The Concern for Judah, cont’d. Jeremiah 2-45
Jeremiah 2-20 Undated Prophecies
Jeremiah 3:1-5-Deuteronomy 24:1-4 stipulated that if a man divorced his wife and she married another man…the first husband could not later remarry her. Even if she was willing to return to him, and even if her second husband had died or divorced her. God accuses Judah of trying to do just such a thing. Remember, God often portrays the relationship between Israel and Himself as a marriage. So here, Israel has divorced God so that she could have an adulterous relationship. She has left God to have adulterous relationships with other gods (to worship other gods)...and then expected to return to Him as if nothing had been done wrong. The Message translation puts it this way…
“If a man’s wife walks out on him and marries another man, can he take her back as if nothing had happened?
Notice that God says that such a thing would not just affect that marriage, but “the land would be polluted” (in a moral sense-corrupt, profane, godless, defiled). While marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman…it is such a basic, foundational part of the society that if compromise is allowed at that level, then all of society is affected. The decision made about the value and the sanctity of marriage is a decision that will determine the value and sanctity of all other moral standards. This is seen in that Israel is a “harlot with many lovers”. Once she started down this road…it wasn’t enough to just have an adulterous affair with one false god…she had “many”. Verse 2 says that she has been involved in adulterous affairs from one corner of the country to another. The phrase, “like an Arab in the desert” (NASV) is variously translated as…
By the roadside you sat waiting for lovers, sat like a nomad in the desert.
You’ve camped out like hunters stalking deer.
You sit like a prostitute beside the road waiting for a customer.
Israel has become consumed with her worship of false gods and now she is like a prostitute who sits on the curb alongside the road anxiously waiting for her next customer. It no longer matters who it is…or why it is. There is no difference between one customer, and the next…one god, and the next. And now, a fundamental change in moral belief and behavior had taken place. To the degree that she now saw nothing wrong with what she had done and thought that she could just come back to God and pick up where she had left off without there being any consequences for her action. But there are consequences…God will discipline sin. He has withheld the rain showers that normally fall in March and April that bring the crop to fruition. While Israel knew this was what was happening…they refused to accept responsibility and repent (:3). Instead they try to put the blame on God. They claim that He has changed His behavior towards them. Playing the sentiment card they call out to God, “Daddy, why have you stopped loving me? You are always so angry! When are You going to let it go?” In their mind, they have done nothing wrong. The problem is with God (:4-5a). Then, they just keep on sinning (:5b).
Jeremiah 3:6-11-In these verses, the term “Israel” is a reference to the northern Kingdom…”Judah” is the southern Kingdom. These things took place during the reign of King Josiah (Judah). God says that when Judah saw the consequences of Israel's unfaithfulness to God (they were conquered and deported by Assyria)...she should have learned a lesson and remained faithful. But she didn't. Instead, she proceeded to do the same thing…worshipping other gods. The words, “because of the lightness of her harlotry” mean that Judah had a flippant, frivolous attitude towards her behavior and gave no thought to worshipping “stones and trees”. These were the materials from which the images of their false gods were made…and regardless of what god they appeared to represent…they were still nothing but stones and trees. In the end Israel is more righteous than Judah...because it did not have the benefit of seeing the outcome of unfaithfulness (of Israel) like Judah did.
Jeremiah 3:12-14-Here is the key for Judah and even Israel (“toward the north”…at that time held captive by Assyria, :12). God calls on them to repent of their sins…”acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the LORD your God” (:13). The word “acknowledge” means to “recognize, accept” something as true. “Iniquity” means “perversity, depravity, guilt”. “Transgressed” means “rebellion, revolt”. These are strong words for sinful behavior. God requires that they fully accept the extent and responsibility for their sin. This is no small matter. Their actions have been a deliberate act of perverse rebellion against the very person of God and He demands that they acknowledge it and repent. Then, and only then, will He will bring them back to the land, to a renewed relationship with Himself (:14-20). His promise is that if they do so…He “will not look upon you in anger”. He is “gracious”. “I will not be angry forever” (:12). The words “turn” in verse 1 and “return” in verses 12 and 14, all come from the same root Hebrew word. So, it is not a matter of whether, or not, God will accept them if they come back to Him. But, it is a matter of how they must come back to Him in order to be accepted. They want to continue their behavior and for God to accept them on their terms. God says that they must repent of their behavior and that He will only accept them on His terms. As they personally repent of their sins and return to God He will accept them…one from that place, two from that family…and so on (:14).
In confessing sin,
(1.) We must own the corruption of our nature: Acknowledge thy iniquity, the perverseness and irregularity of thy nature.
(2.) We must own our actual sins: "That thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God, hast affronted him and offended him.'
(3.) We must own the multitude of our transgressions: "That thou hast scattered thy ways to the strangers, run hither and thither in pursuit of thy idols, under every green tree. Wherever thou hast rambled thou hast left behind thee the marks of thy folly.'
(4.) We must aggravate our sin from the disobedience that there is in it to the divine law. The sinfulness of sin is the worst thing in it: "You have not obeyed my voice; acknowledge that, and let that humble you more than any thing else.'
Matthew Henry :: Commentary on Jeremiah 3,
Jeremiah 3:15-23-These verses have a two-fold significance. First, it speaks of the time in the future when the people will be released from bondage to the Babylonians (who had carried Judah into exile to their own country) by the Persians (under Cyrus). This will include members of both Israel (many members of Israel fled to Judah when the Assyrians conquered them in 701 B.C. and their descendants were then later conquered and deported along with Judah by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.) and Judah. Second, it speaks of the return of Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom on earth during the Millennium. While some of what is written here will be fulfilled when the people return from Babylon…all of it will be fulfilled when Christ returns. Notice what it says about the people, government, and land at that time…
- (:15) God will give them “shepherds after My own heart”…they will have ministers who truly love God and desire to serve Him more than anything else.
- (:16) The ark, which in the Old Testament time represented the covenant that Christ would establish, will not be the center of worship…rather, Christ Himself will be.
- He promises that there shall be no more occasion for the ark of the covenant, which had been so much the glory of the tabernacle first and afterwards of the temple, and was the token of God's presence with them; that shall be set aside, and there shall be no more enquiry after, nor enquiring of, it (v. 16): When you shall be multiplied and increased in the land, when the kingdom of the Messiah shall be set up, which by the accession of the Gentiles will bring in to the church a vast increase (and the days of the Messiah the Jewish masters themselves acknowledge to be here intended), then they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord, they shall have it no more among them to value, or value themselves upon, because they shall have a pure spiritual way of worship set up, in which there shall be no occasion for any of those external ordinances; with the ark of the covenant the whole ceremonial law shall be set aside, and all the institutions of it, for Christ, the truth of all those types, exhibited to us in the word and sacraments of the New Testament, will be to us instead of all. It is very likely (whatever the Jews suggest to the contrary) that the ark of the covenant was in the second temple, being restored by Cyrus with the other vessels of the house of the Lord, Ezra 1:7. But in the gospel temple Christ is the ark; he is the propitiatory, or mercy-seat; and it is the spiritual presence of God in his ordinances that we are now to expect. Many expressions are here used concerning the setting aside of the ark, that it shall not come to mind, that they shall not remember it, that they shall not visit it, that none of these things shall be any more done; for the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, Jn. 4:24. But this variety of expressions is used to show that the ceremonies of the law of Moses should be totally and finally abolished, never to be used any more, but that it would be with difficulty that those who had been so long wedded to them should be weaned from them; and that they would not quite let them go till their holy city and holy house should both be levelled with the ground.
Matthew Henry :: Commentary on Jeremiah 3,
- (:17) Jerusalem will be the center of worship and of God’s government.
- (:18) Israel and Judah will be reunited in the Promised Land.
- (:19-20) On the day when they return they will again call God their Father.
- (:21-23) They will recognize that the LORD alone is their god and there is no other.
- (:24-25) They will repent for the behavior that they and their father’s have practiced by not obeying God.
Jeremiah 4:1-2-These first two verses are directed towards Israel and the rest of the chapter is directed towards Judah. God tells Israel that if they want to return to the land…they must first return to Him. And, if they will truly return to Him…then not only will they be blessed, but other nations will also.
Jeremiah 4:3-4-God speaks to Judah and tells them to follow through on what they had said they intended to do in 3:23-24. God tells them to “break up you follow ground”…that ground which has not been tilled, or prepared. In other words, even as soil is prepared for the seed to be sown in it…the heart must be prepared for the word of God to be sown in it.
- They must do by their hearts as they do by their ground that they expect any good of; they must plough it up (v. 3): "Break up your fallow-ground. Plough to yourselves a ploughing (or plough up your plough land), that you sow not among thorns, that you may not labour in vain, for your own safety and welfare, as those do that sow good seed among thorns and as you have been doing a great while. Put yourselves into a frame fit to receive mercy from God, and put away all that which keeps it from you, and then you may expect to receive mercy and to prosper in your endeavours to help yourselves.' Note,
(1.) An unconvinced unhumbled heart is like fallow-ground, ground untilled, unoccupied. It is ground capable of improvement; it is our ground, let out to us, and we must be accountable for it; but it is fallow; it is unfenced and lies common; it is unfruitful and of no advantage to the owner, and (which is principally intended) it is overgrown with thorns and weeds, which are the natural product of the corrupt heart; and, if it be not renewed with grace, rain and sunshine are lost upon it, Heb. 6:7, 8.
(2.) We are concerned to get this fallow-ground ploughed up. We must search into our own hearts, let the word of God divide (as the plough does) between the joints and the marrow, Heb. 4:12. We must rend our hearts, Joel 2:13. We must pluck up by the roots those corruptions which, as thorns, choke both our endeavours and our expectations, Hos. 10:12.
Matthew Henry :: Commentary on Jeremiah 4,
The reference to circumcision (:3) is speaking literally, but in a figurative manner. Circumcision was a physical act that signified a spiritual commitment. Here, Jeremiah is telling them to not let circumcision just be a ceremonial act with no true spiritual intent, or obedience. But, to truly commit themselves to God from the heart by the removal of sinful intent and behavior (:4).
Jeremiah 4:5-13-God says that He is sending a country to execute His judgment on them (Babylon). These verses describe the devastation that will be the result.
Jeremiah 4:14-18-God calls on Judah to repent of their evil deeds. He tells them that what they are experiencing is the result of their own actions.
Jeremiah 4:19-31-Jeremiah is heartbroken over the destruction that God shows him is going to take place (:19-22). He compares the desolation of the land with the emptiness that was present at the creation of the world (:23-26). Though it appears that Judah will be totally destroyed…God says that will not happen (:27-31).
Prayer: Father, it is easy to judge Israel and Judah from a distance. I wonder how it was possible that they turned their backs on You and went so eagerly after other gods. But Lord, as I read Your Word it makes me aware of my own frailty, of my own vulnerability. There are so many gods…so many things that make promises and offer pleasures if I just give them priority…over You. Help me, Father. I pray for Your wisdom that I might quickly and easily recognize those things that have the appearance of good…but in reality, would entangle me and lead me away from You. I pray for Your strength that I might be able to turn away from those things that pull at my emotions, and my passions. Keep me strong in the Spirit.