You too have done evil, even more than your forefathers; for behold, you are each one walking according to the stubbornness of his own evil heart, without listening to Me. So I will hurl you out of this land into the land which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers; and there you will serve other gods day and night, for I will grant you no favor. (Jeremiah 16:12-13)
In Chapter 16 of Jeremiah, the LORD foresees the distress that will come upon His people. He reminds them that they are no better than their forefathers or any of their peers. If any of them thinks self-righteously, he should note the LORD’s words: “You too have done evil.” No one is good before God but Christ. That is the only place a person can hide from the wrath of God: in Christ.
The LORD reminds the people that they have followed their stubborn hearts and have done evil and have turned away their ears from listening to the LORD. Remember, He is talking to Israel, to His chosen people, to the people who claim they are sons and daughters of the LORD Most High. These are not a bunch of rebellious pagans, worshipping idols. These are people who claim they worship the LORD, but actually follow their own evil hearts. They don’t even realize that their relationship with God is self-centered, and that they love the gifts more than the Giver. When the gifts are taken away, no longer have they any love for or trust in the Giver. Can the LORD of heavens and earth put up with His people profaning His name, and neglecting His majesty and power? Of course not! He has to bring them to their senses, like any good parent would do.
So God kicks them out of their land into a land which they “have not known” (v.13) to be slaves to other gods: gods who have no compassion, who have no moral center, who kill and destroy randomly, who oppress, depress, and torment souls. God’s people have taken God for granted. They will soon realize in Exile that without God there is no hope, no joy, no celebration, and nothing but darkness. Exile is the reminder of a broken covenant; of a Father who has given away the child into the hand of enemy. His absence, forgetfulness, silence, and rejection seemed unrestrained. But how can one hope without Him? How can one live in the land of no grace?
Clearly God had ordained for Israel to go through the experience of exile to be transformed and find a lasting relationship with his God. Exile tamed their rebellious spirits and brought them to their knees, longing to worship their God again. God knew that only when they are put in a position where they must cling onto God for survival, for all else looks dark and hopeless, they would start to receive Him more fully than they ever had before. That was essential for the salvation of their souls.
The good news is that God is a healer! He is in the business of redemption. He restores and redeems and puts the pieces back together and makes His people better than new. That is exactly what happens later: “‘As the LORD lives who brought up the sons of Israel … from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers” (v.15).
Oh I wish the church were less rebellious than the nation of Israel. But we too have done evil and turned our backs to God. We too have followed our stubborn hearts and taken God for granted. Dear saints, do not be surprised when the Mighty God hides Himself from you for a moment. That is an act of love, to bring you to your senses, to make you long for Him, so that you remember to whom you belong! So you too will realize that there is no other god worthy of your devotion and praise but the LORD. He is there to welcome you back with a warm and fatherly embrace (Luke 15:20-24).