Whenever God comes against man in judgments, we can be sure it’s because of our sins. Yet we can forestall the evil of punishment concerning nations, families and individuals by being genuinely redeemed from the evil of sin. “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it…” (Jeremiah 18:7). God will change His direction concerning what He previously planned to do for any nation on the verge of destruction, even with judgment declared already—if it will repent. It’s not God who needs to change, but people who desperately need to change by repenting of their sin. “If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them” (Jeremiah 18:8). If a person or nation will produce true, sincere repentance, it will cause God to change His plan. If there’s no repentance, then judgment will have to take place.
A nation damages its value and beauty in the Creator’s eyes when it abandons itself to pride that won’t yield and anger that is uncontrolled. This makes the nation unsuitable for the uses and functions God designed it for. He can take away the form He gave it, and downgrade His work to a form without shape instead. Then He can remodel the demolished heap according to His own design. This was fully illustrated when God directed (as Jonah had predicted) the downfall of Nineveh. But judgment wasn’t carried out on that generation, because Nineveh repented. If God has made a nation a promise of coming good, and then commits evil before Him, He’ll change His mind about the good He previously promised. “…at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it…” (Jeremiah 18:9). The “instant” refers to the moment that nation hears the Gospel. God will do good or evil depending on how the Gospel is accepted or rejected. The way God conducts Himself toward men is determined by His edict in these verses. He can do whatever His will is with His creatures. But He won’t interfere impulsively or illogically with any nation, no matter what attitude it takes toward Him and His laws.
“If it do evil in My sight, that it obey not My voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them” (Jeremiah 18:10). God desires to do good to anyone and everyone. It all depends on how obedient the people are to Him. “…Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you…” which refers to the calamity God was planning against Israel during the Chaldean invasion. He told them to “…return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good” (Jeremiah 18:11). God devises either good or evil against His children according to their obedience or disobedience to Him.
But “…they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart” (Jeremiah 18:12). The condition we need to understand concerning God’s threats of evil is that people and nations must repent and turn from their evil ways. Those who want God’s favor must be willing and obedient and abide by His laws. Man’s will is only evil when he’s without God, because his one and only hope is in God Himself. Where God’s grace is operating, a real turning from evil takes place, but then man will quickly take the credit himself. Man is inclined to stray away from the living God, Who would be denying Himself if He took disobedience lightly, and handled evil as if it was good.
To the wicked, God is always a consuming fire. Israel refused to believe the Lord’s message. They acknowledged that their hearts were evil, and intentionally declared that they would go on in wicked contempt of God. Are all who claim to be children of God today better than they were? Most have rejected the very Hand capable of yanking them out of the fire. Whenever man changes from being righteous to being wicked, he faces this consuming fire.
“If ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then He will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that He hath done you good” (Joshua 24:20). This means that He’ll change His way of dealing with man along with His course of action. He’ll be as harsh then as He was filled with favor and grace before, and will regret all His past kindness. If men abuse His goodness, He’ll turn it to wrath instead. Therefore, if we rebel against Him, He’ll do us harm and bring evils and calamities upon us over and over, like famine, epidemics and captivity. He will “consume you” by His painful judgments “after that He hath done you good,” when He brought you into such a good land and gave you so many good things. Those disobedient to Him, especially in ways referred to here, can expect Him to be resentful. God hasn’t changed His mind, but man has. And God hasn’t been inconsistent, but man has. He will reward obedience, while disobedience will be judged.
Therefore, we have no just reason to complain about God. He preserves His power and authority like the potter working his will with the clay. He wants to give peace and salvation to those that walk uprightly. But if we turn from God to the world and sin, we will die and not live. The more sudden judgments come, the more dreadful they are, but man always welcomes unexpected mercy from God. If a nation is threatened with destruction and that nation turns to the Lord, He will repent of the evil He already pronounced upon it. “If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto My name, saith the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart” (Malachi 2:2).The choice is ours—sudden judgment and destruction, or unexpected mercy from God leading to blessing.