God’s promises to the Jews were conditional (Jeremiah 18:7)

Jeremiah 18:7, "In an instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down and to destroy it."

From this and the ensuing verses, Christians have concluded that the Jews vainly expect the fulfillment of those promises which refer to a prosperous futurity. They tell us (Jews), your hopes must be disappointed. Sinfully you have acted, yea sinfully in the sight of the Lord, for all the promises of the prophet, whether for good or for evil, are given conditionally. The Almighty ordains a propitious future for a people or for an individual; and if the people or the individual, by evil acts, become unworthy of such a benefit, it is withheld, and the Almighty substitutes evil for the intended good; and when the people or the individual again repent and improve, the imminent punishment is withdrawn, a favor is bestowed instead, as has been exemplified by the history of Jonah in Nineveh. The Christians interpret, therefore, the above passage from Jeremiah thus—"At one instant I decree the destruction of a people or of a kingdom, etc. When, however, the people or the kingdom amend their conduct, I withhold the threatened calamity. At another instant I resolve to deal out benefits. When, however, the people offend me, and act disobediently, I recall my decrees of grace." To this the Christians add the following imputation:—The Almighty has, time after time, released Israel from the tyranny of their enemies. Admonition after admonition He sent to them through His prophets to induce them not to follow the instigations of a corrupt heart, and He imposed on them the duty of obeying His commandments and statutes. The Israelites, however, whenever they felt the soothing help of the Lord, hardened their hearts again, and neglected the biddings of the Almighty. This has induced Him to abhor them and to reject them altogether. And He will never again favor them. See 2 Kings 17:20, "And the Lord rejected all the seed of Israel and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers until He had cast them out of His sight."


Thus says also Jeremiah 15:1, "And the Lord said unto me, If even Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my mind would not be towards this people; cast them out of my sight and let them go forth."

Refutation.—It is a false accusation to allege, that we Jews expect the fulfillment of the divine promises so long as we persevere in evil doings, and commit sins like depraved men, and still expect a reward as if we were true and zealous servants of God. Far be from us any such presumption. But we do profess with an unshaken confidence that we shall one day cling to the Lord with an undivided heart, and that the Almighty will receive us in mercy, subdue our misdeeds, and then bring to pass all the glorious predictions given by the prophets. We rely on the words pronounced in Deuteronomy 4:30, "When thou shalt be in trouble, and when all these things shall have befallen thee, in the latter days thou shalt return to the lord thy God and hearken to His voice; for the Lord thy God is a merciful God, He will not suffer thee to be weakened, nor will He destroy thee, nor will He forget the covenant with thy fathers which He swore unto them." We may also advert to chapter 30:1-8, of the same book, "And it shall come to pass, when all these things shall have come upon thee, the blessing and the curse which I have set before thee, and when thou shalt have taken it to heart among all the nations among which the Lord thy God shall have banished thee, that thou shalt return with all thine heart and with all thy soul to the lord thy God, and obey His voice according to all that I command unto thee this day, thou and thy sons. And the Lord thy God shall bring back thy captivity, and gather thee from among all the people wither the Lord thy God shall have scattered thee. Even if thine outcasts be at the end of the heavens; even from thence shall the Lord thy God gather thee, and even from thence shall He take thee, and the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land which thy fathers inherited; and thou shalt inherit it, and He shall do good unto thee, and He shall make thee more numerous than thy ancestors. And the Lord thy God shall circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, for the sake of thy life. And the Lord thy God shall bring all these imprecations upon thine enemies, etc., when thou shalt return to the Lord thy God." The prophets have also announced the constancy of our future adherence to the Lord, and have made the fulfillment of the good promised dependent on our full repentance. See Isaiah 44:22, "I have blotted out thine iniquities like a thick cloud, and thy sins like a cloud; return unto me, for I have redeemed thee." Also Jeremiah 3:14 says, "Return unto me, ye backsliding children, saith the Lord, for I am married unto you, and I will take you one from a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you into Zion." See also Ezekiel 33:11, "Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die, O House of Israel?" In like manner, says Hosea 14:2-3, "Turn, O Israel, unto the Lord thy God, for thou hast stumbled through thine iniquity. Take with yourselves words, and turn unto the Lord, and say unto Him: Thou who forgivest every iniquity, receive us graciously, and we will render the calves of our lips (i.e. Thanksgivings)." Zechariah, in chapter 1:3, says, "And thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: Return ye unto me, saith the Lord of Hosts, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts."

To the same effect, says Malachi 3:7, "Since the days of your fathers ye have departed from my statutes, and ye have not observed them: return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts." Similar passages abound among the prophets, which tend to prove that repentance is the fundamental condition on which all our hopes hinge, for no human being escapes the commission of sin. See Ecclesiastes 7:20, "For there is no righteous man in the earth who doeth good and sinneth not." Therefore our All-gracious Ruler has taught us the means of repentance, and the ways to avoid the snares of depravity. David had committed many transgressions, and subjected himself with sincere submission to the divine chastisements: his sins were, therefore, forgiven him, and his good works were accepted in favor of him and his posterity. See Isaiah 37:35, "And I shall protect this city to save it for my sake, and for the sake of my servant David." King Manasseh affords another instance of pardon having been obtained through sincere repentance, although he had exceeded his predecessors in the indulgence of an iniquitous conduct; yet the Lord was pleased with his contrition, and reinstated him on his throne. Consequently we thus interpret the passage, "At an instant I shall speak," etc. The reparation of Israel’s conduct is the only condition of their escape from the infliction of condign punishments; therefore the prophet continues the divine message in the following manner: "Now go to speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord, behold I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you; return ye now every one from his evil way, and correct your ways and your doings." Nor are we disposed to imagine that we should suffer less for our sins than our forefathers did for theirs. On the contrary, we are admonished to be equally vigilant as our ancestors in the avoidance of sin; and when our frail human nature betrays us into sinful acts, it becomes our imperative duty to resort to sincere repentance, for only then the Lord receives us and casts our sins into the abyss of oblivion. See Ezekiel 18:21, "But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he has committed, that shall not be mentioned unto him; in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live."

We may mention here, also, that the many divine predictions and promises which are of a cheering character have been given in the unconditional and irrevocable form of an oath; for instance Ibid. 36:7-12, "Thus saith the Lord God, I have lifted up mine hand, (which is the symbol of an oath) that the Heathens that are around you shall surely bear their shame. But ye, O, mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people of Israel, for they are at hand to come. For behold I am for you, and I will turn unto you, and you shall be tilled and sown. And I will multiply men among you, O, all ye house of Israel, even all of it; and the cities shall be inhabited, and the wastes shall be built, and I will multiply among you men and cattle, and they shall increase and bring fruit, and I will settle you after your old estates, and will do better unto you than at your beginnings, and ye shall know that I am the Lord; yea, I will cause men to walk among you, even my people Israel; and they shall possess thee, and thou shalt be their inheritance, and thou shalt no more bereave them of men."

Thus the Almighty communicates to us in Ezekiel’s prophecy, that he will prosperously re-establish the Holy Land in its primitive condition, and even enlarge His bounty upon it, so that it shall no longer consume Israel, its inhabitants.

The disputant cannot raise an objection and maintain that the prophecy of restoration is merely given conditionally, for there an oath is expressed, lifting of the hand, which does not admit of any condition whatever. See Deuteronomy 32:40, where we read, "For I lift up my hand unto the heavens, and I say, as true as I live for ever." Nor can it be asserted that this assurance merely relates to Israel’s exit from Babylon, for at that period the Lord did not raise Israel to its pristine state, and then the whole of Israel did not return to their land; the ten tribes of Israel were omitted, and no more than 42,360 men of the tribe of Judah and Benjamin actually came back. Neither was Israel at the time spared from affliction, as it will be at the future redemption, which is clearly demonstrated by the contents of the above prophecy, and other passages, (see Ezekiel 36:22-28). In fact, the whole concluding part of the chapter speaks in an unconditional tone. And this is quite natural; for where the Almighty has given predictions relating to the glory of His name, and not that of our name, no conditional language could be applied. We have, in other similar passages decided and unconditional assurances (see, for instance, Isaiah 54:9-10), "For this is as the waters of Noah unto me; for as I have sworn that the waters should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee." Thus we find, Isaiah chapter 62:8-9, "The Lord hath sworn by His right hand, and by the arm of His strength: Surely, I will no more give thy corn to be food for thine enemies, and the sons of the strangers shall no more drink thy wine for which thou hast laboured. But those that gather it shall eat it and praise the Lord, and they that have brought it together shall drink it in the courts of my holiness." See also Jeremiah 31:35-37, "Thus saith the Lord, who giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon, and of the stars as a light by night, who divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar: The Lord of Hosts is His name. If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before me for ever. Thus saith the Lord, If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord." When our opponent takes into consideration all these passages, how can he maintain that the Almighty has cast off and disowned Israel, and will no more vouchsafe to His people a redemption from this captivity? Surely the restoration will at last take place; then His anger will no more visit us, then His loving-kindness and His covenant of peace will no more be drawn from us, then He will no more cast us away, and no more deprive us of establishment as a nation. Our past sins will then no longer be remembered, but He will graciously pardon all our former errors and transgressions. For Jeremiah has, in the above prophecy, expressly announced in the name of the Lord, "I will pardon their sins, and remember their iniquity no more." Neither can the argument be founded on the words occurring in 2 Kings 17:20, "And the Lord rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and He gave them into the hands of spoilers, until He cast them out of his sight." This rejection and casting away is only a temporary punishment limited to the period of the captivity, but is not final and perpetual; consequently it is not a dissolution of the ancient covenant. See, on this, Leviticus 26:44, "And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies I will not cast them away, nor will I abhor them to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God." The periods for their removal are fixed by the Almighty, and only known to Him, who, by means of frequent chastisements, desires to remove from them all that is unbecoming and objectionable. See Isaiah 1:25-26, "And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge thy dross, and remove all the base metal; and I will restore thy judges as at first, and thy counselors as at the beginning; afterwards thou shalt be called the City of Righteousness, the faithful city." Similar to this prophecy are the words of Ezekiel 22:15, "And I will scatter thee among the heathen, and disperse them in the countries, and will consume thy filthiness out of thee." All this tends to prove the object of our exile as solely to purify us, to rid us of inherent imperfections, and to free us from the pollution of our sins. Hence the prophet, with a view to our ultimate purification, says, in Lamentations 4:22, "Thy iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is ended; He shall no more cause thee to be a captive." Now, we will show that no argument can be established against us, from the words of Jeremiah 15:1, "And the Lord said unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind would not be toward this people; cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth." These words were addressed to Jeremiah after the Lord had charged him thrice not to intercede on behalf of Judah and Benjamin, that they might be led into captivity like the other ten tribes. For the Lord had said to Jeremiah, chapter 7:15-16, "And I will cast you out of my sight as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim: Therefore, pray not thou for this people, either lift up a cry or prayer for them, neither make intercession to me, for I will not hear thee." Now the Lord explained to him the reason why He would not listen to his intercessions, and he says (in verses 17 and 18), "Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven, and pour out drink offerings unto other Gods that they may provoke me to anger." In the same book, chapter 11:11, He says, "Therefore, thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, from which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me I will not hearken unto them." Also here the reason is pointed out why the Almighty would refuse to grant his prayer (Ibid. verse 13), we find, "For according to the number of thy cities were thy Gods, O Judah," etc. And in the same chapter we have a second warning of the Almighty that Jeremiah should not intercede (Ibid. verse 14), "Therefore, pray not for this people, nor offer up a cry or supplication for them, for I will not hearken in the time that they cry unto me in their trouble." For how could the Almighty be favorable to a petition for mercy while they continued in the sin which caused the infliction: nor could impenitent sinners find grace with Him. Hence the words, Ibid., "And they shall cry unto me, but I will not hear them." The imminent evil relates to sword, pestilence, and famine. See chapter 14 (verse 15), "For through the sword, pestilence, and famine, I destroy them." When, therefore, Jeremiah perceived that the prayer for the house of Judah was in vain, he prayed (chapter 14:7), "O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do it for thy name’s sake." The prophet then concludes with the words, "We are called by Thy name; therefore, forsake us not." Upon this follows the reply of the Almighty: "Thus saith the Lord unto this people, Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet, wherefore the Lord doth not accept them; He will now remember their iniquity and visit their sins." Hereby is meant—Since the Jews have mistrusted me, and have preferred to seek their protection among the Egyptians and the Assyrians, in order to escape the danger of adversaries, and since the Jews have not refrained from following profitless objects, I will remove them and render them the captives of their enemies. But, before I shall lead them into exile, I will remember their iniquity by famine, and visit their sin by the sword and by pestilence.

After having acquainted the prophet that his people had no hope of deliverance from the evils decreed upon them, the third injunction was given to Jeremiah not to offer up a supplication for the deliverance of the people (see Ibid. chapter 14:11-12), "Then said the Lord unto me, Pray not for this people for their good; when they fast I will not hear their cry, and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them, but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence." Here again, allusion is solely made to their prayers coming from an impenitent heart, and offered up during their perseverance in wickedness.

The present passage reminds us of the one in Isaiah 1:15-16, "And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers I will not hear; your hands are full of blood; make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil." The verses we have quoted demonstrate that favorable reception of prayers is only denied so long as those evil deeds continue which bring the punishment to pass, but the supplications meet with grace when the supplicant renounces his sinful conduct. The pious prophet Jeremiah seeing, then, that his influence was insufficient among the unfortunate transgressors, appealed once more to the Almighty not to reject them and not to abhor them, for the sake of His holy name, since the Lord had been acknowledged on earth as the God of Israel. He prayed also to the Almighty not to suffer Jerusalem, known as the seat of the glory of the Lord, to be reviled; moreover, not to break His covenant made with the Israelites when he brought them out of Egypt. Hence, he says in Jeremiah 14:21, "Do not abhor us for Thy name’s sake, do not disgrace the throne of Thy glory; remember us, and break not Thy covenant with us." Thereupon the Lord replies, that the prayer of Jeremiah would not avail to rescue the Israelites from the calamities of the evil ordained for them on account of their iniquities; and even if Moses and Samuel, who were superior prophets, were to raise their voice in the behalf of the transgressors, to avert the punishment of the sword, pestilence, and famine, their prayer will not avail. To this Divine resolve these words refer—"Cast them out of my sight (presence), and let them go forth. And it shall come to pass, if they say unto thee, Whither shall we go forth? Then thou shalt tell them, Thus saith the Lord: Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the famine; and such as are for the captivity, to the captivity." (Jeremiah 15:1,2) So that all instigators to sin will meet with the fatal sentence assigned for them, while those who have been betrayed into sin will have to go into captivity, and save nothing but their lives. For the Lord desires not to exterminate them altogether. See Jeremiah 5:18, "And even in those days I will not make an end of you." Nor were the prayers of Moses of any avail when the Israelites first sinned in worshipping the golden calf, nor on their giving way to the insinuations of the spies sent from the desert to search the Land of Promise; also when the instigators of sin were punished with death, and the survivors who had yielded to the bad example were visited with the merited punishment. The intercession on behalf of the transgressors would have proved fruitless unless the instigators had been first removed by sword, pestilence, and famine. But as soon as the necessary chastisement would be inflicted, and the remaining sinners would have expiated their sins by the miseries attending the exile, He will graciously receive them at the epoch of the restoration, and although they should not them be purified entirely from their sins, He will have compassion on them for the sake of His name, as is said in 1 Samuel 12:22, "For the Lord will not forsake His people on account of His great name, since the Lord has vouchsafed to make you His people." The same is said in Isaiah 48:9-11, "For my name’s sake I will defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off. Behold I refine thee, but not with silver. I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it, for why should my name be polluted, and I will not give my glory unto another." The reestablishment of the Holy City is an inducement to exult us as His own people. See Isaiah 42:1, "For Zion’s sake, I will not delay, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness shall go forth like a bright light, and her salvation like a brilliant flame." Nor will the Almighty ever be unmindful of the covenant made with our ancestors. See Leviticus 26:44, "And even in the land of their enemies I will not reject them, nor rebuke them to consume them, and to destroy my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God." This promise was subsequently repeated in the prophecy of Ezekiel 16:60, "And I will remember my covenant made with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant." Again Ibid. verses 62-63, "And I will establish my covenant with thee, and thou shalt know that I am the Lord, in order that thou mayest remember me, and feel shame; but thou shalt open thy mouth no more on account of any degradation of thine, while I shall forgive thee for all thou hast done, saith the Lord." This last quotation clearly shows, that, although we have rebelled in the eyes of the Lord, he, nevertheless, will grant us forgiveness for His own sake, and for the sake of His covenant.

The promised favor will not be withheld from us, and we shall have passed through all our ordeals; we shall, at the appointed time, be planted again on our soil enjoying the perfect favor of the Almighty, and He will fulfill the promise given in Jeremiah 32:41, "And I shall rejoice over them to do good unto them, and I will in truth plant them in their land, with all my heart and with all my soul." We have thus had an opportunity to demonstrate that the threatened evils will finally be counterbalanced and replaced by benefits.

 
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