The Punishment of Evil
Jeremiah 37:9-10
Thus said the LORD; Deceive not yourselves, saying, The Chaldeans shall surely depart from us: for they shall not depart.

The great teaching of the text is that we must not allow appearances to mislead us respecting the fact and certainty of the law of retribution. God has threatened the transgressor with severe penalties, and we may be sure that these penalties will be inflicted, however unlikely such retribution may sometimes seem, and however long it may be delayed. By wonderful ways God brings His judgments to pass.

I. WE MARK SOME ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE LAW OF RETRIBUTION FURNISHED BY THE HISTORY OF THE NATIONS. Very memorable was the retribution that Israel brought on Egypt. At the other end of their national history, Israel itself furnishes a most striking illustration of the working of the law of retribution through all improbabilities. When the Christ was crucified through weakness, the people cried, "His blood be upon us, and upon our children." How unlikely did it seem that the Victim of Calvary could ever be avenged upon an unjust nation! And yet that "wounded Man" rose up invested with strange powers, and burned their city with fire. And let us not think that these instances of retribution are to be placed in the category of the miraculous; they were the natural consequences of great denials of truth and justice. Men unjustly "pierced through" are terrible avengers in all ages and nations. For centuries did the kings and nobles of France oppress the peasantry; it is impossible for us to think adequately of the vast hopeless wretchedness of the people from the cradle to the grave. When Louis XVI. came to the throne it seemed incredible that the long-suffering people would ever avenge themselves upon the powerful classes by whom they were ground to the dust, and yet by a marvellous series of events the wounded men arose in awful wrath, burning palaces with fire and trampling greatness underfoot. "Pierced through" were those hungry hopeless millions; but the day of doom came, and every bleeding wretch arose invincible with torch and sword. For generations the African was wronged by the American; he was bought and sold as are the dumb driven cattle, and it seemed as if the fetters of a shameful degradation were riveted upon him for ever. "Was there a shied or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?" As late as 1854 Wendell Phillips wrote despairingly, "Indeed, the Government has fallen rote the hands of the slave power completely. So far as national politics are concerned, we are beaten — there's no hope The future seems to unfold a vast slave empire united with Brazil, and darkening the whole West. I hope I may be a false prophet, but the sky was never so dark." And yet immediately after this the "wounded men" arose, deluging the land with blood, and burning the cities of the great Republic with fire. Some of our writers argue that retribution does not follow on national wrong-doing, because territory gained by cruelty, treachery, bloodshed, is not as a matter of fact torn away from its guilty conquerors, but such ill-acquired territory remains a permanent portion of their splendid empire. But there are other ways of inflicting retribution upon a nation than by immediately depriving it of provinces. There is something very like irony in the government of God, and He sometimes punishes the victors through the spoil. Our Indian Empire is said to have been ill-gotten, and yet we retain it, that country being to Britain what the tail is to the peacock — our glory and pride. But the gilded train, it will be remembered, has been already splashed with blood, and the end is not yet. Retribution may not come in the form of specially inflicted judgments, but it will come. No pestilence, war, earthquake, or famine marks the Divine displeasure, but the retribution arises out of the iniquity. With great injustice and cruelty the French drove out the Huguenot, but in expelling these sons of faith, genius, industry, virtue, the French fatally impoverished their national life, and they are suffering to-day from these missing, elements which none may restore. Retribution may not be revealed in material disaster, but it will come. As Mommsen, one of the greatest of historians, declares, "History has a Nemesis for every sin !" It may seem that all might and majesty are with an unjust nation and that "wounded men" only are on the other side; but at God's call wounded men are Michaels wielding flaming swords. The foolishness of God is wiser than men." Sometimes we are greatly amazed and perplexed at the way in which history unfolds itself — it would seem as if the diplomacy of evil were too much for the Ruler of the world, as if Providence made hesitating moves, weak moves, fatal moves; but we have only to wait a while to know that God's foolishness is wiser than men. "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness"; "The Lord shall have them in derision." "The weakness of God is stronger than men." The sun is sometimes weak, but its earliest ray in the dawn is more than all our electric lights, the first faint beam of the spring is infinitely more than all the sparks of our kindling; the sea is sometimes weak — it is a mill-pond, we say — but in its softest ripple is a suggestion of power that fills us with awe; the wind is sometimes weak, but in the gentlest zephyr is hinted the majesty of infinite strength. Nature shows how the weakness of God is immeasurably stronger than men; so does history with equal clearness. The oft-quoted saying, "Providence is always on the side of the big battalions," is one with an imposing sound, but it is disproved by history over and over again. The world's Ruler defeated Pharaoh with frogs and flies; He humbled Israel with the grasshopper; He smeared the splendour of Herod with worms; on the plains of Russia He broke the power of Napoleon with a snowflake. God has no need to despatch an archangel; when once He is angry, a microbe will do.

II. WE NOTE THE LAW OF RETRIBUTION AS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE INDIVIDUAL LIFE. The great law works infallibly in the personal history as it does in the national life. God has wonderful ways of confounding us, and we may be sure that our sins will find us out.

1. Let us not permit ourselves to be deceived by flattering prophets. Loudly does revelation declare the obligation of righteousness, and grievous are the judgments that it pronounces against transgressors, but this in our age has been accepted in quite a modified sense. Men will now hardly allow such a word as, "wrath"; they will not permit a man to suffer simply as a punishment for his sin; the violation of laws human and divine must be condoned and passed over with the ]east reprobation and vengeance. Let us rejoice in the growth of the sentiment of humanity, but we must shut our ears to the effeminate and sentimental teaching which will inevitably relax and destroy a noble morality. God is merciful, but fire does not forget to burn, teeth to tear, water to drown, and no transgression of the law can pass without detection and punishment. "And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay." God's complex system of retribution permits not the cleverest sinner to slip through.

2. Let us not deceive ourselves because appearances seem to promise immunity. Our modern knowledge of science, of the unity and interdependence of all things, of the continuity and persistence of force and "motion, of the inviolable integrity of all organisms, ought to make it easy to us to believe that whatsoever a man soweth that shall he reap, however appearances may promise otherwise. Let us not be beguiled by the immediate aspects of life and circumstance. God's blind men watch us; His lame men run us down; His deaf men filch our secrets; His dumb men impeach us; His wounded men arise, every man a messenger of revenge.

3. Let us not deceive ourselves because judgment is delayed. In contending with God we are plotting against a Wisdom that seems sometimes to hesitate and fail; but never is that Wisdom more profound than in the moments of seeming perplexity, and if we yield to flattering hopes of victory, our final overthrow will only be the more complete and irreparable for these protractions of the conflict. In contending with God we are warring with a Power that ever and anon seems baffled and beaten; it seems to retreat, it allows us to win skirmishes here and there — only the more conspicuously to crush us in the decisive battle, if we persist to fight it out to the bitter end. In contending with God we are provoking a Justice which sometimes seems in. capable of asserting itself; but inveterate perversity discovers in the event that all such hesitations and delays were the whettings of a sword which needs not to smite twice. Slowly it may be, but surely, do we ripen for judgment; and when once ripe, how little a thing is necessary to precipitate the calamity! As the Hindoos say, "When men are ripe for slaughter, even straws turn into thunderbolts."

4. Let us improve the gracious respite. Many rebel altogether against the doctrine of grace, sternly insisting on inexorable law, justice, retribution; they utterly reprobate the ideas of repentance, forgiveness, and salvation. But mercy is a fact as much as justice is. Within that great system of severities we call nature there are ameliorative arrangements softening the rigours of broken law; in human life and government, too, which is nature still, only on a higher plane, mercy and forgiveness assert themselves, and society greatly prizes the gracious quality; and it is therefore a mistake, judged by the light of nature, to make an antithesis of equity and grace, as if these qualities were mutually antagonistic and eternally irreconcilable — they both exist side by side in this tangible human world with which we are so familiar. Now, the grand burden of the Gospel is to bring into fullest light that doctrine of mercy hinted by nature, and to show us that grace is not arbitrariness, the negation of law, the neglect of justice, but that the fullest and most splendid revelation of grace may take place on the basis of eternal truth and justice.

(W. L. Watkinson.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Thus saith the LORD; Deceive not yourselves, saying, The Chaldeans shall surely depart from us: for they shall not depart.

WEB: Thus says Yahweh, Don't deceive yourselves, saying, The Chaldeans shall surely depart from us; for they shall not depart.

Israel's Delusion as to its Enemy
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