11-6-3 Jeremiah's Restoration Prophecies
Jeremiah’s restoration passages likewise. They are summarized in
Jer. 12:15-17, where God describes His conditional dealings with
the surrounding Gentile nations in language reminiscent of that
He uses about His own people : “After that I have plucked them out
I will return, and will bring them again [to Judah] every man to
his heritage…and it [i.e., this] shall come to pass, if
they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my
name…then shall they be built in the midst of my people.
But if they will not obey, I will utterly pluck up and destroy that
nation”. The if…then construction is clearly conditional:
the Gentiles could have come and dwelt in the land in a Kingdom-like
situation, if Judah had taught them, and if they had responded.
“After seventy years be accomplished
at Babylon...then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go
and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall
seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all
you heart. And I will be found of you...and I will turn
away your captivity” (Jer. 29:10-14). The LXX suggests that
the praying and seeking was perhaps a condition of fulfilment:
“And do ye pray to me, and I will hearken...and do ye earnestly
seek me, and ye shall find me”.
But the next verses go on to say
that because they had false prophets in Babylon, the wrath
of God was against them all, and even those in the land
would suffer because of them. And further (29:23-26), they
committed adultery and vied for leadership amongst themselves.
Judah did return, but evidently they didn’t seek Yahweh
with all their hearts beforehand. And thus they were not
fully found of Him, and He did not therefore fully turn
away their captivity. Indeed, by chosing to remain in Babylon,
they themselves disallowed this turning away of their captivity.
God gave Judah in captivity “hope in your latter end” (Jer,
29:11 RV)- a hope of restoration at the end of the 70 years.
Yet they preferred the Babylon life, and rejected this hope.
“Ye shall seek me…and I will be found of you” (Jer. 29:14)
then becomes a conditional statement- then, if
they sought the Lord, they would have been found of Him.
Jer. 30:10: “Therefore fear thou
not, O my servant Jacob, saith the LORD; neither be dismayed,
O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed
from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return,
and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make
him afraid”. Isaiah’s restoration prophecies contained not
only many clear commands to not fear at the time
of the restoration (Isaiah 41:10,13,14; 43:1,5; 44:2,8;
51:7; 54:4), but also a clear statement that if they were
truly the re-established Kingdom, they would not fear: “Thou
afflicted, tossed with tempest [s.w. Zechariah 7:14 re.
how Judah was ‘tossed around’ by the 70 years captivity]
I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations
with sapphires...and all thy borders of pleasant stones.
And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great
shall be the peace of thy children. In righteousness shalt
thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression;
for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it
shall not come near thee...and all thy children shall be
taught of the LORD” (Isaiah 54:11-14).
The adversaries to the rebuilding
did make the returned exiles afraid: “For they
all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened
from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God,
strengthen my hands” (Nehemiah 6:9). Likewise Ezra
3:3: “And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was
upon them because of the people of those countries”. Nehemiah
exhorted the people not to be afraid perhaps on
the basis of Jeremiah’s words (Nehemiah 4:14). Their fear
and problem-oriented view of life stopped the Kingdom bursting
forth into their experience. That fear was rooted in an
obsessive self-interest that eclipsed a true faith in that
which is greater and larger than us as individuals. And
so it can be with us. The “stones” were laid (Nehemiah 4:2
s.w.), but not with colours, as could have been. And neither
were the foundation stones gemstones, as could have been.
And their children were not taught of Yahweh, because the
priests were lazy to do so (Mal. 2).
Jer 31:4-9: “Again I will build
thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: thou
shalt again be adorned with thy tabrets, and shalt go forth
in the dances of them that make merry.
Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria:
the planters shall plant, and shall eat them as common things...
Behold, I will bring them from the north country [Babylon],
and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them
the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that
travaileth with child together: a great company shall return
They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will
I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of
waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not
stumble”. Likewise Isaiah 63:13 reminded the returnees
that when they had been led through the wilderness to Canaan
under Moses, they did not stumble [s.w.].
But Judah easily gave up the work
of building; they had to be constantly coaxed to get on
with it by Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. They were,
however, effectively declining to allow themselves to be
built up into God’s Kingdom, because they were too worried
about building their own houses than God’s. And so insofar
as we too decline the spiritual upbuilding which there is
available in God’s word, so we decline a part in God’s work
of building a house for His Name.
They did this, but became so obsessed with treading out
the grapes that they did it even on the Sabbath, and thereby
disallowed the fulfilment of the Kingdom prophecies
which were dependent upon them keeping the Sabbath (Nehemiah
13:15; Isaiah 58:13).
“A great company” didn’t return- only 50,000 or so, according
to the records in Ezra and Nehemiah. The majority chose
to stay in comfortable Babylon.
But both Ezra and Nehemiah wanted to have a Babylonian
military escort on the journey back; they weren’t sure that
they would be given “a straight way” with Yahweh’s protection.
Neh 4:10 records that “Judah said, The strength of the bearers
of burdens is decayed [s.w. “stumble”, Jer. 31:9],
and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build
the wall”. They were easily discouraged by the words of
the surrounding world, by the apparent hopelessness of their
task; and thus they stumbled. Ezra 8:21 LXX describes how
Ezra fasted for them to be given a “straight way”, as Jeremiah
had foretold they could have. He saw the need for them to
make the effort to fulfil the prophecy. Note how Ezekiel’s
vision of the cherubim featured “straight” progress; the
wheels on earth surely connect with how Israel should have
been, moving in a straight way back to the land, in harmony
with the Angel-cherubim above them likewise moving in a
straight way. But they failed to “keep in step with the
Spirit”... They were to walk “each one straight before him”
(Isaiah 57:2 RVmg.), as each of the cherubim went straight
ahead (Ezekiel 1:12). Psalms 107:2,7 RV speak of Israel
being gathered out of the nations and being led in a “straight
way” to Zion, as they had [potentially] been enabled to
do on their departure from Egypt. Yet then they spent 38
years walking a distance coverable in just 11 days- because
they did not walk in the “straight way”. The house of Israel
were to “measure the pattern” of the temple just as the
Angel had done; they were to work in harmony with the Angel,
laying out the temple exactly as the Angel had done in the
preceding vision (Ezekiel 43:10 cp. Ezekiel 40:5-13). And
we too are to follow where our Angel potentially enables
us to go.
Jer 31:12-13: “Therefore they shall
come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together
to the goodness of the LORD, for wheat, and for wine, and
for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd:
and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall
not sorrow any more at all. Then shall the virgin rejoice
in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will
turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and
make them rejoice from their sorrow”.
The wheat, wine and oil were all
withheld by Yahweh as a result of their selfish materialism,
according to Haggai and Malachi. And Nehemiah 5:3 specifically
mentions that a “dearth” came even in Nehemiah’s time.
The young and old didn’t rejoice together- the old men
wept at how small the temple was compared even with Solomon’s,
whilst the younger ones rejoiced (Ezra 3:12). Sorrow at
realising their sins is a feature of the Ezra and Nehemiah
records- rather than joy in the real experience of God’s
redemption. Again, are there similarities with ourselves?
The life in Christ, the Kingdom life, is of all joy and
peace through believing, of joy and peace in the spirit
of holiness. But is this the life and mindset which we live?
Jer 31:14: “And I will satiate
the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall
be satisfied with my goodness, saith the LORD”.
But the priests returned to mind
their own fields because the tithes weren’t paid to them
Judah were commanded to return
from Babylon in Jer 31:21: “Set thee up waymarks, make thee
high heaps: set thine heart toward the highway, even the
way which thou wentest: turn again, O virgin of Israel,
turn again to these thy cities”. The same command to flee
from the land of the north [Babylon] is to be found in Isaiah
48:20; Jer. 51:6; Zechariah 2:6; and they were to “get
thee up to the high mountain” (Isaiah 40:9), using
the same word about Judah ‘going up’ from Babylon to Israel. "A woman shall compass a man" (Jer. 31:22) suggests that the woman, Judah, were to take the initiative with God by mapping out the roads they would take back to Zion- the suggestion could be that the 70 year period of captivity could have been shortened had Judah taken the initiative.
But the majority of Judah remained
in Babylon. And the majority of those who did return, only
did so in order for purely personal benefit- of having their
own house and land. They ‘went up’ to the land, but not
to Zion. With reference to Isaiah 40:9, Hag 1:7-9 exhorted
them: “Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build
the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be
glorified, saith the LORD. Ye looked for much [i.e. they
expected the promised Kingdom blessings], and, lo, it came
to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon
it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house
that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house”.
Their focus was on their own lands and farms rather than
the glory of Zion (as Nehemiah 13:10,11). They stood related
to the things of God’s kingdom, but never ventured beyond
their own personal self-interest. They would not accept
that God manifestation rather than human salvation and pleasure
was the essential purpose of their God.
Jerusalem was to be renamed "Yahweh is our righteousness" (Jer. 33:16 RV)- Ez. 48:35 likewise is a command rather than a prediction, that the city should be called this.
But Judah didn't do this. The concept has been reapplied to those who call Yahweh's righteousness upon themselves in baptism.
Jer 33:18: “Neither shall the priests
the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings,
and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually”.
But Nehemiah was heartbroken that
the temple was “forsaken”, because the “Levites and the
singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field”
because the tithes weren’t paid to them (Nehemiah 13:10,11).
Jer. 27:4,5 LXX prophesies that
when Babylon falls, then Israel and Judah together “shall
proceed, weeping as they go, seeking the Lord their God.
They shall ask the way till they come to Zion...and they
shall come and flee for refuge to the Lord their God”
When Babylon fell to Cyrus and
the Persians, the Jews didn’t take this as any signal to
leave. They didn’t repent; they didn’t come weeping to Zion;
they stayed put, because the Persians treated them with
favour. They didn’t perceive the need to “flee” from the
temptations of prosperity, ease, and acceptance in society;
and from this the latter day church must take a warning.
Jeremiah's Babylon Prophecies
Jer. 51:8 is clear that
those who remained in Babylon rather than returning to Judah would be
“cut off in her iniquity”. But actually this threatened judgment didn’t
happen in that way. Most of the Jews did stay there, and simply assimilated
into the world around them.
Jer. 51:8 opens up another window into what God potentially planned at
this time: “Take balm for [Babylon’s] pain, if so be she may be healed”.
Balm in Jer. 46:11 refers to repentance. Surely this passage speaks of
Judah appealing to Babylon to repent, and then coming out of her, returning
to Judah, and leaving her to perish in her iniquity if she didn’t repent.
God’s intention here was not carried out by Judah. They made no appeal
for Babylon to repent. Only a few of them returned to Judah, most preferring
the Babylon life. But had they done what God suggested, then the
whole prophecies about Babylon’s destruction would have become conditional
prophecies, exactly after the pattern of Jonah’s pronunciation of destruction
upon Nineveh, which actually never came to pass because they did repent. So although the doom of Babylon was often prophesied, even this could have been avoided if Babylon had hearkened to the witness which Israel were supposed to make to her of their wonderful God. Remember how Jeremiah told the exiles to pray for the good of Babylon and to seek its' peace with God (Jer. 29:7). Consider too the nuance of John Bright's strict translation of Jer. 51:8,9: "Wail over (Babylon)! Get ointment for her hurt- perhaps it's curable. Though we treated her, Babylon mends not". The implication is clearly that God intended to use Judah to bring about Babylon's repentance, and only because this failed did He finally "Giver her up" to destruction (Jer. 51:9). If this scenario had happened, then the prophecies of judgment against Babylon would have been more clearly revealed for what I believe they were- conditional, upon her repentance.
Jer. 51:6,45 make it clear
that every single Jew (“every man his soul”) was ordered by God to leave
Babylon- and Jer. 51:60 clarifies that all these words were written down
and that Seraiah read them to the Jews of Babylon. They were all
supposed to “let Jerusalem come into your mind” (Jer. 50:50)- but in the
end, only a minority like Nehemiah did so. Judah’s disobedience was chronic
and specific. They rejected all the wonderful things which God had worked
out for them in potential. It was such a tragedy, as tragic as when we
individually are our community as a whole repeat it in our contexts today.
We have to remember that
Jeremiah’s prophecies about Babylon were given in the context of the prophecies
about Judah’s restoration. The fall of Babylon was clearly intended to be the signal that the Jews should leave and return: "Down comes Babylon's wall! Out from the midst of her, my people!" (Jer. 51:44,45). And Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon, made the decree for the Jews to return to their land. And yet... most of them remained. Passages like Jeremiah 50 imply that when Babylon
fell, Judah would return to their land and flourish into the Kingdom of
God. But this didn’t happen. Another scenario worked out- Darius took
over the kingdom of Babylon (Dan. 5:31), and the image prophecy of Daniel
2 explained that there would now have to be a succession of empires before
the Kingdom of God would come. I therefore see Daniel 2 as a new prophetic
scenario which would have to come into operation if Judah didn’t do as
they were told in the prophetic word. Hence the vision has two ways of
being read- the whole image could represent Babylon and its next rulers,
which would be destroyed in toto and replaced by the restored Kingdom
of God at the time it fell; or, it could be read as a long term prophecy
of the ensuing centuries, if Judah didn’t turn into the Kingdom of God
as they could have done. And this is the outworking that became necessary.
These different possible scenarios help explain how the 70 years of Babylon's mastery and Judah's captivity were not strictly fulfilled to the letter (Jer. 24:10). From the fall of Nineveh (612) to the fall of Babylon (539) was 73 years; or from Nebuchadnezzar's accession (605) to Babylon's fall (539) was 66 years (1). Was there a degree to which the period was prolonged or decreased, due to unstated variables- perhaps prayer, Judah's repentance, Babylon's repentance...?
Jeremiah especially reveals
the grace which God was so eager to show to the exiles. Jer. 7:3-7 made
it clear that Judah’s return to the land was to be conditional upon them
not oppressing the poor- only “then will I cause you to dwell in
this place”. Yet in His grace and zeal for His people, it seems God overlooked
that condition- for the returned exiles did oppress (Neh. 5:1-5),
and yet they returned to the land. And yet they would’ve dwelt in Zion
“for ever and ever” (Jer. 7:7) if they had not been abusive to others
and truly loved God.
Jeremiah’s prophecies of
gracious restoration were known by the exiles; but many passages in Isaiah,
the Psalms (e.g. Ps. 137:7-9) and Lamentations (Lam. 5:20,21) indicate
that the exiles had little conviction they would be fulfilled, considering
Judah as “utterly rejected” by God, and just getting on with their lives
in Babylon without any real hope in God’s salvation. Considering the prosperity
of their lives there, this was an all too convenient conclusion for them
to draw. Once again we see that false interpretation of Scripture invariably
has a moral subtext to it. Is. 40:1,2 speaks a message of comfort to the
exiles: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God”. But [in full allusion
to this prophecy], the exiles were like Rachael who refused to be comforted
over her loss (Jer. 31:15); they claimed they found “none to comfort”
(Lam. 1:2,16,17,21). But they were wilfully refusing the comfort of God’s
repeated word of hope and restoration. They didn’t grasp the plain teaching
of the prophetic word because they didn’t want to- it demanded too much
of them, and a giving up of the comfortable Babylon life. Hence Is. 43:19
laments: “I am doing a new thing: now it springs forth [in the decree
to return to Zion?], do you not perceive it?”. And do we "not perceive
it?" time and again in our own lives, as to the potentials God is
(1) Dates taken from John Bright, Jeremiah (New York: Doubleday, 1965) p. 209.