Sunday, March 08, 2015

Retribution For Sin

February 12, 1880

The Lord gave Jeremiah a message of reproof to bear to his people, charging them with the continual rejection of God’s counsel; saying, “I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye hearkened not unto me. I have sent also unto you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers.” 

God plead with them not to provoke him to anger with the work of their hands and hearts; “but they hearkened not.” Jeremiah then predicted the captivity of the Jews, as their punishment for not heeding the word of the Lord. The Chaldeans were to be used as the instrument by which God would chastise his disobedient people. Their punishment was to be in proportion to their intelligence, and the warnings they had despised. God had long delayed his judgments because of his unwillingness to humiliate his chosen people; but now he would visit his displeasure upon them, as a last effort to check them in their evil course.

In these days he has instituted no new plan to preserve the purity of his people. He entreats the erring ones who profess his name, to repent and turn from their evil ways, in the same manner that he did of old. He predicts the dangers before them, by the mouth of his chosen servants now as then. He sounds his note of warning, and reproves sin just as faithfully as in the days of Jeremiah. But the Israel of our time have the same temptations to scorn reproof and hate counsel, as did ancient Israel. They too often turn a deaf ear to the words that God has given his servants for the benefit of those who profess the truth. Though the Lord in mercy withholds for a time the retribution of their sin, as in the days of Jeremiah, he will not always stay his hand, but will visit iniquity with righteous judgment.

The Lord commanded Jeremiah to stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak unto all the people of Judah who came there to worship, those things which he would give him to speak, diminishing not a word; that they might hearken and turn from their evil ways. Then God would repent of the punishment which he had purposed to do unto them because of their wickedness. The unwillingness of the Lord to chastise his erring people is here vividly shown. He stays his judgments, he pleads with them to return to their allegiance.

He brought them out of bondage that they might faithfully serve himself, the only true and living God; but they had wandered into idolatry, they had slighted the warnings given them by his prophets; yet he defers his chastisement to give them one more opportunity to repent and avert the retribution for their sin. Through his chosen prophet, he now sends them a clear and positive warning, and lays before them the only course by which they can escape the punishment which they deserve. This is a full repentance of their sin, and a turning from the evil of their ways.

The Lord commanded Jeremiah to say to the people: “Thus saith the Lord: If ye will not hearken to me, to walk in my law, which I have set before you, to hearken to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I sent unto you, both rising up early and sending them, but ye have not hearkened; then will I make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.” They understood this reference to Shiloh, and the time when the Philistines overcame Israel and the ark of God was taken. 

The sin of Eli was in passing lightly over the iniquity of his sons, who were occupying sacred offices. The neglect of the father to reprove and restrain his sons, brought upon Israel a fearful calamity. The sons of Eli were slain, Eli himself lost his life, the ark of God was taken from Israel, and thirty thousand of their people were slain. All this was because sin was lightly regarded, and allowed to remain in their midst. What a lesson is this to men holding responsible positions in the church of God! It adjures them to faithfully remove the wrongs that dishonor the cause of truth.

Israel thought, in the days of Samuel, that the presence of the ark containing the commandments of God, would gain them the victory over the Philistines, whether or not they repented of their wicked works. Just so the Jews, in Jeremiah’s time, believed that the divinely appointed services of the temple being strictly observed, would preserve them from the just punishment of their evil course.

The same danger exists today among that people who profess to be the repository of God’s law. They are too apt to flatter themselves that the regard in which they hold the commandments should preserve them from the power of divine justice. They refuse to be reproved of evil, and blame God’s servants with being too zealous in putting sin out of the camp. A sin-hating God calls upon those who profess to keep his law to depart from all iniquity. Neglect to repent and obey his word will bring as serious consequences upon Gods people today, as did the same sin upon ancient Israel. There is a limit beyond which he will no longer delay his judgments. The correction of God through his chosen instruments cannot be disregarded with impunity. The desolation of Jerusalem stands as a solemn warning before the eyes of modern Israel. 

When the priests and the people heard the message that Jeremiah delivered to them in the name of the Lord, they were very angry, and declared that he should die. They were boisterous in their denunciations of him, crying, “Why hast thou prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying. This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate without an inhabitant? And all the people were gathered against Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.” Thus was the message of God despised, and the servant with whom he entrusted it threatened with death. The priests, the unfaithful prophets, and all the people turned in wrath upon him who would not speak to them smooth things and prophesy deceit.

The unfaltering servants of God have usually suffered the bitterest persecution from false teachers of religion. But the true prophets will ever prefer reproach and even death rather than unfaithfulness to God. The Infinite eye is upon the instruments of divine reproof, and they bear a heavy responsibility. But God regards the injury done to them through misrepresentation, falsehood or abuse, the same as though it were done unto himself, and will punish accordingly.

The princes of Judah had heard concerning the words of Jeremiah, and came up from the king’s house, and sat in the entry of the Lord’s house. “Then spake the priests and the prophets unto the princes and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy to die; for he hath prophesied against this city, as ye have heard with your ears.” But Jeremiah stood boldly before the princes and the people declaring, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words which ye have heard. Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you. As for me, behold, I am in your hand; do with me as seemeth good and meet unto you. But know ye for certain, that if ye put me to death, ye shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants thereof; for of a truth the Lord hath sent me unto you to speak all these words in your ears.” 

Had the prophet been intimidated by the threats of those in high authority, and the clamoring of the rabble, his message would have been without effect, and he would have lost his life. But the courage with which he discharged his painful duty commanded the respect of the people, and turned the princes of Israel in his favor. Thus God raised up defenders for his servant. They reasoned with the priests and false prophets, showing them how unwise would be the extreme measures which they advocated.

The influence of these powerful persons produced a reaction in the minds of the people. Then the elders united in protesting against the decision of the priests regarding the fate of Jeremiah. They cited the case of Micah, who prophesied judgments upon Jerusalem, saying, “Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountains of the house as the high places of a forest.” They put to them the question: “Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the Lord, and beseech the Lord, and the Lord repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure great evil against our souls.”

So, through the pleading of Ahikam and others, the prophet Jeremiah’s life was spared; although many of the priests and false prophets would have been pleased had he been put to death on the plea of sedition; for they could not endure the truths that he uttered exposing their wickedness.

But Israel remained unrepented and the Lord saw that they must be punished for their sin, so he instructed Jeremiah to make yokes and bonds and place them upon his neck, and send them to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, of the Ammonites, of Tyrus and Zidon, commanding the messengers to say that God had given all these lands to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. That all these nations should serve him and his descendants for a certain time, till God should deliver them. They were to declare that if those nations refused to serve the king of Babylon they should be punished with the famine, with the sword, and pestilence, till they should be consumed. “Therefore,” said the Lord, “Hearken not ye to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, which speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon; for they prophesy a lie unto you to remove you far from your land; and that I should drive you out, and ye should perish. But the nations that bring their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, those will I let remain still in their own land, saith the Lord; and they shall till it, and dwell therein.” 

Jeremiah declared that they were to wear the yoke of servitude for seventy years, and the captives that were already in the hands of the king of Babylon, and the vessels of the Lord’s house which had been taken, were also to remain in Babylon till that time had elapsed. But at the end of the seventy years God would deliver them from their captivity, and would punish their oppressors, and bring into subjection the proud king of Babylon. 

Ambassadors had come from the various nations named to consult with the king of Judah as to the matter of engaging in battle with the king of Babylon. But the prophet of God, bearing the symbols of subjection, delivered the message of the Lord to these nations, commanding them to bear it to their several kings. This was the lightest punishment that a merciful God could inflict upon so rebellious a people; but if they warred against this decree of servitude, they were to feel the full vigor of his chastisement. They were faithfully warned not to listen to their false teachers who prophesied lies.

The amazement of the assembled council of nations knew no bounds when Jeremiah, carrying the yoke of subjection about his neck, made known to them the will of God. But Hananiah, one of the false prophets against whom God had warned his people through Jeremiah, lifted up his voice in opposition to the prophecy declared. Wishing to gain the favor of the king, and his court, he affirmed that God had given him words of encouragement for the Jews. Said he: “Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, took away from this place, and carried them to Babylon. And I will bring again to this place Jeconiah, the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went into Babylon, saith the Lord; for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”

Jeremiah, in the presence of all the priests and the people, said that it was the earnest wish of his heart that God would so favor his people that the vessels of the Lord’s house might be returned and the captives brought back from Babylon. But this could only be done on condition that the people repented and turned from their evil way to the obedience of God’s law. Jeremiah loved his country and ardently wished that the desolation predicted might be averted by the humiliation of the people; but he knew the wish was vain. He hoped the punishment of Israel would be as light as possible; therefore he earnestly entreated them to submit to the king of Babylon for the time that the Lord specified.

He entreated them to hear the words that he spoke. He cited them to the prophecies of Hosea, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and others whose messages of reproof and warning had been similar to his own. He referred them to events which had transpired in their history in fulfillment of the prophecies of retribution for unrepented sins. Sometimes, as in this case, men had arisen in opposition to the message of God, and predicted peace and prosperity, to quiet the fears of the people, and gain the favor of those in high places. But in every past instance the judgment of God had been visited upon Israel, as the true prophets had indicated. Said he, “The prophet which prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known that the Lord hath truly sent him.” If Israel chose to run the risk, future developments would effectually decide which was the false prophet. 

But Hananiah, incensed at this, took the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and broke it. “And Hananiah spake in the presence of all the people, saying, Thus saith the Lord: Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the necks of all nations within the space of two full years. And the prophet Jeremiah went his way.”

He had done his work, he had warned the people of their danger, he had pointed out the only course by which they could regain the favor of God. But they had mocked his words; men in responsible positions had denounced him, and tried to arouse the people to put him to death. Yet his only crime was in faithfully delivering the message of God to an unbelieving people. 

God pities the blindness and perversity of man; he sends light to their darkened understanding in reproof and threatenings which are designed to make the most exalted feel their ignorance and deplore their errors. He would cause the self-complacent to feel dissatisfied with their attainments and seek greater blessings by closer connection with Heaven. 

God’s plan is not to send messengers who will please and flatter sinners, he delivers no messages of peace to lull the unsanctified into carnal security. But he lays heavy burdens upon the conscience of the wrong-doer, and pierces his soul with sharp arrows of conviction. The ministering angels present to him the fearful judgments of God to deepen the sense of his great need and prompt the agonizing cry “what shall I do to be saved?” The very hand that humbles to the dust, rebukes sin, and puts pride and ambition to shame, lifts up the penitent, stricken one, and inquires with deepest sympathy, “What wilt thou that I shalt do unto thee? 

When man has sinned against a holy and merciful God, there is no course for him to pursue so noble, as to sincerely repent and confess his errors in tears and bitterness of soul. This God requires of him and will accept of nothing less than a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

Mrs. E. G. White 

Signs of The Times, February 12, 1880, Art. B

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