Let there be no doubt - God's grace and forgiveness is very great indeed!!
but where sin increased, grace increased all the more, (Rom 5:20)
Jeremiah 18:7-10 announced an interesting principle that operated in the final years of Judah and what would happen:
7 At any time I might announce that a nation or kingdom will be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed. 8 But if that nation I warned
turns from its evil, then I will relent of the disaster I had planned
9 And if at another time I announce that I will build up and establish a nation or kingdom, 10 and if it does evil in My sight
and does not listen to My voice, then I will relent of the good I had
intended for it.
This is illustrated perfectly in the previous chapter of Jer 17 where God issues two prophecies about Jerusalem:
- One of absolute permanence of Jerusalem of they were faithful - Jer 17:24-26
- One of sure destruction of Jerusalem if they were unfaithful - Jer 17:27
(See also Eze 18.) In fact, God even predicted which of these choices Jerusalem, the king and people would make in Jer 18:11, 12 -
11 Now therefore, tell the men of Judah and the residents of Jerusalem that this is what the LORD says: ‘Behold, I am planning a
disaster for you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, each of
you, from your evil ways, and correct your ways and deeds.’
12 But they will reply, ‘It is hopeless. We will follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his
evil heart.’ ”
Unfortunately, this prophecy was precisely fulfilled as recorded in 2 Chron 36:
11 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. 12 And he did evil in the sight
of the LORD his God and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the
prophet, who spoke for the LORD.
13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God. But Zedekiah stiffened his neck and hardened his heart
against turning to the LORD, the God of Israel. 14 Furthermore,
all the leaders of the priests and the people multiplied their
unfaithful deeds, following all the abominations of the nations, and
they defiled the house of the LORD, which He had consecrated in
15 Again and again the LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to His people through His messengers because He had compassion on them
and on His dwelling place. 16 But they mocked the messengers of
God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, until the wrath
of the LORD against His people was stirred up beyond remedy.
17 So He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who put their young men to the sword in the sanctuary, sparing neither
young men nor young women, neither elderly nor infirm. God gave them
all into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, 18 who carried off everything
to Babylon—all the articles of the house of God, both large and small,
and the treasures of the house of the LORD and of the king and his
officials. 19 Then the Chaldeans set fire to the house of God and
broke down the wall of Jerusalem. They burned down all the palaces and
destroyed every article of value.
So, why did God send Judah into captivity? We have the answer explicitly stated above - they chose to be unfaithful to God, practice evil and violence and refused to repent. The Scripture makes clear that if they had repented, they would have avoided captivity as stated above by the prophet Jeremiah.
Therefore, Judah did NOT suffer for the sins of the "fathers" (Eze 18:4, 20, 24) - they suffered for their own. "The one who sinned is the one who will dies." The people of Zedekiah's time had learned from the sins of their fathers and sinned even more wickedly and so were sent into captivity despite the warnings.
The prophecies given to Hezekiah and Manasseh were fulfilled, not because God wanted to punish but because the people refused to repent.