Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that is greater than all our sin. (From the hymn, “Grace Greater Than Our Sin,” by Julia H Johnston (1849-1919).
Atbash (אתבש) aht-bahsh. “Originally used to encode the Hebrew alphabet, an Atbash is formed by mapping an alphabet to its reverse, so that the first letter becomes the last letter” (Wikipedia).
In studying recently, I came across the above word; I’d never heard of it, to the best of my memory anyway. It refers to an early way to encrypt a message in a writing, yet in a way that the writer and designated readers would understand. Atbash was used by the Prophet Jeremiah three times. Atbash has also been found in ancient secular writings, in Hebrew as well as other common languages of the day.
An atbash is found in Jeremiah 25:26, 51:1, and 51:41. We will look at Jeremiah 25:26, which says, “and all the kings of the north, near and far, one with another; and all the kingdoms of the earth which are upon the face of the ground, and the king of Sheshach shall drink after them.” Sheshach is the atbash, the mystery word, an encryption for Babylon; the Hebrew of Sheshach is שֵׁשַׁךְ, spelled l-r with the letters sheen, sheen, khaf. There are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet (alef-bet). “Babylon,” in Hebrew, is בָּבֶל Bah-vehl, Bavel; spelled l-r with the letters bet, bet, lamed. When the Hebrew alphabet is reversed, שׁ sheen, the second to last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, becomes the second; ב bet, the second letter, becomes second from last, and etc.
So, what was Jeremiah’s purpose in writing the name “Babylon” in a cryptic way? K&D Commentary points out that, “It is erroneous when many commentators remark that Jeremiah made use of the mysterious name from the fear of weakening the impression of terror which the name of Babylon ought to make on their minds. These assumptions are refuted by Jer 25:12, where there is threatening of the punishment of spoliation made against the king of Babylon and the land of the Chaldeans; and by Jere 51:41, where alongside of Sheshach we find in parallelism Babylon. The atbash is, both originally and in the present case, no mere playing with words, but a transposition of the letters so as to gain a significant meaning. This is the case with Sheshach, which may be a contraction of שֶׁכְשַׁךְ shekh-shahk, from שָׁכַךְ shah-khak, to sink (of the water, Gen 8:1), to crouch (of the bird-catcher, Jer 5:26). The significance is therefore a sinking down, so that the threatening of Jer 51:64: ‘Babel shall sink and not rise again,’ constitutes a commentary on the name… By ‘shall drink after them’ Babylon is sufficiently distinguished from the other kings and countries mentioned, and the reason is given why Babylon is not put on the same footing with them, but is to be made to drink after them” (my emphasis on word “after”).
Now regarding that word “after,” we know that there is good news at the end of days, for we are told that Babylon is one of the great enemies that will finally and totally fall. She is mentioned several times in the book of Revelation; one verse relative to our thoughts herein is Rev 16:19, “The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered [was mindful of] Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath” (my emphasis). Babylon became a picture of the great evil whose only goal was to defeat the will of our Father in Heaven and those who followed that will. The cup of wrath, of which Jesus drank, will finally be drained dry with the fall of Babylon. Apparently, Babylon chose, through the centuries, to continually refill that cup, hoping to make mankind drunk and totally fall down. That succeeded to a large degree, but the ultimate plan of the Creator will eventually play out in the success of righteousness.
In the days of Jeremiah, the constant faithlessness and disobedience to God by Judah had brought them to the brink of destruction time and time again. Babylon had repeatedly attacked them, and the Jewish people were weary and frightened. Earlier in the chapter, in Jer 26:15 we read, “For thus the LORD, the God of Israel, says to me [Jeremiah], ‘Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it.’” These words, as reported by Jeremiah, that “all the nations” would drink of the wrath of God, would have brought a comfort to the suffering people of Judah. Hidden in the list was one they would agree with the most: Sheshach; the king of Sheshach singled out for this punishment. The people of Judah would have been relieved to hear that the king of Babylon was being singled out for this coming judgment of God above the other nations.
What would have come as a surprise, no doubt, to the people of Judah is that they were included in the drinking from this cup. The people of Judah felt that they were still the people of God – they had Jerusalem and the Temple and all that went with it, so surely He wouldn’t cause them to drink. (The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been conquered and many were taken into captivity by Assyria around 740 BC, so they were out of the picture at this time.) What a shock, to hear Jeremiah exclaim that the cup of God’s wrath also included Jerusalem: “Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, and its kings and its princes, to make them a ruin, a horror, a hissing, and a curse…” (Jer 25:18).
Jeremiah prophesied that “all the kingdoms on the face of the earth” would drink from this cup of wrath. The coming judgment is described as a cup filled with the wine of God’s wrath; something that every person on earth would drink from, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Ever since the fall in the Garden, mankind has worn a cloak, a veil, as it were, made of sin. Our very nature, every one of us, wears that garment. Yet our Gracious Creator offers hope, along with judgment. That is what grace is all about.
Jesus/Yeshua, the living Word of God, the Light of the World, was sent to proclaim truth to the world. God’s only begotten Son came, so that whoever would believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting, eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus came and drank this cup for us! How extremely grateful we should be. This is the same cup, spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah, that Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus was the only One who could understand the depth of drinking this cup. Only He could fully understand the weightiness of God’s wrath against mankind, against the sin nature of man. Jesus chose to pay that price. That is grace, an almost incomprehensible grace. If you watched the movie War Room, you remember the scene when the couple realized that had just been shown a tremendous, amazing grace, from the husband’s former employer. Did that scene not tug at your heart strings? That is a picture of the kind of grace offered to every person. Not one of us is worthy of such grace, yet such grace He offered and continues to offer. Every sin, every addiction, every burden, every sorrow – He took to the cross. He will come to the aid of any and all who call upon Him. He also wants to partake of our victories, our joys, our happiness.
Every lamb and bull slaughtered for sacrifice at the Tabernacle and later Temple was a picture of our Messiah. Every slain sacrifice was to create, in the mind of the one offering it, the realization that this animal was taking their place. Jesus took on the very sin nature of mankind, that nature which causes us to sin, and it was nailed to death on the cross. He died and was buried, then resurrected to victory. But that sin nature was defeated, and if man will just trust and obey Jesus, he does not have to sin, to be obedient to sin. We have to first acknowledge that we are capable of drowning to death in sin; then we acknowledge that He came to overcome that sin as the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin. We are all guilty, and should have to drink from that cup, but we don’t have to because Jesus did. All our Creator ever wanted from the beginning was a relationship with His creation. Through Jesus, we have access back into the Garden, if you will. And just as a Priest in the Temple would immerse themselves to signify the purity of their work; just as John the Immerser would immerse to signify forgiveness of sin; so are believers, followers of Yeshua, to be immersed into Him to signify the purity of our work for Him, the forgiveness of our sin through Him, and our identification with His Name and leadership of our lives.
Throughout the Old Testament, Israel was told time and time again that obedience would bring reward, and disobedience would bring judgment and punishment. Many nations throughout history who lived in continual disobedience to the call of God were eventually destroyed from the face of the earth. Israel was given a promise that, although they would face punishment and would be dispersed on the earth, God would never forsake them and would eventually bring them back together. We have seen that regathering begin, in the past century and a half in particular. Israel has not yet fully returned to her God, but there is a growing number of Messianic Jews in the world, and in Israel. We who are Gentile believers should be praying for the Jewish people to accept their true Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth. He drank of that cup for all of them especially, who are His blood relatives.
The Gospel, the Good News, of Jesus is for the Jew first, and also for the Gentile. As David Stern in The Complete Jewish Bible translated it, “For I am not ashamed of the Good News, since it is God’s powerful means of bringing salvation to everyone who keeps on trusting, to the Jew especially, but equally to the Gentile… To those who seek glory, honor and immortality by perseverance in doing good, he will pay back eternal life. But to those who are self-seeking, who disobey the truth and obey evil, he will pay back wrath and anger. Yes, he will pay back misery and anguish to every human being who does evil, to the Jew first, then to the Gentile; but glory and honor and shalom to everyone who keeps doing what is good, to the Jew first, then to the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism” (Romans 1:16; 2:7-11). Are you aware that grace is a part of judgment? Our behavior will help render the verdict given to us. James/Jacob 2:13 says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” If we have trusted in Jesus/Yeshua as our Savior and Master, then we are expected to live a life of obedience to Him. Yes, we are still in our human flesh, and yes, we still have a propensity to sin. But we don’t have to. Through Him, we have the power to say “No!” to sin. Through and because of the sacrifice of Yeshua, we can end up on the “mercy” side of “grace.” It’s our choice.
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
threaten the soul with infinite loss;
grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
points to the refuge, the mighty cross.
Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
brighter than snow you may be today.
Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see his face,
will you this moment his grace receive?
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!