There’s a positive outcome to this glum passage. Did you notice it as you read?
As we have learned already in this book, Jeremiah was an exceedingly courageous prophet. He was called to do a very difficult task – proclaiming God’s justice upon an unrepentant and apostate Judah. Over 40 years he was popularly resented and sometimes the subject of violence. He was seen as a pro-Babylon traitor: in fact he was a true patriot.
On the other hand Zedekiah was a weak and indecisive king who was dominated by his nobles. Their pro-Egypt policy resulted in this siege.
Displaying little confidence the king sends junior representatives to the prophet. He’s looking for a miracle to help him out of his predicament. But Jeremiah made it plain that God’s wrath was coming upon them since every aspect of their society was corrupt (v 12, cp. 22:1-9). Not only the Babylonians but God himself was fighting against them.
God did not need to send a plague – an ancient besieged city had public health problems that made this a natural outcome. Even those not succumbing to the plague will be killed by the besiegers. God’s awful retribution for disobedience appears to show no mercy or pity or compassion.
Yet in all this prophesied carnage God does set a way of escape. In this God reveals his mercy and pity and compassion. But it appears to be an act of treason – abandoning the rest of the city to its fate. And yet this cannot be treason as the people fleeing are obeying the direct command of God. It is the rebellious people who refuse to take God’s “way of escape” (1 Cor 10:13).
There is always a choice. Here it is simply life or death. Death if they remain, life if the leave the city and surrender to the Babylonians. Those who left would become slaves. But the core realisation is that those who surrendered lived to take God’s purposes into exile.
This is one of the pivotal chapters of the Bible. It is a reality check. We humans are in a world of trouble. In its bluntest form, all humankind is separated from God by personal rebellion. But in his love God has forged the way to fix the shattered connection.
Here Paul continues the discussion with his imaginary objector.
The Jews did have an advantage. They were privileged to have revealed to them the commandments of God. They were God’s special people. So they could not do as they like: they must do what God likes! Yet time and time again we read that they neglected or ignored these special duties. In fact by neglecting God’s revelation they were worse than their neighbours to whom God had not revealed himself.
But God remains faithful even in spite of their unfaithfulness.
The objector tries again: “So my sin then is really glorifying God!” It’s like saying than an unfaithful husband is proving how much he loves his wife. That insensitive husband is merely covering his desire to do what he likes.
Whatever way it’s looked at, we humans are rebelling against the standard set by our Creator. We deserve God’s wrath – his pure, perfect antagonism to evil.
What a dark picture! There is no way we can be good enough to approach the holy God. As Paul expresses it, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v 23). We imagine an archer aiming at his target … and missing! Even if we aimed at perfection we have all wandered from the law of God.
God’s way of reconciliation is shown in the next verse: “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith” (vs 23, 24).
God’s law remains; it is not pushed to one side. The difference now is that he who accepts Christ by faith willingly seeks to apply God’s standard of living. Yes, he will still fail. But repentance and forgiveness through that faith repairs his relationship with God.
Thank you Lord for providing Jesus as the way out of my predicament.