God’s treatment of his chosen people may seem harsh unless you understand his goal for the nation of Israel. God wanted his people to be a peculiar people, a nation set apart and devoted to him (Deuteronomy 14:2). God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and formed them into what he wanted them to be; like a potter that forms a useful vessel out of clay. They were his handiwork. When the people of Judah were taken into captivity in Babylon, their customs and behavior differentiated them from everyone else. They were obviously not like their Babylonian captors because they prayed to a God that no one could see.
One of the things that God wanted his people to believe about him was that he would be faithful in keeping his promises to them. In spite of their rejection of his laws and commandments, God intended to deliver his people from sin. Jeremiah declared, “The LORD hath brought forth our righteousness: come, and let us declare in Zion the work of the LORD our God” (Jeremiah 51:10). The work that was to be declared in Zion was the salvation of God’s people. In essence, what was to be accomplished was the birth of the Messiah, but there was also a need for the relationship between God and his people to be restored in order for salvation to make a difference in peoples’ lives.
God’s control over humanity as the Creator of the Universe allows him to decide how to deal with sin. He determined that the penalty for sin would be death (Genesis 2:17). The purpose of salvation was to enable mankind to survive when God’s judgment was executed. Although physical death is inevitable, it is possible to die and yet not perish or cease to exist. The difference between someone who dies without receiving salvation and the person who is saved is life beyond the grave. In other words, death is not the end of life, but a new beginning for the person who has received salvation.
God illustrated this principle when he returned the remnant of Judah to their land after their captivity was completed. Instead of the city of Jerusalem remaining in ruins after it was destroyed by the Babylonians, it was rebuilt and the city still exists today. God destroyed many cities and even whole nations when he did away with the pagan rituals of idolatry that were prevalent in the Old Testament of the Bible. Jeremiah declared, “For their molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them. They are vanity, the work of errors; in the time of their visitation they shall perish. The portion of Jacob is not like them: for he is the former of all things” (Jeremiah 51: 17-19).