“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.
“Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes. But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.” – Jeremiah 16:14-18 ESV
God is reliable. He can be counted on to do what He says. His character is unchanging and while His ways are difficult to understand at times, He is consistently faithful in all that He does. God had warned the people of Israel that if they failed to remain faithful to Him, He would bring curses upon them. They failed and He was going to faithfully keep His word. He was going to do exactly what He said He would do. He hadn’t been lying. He had meant what He said. And they were about to learn the trustworthiness of God the hard way. They were going to go into exile. And God compares their pending judgment to fish being caught by a fishermen or prey being stalked by a hunter. The prophet Ezekiel used this same kind of terminology when he described the pending fall of Jerusalem and the capture of the king, Zedekiah.
“And I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare. And I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he shall not see it, and he shall die there.” – Ezekiel 12:13 NLT
Later on in his book, Jeremiah will chronicle the actual capture of Zedekiah after he attempted to escape from the city as King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians invaded.
But the Babylonian troops chased the king and caught him on the plains of Jericho. They took him to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who was at Riblah in the land of Hamath. There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. He made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons and all the nobles of Judah. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – Jeremiah 39:3-7 NLT
Exactly what God had said would happen took place. Zedekiah was taken captive to Babylon, but never saw it, because his eyes had been gouged out.
The prophet Habakkuk, like Jeremiah, had a hard time understanding why God was going to allow the Babylonians to take His people captive. And he uses the same imagery of fishermen catching fish to convey his concern.
Are we only fish to be caught and killed?
Are we only sea creatures that have no leader?
Must we be strung up on their hooks
and caught in their nets while they rejoice and celebrate?
Then they will worship their nets
and burn incense in front of them.
“These nets are the gods who have made us rich!”
they will claim. – Habakkuk 1:14-16 NLT
Judah was going to fall. They would be as helpless as fish caught in a net. Any attempt to escape their fate would prove useless because God had ordained it. It was going to happen just as He said it would. But that should also be a comfort to them. While it was difficult for them to see the good news in the midst of all the bad, God informed Jeremiah that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was not a train. It was the goodness and graciousness of God. He reminded His prophet that He had long-term plans for the people of Judah.
“As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the people of Israel back to their own land from the land of the north and from all the countries to which he had exiled them.’ For I will bring them back to this land that I gave their ancestors.” – Jeremiah 16:15 NLT
Yes, they would go into exile. Because God had said they would. But they would also return from exile, because said they would. Both events would occur, because God said they would. He could be trusted to keep His word. And when we read these passages that contain examples of God’s judgment upon His people, rather than question the ways of God, we should be reminded of the faithfulness of God. He doesn’t lie. He never fails to follow through on what He has said. And when He tells the people of Judah that they will one day return to the land of promise, He means it. His word means something. His threats are never idle. His words are never cheap. His promises never prove false. Even before the people of Israel entered into the land of Canaan, promised to them by God, He had told them that if they failed to obey Him and remain faithful to Him, they would suffer the consequences of their disobedience and experience capture and exile. But He had also promised to restore them.
Even though you are banished to the ends of the earth, the Lord your God will gather you from there and bring you back again. The Lord your God will return you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will possess that land again. Then he will make you even more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors!
“The Lord your God will change your heart and the hearts of all your descendants, so that you will love him with all your heart and soul and so you may live!” – Deuteronomy 30:4-6 NLT
This prophecy has been fulfilled in part. The people of Judah were restored to the land of Canaan. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah record exactly how God kept His word. But there is a part of God’s promise that has yet to be fulfilled. He has not yet changed the hearts of the people of Israel so that they might love him will all their heart and soul. That part of His promise has yet to take place. The prophet Ezekiel provides us with further insight into what God has in store for the nation of Israel some time in the future.
For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior.” – Ezekiel 36:24-29 NLT
That has not yet happened. But we can be certain that it will. Why? Because God has promised it. Jeremiah could rest on the certainty that God would one day return the people of Judah back to Jerusalem. Because He had promised it. And one day, God is going to give the people of Israel new hearts. He is going remove their stubborn hearts and replace them with tender, responsive hearts. He is going to put His Spirit within them so that they will love and serve Him faithfully. And the truly amazing thing is that God is going to do all this, not because they deserve it, but because He has promised it.
“I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations.’” – Ezekiel 36:22 NLT
“But remember, says the Sovereign Lord, I am not doing this because you deserve it. O my people of Israel, you should be utterly ashamed of all you have done!” – Ezekiel 36:32 NLT
But how can we know that this is going to happen? How can we be so sure that God is going to do what He has promised? He answers those questions for us.
“For I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I say.” – Ezekiel 36:36 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.