Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, laments the fall of Jerusalem with the destruction of its place of worship and the enslavement of its people. God had promised Israel many blessings if they would follow His instructions for righteous living. Just as Adam and Eve had the bounty and the beauty of the Garden of Eden, Israel prospered under King David and even more so under King Solomon. But again, like Adam and Eve, they failed to follow the Lord’s instructions and suffered the consequences. One of God’s great promises to Israel was the victory over their enemies. They would inherit fields they did not plant and houses that they did not build. Davis comments, “Having been lavished with an astonishing array of blessings from God historically—the promises to Abraham, the exodus under Moses, the manna in the desert, the conquest of the promised land under Joshua, the joy of eating harvests they did not plant and living in houses they did not build, the patience of God through the rebellions in the time of the Judges, the gift of leadership by David, the repeated warnings and encouragements from many prophets—Israel responded with a shameful array of sins for generations.”[1] But by Jeremiah’s time, God’s patience had expired. God turned Israel over to its enemies. Lamentation 1:5 says, “Her foes have become the head; her enemies prosper because the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.”

 It’s not uncommon to see God’s judgment falling upon the Israelites because of their rebellion against God. Yes, she was afflicted for the multitude of her transgressions, but the affliction did not come from her rebellion. It resulted from her refusal to repent of her transgressions and rebellion. That’s why God sent the prophets. He gives sinners a chance to repent of their rebellion against God as well as their many transgressions. Even the sacrificial system provided in the book of Exodus and Leviticus teaches us that man sins, but God forgives when we repent. Everyone has “transgressed” God’s commandments. Isaiah tells us that there is no one who seeks after God. Each of us has gone our own ways to get what we want in contrast to what God wants for us. Paul echoes Isaiah when he says there is not one righteous man. We have all fallen short of God’s standards. The key to a successful life is not trying harder! We just fail when we do that. It’s to repent and acknowledge our sinfulness before God. When the residents repented at Jonah’s preaching, they escaped God’s plans to destroy the city. Repentance is something for both believers and non-believers. The word in the Greek for “repentance” is literally to change one’s mind. It’s to stop rebellion against the truth of God’s instructions for a healthy and happy life. It’s to see that there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is destruction. In our country, that’s the way of moral decline, lawlessness in the cities, and weaponizing the institutions of America for political gain. This will result in the death of our country, just as Jeremiah says about Israel, “Her foes have become the head; her enemies prosper because the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.”

It’s not sin. It’s the failure to repent of sin that brings judgment. It’s not the same thing as saving faith. Both believers and non-believers are called to repent in the Bible. Swindoll has it right when he says, “Repentance and faith are two distinct terms that should not be identified with each other. Repentance is for all people, unbelievers as well as believers. Repentance is not necessary (though it may often occur) for entering into an eternal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. But repentance on the part of believers is necessary for maintaining fellowship with the Savior. For unbelievers, repentance from sin and toward God (that is, changing one’s mind or perspective about sin and God) prepares the individual for saving faith.”[2] Repentance for both believers and non-believers also leads to a healthy and happy life in our temporal world. A thief who repents of his stealing will find that life outside of jail is preferable to life behind bars. Sometimes, salvation in the bible refers to deliverance from temporal consequences that we face in the world today. So, Jeremiah, as well as all the other prophets, calls God’s people to repent. When they fail to do so, they face the consequences.

[1] Davis, Andrew M. 2017. Exalting Jesus in Isaiah. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference.

[2] Swindoll, Charles R., and Roy B. Zuck. 2003. Understanding Christian Theology. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.