It didn’t have to burn. I guess I never realized it before, but Jerusalem didn’t have to burn. Though, because of its people, it had stepped WAY over the line and deserved to burn, it didn’t have to. Though it was polluted from corner to corner, and from the inside out, with the refuse of gross spiritual infidelity . . . though fake gods and high places were evident everywhere . . . though a good torching would go a long way to removing the idolatrous stubble . . . it didn’t need to be. Even at the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour God was prepared to show mercy.
Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live.” (Jeremiah 38:17 ESV)
That the people of God were in need of a “timeout” had already been ordained. That they needed to catch up on their Sabbaths and let the land rest from their adultery was a done deal. That they needed 70 years in a foreign land in order to ponder the fruit they had reaped from sowing their seeds of stiff-necked rebellion, was gonna happen. They were going to Babylon. The only question being, would they now hear the word of the LORD and obey. Would they, even in their chastisement, believe that God was disciplining them as children He loved that they might be brought back into relationship with Himself. Or, would they continue to trample the word of God underfoot and determine to go into captivity kicking and fighting and shaking their fist at God.
King Zedekiah was desperate. Desperate enough to buck popular opinion among his officials and spare Jeremiah’s life (38:1-13) . . . desperate enough to have a secret closed door meeting with Jeremiah (38:14-28). And he was given the words of grace and of life, “Obey now the voice of the LORD in what I say to you, and it shall be well with you, and your life shall be spared” (38:20). All Zedekiah needed to do was surrender to the army of the north . . . but that would only happen as he humbled himself and submitted first to the God of heaven. But let the record show that Zedekiah refused the way of God . . .
He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the LORD. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God. He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD, the God of Israel. (2Chronicles 36:12b-13 ESV)
. . . and so, the city burned.
And I marvel at the hardness of men’s heart . . . even men who say they know the Savior. The walls of their world can be crumbling before their feet and yet they still refuse to go to the knee and confess Him as LORD. Though they have suffered loss, a little humility would go a long way to stemming the tide of God’s determination to call them back to Himself. God’s purifying fire wants to do its work of removing dross and leaving only the gold and silver . . . His is a refiner’s fire . . . but the city doesn’t need to burn.
And I marvel at the love and grace of God. At His patience in not writing-off those who refuse Him time and time again . . . or those who stumble time and time again. But, funded by the precious blood of Christ shed for sinners, He pays in full the debt of sin owed for all those who receive His Word . . . He covers the on-gong transgression of His people who humbly come to Him in confession asking for forgiveness. Though there may be consequences, in His infinite grace He pleads for our return.
The city doesn’t need to burn. O’ that we might be kept from hard hearts and stiff necks. By His grace . . . and for His glory.