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Jerusalem became a vassal to Babylon from 605 B.C. on, after Babylon defeated Egypt at the Battle of Carchemish. Jerusalem revolted and was defeated in 597, when most of the royal family, along with the nobility, the wealthy, and the skilled craftsmen were transported to Egypt, leaving behind Zedekiah as caretaker monarch. Zedekiah was an uncle of the young King Jehoiachin, who was taken into exile. Despite God’s strong warnings through Jeremiah that Israel should not rebel again against the Babylonians, the Jerusalem authorities preferred to listen to the false prophets. When Judah rebelled, Babylon’s retaliation was implacable. Nebuchadnezzar’s troops destroyed Judah and besieged Jerusalem, which was finally destroyed in 587.
The prophecy of Jeremiah 21 takes place under Zedekiah, when the Babylonian troops are gathering for the final siege, probably 589 or 588. The Pashhur whom Zedekiah sends to consult Jeremiah is not the Pashhur introduced in Jer. 20:1. Massive destruction threatens, just as Jeremiah has been predicting for more than three decades. Desperate, Zedekiah consults with anyone he can, including Jeremiah, hungry for the slenderest thread of hope. Will the Lord perhaps do great miracles again, as he did in the past—at the time of the Exodus, for instance, or when the Assyrians were turned back during the reign of Hezekiah—and spare Jerusalem? God’s answer through Jeremiah is in three parts:
First, far from sparing the city, God is determined to destroy it (Jer. 21:3–7). He will fight on the side of the Babylonians. “I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in anger and fury and great wrath” (Jer. 21:5). Zedekiah and his entourage will not be spared.
Second, it follows that the only wise course is to surrender. Under the well-understood terms of siege warfare, the city that defended itself against a siege could expect no mercy. Those who surrendered might be enslaved or otherwise sent into exile, but at least their lives would be spared. These are the two ways that God sets forth (Jer. 21:8–10): the way of life and the way of death. This choice is not exactly like other “two ways” choices in Scripture (e.g., Deut. 30:15, 19; Matt. 7:13–14), but it is like them in distinguishing between obedience and disobedience and their respective consequences.
Third, like so many of God’s promises of judgment, there is a way out—provided there is an immediate return to the social justice and personal righteousness at the heart of the Mosaic covenant (Jer. 21:11–14). Without swift reformation, however, the little nation is doomed. And tragically, of reformation there is none—not the last time when somber warnings go unheeded.
In many ways, Gideon was a great man. Cautious when the Lord first called him, he took the first steps of obedience at night (Judg. 6). Then, filled with the Spirit of God (Judg. 6:34), and convinced by two extraordinary signs that God was with him (Judg. 6:36-40), he led his divinely reduced band of three hundred men in an extraordinary victory over the Midianites (Judg. 7).
Yet for all his greatness, Gideon represents something of what is going wrong with the nation. Deep flaws of character and inconsistency multiply and fester, so that by the end of the book the entire nation is in a very bad way.
In the first incident of Judges 8, Gideon comes off well, the Ephraimites pretty badly. No one was willing to fight the Midianites before God raised up Gideon. Now that victory under Gideon has already been so stunning, the Ephraimites abuse him for not inviting them into the fray earlier. He responds diplomatically, praising their efforts in the latter part of the operation, and they are appeased (Judg. 8: 1-3). At the towns of Succoth and Peniel, neither the towns nor Gideon appear in a very good light (Judg. 8:4-9, 13-17). The townspeople are cowardly, unprincipled, and willing to sit on the fence until they see which way the winds are blowing.
For all the justice of Gideon’s response, however, he seems more than a little vindictive. When it comes to the execution of the Midianite kings Zebah and Zalmunna (Judg. 8:18-21), his decision is based less on principles of public justice or on the Lord’s commands regarding the cleansing of the land than on personal vengeance: his own brothers had been killed in the war.
On the one hand, Gideon does not seem to be power hungry. He turns down the popular acclamation that would have made him king on the grounds that the Lord alone is to rule over this covenant nation (Judg. 8:22-23). But then he stumbles badly. He makes his request for gold earrings, and ends up with such a hoard that he constructs an elaborate ephod, an outer vestment adorned with more than forty pounds of gold. The state of religion in Israel is so deplorable that soon this ephod has become an idolatrous object of worship, not only for the nation but even for Gideon’s family (Judg. 8:27). The covenantal allegiance he maintains in the nation is partial.
There is worse trouble brewing. He takes not two or three wives, but many and has seventy sons. Upon his death, the nation returns to unrestrained paganism and displays ugly ingratitude toward Gideon’s family (Judg. 8:33-35). And one of his sons, Abimelech, turns out to be a cruel, power-hungry butcher (Judg. 9).
8:1 Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely. 2 And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger1 against him subsided when he said this.
4 And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing. 5 So he said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” 6 And the officials of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” 7 So Gideon said, “Well then, when the LORD has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will flail your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.” 8 And from there he went up to Penuel, and spoke to them in the same way, and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered. 9 And he said to the men of Penuel, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.”
10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about 15,000 men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East, for there had fallen 120,000 men who drew the sword. 11 And Gideon went up by the way of the tent dwellers east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the army, for the army felt secure. 12 And Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and he threw all the army into a panic.
13 Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres. 14 And he captured a young man of Succoth and questioned him. And he wrote down for him the officials and elders of Succoth, seventy-seven men. 15 And he came to the men of Succoth and said, “Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me, saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are exhausted?’” 16 And he took the elders of the city, and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them taught the men of Succoth a lesson. 17 And he broke down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.
18 Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “Where are the men whom you killed at Tabor?” They answered, “As you are, so were they. Every one of them resembled the son of a king.” 19 And he said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the LORD lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you.” 20 So he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise and kill them!” But the young man did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a young man. 21 Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself and fall upon us, for as the man is, so is his strength.” And Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.
22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” 23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.” 24 And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. 26 And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels2 of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. 27 And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family. 28 So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.
29 Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. 30 Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring,3 for he had many wives. 31 And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech. 32 And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
33 As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. 34 And the people of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, 35 and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel.
12:1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter's voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.”1 Then he departed and went to another place.
18 Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.
20 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain,2 they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king's country for food. 21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from3 Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.
21:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchiah and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying, 2 “Inquire of the LORD for us, for Nebuchadnezzar1 king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us.”
3 Then Jeremiah said to them: “Thus you shall say to Zedekiah, 4 ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands and with which you are fighting against the king of Babylon and against the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside the walls. And I will bring them together into the midst of this city. 5 I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath. 6 And I will strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast. They shall die of a great pestilence. 7 Afterward, declares the LORD, I will give Zedekiah king of Judah and his servants and the people in this city who survive the pestilence, sword, and famine into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of their enemies, into the hand of those who seek their lives. He shall strike them down with the edge of the sword. He shall not pity them or spare them or have compassion.’
8 “And to this people you shall say: ‘Thus says the LORD: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. 9 He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have his life as a prize of war. 10 For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the LORD: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.’
11 “And to the house of the king of Judah say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, 12 O house of David! Thus says the LORD:
“‘Execute justice in the morning,
and deliver from the hand of the oppressor
him who has been robbed,
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
and burn with none to quench it,
because of your evil deeds.’”
13 “Behold, I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley,
O rock of the plain,
declares the LORD;
you who say, ‘Who shall come down against us,
or who shall enter our habitations?’
14 I will punish you according to the fruit of your deeds,
declares the LORD;
I will kindle a fire in her forest,
and it shall devour all that is around her.”
7:1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly,1 holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.2 And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.3) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)4—12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”5 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”6 (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon.7 And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 And Jesus8 charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”