I have been reading the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah during my time with the Lord, and a phrase in a verse from Jeremiah 30 caught my attention today, so much so, that I wanted to write on it as a prayerful devotion, at least for myself and maybe for you. In the midst of some really difficult verses dealing with devastation and the pain of God’s people, God Himself declares through Jeremiah, “For I am with you to save you, Declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 30:11). Think about this statement, dwell on it. God’s presence is for His people’s salvation, for their good.
Jeremiah is not an easy book, as the key theme is that Judah’s disobedience and idolatry has left God no remedy other than to bring the judgment of the Babylonian Empire. Jeremiah served as one of God’s prophets from a couple decades before Babylon began its conquest of God’s people and Jerusalem through the fall of the great city. He was an eyewitness of three different military crusades led by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon against God’s people, each one resulting in more devastation and more people being exiled to Babylon, until the final fall of the city in 587 BC. But he was more than an eyewitness. The Word of the Lord in Jeremiah’s mouth and pen proclaimed these events over and over again as God used this man to warn that their failure to repent and return to Yahweh, the One True God would result in God’s judgment.
By the time we get to chapter 30, the conquest is in full order, the devastation has already begun. Thousands of people have already been deported into exile in Babylon (including Daniel and his 3 friends which we talked about in our series that ended last month). Jerusalem is already under threat and will eventually fall. The suffering of God’s people is real, devastating, and immanent. And here is the key to understanding the entire book. Babylon can be seen as the cause, but Jeremiah has constantly reminded the reader that they are nothing more than a secondary cause. The primary cause of the hardship for God’s people is God Himself. He is sovereign over their lives, and sovereign over the nations. Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar can do nothing without God’s sovereign decree. Jeremiah’s words have been gracious warnings about God’s coming judgment through Babylon and offering the opportunity to repent. Of course, the people threaten Jeremiah, continue in their sin and idolatry, and reject the gracious Word of the Lord.
But chapter 30 has a shift in language and tone. For the first 29 chapters, the key theme has been warning of this coming doom. But there is no longer need to warn, the events are happening, the judgment is present. Chapter 30 reveals God’s presence in two separate but equally important facets. They are in the midst of experiencing God’s presence in His just judgment and discipline. They are God’s people, His covenant people. The promise from day one was that He would be their God, they would be His people. If left to themselves, they are on a path of self destruction that includes the removal of God and His presence. We look at the story and can think, how can God be so tough. But the alternative is for God to leave these people completely to themselves, to let them walk away from Him, to be away from the presence of the Lord. So I need to ask myself, which is worse, more devastating. For God to let me have what I want at the expense of His presence, or for God to discipline me resulting in pain and suffering, but will also mean that He will remain present as well. For Israel, Babylon is the loving discipline of God to bring His people back to Himself.
But chapter 30 is also a pronouncement that the purpose of their suffering is not their destruction, but rather their restoration. Their suffering is momentary, but the ultimate goal is that they would return to the Lord, and His presence would shift from that of discipline and judgment back to the presence of grace and mercy. So we see God’s gracious covenant presence with His people in two clear and specific ways. He comes to them as, “The storm of the Lord,” (Jeremiah 30:33) His wrath has come out, His anger gone forth until, “He has executed and accomplished the intentions of His mind.” This chapter ends with the promise that at some future time they will understand and rejoice in the disciplining presence of the Lord. The reason is that this is the path to the restoring, gracious, merciful presence of the Lord (v. 18-21).
God, through Jeremiah, is trying to help all of us see that God’s presence comes to us both in His discipline and restoring grace. I tend to think that God has left me when life gets hard, when I suffer, when I feel the results of His discipline. When life seems to be full of blessing, God is good. But when hardship comes, I feel abandoned. I am so thankful for the full testimony of Scripture. God’s discipline and the hardship in our lives is not evidence of God’s withdrawal, if we are truly His people. In fact, it is His loving act in our lives to show us that our idols are unable to heal us, to rescue us, and remind us that our hope is wrapped up in His presence. But the hardships, for those who believe in Christ always come with promise, that the hardship will not have the last say. One day we will understand, but today we may need to trust, lean in to the love of Christ, and know that God is shaping us and with us in the hardship as well as the good times.
When God says through Jeremiah, “For I am with you to save you, declares the Lord,” He is speaking of the fullness of His presence. Yes, His gracious and merciful presence revealed in all of His blessings leads to salvation. But so does the presence of His discipline and wrath when directed toward His people. Both will bring us to the point where we will know again that, “And you shall me by people, and I will be your God.” And this is the best thing that this life has, to have the loving presence of God as our hope. Thanks for reading.