God has already brought judgment on his people in Judah. Here, God pronounces judgment against Judah’s neighbors, those who have been enemies from the days of Moses until the time of Jeremiah. Beginning with chapter 46 til chapter 51, this section of judgments is thought to have been circulated separately from the rest of the book, but later was included as its ending, Thompson (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/jeremiah-46/).
In this large section about enemies, there are specific pronouncements against well known ones–the Egyptians, Philistines, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, and Damascans–as well as lesser known nations like Kedar, Hazor, and Elam. And finally, there is judgment against Babylon itself, the nation God used to bring his judgment against all the others.
[Honestly, I’m thinking, really God? Why do you waste pen-and-paper on your enemies? Who cares? I’m not interested in reading this, much less writing about it. But it’s part of your word, so I will. Show me something good. Please.]
In the chapters for today, the nations of Moab, Ammon, and Edom are judged for three things: their mistreatment of God’s people, their idolatry, and their pride against God himself. I’m surprised to learn that God not only judges his own people for these things, he judges all people for these things. What’s even more surprising is that God and Jeremiah grieve for their suffering. They even wail. [OK, God, sheesh. You’ve got me. Now I’m interested.]
Along with judgment, God’s mercy is also announced to these enemy nations. And here’s another surprise for me: God extends his mercy to all nations, even his enemies, the ones who don’t honor him and don’t deserve it.
MOAB: Early in Israel’s history, Moab was the nation whose women came in and seduced the Israelite men to worship their gods. This was Balaam’s advice to Balak, the king who hired him to curse them. Though Balaam tried to curse them, he could only bless them, so he suggested that Balak use sex to lure God’s people away from him. And it worked.
Some of the Israelite men began “worshipping” Moab’s god, Chemosh, and by the time Solomon was king, he built a whole temple devoted to the debauchery of Chemosh. But idol worship is only one of the things God judges Moab for.
To Moab, God says, “Flee! Run for your lives!…Since you trust in your deeds and riches, you too will be taken captive, and Chemosh will go into exile, together with his priests and officials…Then Moab will be ashamed of Chemosh…the fall of Moab is at hand; her calamity will come quickly…We have heard of Moab’s pride–her overweening pride and conceit…’I know her insolence but it is futile, her boasts accomplish nothing,’ declares the Lord. ‘Therefore I wail over Moab, for all Moab I cry out.'” 48:7, 13, 29-31.
In the ancient world, it was thought that a conquering nation won because their gods were stronger than the gods of the vanquished, Guzik (enduringword.com). God’s win over Chemosh is a win over no real god, of course, but it was a decisive win over the Moabite’s belief that Chemosh was more powerful than God Almighty.
God’s always been Lord of all the earth, not just the Lord of the Jews. “God knows who he is. He is not a regional supervisor. He is not a tribal deity. He is the God of all nations. His sovereignty is not limited to a single culture, nation, or ethnic group,” Ryken (enduring word.com). God is mightier than false gods, and he wants all people to know it, because he wants all people to worship him. Not just his own people, but all people. It’s what he’s made them for.
The sins against God’s people and the idolatry and pride of Moab are great, and they deserved the judgment they receive. But God wailed and cried out for her in her judgment? What kind of God is this?
Evidently he’s a God who doesn’t delight in suffering, even when the suffering is their fault and the sufferers don’t love him. The section on Moab ends with, “‘Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in days to come,’ declares the Lord,” 48:47. More surprising goodness.
Does God judge sin with terrible consequences? Yes. Does God care about the people who suffer those consequences? Yes. He weeps over them, even over the ones who don’t know him. And sometimes he even restores them. I love this about God.
I also love this: Ruth in the Bible was a Moabitess and a believer in God Almighty. She was the mother of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David, who was God’s chosen king through whose line Jesus was born. Ruth was married to Boaz, the son of Rahab, the whore, who helped Israel destroy her hometown of Jericho. Both Rahab and Ruth were ancestors of Jesus. God’s always offered salvation to anyone who believes, no matter their race or occupation, and he includes these women in Jesus’ family tree to prove it. I love how scandalous God can be.
AMMON: The Ammonites introduced Israel to their god, Molech (also called Ba’al in the Bible), whose worship included the sacrificing of children. God had commanded as early as Mt. Sinai that anyone who sacrificed their children to Molech was to be stoned, Lev 20:2. He was heartsick over this practice, saying it was “something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind,” Jer 19:5.
Ammon took possession of Israel’s land after its people were carried off to Babylon, specifically the territory of Gad. But God considered that the land of Israel belonged to their own sons. While Ammon had opposed and invaded Israel often before this time period, it was their taking of Israel’s land that God seems most concerned about. Ammon is present day Jordan, and therein lies Israel’s original rub with Jordan/Ammon, which was preceded by Ammon’s rub with Israel. Israel had kicked them out in the first place, though God had said to [I’m imagining Lucille Ball sticking out her tongue here].
To Ammon, God says, “‘Has Israel no sons? Has she no heirs? Why then has Molech taken possession of Gad? Why do his people live in its towns?…Molech will go into exile, together with his priests and officials. Why do you boast of your valleys?…O unfaithful daughter, you trust in your riches and say, ‘Who will attack me?’ I will bring terror on you from all those around you…Yet afterward, I will restore the fortunes of the Ammonites,’ declares the Lord.” 49:1, 3-6.
“I will bring terror” and “I will restore”? God judges and he binds up. He makes wounds and he dresses them. He hurts and he heals.
Is God bipolar?
The only way I can understand him is to believe that the judging, wounding, and hurting he does is always-and-only for love. If there were any other reason, he couldn’t do the binding up, bandaging, and healing afterwards. I can’t think of any other glue that sticks opposites together like this. Only love holds.
God’s desire and design has always been to bring people to himself, all people, and not necessarily the good ones or the cool ones or the powerful ones. God seems to like the tax collectors and sinners, the outcasts and perverts, the whores and the hungover. Enemies. These are the people Jesus hung out with, after all.
And when I think about heaven and all the nations who will be there, all races and tribes and languages, all kinds of sinners with all kinds of stories, enemies of God who have been turned into his beloved children, I think, well, we’re all in this together. I’ve been God’s enemy, too. And I better start getting used to all these people now. I better start making room for them in my life and heart right here. Otherwise, heaven will feel awfully uncomfortable. That is, of course, unless I decide I’m so uncomfortable with God’s guest list that I choose to decline the invitation myself [cue winking emoji with tongue sticking out].
EDOM: The Edomites’ original ancestor was Esau, who sold Jacob his birthright for a bowl of stew and then had his blessing stolen from him. Edom was cousins with Israel, bound by the bad blood of betrayal. Obadiah tells how the Edomites were glad and laughed when the Babylonians invaded Judah. They were considered a military power then and might have helped Babylon do it, Thompson (enduringword.com). I guess Esau would’ve been proud.
To Edom, God says, “I will strip Esau bare; I will uncover his hiding places, so that he cannot hide…Leave your orphans; I will protect their lives. Your widows too can trust in me…The terror you inspire and the pride of your heart have deceived you…Edom will become an object of horror; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. As Sodom and Gomorrah were overthrown…so no one will live there; no man will dwell in it,” 49:10-11, 16-18.
God’s judgment of Edom is more severe than that of Moab and Ammon. He doesn’t promise to restore them at some later time. Their nation dissipates and never returns. But still he brings mercy to their orphans and widows. I wonder why. The sins Jeremiah mentions and the space he allows them in the text aren’t very big, it seems to me. But being overthrown like Sodom and Gomorrah? That’s utter devastation, as in, gone-gone.
I wonder if it’s because the Edomites betrayed God’s people. They were family, and rather than help their cousins in a time of trouble, they turned on them and helped their enemies instead. And then they laughed about it. Betrayal is ugly. It’s returning evil for good. It’s a sin against love.
God’s way is returning good for evil. God tells us to love our enemies, to pray for them, to “overcome evil with good,” Ro 12:21. We wouldn’t belong to God if he hadn’t done the very same thing for us. Had he left us where he found us, we’d still be cut off from him and on the highway to hell. Loving matters to God because God is love. He can’t help but love. 1 John 4:16.
In every judgment of the nations above, he brings love. In fact, his judgments themselves are loving. They say, in effect, “You can’t keep going down this road. It’ll kill ya. So here’s a little motivation in the form of suffering to turn you around and put you back on the road to life, on the road back to me.” Loving enemies is what God does—it’s his life’s work. It’s how he’s made a planet and filled it with people. It’s how he’s made his family and my family. It’s how he’s saving the world.
Oh boy. There’s a lot here to think about today, God. If you’re still who you’ve always been, and you are because you never change, then you still care about all of these things that you judged these nations for way back when (sometime around 600-500 BC). Words like oppression, idolatry, and pride keep these sins at a safe distance, but if I really name what they are today, they get uncomfortably close: immodesty, over concern for appearance, abortion, stealing blueberries from the neighbors. You grieve all of these.
But failing to love one another, including our enemies? Well, I think that must top the list of things that grieves you. It sure is counter-cultural for our day. It will take a miracle to bring about the culture of love you have in mind.
It will take a Savior.
And I naturally think about life at home, where love feels hardest. If this is how you treat your enemies, giving them correction with love and mercy, surely I have to do at least this much at home.
It’s much easier to be too harsh or too soft when it comes to family. I’ve either wanted to overlook bad behavior and get on with the next thing in our day, or I’ve zeroed in on it with my piercing eye.
But you don’t do either. You don’t overlook sin; you deal with it. Your eyes don’t zero in on sin either, as if it’s the truest thing about us. They weep. You feel the heartbreak I feel, even when it’s my fault. Your heart’s “love faucet” is always turned on, even when your hand holds the rod that disciplines.
I can accept correction from a Father who weeps with me as he wounds me. Help me to weep with those I wound, too.
2 Timothy 4
I feel set up, like “someone” deliberately put this passage here after the one in Jeremiah. Both say a lot about enemies.
Paul tells Timothy to “endure hardship,” among other things, 5. Paul has endured great hardships, and it sounds as if he’s at the end of his life in this chapter. He recounts where his fellow workers are, saying that only Luke is with him. I assume he means only Luke is working alongside him.
Being God’s servant doesn’t bring fame or fortune. Paul is certainly a 5-star apostle, but he’s not got a well oiled ministry-machine to direct. He asks for Timothy to bring him his cloak and parchments. I’m imagining these are his precious possessions, and as such, they’re pretty meager. Paul’s foregone the shelves lined with reference books and the leather chair of the pastor’s office. He’s had to. He’s been on the move. And now he’s in prison.
Paul mentions a few enemies here, or at least they’re disappointments. Demas deserted him because he loved the world. Alexander the metalworker did him a lot of harm. “The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You, too, should be on your guard against him because he strongly opposed our message.” No one supported him at his first trial, “but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them,” 14-16.
But God came through, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.” What’s more, Paul is confident that God will rescue him “from every evil attack,” until he’s safely home with him, 17-18
Paul’s got more support than mere people. He’s got the support of the God of the Angel Armies. Paul’s words echo Jesus’ words, asking God not to hold someone’s sins against them. Jesus prayed for God to forgive the ones who crucified him because “they know not what they do,” Luke 23:34.
Some enemies are simply stupid. But some are evil and have to be guarded against. God gives Paul discernment about people. And Paul passes it along. He warns Timothy about Alexander; he describes Demas’ reason for desertion; he forgives others who don’t show up to support. In all of it, he depends on God to repay and judge and to rescue until his time is up. When all others fail us, we can count on God to stand by and give us strength, a strength we can feel. This is how we “endure hardship” when others let us down.
During a sermon, Eric read the best-worst news about handling enemies I’ve ever heard. Here’s a portion of it. If you’ve got a real enemy or two, this is HARD to swallow. [You can’t say I didn’t warn you.]
BLESS MY ENEMIES, O LORD
“Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.
Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world…
“Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul…
“Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.
Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.
Bless. my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:
so that my fleeing to you may have no return;
so that all my hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;
so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul…
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven…
One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.
It is truly difficult to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.
Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and enemies…”
–Nicolai Velimirovich, a Serbian bishop,
who spoke out against Nazism until he was taken to Dachau.
I’m nailed. Hatred lurks in my heart for my enemy, God. I sure hate seeing it. I like putting blinds up and tossing throw pillows around it. But I wouldn’t have seen the hatred without my enemy. So thank you for using them to show me. Would you get to work on it? I think you’ll need a jackhammer. It’s hard as rock under those blinds.
And bless XX and bring them along, too. They’ve gotta deal with me, their enemy.
Psalm 96 reminds me that I can be glad, even when I have to deal with enemies:
“Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations,
ascribe to the lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns.’
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let he sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
they will sing before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his truth.”
Did you catch it?
Honestly, I didn’t, and I was bored by this psalm the first time I read it. I don’t know about you, but “yada, yada” is what I thought. Felt.
Sunday School summary:
This is a jubilant, praise-full psalm, one that tells us to sing songs of praise to God and to share with all nations his story of salvation, his glory, and his great deeds. He’s the only God. Other gods can do nothing, but God’s the true God, the one who made the galaxies and fixed the planets, including this one, “The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved.” Another big reason to rejoice.
But none of these reasons to praise really deals specifically with enemies. And to be honest, unless it does, I’m feeling gypped. If you’ve got one enemy–or several–they wear you out. And while I “know” praising is good for all weathers, when it comes to enemies, it’s hard to pray for them, much less praise…or ask for more of them, like ole’ Nikolai, God rest his beautiful soul.
How can I truly rejoice, when there are enemies about and problems arise?
I think I found how here: “he will judge the peoples with equity.” God is the one who judges, both now and one day, and he doesn’t let anybody get away with anything. God is big on justice. Besides the recoil effect of sin found throughout the Bible, particularly in the Psalms, he avenges wrongs. Our enemies are his enemies. This truth comforts me. Deut 32:4, 1 Sam 24:12.
And since he’s in the habit of making friends out of enemies, one day our enemies will likely be our friends, too. Now that will be mind-blowing, right? Something to sing about, something only he can do. Because he’d have to not only change them, he’d have to change me, too. I cannot imagine being glad to be friends with my enemy.
But God, do make me glad.
Now I’m on board with the praise in this psalm. A God who judges? Wrongs made right? Evil punished? Truth winning out? Hearts humming with love for everyone that pisses me off? Heck, yeah! That will be a glorious day for sure. So let the heavens and earth rejoice! Let the sea sing along with everything in it! Let the fields praise, as well as the forest!
Because the Judge will come to judge, and he will judge the world in righteousness and truth. Everything wrong really will be made right. Sam’s question to Gandalf will be answered a resounding, “Yes, Sam. All sad things have come untrue!”
My take away today is the deep peace I feel, believing God is Judge. Knowing God will judge–and judges now–means I don’t have to keep track of offenses, old and new. I can let the daily annoyances go of who is right? and who said what? They can roll right off. I can trust that God sees and he knows and he will make it all right in the end. And I can ask for and expect fair treatment because the Judge commands it for me, and for you and for our enemies, too: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” John 13:34.
I don’t have to be afraid of being wrong now either, because one day, I will be made right. Jesus’ goodness covers me. My righteousness is shabby, but Jesus’ is shiny, and he shares it with me. His righteousness will keep me from condemnation on that day. And it keeps me from the fear of being flawed now. What do I have to prove? Why do I need to blame others? Who do I report to? I have a judge, and he says I’m dear. And lovely. And beloved.
God is God.
His universe is stable.
He stands by and helps me in hardship
He will come to judge.
He will have all the facts; he’s got all the truth.
He’s good, and he will do good as he judges.
All of us who’ve hated him will thrill at the sight of him.
We will sing and worship.
We will be glad.
And we will be glad we love our enemies.
And the trees will sing?!
I can’t wait.