Reflecting on the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC, we cannot help but see the event as proof that God keeps His promises. Leviticus 26:1–39 and Deuteronomy 28 warned the ancient Israelites that persistent, flagrant disobedience to God’s law would result in their losing possession of the promised land. Not only the law, however, but also the prophets stressed that such grave lawbreaking would cause the old covenant people to go into exile. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah all left behind books recording their warnings that Israel and Judah would go into exile. This promise of exile was contingent on the people’s continued failure to trust the Lord and obey, and God’s bringing it to pass when the people did not repent evidences His faithfulness to His Word.
Humanly speaking, the exile was not inevitable. Granted, the Lord had ordained it in His plan for history, just as He has ordained all things (Eph. 1:11). But the old covenant people did not know the Lord’s full plan for history. They were responsible to abide by God’s commandments—His moral law—that He had revealed. Had more of them done so, history would have proceeded differently. And, of course, we know that more of them would have obeyed if the Lord had ordained otherwise. Still, the point is that the Israelites and the Judahites were not to worry about what the Lord had kept hidden; rather, they were to follow His statutes. As today’s passage indicates, the Lord was not silent in the run-up to the exile. Out of His compassion for His covenant nation, God sent prophets again and again to tell the people how to avoid losing their land (2 Chron. 36:15–16). And even when the exile became a certainty, the Lord offered His people a way of lesser suffering in their capture when He told King Zedekiah that surrendering to Babylon would preserve the city of Jerusalem and the lives of many (Jer. 38:17–23). But the people did not listen to God’s compassionate appeals. And so, Jerusalem was burned and many lives were lost (2 Chron. 36:17–21).
God’s people were undeserving of such compassion. Yet even in the fall of Jerusalem and Judah, the Lord showed love. He sent the prophet Obadiah to pronounce judgment on the Edomites who took pleasure in Judah’s destruction. God disciplined His people, but He did not delight in their suffering, for He is full of compassion, mercy, and love (Ex. 34:6).