15 This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them.”
17 So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand and made all the nations to whom he sent me drink it: 18 Jerusalem and the towns of Judah, its kings and officials, to make them a ruin and an object of horror and scorn, a curse—as they are today; 19 Pharaoh king of Egypt, his attendants, his officials and all his people, 20 and all the foreign people there; all the kings of Uz; all the kings of the Philistines (those of Ashkelon, Gaza,Ekron, and the people left at Ashdod); 21 Edom, Moab and Ammon; 22 all the kings of Tyre and Sidon; the kings of the coastlands across the sea;23 Dedan, Tema, Buz and all who are in distant places; 24 all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the foreign people who live in the wilderness;25 all the kings of Zimri, Elam and Media; 26 and all the kings of the north, near and far, one after the other—all the kingdoms on the face of the earth. And after all of them, the king of Sheshak will drink it too.
27 “Then tell them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Drink, get drunk and vomit, and fall to rise no more because of the sword I will send among you.’ 28 But if they refuse to take the cup from your hand and drink, tell them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: You must drink it! 29 See, I am beginning to bring disaster on the city that bears my Name, and will you indeed go unpunished? You will not go unpunished, for I am calling down a sword on all who live on the earth, declares the Lord Almighty.’
(Jeremiah 25:15-29 NIV)
In yesterday’s passage, the Lord describes how He will judge Judah and Jerusalem by using the nation of Babylon in general and King Nebuchadnezzar in particular. When seventy years have passed, the Lord will then treat Babylon as Babylon treated Judah.
In today’s text, the Lord uses Jeremiah to hand out judgments upon the rest of the world as well. In verse 18, the Lord starts “at home” in Jerusalem and Judah. From there, the Lord goes on to describe all the other lands around the region.
In verse 26b, the Lord applies this judgment to “all the kingdoms on the face of the earth”. No one will be excluded.
In verse 26c, the Lord says that after all the other nations have been judged, the “king of Sheshak” will be judged as well. Apparently, this was an encrypted “code name” for Babylon. This encryption method was called an “Atbash”. The Atbash encryption method replaced the consonants in a word counted from the beginning of the alphabet with the letter counted from the end. For example, in English, the word “ace” would become “axe”, substituting the “c” (the third letter of the English alphabet) by “x” (the third letter from the end of the English alphabet).
The question is why either Jeremiah or the Lord used a code name for Babylon now after they had openly predicted the fall of Babylon just a few verses prior.
One theory historians offer is that the prior references to Babylon’s fall were more general and in the distant future, while this mention seemed very current and specific. As such, this threat could be seen as real, with Nebuchadnezzar’s life being at stake, and Jeremiah could be killed for writing this.
Another theory historians offer is that the Atbash encryption method was supposedly known only to the Babylonians, and was used to code secret messages, including references to Babylon (thus the internal reference to “Sheshak”).
Whether the encryption was used to protect Jeremiah or show the Lord knew how to decode the Babylonians’ messages, the Lord called out Babylon as being the last nation to receive His judgment.
Verse 29 is the key to this entire passage. The Lord is bringing judgment on the whole earth, starting with Jerusalem and Judah. If the Lord judges Judah, whom He loves, how much more will He judge those nations that are openly opposed to Him?
Peter understands and reiterates this principle in his letter to the saints:
For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
(1 Peter 4:17 NIV)
May we remember that God is still holy and righteous, and judges sin. As followers of Jesus, His blood on the cross covers our sins, so there is never an issue of His love for us or of our eternal standing with those who have made Him Savior and Lord. But there will still be consequences for unrepentant sin in our lives. And if God holds us, whom He loves, accountable, how much more will He hold those who do not love Him accountable for their lives?
Our primary calling is to be in constant connection with the Trinity. May we focus on our “being” with God and live out the details based on our relationship with Him.
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