“The Cup of God’s Wrath”
“I’ve been telling you to clean your room for 20 minutes!” Chances are, if you’re a parent, you’ve probably said something like this to your kids (and as a child, you probably were on the receiving end of a message like this, too). As we read Jeremiah 25, I am amazed at Jeremiah’s persistence. He has been preaching the same message of warning and judgment, calling the people to repentance, for more than 20 years at this point! What a faithful man who would preach this unwelcome news repeatedly to people who refuse to listen, all because of God’s call on his life. I’m also reminded of the faithfulness of a God who declares he is slow to anger (Exodus 34:6–7). For these many years of Jeremiah’s preaching, God continues to show the people grace and give them time to repent. In fact, this has been true for all of Judah’s history. God continues to be patient with his people, even when they don’t deserve his patience.
But now, the tide is turning. Before, Jeremiah warned of a judgment approaching from the north, but now the judgment has a name: Babylon, led by King Nebuchadnezzar. The context for this passage is key; you see, Jeremiah receives this message in 605 BC, during the first year of King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Babylon has just defeated Egypt in the Battle of Carchemish. This might not seem like a big deal, but it is, because Judah had been a vassal state of Egypt until Egypt was defeated. All of a sudden, Babylon is taking over the Mediterranean, and according to this passage, Judah, too, will fall to the nation, facing exile by Babylon as a punishment for sin.
But notice that even mighty Nebuchadnezzar is called God’s servant in verse 9—not because he is righteous or walks in God’s ways, but because God will use Nebuchadnezzar to bring judgment on the people of Judah for their sin and rebellion before also bringing judgment on Babylon. All of the nations listed in verses 17–26 will drink the cup of God’s wrath; they will face judgment from God because of their sins.
This imagery of the cup of God’s wrath is a difficult place to end today, as we see the people wail and cry out and stagger as if they are drunk. But it’s not a place without hope. You see, this cup of wrath is a biblical allusion used throughout the Old Testament to tell us that God will deal with sin. It never goes unnoticed or swept under the rug. All that is wrong in this world will be made right. But for those of us who know we are sinners, who recognize that we are part of all that is wrong, who cling to Jesus, our hope lies in the picture of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he cried out to God and asked for his cup of judgment to pass from him. Yet Jesus resolved to drink it for us, taking the punishment for our sin in our place. Praise God for this hope!