I think it is safe to say that few people have faced as difficult a ministry as the prophet Jeremiah. Called to serve as a young man, Jeremiah was tasked “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). Most of his ministry, it seems, was plucking and breaking and destroying and overthrowing, with far less attention giving to building and planting—though, of course, breaking down is often part of the building process.
Jeremiah complained on a few occasions that he could carry on no longer. Most famously, he complained that the Lord had deceived him when he called him into ministry and that his ministry had become a source of derision among his hearers. Though he longed to hang up his prophetic mantle, the burden of God’s word was like a burning fire that he could not hold in (20:7–9). He was exhausted with his calling, but his belief in the authority and truth of God’s word spurred him on even when he would loved to have quit.
But what was it that led to such exhaustion? I think it was a combination of two things. First, he was exhausted at having to pronounce judgement all the time, when he would loved to have pronounced mercy and forgiveness. Second, he was exhausted at the fact that nobody believed his preaching. They loved his eloquence but derided his message.
On the one hand, the people rejected Jeremiah’s teaching because it they simply could not believe that Yahweh would allow his temple to be destroyed. They regarded the temple with a high degree of superstition and believed that, as long as the temple stood in Jerusalem, the city was invulnerable (see 7:1–7ff).
On the other hand, the people seemed to have struggled with the same doubt with which Habakkuk struggled: Even if there was some truth to Jeremiah’s claims, surely God would not use Babylon, of all people, as his instrument of judgement? The Babylonians were far more wicked that the Jews. Even if the Jews did warrant judgement, surely not at the hand of Babylon?
Toward the end of the book, Jeremiah begins answering this objection. In short, he responds that, while God would certainly use Babylon as his instrument of judgement, and while Babylon would certainly overextend its hand in cruelty during this process, God would not turn a blind eye. Babylon would receive recompense for its evil, even as God used it to judge Judah for its covenant faithlessness. Babylon would face utter destruction. And the reason it would do so is simple: “A destroyer has come upon her, upon Babylon; her warriors are taken; their bows are broken in pieces, for the LORD is a God of recompense; he will surely repay” (51:56).
“The LORD … God of recompense” translates the Hebrew name Yahweh El Gemuel, which is the name of God on which we will focus this week.
What does it mean that God is a God of recompense? Essentially, it means two things.
First, “recompense” suggests that Yahweh is a God who rewards people for doing what is right. Boaz prayed that Yahweh would repay Ruth for her loyalty to God and her kindness to her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:12). He recognised that God blesses obedience and prayed that Ruth would experience that blessing.
The Bible makes it clear that doing what is right does not earn God’s favour. God’s favour is given in Christ alone. The Bible further suggests that our obedience should not be driven by desire for reward but by love for Christ. Nevertheless, God is faithful to bless the obedience of his people. A few texts will serve to illustrate this truth.
A particular blessing is promised to those who faithfully endure persecution. This is not only for martyrs and those who face threats of physical violence for their faith, but even for those who face verbal assault for their allegiance to Christ: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11–12). The obedience of the persecuted will not go unnoticed.
Blessing is also promised to those who are quietly faithful in their stewardship. “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2–4). We do not give in order to receive a reward, but faithful, quiet generosity will not go unrewarded.
A reward is promised to those who faithfully and kindly minister to God’s people. “The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:41–42). The reward is not the motive for such kindness, but it will not go unnoticed by Yahweh El Gemuel.
We could mention other texts, but these serve to illustrate that Yahweh El Gemuel is a God who rewards those who obey him.
Second, however, “recompense” carries the idea of retribution. That is, as he does not turn a blind eye to obedience, Yahweh El Gemuel does not turn a blind eye to evil.
We all know the frustration of watching sin go unpunished. It may be violent crime, blatant corruption, or personal hurt, but we all know something of seemingly unpunished wrongdoing. The truth of Yahweh El Gemuel encourages us that Yahweh is a God of justice who will not allow any wrongdoing to go unrecompensed. Even death is no escape from Yahweh El Gemuel, for those who do not face justice in this world will face it in the next. On “the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed,” he “will render to each one according to his works” (Romans 2:5–6). Indeed, “we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
On that final judgement day, Yahweh El Gemuel will exercise perfect justice. There will be those at the judgement seat whose sins have been covered by the blood of Christ. The perfect Judge will recognise that he paid the penalty for their sins and he will give them eternal life. But others will be there who have never received Christ’s forgiveness of their sin. Many of those may believe that they have escaped the relentless pursuit of justice. But they will find only wrath and fury (Romans 2:5–8).
The truth of Yahweh El Gemuel therefore encourages us in two regards: First, we need not worry that humble obedience will go eternally unnoticed; and, second, we need not fear that evil will go eternally unpunished.Yahweh El Gemuel will see to it that every right is rewarded and every wrong is recompensed.