34 This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning Elam, early in the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah:
35 This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“See, I will break the bow of Elam,
the mainstay of their might.
36 I will bring against Elam the four winds
from the four quarters of heaven;
I will scatter them to the four winds,
and there will not be a nation
where Elam’s exiles do not go.
37 I will shatter Elam before their foes,
before those who want to kill them;
I will bring disaster on them,
even my fierce anger,”
declares the Lord.
“I will pursue them with the sword
until I have made an end of them.
38 I will set my throne in Elam
and destroy her king and officials,”
declares the Lord.
39 “Yet I will restore the fortunes of Elam
in days to come,”
declares the Lord.
(Jeremiah 49:34-39 NIV)
Today’s text is the last of the prophecies against the surrounding nations before we begin the prophecies against Babylon (chapters 50 – 51).
Today’s passage is about Elam, the small country located in modern-day Iran. Susa, its capital city, lay directly north of the top of the Persian Gulf. Elam’s borders extended around the eastern side of the Persian Gulf (see close-up map here; see larger regional map here).
The timing of this word from the Lord is very accurate – early in the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah (597 BC). This is important, as Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took over this area in 596 BC. Elam had existed as a country until 640 BC when Assyrian king Ashurbanipal took over the land.
Historically, Elam was known for its military might, specifically its archers (v. 35). The Lord promised to break Elam’s bow, signifying His conquering of its military power. As a sin of His conquest, the Lord promised to establish His presence there (v. 38). Incidentally, the capital city of Susa was often the winter home of Persian kings, but the Lord was laying claim to the land and the city now.
While the Lord did promise to destroy Elam, He also promised to one day restore its fortunes (v. 39).While Elam was not a direct threat to Israel or Judah, it was in the Lord’s radar and part of the larger story of kings and kingdoms in ancient Middle Eastern history.
So what is the significance of today’s passage? What faith lesson can we draw from this ancient text in our modern day life and culture?
One surprising connection is that the Elamites were mentioned in the group of people who heard the Good News at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2, specifically verse 9). Yes, the Lord had scattered the Elamites to the four winds (v. 36). But He also preserved their culture and language some 600-plus years until they could hear the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 2, specifically verse 8).
May we remember that God’s timeframe is not like ours. Just because an event does or does not happen in our lifetime does not mean God does not care or that he is not working.
May we remember that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the God of eternity and transcends space and time.
May we rejoice and worship with Mary when she learned that she would be the mother of Jesus the Christ-child:
46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
(Acts 2:46-55 NIV, emphasis on verse 50 mine)