The “Only” Command (Philippians 1:27a)

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…” —Philippians 1:27

When introducing a friend to some great man he completely ignorant of, there’s only so much an introduction can do. Philippians 1:27 is a great verse. Alas, this will only be an introduction. We will only deal with the word “only.” But let’s first consider the context in which this light introduction is made.

Philippians 1:27 opens the body of the letter which runs until 4:3. What Paul opens with isn’t unique. What is unique is its placing. It isn’t odd to find a sink in the house, but it is peculiar to find one in the foyer. Paul’s standard MO is doctrine first, then application; truth then commands. With Paul, the theological always undergirds the ethical. Even here, the difference is simply that the theological is assumed. There are no major controversies at Philippi at this time. Paul’s letter has been initiated by their gift. This helps us to understand a bit why Paul opens with a command, but why this command?

I can only think of two likely answers, and we get to them both through that little word “only.” This “only” might be the most significant word in the letter. What is meant by this “only”? The two angles can be seen in two translations that do a bit more interpreting at this point than they do translating. The Christian Standard has “just one thing” while the NIV has “whatever happens.” In the former we see “only” understood as emphatic, while “whatever happens” recalls what Paul has been and will repeatedly tell them concerning his visiting them.

Let’s take up the latter first. Paul is confident, though not absolutely certain, that he will be released and then come to see them (vv. 19, 25–26). Should he not, he wants them to obey this command so that he may hear that they are standing firm without fear.

This leads us naturally to the second intent of “only.” If Paul is not absolutely certain that he will be released, don’t you know this “only” is also emphatic? There is a primacy to this command. Paul opens with this first because it is first. With this “only” Paul not only says “whatever happens” but also “whatever else!” Matthew Harmon says this verse provides the thesis for the body of this letter. I believe we can go further still. This verse provides the thesis for the Christian life.

In a sense you only need this “only” command. Jesus said the great commandment was to love the Lord our God with all our heart soul and mind. The second is like to it: to love our neighbor as ourselves. The command we have in verse 27 is really just another way of stating the same great all encompassing commands of loving God first and neighbor second.

I hope that if you’re unfamiliar with Philippians 1:27, that now, having been introduced, you’ll sense something of his greatness and want to converse and learn as much of him as you can.

For the Love of the Name (Philippians 1:12–18a)

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:15–18).

In many areas of life there are two kinds of fans. It could concern literature, film, music, but let’s take baseball as our example. The first type is the more common. He enjoys the game, but he loves his team. The second, the more rare, enjoys a team, but he loves the game. He is the true baseball fan. It is baseball itself that he is a fan of. And of course there are those who just come for the hot dogs, but that is another matter.

As to the fans, here is how you might distinguish the two. When the game is over, even if it was an amazing game, the more common fan will always walk away devastated if his team lost. Something of his identity is linked with that specific team. He loves his team in a sense more than he does the game. In contrast, the second type, though he wishes his team to have won, will walk away talking about how great a game it was.

Simply because man takes up holy things doesn’t act as a forcefield against such vices. We see the same thing in the church. I’m afraid it is more common to find Christians, who quite often, what they get really excited about is their team and not the game. Their team might be the flavor of music, a particular ministry, a preacher, or even a solid theological persuasion. Your team can be a good team, the team that should win, but God have mercy on us so that it is the game itself that we most love. God have mercy on us such that it matters not if we’re watching amateurs who play just to play, or professionals who are only in it for glory and money—still we can rejoice, simply because it is the game we love.

For Paul, it is far less concerning for an insincere man to preach the true gospel, than for a sincere man to preach a false gospel. The truth of the message is more important than the sincerity of the messenger. Because Christ is preached, Paul rejoices. 

If Christ is preached, let us rejoice. When Christ is preached at Falls Creek, at an Arminian seeker-sensitive Church, or by some hipster topical-sermon preaching pop-culture pastor, rejoice! There may be much that bothers us, there may be much to legitimately critique and express concern about, to point out how the very gospel preached is outshone or subverted by other things, but inasmuch as the gospel is preached, let us rejoice. Or can you only rejoice when it is your team? When it is a reformed church? When it is through a ministry like Ligonier rather than Lifeway?

Opposite the “holy club” from which Wesley and Whitefield came, their later arose what were called “hell fire clubs” to mock and obstruct the revival. At one tavern, among such a group, a Mr. Thorpe rose to outdo his fellows in mimicking George Whitefield, or “Dr. Squintum” as they called him because of malady that is something like a lazy eye. He began by reading Luke 13:3, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” But as he continued mocking Whitefield’s preaching of the gospel, he was converted and later became a minister.

I’m not advocating that we rejoice when the gospel is so ridiculed, but this should make it clear why, when the gospel is preached, we can rejoice in that. Why can we rejoice whenever the gospel is preached, regardless of who preaches it? Because, as Paul told the Romans, it is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation. However man may try to use the Son to make themselves shine, they will always be overshadowed. Attempt to use Jesus as your spotlight, and you’ll find Him so bright, all eyes will be on Him.

Tipping the Scales with Balance (Philippians 1:3–11)

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:3–11).

If you want the scale of your life to be heavy on thankfulness, you shouldn’t think that petitions burden the scale on the opposite side. When we notice that our prayer life is fat on request and slim on thanks, we can easily become the guy who chases down his steroids with protein shakes and hits the gym twice every day. Sure, he’s bulked up, but that ain’t healthy. What thankfulness is to contentment, we shouldn’t think petition is to discontent. You can’t fix thanklessness with petition-lessness.

In Paul’s prayer not only are thanksgiving and petition mingled, they’re rooted in the same soil. So rather than being puzzled at this odd connection, we must realize that they are unstable compounds when isolated. These two go together like sodium and chloride. They also separate like them. Thankfulness, all alone, is very well as corrosive as chlorine. If your prayers only communicate contentment and no longing, perhaps it’s that you’re at home in this world and merely blessing God for it. We readily note the danger of prayers full nothing but petition. Thing is, if we try to correct it by beefing up on thanksgiving, we’ll find we’ve carried over the same root problem. Both the glutton and the body builder can have the same root sin. What we’re after is wholeness and balance. Perhaps then we should label one side of the scale “holiness” and the other “sinfulness.” If you want the scale tipped towards holiness, you need balance in your life. Not a balance between things such as godliness and ungodliness of course, but a balance of things that both go together on the holiness side of the scale, things like godly thankfulness and godly petition.

Rather than thanksgiving or petition rooted in self, what we need are thanksgiving and petition rooted in the gospel of Christ. What Paul gives thanks for is, upon examination, what Paul petitions for. Paul’s joyful gratitude is rooted in the good work God has done in the Philippians and the gospel partnership that is the result. His petition for them to abound in love with knowledge is essentially a prayer that God will continue to do this good work, a good work Paul has already said he is certain of.

When you want to tip the scales with thankfulness, what you need isn’t less sodium and more chloride. What you need is more salt. Look to Christ. Anchor your prayers in the gospel. Then you will see reasons not only to give thanks; you will long for more.

A Word to the Saints about a Word for the Saints (Philippians 1:1–2)

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:1–2).

When believers read that Paul wrote Philippians to “all the saints” it is critical that they realize that they are all—everyone of them reading the letter—saints. The saints are not an elite task force within the church. Every one of God’s elect children is enlisted with this basic rank. The saints are simply those positionally sanctified, that is, those who have been set apart from this world unto God. The saints then are not a select group within the church, they are the church—the assembly of God, a group distinct from this world.

Paul in his greeting also refers to “overseers,” also known as elders or pastors (cf. Titus 1:5–7). “Overseers” is also a word largely alien to church speak today. Too often we are more adept at speaking Christianese than we are Biblese. The consequences of this I’m afraid are often dire. In the instance of overseers/elders, believers can fail often make the connection to pastors. For instance, they never reason, “The church at Philippi had overseers, plural. Why then does my church have only one?” It’s like a person only knowing “cow” and failing to realize that all this talk about Herefords is talk about cows. When we turn to the word “saint,” the problem hits closer to home. If cows were so cognizant, it would be like a cow failing to realize it was a Hereford.

“Saints” is Paul’s most common way of addressing believers. Over sixty times the New Testament speaks of God’s beloved in this way. When you survey older Christian literature—the early church fathers, the reformers, the puritans, even an author as recent as B.B. Warfield—you’ll find this address quite common. We would do well to recover it. If you think it odd, remember, it wasn’t as if the world addressed their letters in this way. It was a uniquely Christian thing to do. If you avoid using it to be less awkward, well, that is very un-saintly. So be a saint, and refer to those who are saints as saints.

And this gets to why we should be so zealous to use the word, not to make much of us, but to make much of Christ. Outside of Christ we are ain’ts. We ain’t holy. We ain’t good. But in Christ we are righteous. In Christ we are holy. In Christ we are children of God. In Christ we are heirs. In Christ we are partakers of the promises. On and on we could go. Every blessing of salvation we enjoy, we enjoy in Christ. This is why John Murray would write, “Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.” So can you see why it is that if you are in Christ, you are so set apart from this world. Why it is that you are so saintly? So dearest saints, make much of Jesus by addressing one another not only as “saints,” but also, sometimes go ahead and tease it out further, and address each other  as “saints in Christ Jesus.”

“As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3).

Leaving the Door Cracked Open (Jeremiah 52)

“Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. For because of the anger of the LORD it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence. And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.

…And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, until the day of his death, as long as he lived.” —Jeremiah 52:1–3, 31–34

Chapter 52 of Jeremiah is an editorial epilogue, a compiler’s coda, a historical appendix, a postscript. The final words of Jeremiah 51, “Thus far are the words of Jeremiah,” should assure you of the authorship of all that has preceded, but what are we to make of chapter 52? Where did this stuff come from? Most of the material, almost verbatim, is drawn from 2 Kings 24:18–25:21, 27–30.

When Scripture borrows from Scripture, we may be confused, but we shouldn’t be utterly confounded. If you want to know who added this postscript, well, perhaps it was Baruch. But really the best answer is the same as to who wrote 2 Kings. Not that they are necessarily the same person, but the answer is the same. Who wrote this coda? We don’t know.

The far more important question is not who the author is, but what was the author’s intent. C.S. Lewis lamented that the literary criticism of his day took a turn from focusing on the literature to the author. To find out what an author meant, you must read the author, not his book, so they say. The critic acts as a detective tracing the sources of inspiration, or as a psychologist unearthing desires and motives. Lewis demonstrated how, in his case, the critics were almost always wrong. 

So instead of puzzling uselessly over who wrote this epilogue, let’s ask why it was attached? What does the author mean to communicate? What does God mean to say to us? I believe the answer is plain and harmonizes beautifully with the message of Jeremiah—God is good on His word. Or to borrow from Jeremiah chapter 1, God indeed watched over His word to perform it.

So while most of this chapter looks back, to see God’s word of judgment vindicated, it also looks forward, anticipating God’s word of redemption as true. The vessels that have been taken (52:18–19), will one day be restored (27:21-22). The people who were deported (52:28–30), are the good figs that Yahweh will plant in the land (24:4–7). And with Jehoiachin’s release (52:31–34), hope is kindled that indeed a righteous branch will spring up for David (33:14–17). 

As the book of Jeremiah closes, know that God didn’t completely shut the door on His children to leave them in darkness. He left the door cracked. And the Son was shining bright on the other side.

Don’t Miss the Landlord for the Harvesters (Jeremiah 51)

“Thus says the LORD: 
‘Behold, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer
against Babylon,
against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai,
and I will send to Babylon winnowers,
and they shall winnow her,
and they shall empty her land, 
when they come against her from every side 
on the day of trouble.’ “

—Jeremiah 51:1–2

Dear wheat, do not miss the Landlord for the harvesters. God has grown Babylon into what she is, and now, He sees fit to cut her down. He has grown her so that He might harvest her. She is ripe for wrath. She is a vessel of wrath prepared for destruction. First, Yahweh poured out His wrath on the nations through her (Jeremiah 51:7), but now, He will pour out His wrath on Her (Jeremiah 51:8). The equally wicked Persians harvest, but it is the Holy God who has sent them to do so. He stirs up. He sends. God is sovereign. He uses the Persians’ wickedness to vindicate His holiness. Do not miss the cursing harvesters for the blessed Landlord.

Nations rise and nations fall and this happens by God word.
“Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, 
‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.  
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, 
to pluck up and to break down, 
to destroy and to overthrow, 
to build and to plant’ ” (Jeremiah 1:9–10).

Don’t let economies or viruses, missiles or terrorists, elections or conspiracies blind you to this supreme fact—God plants and plucks up nations. We are not privy to our Lord’s secret counsels. We don’t know all the details of His plan, but we do know the end game. The kingdoms of this world will fall and the church will endure. The wicked will be judged and the saints will be delivered. The world is a doomed weed. The kingdom is like a well-tended mustard seed (Matthew 13:31–32).

So do not fear when the reports come in (Jeremiah 51:46). Though we reside in Babylon, Babylon shouldn’t reside in us. Seek her welfare (Jeremiah 29:7), but do not find your own in her. Our hearts should be bound to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 51:5. By God’s word, Babylon will fall. By God’s word, Jerusalem will rise. God speaks and nations are being broken down. God speaks and His holy nation, the church, is being built up. God will speak, and the kingdoms of this world will be plucked. God will speak and the kingdom of heaven will be planted.

This is not a sunken word, this is a word that sinks. God’s word endures. Nations plummet. Babylon was not built as stocky as this word. As Babel rises she totters. This word reaches to the heavens, and still it cannot be toppled. Its mass is such that it crushes kingdoms. Its mass is such that it doesn’t sink in the ocean, it displaces it. This word has sunk Babylon and it will sink her yet again.

“And Jeremiah said to Seraiah: ‘When you come to Babylon, see that you read all these words, and say, “O LORD, you have said concerning this place that you will cut it off, so that nothing shall dwell in it, neither man nor beast, and it shall be desolate forever.” When you finish reading this book, tie a stone to it and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and say, “Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disaster that I am bringing upon her, and they shall become exhausted” ’ ” (Jeremiah 51:61–64).

Nerf Darts Versus ICBMs (Jeremiah 50)

“The LORD has opened his armory and brought out the weapons of his wrath, for the Lord God of hosts has a work to do in the land of the Chaldeans.” —Jeremiah 50:25

Can there be any more terrifying thought than Yahweh opening up His armory against you? The apex of man’s military might is the nuclear missile. Sure, man can hurl a missile at 15,000 miles per hour causing 475 kilotons of damage (Hiroshima had 12 kiloton yield). That all sounds impressive, until you consider that God is hurling billions of balls of nuclear fusion at speeds of over 500,000 miles per hour,  each by itself producing every second as much energy as trillions of our missiles.

But sinner, know that He is not only has an armory to dispose of His enemies, He is also a refuge for those who trust in Christ crucified. If you are in Christ, God’s judgment is your salvation. Judgment fell on the Son to save you from your sins and it will fall on the wicked to save his people from sinners.

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: The people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah with them. All who took them captive have held them fast; they refuse to let them go. Their Redeemer is strong; the LORD of hosts is his name. He will surely plead their cause, that he may give rest to the earth, but unrest to the inhabitants of Babylon” (Jeremiah 50:33–34).

Big Promises Stuffed into Little Boxes (Jeremiah 49)

Concerning the Ammonites. 
Thus says the LORD:
 
“Has Israel no sons? 
     Has he no heir? 
Why then has Milcom dispossessed Gad, 
     and his people settled in its cities? 
Therefore, behold, the days are coming, 
     declares the LORD, 
when I will cause the battle cry to be heard 
     against Rabbah of the Ammonites; 
it shall become a desolate mound, 
     and its villages shall be burned with fire; 
then Israel shall dispossess those who dispossessed him, 
     says the LORD.

—Jeremiah 49:1–2

When unpacking the oracles against the nations (Jeremiah 46–51) it is critical to realize that they come vacuum sealed. Though judgment has been delivered to these nations, it hasn’t been fully unpacked. Jesus adds water to all the Old Testament and in Him, it swells substantially. He fulfills them. In Him, they reach their full. In Him, that fullness is filled to the brim. On the day of His return and forever thereafter I’m certain we will be in awe of how much God packed into so small a space. The oracles against the nations are compressed files. Jesus unzips them. In Jesus we will find that each these bytes communicate terabytes of information.

These oracles do come with fences but the fences are temporary. They are not simply meant to contain a judgment, but communicate the judgment. Note how dissolvable these fences are in Jeremiah 25:15–32, which in the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) serve as the conclusion to the oracles against the nations.

“Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.’ So I took the cup from the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the LORD sent me drink it: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and officials, to make them a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse, as at this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his officials, all his people, and all the mixed tribes among them; all the kings of the land of Uz and all the kings of the land of the Philistines (Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod); Edom, Moab, and the sons of Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the coastland across the sea; Dedan, Tema, Buz, and all who cut the corners of their hair; all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the mixed tribes who dwell in the desert; all the kings of Zimri, all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of Media; all the kings of the north, far and near, one after another, and all the kingdoms of the world that are on the face of the earth. And after them the king of Babylon shall drink. ‘Then you shall say to them, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.” And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the LORD of hosts.’ You, therefore, shall prophesy against them all these words, and say to them: “The LORD will roar from on high, and from his holy habitation utter his voice; he will roar mightily against his fold, and shout, like those who tread grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth. The clamor will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against the nations; he is entering into judgment with all flesh, and the wicked he will put to the sword, declares the LORD.” Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, disaster is going forth from nation to nation, and a great tempest is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth !” (emphases mine).

While the fences are up, this “all the earth” language is an understandable use of hyperbole, not to exaggerate but to communicate. Still, can’t you also see that these fences will one day come down such that the hyperbole will then be an understatement? When Jesus baptizes the world in the fire of judgment these fences will dissolve. Even so, we look to the past fences to get some idea of the shape of the future. By this, the future doesn’t become hazy, but clear.

For instance, Ammon is indicted for possessing the land Yahweh allotted to Israel. Despite appearances, His people are not without an heir. Though the northern tribes, including Gad, were largely assimilated and absorbed but he alien cultures to which they were driven by Assyria long before this prophecy, this land is not up for grabs. This same indictment is brought against all these nations (cf. Jeremiah 10:25; 12:10–14). So in the judgment of the nations a promise of salvation is being made to God’s people. They will dispossess those who dispossessed them. But who are these heirs? I’m simply going to leave you with some New Testament unpacking and I think you can begin to see all that was tied up in these Old Testament prophecies.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13).

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16–17).

“For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (Hebrews 10:34–35).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3–5).

See? Big promises. Little boxes.

Gathered Dust No Sign of Being Well Aged (Jeremiah 47–48)

“Moab has been at ease from his youth
     and has settled on his dregs;
he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel,
     nor has he gone into exile;
     so his taste remains in him,
     and his scent is not changed.

Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I shall send to him pourers who will pour him, and empty his vessels and break his jars in pieces. Then Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh, as the house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel, their confidence.” —Jeremiah 48:11–13

Though man is dust, sometimes he gets to thinking the dust covers a rare and expensive vintage under it all. But just because the wine has aged doesn’t mean it’s aged well. It may have settled on the lees so long that it’s turned bad.

Moab was a dusty bottle of wine forgotten in the cellar. She has long enjoyed peace, but she hasn’t aged well. She’s settled on the dregs of her boasting and become ripe, not for consumption, but destruction. She’s never been mixed up; she’s never been poured from one vessel to another, going into exile as Israel did and she’s the worse for it. Whereas Israel was smack dab in the middle of a major trade route, Moab was just off the beaten path, a plateau to the east to the dead sea. But God is sending pourers. She will be poured, her vessels emptied, and smashed.

As a result she will be ashamed of Chemosh as Israel was ashamed of Bethel. When the kingdom of Israel was split under the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, Jeroboam, who then became king of Israel, erected a golden calf and an altar in Bethel for fear that his people would return to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh and thus defect to Judah (1 Kings 12:25–33). He also built a calf in Dan and dedicated both saying, “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt,” (2 Kings 12:28). Although these gods did serve to prevent the mass of Israel from going to Judah, more so they were the cause of their being obliterated by the Assyrians. These gods delivered Israel neither from Egypt nor from Assyria. In the same way, Chemosh will prove impotent against the human hands that the sovereign Lord sends against Moab.

The dust will be blown off. There will be shouting, but it won’t be because the wine is so good. They will be poured out only to drink to the full of the wine of God’s wrath.

“Make him drunk, because he magnified himself against the Lord, so that Moab shall wallow in his vomit, and he too shall be held in derision…

Gladness and joy have been taken away
     from the fruitful land of Moab;
I have made the wine cease from the winepresses;
     no one treads them with shouts of joy;
     the shouting is not the shout of joy.
 —Jeremiah 48:26, 33

Know that present insulation doesn’t mean immunization. In the west we have long lived off the last fumes of the Protestant Reformation. The accrued blessings we have enjoyed because of past faithfulness should not be misread by any as sign of God’s favor with us or as a guarantee of future blessing. Present insulation from judgment is no indication of future immunization.

If you don’t enjoy God’s goodness in Christ, unto His glory, you will enjoy His goodness only for a time and His wrath forevermore. Judgment is certain and the only sure refuge is the split rock of Christ crucified for sinners and risen for their life. Anything else that you now boast in will one day be your shame. 

Swollen Rivers Subside (Jeremiah 46:1–28)

"About Egypt. Concerning the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah...

Who is this, rising like the Nile, 
     like rivers whose waters surge? 
Egypt rises like the Nile, 
     like rivers whose waters surge. 
He said, 'I will rise, I will cover the earth, 
     I will destroy cities and their inhabitants.'"

—Jeremiah 46:2, 7–8

With Assyria on the wane, Babylon waxes strong while Egypt enjoys something of a resurgence. Pridefully, Egypt swells like her Nile, ambitious to flood the lands around her. Assyria had acted as a buffer between Egypt and Babylon; so it is no surprise that Egypt heads north to aid Assyria. It was en route to do so that Pharaoh Neco was intercepted by King Josiah. Eventually Neco sets up his base at Carchemish. The two rising world powers of the age are set to clash. The Battle of Carchemish would prove a critical turning point in history.

The Nile’s resurgence proves to be due to nothing other than a flash flood. The waters will subside as quickly as they rose. All human glory, even that of nations, of superpowers, all of it fades. Their flow of glory can never surpass the ebb caused by God’s judgment. The nations can never rise so far as to mitigate their fall. It is futile for them to spread miles in hopes of keeping even a few inches. There can be no advance of human glory.

Humanity should remain humble before the Holy one, and this includes collected humanity as well. The Tower of Babel was not preserved despite man’s unified strength. The greatest judgements fall where pride is concentrated. Man’s collected power doesn’t dampen the blow; it intensifies it. So hear the Lord’s admonition in Jeremiah 9:23–26 afresh:

“Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh— Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart’” (emphasis mine).

Hear this admonition and resolve as Paul did to boast in nothing but “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to [you], and [you] to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:14–15). And having been crucified to the world, rejoice, even when you see superpowers fall. Even when it seems as though the world is being flipped upside down, rejoice knowing that it is being prepared to be flipped right-side up in Jesus. Remember, you are a citizen of heaven. When all the nations of this earth are manifestly put under Jesus feet, then heaven will come down, all things will be made new, and the citizens of the kingdom will humbly serve their Lord with joy forevermore.