From Desolation to Restoration (Jeremiah 33:1-13)

While Jeremiah was still locked up in jail, a second Message from God was given to him:

“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

“This is what God, the God of Israel, has to say about what’s going on in this city, about the homes of both people and kings that have been demolished, about all the ravages of war and the killing by the Chaldeans, and about the streets littered with the dead bodies of those killed because of my raging anger—about all that’s happened because the evil actions in this city have turned my stomach in disgust.

“But now take another look. I’m going to give this city a thorough renovation, working a true healing inside and out. I’m going to show them life whole, life brimming with blessings. I’ll restore everything that was lost to Judah and Jerusalem. I’ll build everything back as good as new. I’ll scrub them clean from the dirt they’ve done against me. I’ll forgive everything they’ve done wrong, forgive all their rebellions. And Jerusalem will be a center of joy and praise and glory for all the countries on earth. They’ll get reports on all the good I’m doing for her. They’ll be in awe of the blessings I am pouring on her.

“Yes, God’s Message: ‘You’re going to look at this place, these empty and desolate towns of Judah and streets of Jerusalem, and say, “A wasteland. Unlivable. Not even a dog could live here.” But the time is coming when you’re going to hear laughter and celebration, marriage festivities, people exclaiming, “Thank God-of-the-Angel-Armies. He’s so good! His love never quits,” as they bring thank offerings into God’s Temple. I’ll restore everything that was lost in this land. I’ll make everything as good as new.’ I, God, say so.

“God-of-the-Angel-Armies says: ‘This coming desolation, unfit for even a stray dog, is once again going to become a pasture for shepherds who care for their flocks. You’ll see flocks everywhere—in the mountains around the towns of the Shephelah and Negev, all over the territory of Benjamin, around Jerusalem and the towns of Judah—flocks under the care of shepherds who keep track of each sheep.’ God says so. (The Message)

The prophecy of Jeremiah is a large and rather difficult biblical book to read – not because it’s hard to understand, but for the continual words of divine judgment. Jerusalem, the center of the world and the jewel of Judaism, would be destroyed by a pagan army.

This was a very unpopular message in the city of Jerusalem. It was the sort of message which landed Jeremiah in prison, more than once. No one, in any age, wants to hear a steady stream of how their society will be crushed by enemies they despise.

Yet, consistent with all the prophetic books of the Old Testament, judgment and destruction never have the last word. There are rhythms of grace and restoration that move imperceptibly underneath the black crud of worldly injustice. And those movements will eventually create a wave of renewal which can wash away the apathy, anger, and avarice around us.

We, as readers examining the prophecy a millennia and half later, may fail to notice that God’s judgment is no spur of the moment thing. The destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians was centuries in the making.

The patience and continual wooing of the Lord for the people to return to fidelity of worship and practice of justice is what dominates the prophecy – and not some capricious deity who spontaneously flares in anger and scorches the earth.

All we have is now. This present moment is the one we are living. So, instead of worrying about the future – either of getting to heaven, or of avoiding hell – we are to love and serve the Lord in the now, and love our neighbor, in this present time we have to do it.

God will take care of the future. We can trust God to do what is right, just, and fair for ourselves and everyone else.

For the Christian, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a life to be lived, not just a set of rules or rituals to observe or doctrines to believe.

Every spiritual person since the dawn of time has struggled with the temptation to bifurcate the inner and outer self. That is a path of disintegration. It ends in destruction.

Jeremiah’s prophecy is an acknowledgment and naming of doing outward religious practices, while possessing an inward disposition which is very far from God.

The people were practicing “rabbit’s foot” religion, that is, believing that as long as they kept certain observances in place, then that would inoculate them from any harm – and they could do whatever they wanted.

Indeed, their hearts became hardened to the voice of the Lord and the cries of the oppressed. Yet, judgment never has the final say; grace and mercy do.

As bad as things may get, our circumstances are never too deep for God to turn them around. Restoration and renewal are divine specialties. And if a heart becomes so hard as to be petrified, the Lord is able to replace the heart of stone for a heart of flesh.

A dry and inhabitable soul can turn to a lush garden. A desolate life can be transformed to a habitation of justice, righteousness, and peace. The ire and irk of God can change to divine blessing and holy joy.

All spiritual restoration begins with silence… humility… repentance… return….

Renewal is a process, not an event. It is slow and tedious, pedantic and pedestrian. Restoration takes time. It is living one day at a time, putting one foot in front of the other, making daily choices of trust and faith which eventually add up to a beautiful life.

And along the way, the steadfast love of God never fails – always there, always supportive. Like earthly gravity, heavenly love is constant, continually keeping us grounded, even when we don’t acknowledge or understand it.

So, may today, and every day, be for you a walk of faith, trusting in the restorative presence of God to heal and transform pain and hopelessness to peace and well-being. May all desolate souls be restored. Amen.