Our consideration of the passage before us begins with a needed textual note. Although some versions say that the forthcoming message was given to Jeremiah “In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim”(Jer. 27:1a), it appears that the more common rendering “in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah” is more likely. Although appearing in the Hebrew text, the former appears to be a copyist error given the fact that Zedekiah is the king spoken of as the chapter continues (vs.3, 8), and the context of verse twenty suggests that Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim had already been carried away to Babylon. This, then, provides an instance where a copyist error, not only does not affect any doctrine, but is easily recognized and the inerrant original autograph is easily discerned. Yes, the name of the devotional is A Lesson in Sovereignty and Opportunity but our verse-one consideration provides an occasion for a brief lesson in inerrancy.
Simply put, the Scriptures, most specifically, the original manuscripts, written by holy men who were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21), were without error or anything contrary to fact, and are to be regarded as the result of God’s creative breath (2 Tim. 3:16). And even though there were recognizable copyist errors as the Scriptures were transmitted over time, those errors are minuscule exceptions to the vast rule of manuscript uniformity. And where they appear to occur, as in Jeremiah 27:1, they are, again, easily recognizable, provide no deviation from the core of Christian doctrine, and, due to things like manuscripts, linguistics, and context, what was originally written is typically an easy deduction.
Back to the lesson of sovereignty – ironically it comes via an illustration of servitude. The LORD told Jeremiah, “Make for yourselves bonds and yokes, and put them on your neck” (vs.2b). This might have been one of those occasions where a prophet of God not only proclaimed the message but illustrated it. The demonstration would have been intended to depict subjugation. You could imagine Jeremiah wearing a yoke upon his neck (i.e round pieces of wood placed on the neck of oxen), fastened tightly by bonds (i.e. straps), and dropping in on the ‘league of nations’ – “the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the Ammonites, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon”(vs.3a) – who came “to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah”(vs.3b).
However the delivery went down, it would have surely put a damper on their hopes of overthrowing Babylonian dominion. The idea behind the yokes and bonds was simple – this was the inescapable destiny decreed by the invincibly sovereign One. And that One commanded Jeremiah, not to send the yoke and bonds as verse three in the NKJV says (the 3rd person plural pronoun “them” does appear to have been in the original text), but to give the message and command these multinational envoys to give the following inspired communiqué to their masters (vs.4):
5 ‘I [Yahweh, the God of Israel] have made the earth, the man and the beast that are on the ground, by My great power and by My outstretched arm, and have given it to whom it seemed proper to Me. 6 And now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant; and the beasts of the field I have also given him to serve him. 7 So all nations shall serve him and his son and his son’s son, until the time of his land comes; and then many nations and great kings shall make him serve them. 8 And it shall be, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and which will not put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation I will punish,’ says the LORD, ‘with the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand.(vs.5-8)
Sovereignty was determined by the ultimate sovereign – the One who created earth, man, and beast by His power (vs.5). All the opportunistic strategizing, all of the partnership proposals, and all that man could muster could not change what God had decreed. These lands were given to Nebuchadnezzar; these nations would serve Him; and if they refused to place his yoke upon them they would be punished. Nebuchadnezzar would be sovereign… “until the time of his land comes”(vs.7b). Don’t miss that. Babylon’s reign had an expiration date, one fixed by God. The time would come when the ruler would be ruled. But until then every nation’s reaction to such a proclamation ought to have been submission to Babylon’s temporary sovereignty.
You could imagine how these nations might have felt if, and when, these truths sunk in. Small. To some degree – helpless. Powerless. After all, their machinations couldn’t move the needle of national sovereignty. They could only submit to it. Which would mean submitting to Nebuchadnezzar. They would have to wear his yoke and become his servants. That was their appropriate application of Jeremiah’s message. What about ours? I think we would do well to marvel at God’s sovereignty and our opportunity. Having already spoken about the first, consider briefly the second. You and I cannot apply the message by taking Nebuchadnezzar’s yoke upon us. We’re only about 2,500 years too late to do that. But we can marvel that we have the opportunity and the privilege to bear the yoke of One infinitely greater than Nebuchadnezzar. His yoke is not hard, it’s easy; and His burden is not heavy, it’s light. He is Jesus Christ, the only way to the Father and forgiveness. And His invitation, extended to all nations, goes like this:
28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30)