THE OVERTHROW OF JUDAH
Both of our Old Testament readings concern the end of the kingdom of Judah at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. In 11 Kings 24 and 25 we read of the tragic end of the kingdom of Judah in which King Zedekiah saw his sons slain and all the nobles of Judah and then his eyes were put out and he was bound in fetters of brass and was carried to Babylon. The latter part of 11 Kings, Jeremiah and Ezekiel are all contemporary with this time. In Ezekiel 13 this tragic situation is likened to a broken down wall. So bad was the situation that no one could stand in the breach to save Judah. In the past Moses had stood in the breach and we read of this in Psalm 106: 23. But even Moses could not have saved Judah now as we see from Jeremiah 15:1. If Moses could not save them, neither could Jeremiah, despite his great faith. If they could they would have put him to death. So it was at the time of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus above all was, “The repairer of the breach, The restorer of the paths to dwell in”, but, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (Jn.1:11), and they eventually put him to death as they would have done to Jeremiah. But he is still “The repairer of the breach”, for he said:
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. . . But he spake of the temple of his body” (Jno. 2:19, 21).
Let us turn back to Ezekiel 13. The words of Ezekiel were spoken against the false prophets who prophesied “out of their own hearts”. So we read in verses 3-5:
“Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts. Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of Yahweh”.
These foolish prophets were like the foxes who were clever and cunning creatures and “had an interesting habit of living in the old, deserted ruins of Palestine, particularly around Mount Zion and Jerusalem”. So were these prophets. They were clever and cunning and not only brought Judah to ruin but also dwelt among the spiritual ruin of the nation. Where the nation had faithful leaders, it would be built up spiritually and these fox-like prophets would not be found.
In his ministry, the prophet Jeremiah repeatedly shows how he was opposed by these foolish prophets, the priests and the king and his princes. So we read in Jeremiah 5: 30-31:
“A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; The prophets prophecy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof”.
Again in 6:13:
“From the least of them even unto the greatest of them everyone is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest everyone dealeth falsely. They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying Peace, peace, when there is no peace”.
THE CITY OF ANATHOTH
Jeremiah came from Anathoth, a Levitical city and he was opposed by his own brethren as we see from chapter 11:21-23:
“Therefore thus saith Yahweh of the men of Anathoth, that seek thy life, saying, Prophecy not in the name of Yahweh, that thou die not by our hand: Therefore thus saith Yahweh of hosts, Behold, I will punish them: the young men shall die by the sword; their sons and their daughters shall die by famine: And there shall be no remnant of them: for I will bring evil upon the men of Anathoth, even the year of their visitation”.
As we have said, Anathoth was a city of priests and “Pashur, the son of Immer the priest, who was also chief governor in the house of Yahweh”, smote Jeremiah and put him in the stocks, but Jeremiah told him that he would become a terror to himself and would die in Babylon.
This tragic situation in Judah is graphically described in Ezekiel 13. These prophets who “divine lies” would not be “in the writing of the house of Israel, neither shall they enter the land of Israel. So we read in verses 10-14:
“Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace; and one built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untempered mortar: Say unto them which daub it with untempered morter, that it shall fall: there shall be an overflowing shower; and ye, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall rend it. Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it? Therefore thus saith Adonai Yahweh; I will even rend it with a stormy wind in my fury: and there shall be an overflowing shower in mine anger, and great hailstones in my fury to consume it. So will I break down the wall which ye have daubed with untempered morter, and bring it down to the ground, so that the foundation thereof shall be discovered, and it shall fall, and ye shall be consumed in the midst thereof: and ye shall know that I am Yahweh. Thus will I accomplish my wrath upon the wall, and upon them that have daubed it with untempered morter, and will say unto you, The wall is no more, neither they that daubed it; To wit, the prophets of Israel which prophecy concerning Jerusalem, and which see visions of peace for her, and there is no peace, saith Adonai Yahweh”.
The word untempered means to smear (as gummy) or slime. Another word from the same root is rendered folly in Jeremiah 23:13:
“And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err. I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah”.
In the word of God, the literal walls of Jerusalem are symbolical of spiritual walls. The spiritual walls were built up with untempered mortar, they were smeared with folly or frivolity, therefore they would not stand in the day of battle and moreover the literal walls were broken down. This was fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem as recorded in Jeremiah 39:2, 4-8:
“And in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, the ninth day of the month, the city was broken up.. . . And it came to pass when Zedekiah the king of Judah saw them, and all the men of war, then they fled, and went forth out of the city by night, by the gate betwixt the walls: and he went out the way of the plain. But the Chaldean’s army pursued after them, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho: and when they had taken him, they brought him up to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Riblah in the land of Hamath where he gave judgement upon him. Then the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah before his eyes: also the king of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah. Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, and bounds him with chains, to carry him to Babylon. And the Chaldeans burnt the king’s house, and the houses of the people, with fire, and brake down the walls of Jerusalem”.
So because of the frivolity of the foolish prophets, Jerusalem was in ruins and the people were taken into captivity to Babylon.
But it is encouraging to notice the contrast with Jeremiah. When he was sent to utter God’s judgments against Judah, the word of Yahweh said to him:
“Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them. For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee saith Yahweh, to deliver thee”.
Whereas the spiritual walls of Judah and the natural walls were broken down, the prophet Jeremiah was cared for. He was like a defenced city in their midst. We should remember however that this did not prevent him being smitten by Pashur and put in the stocks and being lowered down into the mire. But in all these things Yahweh was with him, so that when Nebuzar-adan, the captain of the guard came to Jerusalem, we read in Jeremiah 39:11-12:
“Now Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard, saying, Take him, and look well to him, and do him no harm; but do so unto him even as he shall say unto thee”.
There is encouragement for us brethren and sisters in these things. If we build up the ecclesia faithfully with words of truth, then our heavenly Father will care for us as he did Jeremiah. Even if we suffer persecution or rejection, we can be assured that the Father will be with us.
EZRA AND NEHEMIAH
This is illustrated in the case of Ezra and Nehemiah. It took 70 years for the captivity in Babylon which began in our readings to-day in 11 Kings, to create a right heart in the people of Judah and at the end of this time, Ezra and Nehemiah came to Jerusalem to build up the walls and to re-build the Temple. It is noteworthy that they did not prosper in this work until the prophets Haggai and Zechariah prophesised unto them. As a result of this God, “turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel” (Ez. 6:22) and the Temple was completed.
Nehemiah sacrificed his high position as cup-bearer of the king of Assyria to build up the walls of the city and he denied himself to do this work. So when he was opposed by the Samaritans in this work, we read his words in Nehemiah 4: 19-23:
“And I said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, The work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another. In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us. So we laboured in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared . Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let everyone with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and labour on the day. So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing”.
Their example in building up the walls of Jerusalem is an example to us in building up the ecclesia. If we allow false doctrine to creep into the ecclesia, we shall be like the foolish prophets who built the walls with untempered or foolish mortar and the ecclesia will come to ruins. There is a great danger of this to-day when false ideas are creeping into the ecclesia like the present possession of the Holy Spirit, open fellowship and many other crotchets. If these take hold the ecclesia will end up in ruins. How important it is therefore that the truth as we have held it from the days of brother Thomas is upheld and taught in the ecclesia. Hence the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:10-14 &16-17:
“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon”. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. . . . Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are”.
These words teach us that if our work abides the fire of judgment, we shall receive a reward. There is only one foundation, which is the Lord Jesus Christ who is also the chief corner stone, the head stone. We must take great care how we build thereupon. The foolish prophets through their frivolity and lies destroyed the ecclesia in Judah. If we defile the ecclesia with false doctrine as the foolish prophets of Judah did, we shall be destroyed. How important it is that we care for the ecclesia and oppose false doctrine as Jeremiah did and build it up as Nehemiah did, laying down our lives for our brethren and sisters.
We come now to remember our absent Master, the living head of the ecclesia. He above all is “The repairer of the breach, The restorer of the paths to dwell in”.
He is “the way, the truth and the life”. May we strive to grow up into him in all things which is the head.