GOD’S PROMISE OF A RETURN
God told Judah, through Jeremiah, that he would thrust the people of Judah out of the land for their sin. But in these passages we study today, he also told them he would bring them back.
The New Exodus
The Exodus was the defining event of the Lord’s relationship with Israel. He repeatedly described himself in the Old Testament as the Lord who brought them up out of Egypt. It was the founding event of the covenant. Before he entered into the covenant with Israel, he said “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” (Exodus 19:4)
The Exodus was God’s redemption of Israel. He redeemed them and then he entered into a covenant relationship with them. It also serves us as a picture, or type, of redemption in Christ.
In these verses, the Lord first portrays the future return from Babylon as a second Exodus. He puts it in terms of an oath. People then swore an oath by the Lord who brought the Israelites out of Egypt. But later they will swear an oath by the Lord who brought them up out of the “north country”, which is Babylon.
This is a big statement. He says he will bring them out of Babylon with his power and save them. They will not save themselves.
Second, the Lord emphasized how he would seek them out by saying he would send hunters and fishers all over to find them.
The Lord Who Sees
The Lord could find them all because his eyes were on them and he saw their ways. This had a positive and a negative outcome. The positive outcome is that he could find them anywhere and bring them home. The negative outcome is that he saw their iniquity.
This also demonstrates another attribute of God. He is omnipresent. He is everywhere present. We, in contrast, are present only in one place at one time. Since God is everywhere present, he can see all the Israelites wherever they are. He has no spatial limitations. In Jeremiah 23:23-24 he said “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Psalm 139:7-10 also deals with this.
A related attribute is also that God is timeless. Psalm 90:2 says “from everlasting to everlasting you are God”. He calls himself the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come. (Revelation 1:8) He called himself I AM in Exodus 3:14 when he revealed himself to Moses. He is the eternal “I AM”, the one who eternally exists.
Because he is timeless, he sees all time equally. Psalm 90:4 says “for a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past or as a watch in the night”. 2 Peter 3:8 says “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day”. We see time one day at a time. God sees all time all the time. So, God could see the people of Judah heading for exile and he could see the remnant he would bring home.
Punishment Comes First
God reminds them that, although he will bring the nation back, he will punish the nation first. In fact, he said he would doubly repay their iniquity and sin. I believe the use of the word “doubly” here means “fully” as opposed to exactly twice the amount of their sin. There is some use of the Hebrew word in non-biblical writings to mean “equivalent”. There may also be a sense of God, having refrained from fully expressing his wrath over the years, now pours it on fully for all the sins of the generations that worshipped idols.
Isaiah 40:1-5 uses this same term and carries the same message. The perspective of this verse is different than Jeremiah 16:18, for it is spoken as if the exile is over. In Isaiah, God says her (meaning Israel) iniquity is pardoned because she received double for all her sins. This means Israel was fully punished for her sins by her exile and she could now come home. That period turns out to be 70 years. We will study that in chapter 29 of Jeremiah.
The Long Term Plan
Jeremiah mentioned God’s long term plan to bring the Gentiles into the family. He said ”to you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth”.(19) This is a further statement of the Lord’s promise to Abraham: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. (Genesis 12:3) We know that word was not fulfilled in the return of the Jews from Babylon, for the nations did not come to them, except to conquer them.
Rather, that promise saw fulfillment first in the ministry of Jesus. His ministry in Galilee spread his fame throughout Syria, the Decapolis and from beyond the Jordan. (Matthew 4:23-25) The Decapolis was a confederation of 10 cities that were in Semitic countries but adopted the Greek life style. The cities were:
- Gerasa in Jordan
- Scythopolis in Israel,
- Hippos in Israel
- Gadara in Jordan
- Pella in Jordan
- Philadelphia, modern day Amman, the capital of Jordan
- Capitolias in Jordan
- Canatha in Syria
- Raphana in Jordan
- Damascus, the capital of modern Syria.
The cities contained people from many countries. They practiced Greek culture. That is why you see people keeping pigs in Gadara or Gerasa where Jesus drove the demons from the man in Mark 5/Matthew 8:28 et seq.
Jesus healed the son of a Roman Centurion in Matthew 8:5-13.
Matthew said Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 42 “and in his name the Gentiles will hope”.
Then Jesus commanded the disciples to bring about greater fulfillment, telling them to make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19) Peter first went to the Gentiles when he preached the gospel to Cornelius, another centurion, in Acts 10. Converted Jews who left Jerusalem under persecution preached the gospel to Greeks in Antioch in Acts 11. Paul then became the full time apostle to the Gentiles, going the island of Cyprus, Asia and Europe. In Colossians 1:23, Paul said the gospel had been preached in all creation under heaven.
These Gentiles would come to worship God in Christ. They would abandon their idols. That is what God said would happen here in Jeremiah 16:19-20.
They Will Know Who the Lord Is
Not only would all these peoples come to God, they would know him. In fact, the Lord said he will “make them know...my power and my might and they shall know that my name is YHWH”.
Jesus said: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
And we do!