“Israel is a hunted sheep.
The lions have driven him away.
First, the king of Assyria devoured him,
and now at last Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has broken his bones.”
Therefore Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel, says:
“Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land,
as I have punished the king of Assyria.
I will bring Israel again to his pasture,
and he will feed on Carmel and Bashan.
His soul will be satisfied on the hills of Ephraim and in Gilead.
In those days, and in that time,” says Yahweh,
“the iniquity of Israel will be sought for,
and there will be none,
also the sins of Judah,
and they won’t be found;
for I will pardon them whom I leave as a remnant.
The first verse in this passage sums up what happened to Israel as a nation. First the northern kingdom was taken by Assyria. Then, Babylon came and destroyed Judah and Jerusalem in the south. Although God used both countries to perform His punishments, God also intended to punish those other countries as well. From the human perspective bad was happening all over the place, but it’s important for us to see things from God’s perspective. Every single event that happened was purposed by God. He was always in control. That’s important for us today when things look bad to us. God is still in control and He is using all of the circumstances for His glory. He’s also using those circumstances to bless His people.
We read here that God promised a time, after Babylon is brought down, that the remaining Israelis would return to the land in innocence. God intended to bring some of them back and give them forgiveness. We read about that when we went through the books that Ezra wrote. Let’s look back and see:
He read from it before the wide place that was in front of the water gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women, and of those who could understand. The ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law… Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people (for he was above all the people), and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed Yahweh, the great God.
All the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” with the lifting up of their hands. They bowed their heads, and worshiped Yahweh with their faces to the ground.
It’s pretty obvious that these people who returned to the land after Babylon was taken over by Persia, had a much different attitude than their relatives who had been taken captive many years ealier. Notice that these people chose to stand outside and listen to Ezra read the Bible for hours! Ultimately, the people agreed by saying “Amen” and bowed all the way down with their faces to the ground. If you go on reading, you learn that they were actually crying too. God’s truth made them sad. That’s because God’s word exposes sin as we see how bad we have been. These people weren’t perfect, but it is clear that many of them had their hearts in the right place. God was willing to forgive them and bless their efforts as they rebuilt Jerusalem. God’s intentions were good the whole time. He used these events to expose and remove sin, and then to provide forgiven to His people.