This particular passage is one of those that can fly by very quickly in our evening devotions as we prepare to fall asleep. You know the kind of passage. The one you reach and think to yourself, “I can skim through this passage-it will be OK.” We are all guilty of that, and we can’t always be blamed for trying to get to sleep on time. But there are treasures for the diligent reader, and this passage contains some wonderful and challenging truths for us if we only have the wherewithal to read closely.
Our passage opens with God describing the loss of his treasure. Though destruction is upon his people, and though God has warned them and told them the present troubles are a result of their own evil deeds, God is broken-hearted. Notice how the first three phrases make this evident:
“I have forsaken my house,”
“I have abandoned my heritage,”
“I have given [to their enemies] the beloved of my soul.”
I hope that our trek through Jeremiah has taught us a clear lesson about God-he is not vindictive, capricious, arbitrary, or spiteful. The God of the Bible is so full of love for his creation that even when we suffer the consequences due our rebellion, God hurts over our struggle and still considers us his beloved. His love demands we feel the sting of our sins and rebellion, but he remains always the lover of our souls and the forgiver of our sins.
As the passage continues, God describes how Judah has turned against him though he came to them over and over. They were like a wild lion in the forest and turned on their God. Then the chapter ends with an enthralling twist of pronouns.
Imagine yourself the king of Judah. Your enemies surround your country, many of your town and villages have already been leveled, and here stands the prophet of God bringing you the news of your imminent demise. Then you get this little gem:
“Thus says the LORD concerning all my evil neighbors… after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them…”
If you watch the pronouns closely (or read this passage in a clear paraphrase or contemporary translation), you will discover that God is telling Judah that he will have compassion on their enemies. This is not what you, the imaginary king of Judah, want to hear. But it is a powerful pair of lessons from the God of history to his people.
First, this reality, the potential for gentiles (everyone) to become part of God’s kingdom, should fight against the hatred the Judeans have at this point for all outsiders. God’s priority for them-even them-is reconciliation with him.
Secondly, this passage is a clear theological call for the particularity of the worship of the God of the Bible. God describes the terms of their reconciliation by telling us that He should be worshiped alone: there is no room for sincere worshipers of idols and pagan gods.
There is a great deal of pressure in our pluralistic culture to minimize the particularity of Christianity and hold to the kind of belief in which all sincere religious adherents have access to “salvation.” One catch is that Scripture doesn’t teach that. The most compassionate thing we can do is expose people to the God of the Bible and give them an opportunity to become a part of His kingdom-no matter who they are.
Let us not loose the courage of our doctrine, but gain the freedom found in the truth of the unique Gospel of Jesus Christ. And let us gain the compassion and strength to carry the message to “whosoever will.”