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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Jeremiah 3

Verses 1-5

Judah, the Faithless Wife

In Jeremiah 3:1, the LORD compares the relationship between Him and Jerusalem to that of an earthly marriage in which a husband divorces his wife. Will that husband return to her? The answer is “no” if she has become the wife of another man (Deuteronomy 24:1-Numbers :). The LORD did not divorce Jerusalem, but she herself left. However, she is seen as a wife sent away and her husband is not allowed to return to her, for the land would be completely polluted as a result. Indeed, she has made the return impossible by her harlotry with many lovers.

The LORD is presents to Jerusalem her behavior (Jeremiah 3:2). Let her look around her. Is there any place to be found where she has not indulged in harlotry? She has shamelessly sat down along the roads to offer herself as a harlot to every passerby (cf. Genesis 38:14-Ezra :; Ezekiel 16:25; Proverbs 7:12-Ezra :). She sits there like an Arab in the desert offering his merchandise to passersby. An Arab lives in total independence. If there is no trade to be had, there is always something to loot. This is how Jerusalem lives. She is only out for harlotry. By her harlotry and all additional evil, she has polluted the whole land. Her sins lie like a covering over the land.

The LORD withheld the showers to discipline her and make her return to Him confessing her unfaithfulness (Jeremiah 3:3; Leviticus 26:9; Deuteronomy 28:23-Jeremiah :; 1 Kings 17:1). He wants her to feel how empty a life is that takes place outside of fellowship with Him. However, she no longer has a sense of what is good. She has the forehead of a harlot, who is shamelessly engaged and unapproachable of her repugnant behavior. In pride, she carries on and takes no notice of the LORD. She refuses to acknowledge and break with sin.

The LORD reminds them they called to Him as “my Father” (Jeremiah 3:4). He says this so that in Him they will acknowledge their origin in the consciousness that by serving idols they have separated themselves from Him, their origin. He adds that they will acknowledge Him as “the friend” of their youth. This means that they will acknowledge that they have rejected Him as Friend and have begun to serve the idols.

But the LORD knows how they think about Him in their hearts. Even if they would come to Him and say “my Father” to Him and confess Him as “the friend” of their youth, they do that without any confession of their sins. They do appeal to His goodness, as the good God Who will accept His people again anyway (Jeremiah 3:5), but they do it in hypocrisy.

They believe that the good God will leave His anger some day. Surely He will not always remain wrathful toward them, will He? Their language is flattering, so they speak, but their actions are evil. They manage to speak piously and act sinfully. The LORD sees through that and tells them so clearly. In saying, “you have had your way” we hear the LORD’s amazement at their appalling, glass-hard, and incorrigibly insolent attitude. We would say: ‘Do you need to say another word about that?’ But where we stop, God continues in patience and grace. That is an attitude that should amaze us.

This is what Jeremiah as a young man has to say to God’s people. Here his first message ends with the main topics summarized:
1. Israel is guilty of terrible sins.
2. The LORD is punishing His people.
3. In times of need, they want the LORD to help them.
4. However, they have no true repentance.

Verses 6-11

Judah Is Worse Than Israel

Here begins a new prophecy that continues through Jeremiah 6:30. This one is more comprehensive than the previous one, Jeremiah 2:1-3:5. It is spoken “in the days of Josiah the king” (Jeremiah 3:6). By then the ten tribes had been scattered for many decades, carried away by the Assyrians. In what period of King Josiah’s reign we are not told here. We are told in more detail about the departing from the LORD by both the northern ten tribe realm and the southern two tribe realm. Yet in between we find wonderful promises of restoration and blessing after their repentance and that the goodness of the LORD will still lead them, even if through the deepest tribulation.

The LORD asks Jeremiah if he has seen “what faithless Israel did”. A prophet must be a keen observer and see what the LORD sees. The LORD tells him that He has seen what faithless Israel, the ten tribes, have done, how they have committed harlotry everywhere. He also tells Jeremiah what He said to her after all her faithlessness (Jeremiah 3:7). He called her to return to Him. And did she? No, she didn’t.

What Israel has done and what the LORD has therefore done to faithless Israel has been observed by Judah, whom the LORD here calls “her treacherous sister Judah”. Has Israel’s behavior and what the LORD has done to her been a warning to Judah (Jeremiah 3:8)? No, Judah has not been warned by Israel’s example. The LORD has had to conclude that His sending Israel away has made no impression on Judah. Judah was not frightened by it, but on the contrary went and was a harlot also.

They are two sisters. With both of them the LORD has been in a marriage relationship. The older sister, Israel, He divorced, with a writ of divorce. Judah should have learned a lesson from that. Judah should have seen and taken to heart what happened to Israel in the judgment God had to bring upon them.

It is important that we be warned by what we see in the lives of other believers (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:11). If we do not learn from the follies of others, we are even greater fools than they are. We are no better and should not imagine that we are not as bad as those others. Let us not think that we do know our limits.

We can say in pride that we do know how much we can drink without getting drunk or how fast we can drive without becoming reckless. Then we have made our self-control an idol. It is better to be convinced that we are weak and take to heart the warning: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Because of Judah’s behavior, the holy land, the land of God, has been polluted. For Judah commits “adultery with stone and trees” (Jeremiah 3:9). Judah worships matter and puts his trust in it, the making of human hands. What he confesses with his mouth is pretense (Jeremiah 3:10). His heart is not right before God. That is what the LORD sees. He knows the heart. Nothing is hidden from Him, not even the deepest motives. “All things are open and laid bare” before His eyes (Hebrews 4:13).

Judah pretends to worship God, but God judges Judah to be even worse than Israel (Jeremiah 3:11; Ezekiel 23:11). Compared to Judah, Israel even seems more righteous than Judah. Israel is called “faithless Israel” and Judah is called “treacherous Judah”. To become faithless is bad. It is giving up a privileged position. Treacherousness is even worse. It is despising a privileged relationship. When Israel became faithless, they did not yet know what the judgment would be. They had no example of it. Judah does. They have seen with Israel what judgment means, but they nevertheless have not repented. To all the sins of Israel, Judah adds that of hypocrisy.

How is the church doing? Has she remained faithful? Paul speaks to the Corinthians about being very concerned that the church has been “led astray from the simplicity and purity [of devotion] to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). We see in Christianity how much idolatry has entered. Christ has long ceased to be the sole object of faith. Decay and apostasy are taking on ever more gross forms. With an appeal to the Bible, the most horrible sins are justified. Judgment is set far off, if one believes in it at all.

Verses 12-13

Call to Repentance

Following the observation that Israel seems more righteous than Judah, the LORD instructs Jeremiah to preach against the north (Jeremiah 3:12). There is a remnant of the ten tribes there. Several years ago, King Hezekiah invited them to the Passover. Many laughed at him, but some came anyway (2 Chronicles 30:1; 2 Chronicles 30:10-1 Kings :). Now the LORD offers them to return to Him. He makes it attractive to them by presenting Himself to them as “gracious”. They may also count on Him not maintaining His anger forever when they come. What an impressive invitation from a God full of grace!

It is as if the LORD is giving them another chance to return to Him and be blessed. Only then they have to confess their sins (Jeremiah 3:13). For they have rebelled against Him, the LORD their God. God cannot tolerate that. In their rebellion they have gone in all directions to commit, wherever they go, their abominable idolatry. They do this while not listening to His voice. Their behavior is in direct opposition to His will.

Verses 14-18

Future Blessing

He would like them to return to Him. After all, He married them, didn’t He (Jeremiah 3:14 [Darby Translation: ‘for I am a husband unto you’])? In these words, the passionate desire for their return to Him, a loving God, is evident. He calls them “faithless” and yet at the same time “sons”. Besides being in a relationship of a Father to His sons, He is also in a marriage relationship, that is, a covenant relationship, with them. They have given up both relationships, but He, for His part, does not want to give up those relationships. Therefore, He calls them to return to Him.

Because He has married them, He will not completely cast them out. He will take “one from a city and two from a family” (Jeremiah 3:14), that is, He will take a remnant to Himself and enter into the marriage bond with it. Here and in the following verses something shines through of the situation in the realm of peace. Once back in the land, the LORD will give them God-fearing leaders, shepherds after His heart. These are shepherds who resemble the true Shepherd, the great Son of David. David is “a man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), the Lord Jesus is that in a perfect sense. These shepherds, as under-shepherds, will represent the Lord Jesus as the Shepherd of His people (Jeremiah 3:15). They will feed the people “on knowledge and understanding” (cf. Psalms 78:72).

The people will then have entered into the blessing of the realm of peace. The expression “in those days” indicates this. That expression often looks ahead to the time of the realm of peace and the time immediately preceding it. They will multiply and increase in the land (cf. Genesis 1:28). The ark will no longer be needed because He of Whom the ark speaks, Christ, the Messiah, will be in their midst (Jeremiah 3:16).

That the ark will no longer be needed is a bold assumption for an Old Testament prophet. The ark is the center of the religious life of God’s people and the place where the high priest sacrifices the blood on the day of atonement. But the ark will no longer be needed as a symbol of God’s presence in the midst of the people because the glory of the LORD Himself will dwell in the midst of His people. We see the same thing in Ezekiel’s temple which will be in Jerusalem in the realm of peace (Ezekiel 40-43). In that temple there is also no ark, also because the glory of the LORD dwells in the temple. With that temple He also connects His throne (Ezekiel 43:7).

The first time the ark is mentioned in the Bible is in the design of the tabernacle shown to Moses (Exodus 25:10-Song of Solomon :). We see that the ark is also given its place in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 8:6). The last historical mention we have is during the reign of King Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:3). Probably the ark was taken to Babylon along with all the other objects of the temple. Remarkably, it is not mentioned in a list of all that is carried away to Babylon (Jeremiah 52:17-Isaiah :). It was lost in 586 BC and never found or replaced.

The ark is the throne of the LORD (1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Kings 19:15). In the future, “at that time” (Jeremiah 3:17; Jeremiah 3:16), all of “Jerusalem” will be the new “Throne of the LORD” and not just the ark (Ezekiel 48:35). The city will bear the marks of His government. Therefore, all nations will go there and gather together (Isaiah 2:2-Leviticus :; Isaiah 56:6-Ruth :Isaiah 60:11-2 Chronicles :; Micah 4:1-Exodus :). They will come to the Name of the LORD which is most closely associated with Jerusalem. His throne and His Name, His government and His Person are the center and foundation of the realm of peace. The nations will acknowledge that. In the past, their lives have consisted of walking after their hardened, wicked hearts. That will be over. They have in Him a totally new purpose in their lives.

Judah will return to the land “in those days” along with the remnant of Israel (Jeremiah 3:18; Micah 2:12). Here Jeremiah speaks of a return of Judah, meaning that Judah will also be taken out of the land. They are coming from the north, from the direction from which their enemies came, both Assyria and Babylon, and carried them away. In the realm of peace, the two empires will be reunited and they will be one people (Ezekiel 37:16-Esther :). They will dwell in the land of the promises the LORD made to the fathers that they will possess as an inheritance.

Verses 19-20

Israel’s Disobedience

In these verses, the intention and desire of God and the treacherousness of the people are contrasted. God desired to make His people His sons and to have them dwell in “a pleasant land”, “the most beautiful inheritance” (Jeremiah 3:19). He wanted to hear from them a response that He could expect, a response of gratitude, love and faithfulness. He wanted them to cry out to Him “my Father” (cf. Isaiah 64:8) and not to turn away from behind Him.

But instead, the people dealt treacherously with Him (Jeremiah 3:20). It does not even say that the people began to serve other gods. The emphasis is on the fact that despite so much love from the LORD, they became unfaithful to Him and did not stay with Him. That is a great sorrow for the LORD.

Verses 21-25

Exhortation to Repent

The sound of supplications is heard “on the bare heights”, which are the places where the people practice idolatry (Jeremiah 3:21; Jeremiah 3:2). Because their departing from the LORD has not produced the expected results, they now weep and plead. God’s response to this is one of wonderful grace. He calls on His “faithless sons” to return (Jeremiah 3:22). If they do, He can heal their faithlessness. Those who return to the LORD with genuine repentance for their sins will have no desire to return to the mire of sin.

Jeremiah confesses the condition of the people, with whom he makes himself one. Through Jeremiah’s mouth the people say they are coming to Him and acknowledge that He is the LORD their God (Jeremiah 3:22). They also acknowledge that they have sought their salvation in vain from the idols on the hills and the multitudes of the mountains (Jeremiah 3:23). Their salvation, the salvation of Israel, is only in the LORD their God.

The people see that from their youth they have brought shame upon themselves by sinning against the LORD (Jeremiah 3:24-Lamentations :). They confess the sin of their fathers and also their own, “we and our fathers”. There is no longer any excuse, no attempt to hide or justify their sins. They acknowledge that the cause is in not listening to the voice of the LORD their God.

When we look back, we never regret what we did right. We only regret when we look back at the wrong things we did (cf. Romans 6:21). These are things that, when they were before us, when we looked at them, seemed attractive to do.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Jeremiah 3". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/jeremiah-3.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.