FORSAKING THE LIFE-GIVING FOUNTAIN OF THE ONE TRUE GOD FOR BROKEN CISTERNS MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE
There is no nation in the ancient world that had it so good as the nation of Israel; yet no nation was so foolish in turning away from the gracious provision and protection of their covenant-keeping God to emptiness and futility and ultimately bondage to pagan enemies. Chapter 2 documents God’s legal case against His chosen people. It reads like a divorce document – giving the grounds for how the faithful partner has been rejected by spiritual harlotry and unimaginable betrayal. Yet despite this scathing indictment, God stops short of turning his back on faithless Judah forever. For in the remainder of chapter 3 He will lovingly call His wayward people to repentance. The shocking response of the people, led astray by leaders who have miserably failed in their shepherding responsibilities, is to continue to plead their innocence and complain against the fairness of God rather then humbling themselves with a broken and contrite heart in acknowledgement of their rebellion and idolatry.
Feinberg: There is general agreement that chapters 2-6 form a connected message, coming probably from Josiah’s reign and in the early years of Jeremiah’s ministry.
FORSAKING THE LIFE-GIVING FOUNTAIN OF THE ONE TRUE GOD FOR BROKEN CISTERNS MAKES NO SENSE ON MANY LEVELS
We are going to see a wide range of metaphors used in this passage to represent the incomprehensible backsliding and apostasy of a privileged people.
I. (:1-8) CONTRAST BETWEEN DEVOTION AND DESERTION
A. (:1-3a) Devotion — Pleasant Memories – 5 Words of Commendation for Jerusalem
“Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus says the LORD, I remember concerning you’”
Parunak: Cf. Lev. 26:44,45. There God promises that even though Israel should break his covenant, yet he will remember it for their sake. Same expression here, and sketches out the whole direction of the book!
“the devotion of your youth,”
Mackay: hesed is an inner devotion that manifests itself in acts of loyalty.
“The love of your betrothals,”
3. Dedication / Perseverance
“Your following after Me in the wilderness, Through a land not sown.”
Mackay: It was a testimony to the strength of their commitment that they had been prepared to leave the agriculturally well-endowed land of Egypt and embark on such a nomadic lifestyle because the Lord directed them.
“Israel was holy to the LORD,”
“The first of His harvest;”
Bob Utley: This imagery is an allusion to the offering of the first fruits which symbolized YHWH’s ownership of the whole crop (cf. Lev. 23:10-11; I Cor. 15:20; James 1:18). Here the imagery turns negative. The nations attacked and rejected YHWH by rejecting His chosen vessel of revelation, Israel.
B. (:3b-8) Desertion — Perverted Missteps — Flipping the Script
1. (:3b) Summary Condemnation
“’All who ate of it became guilty;
Evil came upon them,’ declares the LORD.”
2. (:4) Call to Attention
“Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.”
Constable: The general flow of thought in this early part of Jeremiah’s message is: from Israel’s early devotion to Yahweh (Jeremiah 2:2-3), to her departure from Him (Jeremiah 2:4-13), to the tragic results of her unfaithfulness (Jeremiah 2:14-19). In this second pericope, the irrationality of Israel’s apostasy stands out.
3. (:5-8) Detailed Condemnation
a. (:5) Following After Vanity
“Thus says the LORD, ‘What injustice did your fathers find in Me, That they went far from Me And walked after emptiness and became empty?’”
Cf. Micah 6:3
b. (:6-7) Forgetting God’s Blessings
“And they did not say, ‘Where is the LORD Who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, Who led us through the wilderness, Through a land of deserts and of pits, Through a land of drought and of deep darkness, Through a land that no one crossed And where no man dwelt?’ And I brought you into the fruitful land, To eat its fruit and its good things. But you came and defiled My land, And My inheritance you made an abomination.”
Reminder that God led the Israelites through the desert wilderness. It’s inhospitable. It’s dangerous. There’s no water. There’s usually no food.
Mackay: So infatuated had their fathers become with the emptiness and moral laxity of idol worship that they forgot not only the Lord’s past blessings to the people but also the ongoing requirement of seeking the Lord’s presence in every part of their lives.
Ryken: Picture of God as a faithful husband:
– Had passion for his bride
– Protected his bride
– Provided for his bride
c. (:8) Failing to Provide Godly Leadership – Priests / Rulers / Prophets
“The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’ And those who handle the law did not know Me; The rulers also transgressed against Me, And the prophets prophesied by Baal And walked after things that did not profit.”
Constable: The priests should have encouraged the people to be faithful to the covenant and should have kept the sacrificial system pure. The governmental rulers (lit. shepherds) should have directed the people to the Lord rather than away from Him. And many professing prophets, instead of bringing messages from the Lord, brought alleged directions from Baal and followed vain pursuits.
II. (:9-19) CONSEQUENCES OF FORSAKING THE ONE TRUE GOD
A. (:9-13) Shocking Exchange
1. (:9) Antagonizing God
“’Therefore I will yet contend with you,’ declares the LORD,
‘And with your sons’ sons I will contend.’”
2. (:10-12) Exchanging Glory for Futility
“For cross to the coastlands of Kittim and see, And send to Kedar and observe closely, And see if there has been such a thing as this! Has a nation changed gods, When they were not gods? But My people have changed their glory For that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, And shudder, be very desolate,” declares the LORD.”
Parunak: The two places mentioned are a merism, spanning east to west.
a> Chittim: a city on Cyprus, later comes to be a term for Cyprus, Greece, and westward.
b> Kedar: an Arabian tribe to the east.
These countries worship gods that are not real gods, but still they would never trade them. But Israel has thrown away the one true God!
– First this is an astonishment, that men can be so foolish, disloyal, and ungrateful.
– Then it is something to fear, because a righteous God must answer such outrageous rebellion.
– Finally, it is a desolation, because the result of judgment upon such rebellious people will leave little behind.
3. (:13) Exchanging Fullness of Life for Emptiness
“For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns, That can hold no water.”
David Guzik: In the ancient near east a fountain of living waters – an artesian spring – was something special. It was a constant supply of good, fresh, life-giving water that came to you! In ancient Israel, water was a lot of work, but a fountain of living waters brought it right to you.
Explainingthebook.com: Pictures of God-Swapping
1) A Fresh Fountain
We have on the one hand a fountain of fresh clean cool water. Water that will give life and prevent you from dying of thirst. It will quench your thirst.
2) Broken Wells
On the other hand, we have cisterns that collect dingy rain water. And those are fine, if that’s all you have – but these are actually cracked and can’t hold even that sparse dirty rain water that manages its way into those cisterns.
The Significance of the Pictures
So, Israel is pictured as forsaking the fresh wonderful water for the water that is less than ideal – and which can’t even be collected. The result will be death by thirst – when they had all the water they needed available to them.
And in the same way, the Jews rejected their life-giving Lord in exchange for false deities that will leave them dry. A reality to which the normally water-providing heavens bear sad witness.
And that kind of action has consequences. Exchanging God’s glory for idols – both of the hand and of the heart – comes at a devastating price – which God details for us in Jeremiah 2:14-19.
B. (:14-16) Shameful Effects
1. (:14a) Bondage
“Is Israel a slave? Or is he a homeborn servant?”
Mackay: it was by their defection from the ways of the Lord that the fortunes of Israel deteriorated in such a sorry way. They had been seized by their enemies, deported from their land, and their goods and resources spoiled.
2. (:14b-15) Destruction
“Why has he become a prey? The young lions have roared at him, They have roared loudly. And they have made his land a waste; His cities have been destroyed, without inhabitant.”
Parunak: Application: Like Israel, we are God’s possession, and under his protection. But remember that this is only the start. Israel came to presume on God’s protection, and as a result fell under his chastisement. Other nations that could never have touched her, now were given free rein over her. So we must not presume upon the security that God gives us.
3. (:16) Disgrace
“Also the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes Have shaved the crown of your head.”
C. (:17-19) Shattered End
1. (:17) Nobody to Blame But Yourself
“Have you not done this to yourself, By your forsaking the LORD your God, When He led you in the way?”
2. (:18) Nowhere to Turn for Deliverance
a. (:18a) Trusting in Egypt
“But now what are you doing on the road to Egypt,
To drink the waters of the Nile?”
b. (:18b) Trusting in Assyria
“Or what are you doing on the road to Assyria,
To drink the waters of the Euphrates?”
3. (:19) No Fear of God to Prevent Your Sinful Self Destruction
“’Your own wickedness will correct you, And your apostasies will reprove you; Know therefore and see that it is evil and bitter For you to forsake the LORD your God, And the dread of Me is not in you,’ declares the Lord God of hosts.”
Constable: The consequences of the people’s own wickedness and apostasies would come back on them and plague them. This should teach them that it was morally evil and experientially bitter for them to abandon Yahweh their God. All these bad things happened to them because they did not fear the Lord.
Wiersbe: God punishes us by allowing our own sins to bring pain and discipline to our lives. . . The greatest judgment God can send to disobedient people is to let them have their own way and reap the sad, painful consequences of their sins.
III. (:20-37) CLAIM OF INNOCENCE REFUTED BY UNFAITHFULNESS –
3 Condemning Questions for Jerusalem:
A. (:20-25) How Can You Claim Innocence?
1. (:20-21) Disconnect Between Blessing and Rebellion
a. (:20) Liberation vs. Harlotry
“For long ago I broke your yoke And tore off your bonds; But you said, ‘I will not serve!’ For on every high hill And under every green tree You have lain down as a harlot.”
David Guzik: Many of the pagan and Canaanite idols worshipped by the Israelites were essentially sex cults, honored with ritual prostitution. Their idolatry was often connected with sexual immorality with the use of male and female prostitutes.
b. (:21) Nurturing vs. Degenerate Behavior
“Yet I planted you a choice vine, A completely faithful seed. How then have you turned yourself before Me Into the degenerate shoots of a foreign vine?”
Bob Utley: metaphors used to describe Israel’s apostasy:
1. a rebellious animal, v. 20a — a wild camel in heat, vv. 23-24
2. a prostitute, v. 20b — a fool bent on self-destruction, v. 25
3. a worthless vine from good stock, v. 21 — a thief, v. 26
4. a guilty person who cannot be washed, v. 22
2. (:22-23a) Defilement Cannot Be Denied
“’Although you wash yourself with lye And use much soap, The stain of your iniquity is before Me,’ declares the Lord God. How can you say, ‘I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Baals ‘? Look at your way in the valley! Know what you have done!”
Parunak: “See thy way in the Valley [of Hinnom].” Look at the path you have worn in the grass, on your way to the pagan altars. How can you say such a thing? The picture is that of a little boy, with his hand in the cookie jar, saying, “I wasn’t taking any cookies.”
3. (:23b-25) Desertion Characterizes Your Wild Ways
“You are a swift young camel entangling her ways, A wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness, That sniffs the wind in her passion. In the time of her heat who can turn her away? All who seek her will not become weary; In her month they will find her. Keep your feet from being unshod And your throat from thirst; But you said, ‘It is hopeless! No! For I have loved strangers, And after them I will walk.’”
Images of animals in heat – out of control as they pursue their fleshly lusts
Thompson: An understanding of the text involves an understanding of the behavior of these two animals. Young female camels are altogether unreliable, ungainly, and easily disturbed, so that they dash about in an apparently disorganized fashion… The female camel in heat is very mild and gives little evidence of the fact. By contrast the female ass in heat is almost violent. She sniffs the path in front of her trying to pick up the scent of a male (from his urine). Then she races down the road in search of the male. . . The two pictures then combine to describe Israel as unreliable in the extreme and captivated, enslaved and driven on by a fierce passion to seek the gods of Canaan. She is like a young female camel that cannot walk straight and also like the female wild ass that cannot be diverted from racing straight to her sexual goal. Neither is responsible or reliable.
Parunak: Application: These are very graphic pictures of the zeal with which the wicked run after sin. They should caution us about our enthusiasm for sin. But they should equally rebuke us for our lack of enthusiasm for serving the Lord! We would not use these same images; Jeremiah has chosen them for their vulgarity, with good effect. But does our zeal for the Lord come anywhere near the unbeliever’s zeal for sin and wickedness?
B. (:26-30) How Can You Argue with the Fairness of God’s Judgment?
1. (:26-28) Idolatry Brings Shame (Starting from the Leadership on Down) – and Cannot Save
a. (:26-27a) Idolatry Brings Shame
“As the thief is shamed when he is discovered, So the house of Israel is shamed; They, their kings, their princes, And their priests, and their prophets, Who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’ And to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’ For they have turned their back to Me, And not their face;”
b. (:27b-28) Idolatry Cannot Save
“But in the time of their trouble they will say, ‘Arise and save us.’ But where are your gods Which you made for yourself? Let them arise, if they can save you In the time of your trouble; For according to the number of your cities Are your gods, O Judah.”
2. (:29) Indictment for Rebellion Cannot be Contested
“’Why do you contend with Me? You have all transgressed against Me,’ declares the LORD.”
3. (:30) Inflexibility Despite Discipline
“In vain I have struck your sons; They accepted no chastening. Your sword has devoured your prophets Like a destroying lion.”
C. (:31-37) How Can You Justify Your Independent Spirit?
1. (:31-33) Prone to Wander
“O generation, heed the word of the LORD. Have I been a wilderness to Israel, Or a land of thick darkness? Why do My people say, ‘We are free to roam; We will come no more to Thee’? Can a virgin forget her ornaments, Or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me Days without number. How well you prepare your way To seek love! Therefore even the wicked women You have taught your ways.”
David Guzik: God’s people were guilty of pride, believing they didn’t need to come and humble themselves before the living God.
Parunak: 33, to “trim one’s way,” lit. “make it good,” is a common expression in Jeremiah for reformation. Cf. 7:3,5; 18:11. But Judah is so perverse that her only reformation is to go further astray, and to “teach her ways wickedness,” to become more consistent in sin. She is not basically good with just a little evil, but basically evil and now weeding out the remaining good.
Thompson: Yet, although Yahweh was the source of victory, hope, and confidence, Israel had turned away and desired to be free, carrying through her own will and determining her own course of action. . . Such waywardness was incomprehensible in the light of all Yahweh’s activity on behalf of his people.
2. (:34-35) Protesting Innocence
“Also on your skirts is found The lifeblood of the innocent poor; You did not find them breaking in. But in spite of all these things, Yet you said, ‘I am innocent; Surely His anger is turned away from me.’ Behold, I will enter into judgment with you Because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’”
3. (:36-37) Pronouncing Captivity
“Why do you go around so much Changing your way? Also, you shall be put to shame by Egypt As you were put to shame by Assyria. From this place also you shall go out With your hands on your head; For the LORD has rejected those in whom you trust, And you shall not prosper with them.”
David Guzik: God promised to bring their trust in Egypt to nothing, and (without national repentance) they would go forth from Judah as captive slaves, with your hands on your head. God would not honor their alliances with Egypt or any other foreign power.
IV. (3:1-5) COMPLICATIONS ARISING FROM SPIRITUAL HARLOTRY
5 Key Questions – Who, What, Why, When, How
A. (3:1) What Possibility of Reunion?
“God says, ‘If a husband divorces his wife, And she goes from him, And belongs to another man, Will he still return to her? Will not that land be completely polluted? But you are a harlot with many lovers; Yet you turn to Me,’ declares the LORD.”
Mackay: the section begins by exploring the implications of divorce for a subsequent resumption of the marriage relationship, and so poses the questions of how the people and the Lord may be reunited in the bond of the covenant. Initially the argument is not encouraging because, judged by human possibilities and even by the standards of the Lord himself in the Mosaic law, it does not seem possible.
B. (3:2) How Pervasive is the Pollution?
“Lift up your eyes to the bare heights and see; Where have you not been violated? By the roads you have sat for them Like an Arab in the desert, And you have polluted a land With your harlotry and with your wickedness.”
C. (3:3) Why No Shame Despite the Withholding of Blessing?
“Therefore the showers have been withheld, And there has been no spring rain. Yet you had a harlot’s forehead; You refused to be ashamed.”
D. (3:4) When Will Reconciliation Be Possible?
“Have you not just now called to Me, ‘My Father, Thou art the friend of my youth? Will He be angry forever? Will He be indignant to the end?’”
E. (3:5) Who is to Blame?
“Behold, you have spoken And have done evil things, And you have had your way.”
Kidner: This wife, this kingdom of Judah, was no passive shuttlecock between one husband and another, but brazenly promiscuous, installing her lovers, her gods and goddesses, on every hilltop (2), to charm the rain out of the sky and the corn out of the earth in the time-honoured way of Canaan. What made it insufferable was the pious talk that went with it, appealing to Yahweh’s fatherhood, friendship and forbearance (4-5); talk which only added hypocrisy to infidelity.
The elect nation has nobody to blame but themselves. They have exchanged the glory of the majestic God for broken cisterns that cannot even hold the stagnant rain water that might accumulate – much less match the fountain of living waters provided by the Spirit of God.