Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts:
“Because you have spoken this word,
behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire,
and this people wood, and the fire shall consume them.
Behold, I am bringing against you
a nation from afar, O house of Israel,
declares the Lord.
It is an enduring nation;
it is an ancient nation,
a nation whose language you do not know,
nor can you understand what they say.
Their quiver is like an open tomb;
they are all mighty warriors.
They shall eat up your harvest and your food;
they shall eat up your sons and your daughters;
they shall eat up your flocks and your herds;
they shall eat up your vines and your fig trees;
your fortified cities in which you trust
they shall beat down with the sword.”
“But even in those days, declares the Lord, I will not make a full end of you. And when your people say, ‘Why has the Lord our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.’” – Jeremiah 5:14-19 ESV
God was going to make His words like fire and the people of Judah like dry wood. In other words, everything Jeremiah spoke to them regarding their coming destruction was going to end up consuming them. They would be helpless before the all-consuming wrath of God – unless they repented. The proof that Jeremiah spoke for God and was not a false prophet speaking lies would be revealed when all that he prophesied actually took place. The people had been guilty of denying Jeremiah’s words, saying of God:
“He will do nothing;
no disaster will come upon us,
nor shall we see sword or famine.
The prophets will become wind;
the word is not in them.
Thus shall it be done to them!” – Jeremiah 5:12-13 ESV
They wrongly thought that all Jeremiah was saying would simply blow over and prove untrue. He would be exposed as a fraud and nothing more than a doomsayer. But God assured them that every single thing Jeremiah has said so far will take place. The Babylonians were coming. And this is exactly what God had said would happen if His people proved to be unfaithful to Him. All the way back in the wilderness, when they were being led by Moses to the land of promise, he had warned them: “The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand” (Deuteronomy 28:49 ESV). And now, hundreds of years later, it was about to happen. Why? Because the people of Judah, just like their neighbors to the north in Israel, had failed to remain faithful to God. They had pursued false gods and made alliances with pagan nations. They had repeatedly turned their back on the one true God, who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and place their hope and trust in the man-made gods of the nations surrounding them. And God had made clear to Moses what the cause of their eventual destruction would be: “If you do not serve the Lord your God with joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits you have received, you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you” (Deuteronomy 28:47-48 NLT).
This wasn’t going to be the result of God losing His temper or flying off the handle. It would not be some uncontrolled, knee-jerk reaction by God. He had warned them in advance that their covenant with Him was bilateral. It had conditions. God had clearly told them, “if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you” (Deuteronomy 28:15 NLT). And God uses graphic imagery to describe what is about to happen to the people of Judah.
“They will devour the food of your harvest;
they will devour your sons and daughters.
They will devour your flocks and herds;
they will devour your grapes and figs.
And they will destroy your fortified towns,
which you think are so safe.” – Jeremiah 5:17 NLT
Food, flocks, families and fortified cities would all be devoured. Everything that was near and dear to the people of Judah, that they put their hope and trust for the future in, would be destroyed by the Babylonians. Nothing and no one would be safe. And again, this would all be in keeping with God’s warnings to Moses and the people of Israel long before they ever set foot in the promised land.
“Your towns and your fields
will be cursed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
will be cursed.
Your children and your crops
will be cursed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
will be cursed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
you will be cursed.” – Deuteronomy 28:16-19 NLT
What is important to realize when studying a passage like this is that none of this should have been a surprise to the people of Judah. The covenant that God had made with the people of Israel in the wilderness was to be constantly revisited, taught by one generation to another. They were to teach it to their children. It was to be taken seriously and obeyed vigorously, because God had proven Himself to be a God of His word. He always did what He said He would do. And He had given the people of Israel a choice:
“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NLT
Life and death. It seems like such a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Who in their right mind would choose death over life? Why would anyone willingly decide to take the path that leads to their own destruction? But people do it every day. When presented with the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s merciful and gracious offer of salvation, they turn away. They turn God down. They choose death over life. Condemnation over salvation. Hell over heaven. Judgment over justification. The people of Judah knew better. They had seen their God miraculously provide for them over the years. They had countless stories of God’s redemptive role in their lives. They had experienced His grace and forgiveness through the sacrificial system He had provided for them. But they had deliberately turned away from Him. And now they were going to suffer the consequences.
But amazingly, God tells them, “Yet even in those days I will not blot you out completely” (Jeremiah 5:18 NLT). In spite of all that they had done to reject Him and rebel against Him, God was not going to abandon them completely. Yes, He was going to punish them, but He would also preserve them. He would keep His covenant with them. He would follow through on every commitment He had made to Abraham, Moses and David. God was going to send the Messiah and He would come through the tribe of Judah. God was going to reestablish the city of Jerusalem because one day His Son is going to rule and reign there. The unfaithfulness of Judah was not going to keep God from remaining faithful to His promises. As is always the case with God, He saves in spite of us, not because of us. He redeems us, not because we deserve it, but because He chooses to do so. The coming judgment the people of Judah would face would not be God’s fault. It would be their own. And God makes that fact perfectly clear.
“And when your people ask, ‘Why did the Lord our God do all this to us?’ you must reply, ‘You rejected him and gave yourselves to foreign gods in your own land. Now you will serve foreigners in a land that is not your own.’” – Jeremiah 5:19 NLT
They would be responsible for their own judgment. They had been given a choice of life or death, and they had chosen death. But their salvation would be God’s choice. Their future redemption would be God’s doing, completely undeserved and a result of His grace and mercy. And Paul reminds us that those of us who have discovered the joy of forgiveness for our sins in Jesus Christ, did so because of God’s grace, not because of our goodness.
For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will—to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight. – Ephesians 1:4-8 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.