A separate prophecy. The key to it is in 2 Kings 24:1 , 2 Kings 24:2 , where it is related that, after Jehoiakim's rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar, "Jehovah sent against him bands of the Chaldees, and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it." The prophecy falls into two strophes or sections, 2 Kings 24:7-13 and 2 Kings 24:14-17 . In the first we have a complaint of the desolation produced by the guerilla warfare; in the second, a prediction of the captivity of the hostile peoples, not, however, without a prospect of their return home and conversion to Jehovah. It is evident enough that this passage stands in no connection with what precedes. The whole tone is that of a description of present scenes and not of the future. Sometimes, no doubt, a prophet, in the confidence of faith, represents the future as though it were already past; but there is always something in the context to determine the reference and prevent ambiguity. Here, however, there is nothing to indicate that the description relates to the future; and it is followed by a prediction which presupposes that the preceding passage refers to the literal past.
Israel has been converted and restored, and if the other nations follow his example and swear by my name , i.e. adopt the religion of Jehovah (comp. Isaiah 19:18 ), they shall be rewarded by being suffered to dwell safely in Israel's midst. Observe the contrast with Jeremiah 12:14 . Before, Israel had dwelt amidst them to his own detriment; now they shall dwell amidst Israel to their profit.
General punishment and general restoration.
I. PUNISHMENT IS GENERAL . It is not selective, it is impartially administered.
1. The people of God do not escape . If the Christian falls into sin, the Law of God must be vindicated on him at least as rigorously as on the worldly man, Judah had shared the sins of her neighbors; she must also share their punishment. If sin is general, so must be its penalties. No religious position which does not secure us against wickedness will protect us against its consequences.
2. The godless do not escape . The heathen nations are to suffer with Judah. Though they were sometimes the instruments in the hands of God for the chastisement of Judah, they were not on that account exonerated from blame for the bad motives of their conduct. The sin of others is no excuse for us in wronging them. The executioner of the law is himself subject to the law. They who do not admit the authority of God are not the less subject to his authority. Men who refuse to submit to the Law of God will be judged by that Law as certainly as those who have freely gone under its yoke. It is not for us to choose our government in spiritual things, but to submit to the one righteous government which God has set over all men. In the execution of this it will be found that all men have sufficient light to render them accountable for their actions, though the degree of their responsibility will vary with the degree of their knowledge.
II. RESTORATION IS GENERAL . This is offered to the heathen nations as well as to Judah. As general punishment must follow general sin, so general restoration will follow general repentance. Here, too, God is impartial.
1. This restoration is not the less perfect for each individual by being general. "Every man" is to come and each to his "own land" and his "own heritage." There are men who seem to fear the broadening of the mercies of God, last they should become less valuable to each recipient, and so they would jealously narrow them to protect their full privileges for a few. Such ideas are not only basely selfish—since the holders of them quietly assume that they are among the few—they are dishonoring to the grace of God, which is exceeding abundant, with enough for all who need it.
2. The general character of the restoration is its most happy feature. It will mean the abolition of war, rivalry, jealousy, separation, and the enjoyment of peace and brotherhood, the realization of the glory of the unity of the race through harmony in the unity of faith. "Then shall they be built in the midst of my people." Thus through the great restoration, i.e. through the perfected redemption in Christ, we may look for the fulfillment of the great ideal human brotherhood.
3. The conditions of this restoration are the same for all, viz.
They who taught Judah to serve Baal must learn with Judah to follow the true religion. But if this condition is not fulfilled, the restoration can never be enjoyed.
Mercy and judgment.
In these verses we have one of the "larger words "which make the whole world's testament of salvation and life. The threatenings are stern and will be executed to the letter; but the promises seem to transcend the immediate occasion. A gate of hope and redemption was herein opened to multitudes who at that date were not included in the covenant of Israel. The conditions upon which their possible comprehension within the future Israel is based are moral and spiritual, and therefore truly universal
I. THE GREATEST JUDGMENTS OF GOD UPON THE NEIGHBORS OF ISRAEL BUT CORRESPONDED WITH THEIR CRIMES . That grave evils were inflicted upon the enemies of Israel cannot be denied. Multitudes were put to a painful death. Nations were uprooted, and human life appeared to be looked upon as an insignificant thing. In judging of this, however, it must be remembered that they had clone and were ready to do similar things to Israel and Judah. The moral platform, too, upon which they lived has to be considered. Ages of depravity and barbarism, upon which higher appeals would have been utterly lost, had to be imaginatively impressed and overawed. And there were not wanting testimonies of conscience amongst the enemies of Israel themselves to justify this course. But—
II. EVEN IN BEING PUNISHED FOR THE SAKE OF ISRAEL , THEIR DESTINY WAS LINKED WITH HERS . If at first their lot would appear to be hard and inconceivably hopeless, yet in the end there can be no question that they were gainers by the association. In common life, with those whom they subdued they received manifold advantages, especially of a spiritual kind, and the choice was set before them of good as well as evil. On the principle, therefore, that it is better for one to suffer even severely at first if afterwards he may retrieve his position and attain to a higher and more desirable one through the initial discipline, it was better for these nations to Be brought to book in this way for Israel's sake. Enemies to Begin with, they might, and in many cases did, become friends and fellow-heirs of the promise.
III. APPARENT LENIENCY TOWARDS ISRAEL IS JUSTIFIED BY ULTERIOR PURPOSES OF UNIVERSAL BLESSING . As compared with her neighbors, it might appear as if one measure were meted out to her and another to them. But this is only contemporary and relative. The punishment inflicted has to be estimated by the spiritual deprivations which accompanied it. The deferring of Israel's hope must have been a keener sorrow than any mere temporal reverse. It must be remembered that through Israel, the seed of Abraham, all nations were to Be blessed. To avert from her utter extinction was indirectly to ensure the greater benefit to the future. But that to be made to cease as a nation from the face of the earth would have been relatively less painful than many of the dispensations through which she had to pass, cannot but be allowed.
IV. IN THE MIDST OF DESERVED JUDGMENT THE FREE MERCY OF GOD IS THE MORE CONSPICUOUS . How unlooked for this promise concerning the future of Israel's enemies! The silver thread of hope traverses the dark labyrinth of judgment. It is only the wisdom of infinite Love that could so disentangle spiritual possibilities from such stupendous and widespread ruin. How glorious the mercy which can so assert itself! The only phrase that can describe the phenomenon is " grace has reigned ." The individual sinner, in the midst of his deserved miseries, may take comfort from this. However great the wretchedness and ruin which he has brought upon himself, and however long continued his alienation from God, if he but turn now from his wickedness, a way of escape will be opened up for him through the sacrifice of Christ.—M.
The tide that has no ebb, but overflows.
Such is the grace of God.
I. IT HAS NO EBB . It seemed to be going back in regard to those to whom the prophet wrote. What terrible calamities were threatened and also came! How dark the face of God seemed towards them! But they were to be restored Jeremiah 12:14 , "I will pluck out the house of Judah from among ye. And even yet God's mercies to his ancient people are not done. Another restoration is to be theirs. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (cf. Romans 11:1-36 .). And Israel is but a type of humanity at large. God has not created all men in vain. Man, as such, is precious in his sight; "the dearly beloved of his soul." And notwithstanding the dark records of human history—man's sins and sorrows—God's love is upon him still. He " so loved the world," and that love has not ceased. The tide of his grace has not ceased to flow. But there may be barriers in the way of its onward progress. Human sin is such. It is so in nations and in individuals, and not only do men by their sin bar for themselves the inflow of God's grace, but for those who come after them. And to break through and break down these barriers is a work of time. Ages and generations may elapse. In mountainous regions you may often see a river flowing through what was manifestly once the bed of a vast lake. But after the lapse of long ages the waters rose and burst through the barriers that held them back from the valleys and plains beneath, and from that moment the river has flowed on in the channel in which we now see it. So will it be with God's grace to mankind at large. Its waters shall rise, and by-and-by the rocky barriers of man's sins, and all that man's sin has built up, shall he broken through and broken down, and then "the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the seas." The tide has never gone back; it has been but delayed. Wise and holy fatherly love is at the root of all things, and is the key which unlocks, as none else will, all the problems of life. That love held his people down to the sufferings they had to endure until the evil mind departed from them, and so it holds humanity down and individual souls down to what they have to endure until they be changed in the spirit of their minds. But all this while the tide of his gracious purpose is rising, and soon that which hinders shall be taken out of the way. Judah was to go into captivity, but Judah was to be "plucked out' from thence, and that is but a pattern of God's dealings with us all.
II. But not only has this tide no ebb, IT FLOWS ON EVERMORE . Not only was Judah to be restored, but forgiveness and salvation are offered to her "evil neighbors" ( Jeremiah 12:14 ), who had done her harm. God's purpose in the election of some is not the reprobation of the rest, but the salvation of all. "In thee and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." The "evil neighbors" had corrupted Judah ( Jeremiah 12:16 ), and they had persecuted her ( Jeremiah 12:14 ); but now the set time to favor them also had come, and salvation is offered to them ( Jeremiah 12:16 ). Thus the tide of God's grace flows on evermore, and where it seemed as if it would never come. From all which we may learn: The redemption of the world is the purpose of God. But every nation and people in their own order. The elect are the firstfruits; those nearest to them come next. If any refuse, their national life is lost ( Jeremiah 12:17 ). But the unfaithfulness of man shall not make the faith of God of none effect. Let us take this tide at its flood; it will lead us on to life eternal. It is the "tide in the affairs of men" which calls us to launch forth upon it, that it may bear us to never-ending bliss.—C.