When he was first called to prophetic ministry, Jeremiah was appointed “over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). Over the first twenty-three years of his ministry. Jeremiah had already “prophesied . . . against the nations” (including Babylon—25:13). Now he is commanded to bring a message of coming destruction against Judah, the surrounding nations and, ultimately, against Babylon. In this message, God’s judgment is compared to a “cup of wine” that nations are forced to drink until they are dead drunk, reeling and falling to “rise no more” (27).
Chapter 25 is given the same time stamp as Jeremiah 36 and 45: “in the fourth year of Jehoiakim . . . which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar” (25:1). This is the same year Jeremiah is told to record all the words God had given him over the past 23 years (36:2; 25:2) and the same year Jeremiah was instructed to confront Baruch (45:1-5). The fact that this message was given in the year Nebuchadnezzar came to power is significant—he would be the king God would use to subjugate and “completely destroy” (put under the ban) Judah and the surrounding nations (25:9).
The fact that God empowers Babylon and expands their reach and rule is not an indicator that He approves of their beliefs or behaviours. The prophet Habakkuk was troubled at the thought that God would use the Babylonians to judge His people, since the Babylonians were more wicked than Judah (Habakkuk 1:12-13). God’s answer to Habakkuk and His revelation to Jeremiah was that He sees the guilt of the Babylonians (Sheshach—26) and, in His time, will judge them with justice and righteousness (Habakkuk 2:2-20; Jeremiah 25:12, 26).
The Lord reveals through Jeremiah that the coming “tumult” among the nations is His righteous judgment on sinful nations (31). He promises to “completely destroy” a host of countries: the Hebrew verb translated “complete destroy” (חָרַם) speaks of devoting or consecrating something to God, often for destruction (Joshua 2:10; 7:11; 8:26). Five times in the chapter the Lord speaks of calling down a “sword” on the nations (16, 27, 29, 31, 38). This is why verse 33 refers to “those slain by the Lord” and verse 38 links together the “sword of the oppressor” and the “Lord’s fierce anger.” The Lord brings “charges against the nations” (31) and judgment upon them for their guilt.
The list of nations that will be forced to drink the “cup filled with the wine of my wrath” (15) begins with “Jerusalem and the towns of Judah” (18). God holds His people to a righteous standard and judges them for their persistent idolatry (6-7) and disobedience (“evil ways and evil practices”—5). Then comes Egypt (19), Uz (20), the Philistines (20), Edom, Moab, Ammon (21), Tyre, Sidon (22), Dedan, Tema, Buz (23), Arabia (24), Zimri, Elam, Media (25—east of Babylon), all the kings of the north (25) and finally Babylon (26—“Sheshach”, a cryptogram for Babylon). The final chapters (46-51) give extended prophetic judgments on many nations mentioned in chapter 25, starting with Egypt and ending with Babylon.
The final, poetic verses of the chapter (34-38) call the leaders (“shepherds”) of the various nations to “weep, wail” and “roll in the dust”(35). There is nothing they can do to avert the coming destruction. When God says it’s time for judgment to come, come it will!
God’s coming judgment is described in global terms; it reaches to “all the kingdoms on the face of the earth” (26). He “roars”, “thunders” and “shouts” against “all who live on the earth” (30). The result of the sword He sends will be catastrophic: “those slain by the Lord will be everywhere—from one end of the earth to the other” (33). The near context for this judgment is the next “seventy years” (12). However the language of this chapter, including the climactic judgment on Babylon, is picked up in Revelation to describe the final global judgment at the return of Christ to establish His kingdom (Revelation 18).
It’s clear that while the Lord is the “God of Israel” (15), He is no tribal deity but the “LORD Almighty” (8). He raises up and brings down (Daniel 2:21). He determines the duration a nation will be subjugated or be supreme (70 years—25:12). No one can resist His will or refuse to drink the cup of judgment He gives them: “make all the nations to whom I send you drink it” (15). He is the King of kings and sovereign ruler of all nations.
The Lord works His will through the events of history. On one level, history can be explained in purely human terms: political developments and military might. However, this viewpoint is only part of the story. God moves kings, nations and armies to accomplish His plans. He is the One who will “summon” Nebuchadnezzar (“my servant”) and his allies and “will bring them against this land . . . and against all the surrounding nations” (9). He gives Babylon seventy years of supremacy as the world power (11). He is also the One who, after seventy years, will “punish the king of Babylon and his nation . . . for their guilt”; He will make Babylon “desolate forever” (12).
In spite of His unsurpassed greatness and global power, God’s own people would not listen to His words or align with His will. Jeremiah preached to an unresponsive people: “the word of the Lord has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again but you have not listened” (3). We learn in chapter 36 that the Lord had Jeremiah record “all the words I have spoken to you concern Israel, Judah and all the other nations from the time I began speaking to you” (36:2). God was giving them one more chance to turn from their wickedness and be forgiven (36:3). Sadly, the nation stubbornly refuse to respond; by their indifference (“you have not . . . paid any attention”—4) and insolence, they “brought harm” to themselves (7) from the hand of the One who promised not to “harm” them if they would obey (6).
In this chapter we see the themes of God’s sovereign, global Kingship, His justice and judgment on nations (and the people in them) and His offer of grace and goodness to those who listen and follow His words. He works through the events of history to bring devastation to the disobedient. He makes the world drink the “cup” of His wrath (15). In the New Testament, we see Jesus drinking that “cup” of God’s wrath for us (Matthew 26:39, 42), taking the harm we deserved for our sins. At the cross God’s justice and mercy meet to bring the offer of salvation to those from every nations who listen and believe the gospel.