“The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Judah for three crimes, even four, because they have rejected the instruction of the Lord and have not kept his statutes. The lies that their ancestors followed have led them astray.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Are you a good test-taker? Or are you someone who tends to freeze up when you are put in pressure situations like that? Your answer here really doesn’t have anything to do with how smart you are. I had good friend in high school who was crazy smart, but who struggled mightily to get a decent score on his ACT because he wasn’t a good test-taker. Okay, but why do they have tests in school? Why not just teach the stuff and move on? Because, like it or not, tests are the best way to hold students accountable for what they should have been learning. Without tests there’s no way to really be sure we’ve learned anything. Holding students accountable for what they’ve learned is important. Judah learns that here the hard way.
We arrive here at judgment pronouncement number seven and something is different. The difference is subtle, but important. The formula for the pronouncement is the same as all the others. The formulaic nature of the prophecy is important here, by the way. It would have helped audiences commit it to memory more easily. That would have helped in getting the message out to the various peoples who were in its crosshairs as quickly and accurately as possible.
No, the formula here is not what is different. The actual judgment is. When you look at all the rest of the judgments, the nations are all being condemned for something specific, but also general. God is knocking them for general matters of injustice. Some of it has to do with their treatment of Israel, but not all of it. The judgment against Moab is for their violence against Edom…a nation who received a message of judgment of their own back in the first chapter.
When it comes to Judah’s judgment, God doesn’t condemn them first for something they’ve done to someone else, but rather something they have done to Him. Namely, they’ve rejected the Law. Their crime is that they haven’t done what God has told them to do.
You see, unlike all the other nations around them, the people of both Judah and Israel (since they used to be a single people instead of two) weren’t guilty of violating the character of God that was knowable by general revelation. They had been specially called by God and given a set of laws that made them different from the other nations. These laws gave them an inside look at God’s character that the rest of the world didn’t get.
The consequence of this was twofold. Number one, they had the opportunity to experience greater blessings as a nation because the closer people align their lives with the character of God, the better off they will be. Number two, they were made more accountable for living that way, meaning the potential for crashing and burning was greater as well.
The way history worked itself out, rather than sticking with the path to blessing God gave them, they followed instead the various false ideas and philosophies their ancestors picked up from the people around them when they didn’t follow God’s explicit commands to destroy them before they moved into the Promised Land. Imagine that: they refuse to do what God says and later suffer the natural consequences separate and apart from anything God would do to them actively as punishment. Sometimes disobedience brings its own punishment and God’s assurances of disaster ahead of time are not a description of what He will do so much as merely a description of what the natural consequences will be.
That being said, there will sometimes be consequences that come directly from Him. The simple reason for this is that He is just. He deals with sin justly every single time without fail, no exceptions. In this case, in response to Judah’s faithlessness to the Law, the Lord promises judgment of the more active variety.
That’s the direct thing to see here. I think there’s just a bit more to catch, though. Why is Judah judged here? Because they did not keep the Law. Remember that this was a different reason for judgment than any of the other nations received? Judah was held to a higher standard than the other nations in terms of their adherence to God’s character as a people. And before you get a chance to suggest that somehow isn’t fair, let me add this: God still does the same kind of thing today.
We are all held accountable for what we know. We are all held accountable for living up to the amount of God’s character we have had revealed to us. And the test we are given is life itself. Paul makes clear that a certain amount of God’s character—enough to make clear who He is and that we should follow Him instead of anyone else—is clearly revealed in creation such that we are all without excuse when it comes to following Him or not. But, the more we know of Him, the more we are going to be held accountable for living up to that knowledge.
Someone who has been exposed to a great deal of His character, say, by being raised in the church, but walking away from it, is going to be held accountable for that. There is a reason the warnings against walking away from the faith, especially in Hebrews, are so stringent. Now, exactly what this being held accountable looks like we don’t know. That’s not for us to know. We know that He is just and that’s enough. If you know the Lord and the ways that lead to life, live like it.