“‘Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.’
“This is what the Lord says: ‘You say about this place, “It is a desolate waste, without men or animals.” Yet in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither men nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying,
“Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever.” For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 33:6-11)
The giver matters more than the gift. The prophet Jeremiah hoped his people could understand the heart of God, so they could understand what he was doing to them. Jeremiah warned Israel of the impending Babylonian invasion and captivity, the inevitable punishment for their disobedience. But God also gave them comfort: his punishment was designed to correct, not destroy. And the correction would achieve its goal of changing the hearts of God’s people, so that they could one day be restored to their place. The torn-down cities of Israel would be rebuilt, the land and people would once again prosper. No discipline seemed fun at the time it happened. Only afterwards could anyone recognize its purpose. Only afterwards could they see that the punishment was actually a gift. The Israelites would mourn until the suffering inflicted by Babylon ended.
When God restored the Israelites to their land, their joy came from the fact that they could finally see that God still loved them and that they were, indeed, still his people. Afterwards, they could recognize the value of what God had given them by taking so much away. Some gifts won’t be recognizable as gifts we first receive them—but over time, we at last discern their worth.