The difference

God’s treatment of his chosen people may seem harsh unless you understand his goal for the nation of Israel. God wanted his people to be a peculiar people, a nation set apart and devoted to him (Deuteronomy 14:2). God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondageĀ  and formed them into what he wanted them to be; like a potter that forms a useful vessel out of clay. They were his handiwork. When the people of Judah were taken into captivity in Babylon, their customs and behavior differentiated them from everyone else. They were obviously not like their Babylonian captors because they prayed to a God that no one could see.

One of the things that God wanted his people to believe about him was that he would be faithful in keeping his promises to them. In spite of their rejection of his laws and commandments, God intended to deliver his people from sin. Jeremiah declared, “The LORD hath brought forth our righteousness: come, and let us declare in Zion the work of the LORD our God” (Jeremiah 51:10). The work that was to be declared in Zion was the salvation of God’s people. In essence, what was to be accomplished was the birth of the Messiah, but there was also a need for the relationship between God and his people to be restored in order for salvation to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

God’s control over humanity as the Creator of the Universe allows him to decide how to deal with sin. He determined that the penalty for sin would be death (Genesis 2:17). The purpose of salvation was to enable mankind to survive when God’s judgment was executed. Although physical death is inevitable, it is possible to die and yet not perish or cease to exist. The difference between someone who dies without receiving salvation and the person who is saved is life beyond the grave. In other words, death is not the end of life, but a new beginning for the person who has received salvation.

God illustrated this principle when he returned the remnant of Judah to their land after their captivity was completed. Instead of the city of Jerusalem remaining in ruins after it was destroyed by the Babylonians, it was rebuilt and the city still exists today. God destroyed many cities and even whole nations when he did away with the pagan rituals of idolatry that were prevalent in the Old Testament of the Bible. Jeremiah declared, “For their molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them. They are vanity, the work of errors; in the time of their visitation they shall perish. The portion of Jacob is not like them: for he is the former of all things” (Jeremiah 51: 17-19).

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One God

Moab was the son of Abraham’s nephew Lot who was born to him through an incestuous relationship with his oldest daughter after God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:37). Lot had a second son, Ben-ammi through his younger daughter. Ben-ammi was the father of the children of Ammon and Moab the father of the Moabites. The location of Sodom and Gomorrah is thought to have been on the eastern coast of the Salt Sea because the Moabites and Ammonites occupied the area surrounding that region. The territory of the Moabites was excluded from the Promised Land, but their land was given to the tribes of Ruben, Gad, and Manasseh after they tried to prevent the Israelites from receiving their inheritance. The Moabites were only partially conquered and they were allowed to coexist with the Israelites even though they had been cursed by God.

The Moabites continually waged war with the IsraelitesĀ  and influenced them to worship foreign gods. The primary deity of the Moabites was Chemosh. King Solomon had many foreign wives, among whom were women of the Moabites. When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, “And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon” (1 Kings 11:4-7). These high places or altars to foreign gods remained in Jerusalem for hundreds of years until king Josiah removed them around 620 B.C., not long before the people of Judah were taken into captivity.

The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the older twin brother of Jacob whose birthright was sold for a bowl of soup (Genesis 26:34). Like the Moabites and Ammonites, the Edomites were relatives of Abraham that did not receive God’s blessing. All of these people caused problems for the Israelites while they were living in the Promised Land and were determined to be destroyed by the Babylonians during the reign of Nebuchaddrezzar. Jeremiah’s prophecies about these nations had a common theme, they were to be removed from the area that belonged to God’s chosen people.

A clear directive from God was the establishment of a government system that would be subject to his authority. The reason for this was so that the captivity of God’s people would be controlled by him. The LORD established beginning and end dates for their captivity that were not to exceed 70 years based on his judgment against the nation of Judah. Before Nebuchaddrezzar entered Jerusalem, it was already known that his kingdom would be temporary and Cyrus king of Persia would make it possible for the people of Judah to return to their homeland. God used Nebuchaddrezzar to remove the powers that had been a problem to his people. In addition, all of the foreign gods that Israel had worshipped would be eliminated from the scene and the only divine source of strength remaining would be the LORD, God, Almighty.

Ruined

Habakkuk believed that God would do what he said he was going to, and, therefore, Habakkuk knew that his life was about to be ruined. God had said the Chaldeans would come and completely destroy the nation of Judah. He also said everyone would be killed except for a small portion of the population that would be taken into captivity and would become slaves of the king of Babylon. Given what he knew, Habakkuk prayed, “O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid. O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years in the midst of the years make known, in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2).

Somehow, Habakkuk knew that God could show his people love in the midst of their punishment. He asked that God would revive his work and make himself known to his people while they were in captivity in Babylon. Habakkuk was most likely referring to God’s work of salvation. One of the key components to God’s plan was that the Messiah had to be a descendant of king David. In order for God to accomplish this, he had to preserve the royal blood line. Habakkuk didn’t know what would happen to him or his family when his country was invaded, but he believed that his salvation was assured and that was enough for him to trust God with the outcome of his situation.

Habakkuk declared, “Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundest the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah” (Habakkuk 3:13). Habakkuk was able to see there was more at stake than the occupation of the Promised Land by God’s people. Where they lived was not as important as the fact that the Israelites remained alive until God’s plan of salvation was completed. Habakkuk understood that God was preserving, as well as punishing, his chosen people by sending them into captivity.

Habakkuk’s concluding statement of faith showed that he was able to trust in God’s providence regardless of his circumstances. His anticipation of what was to come, caused Habakkuk to set his mind ahead of time that he would survive against all odds. Habakkuk confidently stated, “The LORD is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places” (Habakkuk 3:19). Although Habakkuk’s fate is unknown, it is possible he escaped Jerusalem before it was invaded and became a member of the first wave of what has been described as the dispersion of the Jews. He may have set out for a far off land, leaving behind his prophetic writing as a testament to his belief that God would protect and preserve those of his people who truly put their trust in him.

Potter and clay

The parable of the potter and clay is a common, and probably the most popular, illustration of God’s sovereign control over mankind. Isaiah used this illustration in his message of doom to the city of Jerusalem (Isaiah 29:15-16). The LORD told Jeremiah, “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words” (Jeremiah 18:2). Jeremiah was given a first-hand account of the LORD’s plan to change his people into a different kind of “vessel” for his use. Jeremiah said, “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it” (Jeremiah 18:3).

One of the key points in the message Jeremiah received was shown in the actions of the potter. It says in Jeremiah 18:3, the potter “wrought a work.” He was making a valuable object that he intended to sell for money. The Hebrew word translated work in this verse is derived from the root word malak, which means to dispatch as a deputy; a messenger (4397). The purpose of the vessel the potter created was most likely a container for storing and preserving important documents. The LORD was depicting his people as receptacles, perhaps, of the gospel. They were to be used to transport his message around the world. The fact that the vessel was formed on “wheels” indicated the potter was using motion to facilitate the process of his work.

The illustration of the potter and clay may have suggested that Israel was no longer fit to be used by God as messengers of the gospel. After Jeremiah’s life was threatened a second time for speaking God’s word, he was told to “Go and get a potter’s earthen bottle, and take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests and go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom” (Jeremiah 19:1-2), the place where human sacrifices were made. There, he was instructed, “Then shalt thou break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee. And shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again” (Jeremiah 19:10-11).

The breaking of the clay bottle signified not only the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s temple, but also the breaking of the covenant between God and his chosen people. The Hebrew word used for break in this passage is the same word used in Exodus 32:19 where it is recorded that Moses cast the stone tablets that contained the Ten Commandments out of his hands when he saw the golden calf that Aaron had made the people worship. The clay bottle, as well as the stone tablets, were not merely broken, but completely shattered. The LORD’s reference to the bottle not being able to be made whole again indicated that the clay bottle also may have signified the heart’s of his people. To be made whole meant you were healed or cured of a disease (7495). Apparently, the hearts of the people of Judah were so hardened toward God that he could no longer cure them of their idolatry.

 

A consolation

Jeremiah cared about the people of Judah and was distressed because God was going to destroy them. Just as others thought it was against God’s nature to harm his chosen people, so Jeremiah thought he might be able to intercede and change God’s mind about what he planned to do. In response to Jeremiah’s plea for mercy, God said, “Thus saith the LORD unto this people, Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet, therefore the LORD doth not accept them; he will now remember their iniquity, and visit their sin. Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good” (Jeremiah 14:10-11).

Jeremiah’s concern for God’s people prompted the LORD to give him an answer to the question, What’s going to happen to us? The LORD told Jeremiah, “And it shall come to pass, if they say unto thee, Whither shall we go forth? then thou shalt tell them, Thus saith the LORD; Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for famine, to the famine; and such as are for captivity, to the captivity” (Jeremiah 15:2). God did not intend for everyone to die. He would intervene on behalf of a segment of the population referred to as the remnant (Jeremiah 15:11). God would save these people from death, “so as to demonstrate the divine intervention in the normal course of events to bring about or fulfil a divine intent (6485), specifically, the birth of Christ.

The people that would escape death would still be punished for their sins by having to go into captivity. These people would lose everything with regards to their possessions and would likely lose many family members and friends. The only consolation would be they would be treated well by their enemies. God explained, “Verily it shall be well with thy remnant; verily I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well in the time of evil, and in the time of affliction…And I will make thee to pass with thine enemies unto a land which thou knowest not: for a fire is kindled in mine anger, which shall burn upon you” (Jeremiah 15:11,14).

The only clue as to who would be appointed to go into captivity rather than to die when Jerusalem was destroyed may be found in Jeremiah 15:16, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them: and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.” It is likely when the book of the law was found in the temple in 621 B.C., during king Josiah’s reign (2 Kings 22:8), that some of the people actually took the word of God to heart and made an attempt to follow its instructions. Although these people probably did not repent and confess their sins to God, they may have believed the word of God was true and wanted to receive salvation.

 

The imagination of the heart

Jeremiah’s message to the people of Judah about obedience to God’s commandments was met with death threats (Jeremiah 26:8). The priests and prophets had been lying to the people about the consequences of their sins and were unwilling to let God’s message interfere with the corrupt practices they had established (Jeremiah 8:11). After approaching the people in the temple, Jeremiah was told to take his message to the streets of Jerusalem. There he was to remind the people of their covenant with God and to warn them that judgment was coming. (Jeremiah 11:6,11).

The LORD’s argument against the people was their stubborn refusal to listen to what God was saying to them. Jeremiah was told, “For I earnestly protested unto your fathers in the day that I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, even unto this day, rising early and protesting, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear, but walked every one in the imagination of their evil heart” (Jeremiah 11:8). Imagination refers to the thoughts in one’s mind. The people had gotten the idea in their heads that idolatry was necessary for their survival. Idolatry had become a way of life for them and they couldn’t imagine giving up that lifestyle.

God described the situation in Judah as a conspiracy (Jeremiah 11:9). What he meant by that was an alliance had been formed between the leaders of Judah and the priests and prophets of the temple that excluded God from the government of his people. Normally, the people were expected to seek God for direction and to thank him for his provision, but instead the people were expected to pay tribute to the king of Egypt (2 Chronicles 36:3) and to mock God for his inability to deliver them from their enemies (2 Chronicles 36:4).

Jeremiah’s frustration and humiliation at being condemned to death for speaking the truth is evident in his statement of rejection. He said, “But I was like a lamb or an ox that is led to the slaughter’ and I knew not that they had devised devices against me saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be no more remembered” (Jeremiah 11:19). In spite of his desperate situation, Jeremiah didn’t lose hope in God. He prayed, “But, O LORD of hosts, that judgest righteously, that triest the reins and the heart, let me see vengeance on them: for unto thee have I revealed my cause” (Jeremiah 11:20).

Uncircumcised heart

Jeremiah’s assessment of the situation in Judah revealed that the people were not following God’s commandments because they didn’t really know the LORD, they didn’t have a relationship with him (Jeremiah 9:3). Beginning with Abraham, God had made it clear that faith was the only way to enter into a relationship with him. Abraham believed in the LORD and God counted it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

God’s people thought the most important things in life were for them to be wise, powerful, and rich (Jeremiah 9:23). They wanted material success rather than a godly life. They didn’t realize that having a relationship with God was the only way for them to be truly happy. God had to explain to them that his way of life was the opposite of what they were trying to achieve. He said:

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

One of the ways Jeremiah described being committed to the LORD was to have a circumcised heart. He told the people of Judah to “circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart” (Jeremiah 4:4). Taking away the foreskin was symbolic of being stripped or to go naked (6188). In reference to the heart, it meant you would bare your soul or confess all your sins to God.

The LORD warned his people of a day when the entire world would be punished for sin. Previously, the Israelites expected God to pardon all their sins and establish an eternal kingdom for them in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:13). Because of their unfaithfulness, God would only pardon those of his chosen people who repented of their sins and received salvation through Jesus Christ. He said, “Behold the day cometh, saith the LORD, that I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart” (Jeremiah 9:25-26).