Today: [Jeremiah 43] Breaking the Images of Bethshemesh. In this chapter Jeremiah prophesies against the nation of Egypt. The Babylonian invasion cannot be overthrown, so the armies and the people purpose to flee to Egypt. Have you ever been tempted to look other than to God for help? Sometimes the arm of flesh seems much more ready to hand than simply trusting in God. The outcome of such thinking is seldom positive.
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[Jer 43:1-13 KJV] 1 And it came to pass, [that] when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking unto all the people all the words of the LORD their God, for which the LORD their God had sent him to them, [even] all these words, 2 Then spake Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the proud men, saying unto Jeremiah, Thou speakest falsely: the LORD our God hath not sent thee to say, Go not into Egypt to sojourn there: 3 But Baruch the son of Neriah setteth thee on against us, for to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they might put us to death, and carry us away captives into Babylon. 4 So Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces, and all the people, obeyed not the voice of the LORD, to dwell in the land of Judah. 5 But Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces, took all the remnant of Judah, that were returned from all nations, whither they had been driven, to dwell in the land of Judah; 6 [Even] men, and women, and children, and the king’s daughters, and every person that Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Jeremiah the prophet, and Baruch the son of Neriah. 7 So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: thus came they [even] to Tahpanhes. 8 Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah in Tahpanhes, saying, 9 Take great stones in thine hand, and hide them in the clay in the brickkiln, which [is] at the entry of Pharaoh’s house in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah; 10 And say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will set his throne upon these stones that I have hid; and he shall spread his royal pavilion over them. 11 And when he cometh, he shall smite the land of Egypt, [and deliver] such [as are] for death to death; and such [as are] for captivity to captivity; and such [as are] for the sword to the sword. 12 And I will kindle a fire in the houses of the gods of Egypt; and he shall burn them, and carry them away captives: and he shall array himself with the land of Egypt, as a shepherd putteth on his garment; and he shall go forth from thence in peace. 13 He shall break also the images of Bethshemesh, that [is] in the land of Egypt; and the houses of the gods of the Egyptians shall he burn with fire.
In this chapter Jeremiah speaks against the assumption by the people of Jerusalem and Judah that they will find safety in Egypt from the terror of the Babylonian invasion. Jeremiah, suffering the deprivations of imprisonment, frequent beatings and starvation – refuses to change the words that God has given through him. Jerusalem and the southern kingdom of Judah will fall. In retaliation one of the chief men of the city, Azariah pronounces that all of Jeremiah’s words are totally false. Have you ever given the word of the Lord and been told you were false? Just recently I received a report from a listener that they were actually demanded to sign a paper to that effect and that they would never prophesy in the church again. This in a so-called “full gospel” church with a reputation for the gifts of the Spirit. It seems that the validating of the gifts of God and those that move in them are directly connected to the speakers telling them what they wanted to hear. I remember a parishioner who told me very plainly without blushing – “you are my pastor as long as you tell me what I want to hear!”. Astonishing!
The word of the Lord through Jeremiah was not only that Judah would fall – but also a warning to the people not to take refuge in Egypt. The people were commanded by the word of the Lord to submit to the Chaldeans, serve them willingly in Babylon and to pray for the peace of the cities of their captivity. This was vinegar that set the teeth of Judah and Jerusalem on edge. Jeremiah was imprisoned, beaten and starved because he dared to speak a word in the name of the Lord that did not bow to the idols that were in the hearts of the people. What was the nature of idolatry in Judah at this time. After thinking that the Egyptians might be persuaded to defend them from the Babylonians, the people of Judah and the king himself devoted themselves to the worship of Ra – the Egyptian sun god. This had gone on for some time. The second to last king of Judah was Coniah, whose name as changed by the Pharaoh to Jeconiah, meaning “Jehovah has Elevated”. Now understand that the Pharaohs were worshipped as living gods. In allowing the Pharaoh to appoint and change the name of the king in Jerusalem was an act of syncretism, in effect saying that Pharaoh was in reality, the Jehovah that the Israelites worshipped. This was carried so far that the city of Beth-shemesh was elevated to the status of a veritable mecca of sun worship – hence the specific judgment of God spoken through Jeremiah in this chapter against that city and its images.
Verse 4-5 recount for us that Johanan, and all the captains of the armies of Judah defected to the land of Egypt from which they had been driven so many centuries ago. Upon seeing the armies retreating to the south multitudes of the people followed suit, going down into Egypt under the sentence of disobedience from Jeremiah that they “obeyed not the voice of the Lord…” instead to surrender and serve the Chaldeans willingly. Eventually the people will force even Jeremiah to join them there, where he will suffer martyrdom, some say by stoning while other traditions claim he will be sawn asunder as was Isaiah.
Upon seeing the en mass defection to Egypt Jeremiah prophesies that Egypt will be no refuge for the people. He declares that Egypt will fall and that the people of Judah will be dug out of the clay of Egypt as a potter would dig stones out of clay that he finds is an offence to what he would fire in the kiln. Verse 13 tells us that in this judgment the images of Bethshemesh – the city in Judah named after its sister city by the same name will fall and its images will be destroyed. What does all of this speak to us?
The lesson for us is taking great care not to guild our human derived ideas of how to change our circumstance as the falsified word of the Lord. Just because something makes sense to us does not mean it is what God wants us to do. It made sense the people of Judah to look to Egypt for rescue. Egypt was the only nation capable or willing to resist the invading Babylonians. We often make the same mistake. We think that only turning to a human instrumentality – often contrary to God’s word, can solve whatever problem we may be facing. God is a jealous God. That thing, or person that we turn to before turning to Him – God will remove.
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