God used Babylon as his hammer of judgment against Israel, but that does not mean the mallet was swung by God's hand. Babylon was eager and willing to crush Judah anytime, so when God lifted his hand of protection, Babylon attacked. Jeremiah describes this judgment as "greater than the punishment of Sodom" (Lamentations 4:6); more severe than, "Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven" (Genesis 19:24). Sodom saw the fist of God; Judah saw his back. God turned away from Judah, which is worse. It was the back of God that Jesus saw when, carrying the sins of the world on the cross, he cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). There is no greater hell.
God destroyed Sodom; Judah, he planned to save, and salvation requires a deeper pain leading to repentance. To repent means to change direction, and change is resisted until the pain of staying the same is worse than the pain of repentance. Parents have tools of discipline: spanking, grounding, lectures (I preferred a spanking to my dad's lectures; quicker and less painful). But of last resort, they let go. The father gave the prodigal son his inheritance and turned away. He left his son to himself.
Judah cried out, "Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days?" (Lamentations 5:20). They were afraid God's back meant he no longer cared. They were wrong, he cared more, enough to let his child go, to place Judah on the painful path toward repentance.
"I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, 'Do not close
your ear to my cry for help!'
You came near when I called on you;
you said, 'Do not fear!'
You have taken up my cause, O Lord;
you have redeemed my life" (Lamentations 3:55-58).
Mighty God, I look to You each morning and anticipate the day, and each evening I give thanks. You are always there, always sovereign, always involved, always in love. It took me awhile to learn this; I thought my way better, and You let me wander, but You were always there to hear my call.
I love being part of Your good news, God. Thank You for salvation, for hearing my cry, for giving me life and life's purpose. I still try to grab the controls. Don't let me! Your way is much better.