My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace. — Jeremiah 50:6
Sheep have some interesting habits related to rest. Christian author Phillip Keller, who wrote a classic book about Christ as the Good Shepherd, says, “The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very make-up it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met . . . To be at rest there must be a definite sense of freedom from fear, tension, aggravations, and hunger.”(1) When sheep refuse to lie down because of the conditions around them, it is the shepherd who remedies the conditions, thus providing a resting place.
The lost sheep of Judah had allowed themselves to be led away from their resting place in the Lord by false shepherds — the unrighteous leaders of Israel and Judah, who had taken the people into rebellion and idolatry. While there are several Hebrew words translated into English as rest, the word translated restingplace in our focus verse is one which is almost exclusively used to describe the activity of sheep. It literally means “a place of lying down or repose.” The people of Israel and Judah had forgotten the true source of rest, protection, and direction, and had turned to substitutes which could not provide what they needed. As a result, they had no place of repose or security — they were spiritually lost and in desperate straits.
Today, God invites each one of us to make Him our resting place. He offers peace in a world torn by strife and turmoil. He promises that He will order our steps, uphold us with everlasting arms, and stay by our side. He will protect us from evil, shield us from danger, and fight our battles. As our Shepherd, the Lord will restore our souls, bind up our wounds, and renew our strength. What rest for our souls is found in the precious assurances He gives us!
Let us learn a lesson from the tragic mistake of Israel and Judah, and purpose to stay close to our Shepherd!
In this chapter and the next, Jeremiah imparted a long oracle predicting the devastation of Babylon and the land of the Chaldeans. Although Babylon had fulfilled God’s purpose in punishing Judah, God had slated it for total destruction because of its wickedness and idolatry. Some commentators suggest that the prophecies in this chapter are not listed in sequential order and were written at different times, with the first oracle being written around the fourth year of King Zedekiah’s reign. One noteworthy characteristic of this chapter is that nearly all passages of doom concerning Babylon are followed by heartening words for the Jewish captives.
In verse 2, Bel meant “lord” and Merodach was the Hebrew spelling of “Marduk,” the sun-god and chief god of the Babylonians. Jeremiah stated that all the pagan idols of the Chaldeans would be broken in pieces and defeated. Verse 3 notes that Babylon’s vanquisher would come out of the north, a reference to the allied armies of the Medes and Persians who would ultimately conquer Babylon.
In verses 4-10, Jeremiah declared that at the time of Babylon’s destruction, captives from Israel and Judah would seek the Lord, desiring to renew their broken covenant with Him. Jeremiah compared the exiled Hebrews to sheep without a shepherd, and said that their leaders (shepherds) had led them astray. Jeremiah also accused Judah’s destroyers of justifying their actions because Judah had sinned against the Lord. He admonished the Jewish captives to be as male goats leading the flock and flee Babylon before the great nations from the north plundered and destroyed it.
Because the people of Babylon had gloated in their victory over Judah (verses 11-14), God said they would become least among the nations and their land would become a parched desert, completely uninhabitable. The surrounding nations would look in astonishment at how the affluent Babylon had suddenly ceased to exist. God summoned the armies from the north to attack Babylon and destroy it just as Babylon had devastated Judah (verses 14-16). Often conquering nations would spare the agriculturists, but in this case they would also be targeted and flee for fear.
In verses 17-20, God promised the Jews that He would destroy Babylon just as He had previously destroyed Assyria. Although the Jews had been as scattered sheep, God said He would bring them back to their native land. God also stated that He would pardon the sins of the remnant of Jews who would return to the land.
In verses 21-27, God directed the northern enemies of Babylon to attack. Merathaim meant “double rebellion” and may have been a symbolic name for Babylon, alluding that it was more rebellious than other nations. Although Pekod was probably a literal place in Babylon, many Bible scholars believe this word allegorically referred to “punishment” or “visitation,” denoting that the time of Babylon’s deserved punishment had come. King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army had been like a powerful destructive “hammer” assailing the whole earth, but they would now become as desolation among the nations. Verse 24 indicates that the attack on Babylon would catch them unaware.
In verse 28, Jeremiah said that those who escaped from Babylon would declare in Jerusalem (Zion) that God had avenged Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the Temple. The word translated proud in verse 31 was the Hebrew word zadown and meant “insolent, presumptuous, and arrogant.” God said Babylon’s incessant pride would cause its ultimate destruction. God reminded the Jewish exiles that although both Israel and Judah had been held captive by their enemies, their Redeemer would prevail and give the Jews rest in their own land (verse 34).
Jeremiah declared that the sword would fall upon all the inhabitants of Babylon, regardless of their class. The “liars” in verse 36 probably alluded to the astrologers or diviners, and “mingled people” could have been a reference to the foreign troops or inhabitants. The land would also suffer a severe drought and would no longer be inhabitable, and only wild beasts would dwell there.
Jeremiah concluded the chapter with a detailed description of the viciousness of the impending attack against Babylon, and stated that for fear of the attackers, the king would become feeble and offer no resistance. God declared His intention to destroy the Chaldeans, and signified that nothing could thwart His plans. When Babylon’s destruction came, the whole world would know that God was in control.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
III. The pronouncement of judgment against the nations
I. Against Babylon
1. The description of Babylon’s fall (50:1-16)
2. The notice of Israel’s restoration (50:17-20)
3. The description of Babylon’s desolation (50:21-32)
4. The promise of Israel’s redemption (50:33-40)
5. The destruction from the north (50:41-46)
Let us not forget that we are called and privileged to live within the arms of God’s rest.
1. W. Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Zondervan, January 1997.