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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 3

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-5

Jer 3:1-5

JUDAH MORE SINFUL THAN ISRAEL

We continue to find little interest in the guessing game connected with assigning dates to the various chapters of Jeremiah. In very few instances can it be affirmed that the exact date makes much difference. Jellie gave the date of the first paragraph here as the thirteenth year of Josiah, the next paragraph as the seventeenth year of Josiah, pointing out that some scholars favored the eighteenth year (E. Henderson), and some the year 620 B.C. (MH).

Salient teachings of the chapter proclaim the final divorce of Israel as God’s wife, and the impossibility of her return to her former status (Jeremiah 3:1-5); the refusal of Judah to learn her lesson despite the wretched example of Israel (Jeremiah 3:6-10); God’s continued pleading for both Israel and Judah to return unto their God in full repentance (Jeremiah 3:11-13); the promise of God to receive a remnant from both of the treacherous sister nations in the Messianic Age (Jeremiah 3:14-18); the healing to take place in the days of the New Covenant; a further admonition regarding the uselessness and hurtfulness of idolatry (Jeremiah 3:19-22); but Israel and Judah alike consent to lie down in their shame (Jeremiah 3:13-25).

Jeremiah 3:1-5

"They say, if a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s wife, will he return unto her again? will not that land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith Jehovah. Lift up thine eyes to the bare heights, and see; where hast thou not been lain with? By the ways hast thou sat for them, as an Arabian in the wilderness; and thou hast polluted the land with thy whoredoms and with thy wickedness. Therefore the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain; yet thou hadst a harlot’s forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed. Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My father, thou art the guide of my youth? Will he retain his anger forever? will he keep it to the end? Behold, thou hast spoken and hast done evil things, and hast had thy way."

"They say, if a man put away his wife ..." (Jeremiah 3:1). Many scholars are quick to point out that this corresponds to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, with the implication that this information had only recently come to Jeremiah through the discovery of that Book of the Law in the temple. This is by all odds an improper deduction, "This does not necessarily presuppose the discovery of the Book of the Law in the temple in 622 B.C."

The words, `they say,’ here clearly indicate that the knowledge revealed in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, at the time Jeremiah wrote, was already well known by the whole Jewish nation, that the impossibility of a divorced woman going back to her first husband after being married to someone else was a common proverb known to the whole Jewish world of that period. Why not? Deuteronomy was nothing new to Israel, having already been in their possession since the great Lawgiver had written it and left it for them, along with the whole law.

Of course, this little phrase is a death-blow to the theory of the late `discovery’ of Deuteronomy; and that accounts for all the confusion among so many scholars, as pointed out by Cheyne, of whom he said, "Various ingenious attempts have been made to explain this!" However, no amount of ingenuity can remove the obvious import of the words.

"Will he return unto her again ..." (Jeremiah 3:1)?. This type of question in Hebrew always requires a negative answer, therefore affirming that God will not return to the divorced Israel; but the final clause of the verse represents the Lord as inviting the reprobate apostate wife to return? This can be nothing on earth except a mistranslation.

"Yet return again to me, saith Jehovah ..." (Jeremiah 3:1). The marginal reading in the American Standard Version has, "And thinkest thou to return unto me?" This alternative has been adopted in the Revised Standard Version, "And would you return to me, says the Lord?" This is obviously to be preferred above the American Standard Version. Some scholars have appealed to the analogy of Hosea and Gomer in this passage, even affirming that Hosea’s example in taking Gomer back, "Indicated that God would do even this." We are astounded that so many scholars believe this but seem totally unaware that Hosea made it perfectly clear that he was NOT taking Gomer back as his wife, but as a slave!

"And Hosea said unto her: Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be any man’s wife: so will I also be toward thee!"(Hosea 3:3).

Yes, there is a triple betrothal mentioned later in Hosea; but it was for Jezreel, not Israel, to the New Israel, not to the old reprobate whore! (See the full development of this in Vol. 2 of my series on the Minor Prophets.)

The true meaning of the last phrase of Jeremiah 3:1, therefore is this: "After your wretched conduct, do you really suppose that you can return as the wife of God?"

"Lift up thine eyes unto the bare heights ..." (Jeremiah 3:2). These words explode the arrogant notion of Israel that she might again be God’s wife. Jeremiah here challenges her to look everywhere and find a single tree under which she has not committed whoredom by worshipping false gods and indulging in their sexual orgies. Israel has been like the Arabians in the wilderness, (1) either lying in wait to rob a caravan, or (2) sitting by the highway seducing travelers to adultery. That this was a device often followed by immoral women is proved by Tamar’s seduction of Judah (Genesis 38:14 ff).

"The showers have been withholden ... no latter rain ..." (Jeremiah 3:3). God’s punishment of the Once Chosen People by the withholding of rain and other blessings had not led them to repentance, but rather to a bold and presumptuous arrogance. The "latter rains" were the ones in the spring, without which it was not possible to have an abundant harvest.

"Wilt thou not from this time cry, My father... Behold thou hast spoken and hast done evil things!" (Jeremiah 3:4-5). Yes, yes, Israel continued to claim Jehovah as their national God, and they always called upon him when in trouble, but their conduct made it impossible for God to help them. The last lines in this paragraph were rendered thus by Feinberg:

"This is how you talk,

but you do all the evil you can."

Matthew Henry considered the meaning of these last two verses to be:

"Thou hast spoken and done evil things as thou couldst, and wouldst have spoken and done worse if thou hadst known how; thy will was to do it, but thou hadst not the opportunity!"

"The essential message of these first five verses is simply this: `Judah, after it has turned away to other gods will not be received again by Jehovah (as his espoused wife), especially in view of all her chastisements and her adherence to evil ways.’"

At this early period in Jeremiah’s ministry, he evidently entertained high hope that Judah would indeed repent and that the looming punishment of their captivity might yet be averted. However, the shocking development of Judah’s guilt being even greater than Israel’s occurred to Jeremiah as raising another problem. If indeed Judah (more guilty than Israel) was to be spared, "Then the privilege of forgiveness and restoration must be offered to the Northern Kingdom also, because Judah’s sins were worse than theirs." This great privilege of forgiveness and restoration to all men would be realized under the gracious and benevolent terms of the New Covenant, prophesied a moment later in this chapter.

Nothing even resembling the repentance and return of Judah to their true God, however, came to pass. Surely God yearned for such repentance; but it never happened; and as Cook pointed out, "The words of this paragraph are not the language of consolation to the conscience-stricken, but they are the vehement expostulation with hardened sinners. They prove the truth of the interpretation put upon the last clause of the 1 st verse."

And what was that interpretation? Here it is:

"`Yet return again unto me’ should be rendered, `and thinkest thou to return unto me?’ The whole argument is not of mercy, but is proof that after her repeated adulteries, Israel could not again take her place as a wife. To think of returning to God with the marriage-law unrepealed was folly."

A vital point so often misunderstood by expositors is the difference between God’s covenant with Racial Israel, which was terminated irrevocably in the total apostasy of the Once Chosen People and the New Covenant without any racial requirements whatever. The promises a few verses later pertain to that New Covenant, and not to the old Racial Covenant that endowed the race of Israel with the status of being Jehovah’s espoused wife. That status was terminated irrevocably and finally by the events of the apostasy of both Israel and Judah. And yet, no racial descendant of Abraham who ever lived was in any manner excluded from the mercies and blessings of God. It only means that his access to those blessings would be upon the same terms applicable to everyone who ever lived on earth. "Whosoever will may come"!

As Harrison observed, "Even though from the analogy here the nation (that is racial Israel) could not take her place again as God’s wife because of her repeated adulteries, she could still be forgiven if she was truly repentant." That forgiveness, however, would not be under the old Sinaitic covenant, but under the terms and conditions of the New Covenant.

GOD’S APPEAL To HIS PEOPLE Jeremiah 3:1 to Jeremiah 4:4

After the blistering indictment of his inaugural sermon Jeremiah takes up the subject of repentance. He speaks here of (1) the possibility of repentance (Jeremiah 3:1-5); (2) the need for repentance (Jeremiah 3:6-10); (3) the call to repentance (Jeremiah 3:11-15); (4) the blessings of repentance (Jeremiah 3:16-22 a); (5) The prayer of repentance (Jeremiah 3:22 b–25) and (6) the rewards of repentance (Jeremiah 4:1-4).

The Possibility of Repentance Jeremiah 3:1-5

Is it possible for Judah after years of spiritual harlotry to return to the Lord? According to the law of Moses a woman who had been divorced and who had married another could not be reclaimed by the original husband (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). In the light of this law is it legally possible for the Lord to take Judah back again? The answer is No! Judah’s case is much worse than that envisaged in the divorce law. In the law of Moses the woman who has been legally married to a second husband could not be reclaimed. But Judah has cavorted around with many lovers, i.e. false gods, and therefore no longer had any legal claim on the Lord. But grace triumphs over law. In spite of the legal impossibility of repentance and reconciliation God calls upon Judah to return to Him (Jeremiah 3:1).

That the guilt of Judah might clearly be established Jeremiah calls upon the people to lift up their eyes to the high places where their illicit religion was being practiced. One cannot find a prominent noll in all the land which had not been defiled by the licentious rites of Baal. Like a lonely Arab in the midst of the desert who eagerly joins himself to any caravans or passers-by, Israel has embraced every form of idolatry which has come along. This iniquitous spiritual harlotry has polluted the land (Jeremiah 3:2). Therefore God has punished them by withholding the showers and especially the latter rain of early spring which was so essential to an abundant harvest. Yet no amount of divine discipline could make Israel feel the shame of her wantonness. As a prostitute remains brazen and shameless when confronted with her deeds, so Israel gave no evidence of shame even when suffering the consequences of her sin (Jeremiah 3:3).

The past can be forgotten and forgiven if Israel right now, at this very moment, will acknowledge the Lord as God. Instead of calling the idols of wood and stone “my father” will you not give that appellation to Me?, the Lord pleads. Will you not acknowledge Me as the husband of your youth? (Jeremiah 3:4). The translation “husband” here is justified on the basis of Proverbs 2:17 where the same word is used. The word can also mean intimate friend and even “guide” as in the American Standard and King James versions. As a matter of fact, according to Jeremiah 3:5 Judah had spoken the things which God had requested in the previous verse. At the same time, however; they had continued to do evil things thus indicating that their words were insincere and hypocritical. So far they had gotten by with this hypocrisy but God will not keep His anger for ever (Jeremiah 3:5). Shortly they will face the God of judgment.

Verses 6-10

Jer 3:6-10

Jeremiah 3:6-10

"Moreover Jehovah said unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. And I said after she had done all these things, She will return unto me; but she returned not: and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw, when, for this very cause that backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a bill of divorcement, yet treacherous Judah her sister feared not; but she also went and played the harlot. And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that the land was polluted, and she committed adultery with stones and with stocks. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not returned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly."

We have already noted the nature of the harlotry and whoredom of God’s people, and there is no need to elaborate it here. Notice the fourfold reiteration of the appellation `treacherous’ as applied to Judah in Jeremiah 3:7-8; Jeremiah 3:10-11.

The aggravated nature of Judah’s sin is seen in this: "Israel had openly broken the political and religious connection with Jehovah; but Judah nominally retained both; but her heart was toward the false gods." The idea here is that, "Judah did not profit by the experience of the Northern Kingdom and is therefore more guilty.”

"The lightness of her whoredom ..." (Jeremiah 3:9). This is a reference to the casual, carefree attitude of Judah with regard to their shameful conduct.

"But feignedly ..." (Jeremiah 3:10). It seems to us that this could not apply to anything else besides the reforms sponsored and executed by the good king Josiah. The reason why those reforms had little or no effect upon the ultimate fate of Judah is found in these two words right here. They publicly went along with all the reforms; but, at heart, they still adored and worshipped their beloved fertility gods of the Baalim.

Jeremiah 3:6 has the words, "Hast thou seen ... backsliding Israel?" Cook tells us that in the Hebrew here, "The original is very strong: Hast thou seen Apostasy?” It is the same as if the Holy Spirit said that, "Israel is the very personification of the denial of God and rebellion against him."

The need for repentance in Judah was made manifest by what had happened in the northern kingdom of Israel. Israel was Backsliding personified. Throughout her history Israel had recklessly pursued the false gods upon every prominent noll where they would feel closer to the deities and under every green tree which would furnish welcome shade for the practice of their lustful desires. The last clause of verse six is actually in the second person though this has been obscured in the standard English translations: “and you commit harlotry there.” This is either a parenthetical direct address to the northern tribes which are presently in exile or else the prophet points to his hearers and declares “you too have engaged in such licentious acts.”

Through the two hundred years of the history of the northern kingdom God waited patiently for His foolhardy people to tire of roving from Him. God is not willing that any should perish. He was hopeful, even anxious, that wayward Israel would return to Him. But if God knows the future did He not know Israel would refuse to repent? Jeremiah does not bother to deal with this question. He has no interest in working out a systematic theology. He is not concerned with questions of omniscience and foreknowledge in this passage. Jeremiah is not attempting to be a logician but an artist. He is painting a picture of a loving and gracious God on the one hand and a stubborn and rebellious people on the other. Judah saw what transpired in the north and yet refused to profit from that experience (Jeremiah 3:7). Even when God divorced His adulterous wife Israel by sending her into Assyrian captivity Judah did not fear but continued in her own harlotry (Jeremiah 3:8). Apostasy in Judah was regarded rather lightly and consequently the land was polluted. Judah forsook her Bridegroom and committed adultery with gods of wood and stone (Jeremiah 3:9). The wickedness of idolatry is only exceeded by the folly of it. Like an adulterous wife who promises to be faithful to her husband while at the same time perpetuating liaison with her lover, so Judah deceitfully pledged herself to the Lord. The Treacherous One had not returned to the Lord with her whole heart. Some scholars think that in Jeremiah 3:10 Jeremiah is giving his assessment of the reformation of Josiah, that it was not sincere but hypocritical. It is not certain, of course, that this paragraph should be dated after the reform.

Verses 11-13

Jer 3:11-13

Jeremiah 3:11-13

"And Jehovah said unto me, Backsliding Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return thou backsliding Israel, saith Jehovah; I will not look in anger upon you; for I am merciful, saith Jehovah, I will not keep anger forever. Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against Jehovah thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith Jehovah."

In spite of the tender words of this passage, let it be noted that true repentance and an acknowledgment of manifold transgressions were among the essential prerequisites of any return of Israel, or of any man, to a status of enjoyment of God’s favor.

God’s promise to look with tenderness and forgiveness upon any return of Israel or Judah, did not meet with any effective response upon Israel’s part. As Harrison put it, "There is no evidence that the suggestion was ever taken seriously.”

It is a fact, however, that no racial Jew was ever excluded from God’s favor, nor for that matter entitled to it, upon the sole basis of his racial descent through the patriarchs.

The mercy and forgiveness of God suggested in Jeremiah 3:12 is revealed in subsequent verses to have been contingent upon the inauguration of the New Covenant.

The Call to Repentance Jeremiah 3:11-14

The present paragraph indicates that Jeremiah had a warm regard for the exiles of the northern kingdom, The sins of Israel though considerable were less than those of Judah (Jeremiah 3:11). Why does God regard Judah as more guilty? Because Judah had before her the example of Israel. More light brings greater responsibility in the sight of God. Furthermore, Judah was guilty of hypocrisy in her dealings with God (see Jeremiah 3:10). God still yearns for Israel’s repentance and return even after a hundred years of punishment in exile. So the prophet is instructed to cry out toward the north i.e., Assyria where the ten tribes had been deported (2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 18:11). The word “return” in the Old Testament carries the idea of going back to the original point of departure. If Israel repents they will find that God is kind and anxious to receive them. He will not frown upon them and continue to be angry with them if they will but repent (Jeremiah 3:12).

The return to God must be accompanied by sincere confession and acknowledgement of sin. Confession, which always precedes forgiveness, is telling God what He already knows about us. In the present case the confession was to involve acknowledgement of iniquity, transgression and disobedience. They had scattered their ways in the sense of wandering in every direction seeking gods whose service was deemed more enjoyable and beneficial than the service of the Lord (Jeremiah 3:13).

In Jeremiah 3:1 the Lord, first as a Father and then as an Husband, pleads with Backsliding Israel to return. The marriage relationship to the nation Israel may have been severed (Jeremiah 3:8) but God is still the husband of every individual Israelite, The “you” in this verse is plural in the Hebrew referring to individuals. Not many will accept the gracious invitation to repent. Mass conversion was no longer a live option. God knew that most of those exiled Israelites would not return to Him. But if only one from a whole city or two from a whole clan or tribe repents the Lord will not overlook those individuals. He will bring back to Zion everyone who turns to Him in sincere repentance (Jeremiah 3:14). The verse clearly underlines the fact that God is concerned with individuals and that only a few from the northern tribes would actually return to Palestine. The post-exilic records in Ezra and Nehemiah reveal that a few, but only a few, of the exiles from the northern tribes did return after the collapse of Babylon in 539 B.C. But the prophecy has a higher fulfillment. Zion in prophecy frequently represents the Messianic kingdom. Zion is not a geographical location but a spiritual condition. The passage then speaks of the conversion of sinners and the incorporation of the redeemed into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Verses 14-18

Jer 3:14-18

Jeremiah 3:14-18

"Return, O backsliding children, saith Jehovah; for I am a husband unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion. And I will give you shepherds according to my heart, who shall feed you with knowledge and understanding. And it shall come to pass when ye are multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, saith Jehovah, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of Jehovah; neither shall it come to mind; neither shall they remember it; neither shall they miss it; neither shall it be made any more. At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of Jehovah; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it; to the name of Jehovah, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the stubbornness of their evil heart. In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I gave for an inheritance unto your fathers."

"One of a city, two of a family ..." (Jeremiah 3:14). Here surfaces again the doctrine of the "righteous remnant" of Israel as stressed throughout both Isaiah and Jeremiah. "Out of God’s purifying judgment upon his apostate people shall come a few refined souls. They will be gathered and shall constitute the New Israel, blessed of God (Romans 11:5).

"They shall say no more, The ark of the covenant ..." (Jeremiah 3:16 b). "This 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 31:31-35." Concurring in this view are the remarks of Cheyne: "In the Messianic period ... the ark would no longer be thought of."

"In those days ... at that time ... in those days ..." (Jeremiah 3:16-18). All such expressions, including "in the last day," "in the latter times," etc., are indications that the times of the Messiah are intended. These, as Cook stated, "were a regular formula for the time of Christ’s coming when all the nation’s hopes would be fulfilled."

"Jerusalem the throne of Jehovah ..." (Jeremiah 3:18). "Jehovah’s throne shall not be the ark, but Jerusalem, the Christian Church (Revelation 21:2; Galatians 4:26)." It might be readily admitted that neither Jeremiah nor the people who received his prophecy for the first time fully understood all that was involved in these promises; but even if they should have misunderstood, thinking that there would be some kind of a return to the literal land of Palestine, the message would nevertheless have been a very effective message for them.

"The Messianic reference in this chapter is the ruling one. The fulfillment of these promises is carried on during the lives of the apostles of Christ and is carried on throughout the whole history of the Church, and attains its completion in the final conversion of Israel."

Keil’s expectation of the "final conversion of Israel," projected to take place at the end of the current dispensation, and considered by some to be a salient feature of the so-called Millennium is a view held by many scholars; but it is one which this writer has never accepted. That such a thing indeed may be possible we cannot deny; but we do deny that the Bible declares any such thing as an event that God has promised will occur.

Whether or not any such thing as a wholesale conversion of racial Israel will ever take place is left as an open and undecided question in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old Testament, it must be remembered that Jonah was not placated by the conversion of Nineveh, but that the sacred narrative rings down the curtain upon him still angry, still pouting, still unwilling to appreciate what God did.

In the New Testament, in the parable of the prodigal, it will be remembered that the narrative closes with the father, still pleading, still waiting, still inviting the elder brother to share in the feast, but with the elder brother still angry, still refusing to come in. Of course, both Jonah and the elder brother constitute divine presentations of the way it is with racial Israel to this very day; and we have observed nothing whatever that adds any more favorable details to the picture.

Some commentators think they find the old land promise to Abraham in this chapter and speak confidently of the time when racial Israel shall again be in Palestine with the Lord reigning on a throne in Jerusalem. We are absolutely certain that nothing of this kind is in the chapter or anywhere else in the Word of God. Yes indeed, Jerusalem is the throne of God, now, in the sense that "The word of the Lord went forth from Jerusalem" on the day of Pentecost. "When Christ came, the kingdom was indeed established in Zion, but not in material terms (John 18:36; Acts 1:6, etc.). "The Jerusalem which is above, which is free, is our mother" (Galatians 4:26). It appears to us that if one searches for a certainty, it would surely appear in the fact that the very city that crucified God’s only begotten Son should be the very last place on earth where God would establish his throne! On the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter revealed that the Old Testament promise of a Messianic successor to David’s throne was a promise of the Resurrection of Christ! (Acts 2:31).

"Judah... and Israel... shall come together ... to the land that I gave for an inheritance ..." (Jeremiah 3:18). Such an event as the union of the divided kingdom of Israel could never occur until there was a genuine repentance and return to the fold of God by both peoples. There having never been the slightest indication that anything like that ever happened, "The projected union must point to the Messianic age of grace, when Jew and Gentile alike will do honor before the enthroned Lord in Zion." That such a remark is indeed sound exegesis is proved by the words of the author of Hebrews regarding "where" Christians worship God:

"Ye are not come unto a mount that might be touched... but ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant" (Hebrews 12:18-24).

In passages like this, it is clear enough that words like mount Zion and Jerusalem, in the days of the New Covenant, are to be understood spiritually. "Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, is that holy hill upon which Christ reigns."

"Out of the land of the north ..." (Jeremiah 3:18). "This refers to the glorious days of Christianity and the ingathering of Jews from all the lands of their dispersion and the uniting of them with the Christian church."

Robert Jamieson understood these verses to mean that, "The good land covenanted to Abraham is to be restored to his seed; but the question arises, How shall this be done? Many sincere people ask this same question; but the answer is simple enough. God has already fulfilled his holy promise to deliver Palestine to the posterity of Abraham; but when they became more evil than the pagan Canaanites they had replaced, God threw them out of Palestine for just reasons; and there is no record anywhere that God ever promised to establish an apostate and rebellious nation forever in Palestine, merely upon the basis that they had indeed once inherited it.

Subsequently to their loss of Palestine through their gross sins, there are many promises like the one in this chapter, in which God speaks of the "return" of his people and of his restoring them to "their land"; but all such promises have their fulfillment, not in the old racial Israel at all, which has never repented and is still God’s enemy; but in the "righteous remnant" along with the Gentiles who constitute the New Israel of God, and who are "spiritually returned" to Jerusalem, not the old one, but "the heavenly Jerusalem."

If individuals of the ten northern tribes truly repent and are brought by God into spiritual Zion they will experience many wonderful blessings. First, they will be blessed with a new leadership (Jeremiah 3:15). After evangelism must come education and conservation. God is not just concerned to win back His people but also to preserve them in the faith. Thus He will provide for them shepherds, spiritual leaders who will be in harmony with His will and who will impart to the converts wisdom and knowledge of God. One thinks of Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 6:35-63), and the faithful men of God who have fed the flock through the centuries.

The second blessing is that of prosperity and growth. The rapid increase of the spiritual Israel of God is one of the characteristic traits of Messianic prophecy. See Genesis 15:5-6; Genesis 17:2; Genesis 28:14; Jeremiah 23:3; Ezekiel 36:11; Hosea 1:10; Hosea 2:23. The Book of Acts contains the record of the thrilling fulfillment of this prediction. The number of the New Israel of God grew from 120 souls (Acts 1:15) to 3,000 souls (Acts 2:41) to 5,000 souls (Acts 4:4). And that was only the beginning! Surely God has kept His promise and blessed the New Israel numerically.

In the Messianic age a new covenant will replace the cherished Ark of the Covenant (Jeremiah 3:16). The Ark of the Covenant was vital to the religious life in Old Testament times. It must have come as a shock to even the most devout Jew to hear for the first time the announcement that the Ark would not play any role whatsoever in the New Israel. After all, the God-ordained worship of the Old Testament centered around the Sanctuary and around the Ark. The Ark is represented in the law of Moses as the throne of the Lord. It was the tangible, visible symbol of God’s presence. But worship of the New Israel would be internalized and spiritual. A symbol of God’s presence would no longer be needed when God Himself in the person of His Son would dwell in the midst of His people. The once for all time sacrifice on Calvary would make unnecessary and superfluous the “mercy seat” upon which blood was sprinkled annually for the sins of the people. “The Ark will disappear,” says the prophet. So it did. When the Jews returned from Babylon to rebuild their Temple they had no Ark to place in the Holy of Holies. The absence of that Ark was an evident token to those who were spiritually wise that the Old Covenant was ready to vanish away and make way for the New.

In years to come a new city would replace earthly Jerusalem (Jeremiah 3:17). The throne of God will no longer be the Ark of the Covenant but rather the holy city, the new Jerusalem. The Ark of the Covenant is never called in the Old Testament the throne of God, yet it was in fact no less than that. The New Covenant Jerusalem is none other than the New Testament Church. The Apostle Paul calls it the “Jerusalem which is above” i.e., spiritual Jerusalem of which all believers are citizens (Galatians 4:24-31). Jesus Christ sits on the throne of God and rules over His church and in the midst of His church (Ephesians 1:20-23). Ezekiel speaks of that same city when he says “the name of the city from that day shall be, ‘the LORD is there’” (Ezekiel 48:35).

In the Messianic age Jerusalem will be blessed with a new attractiveness. Jerusalem shall become the spiritual center of the world and all nations shall gather there. The gathering of Gentiles into the Church of Christ is another frequent theme in Messianic prophecy (e.g., Isaiah 60; Isaiah 62). Because they have experienced genuine conversion these Gentiles no longer walk after the stubbornness of their evil heart. But what is it that attracts these Gentiles to the New Covenant Jerusalem, the Church? The verse seems to suggest that it is “the Name of the Lord” which attracts them. The name of God in the Old Testament was very significant. It revealed something of the character and nature of God. The Name of God in this verse is not an abstract idea or even a personification but a person. Note the language of Isaiah 30:27; Isaiah 26:8; Isaiah 59:19 where the “name of God” is personalized. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who came into the world to reveal to men the character and nature of God. The “Name” here is virtually equivalent to the Logos or Word of John 1.

A new fellowship shall characterize the Israel of the future. Israel and Judah shall be reunited for the first time since the great schism of 931 B.C. The reunion of these two estranged sister nations is also a major theme in the Messianic prophecy of the Old Testament. See Jeremiah 2:4; Isaiah 11:12; Ezekiel 37:16 ff.; Hosea 2:2; Hosea 1:11. The Israelites and Jews are depicted returning together from the land of the north, i.e., Assyria and Babylonia, to the land of Canaan which God had given to their fathers centuries earlier. The Apostle Paul quotes a similar “reunion” passage from Hosea and applies it to the unity of believers that exists in the Church of Christ (Romans 9:25-26). Therefore while the present passage may have had a “prefillment” in the days of the restoration from Babylon, its fulfillment came in the Messianic age.

Verses 19-21

Jer 3:19-21

Jeremiah 3:19-21

"But I said How I will put thee among the children, and give thee a pleasant land, a goodly heritage of the hosts of the nations! and I said, Ye shall call me My Father, and shall not turn away from following me. Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith Jehovah. A voice is heard upon the bare heights, the weeping and the supplications of the children of Israel; because they have perverted their way, they have forgotten Jehovah their God. Return, ye backsliding children, I will heal your backsliding."

The first clause of Jeremiah 3:19 should be read as a question, as in the AV. "The rendering of the KJV is to be preferred here."

The mingling of two metaphors in this passage, namely, the returning people as "a wife" and as "sons" should not be confusing. "Sometimes scripture combines figures within a single text (Hosea 11:3-4)."

In Jeremiah 3:19 a God asks, in effect, “How shall I give you this wonderful heritage of which I have been speaking in view of the fact that you have rejected Me?” God then answers His own question, “I can thus bless you if you will call Me ‘my Father’ and not turn away from Me.” The American Standard Version and a number of commentators prefer to render the first half of Jeremiah 3:19 as an exclamation instead of a question. Either rendering is possible.The most wonderful inheritance that can befall a man is to be part of the kingdom of heaven. “That,” says Jeremiah, “is the most beautiful inheritance of the nations.” One is only entitled to that inheritance when he is able by virtue of the New Birth to call God “my Father.” One can only claim that inheritance when he has been faithful unto death.

From an idealistic view of the distant future the prophet returns in Jeremiah 3:20 to a realistic view of the present. As God looks upon the nation all he presently sees in the whole house of Israel i.e., the whole nation, is unfaithfulness and apostasy. Just as a faithless wife departs from her husband so has the covenant nation departed from the divine Husband (Jeremiah 3:20). The sad description of the present state of affairs ends abruptly and the prophet moves on to a graphic description of the repentance for which God yearns. Like a father listening for the faintest cry of a lost child, so God listens for some sign that the long apostasy has ended. Finally, He hears it. On the high places where once their boisterous idolatrous festivities were conducted now comes forth lamentation and mourning, and prayers pleading for forgiveness for having perverted their ways and having forsaken the Lord (Jeremiah 3:21). Lest they feel that their sin is too grievous and their repentance futile the Lord immediately offers them words of encouragement. He addresses them as “sons” and calls upon them to return to Him. He, the Great physician, will heal them of their spiritual maladies and restore them to spiritual health if they will but come unto Him (Jeremiah 3:22 a).

Verses 22-25

Jer 3:22-25

Jeremiah 3:22-25

"Behold, we are come unto thee; for thou art Jehovah our God. Truly in vain is the help that is looked for from the hills, the tumult on the mountains; truly in our Jehovah our God is the salvation of Israel. But the shameful thing hath devoured the labor of our fathers from our youth, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our confusion cover us; for we have sinned against Jehovah our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day; and we have not obeyed the voice of Jehovah our God."

The significant thing in Jeremiah 3:23-24 is that idolatry is described as unprofitable in Jeremiah 3:23, and as ruinous in Jeremiah 3:24. It was not merely worthless but harmful.

"The shameful thing hath devoured ..." (Jeremiah 3:24). "This is a reference to Baal." "Bosheth" is a word that means "shame"; and it became the pattern in Israel to change names that once ended in "Baal" by rendering that syllable "bosheth." On this procedure Esh-Baal became Ish-bosheth! (See 2 Samuel 2:8).

The heartfelt confession of these last verses, evidently suggested by Jeremiah, but with no certainty that either one of God’s children, either Judah or Israel, ever made it stresses a number of the elements of sin: "The folly of it (Jeremiah 3:24), the hopelessness of it (Jeremiah 3:25 a), the ingratitude of it (Jeremiah 3:25 b), the ingrained nature of it (Jeremiah 3:25 c), and the disobedience of it (Jeremiah 3:25 d)."

The overwhelming sorrow, both of the great prophet, and of the apostate people suffering the consequences of their transgression is the emotion that surfaces here at the end of the chapter. In all the history of mankind, there is hardly any greater tragedy than that which befell the disobedient people of God.

The Prayer of Repentance Jeremiah 3:22-25

The exact nature of the verses in this section has puzzled commentators. Does this forthright confession represent the longing of the Lord? Do these verses indicate the wishful thinking on the part of the prophet? Are these words the confession of a few converted people within the nation? Is this confession predictive of a time when men would realize the folly of idolatry and turn in true allegiance to God? This much is certain! The confession gives all the appearances of being sincere and honest. The present writer feels that the prophet intended these verses to be an ideal prayer of repentance, the kind of prayer that God expected and demanded of those who would truly return to Him. It is, to use the words of Laetsch, “a future ideal still far removed from the present reality.”

The last part of Jeremiah 3:22 depicts the eager response of the people to the gracious invitation which the Lord has just offered in the first half of the verse. The people confess that the pagan worship conducted on the hills has proved to be vain. They admit that they had been spiritually swindled by the tumult of the mountains, i.e., the wild orgies which accompanied idol-worship (Jeremiah 3:23). For an example of tumultuous Baal worship see 1 Kings 18. Others take the tumult of the mountains to refer to the multitudes who gathered on the mountains to worship Baal. Still others feel the word refers to the idols themselves. True spiritual power is not always proportionate to the boisterousness of the religious observance. The Hebrew word translated “shame” in Jeremiah 3:24 is the word bosheth which often serves in the Old Testament as a euphemism for Baal. For examples where bosheth is substituted for Baal, see Jeremiah 11:13; Hosea 9:10; 2 Samuel 11:21; Judges 6:32; 2 Samuel 2:8 and 1 Chronicles 8:33. For as long as these folks can remember Baal worship has devoured the resources of the nation. Their flocks and herds and even their sons and daughters had been offered as sacrifices to the pagan deities (Jeremiah 3:24). Then, too, because of their idolatry divine punishment came upon them which destroyed the labor of their hands, their animals and children. Thus the foolish people had to pay double for the worship of Baal: The initial sacrifice which the Baal demanded and the subsequent punishment which the Lord exacted. The repentant sinners are so ashamed that they resolve to prostrate themselves, an expression of the deepest sorrow. Their guilt is so intense that it seems to enshroud them. In bitter tears of shame and remorse they cry out, “We have sinned against the Lord our God!” This is the godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). When one realizes the true nature of sin and the true nature of the God against who he has sinned, he cannot help but feel the agonizing shame depicted so vividly in Jeremiah 3:25.

Unfaithful Israel - Jeremiah 3:6 to Jeremiah 4:4

Open It

1. Why is it often difficult for us to admit that we’re wrong?

2. What have you learned from other people’s mistakes?

3. What is one thing you have learned from experience?

Explore It

4. What did God tell Jeremiah that Israel had done, with Judah looking on? (Jeremiah 3:6-7)

5. Despite witnessing God’s "divorcing" Israel, what did Judah go ahead and do? (Jeremiah 3:8-9)

6. What was the nature of Judah’s "return" to God? (Jeremiah 3:10)

7. How did Israel and Judah compare in God’s estimation? (Jeremiah 3:11)

8. What did God promise to Israel if they would acknowledge their guilt before Him? (Jeremiah 3:12-13)

9. Whom did God promise to choose and bring to Jerusalem? (Jeremiah 3:14)

10. What kind of leaders did God intend to give to His faithful remnant? (Jeremiah 3:15)

11. What striking differences did God predict between the day of His salvation and Jeremiah’s day? (Jeremiah 3:17-18)

12. What kind of relationship did God originally intend to have with Israel and Judah? (Jeremiah 3:19)

13. To what did God compare Israel’s unfaithfulness? (Jeremiah 3:20)

14. What "cry" did Jeremiah foresee from the people of Israel? (Jeremiah 3:21)

15. In Jeremiah’s vision, what do the people come to confess and acknowledge about themselves? (Jeremiah 3:22-25)

16. What did God require of Israel in order to bless them and, through them, all the nations? (Jeremiah 4:1-2)

17. What did Jeremiah say the people could do to avert God’s wrath? (Jeremiah 4:3-4)

Get It

18. What kind of loyalty does God want from us?

19. How does God want us to repent of our sin?

20. How does God view sin when people are duly warned and choose to sin anyway?

21. Why do you suppose God chose an analogy from marriage to portray Israel’s wanderings?

22. What did it mean for God to predict a day when the ark of the covenant would never enter people’s minds?

23. What spiritual "disease" did God offer to cure if His people would come to Him?

Apply It

24. In what practical way can you evaluate your loyalty to the Lord this week?

25. What is one step you can take to seek out new areas of your life that God may want to change?

Questions on Jeremiah Chapter Three

By Brent Kercheville

1. What is God’s message to Israel in Jeremiah 3:1? What do we learn about God and ourselves?

2. What has God done because of their sins (Jeremiah 3:2-5)? What is the sinful thinking of the people?

3. What sins have the people committed (Jeremiah 3:6-10)?

4. What is God’s call (Jeremiah 3:11-13)? What must the people do?

5. What will God do if the people return (Jeremiah 3:14-20)? What is God promising?

6. What will God’s people do (Jeremiah 3:21-25)?

TRANSFORMATION:

1. How does this relationship change your relationship with God?

2. What did you learn about him?

3. What will you do differently in your life?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Jeremiah 3". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/jeremiah-3.html.
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