Jeremiah 10:23-24; 30:11
“Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers” (Isaiah 1:5-7).
To Israel, it is as if God is saying, “Because you do not learn from correction, further corrections will do you no good,” implying that any reasonable person would simply destroy the entire nation. But the LORD goes on in Isaiah 1:18 to teach how He will do His people good,
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land” (Isaiah 1:18-19).
Free, full and complete forgiveness, because of Christ’s work alone for us, taught to us in our heart by the Spirit of God, out of the misery of our sin, is the only thing that causes us to love and worship God and be obedient to Him. Everything else irritates our flesh.
But back to Jeremiah. The people did not listen to him or believe God. Many false prophets told the people “smooth words”, that Nebuchadnezzar would not destroy Jerusalem and take them captive, as God had said. Nevertheless, Jeremiah faithfully told the people God’s word, though it cost him much personal pain and loss in this life.
The people were not calling on God. In Jeremiah 10:23-24, Jeremiah turns from speaking to the people to speaking to God in prayer and supplication as the people ought to have done. He personifies the nation and prays what they should have been praying, but did not. His prayer teaches us God’s sovereignty, His loving correction of His people for their good, and what every child of God should do in trouble: call on God as He reveals Himself in Christ.
O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O LORD, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing (Jeremiah 10:23-24).
The people sinned repeatedly and grievously. Have you? They denied their guilt and corruption. Do you? The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, was determined to carry out his plan. Jeremiah addresses God as if the nation were a single man. Oh, that each of us would so come to God! He says, “I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”
It was ultimately God, not Nebuchadnezzar, who brought the Babylonians against Judah. God predetermines all that will be done and brings all of His will to pass in every situation (Ephesians 1:11). Jeremiah knew this. He says so in his prayer. God determined to bring Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem. Jeremiah knew that Nebuchadnezzar was just a man, and that God controlled all that he did. Jeremiah’s prayer should have taught the Jews and should teach us that God rules and therefore we ought to pray to Him as the Almighty, Absolute Sovereign.
Jeremiah continues his supplication in the person of the nation, as the Spirit of God teaches all of His people to do. The Jews were hardened and did not know God and therefore did not pray to Him as Jeremiah did. Jeremiah prays, “Correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.” The word translated “judgment” in this verse is also used in Jeremiah 30:11, but there it is translated “measure”:
“For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished” (Jeremiah 30:11).
Jeremiah’s petition is that God would not deal with him and his people according to strict justice, and therefore punish them in wrath as their sins deserved. Jeremiah knew that if God corrected in anger, the entire nation would be destroyed. “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Psalm 130:4). He asks that God would therefore correct them as a father corrects his son whom he loves, and not as a holy God who judges His enemies that rebel against Him because they do not know Him or love Him. He can only pray thus with Christ in his view. We must come to God by Christ’s blood and righteousness, as Abel and every saint since comes, as they are taught by God the Holy Spirit.
Habakkuk says a very similar thing. “O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2).
God corrects His people. His correction causes us to believe Him and love Him more dearly. If we think God deals with us in wrath, then His just punishments will only cause us to hate him. All of us hate God before we are saved (Romans 8:7; 5:10). This is why the non-elect never repent. God has chosen not to show them mercy. They therefore cannot see or believe or worship Christ as Savior. Psalm 130:4 establishes this truth: “There is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared.” God, not man, determines to whom He will be merciful in Christ.
Correction is a great mercy. When we experience it, however, it is painful. “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11). Correction causes us to walk in God’s ways. “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word” (Psalm 119:67).
The gospel is never sweeter than when we know ourselves to be deserving of God’s wrath, yet discover that by God's grace, He has taken away His wrath from us by the death of His Son.
“For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).
“And in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation” (Isaiah 12:1-2).
“LORD, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob. Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah. Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger. Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease. Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations? Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? Shew us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation” (Psalms 85:1-7).