Sunday Jul 24, 2022

Jeremiah 49:28-39 - When God Judges Gentile Nations

Jeremiah 49:28-39

Steven R. Cook

     God, who is “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25), had called Jeremiah to be His prophet, both to the Gentile nations (Jer 1:5, 10) and Judah (Jer 1:15-18; 2:1-2). Because Judah was in a special covenant relationship with God, Jeremiah was commissioned to speak to them first and to pronounce God’s “judgments on them concerning all their wickedness, whereby they have forsaken Me and have offered sacrifices to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands” (Jer 1:16). The first part of the book of Jeremiah was written primarily to Judah (Jeremiah chapters 2-45). But after God judged His people, He fixed His canons against the surrounding Gentile nations (Jeremiah chapters 46-52). God, having already judged Egypt (Jer 46:1-26), Philistia (Jer 47:1-7), Moab (Jer 48:1-47), Ammon (Jer 49:1-6), Edom (Jer 49:7-22), and Damascus (Jer 49:23-27), now renders His judgments against Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor (Jer 49:28-33), and Elam (Jer 49:34-39).

Judgment Against Kedar, Hazor, and the Men of the East

     Jeremiah opens this pericope with a prophecy “Concerning Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated. Thus says the LORD, ‘Arise, go up to Kedar and devastate the men of the east’” (Jer 49:28). The Kedarites were a nomadic people descended from Ishmael (Gen 25:13), who later became known for their archery skills (Isa 21:16-17). They were also shepherds (Isa 60:7), lovers of war (Psa 120:5-7), and lived in unprotected villages (Jer 49:31). According to Radmacher, “The phrase men of the East is associated with the Arameans, Midianites, Amalekites, and other nomadic desert tribes (Gen 29:1; Judg 7:12).”[1] Though this passage refers to Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor, it’s message is to Nebuchadnezzar, as the Lord instructs him to attack and destroy the men of this region. The word devastate translates the Hebrew verb שָׁדָד shadad, which means “to devastate, despoil, deal violently with.”[2] Keeping God’s sovereignty in primary view, the Babylonians never functioned as an independent power to do as they pleased, but were under God’s sovereign control to serve as His agent of judgment against others. Interestingly, the same verb is used later to described God’s judgments against the Babylonians (Jer 51:48, 53, 55-56).

     When God called the Babylonians to come against the Kedarites, we are told, “They will take away their tents and their flocks; they will carry off for themselves their tent curtains, all their goods and their camels, and they will call out to one another, ‘Terror on every side!’” (Jer 49:29). And the advice God gave to the Kedarites was, ‘“Run away, flee! Dwell in the depths, O inhabitants of Hazor,’ declares the LORD; ‘For Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has formed a plan against you and devised a scheme against you’” (Jer 49:30). Though the men of Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor would run for their lives, they could escape God’s judgment upon them. Nebuchadnezzar, whom God had raised up as His instrument of judgment, was unaware of God’s invisible hand that would guide him to victory.

     The Lord guided Nebuchadnezzar, saying, ‘“Arise, go up against a nation which is at ease, which lives securely,’ declares the LORD. ‘It has no gates or bars; they dwell alone. 32 Their camels will become plunder, and their many cattle for booty, and I will scatter to all the winds those who cut the corners of their hair; and I will bring their disaster from every side,’ declares the LORD” (Jer 49:31-32). The picture portrays the Kedarites and their neighbors as overly self-confident, at ease, living securely, not needing gates or bars for protection, and dwelling alone. Nebuchadnezzar would exploit this weakness and take their possessions as plunder.

     Most importantly in these verses is the revelation that the Lord Himself is the primary causal agent who brings judgment, saying, “I will scatter to all the winds” and “I will bring their disaster from every side” (Jer 49:32). God controls history according to His sovereign purposes. The end result of God’s judgment would be that “Hazor will become a haunt of jackals, a desolation forever; no one will live there, nor will a son of man reside in it” (Jer 49:33).

Judgment Against Elam

     Next, we are told about God’s judgment against Elam, as Jeremiah wrote, “That which came as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet concerning Elam, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, saying: 35 Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Behold, I am going to break the bow of Elam, the finest of their might’” (Jer 49:34-35). Elam was located about two hundred miles to the east of Babylon, in what today would be part of Iran. According to Huey, “It was conquered by the Assyrians under Ashurbanipal, ca. 640 B.C., but regained its independence with Assyria’s collapse. It joined forces with Nabopolassar to destroy Nineveh in 612 B.C. The Babylonian Chronicle seems to indicate there was a conflict between Nebuchadnezzar and Elam, 596–594. In 539 the Elamites helped overthrow the Babylonian Empire.”[3]

     Just as God had declared judgment against Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor, so He sovereignly declared, “I will bring upon Elam the four winds from the four ends of heaven, and will scatter them to all these winds; and there will be no nation to which the outcasts of Elam will not go” (Jer 49:36). Here is another reminder that God is the One who sets up kings and kingdoms and determines their duration of existence (see Dan 2:21; 4:25). And the Lord continued, saying, “So I will shatter Elam before their enemies and before those who seek their lives; and I will bring calamity upon them, even My fierce anger,’ declares the LORD, ‘And I will send out the sword after them until I have consumed them. 38 Then I will set My throne in Elam and destroy out of it king and princes,’ declares the LORD” (Jer 49:37-38). However, the God who promised to destroy Edom, also gave a promise of a future hope by restoring the nation. The Lord declared, ‘“But it will come about in the last days that I will restore the fortunes of Elam,’ Declares the LORD” (Jer 49:39). Here is a message of hope, as the God who chose to bring a nation down, also chose to elevate it again. The truth is all nations are subject to God’s sovereign rule, and their moral or immoral behavior will be met with His blessings or cursings.

Present Application

     The Bible reveals “God is the King of all the earth…He reigns over the nations; He sits on His holy throne” (Psa 47:7-8). It is God “who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21; cf., Dan 4:17, 35). Furthermore, “The LORD is King forever and ever” (Psa 10:16a), for the “LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19), and He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11b), and “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa 135:6). As sovereign God, He judges His world in righteousness.

     When individuals, groups, cities, and nations turn away from God, He will judge them according to His righteous character and moral laws. We know from Scripture that “the LORD is righteous, [and] He loves righteousness” (Psa 11:7), and “Righteous are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments” (Psa 119:137). For God, righteousness is an attribute, an inherent quality, not the adherence to laws beyond Himself (of which there are none). The righteousness of God may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates. Righteousness and justice are related words. The former speaks of God’s moral character, whereas the latter speaks of the actions that flow out of His character. Whatever God’s righteousness requires, His justice executes; either to approve or reject, to bless or condemn. God is “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25), and He “is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day” (Psa 7:11).

     Though God judges, He is not One to judge quickly. It is written, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15), and “the LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psa 145:8). Peter reveals that God “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). In this way, God is quick to warn and slow to judge. But God is not patient forever, and there are multiple accounts of judgment throughout Scripture. God judged the antediluvian world (Gen 6:1-7, 11-13; 7:21-24), the rebels at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9), the wicked citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24-25), the Egyptians (Deut 26:6-8; cf. Gen 15:13-14), the Canaanites (Lev 18:25; Deut 9:5), and the Babylonians (Jer 25:11-12). The book of Obadiah was written against the Edomites (Oba 1:1), and Nahum against the Ninevites (Nah 1:1). When Jesus was on the earth at the time of His first coming, He judged the religious leaders of his day (Matt 23:1-36), and pronounced judgment upon the nation of Israel for having rejected Him as their Messiah (Matt 23:37-39). In the future, God will judge Gentiles based on how they treat persecuted Jewish believers during the Tribulation (Matt 25:31-46). And God will judge all unbelievers at the Great White Throne judgment and will cast them into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). God has also judged Satan (John 16:11), and will punish him in the future (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10).

On What Basis Does God Judge Israel and Gentile Nations?

     As a nation, Israel was and is unique in human history, for it’s the only nation that was created by God as a theocracy. Speaking to Israel, God said, “I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King” (Isa 43:15; cf. Isa 43:1). Israel was a theocracy, and God was their Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isa 33:22). As such, God gave Israel specific laws to direct their lives (Lev 27:34). The Mosaic Law was the standard by which Israel lived rightly before the Lord and was the basis for blessing or cursing, depending on their obedience or disobedience to His directives (Deut 11:26-28). Reading through Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, First and Second Kings, and all the OT prophets, one can see a consistent pattern of God blessing or cursing His people depending on whether they obeyed or disobeyed His written directives. God was extremely patient with His people when they disobeyed, repeatedly warning them about His coming judgments, but the historical trend was that of rebellion (Jer 25:4-7). Because of rampant idolatry, human sacrifice, and other egregious sins, God eventually destroyed the ten northern tribes of Israel in 722 B.C. (2 Ki 17:7-23), and the two southern tribes of Judah in 586 B.C. (Jer 25:8-11). The fear of the Lord and obedience to Him would have prevented their destruction, but the nation chose otherwise.

     The Gentile nations did not possess the Mosaic Law as Israel did; however, a Gentile nation could be blessed or cursed, and this depended on at least two factors. First, God would bless or curse a Gentile nation depending on how it treated Israel. God told Abraham, the progenitor of Israel, “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse” (Gen 12:3). According to Allen Ross, “Those who blessed Abram would receive blessing from God; that is, those who supported and endorsed him in his faith would actually find enrichment. Conversely, if anyone treated Abram lightly, he must be cursed.”[4] God’s promise to bless or curse was based on the covenant that started with Abraham and extended to his descendants forever (Gen 17:7).[5] Concerning the curse, Arnold Fruchtenbaum states:

  • "The first word for curse is kalal, which means “to treat lightly,” “to hold in contempt,” or “to curse.” To merely treat Abram and the Jews lightly is to incur the curse of God. The second word for curse used in this phrase (him that curses you will I curse) is aor, from the Hebrew root arah, which means “to impose a barrier,” “to ban.” This is a much stronger word for curse than the first one in the phrase…Therefore, even a light curse against Abram or against the Jews will bring a heavier curse from God."[6]

     Second, a Gentile nation could be blessed or cursed depending on whether they pursued godly virtues or wickedness. Scripture reveals, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov 14:34). Biblically, there is a sense in which God’s laws are written on the hearts of all people. Paul wrote, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rom 2:14-15).[7] God has placed within each person a moral sense of right and wrong. Everyone knows it’s right to be honest, kind, courteous, patient, helpful to the weak, honoring to parents, faithful to one’s spouse, etc. On the other hand, everyone knows it’s wrong to murder, steal, lie, commit adultery, etc.[8] And how people behave collectively has results upon their city or nation. The Lord told Jeremiah, “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation [גּוֹי goy] or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it” (Jer 18:7-8). This is what happened when Jonah preached God’s message of pending judgment to the Ninevites (Jonah 1:1-2; 3:1-4), and when they believed and repented (Jonah 3:5-9), He relented (Jonah 3:10). There is hope for any nation that has turned away from God, but only if the leadership and people turn to God and pursue righteousness in conformity with His character.

     What influence do we, as Christians, have on our country? As God’s people living in the dispensation of the church age, He directs us to learn and live His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17), live by faith (Heb 10:38; 11:6), advance to spiritual maturity (Eph 4:11-16; 1 Pet 2:2), share the gospel (Mark 16:15; 1 Cor 15:3-4), make disciples (Matt 28:19-20), live holy lives (1 Pet 1:15-16), and do good (Gal 6:10; Tit 2:11-14). In this way, God may use us to help shape our nation in godly ways, which will influence its educational, political, economic, and social views for the better. We are, after all, to be a light to the world (Matt 5:14; Eph 5:8).


[1] Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 942.

[2] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1419.

[3] F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, vol. 16, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 406.

[4] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 263.

[5] To love Israel is not a blanket endorsement of all their beliefs and behaviors. God, who loves Israel and chose them to be His people (Deut 7:6-8), also called them to be holy (Ex 19:5-6; Lev 11:45), and promised blessing or cursing, based on their obedience or disobedience to Him (Deut 28:1-68). Israel can and does fail, often rejecting God’s love for them and walking in the ways of the world (see 2 Ch 36:15-16; Jer 7:25-26; 25:4-7; Ezek 16; Matt 23:1-39; Acts 7:51-53; 1 Th 2:14-16). The national rejection and crucifixion of Jesus (Matt 27:22-23; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28), Israel’s promised Messiah (Deut 18:15; Isa 7:14; 9:6-7;53; 61:1; Matt 1:1, 17; Luke 1:31-33), was their greatest failure. Did Israel act alone in crucifying Jesus, their Messiah? No! God foretold Israel’s Messiah would suffer and die (Psa 22:11-18; Isa 53); and, according to His sovereignty, He used wicked men, both Jews and Gentiles, to accomplish His will (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).

[6] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ariel’s Bible Commentary: The Book of Genesis, 1st ed. (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2008), 242.

[7] The human conscience, when working properly, serves as a moral compass. But because of willful and persistent sin, the conscience can become weak (1 Cor 8:7), callous (1 Tim 4:2), defiled (Tit 1:15), or evil (Heb 10:22). Persistent sin can damage the conscience so that it fails to operate properly.

[8] The unbeliever can live morally according to the dictates of a healthy conscience, and though not saved, can receive some blessings in this life. Conversely, a Christian can turn away from the faith and pursue wickedness, and this results in divine discipline and the forfeiture of eternal rewards.

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