Under God's Yoke

Jeremiah 27:1-22 explains Babylon's yoke and God’s sovereignty over all nations.

We’re living in some pretty crazy times and part of the reason for the craziness is that everyone has an opinion and is able to express their opinion in influential ways like never before.

Some say more government is the solution, others say less. CNN says one thing and Fox News says another. Our Facebook friends say Trump is the greatest, but our closest relatives take an entirely different position. Everybody has an opinion. And, even though I have an opinion, too, I’m not here to share it with you. Sometimes I do, but I try to be clear when that happens because what God has to say is immeasurably more important.

So far we’ve heard from Jeremiah that God cares about justice for the oppressed and needy. We’ve heard that God also cares about his people obeying Him. He wants his people to reject all forms of idolatry and to trust in Him alone for peace and safety. And we’ve heard that God wants his people to repent when they go astray and that if they don’t, they should expect discipline.

These words of God have never been more relevant to us than they are right now because many of us feel like the Israelites did. We feel oppressed politically and socially. We feel like our government is actively working against us. We feel like there is “a truth out there” being suppressed and if only all the “lies” would be exposed then maybe, just maybe, we just might avoid a national disaster and survive to see another generation.

The nation of Israel was in a similar situation, although it was worse for them as they literally headed off to live in a foreign land. God had a message for them as they went into exile, and had they listened perhaps things would have turned out differently. See, God’s word isn’t fake news. It’s not just another opinion. It’s not a version of the truth, it’s The Truth, with a capital “T.”

A Message to the Ambassadors

It’s a little ironic that God’s word to us begins with a mistake—not a mistake made by God, but a human error made by a scribe. In the KJV and some other translations, chapter 27:1 says “in the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim” even though in the context of the chapter it’s pretty obvious that King Zedekiah is being referred to, not Jehoiakim.

Maybe this scribal error is in the Bible to remind us to pay attention. In any event, what follows is “the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord.”

In verse two, Jeremiah is told to make a yoke and put it around his neck. This yoke was very likely a literal yoke, since in chapter 28:10 Jeremiah is wearing it when Hananiah breaks it. A yoke is a symbol of submission, servitude, and captivity. A yoke is used on oxen or other large animals when we need to control them, so Jeremiah wears the yoke as a visual reminder that he and all of us are all under God’s control.

Jeremiah 27:3 says,

Send word to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the Ammonites, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon through messengers who are coming to King Zedekiah of Judah in Jerusalem.

Apparently, these specific nations were chosen to receive the message because they had all gathered in Jerusalem for a convention, likely on how to best resist the Babylonian yoke of oppression. This reason of sedition might be speculation, but why else would they be gathering in Jerusalem? The occupation of their lands by Babylon would have been the most important issue of their time and most didn’t like it.

So, they were likely meeting with Zedekiah to plot a rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar, or at least to coordinate resistance. Maybe they saw some kind of weakness in Nebuchadnezzar and thought this was their chance. Maybe they thought he was distracted by his own problems back home.

From a human point of view plotting to overthrow Babylon makes perfect sense. Babylon was oppressive. They weren't Jewish. They were the enemy. So it makes sense, but you know what? It didn’t make sense to God. God had a different opinion about what they should be talking about, so he sent his message to them through Jeremiah.

In verses 4-7 we see God’s message to the ambassadors is that the sovereign Creator of the universe has the right to give dominion over the earth to whomever he pleases, so stop resisting Him.

​Jeremiah 27:5 says,

By my great strength and outstretched arm, I made the earth, and the people, and animals on the face of the earth. I give it to anyone I please.

So on the basis of the absolute truth (not just an opinion) that God made everything, God says he has the absolute right to put whoever he wants in charge, and that’s exactly what he does in verse 6…

So now I have placed all these lands under the authority of my servant Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. I have even given him the wild animals to serve him.

Surprisingly, Nebuchadnezzar is called God’s servant. His rule extended even over the animals and his reign was destined by God to last as long as God wanted it to last, which was probably not what the Ambassadors wanted to hear. So God put all of the Ambassadors back in their place — but God also put Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful person on earth, in his place. Everyone, even Nebuchadnezzar, was under the control of God.

Think about it; Nebuchadnezzar, the equivalent of Saddam Hussein in his day, is called a servant of God. History says Nebuchadnezzar came to power through military force and maintained it through cruelty and wickedness. Yet, he ruled because God wanted him to rule, as all government leaders do.

So Jeremiah tells them, probably with his literal yoke still on his shoulders, that their only hope is total surrender; they must surrender to Babylon and to God. If they refuse it’s the same a rebelling against God, himself, since God put Nebuchadnezzar in authority over them.

In verses 8-11 it describes how refusing to listen and disobeying God’s authority are dangerous mistakes.

Jeremiah 27:8 says,

As for the nation or kingdom that does not serve King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and does not place its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation I will punish by sword, famine, and plague—this is the Lord’s declaration—until through him I have destroyed it.

So don’t make the mistake of listening to those who tell you otherwise. During times of national crisis, people flock together to hear comforting messages which may be untrue. The Ambassadors gathered together, not to repent, but to comfort each other with a common desire to rebel much like many still do today. But there is no higher authority than the word of God.

​2 Timothy 4:3–4 offers us this reminder…

For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.

Oh, how we love our myths! We love to make excuses and come up with all kinds of exceptions to the rules in order to disobey what God clearly tells us in scripture to do, especially in regards to submitting to those in authority over us. The sound doctrine in Jeremiah 27 is that God rules all the kingdoms of the world. He made the earth and everything in it, and so he can and does give it to anyone he pleases. So we resist the governments God has set up at our own peril.

Now, this doesn’t mean we are to mindlessly do whatever the government tells us to do. Even Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to eat the king’s food and worship false gods. They were willing to die rather than submit to idolatry. But neither did these faithful men plot to overthrow the government, and when God spared their lives they went back to serving the king of Babylon. Eventually, God removed Nebuchadnezzar from his throne, and then these faithful servants served the next king.

Now, this idea of submission isn’t just an Old Testament concept. Romans 13:1 says “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” And 1 Peter 2:13 says, “Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority.”

These verses are sound doctrine, based upon the truth that God exists and that he is actively putting people in positions of authority and removing them — without our help — in his timing. But rather than accept this we sometimes act as if God’s not in charge. Instead of trusting God and humbly serving whoever He puts in authority, we worry and plot and scheme (if not literally then at least in our minds) about how we’re going to overthrow or resist the very people God has placed in authority over us.

“But we’re Americans!” some might say. “We have the right to choose our leaders and even to rebel when we are mistreated!” Yes, as Americans we have these rights, but as Christians, we are first and foremost citizens of heaven and as citizens of God’s kingdom we need to think and act differently than the world does.

So, God’s message to the ambassadors is that He’s in charge of all nations and that they shouldn’t resist His yoke. Neither should we.

A Message to King Zedekiah

In verses 12-15, the same message given to the ambassadors of foreign nations is given to Zedekiah, the king of Judah. God aims to make himself perfectly clear; not only are foreign nations to submit to the rule he has placed over them — so are his chosen people. So the king of Judah in verse 14 is also instructed to not resist the rule of Babylon over him even though the false prophets were telling him otherwise.

Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are telling you, ‘Don’t serve the king of Babylon,’ for they are prophesying a lie to you.

The false prophets were advising the king to do everything in his power to make life difficult for his captors— to resist every chance he got. But that’s not what God wanted. God wanted King Zedekiah to lead his people as a servant, setting an example of service not just to his people but to the foreign invaders!

This is describing what could be called “an upside-down kingdom”! God’s ways are not our ways. Christ came to earth not to establish a kingdom by military power but by dying for his enemies! And, again, I’m not sharing my opinion with you but God’s message to his people so we all would be wise to listen.

A Message to the Priest and People

God’s message is so important it’s repeated once again in verses 16-22 to the priests and people. In verse 16 the false prophets were saying “Look, very soon now the article of the Lord’s temple will be brought back from Babylon.” That’s a nice thought but their focus wasn’t God’s focus.

God wanted them to concentrate on something more important. His plan was for the people to stop worrying about their national treasures and submit to the rule of Nebuchadnezzar.

​Jeremiah 27:17 says,

Do not listen to them. Serve the king of Babylon and live! Why should this city become a ruin?

In other words, if we put this into New Testament terms: “love your enemies”! National treasures are important and for us, they might include things like the original Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, or the Constitution of the United States. The false prophets of today might tell us to preserve these things at all costs, but that’s not God’s greatest concern. Here’s a test for the false prophets:

​Jeremiah 27:18 says,

If they are indeed prophets and if the word of the Lord is with them, let them intercede with the Lord of Armies not to let the articles that remain in the Lord’s temple, in the palace of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem go to Babylon.’

In other words, to test the true prophets let them go to God in prayer like Elijah did and confront the prophets of Baal. If God is with them he’ll answer immediately in a dramatic way, but if not then they must not be praying according to God’s will. They are false prophets.

In verses 19-22 the false prophets are revealed to be powerless to do anything to prevent the temple articles from being taken. God promised they would be returned, and they were returned eventually, but it happened according to his timeline, not that of the false prophets.

That is an important thing to remember when we pray. Sometimes it seems like we think if we can just gather enough Christians to pray for our country then God will have to listen and give us exactly what we want. No, he doesn’t.

God will always give us exactly what he knows we need when we need it. Our job as we pray is to ask that God would enable us to accept his will and give us a greater desire to serve even our enemies while we wait. God will make everything right in his timing, not ours. In the meantime we need to serve those God has put in authority over us, no matter who they are.

This is what being under the yoke of God means. It means submitting to his will and seeking to obey him regardless of our circumstances. And being under this kind of yoke is the best place to be, because even if it is God’s will for us to suffer it’s temporarily, and far better than the permanent alternative.

And besides, if we belong to Christ then the yoke of God is made far lighter by his grace as it says in ​Matthew 11:28–30,

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Sometimes we make living in this world far too complicated. God's simple plan is for us to serve one another and those God has placed in authority over us — he’ll take care of the rest.