27 Early in the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 This is what the Lord said to me: “Make a yoke out of straps and crossbars and put it on your neck. 3 Then send word to the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah.4 Give them a message for their masters and say, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Tell this to your masters: 5 With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. 6 Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. 7 All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him.
8 “‘“If, however, any nation or kingdom will not serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon or bow its neck under his yoke, I will punish that nation with the sword, famine and plague, declares the Lord, until I destroy it by his hand. 9 So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your interpreters of dreams, your mediums or your sorcerers who tell you, ‘You will not serve the king of Babylon.’ 10 They prophesy lies to you that will only serve to remove you far from your lands; I will banish you and you will perish. 11 But if any nation will bow its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will let that nation remain in its own land to till it and to live there, declares the Lord.”’”
(Jeremiah 27:1-11 NIV)
Chapter 26 recalled Jeremiah’s ministry during the reign of King Jehoiakim; Chapter 27 fast-forwards to Jeremiah’s ministry during the reign of King Zedekiah.
Chapter 27 contains three warnings: to the nations around Judah (vv. 1 – 11), to Zedekiah, king of Judah (vv. 12 – 15), and to the priests and the people of Judah (vv. 16 – 22). In today’s devotional, we will look at the historical setting as well as the first warning.
Verse 1 identifies the timeframe as “early in the reign” of Zedekiah, which, according to historians, would date this chapter around 594 BC. Babylon’s kingdom was massive, and Nebuchadnezzar was clearly in charge. Verse 1 also clearly says that Jeremiah received a word from the Lord. Hold on to that thought for a few days, as we will reference it again when we get to Chapter 28.
In verse 2, the Lord tells Jeremiah to deliver a message using an object lesson again. This time, the object of the object lesson is an oxen’s yoke, the wooden contraption that goes around the neck of an ox so the ox can pull a load. Leather straps hold the yoke in place, and allow the yoke to be easily fastened and unfastened from the oxen’s neck. The Lord tells Jeremiah to put this yoke on his neck as he delivers God’s message to the hearers.
In verse 3, the Lord identifies Jeremiah’s first audience: the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon. These were five of Judah’s neighboring vassal nation-states that were also under the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar. These five nation-states each sent an envoy (an official government representative from one country sent to talk to the government of another country) to Jerusalem to meet with Zedekiah.
And what was the intent of this gathering? The surface topic might be any number of non-threatening subjects (trade or economic agreements, agreements on international law and extradition of criminals, etc.). In reality, there was only one reason these meetings were taking place: how these nation-states could work together to regain their freedom from Babylon.
Jeremiah’s message from the Lord is straightforward and clear: be subject to Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Imagine being the envoy from one of these countries, in Jerusalem under questionable pretenses, and being confronted by a rogue Hebrew religious prophet that knows the real reason you are there, blows your cover and intent, and speaks directly against what you have been sent to accomplish.
At best, Jeremiah would be seen as a lunatic, to be ignored. More likely, Jeremiah would be considered a traitor to Judah and a sympathizer with Babylon, with no heart for freedom.
Notice that the Lord identifies Himself as “the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel” (v. 4). In verse 5, God declares His sovereignty over everyone and everything, from creation to that very point in time. Everything on the earth was at His command.
In verse 6, the Lord identifies Nebuchadnezzar as “my servant”, showing His control of even the king who would rule over the nations. In verse 7, the Lord identifies that there will also be an end to Nebuchadnezzar’s seeming dynasty. Again, the Lord controls the start, duration, and end of kings as well.
In verse 8, the Lord spells out what will happen to the nations that do not subjugate themselves to Nebuchadnezzar. They will perish by way of the sword, famine, and plague, and ultimately be exiled and destroyed.
Verses 9 – 10 are a stern warning for the kings of these countries not to listen to their “spirit guides” who will tell them not to put themselves under Babylon’s rule. Again, the result will be banishment from their land and ultimately death. Verse 10 reiterates God’s direction for them – serve Babylon and stay in your country, or fight and die in exile.
While today’s passage was written to an audience long ago, there are still many faith lessons we can apply to our day and times.
May we remember that God was Creator of all and is still ruler over all the earth, regardless of what political leader or system is ruling the country in which we live.
May we remember that we can trust the Lord with our lives. Our greatest test of faith and our highest calling is to follow the Lord unconditionally, keeping our eyes on Him and not trying to manipulate our circumstances.
May we step boldly into our calling, even if it involves doing very strange things just as Jeremiah did when he obeyed the Lord, put on the yoke and preached to the foreign ambassadors.
Who knows what the outcome will be? History has no record of these nations staging a rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon at this point (there would be other attempts year later). In a way, we could call today’s passage “The rebellion that never was.” Was this decision of the six-nation summit because of Jeremiah’s willingness to deliver God’s message? Only the Lord knows. Jeremiah was not held accountable for the outcome of their decisions – only his faithfulness to deliver the message from the Lord.
We may not be called to preach to ambassadors and high-ranking government officials, but our obedience to God’s Word and calling may save the life of a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker.
May we walk in such faith and obedience to His calling. Only the Lord knows what the outcome will be.