gave them a less-than-pleasant description of what was to come.

He will raise a signal for nations far away,
    and whistle for them from the ends of the earth;
and behold, quickly, speedily they come! – Isaiah 5:26 ESV

Just as He had done in punishing the northern tribes of Israel, God was going to use a foreign power to bring His judgment upon Judah. Israel had fallen to the Assyrians hundreds of years earlier. Now it was Judah’s turn. And, in their case, it would be the Babylonians who would show up on their doorstep. In verses 27-30, Isaiah provides his audience with a graphic description of what they have to look forward to, and it is not a pretty picture. It all ends in darkness and distress.

Rather than the light of God, they would experience the darkness of defeat. Instead of enjoying the blessings of God, they would undergo unbearable distress. They had allowed their own greed, love of pleasure, rebellious tendencies, moral subjectivity, pride and injustice lead them down the path of destruction. And Isaiah makes it painfully clear that “no one will be there to rescue them” (Isaiah 5:29 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

It Is Done.

17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. 21 And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe. – Revelation 16:17-21 ESV

On the cross, after having endured the wrath of God against the sins of man, Jesus spoke His final words, “It is finished.” He had been persecuted, ridiculed, rejected, spat upon, and tortured to the point of death. And just before He breathed His last breath, He declared that His work was done. He had completed what He had come to do. With His sacrificial death on the cross, He would make possible the redemption of sinful mankind by providing a means by which they could, through faith in His substitutionary death, have their sins forgiven and their relationship with God the Father restored. The apostles Paul provides us with the unbelievable significance of Christ’s sacrificial act.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. – Romans 5:10 ESV

Just a few verses earlier, Paul stated that “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6 ESV). But not every ungodly person accepted the free gift of salvation made possible by God’s grace through Christ’s death. There were many, including the majority of the Jewish population on earth at the time, who refused to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They preferred to remain in their sins. As John writes in his own gospel account: “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV). The work of Jesus, to make salvation available to all men, was finished on the cross. There was nothing left for Him to do. Except return to the earth one day. And all that John has been and will be shown in the visions recorded in the book of Revelation, are meant to be the preface for Christ’s second coming.

But it is interesting to note the words used to signify this last of the seven bowl judgments. John hears a loud voice coming from the temple in heaven and from the very throne of God. It shouts the three simple words, “It is done!” It is likely that these words came from the mouth of God Himself. He is declaring that the final judgment has come. The end of the tribulation period is getting ready to come to a close. There is more that will happen on earth after the seventh bowl is poured out, but this portion of God’s plan for earth and mankind is complete. Now the Messiah can return and set up His Kingdom on earth. But even more than that, His statement sets up an ever great moment that will take place at the end of the millennial reign of Christ on earth: The arrival of the New Jerusalem. John’s vision of that reality is recorded later in his book, and it envisions the days immediately after the completion of Jesus’ 1,000-year reign, the Great White Throne Judgment, and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. John is allowed to see the arrival of the New Jerusalem, as it descends from heaven to earth, and on the throne sits God Almighty, who declares, “I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5 ESV). And then John hears those three simple words yet again: It is done!.

6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:6-8 ESV

The pouring out of the seventh plague from the seventh and final bowl was not the end, per se, but it represented the completion of one thing and the beginning of another. God was now ready to send His Son back to earth. And this news is accompanied by remarkable signs and wonders:

flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. – Revelation 16:18 ESV

These are all signs of God’s divine judgment. But they also represent His holiness and almighty power. These same signs had all been evident when God descended upon Mount Sinai in the wilderness.

16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. – Exodus 19:16-18 ESV

God was in their midst and it was unmistakable. And now, with the pouring out of the final judgment, it was also clear that God was behind all that was about to happen. This was the work of the almighty, all-powerful God of the universe. And all these fantastic sights and sounds were more than just a divine pyrotechnic show. John immediately sees “the great city” split into three parts. This is most likely a reference to Babylon, which John mentions just a few verses later. Babylon is the poster boy of all cities on earth, representing the age of the Gentiles and man’s rebellion against God. Babylon’s sordid history goes all the way back to the time of tower of Babel, when mankind refused to obey God’s command to spread across the earth. Instead, they determined to build a high tower and a great city, from which they would create a great nation – all in open rebellion against the will of God.

“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4 ESV

Their arrogance and pride led to God creating multiple languages, making it impossible for them to communicate with one another. As a result they dispersed and gave up their building project. And yet Babylon would continue to exist as a city, becoming the icon for man’s pride and rebellion against God. And John sees this great city split into three parts, most likely as a result of the great earthquake. “God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath” (Revelation 16:19 ESV). God has a long memory. He doesn’t forget and always remembers to repay those who have stood opposed to Him and His people. But Babylon is not alone. John indicates that “the cities of the nations fell” as well. The age of the Gentiles is coming to an end. The domination of the Gentile nations over Israel is being brought to a close. And Jesus spoke of this very day.

Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. – Luke 21:24 ESV

It is interesting that the seventh bowl is mentioned as being poured out in the air, and yet the results of this judgment all take place on earth. Perhaps this has to do with Satan’s dominion over the air and the earth. Paul described Satan as “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2 ESV). This bowl is poured out in Satan’s domain and impacts the world over which he has been allowed to have dominion. John says that “every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found” (Revelation 16:20 ESV). Evidently, there will be dramatic changes to the topography of the earth. There will be cataclysmic changes to the earth’s crust, causing never-before-seen alterations to the seas and the land. As always, there are those who try to minimize or simply eliminate the literal interpretation of this passage, choosing instead to view this as a symbolic destruction of the political systems of the earth. But there is no reason to doubt that God could not or would not do exactly what John is seeing take place. The very stability of the earth is at the mercy of God Almighty. Nothing will remain as it once was. Mountains and islands will removed. All that mankind has come to know as reliable and unchangeable, will come to an end.

And then, the 100-pound stones fall from the sky. This devastating and obviously destructive event will leave people cursing God. The death and damage caused by this divine display of God’s power and wrath will be unprecedented. Buildings, animals and people will be destroyed. Everything man has built will be succumb to these massive stones falling from the sky. It is interesting to note that stones were used to build the tower of Babel and here, God uses stone to destroy the cities of men. And back in the gospel of Matthew, we have recorded the words that Jesus spoke to the Pharisees.

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” – Matthew 21:42 ESV

And Jesus goes on to tell them, “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:44 ESV). God is bringing His judgment upon the world. He is reigning divine destruction upon the earth and all those who live on it. And “the plague was severe.” God will literally stone all those who have blasphemed His holy name. This is the penalty prescribed by God Himself for all those who blaspheme His name.

“Take outside the camp him who has cursed; then let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him.” – Leviticus 24:14 ESV

As we will see in the very next chapter, God will begin to deal specifically with the religious and political systems of the earth. He will mete out His divine wrath on the Antichrist and his kingdom, as well as the false prophet and his apostate church. Amazingly, after all the devastation and destruction brought by the seven bowl judgments, mankind will still oppose God. The Antichrist will still maintain his control over the nations of the earth. And the people of earth will still bow down to his image, giving glory to him that was rightfully owed to God alone. But those things are quickly coming to an end. Because, as God has said, “It is done!”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

When God Turns His Face.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchiah and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying, “Inquire of the Lord for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the Lord will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us.”

Then Jeremiah said to them: “Thus you shall say to Zedekiah, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands and with which you are fighting against the king of Babylon and against the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside the walls. And I will bring them together into the midst of this city. I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath. And I will strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast. They shall die of a great pestilence. Afterward, declares the Lord, I will give Zedekiah king of Judah and his servants and the people in this city who survive the pestilence, sword, and famine into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of their enemies, into the hand of those who seek their lives. He shall strike them down with the edge of the sword. He shall not pity them or spare them or have compassion.’

“And to this people you shall say: ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have his life as a prize of war. For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the Lord: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.’” – Jeremiah 21:1-10 ESV

Towards the end of Jeremiah’s ministry and Judah’s existence as a nation, Zedekiah become the king of Judah. He would be their final king. He was only 21-years old when he became king, placed on the throne of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. By this time in Judah’s history, Babylon had made significant inroads into their territory, having conquered many of its cities and laying siege to Jerusalem itself. In order to spare the city, Zedekiah was forced to sign a vow of allegiance to King Nebuchadnezzar, but he proved to be an obstinate and hard-headed vassal. The book of 2 Chronicles gives us further insight into Zedekiah and his reign.

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he ruled for eleven years in Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of the Lord his God. He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, the Lord’s spokesman. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him vow allegiance in the name of God. He was stubborn and obstinate, and refused to return to the Lord God of Israel. All the leaders of the priests and people became more unfaithful and committed the same horrible sins practiced by the nations. They defiled the Lord’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 36:11-14 NLT

Under increasing pressure from the Babylonians and feeling the impact of the constant siege against Jerusalem, Zedekiah sends a couple of dignitaries to Jeremiah in order to get his help. And interestingly enough, Zedekiah sends two priests, Pashtur and Zephaniah, to plead with the prophet. The first priest is familiar to us, because he was the one who had beaten Jeremiah and thrown him in the stocks for his constant threats of destruction against Judah. And with a certain sense of irony, it is this very same man who is chosen by the king to humbly plead with Jeremiah to pray to God on behalf of the city. By this late state, everyone had realized that Jeremiah’s prophecies had come true. The Babylonians had came just as God had said they would. Their armies were already wreaking havoc and destruction throughout Judah, and they were camped outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was just a matter of time now. So King Zedekiah sends his two emissaries to Jeremiah with the following words:

“Please speak to the Lord for us and ask him to help us. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is attacking Judah. Perhaps the Lord will be gracious and do a mighty miracle as he has done in the past. Perhaps he will force Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw his armies.” – Jeremiah 21:2 NLT

Now, they were calling on God. When the enemy was at the gate, they suddenly decided to turn to God and ask for His help. But notice what is missing in Zedekiah’s statement to Jeremiah: There is no sign of repentance. No confession of guilt. No admission of sin. He just expects God to show them grace and do a miracle on their behalf. But Jeremiah gives the king a message that he is not going to like. He tells them that God is angry with them and will not only give them over to the Babylonians, but will play a significant role in their destruction. Repeatedly we see God say, “I will”.

“I will make your weapons useless…” – vs 4

“ I will bring your enemies right into the heart of this city…” – vs 4

“I myself will fight against you with a strong hand and a powerful arm…” – vs 5

“I will send a terrible plague upon this city, and both people and animals will die.” – vs 6

“I will hand over King Zedekiah, his staff, and everyone else in the city who survives the disease, war, and famine…” – vs 7

“I will hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and to their other enemies…” – vs 7

The Babylonians were simply pawns in the hands of God. They were His agents of judgment against the people of Judah. And God gives the dire warning that Nebuchadnezzar would “slaughter them and show them no mercy, pity, or compassion” (Jeremiah 21:7 NLT). There would be no grace. There would be no miracle of deliverance. In fact, God gives the people two choices: Either life of death. They could stay in the city and try to wait on the Babylonians. But if they did, they would suffer death by famine, disease or the sword. Their second choice would be surrender. If they simply gave themselves up, they would be spared, but end up as slaves in Babylon. Either way, the people of Judah were going to suffer God’s wrath against their sinful behavior against Him. The only reward they would get from God would be life. The once great city of Jerusalem, the city of David and the home of the temple of God, would be reduced to rubble and ashes. God makes it clear that He was going to do to Jerusalem: “For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good” (Jeremiah 21:10 ESV). Which brings to mind the words God gave to Moses to have Aaron share with the people of israel, centuries earlier:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” – Numbers 6:24-27 ESV

Rather than God’s shining face and gracious countenance, the people of Judah were going to endure the wrath of God as He turned His face against them. There would be no blessing, no peace, no grace. God had given them ample opportunities to repent and return to Him. But they had rejected His messages and repeatedly spurned the prophets He had sent to them. Now, it was too late. Their fate was sealed. Their destruction was a foregone conclusion. And the two options God gave the people of Jerusalem are still the only options men and women face today. If we refuse to turn to God, we will die as a result of our sins, because the penalty for sin is death. We can choose to try and fight our sins on our own, but we will die. We will discover that we have no capacity to stand against our sinful nature. Or we can choose to surrender to our sin and be taken captive by the enemy. We will live, but only as slaves to the prince of this world. And that life will be nothing like the one God has offered to us through simple faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. The citizens of Jerusalem were doomed either way, because they chose to reject God and His offer of salvation – on His terms. They weren’t willing repent or give up their false gods. They simply wanted His salvation, but refused to submit to His sovereign rule over their lives.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson