Jeremiah 30-31 provides the hope – the promise that YHWH will come to claim Israel as His; He will call them and collect them from the far ends of the earth. Here, in this book of doom and certain destruction and exile – which Israel have to endure – are these chapters full of promises of redemption. In these two chapters it is clear that YHWH, despite bringing judgment on her, has every intention of gathering her back together.
Why? Because He has promised to be God, and He will be. He is steadfast in an eternal sense, never losing sight of her no matter what. If you’ve ever raised kids, you know this place. Sometimes the frustration and disappointment is such that in the moment you’re ready for the cops to come get this kid. But even then, underneath, and certainly after the smoke has settled, it’s OK. Having the kid with you is more important than focusing on the poor behavior. Good parents don’t give up on their kids, even when it might seem the parents aren’t paying attention right now.
God has declared a covenant and He will remain faithful to it even if Israel isn’t. He will always accept her back when she wants to come back. We often emphasize that last part – “when she wants to come back,” but in these chapters, that isn’t the criteria. God wants her back and will come get her in His timing, not hers.
In these chapters, the actor is God, not Israel. Things will happen to Israel – bad and finally good things – but neither of them are dependent on her wants or behavior. When God is ready, He will come and find her.
It is in this context that YHWH says He will forget her iniquity, her sin. But the order isn’t, cleansing first and then finding, but gathering first and the forgiveness is a consequence of having been gathered. There aren’t any hoops for Israel to jump through. This is YHWH who wants her, and to have her He will forget her iniquity. Much like a parent does. The child is your child and has a place with you.
This has always been the arrangement, actually. God has chosen, built, nurtured, and protected Israel simply because He decided He would and promised to do just that. Israel does receive punishment for idols and abuse of each other; and Korah’s folks get swallowed up for disobedience. Even so, YHWH remains faithful to His covenant.
Jesus will come to Israel to collect her, to return her to YHWH without worrying about her status. Yes, there are some expectations of her – as there always have been as the people of YHWH. Living in conformance to His image, faithful trusting in YHWH rather than other countries and powers, even being satisfied as having YHWH as her king. But – and this is important – these are consequences not prerequisites of God coming for her.
That’s the point of knocking on the door, of being ready when the bridegroom comes, and even of a fruitless fig tree. YHWH has come for us! Let’s be His people! This is Jesus’ message. Not, fix yourselves first and then maybe YHWH will accept you; no, He has come and wants you back. Do you want Him?
For Israel, this is where John’s repentance comes in. Not as a prerequisite for God’s desire for you, but the result of your wanting to be with God. God won’t compel you, but He does want you. Do you want Him?