Jeremiah 50:17-20

17 “Israel is a scattered flock
    that lions have chased away.
The first to devour them
    was the king of Assyria;
the last to crush their bones
    was Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.”

18 Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says:

“I will punish the king of Babylon and his land
    as I punished the king of Assyria.
19 But I will bring Israel back to their own pasture,
    and they will graze on Carmel and Bashan;
their appetite will be satisfied
    on the hills of Ephraim and Gilead.
20 In those days, at that time,”
    declares the Lord,
“search will be made for Israel’s guilt,
    but there will be none,
and for the sins of Judah,
    but none will be found,
    for I will forgive the remnant I spare.
(Jeremiah 50:17-20 NIV)

As we have noted before, the dual themes of Chapters 50 – 51 are Babylon’s defeat and God’s people being released to return to the Promised Land.  Today’s text carries forth those same themes.

Verse 17 begins with Israel (the nation – both northern and southern parts) depicted as a scattered flock (v. 17a).  If you remembered back a couple days ago, God had said this scattering was due to bad shepherding by Israel’s kings (v. 6).  The consequences were that there was no protection for the flock (v. 7).  With no protection, the predators had a field day as they pursued and ate the nation for dinner (v. 17b).

Assyria was the first to attack the northern tribe of Israel in 722 BC; Babylon attacked the southern tribe of Judah a hundred plus years later.  With both attackers depicted as lions, Assyria went in for the kill, and Babylon ate what was left and gnawed on the bones.  This was a rather gruesome word picture of what had happened to God’s people.

So what was God’s response to all this?  Verse 18 begins with “Therefore”, connecting what was said previously to what was said next.  In this case, God stated that he would punish Israel’s and Judah’s attackers.  In fact, Assyria had already fallen as an empire before the Babylonians attacked Judah and conquered Jerusalem.

With the lions of Assyria and Judah punished in verse 18, God then turns His attention to the His flock, the remnant of His people scattered all over.  God promises to gather and restore His people to the Promised Land, to safe pastures where He will shepherd them and care for them.  He will bring them together as one nation again and will provide protection and meet all their physical needs.  Note that this symbolism of God as Shepherd is in direct contrast to the bad shepherds (kings) in verse 6.

Verse 20 begins with “In those days, at that time”, which is often Messianic in meaning, with a nearer-term implication as well.  Just as God promised in 31:33-34, there is the promise of a new covenant, a new basis of the relationship between God and His people.  The guilt of the past and the sins of the people will be forgiven and never spoken of again.

Does God as shepherd of His people sound familiar?  Jesus called Himself the “Good Shepherd” in John 10:11-18.  And the offer of removal of guilt and sin?  Jesus offers to do the same, not just temporarily, but permanently, for eternity, if we will accept His offer of forgiveness and follow Him.

God’s offer of the removal of guilt and forgiveness of sins is supernatural – only He can make such a statement.  And only God can make the offer of eternal life.

If you haven’t made that choice to receive God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life, what is holding you back?  What could possibly be greater than His gift of freedom from sin and guilt, and the promise of life in the Promised Land of heaven, of eternity spent with Him?

If you have made that choice, have you thanked the Lord for His ultimate sacrifice for your life, for the promise of heaven and the freedom to follow Him?