Jeremiah prophesied during the final years of the kingdom of Judah. The nation was being led by increasingly corrupt kings and facing the threat of war and invasion from Babylon. Jeremiah was called, like Habakkuk, to both expose the insufficiency of the nation’s solutions and to reveal that God was the one responsible for the nation’s impending calamity. Like other prophets, Jeremiah would face strong resistance, so much so that God told Jeremiah he would be supernaturally empowered to resist strong opposition.
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:7–8)
And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:18–19)
Judah assumed that God agreed with her political objectives. She was unable to recognize that, though God remained committed to His promises to Israel, that commitment did not bind Him to the political success of Judah. The people assumed that God’s promises were inseparable from ultimate political success, and this ultimately resulted in a situation where the people were resisting what God was doing in the name of God. Tragically this even affected the nation’s prophets:
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:16)
In Jeremiah’s generation, God called the expectation of Judah’s political success “vain hopes.” The prophets Jeremiah referred to were unable to perceive that mystery of God’s work in the nations and their visions were “of their own minds.” God’s work is always for the ultimate benefit of His people, but there are times when He actually allows things to collapse in order to accomplish His purpose in the nations. However, if we cannot see clearly we can easily become subject to a delusion that keeps us from perceiving what God is doing.
Jeremiah’s preaching was rooted in a shocking idea – political success is not always God’s agenda for a nation – even a nation with a historical commitment to biblical values. There are seasons when God decides to discipline and humble a nation. Jeremiah’s word to Judah was ultimately about the need to recognize the season they were in as a nation. Isaiah had prophesied a similar message to Judah in a previous generation. In Isaiah’s day, God was a warning to the nation, but they were still in a season of protection of divine protection. However, in Jeremiah’s day, the nation was in a season of discipline.
Because of the way God chose to discipline the nation, the vast majority of the people refused to consider Jeremiah’s message. They refusal to consider that God would use Babylon to accomplish His purpose blinded them to what God was doing. This is always one of the great challenges when God disciplines a nation. The way He chooses to discipline it is very different from what we would expect and therefore it is very easy for us to dismiss it or reject it entirely as God’s activity.
Jeremiah expressed his message to the nation through two clear predications. The first was that God was not committed to the political success of a nation when she was in compromise, though He still dearly loved the nation. The second was that God uses wicked nations to accomplish His discipline and to humble other seemingly “more righteous” nations. Both of these messages are shocking, and if they applied to the covenant people of God how much more do they apply to other nations?
The story of Israel is recorded in the Bible for our benefit. While God’s covenant with Israel is completely unique, Israel also serves as an example to the nations of how God interacts with the nations. Because He did not make covenant with the other nations of the earth He does not relate to the nations with the intensity that He relates to Israel. However, His activity related to Israel is a result of who He is and therefore His activity with Israel is intended to teach us how He will relate to other nations. We can apply the lessons of God’s activity with Israel using the principle of “like kind, but lesser measure.” In other words, what God does with Israel He often does with other nations in a similar manner and a lesser measure.
We often assume that God is not as politically involved in the nations as He was in biblical times, when the Bible never makes any kind of statement to that effect. In fact, it says exactly the opposite.
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, (Acts 17:24–27)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
Our difficulty in believing that God remains intricately involved in the earth must also be recognized as a struggle to understand how God works in the earth. This has always been an issue for the people of God, and this is precisely why the prophets were persecuted. It is easy for us to look at ancient history through the lens of Scripture and recognize the voice of God in the prophets and the divine work of God in the movement of the nations. It is far harder to have that same confidence that God works in nations in similar ways in our generation.
The ancient Israelites were frequently confounded by God’s work and we are no different. Ancient Israel did not resist God so frequently just because she was more stubborn than other people; she resisted God because she rejected the way in which God used wicked nations as instruments of discipline. We sometimes assume that people in biblical times lived in a different world in unusual situations. We assume that ancient Israel was more stubborn or blind than we are, but the reality is that they faced the same kinds of pressures and challenges we do, and this is precisely why their stories were recorded for our benefit.
This is more central to the gospel than we realize. We often assume that God is not as politically involved in the nations as He was in biblical times. However, again, there is no Bible verse to indicate that. Paul and Peter both instruct the church, even while under the leadership of a pagan empire, to submit to their rulers because of God’s sovereignty over the political rulers of the nations.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God…For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1, 6–7)
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good…Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-14, 17)
Paul and Peter are simply affirming what the Scripture has always said – the Scripture tells us that God raises up kings and tears them down.
He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; (Daniel 2:21)
The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.’ (Daniel 4:17)
but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. (Psalm 75:7)
“It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. (Jeremiah 27:5)
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, (Acts 17:26)
Because of the modern democratic processes we use to govern elections, we tend to think that “we the people” are the ones who select our leaders, but if we are to be biblically faithful then we must recognize that modern processes still do not overrule Scripture. Ancient nations used human processes that were different, but still were political process and God claimed sovereignty over those processes. What we must recognize is that God did not abdicate His sovereignty in the development of modern democratic processes.
Isaiah prophesied this work of God among the nations in a generation were God was protecting Judah. Jeremiah prophesied that same work in a generation where God was no longer protecting Judah. In each case the prophets predicted that nations ultimate problem was not domestic or foreign kings – it was God. Both prophets illustrate the importance of understanding what season our nation is in. There are seasons when God is actively preserving a nation for His purposes. There are also seasons when it is God’s will to humble a nation for His purposes. To be truly biblical, we must embrace both seasons and respond properly to whatever season we find ourselves in.
Ultimately, this means we must embrace humility first rather than pride. Pride assumes that God is always seeking to elevate a people or a nation. Humility assumes that God wants a people to be humble and primarily seek to be a benefit to others. The question of whether we are primarily characterized by humility or pride is one of the primary ways we can discern the season in our nation. Pride is intrinsic to the human condition and there is a sense of healthy enjoyment in our heritage, ethnicity, and nationality. However, there are also seasons when a nation gives itself to excessive pride and when a nation embraces pride as the solution we should expect God to react to that pride with seasons of discipline. This is because of one simple reason – God resists the proud.
Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor. (Proverbs 3:34)
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
When we think of our national politics and the messages that motivate our nation, do we truly comprehend what it means that God “resists the proud?” It means that when a nation embraces pride, we should expect things to happen that lower the stature of that nation. We should expect our weakness to be exposed. We should expect problems to emerge which the nation cannot solve and situations to develop that the nation cannot deliver itself. God is committed to exposing our pride – not just individually but also as a people.
We tend to recognize that God brought down Soviet communism with its atheistic pride, but communism is not the only thing that Lord is committed to humbling. He will humble all forms of pride, even pride that is energized and accompanied by Christian rhetoric.
God gives grace, or favor, to the humble. As long as we are proud we should expect God’s opposition, which often comes in the form of bad leaders and vulnerability to foreign aggressors. When trouble comes we should be willing to consider that it is ultimately from the hands of the Lord for the purposes of humbling the nation. This does not mean that we must also embrace political pacifism, but it does mean we are called to carry ourselves in humility in seasons of distress. When a nation resists humility, God will resist the nation.
This is the ultimate message of Daniel 12:7. In Daniel 12, Daniel is given a prophecy both of great trouble and of ultimate deliverance for his people. Daniel, staggered by the predictions of coming trouble, asks the angel when it will come to an end and the angel gives a simple reply:
…when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be finished. (Daniel 12:7)
Daniel was given a prophecy of eventual salvation, so the point of verse 7 is not that God desires to shatter his people and destroy them. However, he will shatter, or break, the “power” of the people. Their power is their strength, their pride, and their confidence. To Daniel the phrase “holy people” was understood as a reference to his people, so he was essentially told that the power of his people must be shattered, broken, and humbled for them to come into their salvation.
This message for Daniel is not just a message for his people; it is a message for all people. God remains committed to breaking the power of the nations, which is ultimately their trust and confidence in themselves. In one word – it is their pride. It is critical that we learn this principle in order to be able to understand and cooperate with what God is doing in our generation.