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What’s up with Jeremiah 11:11? “Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them.” Doesn't God accept everyone who repents?

Jeremiah 11:11 says, “Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them.” This verse has always troubled me, even from my very early days in Christ. I can remember asking some Christians about it only a few weeks after I gave my life to the Lord. How is it that God would not accept a repentant people? How is it that they have gone so far from Him that He would not take them back? How can we say, “No sinner is so far from God to be beyond the reach of His mercy?” in light of this verse where God clearly says He will not accept these Jews back even if they repent. Well, here are some brief thoughts:

For one thing, we are talking about the refining judgment of God. We must remember that God is perfectly holy and loving. Likewise He is absolutely just. Thus, He will punish all sin and bring judgment upon all those who harm one another as well as His glory. The greatest harm we can do to someone else is to keep them from the life-giving, soul-nourishing person and presence of God. And that is exactly what was going on in Jeremiah’s day. The priests and leaders had forsaken God and taught the people to do so as well. Thus, nationally and individually, the people were thwarting themselves and even their descendants from knowing God.

Likewise, God must be of His word. He must be trustworthy. He must keep His promises. The doom they face has now been forecasted by Jeremiah through the preceding 11 chapters. For God to relent at this point would damage the credibility and reliability of the prophet. Deuteronomy 18: 20-22 explains that a true prophet will always be accurate in his predictions, if even one prophesy fails to come to pass, that prophet has spoken presumptuously. Thus, God must bring this judgment to pass.

Likewise, the unwillingness to relent here is speaking of the physical, literal judgment of God. While it is clear that there are spiritual implications to being rejected by the Lord here in this text, none the less, the primary unrelenting judgment to come is in the physical realm and will specifically be in the form of the Babylonians in 586 B.C.

Third, we are talking about national judgment, not necessarily individual judgment. Since the nation had perverted its ways, and since they were led astray by the false teachers and priests, the nation as a whole had gone over the edge. As a nation they were being judged by God. Yet, if an individual (such as Jeremiah and his followers) were to turn to God, God indeed would accept them back. We’ll get to this in a few moments.

Fourth, in polytheistic societies, the religious leaders don’t just call upon one god. Rather, they call out to all of them. We see this idea in verse 12, that the people will call out to a multitude of gods. Sure they would call out to YHWH but it would be a cacophony of supplications going to many gods simultaneously. God cannot respond with mercy in that situation. God is judging them for being polytheistic and it would be illogical for Him to relent of that judgment when they ask for His help in addition to asking another dozen or so gods for similar help. It just couldn’t be. For that matter, when we today syncretistically mix God in with a smorgasbord of religious ideas/philosophies, we are equally not going to receive His mercy and grace.

Lastly, we must place this passage alongside Jeremiah’s other words later in this book. For instance, the Lord speaks through him in 29:11-13 saying, “I know the plans that I have for you…plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”

Clearly we see, that when the individual is wholly and solely dedicated to God Himself, alone, then indeed He does respond in grace and mercy. God wants our sincere heart—“sincere” meaning unmixed, unalloyed—and God wants us fully and whole dedicated to Him. When we turn to Him, and seek Him with our whole hearts, He is loving and gracious to bring us into fellowship with Him.
Russ Brewer

Russ Brewer

Rescued from the domain of darkness, transferred to the kingdom of the Son. Undershepherd of Grace. Husband of Corinne. Father of three. Chew-toy to Zeke...