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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 3

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1


1. They say Hebrew, to say. This harsh and unusual use of the infinitive has been to interpreters a source of perplexity. Does it mark the beginning of a new discourse, or is it a continuation of the preceding? The former, say Nagelsbach and Ewald; the latter, say Hitzig, Keil, and a majority of the best expositors. And inasmuch as we have at verse six the formal marking of a new discourse, this latter view is clearly to be preferred. And so this infinitive is not to be construed as an initial form, with Jerome, R. Payne Smith, and many others; but as in direct and close dependence on the preceding chapter, thus: “The Lord hath rejected thy confidences”… saying, etc.

Shall he return unto her again A man who had put away his wife was forbidden to take her again if, in the interval, she had been married to another. Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

Yet return… to me Most expositors regard the verb here as an infinitive and the sentence as a question: Will ye return to me? but there is no conclusive reason for this. In the Authorized Version we have a very satisfactory rendering of the Hebrew, and a most impressive illustration of the truth that God’s ways are not as our ways. His wonderful mercy is superior to all human obstructions. Great as is man’s sin, it is not so great as God’s mercy. With this view of the passage agree the Syriac and Vulgate Versions and the Targum.

Verse 2

2. High places More exactly, bare-topped hills; the places selected for idolatrous worship, which is here and elsewhere denominated spiritual adultery. Compare Hosea 4:13; Numbers 23:3. As the Arabian, etc. An allusion to the freebooting propensities of the Bedouins. Eager as they were for plunder, so eager was Israel for idolatry.

Verse 3

3. Showers have been withholden Perhaps, in some cases, in an extraordinary and miraculous way, as in the time of Ahab; and yet the statement should by no means be confined to so narrow an application. Drought, famine, and all other types of natural evil, are all for the one purpose of spiritual correction, rectification, and development.

Verse 4

4. Wilt thou not, etc. Rather, Hast thou not from this time called me, etc.? From this time, stands in contrast with “of old time,” in Jeremiah 2:20.

Guide of my youth That is, husband. See Hosea 2:7; Hosea 2:13.

Verse 5

5. Thou hast spoken Thus do the people speak, but they DO evil. Their words are friendly, but their actions are rebellious.

Verse 6


6. In the days of Josiah This formal note of time clearly indicates the beginning of a new discourse. It is not necessarily implied that the preceding discourse was not also in the time of Josiah; this may be taken only as a careful marking of the time of the following one, which is very extended and important.

Backsliding Israel hath done Namely, as you are now doing. Nearly a hundred years before was Israel destroyed, and had ceased to exist as a kingdom; and now her history and fate are pointed to as a warning to Judah. You are walking in her footsteps; you shall come to her calamitous end.

Verse 7

7. And I said, etc. The object of the verb “said” begins with after, and the verb turn is thought by most expositors to be in the third person. The reading then would be, And I said (namely, to myself = thought,) after she had done all… Turn thou unto me. But she returned not.

Treacherous Better, faithless. See Ezekiel’s allegory in chapter xxiii for the character of these two sisters apostate Israel and hypocritical Judah.

Verse 8

8. A bill of divorce How fearful a thing is a bill of divorce from the Almighty! A withdrawal of the divine support and protection carries with it all dark and dreadful possibilities. The pall of desolation which for twenty-five centuries has covered this land is a fit but feeble expression of the fearfulness of abandonment by God!

Verse 9

9. Lightness This rendering of the Hebrew is made under the influence of the ancient Versions, but cannot be vindicated. There is in the Old Testament no clear and sufficient support of this sense. And even were it better supported it does not easily suit the passage. The marginal “fame” is nearer, but incorrect. The word for this would be shem, ( שׁם ,) while the meaning of kol ( קול ) is noise, or voice. Hence the rendering should be, the noise of her whoredoms, etc., reference being had to the riotous orgies of idolatry.

Verse 10

10. Treacherous sister Judah Mark the solemn iteration of this accusing phrase in Jeremiah 3:7-8; Jeremiah 3:10-11.

Feignedly Such language as this makes us know that the reformation of Josiah, remarkable and impressive as it was, was not of that radical character which the case demanded. And so we understand how it was that the destruction of the city so soon followed the most splendid religious pageant Jerusalem ever witnessed. 2 Chronicles 35:0.

Verse 11

THE CALL TO RETURN, Jeremiah 3:11-18.

11. Hath justified herself Israel is less guilty than Judah, because she had less light. To be false is accounted worse than to be apostate. Honest idolatry is less offensive than hypocritical orthodoxy. To lose truth out of the intellect is sad enough; but to lose it out of the conscience and heart is still worse.

Verse 12

12. Toward the north Hebrew, midnight; “the north” being so designated because it is in the opposite direction to the meridian sun. Here it means the provinces of Assyria, into which Shalmanezer had carried away the ten tribes.

Verse 13

13. Acknowledge Literally, know; that is, see it in its true light. The most fundamental element in all genuine confession is confession to one’s self. One must admit his own vileness in his inmost soul before he is prepared for reformation.

Scattered thy ways Hast run in all directions in search of false gods. Madly and irrationally has this quest been urged.

Verse 14

14. I am married unto you A divine tenderness breathes in these words. God still remembers the sacred covenant between himself and his faithless people; and, in spite of their infidelities, looks upon their miseries with sincere and yearning pity. He even turns suppliant himself, and pleads with them to return. The mingling of metaphor in this passage, which starts with the parental and then introduces the conjugal relation, is not a blemish, but reveals the warm feeling which underlies the passage; a feeling that struggles in vain for adequate expression. The two most expressive figures which human experience furnishes are here blended in a way that leaves the impression of an unfathomable depth of meaning behind.

One of a city, and two of a family The word rendered “family” is of broad import, and answers in a general way to stock or tribe. If but “one of a city,” or “two of a tribe,” (evidently a larger term than city,) shall turn to me, I will be careful to save even them. This promise is full and absolute.

Though not exclusively Messianic and spiritual, yet, on the other hand, it is not limited to any material restoration. It is one of those broad predictive promises which sweep over the centuries, and are being constantly and everywhere fulfilled. And yet its highest force and significance belong to the highest things, and so the promise contains the glory of the Messianic revelation.

Verse 15

15. Pastors No matter how few and poor and scattered the flock, they shall have shepherds. Under this term are included, not prophets and priests, but rulers who held to the people a parental relation, and were, under the great Shepherd, their guardians and guides.

Verse 16

16. No more, The ark, etc. They shall not want the symbol, because they have the high and glorious reality. They shall not need the tables of stone, for God shall write the law on the tables of their hearts. They shall no longer need the symbolized presence of Jehovah, for Jerusalem shall be his throne and dwellingplace. This passage has an exact parallel ina higher plane in Revelation 21:22. “And I saw no temple therein.” Heaven, as has been well said, will be “a templeless, because an all-temple, state.” So the full spiritual revelation of God must of necessity do away with all material symbols.

Verse 17

17. All the nations shall be gathered Let this passage, the meaning of which is so unmistakable, explain all similar passages. The sense in which the nations of the earth shall gather to Jerusalem, according to this golden vision, is doubtless that in which the Jewish people shall gather there. It only means that the spiritual Jerusalem shall be the capital of the world, and all nations shall “bring their glory and honour into it.”

Verse 18

18. Judah shall walk with… Israel The lost harmony shall be restored. Partners in a common exile, they shall rejoice in a common deliverance. Hand in hand shall these wanderers return from the land of “the north,” or midnight, into the warmth and light, the safety and the glory, of the city of God.

Verse 19


19. But The relation of the thought is completely missed in the English Version. The conjunction is not adversative but continuative and not “BUT.” How is not interrogative, but exclamatory, marking a declaration of God’s gracious purpose, and not, as in the text, the statement of a theological problem. How gloriously will I distinguish thee by the value and the beauty of thy heritage!

Thou Hebrew, ye; meaning not Israel collectively, but the individuals thereof.

Verse 20

20. Surely as Rather, Just as.

Husband Hebrew, friend. Israel has been false to the holiest obligations, and this would seem to close the door of hope for her return.

Verse 21

21. A voice was heard And so there is lamentation. The very high places which have witnessed their shameless idolatry shall witness their penitential distress. This publicity of their sorrow answers to that of their sin.

Verse 22

22. Answering to this penitence is God’s gracious willingness to receive and pardon. The prophet echoes the divine invitation and promise.

Return, ye backsliding children… I will heal your backslidings Literally, Turn, ye turned children, I will heal your turnings. To this promise they answer, Behold, we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God.

Verse 23

23. In vain… from the hills Various translations of this text have been made: “Surely in vain from the hills is the revelry of the mountains.” Dean Smith. “As certainly as hills are false, mountains are empty sound,” etc. Nagelsbach. “Surely hills are lies, the tumult of the mountains.” Blayney. “In vain resounds from the hills revelry, even from the mountains.” Ewald. “Truly the sound from the hills, from the mountains, is become falsehood.” Keil. This last conforms closely to the original, and gives a sense manifestly congruous with the context. The passage states the falseness of idolatrous trusts, and calls back the thought of the people to the one God as the only ground of confidence.

Verse 24

24. Shame hath devoured, etc. Literally, the shame, namely, the shame-god, an opprobrious epithet for Baal, whose worship had eaten up the substance of the people and even devoured their children.

Verse 25

25. We lie down in our shame, etc. We will patiently submit to this misery and disgrace which our own infamous sin has invited.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Jeremiah 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/jeremiah-3.html. 1874-1909.
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