Thus says the Lord concerning all my evil neighbors who touch the heritage that I have given my people Israel to inherit: “Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land. And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, ‘As the Lord lives,’ even as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people. But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 12:14-17 ESV
One of the things we fail to realize when it comes to the sin and rebellion of Israel and Judah is that their behavior and God’s subsequent punishment of them had an impact on all those around them. They would not be the only ones to suffer as a result of their disobedience. When God sent the Babylonians as His disciplinary rod, they would prove to be non-discriminatory invaders, conquering anyone and everyone in their path, and taking them captive alongside the people of God. This would include Egyptians, Assyrians, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Arameans. The Babylonian invasion would have a devastating impact on all the nations surrounding Israel. And while many of these nations had played a role in Israel’s rebellion against God, intermarrying with the Hebrews and influencing them with their false gods, they would be shown compassion by God. These nations were all guilty of serving other gods and of being a continual source of temptation to the people of Israel. And they were not the only ones. The occupants of the land of Canaan, who were dwelling in the land when the people of Israel arrived, were also pagan idol worshipers. And God had warned His people about these nations and what they were to do to them:
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. This is what you must do. You must break down their pagan altars and shatter their sacred pillars. Cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols. For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-6 NLT
Of course, the Israelites had proven to be less-than-thorough in their obedience to God’s command. They ended up not eliminating those nations and were guilty of having intermarried with them and of worshiping their false gods. And many of these people would be conquered by the Babylonians and taken captive as well.
“Behold, I will pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them.” – Jeremiah 12:14 ESV
But the truly amazing thing is that God expresses His intent to show them all mercy, including the pagan nations who had led His people astray. He tells them:
“And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land.” – Jeremiah 12:15 ESV
After the 70 years in captivity that the people of Judah would have to endure, God would miraculously restore them to the land. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra, a remnant of the Israelites living in captivity would be given the opportunity to return home in order to repopulate the land and rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. And there would be others who would join them on their return home. But God had added an important caveat to His merciful restoration of these people to their former residences in the land of Canaan: They would have to learn to worship Him alone.
“And if these nations truly learn the ways of my people, and if they learn to swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives’ (just as they taught my people to swear by the name of Baal), then they will be given a place among my people.” – Jeremiah 12:16 NLT
God was not going to allow them to return to the land and go back to their same old habits of worshiping false gods and leading His people astray. His rescue of them came with a price – acknowledgement of His status as the one true God. They would be required to learn the ways of Judaism and worship Yahweh with the same zeal and enthusiasm as they did their false gods. And their failure to do so would result in further discipline at the hands of God.
“But any nation who refuses to obey me will be uprooted and destroyed. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 12:17 NLT
God would prove Himself more than compassionate in allowing the Israelites and these other pagan nations to return from their captivity. They would have done nothing to have deserved it. In fact, the entire situation would be His doing. He would be the one to stir the heart of King Cyrus to send the people of Judah back to the land and, not only that, but to fund the entire trip.
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah. He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom:
“This is what King Cyrus of Persia says:
“The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you! Wherever this Jewish remnant is found, let their neighbors contribute toward their expenses by giving them silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a voluntary offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:1-4 NLT
God had promised to restore them to the land and He would one day fulfill that promise. Not because they deserved it, but because He is the faithful, loving, compassionate and covenant-keeping God. And what God desired from His people was that they too be faithful, loving, compassionate and covenant-keepers. Even those who were from the pagan nations around Judah could enjoy the grace, mercy and compassion of God if they would only worship Him as the one true God. When God had placed Israel in the land of Canaan, He had told them:
“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and worship him and cling to him. Your oaths must be in his name alone. He alone is your God, the only one who is worthy of your praise, the one who has done these mighty miracles that you have seen with your own eyes.” – Deuteronomy 10:17-21 NLT
God is impartial, just, loving, and compassionate to all. He expected His people to emulate His ways. And even in spite of Judah’s sins, God would still show them compassion, returning them to the land and restoring them to their former position as His children. And He was even willing to show compassion on those nations who had never worshiped Him as God. He would reveal to these godless nations just what a real God is like. He would prove Himself all-powerful, incredibly compassionate, and loving beyond measure. And all He asked in return was acknowledgement of His status as the one and only God.
There will always be those who want to make much of God’s wrath and harsh judgment. They will highlight God’s seeming injustice and bloodthirsty nature, questioning how a loving God could command the complete annihilation of entire people groups. But the God of the Bible is not one-dimensional. He cannot be caricatured as a vicious tyrant who loves to make people suffer. Yes, He is often portrayed in the Scriptures as a God of wrath who brings down His judgment in knee-shaking, seemingly merciless power. But that is an incomplete and inaccurate image of God. His incredible acts of mercy are not to be ignored or overlooked. His undeserved expressions of compassion are not to be minimized. He is the sovereign, holy and righteous God of the universe who has repeatedly and patiently put up with the sins of mankind. He has endured constant unfaithfulness and ingratitude. He has watched as those He has made have turned their backs on Him, while they cleverly come up with their own gods to worship in His place. He has showered grace upon grace, providing a planet on which to live, food, shelter, rain, heat, sunlight, and a host of other undeserved blessings – only to have those whom He has made to treat Him with disdain or to dismiss Him as non-existent. But His compassion remains incomparable. His love endures.
Where is another God like you,
who pardons the guilt of the remnant,
overlooking the sins of his special people?
You will not stay angry with your people forever,
because you delight in showing unfailing love.
Once again you will have compassion on us.
You will trample our sins under your feet
and throw them into the depths of the ocean!
You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. – Micah 7:18-20 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.