"Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem: This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions." Jeremiah 18:11
As the "therefore" denotes, practical application is here made of what has been before us in the context. The Prophet had been called upon to witness an object-lesson set before him in the potter's house. Then the Lord had made known to him the relations which He sustains unto nations, namely, Sovereign, Ruler and Judge over them; and the principles which regulate His dealings with them: authority and power, righteousness and mercy. A specific yet illustrative example of such, is here shown us.
Israel had long provoked God to His face, and though He had been slow to anger, the time had now arrived when He would take them to task and deal with them for their wickedness. The dark clouds of His wrath were suspended over them—yet even at this late hour if they genuinely departed from their evil ways and walked the paths of virtue, mercy should "rejoice over judgment."
God speaks to us not only through His Word—but also through His works and ways. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." (Psalm 19:1-4). Creation testifies to the excellencies of the Creator.
The Divine providences, too, are vocal: "I spoke unto you in your prosperity" (Jer. 22:21)—My bounties declared My goodness and should have melted your hearts. God's judgments also carry with them a definite message: that is why we are exhorted to "Hear the rod—and the One who appointed it" (Micah 6:9)—observe how the verse opens with "Listen! The Lord is calling to the city." His "rod" bids us consider the Hand that wields it—and calls upon us to forsake our sins.
When God speaks in judgment—it is the final warning that He is not to be trifled with. When the Almighty is roused to fury—who can stand before Him? Nations are no more able to successfully resist Him—than can the clay hinder the fingers of the potter who shapes it; yes they are counted as "the small dust on the balance" (Isaiah 40:15), which signifies utter insignificance. May we exclaim, "who would not fear You, O King of nations!" (Jer. 10:7). No spiritual warrant whatever has any people to put their trust in human greatness, the potency of their armies, the excellency of their equipment, the strength of their defenses. God has but to blow upon them—and they are immediately overthrown, entirely demolished. Mark how this is emphasized in Jeremiah 18, "I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed" (v. 7): it is done in a moment—suddenly, swiftly, invincibly!
"I am preparing a disaster for you!" It is the disaster of punishment about to be inflicted on the evil of sin. It is no momentary outburst of uncontrollable anger—but dispassionate and deliberated retribution, and when the Almighty devises that disaster against a kingdom—no power can deliver it! Though Lucifer himself says, "I will ascend above the heights of the cloud—I will be like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:14)—yet is his proud boast seen to be an empty one, for the Lord says, "yet you shall be brought down to Hell, to the sides of the Pit" (v. 15). "Damascus has become feeble, and all her people turn to flee. Fear, anguish, and pain have gripped her as they do a woman giving birth" (Jer. 49:24)—suddenly, sorely, irresistibly, from which there is no escape. How this should make the wicked to tremble and depart from their evil ways! God turns "a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of those who dwell therein" (Psalm 107:34).
"I am preparing a disaster for you!" Calamities and judgments do not come by chance, nor are they originated by inferior agents or secondary causes. Though He may be pleased to make use of human instruments—yet the Lord is the Author of, and principal Agent in them. Before the Assyrians fell upon apostate Israel Jehovah declared, "Assyria will enslave my people, who are a godless nation. It will plunder them, trampling them like dirt beneath its feet" (Isaiah 10:6). The Lord moved the king of Assyria, though he was in no way conscious of any Divine impulse or commission. And when God had finished making use of the Babylonians and raised up the Medes and Persians to humiliate them into the dust, He declared of Cyrus "You are my battle-ax and sword," says the Lord. "With you I will shatter nations and destroy many kingdoms" (Jer. 51:20). Cyrus was as truly God's "servant" as Moses or any of the Prophets: see Isaiah 45:1; Ezra 1:1. Curses as much as blessings, calamities as much as mercies, judgments as truly as favors—proceed from the Almighty, and it is but a species of atheism to deny the fact.
"I am preparing a disaster for you!" How this word needs to be pressed upon this evil and adulterous generation, which is occupied with anyone and anything—rather than the living God. In a land where Bibles are so plentiful—we are without excuse when we look no higher than the agencies now threatening us. Yes, it is a grievous sin for us to throw the blame of our present trials and troubles upon human instruments, instead of upon our national iniquities, and refuse to see God employing those instruments against us. Hitler is but a scourge in the hand of the Almighty. Nor is it any help, to fix our gaze on the supreme Framer of Evil, or direct our attention to the machinations of the pope and his longing to see the British empire destroyed. Doubtless the papacy was behind the entrance of Italy into active conflict and the betrayal of France, as she is of many other hostile factors and forces; but who is permitting the "Mother of Harlots" to employ her powerful influence thus? None other than the Lord Almighty! He is righteously using Rome as a rod on the back of an apostate Protestantism.
We cannot expect the unbelieving nations to look beyond Hitler and his fellows—but it is the privilege of Christians to "look unto the Lord" (Micah 7:7). It is the very nature of faith to be occupied with its Author. It is the duty of faith to "set the Lord always before" it (Psalm 16:8). When the Ammonites and Moabites came up against Judah, Jehoshaphat turned unto God and said, "O our God, won't You stop them? We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but we are looking to You for help" (2 Chron. 20:12). This is the first message to His own people which the voice of the Lord has in His judgments: look above the human scourges and behold My hand in righteous retribution. And it is the business of God's servants at such a time—to urge upon the saints to "Acknowledge and take to heart this day, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). O that it may be the experience of both writer and reader, "Unto You lift I up my eyes, O You who dwells in the heavens" (Psalm 123:1) and then shall we prove for ourselves "they looked unto Him—and were lightened" (Psalm 34:5).
"Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am preparing a disaster for you!" (Jer 18:11). That is the language of God unto a kingdom whose overthrow is threatened by His judgments, to whom the dispensations of his providence announce impending ruin. The dark clouds of calamity overhead testify to God's disapproval of a nation's sins. Under such solemn presages of the impending storm of Divine wrath, proud people ought to be tamed and the masses brought to realize what a vain thing it is to fight against the Almighty, and how fearful are the consequences of flouting His authority and treading underfoot His laws. The effects of evil doing are termed by the Spirit "gall and wormwood," but it is not until God brings a nation into external miseries, that they are made to realize the truth thereof. "Your own wickedness shall correct you, and your backsliding shall reprove you: know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing that you have forsaken the Lord your God and that My fear is not in you, says the Lord of hosts" (Jer 2:19).
"Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am preparing a disaster for you!" The speaker is the Most High God, and none can stay His hand or effectually challenge Him. He framed evil against the antediluvians. "The earth was filled with violence… all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth" (Gen 6:11,12). Warnings of impending doom were given by Enoch (Jude 14,15) and Noah—but none heeded. Then the storm burst: "all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven opened" (Gen 7:11). And what could men do to help themselves? Nothing whatever! God "framed evil" against Sodom and Gomorrah, and what could their inhabitants do, when He "rained fire and brimstone" upon them (Gen 18:24). They were powerless to withstand it. God "framed evil" against Egypt. Her haughty monarch exclaimed "who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?" (Exo 5:2)—but he discovered that God was not to be defied with impunity, when He "took off their chariot wheels" and drowned him and his army in the Red Sea.
When the Almighty sends a devastating earthquake—what can puny man do? When He withholds the rain, and famine ravages a land—who can resist Him? When He visits with a pestilence which cuts off millions in the prime of life—as the "flu" did in 1918, who can withstand Him? When He unleashes the dreadful hounds of war—who can turn them back?
Is there, then, no hope? Yes, if the masses will truly humble themselves beneath the Hand that has begun to smite them. God's judgments are articulate: they call upon all to throw down the weapons of their high-handed rebellion against Him. God takes away their peace and comforts—that they may put away their idols. Calamities are sent upon evil-doers, that they should depart from their wickedness. God is able to destroy the mightiest kingdom in the twinkling of an eye—but usually He spreads His judgments over a period, as in the ten plagues upon Egypt, granting space for repentance and allowing an interval between the announcement of His having "preparing a disaster for you," and the actual and full execution thereof.
Thus it is here in Jeremiah 18:11: after declaring He had devised a disaster against a nation God adds, "So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions." Conversion ought to be the immediate outcome of God's judgments, whether they be threatened, or in actual course of fulfillment. If men would forsake their sins God would soon lay aside His rod. But observe the urgency of the call: "So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions." There is no time for delay: God will not be trifled with. Men are very prone to procrastinate: they put off the day of repentance and defer their reformation. They hope and resolve—yet postpone the same, and the longer they do so—the harder their hearts become and the more completely the Devil obtains possession of them. Agrippa was "almost persuaded," but that was as far as he went: his lusts held him fast. "Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Psalm 95:7): if ever there was a time when it was imperative to heed that exhortation, it is now.
"And they said, There is no hope" (Jer 18:12). There are three possible interpretations of those words.
First, they may be regarded as the language of despair: there is no hope for us in God, we have sinned beyond the reach of mercy. But that would necessarily presuppose they were deeply convicted of their guilt, and the remainder of the verse definitely precludes any such concept.
Second, "there is no hope" might be the language of confessed helplessness. There is no hope in us: we are too besotted to reform, too wedded to our sins to break from them; but the remainder of the verse is flatly against this too.
Third, "there is no hope" was the language of blatant defiance. It is useless to preach to us, our minds are fully made up, we are determined to have our own way, and nothing you say can change us. "We will continue to follow our plans, and each of us will continue to act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart" they declared. It was the language of open rebellion, whether expressed in words or in deeds.
That this is the obvious meaning of their "there is no hope" is clear not only from the words which immediately follow but also from other passages in Jeremiah. "Yet they didn't listen or pay attention but walked according to their own advice and according to their own stubborn, evil heart. They went backward and not forward" (7:24). "You said, 'I will not hear!' This has been your manner from your youth—that you obeyed not My voice" (22:21 and see 44:16,17). They declined to be affected by the heavy clouds of judgment over their heads. They refused to forsake their evil ways. They were determined to persist in their disobedience. They openly defied the Almighty. They were impervious to all expostulations and admonitions. Their hearts were fully set in them to drink their fill of iniquity. "For after all this punishment, the people will still not repent and turn to the Lord Almighty" (Isaiah 9:13). "You struck them, but they paid no attention. You crushed them, but they refused to turn from sin. They are determined, with faces set like stone; they have refused to repent!" (Jer 5:3).
"We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart!" That is, we are quite resolved to continue in sin, and no preaching can change us. We are fully determined to do so, no matter what it may cost us. Of old God sent a severe famine on Israel—but it produced no reformation: "yet have you not returned unto Me, says the Lord." He smote them with blasting and mildew so that their gardens and vineyards were destroyed—but it moved them not: "yet have you not returned unto Me, says the Lord." He sent pestilence among them and slew their young men—but they continued impenitent: "yet have you not returned unto Me, says the Lord." He destroyed some of them by fire—but they persisted in their sins: "yet have you not returned unto Me, says the Lord" (Amos 4:6-10). And history has repeated itself! It is still doing so before our very eyes. The perversity of ancient Israel, finds its counterpart in the willful contempt of modern Christendom. God has given Britain "space to repent," alas, it has to be added "and she repented not" (Rev 2:21), nor is their the slightest indication she will yet do so!