What shatters our sense of self-identity? What others do to us, what we do to others, and finally what we do to ourselves can distort God’s image in our lives. Sin creates failure, loss, rejection and abandonment which causes us to wonder not only who we are, but also where God is in the equation. The exile into Babylon shattered the nation of Israel. The question that came to the surface of their minds was simple: Are we still God’s chosen people, or have we been rejected? It is to this issue that God wanted to not only reassure His people that they were not rejected, but that a transformation was about to occur in their hearts that would change everything. God was about to restore what their rebellion had cost them. When God wants to reassure people of what He is about to do, He communicates over and over again. Here we see that God is reaffirming to Jeremiah what He is about to do. God’s word came to Jeremiah a second time because God committed to that course of action.
While Jeremiah was still confined in the courtyard of the guard, the word of the Lord came to him a second time:
“This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name:
‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’[i]
The hidden things that God is about to reveal to Jeremiah are things which are yet to come. They lie in the future. So, what is God about to do? How should we respond to the future God has planned for us? Is there any response we should have when God makes promises to us? The Puritan devotional writer Matthew Henry relates, “Promises are given, not to supersede, but to quicken and encourage prayer.”[ii] God’s promises are not designed to create apathy in the waiting but the inspiration to pray. God makes promises for a brighter tomorrow. God begins in the nation’s painful present to encourage a better day ahead. This is also true for our lives. Where are we in our journey with God? Let us search out God’s promises and then prayerfully engage with God in their fulfillment. We discover in Jeremiah 33 what God was revealing to His servant and messenger, Jeremiah. It was a message of hope and a future blessing. So, what was God revealing?
THE FIRST THING THAT GOD REVEALS IS THE FUTILITY OF IGNORING HIS CORRECTION
What a tragedy when we stop listening and responding to God. He continually reaches out to us, but in our stubbornness, we can refuse to respond to Him. God then allows painful consequences to come into our lives. It is because of God’s mercy that He never gives up on us. Then in the darkest hours of brokenness, God speaks to us. Needing reassurance, God speaks again. Here in Jeremiah, God speaks a second time to the prophet while imprisoned. God reminds Jeremiah that He is the creator of all things which means He can create what He is promising to the nation. He can rebuild what He has allowed to be destroyed. We see that even though God promises, He also challenges us to pray that these things will be realized. God intends for us, His people, to participate in the outcome. Many think that waiting on God means passivity, but God invites us into the process through our intercession. We have described how the people in their resistance to the Babylonians were tearing down their houses in order to strengthen the walls against the attack upon their city.
For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says about the houses in this city and the royal palaces of Judah that have been torn down to be used against the siege ramps and the sword in the fight with the Babylonians: ‘They will be filled with the dead bodies of the people I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness.[iii]
Rather than their human ingenuity helping preserve them from destruction by destroying buildings to strengthen their walls, it only delays the inevitable. Many will die from famine, disease, and finally the sword. The Babylonians will prevail as God had withdrawn His presence.
The fate of the city has been decided by God who has ‘hidden his face’ from the city because of the people’s wickedness (verse 5). This is an expression found frequently in the Old Testament to point to something that has gone wrong in the relationship between God and his people; he has turned away from them.[iv]
By turning away from God, God’s protection has been withdrawn from the city and left to their own devices they are inadequate for the challenge presented to them. Walter Brueggemann points out that the retelling of the destruction is set in contrast to what God is about to do.
All of this analysis and threat in vv. 4-5, however, is background and context for the oracle. The chaos of evil has worked its will. The ‘great and hidden things’ of v. 3 are only now approached in v. 6. The interlude of vv. 4-5 tells of things not hidden (which everyone can see), and of things not great.[v]
This is certainly true, but what seemed to be hidden is the understanding of how their unrepentant attitude was the underlying cause of what they were experiencing. They had turned their backs on God and left the door open to be devastated by the results of their sins. The end result of sin is always devastation in our lives.
THE SECOND THING THAT GOD REVEALS IS HIS RESTORATIVE GRACE TO HIS REPENTANT PEOPLE
This restoration is not simply a return to the land, or the rebuilding of the physical buildings that had been destroyed, but it is a spiritual healing, which includes the forgiveness of sins and the promise of a new covenant in which God enables real transformation.
A. God restores us through His cleansing and forgiving grace.
Side by side with the physical renewal of the city there will come a spiritual renewal based on God’s forgiveness.[vi]
This work of grace will extend beyond the mere remaking of a nation, but a demonstration of His grace that will reveal God’s nature to all nations.
‘Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security.
I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before.
I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me.[vii]
F. B. Huey explains the nature of sin here in our text.
The promise in v. 7 that Judah and Israel would be brought back from captivity is followed by a verse that contains the three chief words for sin in the OT. NIV translates them as “sin” (ʿāwôn, from a word that means twisted or bent), “sins” (hātāʾ, from a word that means “to miss the mark or way”), and “rebellion” (pāšāʿ, from a word that means to rebel). Each of these words adds a facet of understanding of the nature of sin.[viii]
Sin twists and bends us from God’s original design for our lives. We become spiritually and morally out of shape. We find ourselves lost and missing the way to that life which God designed for us. Jesus came and promised to those who would turn to Him an abundant life. Yet, what we see is a growing defiance and rebellion against God, who is the ultimately authority. We see how we enthrone ourselves above all. Why do we behave in such a manner? Philip Ryken has so powerfully pointed out: “We sin because we are sinners; we are not sinners because we sin.”[ix] What is he saying? We are sinning because it is intrinsic to our nature. Unfortunately for us, we are entangled and cannot be freed by our own efforts. We need to be rescued and that’s what Jesus came to do. He saves us from our sin nature by taking the penalty for our sin on the cross and exchanging our nature for His. We are now given His Divine nature. What was impossible to straighten out, God straightens out. He restores us.
B. What God does for us, is a witness to the society around us.
What is true for the nation is also true for each of us. When our lives are transformed by God, the people around us recognize that something significant and marvelous has happened to us. Here we have the collective image of a city representing the nation being restored and its effects upon those who are watching this amazing restoration take place.
Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.’[x]
Here we can see one of the most powerful continuing agents of evangelism; not merely preaching, nor an attack on other people for their sinfulness, but the vibrant life, the joy-filled character of the believing community. And of course it works the other way. Often the greatest question mark against the Gospel is the life of the Church, the gap between what we claim to be true and the reality of our lives. Those outside don’t hear, or don’t listen to what we say because of what we are.[xi]
What are people around us seeing from our lives? Davidson argues that it is the type of person we are that is the true witness of the gospel of Jesus. What are they seeing from you and me? God now promises to restore not only for the sake of the people, but for the sake of His honor and glory. ‘This city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations.’ They will be in ‘awe and tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it (v.6).’
Tremper Longman explains the nature of this awe or fear of God that happens in people’s lives.
To fear God means to recognize one’s proper place in the universe. It is to acknowledge that there is a being who is greater than oneself; indeed a being who has the power of life and death. The emotion is not as extreme as horror, but neither is it as slight as respect. Closer than the picture of horror or respect is that of knee-knocking awe.[xii]
Do we live with this kind of knee-knocking awe before God, demonstrated by how we live? It is God’s goodness in our lives that is designed to lead people to genuine repentance.
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?[xiii]
So here the nations see the goodness of God in restoring the nation to God’s original design. The nature of God is designed to draw people to Him.
It may well be significant that the words for fear here (be in awe, pkhd and tremble, rgz) are not the ones used positively in Proverbs for the beginning of wisdom.[xiv]
There is a sense that God can judge and allow destruction to wipe out the wicked, but also, we see God’s ability to restore the repentant. The message is designed not only for Israel but for the nations of the world.
This is what the Lord says: ‘You say about this place, “It is a desolate waste, without people or animals.” Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying,
“Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever.”
For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,’ says the Lord.
This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In this place, desolate and without people or animals—in all its towns there will again be pastures for shepherds to rest their flocks.[xv]
While the city had known desolation, lifelessness, the absence of joy and celebration; God was about to transform that situation. Walter Brueggemann explains what is about to happen.
In this massive assertion of judgment, there is no will for celebration, not enough security or trust or buoyancy or confidence to undertake a wedding which always constitutes some investment in the future. …The voices that sing of weddings also sing a more theological song for the resumption of social life is intimately linked to the resumption of life with God (33:11b). …This thanksgiving song entails a concrete gesture of gratitude, an offering which bespeaks a blessing received. …The outbreak of blessing, joy, and gratitude overrides the silence of desolation.[xvi]
Then another metaphor is used to paint a picture of God’s tender comfort to His broken people.
In the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah, flocks will again pass under the hand of the one who counts them,’ says the Lord.[xvii]
R. K. Harrison explains the significance of this word from God.
Once again sheep will pass under the hands of the shepherd, this being the normal way of counting them as they enter the fold for the night.[xviii]
Throughout the Bible the metaphor of shepherd and sheep is used to described God’s personal care of each of us as His children. If I was to paraphrase this expression to my grandchildren, I would say that God ‘tucks us in at night.’ There is something meaningful and intimate in this expression of God’s care for us, His people.
THE FINAL THING THAT GOD REVEALS IS HIS RESTORATIVE GRACE TO HIS DIVINELY APPOINTED LEADERS
God will raise up the right kind of leaders that will care for the people rather than exploit them. Here we see that they will do what is right and just, which speaks of helping to achieve well-being.
‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’
For this is what the Lord says: ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.’[xix]
This is now a promised restoration of both kings from the Davidic line and the Levitical priesthood. We know that kings did not reign over the nation of Israel after the exile. ‘The righteous branch’ and ‘The Lord our Righteous Savior’ and a successor from the lineage of David are all pointing to the person of Jesus.
The New Testament understands that Jesus is that son of David who is perpetually on the throne in fulfillment of this promise.[xx]
Not only will there be a righteous king, but also the perpetuation of the Levitical priesthood.
F. B. Huey helps us understand how we ought to interpret this text:
Verse 18 appears to parallel v. 17 with its promise of the restoration of the priests who were Levites and the sacrificial system with its burnt offerings, grain offerings, and sacrifices. It is the only statement in the book that appears to refer to renewal of the priesthood. Those who follow the hermeneutical [interpretive] principle that prophecy is to be interpreted literally whenever possible usually interpret v. 18 to mean that the OT sacrificial system would be literally reinstituted at a future time. This interpretation, however, is contrary to the biblical explanation that Christ abolished the sacrificial system once and for all (cf. Gal 3:1–3; Heb 10:1–16; cf. v. 16 and Jer. 31:33). Christ as King-Priest would fulfill the promises of vv. 17–18 (see Ps 110:4). If the promise of a Davidic king is considered to be fulfilled in Christ, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Christ in his priestly role fulfills the Levitical priestly role (see Zech. 6:13; Heb 7:23–28).[xxi]
In other words this text is fulfilled in the person and ministry of Jesus and today through His body the church. We, as believers in Jesus, are the kings of priests that are fulfilling this prophecy.
and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,
and has made us to be a kingdom (KJV- kings) and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.[xxii]
Now we read that this covenant that God is making will be eternal in nature.
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah:
This is what the Lord says: ‘If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant—and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me—can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne.[xxiii]
We know that the kingdom of God and the King of that kingdom, the Lord Jesus will reign forever. This kingdom which was inaugurated when Jesus came to earth will reach its culmination when every enemy is brought under his feet, including sin, Satan, and death itself.
I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars in the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.’”
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah:
“Have you not noticed that these people are saying, ‘The Lord has rejected the two kingdoms he chose’? So they despise my people and no longer regard them as a nation.
This is what the Lord says: ‘If I have not made my covenant with day and night and established the laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them.[xxiv]
The closing words speak of God’s restoration and compassion on His people after this season of discipline through the exile. What did they do to deserve this? Absolutely nothing! It is of God’s gracious nature that He forgives our sins and restores our lives. What happened to Israel is what happens to each of us that have come to a place of repentance and renewal. We awaken to God’s goodness, mercy and grace and turn our hearts away from sin and toward Him and His love and grace.
We see in these concluding verses that the nations saw the exile as God’s rejection of His people and therefore they despised them as a people group, and no longer saw them as a ‘nation (v. 24).’
What others thought of them is one thing, but how they saw themselves is critical. How others see us and how we see ourselves affects our sense of self-identity. However, what is most important is how God sees us. Here in these final two verses, we see that God had not rejected them, but had chosen them and was about to restore them. What we need to know as a child of God is that in the times of discipline, we are still beloved by our Father. What He thinks of us is what really matters, and it empowers us to walk through the most challenging seasons of our lives.
Where are you in your journey with God? Are you living a life of surrender and obedience to God? Are you in a season of discipline? Are you walking away from God and walking in your own understanding? We are either walking toward God or away from Him. Our sense of identity is being shaped by the direction of our lives.
[i] Jeremiah 33:1-3, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[ii] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary: On the Whole Bible in One Volume, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 998.
[iii] Jeremiah 33:4-5.
[iv] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible Series, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1985), 99.
[v] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 314.
[vi] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 2, 99-100.
[vii] Jeremiah 33:6-8.
[viii] F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, The New American Commentary, Vol. 16, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 298.
[ix][ix] Philip Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope, (Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 2016), 501.
[x] Jeremiah 6:9.
[xi] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, Vol. 2, 99.
[xii] Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 220.
[xiii] Romans 2:4.
[xiv] Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, 221-22.
[xv] Jeremiah 33:10-12.
[xvi] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, 317.
[xvii] Jeremiah 33:13.
[xviii] R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah & Lamentations, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 19, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1973), 144.
[xix] Jeremiah 33:14-18.
[xx] Tremper Longman III, Jeremiah, Lamentations, 222.
[xxi] F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, The New American Commentary, Vol. 16, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 302.
[xxii] Revelation 1:5-6.
[xxiii] Jeremiah 33:19-21.
[xxiv] Jeremiah 33:22-26.