What God says next looks forward hundreds of years:
“…I myself will take a sprig…and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain…And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord…I AM the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it” (17:22, 24).
That sprig of a giant cedar tree refers directly to what the prophet Jeremiah said earlier:
“I will raise up for David a righteous branch…and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5).
This is the same branch as the stump of Jesse in Isaiah 11:1 – the Messiah of Israel, Jesus Christ our Lord!
What an amazing example of God’s never-ending love for his children, those who do not rebel, but those who obey his commands!
In Chapter 18, God makes it clear that the blessings of the sprig that becomes the noble cedar tree of Jesus can all be theirs if only each individual repents of all unrighteousness. And it has been so long since Judah listened to anything God has to say, that he defines exactly in verses 5-9 what righteousness means in perfect unity with him. A righteous man does:
- What is just and right;
- Not lift up his eyes to idols;
- Not defile his neighbor’s wife;
- Not oppress anyone;
- Restores to the debtor his earnest money;
- Commits no robbery;
- Gives bread to the hungry;
- Provides clothing to the needy;
- Charges minimal interest to the needy;
- Rejects all injustice;
- Executes true justice;
- Walks in all God’s commands; and
- Acts faithfully.
Does this sound too hard?
Chapters 19 and 20 illuminate God’s deep pain and lamentation over the actions of Judah and Jerusalem. But then a striking contrast arises – there is only one thing God hates more than Israel’s horrendous treachery against him – his greater hate for the enemies of Israel. Regardless and forever, Israel is still his chosen family, and he will even use godless nations for his purposes.
Chapters 21 through 32 are a series of lamentations, more than 325 consecutive verses of endless judgment on each and every one of Israel’s surrounding enemies, each of which will be wiped out by Nebuchadnezzar, the special “employee” of God:
“Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it; it shall be the wages for his army. I have given him the land of Egypt as his payment for which he labored, because they worked for me, declares the Lord God” (29:20-21).
The Messiah of Israel, the tiny sprig who became the tall cedar of Lebanon, did come once the work of God’s “employees” – kings Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, and Cyrus – was complete.
And he will come again when he has seen enough. He will reward those who have believed in perfect unity with him and obeyed his commands in the New Testament, and he will destroy everything else. Now is a very good time to repent and put away anything in our lives that might leave even a hint of disobedience or disunity with God or unrighteousness.