Sharpen the arrows, take up the shields! The Lord has stirred up the kings of the Medes, because his purpose is to destroy Babylon. The Lord will take vengeance, vengeance for his temple. Lift up a banner against the walls of Babylon! Reinforce the guard, station the watchmen, prepare an ambush! The Lord will carry out his purpose, his decree against the people of Babylon. You who live by many waters and are rich in treasures, your end has come, the time for you to be destroyed. The Lord Almighty has sworn by himself: I will surely fill you with troops, as with a swarm of locusts, and they will shout in triumph over you. “He made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses. – Jeremiah 51:11-16
This passage continues the description of the fall of Babylon that was the topic of yesterday’s post about God stirring up armies from the north to take on Babylon. God is stirring up the kings of the Medes. The Medes were the people in what is now northwestern Iran and apparently the modern people of Iran are their descendants.
God is describing the consequences of the Babylonian attacks on Jerusalem and the temple, “The Lord will take vengeance, vengeance for his temple.” I admit it is somewhat confusing to have God seek vengeance for something that He allowed as a consequence for the stubborn people of Jerusalem and Judah. Rather than dwell on this perplexing behavior I am willing to accept that God sees and knows much more that I do about what these people need and the path they are following, both the Babylonians and the Israelites. God sees more of the spiritual and physical landscape than I can and as a result He may do things that from my perspective seem arbitrary or confusing.
I cannot shake the feeling that God is talking about more that just the Babylonians and this time and place when He says He will “carry out his purpose, his decree against the people of Babylon.” I wonder if the people of Babylon are a metaphor for all those who stand apart from God by choice. This would include me at times, and it was definitely where I was at before I committed to following the Way of Jesus.
God’s description of the seemingly prosperous people of Babylon as those who “live by many waters and are rich in treasures” would fit many people in modern affluent countries, like the United States and Europe. People in these countries are rich in treasures and have concluded that their affluence and power is solely a result of their own intellect and power — no need for a “higher power” to direct their lives. This state of affairs will not stand in Babylon and it will probably not stand forever in our modern “Babylons” either.
God then says something odd, “The Lord Almighty has sworn by himself, I will surely fill you with troops, as with a swarm of locusts, and they will shout in triumph over you.” So God makes a vow to Himself to follow through with the dire consequences for Babylon. I guess this makes sense, but it is another example of perplexing pronouns that must have made the people who wrote down these words scratch their heads.
The justification God provides for this exercise of power is to say, about Himself, “He made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.” This is hearkening back to the very beginning when God’s logos, or reason, gave rise to the very spiritual and physical reality in which all these events are taking place. God is saying who can know how this should all work out better than I, the Great I Am?
Even the seemingly vengeful actions God is taking against Babylon are part of the “Spiritual Cycle” that includes both rain on tender plants and the deadly driving rainstorm that God is unleashing here. This is sometimes difficult to understand from where we stand now — in the shadow of the cross.
Prayer: You bring both storms and gentle rain. Help us to accept both when they come and the grace that You shower on all who follow You.
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