The prophets sometimes, in God’s name, delivered messages both of judgment and mercy to the nations that bordered on the land of Israel: but here is a message to all those in general who had in their turns been one way or other injurious to God’s people, had either oppressed them or triumphed in their being oppressed. Observe,
I. What the quarrel was that God had with them. They were his evil neighbours (Jer. 12:14), evil neighbours to his church, and what they did against it he took as done against himself, and therefore called them his evil neighbours, that should have been neighbourly to Israel, but were quite otherwise. Note, It is often the lot of good people to live among bad neighbours, that are unkind and provoking to them; and it is bad indeed when they are all so. These evil neighbours were the Moabites, Ammonites Syrians, Edomites, Egyptians, that had been evil neighbours to Israel in helping to debauch them and draw them from God (therefore God calls them his evil neighbours), and now they helped to make them desolate, and joined with the Chaldeans against them. It is just with God to make those the instruments of trouble to us whom we have made instruments of sin. That which God lays to their charge is: They have meddled with the inheritance which I have caused my people Israel to inherit; they unjustly seized that which was none of their own: nay, they sacrilegiously turned that to their own use which was given to God’s peculiar people. He that said, Touch not my anointed, said also, “Touch not their inheritance; it is at your peril if you do.” Not only the persons but the estates of God’s people are under his protection.
II. What course he would take with them. 1. He would break the power they had got over his people, and force them to make restitution: I will pluck out the house of Judah from among them. This would be a great favour to God’s people, who had either been taken captive by them, or, when they fled to them for shelter, had been detained and made prisoners; but it would be a great mortification to their enemies, who would be like a lion disappointed of his prey. The house of Judah either cannot or will not make any bold struggles towards their own liberty; but God will with a gracious violence pluck them out, will by his Spirit compel them to come out and by his power compel their task-masters to let them go, as he plucked Israel out of Egypt. 2. He would bring upon them the same calamities that they had been instrumental to bring upon his people: I will pluck them out of their land. Judgment began at the house of God, but it did not end there. Nebuchadnezzar, when he had wasted the land of Israel, turned his hand against their evil neighbours and was a scourge to them.
III. What mercy God had in store for such of them as would join themselves to him and become his people, Jer. 12:15, 16. They had drawn in God’s backsliding people to join with them in the service of idols. If now they would be drawn by a returning people to join with them in the service of the true and living God, they should not only have their enmity to the people of God forgiven them, but the distance which they had been kept at before should be removed, and they should be received to stand upon the same level with the Israel of God. This had its accomplishment in part when, after the return out of captivity, many of the people of the lands that had been evil neighbours to Israel became Jews; and it was to have its accomplishment in the conversion of the Gentiles to the faith of Christ. Let not Israel, though injured by them, be implacable towards them, for God is not: After that I have plucked them out, in justice for their sins and in jealousy for the honour of Israel, I will return, will change my way, and have compassion on them. Though, being heathen, they can lay no claim to the mercies of the covenant, yet they shall have benefit by the compassions of the Creator, who will notwithstanding look upon them as the work of his hands. Note, God’s controversies with his creatures, though they cannot be disputed, may be accommodated. Those who (as these) have been not only strangers, but enemies in their minds by wicked works, may be reconciled, Col. 1:21. Observe here,
1. What were the terms on which God would show favour to them. It is always provided that they will diligently learn the ways of my people, that is, in general, the ways that they walk in when they conduct themselves as my people (not the crooked ways into which they have turned aside), the ways which my people are directed to take. Note, (1.) There are good ways that are peculiarly the ways of God’s people, which however they may differ in the choice of their paths, they are all agreed to walk in. The ways of holiness and heavenly-mindedness, of love and peaceableness, the ways of prayer and sabbath-sanctification, and diligent attendance on instituted ordinances—these, and the like, are the ways of God’s people. (2.) Those that would have their lot with God’s people, and their last end like theirs, must learn their ways and walk in them, must observe the rule they walk by and conform to that rule they walk by and conform to that rule and go forth by those footsteps. By an intimate conversation with God’s people they must learn to do as they do. (3.) It is impossible to learn the ways of God’s people as they should be learnt, without a great deal of care and pains. We must diligently observe these ways and diligently obliges ourselves to walk in them, must look diligently (Heb. 12:15), and work diligently, Luke 13:24. In particular, they must learn to give honour to God’s name by making all their solemn appeals to him. They must learn to say, The Lord liveth (to own him, to adore him, and to abide by his judgment), as they taught my people to swear by Baal. It was bad enough that they did themselves swear by Baal, worse that they taught God’s own people, who had been better taught; and yet, if they will at length reform, they shall be accepted. Observe, [1.] We must not despair of the conversion of the worst; no, not of those who have been instrumental to pervert and debauch others; even they may be brought to repentance, and, if they be, shall find mercy. [2.] Those whom we have been industrious to draw to that which is evil, when God opens their eyes and ours, we should be as industrious to follow in that which is good. It will be a holy revenge upon ourselves to become pupils to those in the way of duty to whom we have been tutors in the was of sin. [3.] The conversion of the deceived may prove a happy occasion of the conversion even of the deceivers. Thus those who fall together into the ditch are sometimes plucked together out of it.
2. What should be the tokens and fruits of this favour when they return to God and God to them. (1.) They shall be restored to and re-established in their own land (Jer. 12:15): I will bring them again every man to his heritage. The same hand that plucked them up shall plant them again. (2.) They shall become entitled to the spiritual privileges of God’s Israel: “If they will be towardly, and learn the ways of my people, will conform to the rules and confine themselves to the restraints of my family, then shall they be built in the midst of my people. They shall not only be brought among them, to have a name and a place in the house of the Lord, where there was a court for the Gentiles, but they shall be built among them; they shall unite with them; the former enmities shall be slain; they shall be both edified and settled among them.” See Isa. 56:5-7. Note, Those that diligently learn the ways of God’s people shall enjoy the privileges and comforts of his people.
IV. What should become of those that were still wedded to their own evil ways, yea, though many of those about them turned to the Lord (Jer. 12:17): If there will not obey, if any of them continue to stand it out, I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation, that family, that particular person, saith the Lord. Those that will not be ruled by the grace of God shall be ruined by the justice of God. And, if disobedient nations shall be destroyed, much more disobedient churches from whom better things are expected.