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Escaping to Destruction - Jeremiah 44

What it means to be spiritually lost.

Jeremiah 43:8-44:19; Joshua 24:1-2, 14, 16-24; Numbers 6:22-26; Psalm 27:7-9a; Hebrews 10:31; Romans 3:12.

Oct 27, 2013 11:00 AM

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When Joshua was an old man, as he anticipated his own death, he called Israel together to give them a final charge.  He gathered the twelve tribes for a prophetic reminder of their roots and their history.  Turn with me to the book of Joshua, chapter 24.

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel.  And they presented themselves before God.  And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.  (Joshua 24:1-2 ESV)

Joshua reminds Israel that Abraham and his family had come from Ur of the Chaldees where they worshipped the gods of pagans.  Abraham served other gods.  Joshua then warns them:

“Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14 ESV)

Their fathers had served other gods not only in Babylon but also during their 400 years of slavery in Egypt.  The LORD had delivered them out of their idolatry, first in Babylon and later in Egypt, to worship Him.  But some left Egypt still clinging to their idols.  And this was Israel’s response to Joshua:

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed.  And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God. (Joshua 24:16-18 ESV)

One of the things that strikes a reader of Scripture is how it reports the hard facts concerning human nature.  Men have an unquenchable thirst for gods other than Jehovah.  Men also have a serious propensity for making promises which they do not keep.  For the 1500 years following Joshua’s conquest of the land of Canaan, the people of Israel made a slow and steady march, in direct violation of all the covenants they made with the LORD, right back to where they came from.  By the time we reach the end of Jeremiah’s life, the relatively few Jews that remain, this tiny remnant of their former selves, are either enslaved in Babylon “beyond the Euphrates,” or in hiding from Nebuchadnezzar in Egypt.

The reason they are back in Babylon and Egypt is largely due to their relentless love affair with idols.

The irony of it all is tragic.  This nation that has been the resting place of the God of the Universe for two thousand years is now reduced by the LORD to a small fraction of their former population, survivors of a war which a jealous God waged against them.  A people who at one time were the envy of the entire world had become slaves, exiles, and refugees.  Their glorious city, the city upon which God had placed His own name, and the single place in all the world where the true God could be worshipped in His magnificent temple--that place is now a pile of rubble and ashes.  Because they loved other gods.

Jeremiah spent 40 years of his life predicting that event, the day when the king of Babylon would come and wipe Jerusalem off the map.  His prophecies came true.  All of his companions and fellow survivors watched it happen, exactly as he had said it would.  And now, some of these same people ask Jeremiah to ask God what He would have them do in their current troublesome circumstance: They fear Nebuchadnezzar is going to come again to Judah and kill them all because of the murder of his governor, Gedaliah.

Jeremiah’s track record is perfect.  All of his prophesies have come true.  100% success rate.  “So now, Jeremiah, tell us what the LORD wants us to do.  Whatever He says, we will do it.  Unless He tells us to stay here in Judah.  Because we’ve already decided the right thing to do is go to Egypt.  That is the smart move.  We just want God to confirm what we’ve already decided is best.”

But contrary to public opinion, God says not to go to Egypt.  They go anyway.  And this is normal, not just for the Jews of the Old Testament, but for all men everywhere who do not know God.  The reason for this is because men are in a state which the Bible refers to as being “lost”.  The more modern translations use the word “perish”.

1. to die or be destroyed through violence, privation, etc.

2. to pass away or disappear

3. to suffer destruction or ruin

4. to suffer spiritual death

The Jews suffered all of those things.  And they knew it would happen. They knew that if they forsook God, He would bring disaster upon them.  Many died, the nation disappeared, their city was destroyed, and their idolatries led them into spiritual death.

But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.  If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.”

And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD.”  Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.”  And they said, “We are witnesses.”  He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.”  And the people said to Joshua, “The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” (Joshua 24:19-24 ESV)

Even after their conquering of the nations of Canaan and their taking of the Promised Land for themselves, they STILL worshipped other gods!  Joshua calls them to repentance from idolatry and to “put away the foreign gods that are among you!”

But they didn’t.  They clung to their idols and worshipped them alongside their presumptuous worship of Jehovah.  Consequently, since God is not willing to share His glory with blocks of wood and stone, they perished.  God did as Joshua said: He turned to do them harm, after having blessed them abundantly.

Israel never really turned away from their idolatries.  Therefore they were lost.  They perished.  By the time we get to the end of the book of Jeremiah, there is no Israel.  There is no Judah.  There is no reading of the Law, no priesthood, no temple, no sacrifices, no Jerusalem.  All the Jews are either in Babylon, or in Egypt, right back where they had come from, right back in the places God had delivered them from, where they perish under the wrath of God.

The saying is indeed true: “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”  The Jews returned to Egypt and all of her idols, taking Jeremiah and Baruch with them.  Look with me at Jeremiah 43:8.

Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes: “Take in your hands large stones and hide them in the mortar in the pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh's palace in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah, and say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them.  He shall come and strike the land of Egypt, giving over to the pestilence those who are doomed to the pestilence, to captivity those who are doomed to captivity, and to the sword those who are doomed to the sword.  I shall kindle a fire in the temples of the gods of Egypt, and he shall burn them and carry them away captive.  And he shall clean the land of Egypt as a shepherd cleans his cloak of vermin, and he shall go away from there in peace.  He shall break the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt, and the temples of the gods of Egypt he shall burn with fire.’” (Jeremiah 43:8-13 ESV)

The Jews need to take notice--again--that God hates the gods and the idols of Egypt.  Jehovah is not just the God of Israel.  He is Lord over the entire earth.  And in this passage, God likens the gods of the Egyptians to vermin.  They are like lice or ticks or fleas that need to be plucked up and tossed into the fire to be disposed of.  And the runaways from Judah who are fleeing the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar will not escape.  God will summon His servant Nebuchadnezzar and use him against the Jews in Egypt just as He used him against them in Judah.  But Jeremiah even goes so far as to publicly declare the exact spot where Nebuchadnezzar will set his throne.  This will serve as proof that Jeremiah really is a prophet and he really has been telling them the truth all along.

Now in chapter 44, Jeremiah speaks to the people living in Egypt.  In verses 1-10, God reminds them that He was the one who destroyed Jerusalem.  It was God Himself who moved Nebuchadnezzar to wipe Judah clean like a plate.  It was God Himself who sent the people prophet after prophet, warning them of their inevitable self-destruction by means of the worship of false gods.  But just like always, the people did not listen.

In verses 11-14, God declares yet again, and this will be for the final time, that He is against them.  And He says in verse 11, “Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will set my face against you for harm, to cut off all Judah.” (Jeremiah 44:11 ESV)

In Numbers 6, we read these words of God through Moses to Aaron:

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the

people of Israel: you shall say to them,

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. (Numbers 6:22-26 ESV)

Aaron, as the high priest of Israel, was to invoke God’s blessing upon the people by asking God to make His face shine upon them.  To display His glory toward them.  To glorify them by means of His own glorious face shining upon them.

In Psalm 27, David sings these words:

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!

You have said, “Seek my face.”

My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”

Hide not your face from me. (Psalm 27:7-9a ESV)

For God to hide His face or turn His face away from His people is to withhold His blessings and conceal His glory.

But in Egypt, God does not say to the people of Judah, “ I will hide my face”, or “I will turn my face away from you.”  Rather, “Behold, I will set my face against you for harm, to cut off all Judah.” His face is set, meaning God is determined and will persevere in His pursuit of their destruction.  He will not turn to the left or the right, He will not be distracted by any other thing, until He has accomplished the harm and the woe He has pronounced against them all.

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31 ESV)

Now notice verse 15:

Then all the men who knew that their wives had made offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you. But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem.  For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster.  But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.”  And the women said, “When we made offerings to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands' approval that we made cakes for her bearing her image and poured out drink offerings to her?” (Jeremiah 44:15-19 ESV)

This, beloved, is what it means to be spiritually lost.  The people of Judah had no sense, no perception, no grasp, no understanding, no comprehension of the nature of their situation--completely incapable of ascertaining their own sinful and condemned state.  But it wasn’t just them:

“What multitudes there are who have no concern over, in fact, no consciousness of, their woeful condition!  While the do not regard themselves as perfect, yet they are not aware that there is anything seriously wrong with them.  They are respectable people, law abiding citizens, and nothing particular ever troubles their conscience.  They consider that they are certainly no worse than their religious neighbors, and though they scarcely ever read the Bible or enter a church, they fully expect to go to heaven when they die.  Some of them will indeed admit that they are sinners, but they imagine that their good works far outnumber their bad ones.  A smaller class of them were sprinkled as infants, attended a Bible lass as children, said their prayers each night, and later joined the church.  Nevertheless, to this moment, they have never realized that they are the enemies of God, an abomination in the eyes of His holiness, and that hell is their just deserts.”

“They see no beauty or glory in the gospel, no suitableness in it unto their case, and therefore do they despise and reject it.  They voluntarily obey [Satan} and submit to his will.  His dominion over them is maintained by keeping their minds in darkness, deceiving and deluding them, blinding them by pride, prejudice, and the workings of their own corruptions.  . . . [T]hey are determined to follow their own course at all costs, turn a deaf ear to the most earnest entreaties and solemn warnings and disregard the remonstrations of their own conscience.”

“They hate [God’s] holiness and dread His justice, while despising His goodness and abusing his mercies.  The only “life ” they know has its objects in this world, and its enjoyment in gratifying the lusts of the flesh.  None will know how utterly man is lost until they either experience His wrath in hell, or behold His glory in Heaven, and can then measure the fearful distance they have departed from him.”  -Studies in the Scriptures, Arthur Pink, July 1952

Beloved, if you are indeed a Christian, how far removed were you from Christ before He saved you?  How far had you departed from God in your sin?  How lost were you?  We shake our heads at the Jews for baking cakes to the queen of heaven and ascribing their well-being to her while they can, for all practical purposes, still feel the heat from the fires that burned Jerusalem to the ground IN FULFILLMENT of Jeremiah’s prophecies to them!  We ask ourselves, “How blind can these people be?”

The answer is, “Just as blind as I was before Christ took me from my darkness and into his marvelous light.”  And this is exactly why we make much of the Lord Jesus.  This is why He is such a great Savior.  This is why we rejoice in Him.  But not until we behold His glory in Heaven will we be fully able to measure the vast distance to which we had departed from Him.

When we look at the sinfulness of the Jews, we are looking in a mirror.  Paul said it this way, quoting Psalm 14 and 53:

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  (Romans 3:12 ESV)

Who needs a Savior more than the Jews of Jeremiah’s day?  No one.  Who needs a Savior less than the Jews of Jeremiah’s day?  No one.  All the lost need Christ.  All those who are perishing need Jesus Christ.  Every man, woman, and child desperately needs the Lord Jesus Christ to save them from their sins.

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For more info on the Queen of Heaven, see http://www.topical-bible-studies.org/37-0012.htm

Strong's Exhaustive Concordance: Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary:
"6252. Ashtarowth ... or Ashtaroth ... the name of a Sidonian diety ... : —Ashtaroth."
"6253. Ashtoreth ... the Phoenician goddess of love (and increase): —Ashtoreth."

Webster's New World College Dictionary:
"Astarte ... a Semitic goddess of fertility and sexual love, worshiped by the Phoenicians and others: see also ASHTORETH, ISHTAR."
"Ashtoreth ... the ancient Phoenician and Syrian goddess of love and fertility: identified with ASTARTE."
"Ishtar ... see ASHTORETH ... the goddess of love, fertility, and war."

Encyclopedia Britannica:
"Astarte/Ashtoreth is the Queen of Heaven to whom the Canaanites had burned incense and poured libations.

Soul Vision website:
"Known by many names, across time and space, Lilith or Eve, Anath and Asherah, Astarte, the Queen of Heaven, the Shekhinah and the Matronit.... No matter Her name, she was loved."

Shekhina Hebrew Goddess website:
"Shekhina [is] the Hebrew Goddess of the Kabbala."

Encyclopedia Britannica:
"Ishtar is the Akkadian counterpart of the West Semitic goddess Astarte."

Encyclopedia Britannica:
"Through her identification with the Greek Aphrodite and the Roman Venus, Inanna-Ishtar, the queen of heaven, still survives in Roman Catholic iconography - e.g., as the Virgin Mary standing on the moon."

Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1894:
"Queen of Heaven with the ancient Phoenicians, was Astarte; Greeks, Hera; Romans, Juno; Trivia, Hecate, Diana, the Egyptian Isis, etc., were all so called; but with the Roman Catholics it is the Virgin Mary."

Temple of the Temptress:
"Diana was called the Mother goddess and Queen of heaven, just as Mary is called Mother of god and queen of heaven."

See also http://www.studylight.org/enc/isb/view.cgi?n=7126 and http://www.studylight.org/dic/hbd/view.cgi?n=5180;


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