TURN OR BURN – BACKSLIDERS NEED TO REPENT AND RESPOND TO GOD’S GRACIOUS INVITATION TO AVOID EXPERIENCING HIS WRATH
2nd Message of the book – The Lord’s patience and longsuffering and tender mercy and gracious character is never so evident as when He is pleading with His privileged people to return to faithful covenant obedience. It is shocking and incomprehensible to see the persistent idolatry and spiritual harlotry that both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel practice. Yet we are reminded of the stubbornness of our own hearts in choosing the temporary pleasures of sin over the lasting joy of fellowship with Christ. How quick we are to turn away from the fountain of living water to the broken cisterns of this world.
Gregg Allen: 3:6 tells us that this prophecy was given in the days of Josiah, king of Judah. Josiah became king after the reigns of his wicked grandfather Manassah (who sinned horribly, but later repented while in captivity), and his father Amon (who sinned as his father had, but who did not learn the lessons of his father’s captivity and repent). Josiah was a godly king, who came to the throne while very young. He led his people in a great revival and turned them back to the God of their fathers. But their return to him was only superficial. They, too, did not learn the lessons that had been put on display before them.
In this section, God calls His wayward people, Judah, to look to their wicked sister – the northern kingdom of Israel – and learn a few lessons from her. She had been taken captive by the Assyrians and had been dispersed; yet, if they would but repent, God would forgive them. He uses Israel as an object lesson to call Judah to repentance.
Brian Bell: Sometimes God’s people have an over-inflated sense of their importance. Despite being disciplined, they just don’t get it.
A little boy was overheard talking to himself as he strutted through the backyard, baseball cap in place, toting ball and bat. He was heard to say, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world.” Then he tossed the ball into the air, swung at it and missed. “Strike one!” Undaunted he picked up the ball, threw it into the air and said to himself, “I’m the greatest baseball hitter ever,” and he swung at the ball again. And again he missed. “Strike two!” He paused a moment to examine his bat and ball carefully. Then a third time he threw the ball into the air. “I’m the greatest hitter who ever lived,” he said. He swung the bat hard again, missed a third time. He cried out, “Wow! Strike three! What a pitcher! I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!”
TURN OR BURN – BACKSLIDERS NEED TO REPENT AND RESPOND TO GOD’S GRACIOUS INVITATION TO AVOID EXPERIENCING HIS WRATH
I. (:6-11) INDICTMENT –
JUDAH EVEN MORE UNFAITHFUL AND UNREPENTANT THAN ISRAEL
A. (:6-7) Unrepentant Harlotry of Israel
1. (:6) Unfaithful Israel
“Then the LORD said to me in the days of Josiah the king, ‘Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there.’”
Blatant idolatry on the high places – not hidden sins
Judah should have learned from the sins of Israel
2. (:7) Unrepentant Israel
“And I thought, ‘After she has done all these things, she will return to Me’; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it.”
Copy Cat harlotry
Matthew Henry: The treachery of those who pretend to cleave to God will be reckoned for, as well as the apostasy of those who openly revolt from him.
Mackay: “Sister” is a reminder of the common origin of the two kingdoms. But despite their links Judah learned no lessons from what had occurred in the north. Up to the time of the capture of the northern kingdom, Judah in the south had remained relatively loyal in here espousal of Yahwism, but not long after the fall of the north the horrendous years of Manasseh’s long reign saw Judah fall far away from the Lord. The reform movement under Josiah seems to have been accompanied by a popular feeling of superiority over the north, which is here combated because Judah had drawn the wrong conclusion that she was exempt from her sister’s fate.
B. (:8-10) Unrepentant Harlotry of Judah
1. (:8-9) Unfaithful Judah
“And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. And it came about because of the lightness of her harlotry, that she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees.”
Spiritual harlotry pollutes the land
Thompson: The Hebrew text reads literally ‘through the lightness of adultery’; that is, adultery mattered so little to her that she participated in the same evil practices as her sister Israel and polluted the land.
2. (:10) Unrepentant Judah
“’And yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,” declares the LORD.”
How can you think you can be successful trying to deceive the God who sees all – who does not look merely on the outward appearance (of prayers and sacrifices and tithes and offerings) but on the heart?
Parunak: 3:6-10 The backbone of the paragraph is a series of three statements about people seeing things: what Jeremiah sees, what Judah sees, and what the Lord sees.
1. Jeremiah sees God’s dealings with Israel. . .
2. 7c, Judah sees these dealings, too: Israel’s sin, God’s gracious offer through the prophets, Israel’s refusal, and what is not expressed but certainly lurking in the background, the captivity in Assyria that followed. She knows that God is ready to forgive, but that sin must be judged.
3. 8-10, God sees Judah’s insensitivity to what he has done with Israel.
Constable: Still, Judah did not return to the Lord with heartfelt repentance, but only superficially. Jeremiah began ministering (in 627 B.C.) one year after King Josiah began his spiritual reforms (in 628 B.C.). This oracle may have come early in Jeremiah’s ministry before the reforms had taken hold. But the rapidity with which Judah declined following Josiah’s death seems to indicate that the reforms produced only a superficial return to the Lord. King Manasseh’s long godless reign (697-642 B.C.) was more than Josiah’s comparatively brief reforms (628-609 B.C.) could counteract. Though Josiah led the nation in a reformation, the people did not experience a heart-changing revival (cf. 2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22-28).
C. (:11) Comparison Between Israel and Judah
“And the LORD said to me, ‘Faithless Israel has proved herself more righteous than treacherous Judah.’”
Quite an indictment!
II. (:12-18) INVITATION –
TO RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE AND FORGIVENESS IN LOVING REUNION
A. (:12-14) Invitation to Israel – Experience Forgiveness Based on God’s Grace
“Go, and proclaim these words toward the north and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, That you have transgressed against the LORD your God And have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree, And you have not obeyed My voice,’ declares the LORD. ‘Return, O faithless sons,’ declares the LORD; ‘For I am a master to you, And I will take you one from a city and two from a family, And I will bring you to Zion.’”
Thompson: There is a neat play on two derivatives of the root sub here … The “backslider” (turn away) is invited to “come back” (turn back). There would be a welcome for her.
Constable: “Return” is a key word in this sermon, as it is in the whole book. There are three specific commands to “Return” in this section (Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 3:14; Jeremiah 3:22), as well as numerous other occurrences of the word and its relatives. “Return,” for example, appears nine times in the NASB (Jeremiah 3:1; Jeremiah 3:7 [twice], 10 , 12 , 14 , 22 , Jeremiah 4:1 [twice]) and “turn” twice (Jeremiah 3:1; Jeremiah 3:19).
Parunak: Chiastic structure around the 3 imperatives here. Note that these promises are not expressed as conditions: “If you turn, I will bless you.” That is a true statement, and we will find instances of it in the book (cf. 4:2). But the point here is much stronger: “Here are my gracious plans toward you. Therefore turn.” (Note the kiy in v.14.) God’s blessings here are the MOTIVE for their obedience, not the RESULT. Such are God’s gracious dealings with us. We come to him as recipients of a gift already given, not manipulators trying to change his mind. The initiative is his, not ours.
B. (:15-17) Invitation to Judah – Experience the Security of Submitting to the Shepherd-King
“’Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding. And it shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the LORD. And it shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they miss it, nor shall it be made again. At that time they shall call Jerusalem The Throne of the LORD, and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the LORD; nor shall they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart.’”
Flash forward to millennial blessings (God has not cast His people off forever or forgotten His promises to them) in a land where righteousness reigns and everyone is taught the Word of God; faithful shepherds; God ruling from His throne in Jerusalem; all nations submitting; no need to make reference to the localized presence of the ark of the covenant because the majestic presence and glory of the Lord will fill all and dominate all
Utley: “in those days”– his refers to the New Covenant period (cf. Jer. 3:16-18; 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38) or the Messianic age.
Adam Clarke: This symbol of the Divine presence, given to the Jews as a token and pledge of God’s dwelling among them, shall be no longer necessary, and shall no longer exist; for in the days of the Messiah, to which this promise seems to relate, God’s worship shall not be confined either to one place or to one people. The temple of God shall be among men, and everywhere God be adored through Christ Jesus.
Thompson: It was not that Jeremiah was opposed to symbols in Israel’s worship. Material items, whether sacrifices, circumcision, or cultic furniture, were only pointers to spiritual realities and were of value only as long as they led men to the spiritual. Where men remained content with the material items, these became worthless and even dangerous (cf. 7:22-23).
Mackay: To Jeremiah’s hearers used to emphasizing the privileged status of Jerusalem in that it had Temple and ark, it would have been shocking to say that the ark would not exist in future. It would have been tantamount to saying that there would be no religion, no presence of God with his people. But the ark had been popularly redefined into a religious talisman which reinforced an optimism among the people that was unwarranted on the basis of their spiritual conduct. Since a true perception of the ark had been perverted by an automatic, mechanical view of religion, Jeremiah is prophesying that in the restored times he envisages ahead the element of formalism will have vanished and there will be no need for sacramental symbols as a focus for the worship of the people.
Mackay: “stubbornness of their evil hearts” – Eight of the ten Old Testament occurrences of “stubbornness” (from a root attested in Aramaic with the meaning “to be firmly set”) are in Jeremiah. The term describes those who are certain they have the capacity to make decisions for themselves, and once they have made them, there is no deflecting them from their resolution even though it can be shown to be contrary to the way of God.
C. (:18) Combined Restoration in the Land of Promise
“In those days the house of Judah will walk with the house of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers as an inheritance.”
Hearkens back to God’s covenant promises
Feinberg: United to God in holiness of life, the two long-divided parts of the nations will finally be reunited to dwell in the land promised to the patriarchs (cf. Ezek 37). In summary, the elements of the promise are godly leaders, absence of outward elements of worship, the dwelling of God’s presence with them, a godly life, a successful witness to the nations, and a unified nation.
Kidner: If so distant a prospect was worth unveiling to the old Israel, six centuries before Christ, it must be doubly relevant to us who have reached its foothills. Like our predecessors, we shall travel all the better for keeping he journey’s end in view, especially now that the book of Revelation has pictured it for even more invitingly than Jeremiah.
III. (:19-25) LAMENT –
FOR SHAMEFUL TREACHERY AND PERVERSION
A. (:19-20) Lament for Treachery
“Then I said, ‘How I would set you among My sons, And give you a pleasant land, The most beautiful inheritance of the nations!’ And I said, ‘You shall call Me, My Father, And not turn away from following Me. Surely, as a woman treacherously departs from her lover, So you have dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel,’ declares the LORD.”
No faithfulness to the Father-Son relationship;
No faithfulness to the covenant marriage love relationship
Nothing but shocking treachery
Ryken: These verses show that the relationship between God and his people is too rich to be defined by any single human relationship. The Lord reminds his people that they are like unfaithful spouses. But he also compares them to wayward sons who are unworthy of their inheritance. Not only is God a spurned husband, but he is also a disappointed father.
B. (:21-23) Lament for Perversion
“A voice is heard on the bare heights, The weeping and the supplications of the sons of Israel; Because they have perverted their way, They have forgotten the LORD their God. ‘Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness. Behold, we come to Thee; For Thou art the LORD our God. Surely, the hills are a deception, A tumult on the mountains. Surely, in the LORD our God Is the salvation of Israel.’”
Maclaren: Here is the consciousness of sin in its essential character, and that produces godly sorrow. The distinction between mere remorse and repentance is here already, in the ‘weeping and supplication.’
Jamieson, Fausset, Brown: The scene of their idolatries is the scene of their confessions.
Adam Clarke: Reasons they should return to God:
• Because he is the true God.
• Because the idols did not profit them: they could give no help in time of trouble.
• Because it is the prerogative of God alone to give salvation.
• Because they had no kind of prosperity since they had abandoned the worship of their Maker. And this was not only their case, but it was the case of their forefathers, who all suffered in consequence of their idolatry and disobedience.
Salvation can only be found in the Lord our God; He still extends His gracious invitation
Constable: The Israelites confessed that the hills and mountains on which they had worshipped idols had been sites of deception for them and places of unrest. The idols had not provided what they promised, and instead of finding rest by worshipping them, the Israelites had experienced turmoil. They finally acknowledged that only in Yahweh their God could they find true salvation (cf. Exodus 20:2-6; Deuteronomy 5:6-10; Deuteronomy 6:4).
MacArthur: Since the irretrievable dispersion of Israel in the N (722 B.C.) Judah alone was left to be called by the name Israel, as Jeremiah sometimes chose to do (e.g. 3:20-23).
C. (:24-25) Lament Over the Shame and Humiliation of Disobedience
“But the shameful thing has consumed the labor of our fathers since our youth, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our humiliation cover us; for we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, since our youth even to this day. And we have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.”
Sorry state of affairs
IV. (4:1-4) PLEA –
FOR REPENTANCE AND REVIVED COMMITMENT
A. (:1-2) Plea for Israel to Return – Promotes Divine Blessing
“If you will return, O Israel,” declares the LORD, “Then you should return to Me. And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, And will not waver, 2 And you will swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’ In truth, in justice, and in righteousness; Then the nations will bless themselves in Him, And in Him they will glory.”
B. (:3-4) Plea for Judah to Return – Prevents Divine Wrath
“For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem, “Break up your fallow ground, And do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Lest My wrath go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds.”
Longman: The oracle ends with an ultimatum. On the one hand, they can repent with the implication of restoration. Two metaphors of repentance are used here. One is agricultural. Their hearts are unplowed, therefore hard-packed ground and filled with thorns, prohibitive of productive growth. He calls on them to break up that hard ground of their hearts. Secondly, he demands that they circumcise their hearts. Externally, they would have been circumcised in the flesh (Gen. 17:14), but this was to be an external side of an internal reality. They were to obey the covenant and its laws from the hearts (see Deut. 10:16 and Jer. 9:25). The alternative was not pretty. If they did not repent, then they would feel the burning wrath of God.
There is always an urgency for the backslidden to repent NOW. Waste no time because you do not want to experience the fierce wrath of God.