Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,

and declare it in the coastlands far away;

say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him,

and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.”

Jeremiah 31: 10

 

When looking at what Jeremiah is saying here about God and about the way that He relates to people, it is important to consider why God needed to scatter Israel. These were people who were chosen by God to be His special nation. The idea of nation here is different from the ones that we generally develop today, too; for, the identity of this nation was not framed in by a constitution or described in heroic events such as wars won or nations conquered. The nation of Israel was to be known by its relationship with God, Himself, and for the righteous way that it conducted itself in the world around its borders, God tasked Israel with bringing redemption to the rest of the world that it knew, and the people of the nation were commissioned to worship the one true God as their singular source of strength, provision, and guidance. Stated simply, they had failed almost completely in living up to the standard that God set for them. They followed and worshiped other gods, and they tended to do more harm than good when it came to demonstrating the loving grace of the Lord to the people around them. At the same time, Israel was clearly reliant upon human skill, devices, and practices for their sense of security and well being rather than trusting fully in God for all of these things.

 

God provided Israel with a hard and a harsh lesson in His sovereignty and in His unrelenting love when He allowed other nations to conquer them and to take the people of Israel into captivity in other lands. They were forced to live within the reality of these other cultures that were formed and guided by the values of humanly conceived and developed moral codes and ethical systems. Some of the individuals held fast to their Lord and were consistently faithful to following God regardless of what was happening to them and around them. Others began to realize what they were missing in the manner that God cared for them and led them into lives that had true and deep meaning and worth. This realization of what was missing was the result of God’s work within the hearts and the minds of His people. The Lord never ceased in His engagement with the lives of His people, and He did not leave them fully on their own, either. As the shepherd who always knows His sheep, even when they willfully wander off and declare their loyalty to a new flock He pursues them and never closes off His heart to loving and to caring for them.

 

So, God gathered Israel back to Himself, and He provided for them again. He brought them home and entrusted them with His plan and purpose for living as the people who were to bring the truth and the love of the Creator to a world that has such a desperate need for these things. History tells us that this story has been repeated over and over again. It is also true that the people who God considers as His own has expanded considerably since these earlier times, for now it includes anyone who knows God regardless of race, tribe, nation, or place in society. God’s intent from the beginning was to include all people inside of His nation of grace and redemption; so, when the nation of Israel did not fulfill its mission of bringing the truth of the one true God to the rest of the world, the Lord simply expanded the definition of His chosen people to include everyone who submits to Him and desires to enter into a relationship with Him. We are all God’s sheep, and He will care for all of us in the full expression of His role as shepherd. Even as we wander, like the Lord has done with Israel, He brings us home and tends to our needs so that we can dwell in our land as people who carry out God’s plan for bringing salvation to those around us.