The Present Truth : February 25, 1897
We know that at any time within a period of several hundred years the children of Israel might have enjoyed the fullness of the promise to Abraham, —eternal rest in the earth made new, with Christ and all the glorified saints victorious over the last enemy, —because when Moses was born the time of the promise had drawn near, and Joshua did not die until “a long time after that the Lord had given rest unto Israel.” Joshua 23.1. The time when God through David offered them “another day,”—to day, —is spoken of as “after so long a time.” God was anxiously waiting for the people to take all that He had given them. How true this is may be seen by His words to them by the prophet Jeremiah.
If They Had Obeyed God
Even though the people were so firmly fixed in their idolatry, that the sin of Judah was written with a pen of iron and with the point of a diamond, the gracious Lord made the following promise: —
“Thus saith the Lord unto Me; Go and stand in the gate of the children of the people, whereby the kings of Judah come in, and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem: and say unto them, Hear ye the word of the Lord, ye kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that enter in by these gates, thus saith the Lord: Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction. And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto Me, saith the Lord, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work therein; then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princess sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain for ever. And they shall come from the cities of Judah, and from the places about Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south, bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifice, and meat offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the Lord.” Jeremiah 17.19-26
It is not for us to speculate as to how this promise would have been fulfilled; it is enough for us to know that God said it, and He is able to make every promise good. To build up the old city, and make it new would certainly have been as easy as to “change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Philippians 3.21), or to make an entirely new city to take the place of the old one.
Promises of Restoration Which Were Rejected
Bear in mind that this promise by Jeremiah was in the very last days of the kingdom of Judah, for Jeremiah did not begin to prophesy till “the days of Josiah the son of Amon” (Jeremiah 1.2), in the thirteenth year of his reign, only twenty-one years before the beginning of the Babylonian captivity. Before Jeremiah began to prophesy, nearly all the prophets had finished their labors, and passed away. The prophecies of Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, and others, —all the principal prophets—were in the hands of the people before Jeremiah was born. This is a fact that should by no means be overlooked, for it is most important. In those prophecies are many promises of the restoration of Jerusalem, all of which might have been fulfilled if the people had given heed. But like all God’s promises, they were in Christ; they pertained, like the one before us, to eternity, and not simply to time. But since the people of those days did not accept them they remain equally fresh for us. Only the coming of the Lord, for whom we are now looking, could fulfill them. Those prophecies contain the Gospel for this time, just as surely as do the books of Matthew and John and the Epistles.
Always the Test
Notice further that the keeping of the Sabbath is made the test; to all to whom that truth is revealed. If they kept the Sabbath, then they and their city would endure forever. Why was this? —Recall what we have studied about God’s rest, and you have the answer. The Sabbath is the seal of creation finished and perfect. As such it reveals God as Creator and Sanctifier (Ezekiel 20.12, 20), as Sanctifier by His creative power. The Sabbath is not a work, by which we may vainly try to win the favor of God, but it is rest, —rest in the everlasting arms. It is the sign and memorial of God’s eternal power; and the keeping of it is the seal of that perfection which God alone can work out, and which He freely bestows upon all who trust Him. It means full and perfect trust in the Lord, that He can and will save us by the same power by which He made all things in the beginning. Therefore we see that since the same promise is left us, that was given to ancient Israel, it must necessarily be that the Sabbath also should be made specially prominent in our day, more especially as the day of Christ’s coming approaches.
The Judgment Pronounced
But there was an alternative, in case the people refused to rest in the Lord. The prophet was commissioned to say still further: —
“But if ye will not hearken unto Me, to hallow the Sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering into the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.” Jeremiah 17.27
And so it was; although God was faithful and longsuffering in sending messages of warning to His people, “they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. Therefore He brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age; He gave them all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king, and of his princes; all these he brought to Babylon. And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia; to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths; for as long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill threescore and ten years.” 2 Chronicles 36.16-21
The King of Babylon Ruler in Jerusalem
The last king in Jerusalem was Zedekiah, but he was not an independent king. Several years before he came to the throne, Nebuchadnezzar had besieged Jerusalem, and the Lord had given the city to him. Daniel 1.1, 2. Although Jehoiakim was overcome, he was allowed to reign in Jerusalem as a tributary prince, which he did for eight years. At his death his son Jehoiachin succeeded him, but he reigned only three months before Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem again, and conquered it, and carried the king and his family and all the craftsmen and smiths away to Babylon; “none remained save the poorest sort of the people of the land.” 2 Kings 24.8-16
Still there was a king left in Jerusalem, for Nebuchadnezzar made Mattaniah king, changing his name to Zedekiah. Verse 17. The word Zedekiah means “the righteousness of Jehovah,” and was given to the new-made king because Nebuchadnezzar “made him swear by God” (2 Chronicles 36.13) that he would not rebel against his authority. The following shows that Nebuchadnezzar had a right to demand this: —
“In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, came this word unto Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Thus saith the Lord to me; Make thee bonds and yokes, and put them upon thy neck, and send them to the king of Edom, and to the king of Moab, and to the king of the Ammonites, and to the king of Tyrus, and to the king of Zidon, by the hand of the messengers which come to Jerusalem unto Zedekiah king of Judah: And command them to say unto their masters, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Thus shall ye say unto your masters: I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by My great power and by My outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto Me. And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant; and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him. And it shall come to pass that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand. Therefore hearken not ye to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, which speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon: for they prophesy a lie unto you, to remove you far from your land; and that I should drive you out, and ye should perish. But the nations that bring their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, those will I let remain still in their own land, saith the Lord; and they shall till it, and dwell therein.” Jeremiah 27.1-11
Nebuchadnezzar, therefore, had as much right to rule in Jerusalem as any of the kings of Israel had ever had. His kingdom, moreover, was more extensive than that over which any king of Israel had ruled; and, more than all, after much instruction from the Lord, he used his opportunity to spread throughout all the world the knowledge of the true God. See Daniel 4. Therefore when Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, he was wickedly setting himself against the Lord, who had given Israel into the power of Nebuchadnezzar, as a punishment for their sins. In the following words we have a graphic description of the movement of Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem, and how God guided the action of the heathen king even while he was using divination: —
“Also, thou son of man, appoint thee two ways, that the sword of the king of Babylon may come: both twain shall come forth out of one land: and choose thou a place, choose it at the head of the way to the city. Appoint a way that the sword may come to Rabbath of the Ammonites, and to Judah in Jerusalem the defenced. For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination; he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked in the liver. At his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem, to appoint captains, to open the mouth in the slaughter, to lift up the voice with shouting, to appoint battering rams against the gates, to cast a mount, and to build a fort. And it shall be unto them as a false divination in their sight, to them that have sworn oaths: but he will call to remembrance the iniquity that they may be taken. Therefore thus saith the Lord God: Because you have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are discovered, so that in all your doings your sins do appear: because, I say, that ye are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the hand.”
The End of Israel’s Independent, Temporal Dominion
Then follow the fateful words addressed to Zedekiah: —
“And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, Thus saith the Lord God: Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: and it shall be no more, until He come whose right it is: and I will give it Him.” Ezekiel 21.19-27
Zedekiah was profane and wicked, because to all his abominable idolatry he added the sin of perjury, breaking a solemn oath. Therefore the kingdom was utterly removed. The diadem passed from the descendants of David, and was placed on the head of a Chaldean, and the kingdom of Babylon is before us. Of its extent we have already read, and we have further the words of the prophet Daniel in explanation of the great image that Nebuchadnezzar saw in a dream given him by the God of heaven: —
“Thou, O king, art a king of kings; for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath He given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.” Daniel 2.37, 38
In this we trace the dominion, which in the beginning was given to man (see Genesis 1.26), although the glory and power were greatly diminished. But we see that God still had His eye upon it, and was working towards its restoration, according to the promise to Abraham.
From Babylon to the Setting Up of the Everlasting Kingdom
Very little time is devoted in the Bible to descriptions of human grandeur, and the prophet hastens to the end. Three overturnings or revolutions are foretold in Ezekiel 21.27, following the passing of the dominion of the whole earth into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. As his kingdom was world-wide, the revolutions foretold must also be the overthrow and establishment of universal empire. So the prophet Daniel, continuing his explanation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, said: —
“And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.” Daniel 2.39
The kingdom that succeeded the Babylonian is shown in Daniel v. to have been that of Medo-Persia; and in Daniel 8.1-8, 20, 21 we learn that the third kingdom, the successor of Medo-Persia in universal worldly dominion, was that of Grecia. Thus briefly have we outlined before us the history of the world for several hundred years. The first two overturnings of Ezekiel 21.29 are made clear; Babylon was followed by Medo-Persia, and that in turn by the Grecian empire.
The last of this earth’s universal kingdoms, following the third great revolution, is not directly named, but it is clearly enough indicated. The birth of Christ took place in the days of Cæsar Augustus, who issued a decree that all the world should be taxed or enrolled. Luke 2.1. Therefore we are warranted in naming Rome as the product of the third great world revolution. In fact, we are shut up to that empire, for there is none other known to history that could take its place. Thus Babylon ruled the world; in its days three revolutions were foretold, bringing three successive empires in its stead; Medo-Persia and Greece are expressly named in the line of succession, and then we have the emperor of Rome named as ruling the world. This is strictly Scriptural evidence; corroborative evidence, or rather, evidence testifying to the exactness of the sacred record, may be found without limit in secular history.
But the revolution that resulted in giving the rulership of the world to Rome, was the last general revolution that shall take place in this world “until He come whose right it is.” Many men since Rome fell have dreamed of world-wide dominion, but their dreams have come to naught.
Christ was on earth, it is true, but it was as a stranger, like Abraham, with no place of His own where He could lay His head. He came, however, “to proclaim liberty to the captives,” and announced that whoever would abide in His word should know the truth, and be made free by it. Day by day and year after year as the centuries have rolled by, the proclamation of freedom has been sounding, and weary captives have been set free from the power of darkness. It is not for us to know the times and the seasons which the Father has put in His own power; but we know that when all the professed church of Christ shall consent to be filled with His Spirit, the whole world will soon hear the Gospel message in the fullness of its power, and the end will come, when the groaning creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glory of the liberty of the children of God.