John Newton, the son of a sea captain, was born in London in 1725. When he was six, he lost his mother, but before she died, she prayed that he would become a minister. Choosing another path, Newton went to sea with his father at age eleven. After an unsuccessful stint in the Royal Navy, he went to work for a slave trader. In March 1748 Newton had an experience that changed him forever. He wrote in his journal: ‘Among the few books we had on board, one was Stanhope’s Thomas à Kempis: Imitation of Christ. I carefully took it up, as I had often done before, to pass away the time; but I had still read it with the same indifference as if it was entirely a romance. However, while I was reading this time, an involuntary suggestion arose in my mine – what if these things should be true?
He went to bed that night but was awakened by a fierce storm. Within a few minutes the ship was a virtual wreck, filling with water. Working frantically, the crew finally plugged the leaks. In his exhaustion, Newton heard himself say to the captain, ‘If this will not do, the Lord have mercy upon us.’ Newton was instantly taken aback by his own words. This was the first time he had desired God’s mercy in years. Then the thought went through his mind. ‘What mercy can there be for me?’
The next day, March 21, 1748, the storm continued. Newton was summoned to the helm, where he had time to reflect. He sadly concluded that there had never been a sinner as wicked as he and that his sins were too great and too many to be forgiven. His journal records the deliverance from the storm and his spiritual deliverance as well […he breathed his first weak prayer in years. As he later recall it, this was ‘the hour he first believed.’-Chris Armstrong Christian History, Issue 81, 19-20].[i]
God will and does address sin in our lives as well as in our society as a whole. When God’s discipline occurs, it is very painful to bear. Despair and hopelessness often accompany that discipline. It is designed to bring us to the end of ourselves and cause us to look up. Robert Davidson explains this reality by taking the example of Jeremiah’s messages:
In Jeremiah’s day, the people of Judah had to be led to the point where they were stripped of all human resources, before they were prepared to turn to the healing and renewing power which God alone could give. It is an experience that has been echoed across the centuries when people at the end of their tether, totally despairing, have found God and found healing and new life.[ii]
Here in the darkest hour, and in the moment of greatest pain, the city of Jerusalem was devastated by siege, famine, and plague. The survivors were enslaved, and taken into captivity and exile. It was in that hour that God breathed a word of hope. It is in the season of ashes that God speaks a word of beauty and hope. It is designed to help the people look past the present sorrow, to a new day of joy because of the promise of God. Here we have the word of restoration being preached by Jeremiah. Scholars call chapters thirty to thirty-three, the ‘book of comfort.’ It begins with a message of what God is about to accomplish through the discipline for their disobedience and defiance which now leads the people to a place of humility and repentance. This is the nature of genuine renewal, revival, and restoration. In Jeremiah thirty we discover three elements to the restoration that will come about in the ‘days ahead.’ Though the future never looked so bleak, God’s word presents a brighter picture for their tomorrow. God’s word of promise will help us find beauty in the seasons of ashes in our lives.
THE FIRST ELEMENT OF THE COMING RESTORATION IS SIMPLY THAT GOD PROMISES IT
Words are only as powerful and valid as the person speaking them. With God, what He says, He is well able to do. God’s promises are powerful aspects to bringing renewed hope in times of great sorrow and despair. Consider that God’s words are eternal in nature, while everything we see is temporary and passing away. When we embrace God’s promises it helps us move forward. God now tells Jeremiah to write down what is about to happen. We need to remember that these words of promise did not come out of a vacuum. They had grievously sinned against God. God was disciplining them in their rebellion, and now they were awakening to the reality of their sin.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you.
The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess,’ says the LORD.’[iii]
A new thing is about to happen that will change the trajectory of the despair the people of God were living in. They were told to make the best of the exile that they were living in as stated in chapter 29. However, what was to sustain them was this message of hope. The same is true for us in places where we feel trapped, without hope that things will change. What sustains is a word from God, a word of promise. In moments when we feel weak, tested, and tempted we need to remind ourselves that we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (cf. Matthew 4:4).
Jeremiah had been declaring the reason why the people were exiled, but what was more important was to hear the heart of God and His desire to restore His people’s fortunes. A new future would ultimately be theirs. It is described as occurring in a future moment. ‘The days are coming when God will restore His people back from captivity and back to their land (v.3). Robert Davidson explains the possible rationale for the message to also be written down.
Such a writing down may have been intended to ensure that the message of hope would be preserved for those who, in the desperate crisis of national tragedy, needed to hear it over and over again. How often the written word in the Bible has done just that when people have been tempted to despair…[iv]
Maybe you are here today and you need to hear God’s voice, His word of promised hope to sustain you your current hour of darkness, difficulty, or drudgery. Open your heart to God’s promise. Look to God’s forgiving, compassionate, and loving nature. We have all had moments in our lives where we feel that all we are doing is putting one foot in front of the other, with no sense of things ever changing, but God is in our story. He has a better day ahead of this hour of testing and trial.
A. The message of hope out of despair.
This message of hope is not a superficial word that does not address the severity of the situation that they found themselves in. The ravages of sin are always devastating and painful, but what God is assuring the nation through his prophet is that God will bring it to an end. That out of this dark period will come a restoration of God’s favor and blessings.
Walter Brueggemann relates how significant this promise is.
In making such theological affirmation that brusquely overrides historical circumstances, we are not yet at the wonder of these promissory texts. …Nor is the voiced speech of promise simply human hope or wishful thinking, the anticipation that somehow ‘things will get better.’ Rather, this speech on the lips of the prophet is God’s self-announcement, God’s self-resolve to which God’s own self is committed in the face of resistant circumstances. That is, God has pledged to work a newness precisely where there is no evidence of such newness on the horizon. …it is a promise to which Israel clings to because of the promise-maker. …These chapters enunciate a hope rooted in God’s own resolve and fidelity; a hope addressed toward a people on the brink of despair, a hope issued in the face of and against the reality of the imperial prowess in Babylon and the utter failure of Judah.[v]
What Brueggemann is saying is that in a moment when it seemed the least likely, God’s promises, backed by His character, will accomplish what seems impossible to even consider. In light of how powerful Babylon was and how broken and demoralized the nation of Judah was, God would change the equation.
What seems impossible for us, is possible for God. What He determines will ultimately transpire. Now that the people had been humbled and would come to grips with their failure, renewal and restoration would come. Here we begin with the actual painful consequences that had captured their attention. Pain has a way of apprehending us, and causing us to reconsider our lives.
These are the words the LORD spoke concerning Israel and Judah:
‘This is what the LORD says: ‘Cries of fear are heard – terror, not peace.
Ask and see: Can a man bear children? Then why do I see every strong man with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor, every face turned deathly pale?
How awful that day will be! No other will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it.[vi]
Notice that they would be saved out of it, not from it. Sin has consequences. Here we see the despair that Judah found herself in. Her military was frozen with panic, fear, and terror. They were described as a woman in labor pains, but were unable to deliver.
The graphic portrayal of 30:5-7a leads us to be surprised by the dramatic conclusion of v. 7b: ‘Yet!’ …Nevertheless… The powerful adversative preposition shows that the fidelity of God overrides the terror and panic. …There is nothing in this scene of terror and panic which leads us to expect this reassuring conclusion.[vii]
God gives a word of reassurance that He will ultimately deliver his people and restore them. God will save them out of their exile. What we need to cling to in our time of trial is the faithfulness of God. He is with us, and will never leave, nor forsake us. As long as God is in the equation we have hope for a brighter tomorrow.
THE SECOND ELEMENT OF THE COMING RESTORATION IS THAT GOD IS THE AGENT OF THE RESTORATION
We do not save ourselves. The effects of sin upon our lives leave us destitute and defeated. It takes God’s saving hand to lift us up and break us free from sin’s bondage. Israel was incapable of freeing herself from exile.
‘In that day,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘I will break the yoke off their necks and will tear off their bonds; no longer will foreigners enslave them.
Instead, they will serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.[viii]
Since no king from David’s line ruled Jacob in the postexilic period, this hope finds its ultimate fulfillment in the New Testament proclamation that Jesus is David’s greater Son (cf. Mt. 1:1-17; Lk 1:26-33; Rom. 1:3), not in the leadership of the restored community in the Persian Period.[ix]
God is the only One able to break the yoke of bondage off of them. Philip Ryken writes concerning this text.
Jeremiah’s prophecy even seemed to hint that the coming king would be God himself. When this Savior comes, this Messiah, this King, then God’s people “‘will serve the Lord their God and David their king’” (30:9). Serving God and serving David are placed in parallel. To serve David is to be a servant of God, and vice versa. It is easy to see how the coming of Jesus Christ makes sense of this verse. He is the promised son of David. He is also the Son of God. He is God as well as man. Therefore, to serve Jesus is to serve God, and vice versa. All this shows that Jeremiah was waiting for the Messiah. His hope is summarized in the words of a well-known Latin hymn from the twelfth century:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.[x]
A. God gives reassurances in their time of despair.
So do not be afraid, Jacob my servant; do not be dismayed, Israel,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid.
I am with you and will save you,’ declares the LORD. ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only in due measure; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.[xi]
Here we see that God would save their descendants. It is speaking to the fact that this would not be soon. We know from the previous chapter that at least seventy years would elapse before they would return back to their homeland. This deliverance from exile by God would bring about a restoration of peace and security in the promised land, with an absence of threat and fear. God would then judge the nations that He used to discipline His people. Babylon and other nations would be judged for their part in Judah’s exile. Here we learn something profound about God and His discipline. God’s love does not allow us to have zero consequence for our sinful actions. Discipline is one expression of God’s love. God’s wisdom explains that discipline is a part of love’s expression.
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.[xii]
B. The Severity of our Condition.
Here is what many do not realize regarding the power of sin over one’s life. Sin entraps us and then we are unable to save ourselves. Though we are responsible for our actions, we need someone greater than ourselves to set us free. We need a Savior and God alone is the only One who can free us from our sin.
‘This is what the LORD says: ‘Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing.
There is no one to plead your cause, no remedy for your sore, no healing for you.
All your allies have forgotten you; they care nothing for you. I have struck you as an enemy would and punished you as would the cruel, because your guilt is so great and your sins so many.
Why do you cry out over your wound, your pain that has no cure? Because of your great guilt and many sins I have done these things to you.[xiii]
The condition of the nation became incurable because they refused to repent and turn from their sins. God allowed the consequences of their sins to devastate them. All that they trusted in, the political alliances that they forged to protect them, had let them down. In some texts it states your lovers have forgotten you. That which we put our trust in will fail us, as it did the people of Judah. The only hope of deliverance and salvation comes from God. C. S. Lewis relates in his ‘Letters to an American Lady,’
For it is a dreadful truth that the state of (as you say) ‘having to depend solely on God’ is what we all dread most. And of course that just shows how very much, how almost exclusively, we have been depending on things. But trouble goes so far back in our lives and is now so deeply ingrained, we will not turn to him as long as He leaves us anything else to turn to. I suppose all one can say is that it was bound to come. In the hour of death and the day of judgment, what else shall we have? Perhaps when those moments come, they will feel happiest who have been forced (however unwittingly) to begin the practising it here on earth. It is good of Him to force us; but dear me, how hard to feel that it is good at the time.[xiv]
THE FINAL ELEMENT OF THE COMING RESTORATION IS THE OUTCOMES THAT GOD WILL BRING ABOUT
We discover the results of God’s actions on behalf of the exiles, which also speaks to us as God delivers us from our sins.
‘But all who devour you will be devoured; all your enemies will go into exile, Those who plunder you will be plundered; all who make spoil of you I will despoil.
But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the LORD, because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no one cares.’[xv]
To those whom God used as agents of judgment, God would now judge. Babylon would be judged as a nation. The wounds that were incurable would be cured by God. Jeremiah in his reflections on the work of God in the destruction of Jerusalem in Lamentations writes this insight.
For no one is cast off by the LORD forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.[xvi]
God does not delight in addressing us in our sin, but one of the great expressions of His love is to deal with us by disciplining us, and then bringing about healing and restoration in our lives.
A. The Ruins will be Rebuilt.
That which had been destroyed will be restored. Jerusalem will be reestablished.
‘This is what the LORD says: ‘I will restore the fortunes of Jacob’s tents and have compassion on his dwellings; the city will be rebuilt on her ruins and the palace will stand in its proper place.
From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing. I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased; I will bring them honor, and they will not be disdained.
Their children will be as in days of old, and their community will be established before me; I will punish all who oppress them.[xvii]
Here we have a list of things that God was about to bring about.
1. He would renew a song of thanksgiving in their hearts.
2. Their numbers would increase rather than be diminished by the ravages of war, famine, and plague.
3. God would restore their honor.
4. Their children would be as in the days of old. In other words, times of normalcy would return to the land.
5. Rather than have foreign leaders, the leadership would come from among them and be sympathetic toward the people.
6. People would draw near to God and so be restored in their relationship with God.
7. Their leader will be one of their own; their ruler will arise from among them. I will bring him near and he will come close to me—for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me? declares the LORD.
‘So you will be my people, and I will be your God.’[xviii]
O. T. scholar, John Thompson brings out the idea that this ruler seemed to be one with more than just a political function, but would bring the people to God. We know that after the exile leaders like Nehemiah and Ezra arose to lead the people back into relationship with God, but the ultimate one of course is the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. The chapter ends on a note of warning against the nations.
See, the storm of the LORD will burst out in wrath, a driving wind swirling down on the heads of the wicked.
The fierce anger of the LORD will not turn back until he fully accomplishes the purposes of his heart. In days to come you will understand this.[xix]
Verses 23-24 remind the hearers that divine righteousness actuates [causes or motivates] divine judgment.[xx]
In our society, justice can be a sham, people exploiting others, and seemingly getting away with it. However, we must remind ourselves that there is a righteous judge watching over the affairs of humanity. God sees it all. There will be a day of reckoning and accountability before His throne.
Whatever the reason we are in a time of darkness and ashes in our lives, from our own folly and sin to false accusations and need for vindication; let us call out to our mighty Savior. His promises will sustain us, a new and brighter day is coming upon our horizon. He will turn our night season of weeping into a new day of joy!
[i] E Michael and Sharon Rusten, The One Year Christian History, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2003), 162.
[ii] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible Series, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1985), 74.
[iii] Jeremiah 30:1-3 The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[iv] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 2, 70-71.
[v] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 266-270.
[vi] Jeremiah 30:4-7.
[vii] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, 273.
[viii] Jeremiah 30:8-9.
[ix] Andrew Dearborn, Jeremiah, Lamentations, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 2002), 274.
[x] Philip Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope, (Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 2016), 434-35.
[xi] Jeremiah 30:10-11.
[xii] Proverbs 3:11-12.
[xiii] Jeremiah 30:12-15.
[xiv] C. S. Lewis, ‘Letters to an American Lady, as quoted by Wayne Martindale & Jerry Root, Ed. The Quotable Lewis, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990), 156.
[xv] Jeremiah 30:16-17.
[xvi] Lamentations 3:31-33.
[xvii] Jeremiah 30:18-20.
[xviii] Jeremiah 30:21-22.
[xix] Jeremiah 30:23-24.
[xx] R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah & Lamentations, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 19, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1973), 135.