Jeremiah 51

This next to last chapter of Jeremiah describes more of Babylon’s fall. Though its sins are many, God says it’s because of its brutality to his people that Babylon will be destroyed. “Before your eyes I will repay Babylon and all who live in Babylonia for all the wrong they have done in Zion…Babylon must fall because of Israel’s slain, just as the slain in all the earth have fallen because of Babylon,” 24, 49.

God’s people complain that they’ve been eaten and thrown up. Whether it’s meant literally or figuratively, it’s a grisly description. At the least, violence of some sort has been done against them, and their blood has been spilled, “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has devoured us, he has thrown us into confusion…Like a serpent he has swallowed us and filled his stomach with our delicacies, and then has spewed us out. May the violence done to our flesh be upon Babylon…May our blood be on those who live in Babylonia,’ says Jerusalem,” 34-35.

God says in the very next verse that he will defend and avenge his people, and it’s here that he tips his hand as to how he will do it, “‘See, I will defend your cause and avenge you; I will dry up her sea and make her springs dry.'” It’s a little hint, one easy to skim over, but in hindsight it jumps out–God will dry up her sea and springs.

I’m wondering where exactly Babylon was in terms of water, so I googled. There is no sea nearby, but the Euphrates River flowed right through the heart of town. Surely this is its “sea” and the source of its springs. But how would the Persians dry up the Euphrates?

In reading about the river, I also read about the wall of Babylon, listed by Antipater of Sidon as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was ten miles long, 25 feet thick, and 190 feet high, and that’s by conservative estimate (http://ancientmesopotamia.org/structures/). Where it crossed the Euphrates River, it was fortified with iron bars that reached down and towered as high as the wall. It’s gates in and out of the city were also well fortified. This was not a wall easily breached.

Cyrus II Oversees the Euphrates Diversion, wool and silk tapestry
Michael Coxcie, c 1660, Flanders

So Cyrus didn’t try. On the north side of town he had his men digging trenches that diverted the Euphrates river. One account I read said they lowered the river enough to walk right under the bars across it and right into the city (ancientmesopotamia,org); another said they got through the Enlil Gate and then crossed the lowered river (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_Babylon). Either way, the river was dealt with so that the Persians got in and took over by surprise.

The Babylonians would have been proud of their fortified wall, proud of their city of spirituality, proud that people of all nations came to see it. But God said, “I will punish Bel in Babylon and make him spew out what he has swallowed. The nations will no longer stream to him. And the wall of Babylon will fall,” 44.

All accounts say that it was on the night of a national festival, when even the guards celebrated, that the wall “fell,” at least metaphorically, and let Persia through. This too was foretold by Jeremiah 51, “‘Her people all roar like young lions, they growl like lion cubs. But while they are aroused, I will set out a feast for them and make them drunk, so that they shout with laughter–then sleep forever and not awake….I will bring them down like lambs to the laughter, like rams and goats,” 38-40.

I’m wondering if Babylon’s rulers (there were two at this time) ever read Jeremiah’s account, and if they did, if they read right past God’s clues. Until this morning, I haven’t read this chapter with much beyond boredom, just to get through it. But if I ruled a kingdom and wanted to stay in power, I wonder if I’d listen to any account that came to me predicting my overthrow, particularly when the God of such accounts had the reputation that Israel’s had, particularly when I held his people hostage.

According to the Bible and cuneiform evidence that supports it, one of the rulers of Babylon at this time was Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s descendant, the same Belshazzar of Daniel 5 (wikipedia.org). It was he who drank from the golden goblets of God’s temple with his friends this same festival night and praised the idol-gods of silver and gold, wood and stone, but didn’t honor the true God, “who holds in his hand your life and all your ways,” 5:23. That was the night the hand wrote on the wall, and Belshazzar learned that his kingdom would be given to the Medes and Persians. He was drunk and dead by morning, just as Jeremiah predicted.

I’m not all that interested in learning about the details of how it all went down for Babylon. But I am intrigued by God’s word and how it’s proven true over time. What I’m mostly looking for as I read his words are clues of who God is and what he’s like. I’m on the lookout for his love, because it’s his love that woos me and warms me and moves me to worship.

So what do I learn about God from this?

I learn that he’s a brilliant avenger who brings his agents into an unsuspecting fortress and takes it over in one night with little resistance.

I learn that he gives everyone who cares to read it the playbook through Jeremiah on how he will do it, in advance.

I learn that he will stop at nothing to protect his suffering people. He hears their cries, and he comes to their rescue–even when their suffering is their own fault, even when they’re held in a place that’s impregnable. Nothing and no one stops the Lion of Judah or keeps him from rescuing those he loves, even when they sin against him, “For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the Lord Almighty, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel,” 5.

A portion of Babylon’s excavated Ishtar Gate,
housed in Berlin

And if God did that for them, and if he’s the same God he’s always been, then he will do this for me and for you, too, because we’re his people who he loves. God’s already done this for us when Jesus came and died and was raised. Jesus defeated the bad guys–sin and death and Satan–and brought in a whole new system of connecting with God by faith in him.

Girl-that-I-am, I love it that in Revelation, Jesus rides a white horse. The knight in shining armor on the white horse who comes to rescue us isn’t a fairy tale. It’s fact, Rev 6:2, 19:11.

But Jesus’s life and death isn’t our only rescue. God rides in and rescues us countless times throughout our lives. That encouraging word you needed last week and got from a friend? The money that showed up just in the nick of time before the power was turned off? The inkling that came during an argument so that you were able to use-and-not-lose self control? The wafts of breeze on your face that felt like fingers that caressed when you were on your last nerve?

These are all God’s every day rescues. He is for us. He is with us. He promises never to leave or forsake us. Are we believing him? Are we finding him? He said, “You will find me when you seek me with all your heart,” Jer 29:13.

Worship is the way.

This is why the first commandment is, “Have no other gods before me.” It’s why Jesus said the greatest commandments is, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Worshipping God is the key to everything else. It’s why idolatry is not only offensive to God, it’s detrimental to us. It takes us right off the path of life with God, and puts us right on the path without him, the path of emptiness and death. Ex 20:3, Mark 12:30.

I’ve learned from Jeremiah that God didn’t delight in the judgment he brings enemy nations, like Moab. He may “trample out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,” but he does it with a heavy heart and tears, 48:31-32.

And like God, his people don’t delight in Babylon’s judgment, “Babylon will suddenly fall and be broken. Wail over her! Get balm for her pain; perhaps she can be healed. We would have healed Babylon, but she cannot be healed; let us leave her and each go to his own land, for her judgment reaches to the skies, it rises as high as the clouds…The Lord has vindicated us; come, let us tell in Zion what the Lord our God has done,'” 8-10

In the end, Babylon was lost. God’s pronouncement over her is hard to miss. She is forever lost with no chance to rise. In what seems to me to be a rare peek at another side of God’s emotion in judgment, he says at the end of Jeremiah 51, “…heaven and earth and all that is in them will shout with joy over Babylon, for out of the north destroyers will attack her,” 48.

When wickedness and wrongdoing is thoroughly abhorrent without hope of restoration, there is joy in its defeat. While God holds out the invitation to himself as long as possible to all people, one day the offer is taken off the table, “I am against you, O destroying mountain, you who destroy the whole earth…I will stretch out my hand against you, roll you off the cliffs, and make you a burned-out mountain. No rock will be taken from you for a cornerstone, nor any stone for a foundation, for you will be desolate forever.’ declares the Lord,” 25-26.

What God MOST wants is relationship with every single person he’s created. It’s because every single person doesn’t respond to his invitation that he brings judgment, but it’s judgment designed to bring them up short, the way a bridle checks a horse. His desire is that they turn around and head home to him.

Love is God’s part.

Love is our response.

Love is what makes the world go ’round. 💞

Titus 2

Paul tells Titus to teach what’s in line with sound doctrine, and he emphasizes self-control as his overall theme. Four times in 15 verses, he repeats the words “self-controlled,” and he implies it in two other paragraphs about older women and slaves.

“Teach the older men to be…self controlled…Likewise teach the older women…Similarly, encourage the young men to be self controlled.” Older women are given the charge “to teach what is good” to younger women, the first lesson of which is to love their husbands and children, and the very next one is to be self-controlled. Slaves are taught behaviors with their masters that require self-control, too, 1-9.

And then he says we’re all taught by the “grace of God” to live self-controlled lives, 11-12.

Paul writes, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all mankind. It teaches us to say, ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age while we wait for…Jesus, who gave himself to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good,” 11-14.

Self-control is high on Paul’s list of things to teach. I wonder why. So I checked back through the chapter and this is what I found:

Self-control honors God’s words so that others can’t find fault in them, 5.

Self-control shuts up The Peanut Gallery, who can’t find anything in us to complain about either, 8.

Self control makes the church’s message about Jesus attractive, so others will be drawn to him and not get distracted by us, 10.

Bottom line: self control matters because we’re redeemed and purified, God’s “very own [people], eager to do what is good,” 14. It’s one of our marks.

So how do we get self-controlled?

I remember elsewhere Paul’s said that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and I feel myself relax. Up to now, I’ve been writing with my stomach in knots about Titus 2, because, really, who am I to tell anyone about self-control?

But whew. Right here in Galatians 5:23, Paul says self-control is like love, joy, peace, and patience, and all the rest: it’s evidence of God’s Spirit in us. Not our own work. It’s fruit that the Holy Spirit produces. The best I can do is tie plastic fruit on my bare branches. But when the Spirit connects me to the Vine, his fruit pops out all over.

I see that self-control is the last fruit in the list in Galatians. I wonder if it’s because it sums up all the others? Paul writes the Spirit’s Fruit List after he’s given us another list, the one of the Flesh.

After he tells us about the flesh-life, Paul opens the window and lets in the fresh air of the Spirit-life. It washes away the whiff of the pit he’s just given us. I’m reminded of a certain patch of my garden by the sewer vent that smells on a rainy day. I’m grateful that Paul ends this chapter of Galatians with the smell of springtime and flowers, not you-know-what.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Against such things there is no law,” Gal 5:22-23.

If I’m feeling defeated when I read this list, I’m seeing it as a to-do list for myself.

If I’m feeling grateful, it’s because I’m finding joy believing that God will work these things in me.

Big difference.

So what did Titus teach the older men, older women, younger men and women? I think when it came to self-control, he taught them the same way he taught them to love: to go to the source, to wallow in the fountain, to drink from the river, to worship the King. If self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, the best way I know how to get more is to ask for more–while I’m soaking up the Source.

Paul says in the next verse in the Galatians passage that if we belong to Jesus, we’ve already “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” The flesh isn’t the truest thing about us. The Spirit is. So “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit,” 24-25.

I don’t know exactly what keeping “in step with the Spirit” means, but I’m guessing it means I’m to follow where he leads and to do what he does: to hang out with the Father and the Son–a lot.

All roads lead to worship.

Psalm 99

“The Lord reigns.”

These three words give me peace.
It’s not my schedule or my son
or my sins that reign.
It’s not the calls I need to return
or Covid-19 or my cronies at the gym
or the crowds for Trump or Biden.

I could fill up the page
with all the causes and concerns
that do not reign because “The Lord reigns.”

Thank you, God.
Because you reign, I don’t have to be afraid.
I can trust. I can rest.
I can live and work in your kingdom,
knowing you are large-and-in-charge,
with cherubim at your feet
and angel armies at your fingertips.

Besides these three heart-calibrating,
life-orienting words
(I’m amazed by the power of your words,
by the way),
I also read that because you reign…

the nations should tremble,
the earth should shake,
and your people should praise you, 1-3.

You are holy.

You are mighty.
You love justice.
You establish fairness.
You do what is just and right for your people, 4.

Our response should be to praise
and worship at your feet, 5.

You are holy.

[It feels like you keep putting your holiness
in front of my face to look at,
so let me look at it a bit.]


To be holy means perfect, without sin,
blameless, faultless, pure.
It also means you can’t/won’t/don’t
connect with us
because we aren’t any of those things.
I’m sure not.

“Sinner” sums us up nicely.

And yet…

You allowed your people to call on your name,
You answered them,
You gave them your words,
You punished their misdeeds, 6-8.

Even though you are holy
[I hear you],
you’ve heard our cries and you’ve answered us.
Prayer is no doubt
one of the best tech’d parts of faith.

When I think about the miracle of prayer,
how you not only hear our words,
you hear our thoughts and our groans.
You even put words to our moans, well,
I think the IPhone can’t compare.
FaceTime falls flat on its face.

And the other best tech’d part of faith,
the Bible, your words, well,
I’m undone by the miracle of them, too.

The God of the Universe
has words for me in a book
on my lap,
on the shelf,
on my Android?

And they work in me and work me over,
bring me joy, break my heart, lift me up,
show me what you’re like?
There’s no device I know of
in any legend or tale that compares.
Anywhere.

But you’ve got me intrigued.
You are holy.
You say it three times in this psalm.
You rub my nose in it,
to tell you the truth.

So let me ask you:
How can you, Holy God,
allow me to speak to you
and hear back from you?
How is that I get to use your Prayer Portal
and your Playbook?

Doesn’t your holiness keep us apart?

I look back at my Playbook.
There it is in verse 8:
“You forgave.”

The technology I need to connect with you
is mine simply because
I needed it
and you gave it,
loving and bleeding and rising,
just so you could forgive me,
open up the Holy of Holies,
and let me hang out.

Oh man, now
my heart is moved to praise,
to worship at your holy mountain,
for the Lord, my God, is holy!
And he welcomes me!
Glory!

My take away today is worship.

In Jeremiah, I saw God’s judgment swarm into Babylon, crawl out of the mud like crawdads, take Babylon’s kings out and set up shop without firing so much as a shot. God came, just as he said he would, sneaking through canals and up streams, rescuing his people and sending them home by Cyrus because he loved them.

I think of the white horse Jesus will ride, triumphing over evil and death, bringing us all in, finally and forever truly home and at rest. My heart is moved.

I learned that the way I grow in faith is by hanging out with him, letting the Spirit’s fruit pop. It’s not on me to produce it. My heart squeezes again.

The psalmist reminds me of my faith-tech-duet, prayer and God’s words, and how forgiveness gives me an open line, 24/7, to my Holy God, who reigns. And because he reigns, fear melts.

I’m overwhelmed with you, God. So much goodness on an otherwise ordinary day. My heart can’t expand deep and wide and high enough to contain all of the praises you deserve, but it throbs at the thought of you.

Praise, the Lord, O my heart and soul.

For a post that says more about God’s love, read “The Comeback” at http://onetruelove.blog.

One thought on “October 27

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