I’ve been reading the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet who lived during the days of the last kings of Judah. The Babylonians were going around conquering other countries, and Judah felt threatened – for good reason, since God repeatedly warned them through Jeremiah that they would be defeated. But God kept trying to offer them ways to make it not so bad. “Repent, surrender to the Babylonians, and you will live. And don’t worry too much; I’m going to eventually bring you back to the land of Israel.”
God tried. Over and over. Every time someone asked Jeremiah what would happen, he repeated himself. The Babylonians are going to win, so just surrender.
They didn’t listen. Sad, but perhaps not surprising. Also not surprising: The Babylonians conquered the land of Judah. Many people died. Many more were taken into captivity.
And then, in Jeremiah 42, a bunch of important people came to talk to Jeremiah:
Then all the commanders of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, came near and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the Lord your God for us, for all this remnant—because we are left with but a few, as your eyes see us—that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.”
Jeremiah agrees to pray and tell the people what God wants them to do, and they say, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the Lord your God sends you to us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.”
Ten days later, God gives Jeremiah an answer for them:
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before him: If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land. But if you say, ‘We will not remain in this land,’ disobeying the voice of the Lord your God and saying, ‘No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there,’ then hear the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die. All the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to live there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. They shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I will bring upon them.”
Basically: Stay here. Trust me. I’ll take care of you. Don’t try to run somewhere that seems safer, because it won’t work.
The Israelites had been so disobedient that the ultimate disaster had happened: the Promised Land, which was supposed to belong to them, had been conquered. That’s how much they had sinned. I’m sure life seemed basically hopeless at that point.
And God still gave them another chance when they asked him what to do.
Sadly, they still did not obey. But God tried.