The LORD All-Powerful, the God of Israel, said:
I promise to set the people of Judah free and to lead them back to their hometowns. And when I do, they will once again say,
“We pray that the LORD
will bless his home,
the sacred hill in Jerusalem
where his temple stands.”
The people will live in Jerusalem and in the towns of Judah. Some will be farmers, and others will be shepherds. Those who feel tired and worn out will find new life and energy, and when they sleep, they will wake up refreshed.
Someday, Israel and Judah will be my field where my people and their livestock will grow. In the past, I took care to uproot them, to tear them down, and to destroy them. But when that day comes, I will take care to plant them and help them grow. No longer will anyone go around saying,
“Sour grapes eaten by parents
leave a sour taste in the mouths
of their children.”
When that day comes, only those who eat sour grapes will get the sour taste, and only those who sin will be put to death. (Jeremiah 31:23-30)
God can and does distinguish between the guilty and the innocent. And God reassures his people that his punishments against the guilty are not forever. Someday life will be good again; the Israelites will go home and return to their former lives, like a criminal released from prison. Once again, they will go about their business and do what they used to do. When that day comes, they will stop imagining that God is just out to get them, or that his punishments are not distinguishing between those who deserve it and those who don’t.
It was part of Israel’s legal code that “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each of you will die for your own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:16). God does not violate his own commandments, and yet a false proverb had become widely quoted in Israel that suggested God punished children for what their parents did. God, through Jeremiah, reiterates reality: only those who do wrong get punished for it. There’s no such thing as collateral damage with God’s punishments. He only brings his judgment upon those who deserve it.