Then the LORD said to me: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!
And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the LORD says:
"Those destined for death, to death;
those for the sword, to the sword;
those for starvation, to starvation,
those for captivity, to captivity."
This is the sort of passage that would have many asking, "Where is the God of love in that?"
But let's back up a bit.
Right back to Deuteronomy. All through Deuteronomy the phrase "remember the Lord" is repeated, page after page, chapter after chapter. Remember Him when you go into the Promised Land, when you enter the land of plenty, when you find yourself surrounded by other nations that don't follow God, when life is good and when life is hard. At all times, remember the Lord. Throughout Deuteronomy God is galvanising His people before they become a nation in their own land. It all comes together magnificently in Deuteronomy 30, where God presents His people with a choice.
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
By the time you get to Jeremiah God's people have been long in the Promised Land, it is drawing towards the end of the era of the kings and the people of Israel have made their choice. They have turned away from God. And Jeremiah is pleading with them to repent and turn back to Him. God, through Jeremiah, is pleading with His people to turn back to Him, to remember Him.
So back to Jeremiah 15:1-2. It IS a harsh passage. But it's not a bolt out of the blue. Just four chapters earlier Jeremiah has this message from the Lord:
From the time I brought your forefathers up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, "Obey me." But they did not listen or pay attention; nstead they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts.
God has shown extraordinary patience over centuries. Centuries is a long time to be patient. Especially when I think about how hard it is to remain patient even for five minutes sometimes. God has given His people countless warnings. And they have ignored Him.
However God continues to show compassion, love and mercy. God could have turned all His people over to death, sword and starvation. He gave them countless opportunities to turn back to Him. He told them point blank that He would destroy them if they continued to ignore Him. And yet He saved some. He preserved a remnant, sending them into capitivity.
"Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; he will escape with his life."
Even amongst the captives there were those whose trust failed. Towards the end of Jeremiah there's a story of the group who rebelled against the Babylonian captivity and escaped to Egypt. The Lord spoke to the people through Jeremiah, warning them against this plan. That they would perish if they fled to Egypt. He was asking them to trust Him, to go to Babylon. A group fled to Egypt, thinking it the better option. They perished.
But those who went to Babylon were established in that land. They built houses, planted vineyards, grew crops, settled safely and lived in prosperity.
While there are sweeping passages of hope and promise, Jeremiah is, at core, an overwhelmingly sad book. God, through Jeremiah, pleads desperately with His people to repent from their ways, to follow Him, to trust Him. Relatively few trust and follow, walking through the small gate and along the narrow road. But some do. And for them the future is full of glorious hope and life.