Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
One of the big issues I run into while reading the books of prophecy in the Bible are the international destruction prophesies. That is, the curses pronounced on nations other than Israel. With Israel specific prophecies, I can usually relate it to problems in the church or problems in my own nation, but I don’t really know what to do about the words from the Lord relating to other countries. Can they be applied to us? Why should I care about some country that’s long gone? While reading one of these, the Holy Spirit reminded me of my time outside the church and what I went through because of how I acted. Today, let’s take a look at Jeremiah’s prophecy about Moab.
Unsurprisingly, in his declaration to Moab, the Lord lays out their future. Judging by the introduction to this article you can probably guess that this is not a happy message. We read,
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says:
“Woe to Nebo, for it will be ruined.
Kiriathaim will be disgraced and captured;
The stronghold will be disgraced and shattered (Jeremiah 48:1).
As expected, God’s got some bad news for the folks in Moab. When reading a destruction prophecy, we should always be asking the question of, “why?” We already know that destruction is coming because we’re reading in Jeremiah, so our focus should be why one country is able to survive and another one is decreed to be wiped out. So we read something like this:
Moab will be praised no more;
In Heshbon men will plot her downfall:
‘Come, let us put an end to that nation.’
You too, O Madmen, will be silenced;
The sword will pursue you (Jeremiah 48:2).
Then we have to try to identify the purpose of the destruction. Take note that the Lord mentions that Moab will no longer be praised. This tells us that they probably took great pride in themselves after receiving a lot of accolades. This is backed up a few verses later when we read,
Since you trust in your deeds and riches,
You too will be taken captive,
And Chemosh will go into exile,
Together with his priests and officials.
The destroyer will come against every town,
And not a town will escape.
The valley will be ruined
And the plateau destroyed,
Because the Lord has spoken (Jeremiah 48:7-8).
So the Moabites put their trust in themselves and their homemade God rather than the Lord. People who don’t have Jesus in their lives really don’t have any other choice than to trust themselves over everything else. It’s very easy for a nonbeliever to become arrogant about their various gifts in life (be it intelligence, wealth, or some sort of skills) and they start to think that such things are meaningful. These are the sort of people who think that Christians are stupid and weak minded by trusting in some sort of flying spaghetti monster. This is the sort of mindset that the citizens of Moab had. Scripture records,
“We have heard of Moab’s pride-
Her overweening pride and conceit,
Her pride and arrogance
And the haughtiness of her heart.
I know her insolence but it is futile,”
Declares the Lord,
“And her boasts accomplish nothing” (Jeremiah 48:29-30).
God comments that a person’s pride won’t get them anywhere. People are very eager to assume that because they’ve never faced hardship that they never will; this causes them to develop a chip on their shoulder. The Lord notes about Moab,
Moab has been at rest from youth,
Like wine left on its dregs,
Not poured from one jar to another-
She has not gone into exile.
So she tastes as she did,
And her aroma is unchanged (Jeremiah 48:11).
I love the imagery the Lord uses by describing this situation as a bottle of wine that’s been at rest for a long time; because those who have grown arrogant in their gifts rarely consider what they’ll do if they were to lose them.
However…God will do what needs to be done. And that full bottle will be emptied. Jeremiah continues to preach from the Spirit,
“But days are coming,”
Declares the Lord,
“When I will send men who pour from jars,
And they will pour her out;
They will empty her jars
And smash her jugs” (Jeremiah 48:12).
The Lord will bring hardships onto a nonbeliever, and when the hammer comes down, talents and gifts and wealth won’t provide an adequate defense. For it is written,
“How can you say, ‘We are warriors,
Men valiant in battle’?
Moab will be destroyed and her towns invaded;
Her finest young men will go down to the slaughter,”
Declares the King, whose name is the Lord Almighty.
“The fall of Moab is at hand;
Her calamity will come quickly (Jeremiah 48:14-16).
If you’re one of those people who think that you’re untouchable, especially when it concerns some sort of “divine” intervention, know that you will be brought low by the Lord. For he says,
Mourn for her, all who live around her,
All who know her fame;
Say, “How broken is the mighty scepter,
How broken the glorious staff!”
Come down from your glory
And sit on the parched ground,
O inhabitants of the Daughter of Dibon,
For he who destroys Moab
Will come up against you
And ruin your fortified cities (Jeremiah 48:17-18).
Any pride or arrogance before the Lord will be broken and turned upon those who think they’re too cool for God. Jeremiah 48:26-27 puts it like this:
Make her drunk,
For she has defied the Lord.
Let Moab wallow in her vomit;
Let her be an object of ridicule.
Was not Israel the object of your ridicule?
Was she caught among thieves,
That you shake your head in scorn
Whenever you speak of her?
Through this sort of language we can see that this is not just a message to any nonbeliever, but to the nonbeliever that stands against Christianity. To such people the Lord says that he will break them in front of the Christians they once so heartily mocked. God will break such people until they hit rock bottom. Jeremiah records,
“Every head is shaved
And every beard cut off;
Every hand is slashed
And every waist is covered with sackcloth.
On all the roofs in Moab
And in the public squares
There is nothing but mourning,
For I have broken Moab
Like a jar that no one wants,”
Declares the Lord.
“How shattered she is! How they will wail!
How Moab turns her back in shame!
Moab has become an object of ridicule,
An object of horror to all those around her” (Jeremiah 48:37-39).
When God brings on his punishment to the arrogant, he is thorough. We’re talking the very bottom of rock bottom.
And yet, you have to understand that the Lord doesn’t want this to happen to anyone. While crying out Moab’s future, God laments at the same time. We read,
Therefore I wail over Moab,
For all Moab I cry out,
I moan for the men of Kir Hareseth.
I weep for you, as Jazer weeps,
O vines of Sibmah.
Your branches spread as far as the sea;
They reached as far as the sea of Jazer.
The destroyer has fallen
On your ripened fruit and grapes (Jeremiah 48:31-32).
And again, a little later we find,
So my heart laments for Moab like a flute;
It laments like a flute for the men of Kir Hareseth.
The wealth they acquired is gone (Jeremiah 48:36).
God loves everyone. The most well-known verse of the Bible states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). An atheist is very quick to argue, “Then how can a God of love bring such disaster on people?” You must understand that the Lord has a purpose for such action; his goal is to teach people not to trust in idols that cannot save them, things like wealth, power, or genius. In the Moab example the Lord uses their false god to teach us this. He says,
Then Moab will be ashamed of Chemosh,
As the house of Israel was ashamed
When they trusted in Bethel (Jeremiah 48:13).
It’s interesting to note that the Lord actually references the Israelites during their time away from the Lord to show that such action is not exclusive to Moab only. Indeed, this is not a new event, around the world every day the Lord is trying to reach out to people who won’t listen to him (with a strong arm when needed). And in Israel’s case, they didn’t repent and were eventually completely overtaken and deported. Everyone has a chance though. Scripture records the Lord,
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him,
And to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:7).
If, as an unbeliever, you’re feeling the heat today it’s because God doesn’t want you to burn in hell. We find that the Lord doesn’t mince his words on the subject,
Say to them, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)
Believe it or not, God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell. Rather, he’s constantly bending time and space to manipulate the situation in order that folks will wake up. And even more than that, the Lord is actually holding back the end of the world in order to save as many as people as possible. Check out 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” If God hated those who hated him, then almost all the world would have already been wiped out. Instead he puts up with billions of people thumbing their nose at him daily, doing his best to get them to change their ways.
The Lord had to completely break me and bring me to absolute nothing in order to wake me up. I experienced rock bottom at the hands of the Lord as he systematically took away everything I had put value in until I had nothing left but to give him a chance. But even when you’re at the very bottom, with no help in the world, there’s an answer: Jesus. Some people erroneously think that salvation has to be worked for, but if that was the case, then there’d be nobody to meet you at the bottom of the barrel. Rather, the Word of God tells us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). You see that? While we were still sinners (and actually long before we were born) Jesus died to save you. There’s nothing you can do to be saved other than to trust in Jesus. Check out what Peter writes, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Christ did all the work for you through his suffering and death. And so the lesson is this: Don’t trust in the world and its delights; rather trust in Jesus who can save you. James, in his bluntness, writes,
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
But gives grace to the humble” (James 4:4-6).
And don’t think in your heart, “Ok, well I’ll repent later then when I really need it.” People think that they can pull off that deathbed Jesus call after living how they want. But keep in mind this note,
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a while and then vanishes (James 4:13-14).
Not everyone gets that deathbed last chance, so don’t waste any more time; repent now! If you’ve already hit bottom, just accept it and don’t waste time being angry at God and trying to beat the wind. The Bible tells us that when you accept your lot and change your mindset into that of trusting the Lord, restoration will come. Check out what it says,
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up (James 4:8-10).
Give in and accept Christ and find a new and exciting life of wonder (I’m speaking from experience). God doesn’t want to punish you anymore; rather he wants to hold you in his arms and heal you. And salvation is so easy to do. Paul writes,
…That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
You can be saved. The tide can be turned. You can see happy days again. Heck, even after pronouncing doom and gloom for Moab, the Lord finishes with this:
“Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab
In days to come,”
Declares the Lord.
Here ends the judgment on Moab (Jeremiah 48:47).