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God posed the question to His people of what happens in a divorce. The answer to His rhetorical question is: "No, if a husband divorces his wife, and she goes to live with (or remarries) another man, he will not return to (or remarry) her." [Note: The Septuagint has the question being, "Will the woman return to her first husband." But there is inferior support for this translation.] The Mosaic Law prohibited such a thing (cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4). If Judah was a wife and Yahweh was her husband, He would not normally "return" to her. The Israelites believed that sin and evil in the people had repercussions on the land and polluted it (cf. Jeremiah 3:2; Jeremiah 3:9; Leviticus 18:25; Leviticus 18:28; Leviticus 19:29; Deuteronomy 24:4; Hosea 4:2-3; Amos 4:6-10). "Return" is a key word in this sermon, as it is in the whole book. There are three specific commands to "Return" in this section (Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 3:14; Jeremiah 3:22), as well as numerous other occurrences of the word and its relatives. "Return," for example, appears nine times in the NASB (Jeremiah 3:1; Jeremiah 3:7 [twice], 10, 12, 14, 22, Jeremiah 4:1 [twice]) and "turn" twice (Jeremiah 3:1; Jeremiah 3:19).
A second figure compares Israel to a harlot with many lovers. She was worse than a divorced wife. Would such a woman expect her husband to receive her back if she returned to him? No. The people of Judah had no reasonable expectation that Yahweh would receive her back-even if she repented (cf. Hosea 2:14 to Hosea 3:3). [Note: See Joe M. Sprinkle, "Old Testament Perspectives on Divorce and Remarriage," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40:4 (December 1997):542-43.]
Yahweh’s call for His people’s repentance 3:1-4:4
A passionate plea for repentance follows logically and textually the indictment of God’s people for their sins (ch. 2).
"There is a problem with free forgiveness. If you can always wipe the slate clean, how much does it matter what you write on it next? It is a problem for both parties-not only for the one in the wrong, who may feel that he can get away with more and more, but also for the one who forgives, who has to wonder what his forbearance may be doing to the other person. Here God sets about shaking his people out of their complacency." [Note: Kidner, p. 35.]
The spiritual unfaithfulness of Judah 3:1-5
Continuing the figure of Judah as a harlot, the Lord urged His people to look around. There was hardly a place they could see where they had not been unfaithful to Him by worshipping idols. They had pursued this evil as avidly as roadside harlots sought lovers (cf. Genesis 38:14-23; Proverbs 7:12-15; Ezekiel 16:25). Arabs of the desert waited along the wilderness routes and eagerly offered wares for sale to anyone who passed by. They also sometimes hid in ambush to rob passing caravans. The similarly eager Israelites had polluted the land spiritually with their wicked harlotry.
Consequently the Lord had withheld rain from the land, as He had threatened to do if His people departed from Him (Leviticus 26:19; Deuteronomy 28:23-24). In the spring, when the people needed rain so their crops would mature, the heavens were dry. In spite of this punishment they refused to repent. They did not feel shame for their apostasy but instead behaved brazenly. To have a "harlot’s forehead" was to be brazenfaced. [Note: Graybill, p. 662.]
"God’s withholding of the rains should have indicated clearly enough to the people that their fertility rites ensured nothing; the God of covenant was as much Lord of the natural world as he was of the events of history." [Note: Craigie, p. 52.]
Instead of repenting, they besought God to help them, calling Him their "Father," the friend who had guided them in their youth.
They also asked Him if He would always be angry with them. They acknowledged that He had spoken warnings in the past and had followed up His words with acts of judgment. He had had His way with them, but now, they implied, it was time for Him to relent. They failed to appreciate that the end of His punishment required repentance from them, not a change of heart from Him.
"Persistent, habitual sin can desensitize an individual to the nagging of one’s conscience, the convicting work of God’s Spirit, or the direct rebuke of God’s Word." [Note: Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 594.]
Yahweh previously had a conversation with Jeremiah along the same lines that took place during the reign of King Josiah (between 627 and 609 B.C.). This section may have been a shorter oracle that the writer used to compose the final written sermon. The Lord asked the prophet if he had observed that the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been guilty of flagrant spiritual prostitution. He described the Northern Kingdom as "faithless Israel," literally "Apostasy (Heb. meshuba) Israel" (cf. Jeremiah 3:8; Jeremiah 3:11-12). Israel was Apostasy personified. She was faithless in respect to the Mosaic Covenant and in respect to her relationship to Yahweh as His "wife." She had deserted her covenant with the Lord and made a covenant with Baal, and she had failed to maintain her responsibilities as Yahweh’s "wife."
When Jeremiah began his ministry, in 627 B.C., the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom had been in exile for 95 years, since 722 B.C. All hope for the restoration of these banished people seemed to have vanished.
The persistent harlotry of Israel and Judah 3:6-10
The Lord had expected that Israel would return to Him eventually, but she had not. Obviously Israel’s actions did not surprise God, since He knows everything before it happens. This is an anthropomorphic way of describing God’s chagrin at Israel’s behavior. Furthermore, the Southern Kingdom of Judah, Israel’s treacherous sister, observed Israel’s unrepentant harlotry. As Israel was Apostasy personified, so Judah was Treachery personified (cf. Jeremiah 3:10-11; Jeremiah 3:20).
Yahweh decided to put away His unfaithful "wife" Israel, to divorce her. So He sent her off to Assyria in captivity. But observing the consequences of Israel’s conduct did not discourage Judah from following in her sister’s footsteps. She too became a spiritual harlot and betrayed the trust of her "husband." Yahweh’s relationship to both Israel and Judah was the same in that both kingdoms were His chosen people. We should not press the illustration too far or we come out with a picture of God as a bigamist.
Israel took her prostitution very lightly and committed spiritual fornication with the pagan idols of Canaan, which the stone pillars and tree groves and poles represented (cf. Jeremiah 2:27). [Note: For a fuller discussion of these cult objects, see G. E. Wright, "The Archaeology of Palestine," in The Bible and the Ancient Near East, pp. 73-112.]
Still, Judah did not return to the Lord with heartfelt repentance, but only superficially. Jeremiah began ministering (in 627 B.C.) one year after King Josiah began his spiritual reforms (in 628 B.C.). This oracle may have come early in Jeremiah’s ministry before the reforms had taken hold. But the rapidity with which Judah declined following Josiah’s death seems to indicate that the reforms produced only a superficial return to the Lord. King Manasseh’s long godless reign (697-642 B.C.) was more than Josiah’s comparatively brief reforms (628-609 B.C.) could counteract. Though Josiah led the nation in a reformation, the people did not experience a heart-changing revival (cf. 2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22-28).
Yahweh instructed His prophet that though both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms had committed spiritual harlotry, Judah’s sin was worse than Israel’s. Here the Lord personified Judah as "Treachery" as he again personified Israel as "Apostasy" (cf. Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 3:12). Israel had been unfaithful, but Judah had been unfaithful and had presumed on the Lord’s mercy. Israel had not had the benefit of an example of unfaithfulness to warn her, but Judah did (cf. Ezekiel 23).
The future repentance and return of all Israel 3:11-18
Jeremiah was to preach to the remnant left in the Northern Kingdom, and to the exiles from that nation, that they should repent and return to the Lord (cf. Jeremiah 31:2-6; Jeremiah 31:15-22). Those who had turned away from the Lord should turn back to Him. This is a play on derivatives of the Hebrew root shub, "turn," many of which occur in this sermon. The Lord would not hold His anger against them "forever," but would be gracious to them, if they would genuinely repent.
Genuine repentance would have to include realizing and acknowledging that what they had done was iniquity, transgression of covenant commands, apostasy and spiritual adultery, and disobedience to Yahweh’s Word (cf. Deuteronomy 28:1-2; Deuteronomy 28:15).
"True confession, unfortunately, is a harrowing and humiliating experience, and thus seldom encountered, whether in individuals or nations. The catharsis of confession undoubtedly helps to make Christian forgiveness so rich an experience for the penitent spirit (1 John 1:9)." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 66.]
Changing the figure, the Lord invited the prodigal Israelites to return to their Father (Jeremiah 3:4). He would take them back and be their master (Heb. Ba’al) again. [Note: Perhaps this promise is the reason the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable asked to come back home as a servant rather than as a son (cf. Luke 15:11-32).] He, the sovereign Lord of the covenant, was their master, not Baal (lit. "master").
". . . ’I am your ba’al (husband)’ implies that no longer would Judah be bound to the Baals of the fertility faith to which she had so easily fallen away from the true covenant faith." [Note: Craigie, p. 60. Ba’al sometimes has the connotation of "husband."]
The Israelites did not have to come en mass. The Lord would receive any individual Israelites who really repented, even though they were part of a larger group that did not repent. The Lord would even bring them back to Himself in Zion, the place where He had promised to meet with His people. Thus the way was open for a remnant of spiritually sensitive Israelites to respond.
After their return, the Lord would give the truly repentant Israelites good leaders who had hearts for Himself and who would instruct them in sound "knowledge" (wisely) and "understanding" (well). Kind-hearted shepherds would provide wholesome and nourishing food for their sheep (cf. Jeremiah 23:1-4; Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:24).
When many Israelites had repented and returned to the land, they would not take pride in the ark of the covenant. The ark would not even come into their minds, they would not even remember it, they would not miss it, nor would they attempt to rebuild it. Most scholars assume that the Babylonians took the ark into captivity or destroyed it when they destroyed the temple in 586 B.C. There is no historical record of it following that event. It is possible, of course, that the Jews may have hidden it sometime before the razing of the temple.
"Verse 16b shows that the old economy was to be dissolved. The old covenant, of which the ark was a central feature, was to give way to another-a preview of Jeremiah 31:31-34." [Note: Feinberg, p. 402.]
At this point in the oracle, it becomes clear that at least some in Israel definitely would repent and experience divine restoration, sometime in the future. Note the recurrence of "in those days" and "at that time" (Jeremiah 3:16-18). We believe that the repentance in view will take place at the second coming of Christ, when the Jews realize that Jesus is their Messiah. They will then put their trust in Him (Zechariah 12:10; Zechariah 13:1; cf. Romans 11:26). Much that follows in this oracle concerning the blessings of Israel’s repentance describes millennial conditions. [Note: See Walter C. Kaiser Jr., "Evidence from Jeremiah," in A Case for Premillennialism: A New Consensus, pp. 105-7.]
The reason for these future Israelites’ lack of interest in the ark, in that day, will be: the Lord Himself will be enthroned in Jerusalem. The whole city will be known as "The Throne of the LORD," not just the ark (cf. Leviticus 16:2; Leviticus 16:13; 2 Kings 19:15; Psalms 80:1; Ezekiel 48:35).
"There is unquestionably a Messianic expectation here (cf. Jeremiah 5:18; Jeremiah 31:1; Jeremiah 33:16; Hosea 3:5, etc.)." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 66.]
People from the Gentile nations would also come to Jerusalem, as God would draw them, because of the reputation of Yahweh (cf. Isaiah 2:2-3; Isaiah 56:6-8; Isaiah 60:11-14; Micah 4:1-2). Their hearts would be different then, and they would comply with God’s will rather than stubbornly resist it (cf. Jeremiah 31:33-34).
Jews from both Israel and Judah would return to the Promised Land from their various places of captivity "in those days" (cf. Hosea 3:5; Micah 2:12). The Israelites had gone off to the north to Assyria, and the Judahites would go off to the north to Babylon, and they would return from that direction. The "north," here, represents wherever the Israelites had gone following the Lord’s disbursal of them. The ten tribes of Israel are not, and never were, "lost," but scattered, awaiting their repentance and regathering in faith to the land. Some of them returned to the Promised Land at the end of the Exile, but Titus scattered the Jews again-in all directions-when he destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
"Since there is no indication that the ten tribes ever repented, the projected union must point to the Messianic age of grace, when Jew and Gentile alike will do honour before the enthroned Lord in Zion." [Note: Ibid., p. 67. Cf. Zechariah 14:16-19.]
The Lord next explained how He longed for the day when this repentance and return would happen. He would set His chosen people among His other sons (including good angels, Gentile believers, and Christians). He would give them a pleasant land, a more beautiful inheritance than He will give believing Gentiles in the future. Israel and Judah would return to the Lord as their Father and would not turn away from Him any more (cf. Hosea 11:1).
The promise of a beautiful land in spite of former treachery 3:19-20
All this blessing would come to Israel in spite of her past treacherous unfaithfulness to her spiritual lover, Yahweh. That treachery was deliberate; it was not a provoked departure.
"The mixing of metaphors (God is both father and husband) heightens the pathos of the speech and helps one empathize with God in his disappointment and emotional pain." [Note: Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Handbook on the Prophets, p. 159. See also Terence Fretheim, The Suffering of God, p. 116.]
"It is important to retain memory of this deep compassion when we read the prophet’s declarations of judgment (Jeremiah 4:5 ff.); in judgment, the compassion is still present, hoping beyond the judgment for a restoration of the relationship of love." [Note: Craigie, p. 64.]
The Lord could hear, in the future, the Israelites weeping and praying in repentance on the hilltops, where they had formerly committed spiritual adultery (Jeremiah 3:2). They would finally realize that they had perverted their way and had forgotten Yahweh.
The anticipation of Israel’s repentance 3:21-25
This anticipation drew from Him an invitation to His faithless people to return to Him immediately. He promised to heal their faithless addiction to wandering from Him. He also anticipated Israel’s response of acceptance. Israel would return and once again acknowledge Yahweh as her God.
"This simple statement was crucial, for the root of past errors lay in their failure to recognize the Lord as their one and true God, and their consequent resort to the false gods of the fertility cults. Having declared their recognition of God, they would immediately pass on to a denunciation of the false gods to whom they had resorted." [Note: Ibid., p. 65.]
The Israelites confessed that the hills and mountains on which they had worshipped idols had been sites of deception for them and places of unrest. The idols had not provided what they promised, and instead of finding rest by worshipping them, the Israelites had experienced turmoil. They finally acknowledged that only in Yahweh their God could they find true salvation (cf. Exodus 20:2-6; Deuteronomy 5:6-10; Deuteronomy 6:4).
Idolatry had consumed the Israelites in all that they had done throughout their history. It had been a blight on their existence, a shame to them as a people. But another nuance may also have been intended.
". . . Baal is referred to under the substitute name bosheth, ’shame’ [cf. Jeremiah 11:13; 2 Samuel 2:8: Ish-bosheth, lit. man of shame]. . . . ’Shame’ (Baal) had devoured all that the labors of their fathers had produced since the people were children." [Note: Thompson, p. 209.]
They now (in that day) will not try to run from their shame (cf. Genesis 3:7; Genesis 3:10). Rather, they willingly let it cover them and will confess their sin against Yahweh their God, sin that had existed throughout their history as a nation. They had disobeyed the Lord’s voice; they had broken His covenant (cf. Jeremiah 3:13).
Aspects of false religion 7:1-8:3
All the messages in this section deal with departure from the Lord in religious practices, either in pagan rites or in the perversion of the proper worship of Yahweh that the Mosaic Law specified. All the material in this section fits conditions in Judah after 609 B.C., when Jehoiakim began allowing a return to pagan practices after the end of Josiah’s reforms. Another feature of this section is the large amount of prose material it contains, much more than the preceding section (chs. 2-6). The common theme is worship, and the key word is "place," though this word refers to different things in different verses (Jeremiah 7:3; Jeremiah 7:7; Jeremiah 7:12; Jeremiah 7:14; Jeremiah 7:20; Jeremiah 7:32; Jeremiah 8:3). The places in view are the temple, Jerusalem, and Judah, but which one is in view is sometimes difficult to determine. From their contents we may surmise that these messages were responsible for much of the antagonism that Jeremiah received from the Judahites (cf. Jeremiah 26:7-24).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 3". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25