The Lord said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 3:6-10)
What Judah Saw She Did Not Learn
These were dark days for the children of Abraham. Jeremiah the prophet is declaring how the Lord has brought judgment upon His people. Following the death of Solomon the nation of Israel divided between the northern tribes called Israel and the southern tribes called Judah. No king that ruled in the northern tribes followed the Lord. A few of the kings of Judah walked in the ways of David the king but most were wicked. God’s judgment upon Israel was destruction by the hand of the Assyrian empire. This nation was a severe and cruel army as they slaughtered the people destroying their cities one by one. For the most part the Lord protected Judah from the Assyrians. Jeremiah is appealing to the final remnants of God’s people to turn away from their idolatrous rebellion and turn back to Jehovah God. One part of that appeal was for Judah to see what happened to Israel and learn from her mistakes. Judah did not take heed.
It seems incredulous that Judah would stand by and not take notice of what was happening to her sister tribes. The tragedy of civil war is how each side dismisses the other in regard to the devastation endured by war. Judah was very fearful of the Assyrians as reports of the cities being destroyed came to their ears. Families were impacted by the news of relatives slaughtered in battle. They did not know God would withhold the Assyrians from the southern tribes. The prophets pleaded with the people to see what happened to Israel and learn from her mistakes. Judah did not. Eventually Judah would fall by the hand of the Babylonians for similar reasons Israel was destroyed. In God’s providence a remnant would return from the southern tribes seventy years later.
The message of Jeremiah was imploring the people to look how God dealt with the northern tribes and to learn that God will do the same thing to them if they rebel. How often has the Lord left an example of His severity and yet man pretends it will not happen to him. The Bible is filled with stories of what God thinks about disobedience. A statement is made in the Garden of Eden that God means what He says. The flood is a testimony that sin will not be endured. Rebellion by the people of God was met with severe punishment. The wilderness was filled with the carcasses of those who disbelieved in the word of the Lord. He brought the nations of Assyria and Babylon upon His own special people because they refused to repent.
When we read the Bible we must impressed with the examples of God’s judgment. He is clear, demonstrative and unchanging. Satan lulls man into believing that what happened to that person will not happen to me. “God would not do such a thing to me” is what we believe. Like Judah of old who watched her sister Israel suffer total annihilation the belief is God will not punish us. They were wrong. We are wrong. The Lord is same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is unchanging. The scriptures are written for our learning. What we find in this grand book is the message of salvation which is unchanging. But the message is just as clear that how God views sin has not changed. Modern theology will not change the mind of God. Social acceptance does not change the leopard’s spots.
Judah saw what happened to Israel; she did not fear and did not turn to the Lord with her whole heart. The day came when God brought judgment upon His own people. Reading the Bible we can see what happens to rebellion against the Lord. Will we learn?
It was not for punishment that He formed us, but to share His goodness, inasmuch as He is a good God. But inasmuch as He is a just God, His will is that sinners should suffer punishment. (John Damascene; 700?-754? Exposition of the Orthodox Faith)