JEREMIAH CHAPTER 3.
God's Mercy over against Judah's Wickedness.
the possibility of return. — V. 1. They say, literally, "Saying," God Himself being the subject of the sentence. If a man put away his wife, and she go from him and become another man's, shall he return unto her again? Such dismissals were sometimes practiced among the Jews, but it was then unlawful for a man to take back his former wife, Deut. 24, 1-4. Shall not that land be greatly polluted? on account of the abomination connected with such practices. But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, none of them being her lawful husband; yet, in spite of the fact that it is not in accordance with legal regulations, return again to Me, saith the Lord, for He was ready to show mercy even under such adverse conditions. V. 2. Lift up thine eyes unto the high places, the scene of her former idolatries, and see where thou hast not been lien with, in spiritual adultery. In the ways hast thou sat for them, like a common prostitute, Gen. 38, 14. 21; Prov. 7, 12, as the Arabian in the wilderness, who lies in wait to attack travelers; and thou hast polluted the land with thy whoredoms and with thy wickedness. V. 3. Therefore, as a punishment for such idolatrous behavior, the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain, which was absolutely necessary for maturing the crops in Palestine, cp. Lev. 26, 19; and thou hadst a whore's forehead, showing brazen boldness, thou refusedst to be ashamed, to feel shame and repentance over the course which she had pursued. On the contrary, Israel speaks in a confident and presumptuous voice to the Lord, even in a tone of gentle rebuke for the undeserved severity exhibited by Him. V. 4. Wilt thou not from this time cry unto Me, My Father, Thou art the Guide of my youth!? She uses the endearing term "Companion of my youth," in speaking to the Lord, as though to win Him back. V. 5. Will He reserve His anger forever? Will He keep it to the end? Israel implies that her misfortune, by which she was receiving an everlasting mark, was due entirely to the Lord's unreasonable anger. But the answer of the Lord is, Behold, thou hast spoken and done evil things as thou couldest. While speaking these words of pleading endearment, Israel had continued on the way of wickedness. Such is ever the way of hypocrisy, to profess an affection for the Lord which these false people are far from feeling.
the call to return. — V. 6. The Lord said also unto me in the days of Josiah, the king, an account which the prophet here inserts on account of the application. Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? Israel being called apostasy outright to emphasize the seriousness of her defection. She is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree and there hath played the harlot, in committing idolatry or spiritual adultery, the sanctuaries of idols being located in such places. V. 7. And I said after she had done all these things, these were the thoughts which filled the Lord's heart. Turn thou unto Me, this being the underlying thought in all prophetic admonition. But she returned not, the northern kingdom consistently rejecting the Lord's call. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it, being influenced by Israel's evil example. V. 8. And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away and given her a bill of divorce, a writing of dismissal, namely, at the time when the northern kingdom was led away into the Assyrian captivity; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, was not filled with a wholesome respect for the Lord's punishment, but went and played the harlot also, was also given to idolatry. V. 9. And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, the ease with which she practiced her infamous wickedness, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and with stocks, with idols of wood and stone, so that the entire land was profaned before the Lord, the entire section inhabited by the northern tribes being polluted by the idolatrous customs so readily accepted by its people. V. 10. And yet for all this, although she had the deterring example of Israel before her eyes always, her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto Me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the Lord. The reformation in the eighteenth year of Josiah was not general or thorough; it was only a straw-fire without lasting consequences. V. 11. And the Lord said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah, she was righteous by comparison with the overwhelming guilt of the latter, who possessed the unusual advantages of the Temple and the center of worship in her midst. V. 12. Go and proclaim these words toward the North, because Israel had been carried away captive in that direction, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord, a loving invitation addressed to the northern tribes, which was also to arouse the zeal of Judah, and I will not cause Mine anger to fall upon you, not continue to frown upon them in wrath and displeasure; for I am merciful, saith the Lord, preferring to show grace and mercy rather than indignation, and I will not keep anger forever. But there is one condition upon the fulfillment of which the Lord must insist: v. 13. Only acknowledge thine iniquity, freely confessing her transgressions and her guilt, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord, thy God, against whom, in the last analysis, every sin is directed, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, wandering back and forth in her apostasy, and ye have not obeyed My voice, saith the Lord. V. 14. Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord, for I am married unto you, literally, "I am Lord and Husband to you"; and I will take you one of a city and two of a family, or tribe, collecting the true Israelites from the cities and nations where they are scattered, one by one, and I will bring you to Zion, at the time of the New Testament or Messianic kingdom; v. 15. and I will give you pastors, leaders in both the spiritual and the civil domain, as Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, according to Mine own heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding, the New Testament teachers of the Gospel-message being foremost in this respect. V. 16. And it shall come to pass, when ye be multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, saith the Lord, in the days when the spiritual Israelites would be gathered in the kingdom of the Messiah, they shall say no more, The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, attaching the real importance of religion to the possession of this sacred vessel, neither shall it come to mind, they would, in fact, not even miss it; neither shall they remember it, neither shall they visit it, neither shall that be done any more, it would not be made again. The ark was, in fact, not restored after the Babylonian captivity, the Lord thus signifying that the time of types and shadows was soon to come to an end. V. 17. At that time, in the Messianic period, they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord, where He revealed Himself to His people, but no longer in a cloud and in a pillar of fire; and all the nations, namely, in their representatives, the true believers, shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem, because the name of the Lord, the Word of His grace, would be proclaimed in the midst of His holy congregation; neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart, in obstinacy or stubbornness. V. 18. In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, all true Israelites being united in the Church of Christ, and they shall come together out of the land of the North, from all the countries of the dispersion, to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers, to enjoy the Gospel-blessings together. V. 19. But I said, the Lord here beginning His statement of the manner in which Israel may come to the knowledge of her sins. How shall I put thee among the children, adopting those into His family once more who had forsaken Him for idols, and give thee a pleasant land, a goodly heritage of the hosts of nations? in enjoying the blessings of the Messianic era. And I said, Thou shall call Me, My Father, returning once more to the true God; and shall not turn away from Me, fully restored to the favor of Jehovah. Once more, however, the Lord sets forth the faithlessness of the people of His choice. V. 20. Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, forsaking the companion of her youth, so have ye dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord. Upon this final accusation of the Lord the sorrow of the people and their confession of sins is brought out with dramatic intensity. V. 21. A voice was heard upon the high places, the very scene of their idolatries becoming the scene of their open confession of their transgressions, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel, a public proclamation of their penitence; for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the Lord, their God, a fact which they now acknowledge with deep sorrow. So the Lord calls to them: v. 22. Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. And they, full, of eager desire, answer: Behold, we come unto Thee; for Thou art the Lord, our God. Moreover, they now concede: v. 23. Truly, in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills and from the multitude of mountains, it is a delusion and a snare to expect help from the priests of the mountain sanctuaries; truly, in the Lord, our God, is the salvation of Israel, He alone can bring about the deliverance of His people. V. 24. For shame hath devoured the labor of our fathers from our youth, namely, the idols, whose worship brought shame and disgrace upon their worshipers; their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters, for not only did their service require a steady stream of sacrifices, but their worship also brought down upon the people the punishment of the Lord, by which their children were torn from their side. V. 25. We lie down in our shame, as the penitent seats himself in dust and in ashes, and our confusion covereth us; for we have sinned against the Lord, our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, our God. A full and unequivocal confession of sins, a complete acknowledgment of guilt, is the first step in true repentance. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." Prov. 28,13.