Meditating on the Judgements of God: 2.6 Corrective Warnings & God’s Reputation
Jer 16:12-15 you have behaved more wickedly than your fathers. See how each of you is following the stubbornness of his evil heart instead of obeying me. So I will throw you out of this land into a land …… However, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when men will no longer say, `As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but they will say, `As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave their forefathers.
We have been considering those judgments or disciplines that are being applied to people so that they will repent; they are not terminal judgments. We observed the case of Hezekiah, and the case of Pharaoh and the ten plagues, and then saw it again in the book of Judges where a cycle of events can be observed again and again: faithfulness, drifting away from God, vulnerability and then incursion by surrounding enemies, crying out to God and then the Lord sending a deliverer.
The objective of the Lord is very clear – to bring Israel to the point of realizing their folly and of returning to the Lord. Although those judgments in Judges did involve death in a relatively small measure, it wasn’t the main feature of what was going on. However there is one particular major judgement in the Old Testament which really did involve death and destruction, and even more, so we had better look at it.
The most dramatic and awe-inspiring example of God’s judgment in respect of Israel has to be that of the Exile when Jerusalem was destroyed in 587BC and His clear intent, as revealed through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, was to bring about a new people of Israel coming back from the Exile whose hearts have been so moulded by the Master Potter that they will be nothing like the ungodly people who had degenerated to that state in the decades leading up to the Exile.
Initially the prophetic word was one about devastation: “Say this to them: `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: As surely as I live, those who are left in the ruins will fall by the sword, those out in the country I will give to the wild animals to be devoured, and those in strongholds and caves will die of a plague. I will make the land a desolate waste, and her proud strength will come to an end, and the mountains of Israel will become desolate so that no one will cross them. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I have made the land a desolate waste because of all the detestable things they have done.” (Ezek 33:27-29)
Similar warnings had been coming in a steady stream, especially through Jeremiah, for example, “Gather up your belongings to leave the land, you who live under siege. For this is what the LORD says: “At this time I will hurl out those who live in this land; I will bring distress on them so that they may be captured.” (Jer 10:17,18) and, “I will forsake my house, abandon my inheritance; I will give the one I love into the hands of her enemies.” (Jer 12:7). Then we find, “Then the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.” (Jer 14:11,12) which is soon expanded upon, “Then the LORD said to me: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go! And if they ask you, `Where shall we go?’ tell them, `This is what the LORD says: “`Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.” (Jer 15:1,2) The warning were very clear: because of the ongoing and worsening sin of Israel, God would bring destructive judgment.
But then we start finding words of hope where the Lord speaks of bringing His people back to the land (e.g. Ezek 34:11-16, 25-31) That latter passage concludes with, “Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD” (v.30)
Later on in Ezekiel we find a further revelatory word: “Again the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, (Israel’s previous failure) they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman’s monthly uncleanness in my sight. So (the Lord’s action against them) I poured out my wrath on them …. I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. (Israel’s ongoing failure) And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, `These are the LORD’s people, and yet they had to leave his land.’ (The Lord’s worry – His reputation) I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone. “Therefore say to the house of Israel, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.” (Ezek 36:16-23)
The result of this judgment and restoration will be that the world will understand, this was the Lord! But there is more about Israel: “For (a) I will take you out of the nations; (b) I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. (c) I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. (d) I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; (e) I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And (f) I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness.” (Ezek 36:24-29) i.e. they will be a transformed nation. This is to be the end product of the Exile. The work of the Exile would mean that the remnant who were not destroyed but carried abroad would have their hearts changed. This is the greatest example of this in the Old Testament. God didn’t give up on Israel but carried out radical surgery. The end result was a transformed body.
We are nearing the end of this Part. We have seen the Lord using judgments to terminate life and bring warning to others, and to threaten life to challenge the individual to repent. Judgments, we have said, will always have a secondary purpose of warning the onlookers not to go down the same path but to seek the Lord. Before we move on in the next Part to consider individual judgments we have one more question to ask which will appear in the final study in this section.