The book of Jeremiah is not light reading. In fact, the majority of the book deals with repeated sin and willful disobedience. In the end, there is major catastrophe after catastrophe for Judah. They choose to worship other gods, offering special offerings to the Queen of Heaven. They demand their own way, escaping to Egypt, when clearly told to stay in their own land. They slaughter their enemies, hiding the dead bodies from the kings who would come to attack them - in a cistern! If anyone tells me the Bible is boring, I'd have to tell them to get a different translation and read it again! After reading all this, I came to the chapter forty-six: God's decree of judgment, but also his announcement of mercy!
"But you, dear Jacob my servant, you have nothing to fear. Israel, there's no need to worry. Look up! I'll save you from that far country, I'll get your children out of the land of exile. Things are going to be normal again for Jacob, safe and secure, smooth sailing. Yes, dear Jacob my servant, you have nothing to fear. Depend on it, I'm on your side. I'll finish off all the godless nations among which I've scattered you, but I won't finish you off. I have more work left to do on you. I'll punish you, but fairly. No, I'm not finished with you yet." (Jeremiah 46:27-28 The Message)
The God we serve is both holy and just. His holiness and justice "demand" judgment of sin. It is impossible for him to turn his back on sin - he may delay in bringing judgment, but it is sure to come. We read the Book of Jeremiah, seeing all these repeated evidences of their willful disobedience to the ways of God. In the end, we find God's mercy expressed in the words, "I'll punish, but fairly. I'm not finished with you yet."
I don't know about you, but these are words of encouragement to me! The many times as I have chosen my own willful disobedience over the clearly evident instruction of my God are proof of how much I really deserved much worse than I received! Indeed, we serve a "fair" God! I would like to examine a few of the things we find out about Judah in order to get a better understanding of just how "fair" God's dealings are with his people.
First, there is the whole business of being "captive" in a land where you think you are walking free. The Israelite nation finds themselves in a place of "free living" - subject to the Babylonian ruler, but not really in any danger of being attacked by the armies - as long as they take care of the land. They are to tend it, harvest it, and lay up stores from it. Sin is kind of like this - it is a demanding taskmaster. It wants to be tended - bringing even the smallest thought of sin to the place of full harvest. Once the sin is full grown - it wants us to continue in it! Free, but never really free!
Second, sin loves company! It is a pretty rare thing to find ourselves really entertaining sin and loving it all on our own - there is usually some desire to be "party" with someone else in the sin. There was this Israelite names Ishmael. He had ten companions - men of valor - who hung around him. One day, they cooked up a scheme to kill one of the higher ranking officials in the land. In fact, they killed the governor of the region - the man appointed by the King of Babylon. In fact, these men killed all the members of the Chaldean army who were also in the area of the governor's home. Now, don't get me wrong - I am not saying we travel in circles of murderers, but we do have "companions" in our sin. Sin has a way of magnifying itself when we have companions in the wrongdoing!
Third, there is almost always an attempt to cover up our sin. Ishmael had these guys help him hide the bodies - in a cistern! Now, if you know anything about cisterns, they were an underground collection place for rain run-off. These were pretty big holes. But...can you imagine what hiding all these dead bodies did to the water? Think of the mess they created in trying to cover up their actions! The same is true of us - we think we have a good plan to cover things up, but alas, we only end up "fouling" the waters!
Fourth, sin causes us to run to whatever seems like a place of sanctuary. Judah finds themselves running to Egypt - deeper into captivity. In attempting to run away from sin, they run deeper into the holds of their taskmaster! Need I say more?
Lest we get depressed right now, I want to call us back to our scripture. Judah exercised willful disobedience, covered up their sin, and ran to escape it. Yet....God pursued them! He ensured Jeremiah's presence with them - the voice of God. He's just this way - never letting us get out of the "ear-shot" of his grace! Look at our passage again - God's first announcement to Judah is one of forgiveness - "You have nothing to fear". Isn't God amazing? He speaks into our souls the message of hope - in turn, lifting our eyes and hearts to receive what we so desperately need - forgiveness.
Don't miss what comes next - with God's forgiveness comes some steps which must be taken. God announces, "I am not finished with you yet. I have more work left to do on you." I would like us to consider this for a moment - God has more work to do on us (and in us). Mercy is coupled with action. God extends his mercy - we take steps of obedience in returning to the place he desires for us to possess. God's actions are always fair - even in the face of our willful disobedience! I am so grateful for his grace.
You might find yourself in the midst of making wrong choices today, surrounded by others who will partake right along with you. You might have found yourself covering up stuff - only to find out how much it pollutes your "reservoir" of life. Regardless of where you are today - God is there! In fact, he is NEVER far from extending grace! As our sin unfolded, there were consequences (we found ourselves in bondage). As our forgiveness unfolds, we find ourselves taking steps back from the place of bondage to the place of true freedom and release. Willful disobedience is put in its place with each step we take back toward God - we don't get there immediately, but we do get closer and closer to enjoying our freedom with each step we take!