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FRAMEWORKS: Jeremiah 3: The failure of Judah to learn from Israel


[Preliminary Comment: Samaria had fallen in 722BC to God's judgment. Josiah had come to the throne in 639BC but now,

- in Part One [v.1-5] the prophet sees Judah as an unfaithful, now divorced, wife,

- in Part Two [v.6-11] the Lord gets Jeremiah to reflect on Israel [the northern kingdom] and Judah [the southern kingdom after the post-Solomon split] as two unfaithful sisters. His target, presumably in the early years of Josiah's reign, perhaps just as he started instigating reformations, is Judah which, after the previously unfaithful kings, had tolerated idolatry in the land. The point he makes now is that Israel failed to heed the Lord's warnings and were destroyed and now Judah are appearing even more wayward than Israel had been.]

- in Part Three [v.12-25] the Lord calls Israel from the past, now scattered in the north, to face their idolatry and their refusal to return to Him when He has called them to come.]



PART ONE: v.1-5: Challenge to be aware


v.1,2 It seems impossible for Israel to return to the Lord like a divorced wife

v.1  ‘If a man divorces his wife
    and she leaves him and marries another man,
should he return to her again?
    Would not the land be completely defiled?
But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers –
    would you now return to me?'
declares the Lord.
v.2  ‘Look up to the barren heights and see.
    Is there any place where you have not been ravished?
By the roadside you sat waiting for lovers,
    sat like a nomad in the desert.
You have defiled the land
    with your prostitution and wickedness.

[Comment: Deut 24:1-4 forbade the coming together of a divorced couple; thus the Lord looks at His people's idolatry as permissive and repetitive adultery with idols set up all over the land and points out the impossibility of a ‘divorced couple' such as He and His people, coming back together again. For reflection: when the people were eventually judged and went into exile, it was only the repentant and faithful remnant who returned as the ongoing people of God – not any ongoing ‘adulterers'.]



v.3-5 They have been judged yet they still pretend they have a relationship with the Lord

v.3  Therefore the showers have been withheld,
    and no spring rains have fallen.
Yet you have the brazen look of a prostitute;
    you refuse to blush with shame.
v.4  Have you not just called to me:
    “My Father, my friend from my youth,
v.5  will you always be angry?
    Will your wrath continue for ever?”
This is how you talk,
    but you do all the evil you can.'


[Comment: Because of this spiritual adultery, God had withheld rain, a sure sign seen elsewhere in Scripture of His displeasure and goal of bringing His people to their senses [see the curses & blessings in the Law – Deut 28:12 compared to v.23], yet they had failed to respond as they should have done. Instead, they still call God their Father and appeal to Him not to be angry. Hypocritical evil!]



PART TWO: v.6-11: Challenge to consider Israel & Judah's experiences


[Preliminary Comment: In Josiah's day, the Lord calls Jeremiah to consider how Israel had behaved. Note the distinction between ‘faithless' Israel who had never had faith from their inception, and ‘unfaithful' Judah who had had a relationship with the Lord, as witnessed in earlier reigns, but which they had then abandoned. Because of the apparent complexity of such prophetic words for modern readers, we will make an explanatory comment after every verse.]


v.6  During the reign of King Josiah, the Lord said to me, ‘Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.


[Comment: The Lord calls the prophet's attention to how Israel had been, idol worshippers all over Samaria.]


v.7  I thought that after she had done all this, she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it.


[Comment: The Lord had expected Israel to return to Him, but they never did. Meanwhile, the largely faithful Judah in the south had looked on and seen what had happened.]


v.8  I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.


[Comment: So eventually the Lord sent Israel away, taken by the Assyrians, but Judah then went on to follow her example and became idolaters as well.]


v.9  Because Israel's immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood.


[Comment: Israel had never realised how awful her behaviour was, turning from being a nation with an incredible relationship with the Living God to become people who worshipped lifeless idols.]


v.10  In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,' declares the Lord.


[Comment: Having watched the folly of the north, Judah never learnt from it and never turned away from their idol worship.]


v.11  The Lord said to me, ‘Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.


[Comment: God's conclusion is that Israel without faith were not as bad as Judah who had had faith but abandoned it.]



PART THREE: v.12-25: A Call to Israel to face the guilt of their idolatry


v.12  Go, proclaim this message towards the north:

‘“Return, faithless Israel,” declares the Lord,
    “I will frown on you no longer,
for I am faithful,” declares the Lord,
    “I will not be angry for ever.

[Comment: Note this is a word spoken to the land of the north to the scattered remnants of Israel taken by the Assyrians some eighty years before. In 2 Chron 30:6-9  Hezekiah had called to the deported Israel to return to the Lord and come and share again in the Passover in Jerusalem, and in verses 17-20 we see people came from the areas of Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun in the north, so we must assume they still existed in the north, although no doubt still scattered.] 


v.13  Only acknowledge your guilt –
    you have rebelled against the Lord your God,
you have scattered your favours to foreign gods
    under every spreading tree,
    and have not obeyed me,”'
declares the Lord.


[Comment: The truth was this people hadn't learned from their experience and still worshipped idols and so the Lord calls them to acknowledge that guilt.]


v.14  ‘Return, faithless people,' declares the Lord, ‘for I am your husband. I will choose you – one from a town and two from a clan – and bring you to Zion.


[Comment: He calls them to return to Him and then He will bring some of them – a faithful remnant – back to Jerusalem.]


v.15  Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.


[Comment: Not only that but He will give them leaders to watch over them, care for them, protect them, and teach them what it means to have a relationship with Him.]


v.16  In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land,' declares the Lord, ‘people will no longer say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made.


[Comment: When that happens the world will know that it is a new day and the days of past glories (with the ark) will be forgotten, because they are living in the good of the present.]


v.17  At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honour the name of the Lord. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.


[Comment: Again, when that happens Jerusalem will be seen to be the place where the Lord rules and that will usher in a new day of relationship with Him.]


v.18  In those days the people of Judah will join the people of Israel, and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your ancestors as an inheritance.


[Comment: That will be a time when Israel and Judah come together again to take the entire land.]


v.19  ‘I myself said,

‘“How gladly would I treat you like my children
    and give you a pleasant land,
    the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.”
I thought you would call me “Father”
    and not turn away from following me.

[Comment: The Lord had hoped this would be a time or reconciliation where his people would come back to Him as children to their father.]


v.20  But like a woman unfaithful to her husband,
    so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,'
declares the Lord.


[Comment: But that has never transpired!]


v.21  A cry is heard on the barren heights,
    the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel,
because they have perverted their ways
    and have forgotten the Lord their God.


[Comment: Anguish is all that is left in the land from a people who have abandoned their God and are now suffering the fruit of that.]


v.22  ‘Return, faithless people;
    I will cure you of backsliding.'

[Just say…] ‘Yes, we will come to you,
    for you are the Lord our God.

[Comment: The alternative rendering above makes more sense, that this is the response the Lord wants from them. He is offering fresh hope of restoration.]


v.23  Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills
    and mountains is a deception;
surely in the Lord our God
    is the salvation of Israel.

[Comment: The prophet berates the people – your worship of idols is pure deception, believing what is false. Only worship of God can be real.]


v.24  From our youth shameful gods have consumed
    the fruits of our ancestors' labour –
their flocks and herds,
    their sons and daughters.

[Comment: Throughout recent decades worshipping idols has only brought trouble on us, undermining the life our ancestors experienced.]


v.25  Let us lie down in our shame,
    and let our disgrace cover us.
We have sinned against the Lord our God,
    both we and our ancestors;
from our youth till this day
    we have not obeyed the Lord our God.'


[Comment: May we experience the shame and disgrace that is due to us for our sin, and that of our recent ancestors, of rejecting and disobeying God.]


[Concluding Comment: Although we have suggested a threefold division of this chapter there are commonalities throughout:

•  It largely focuses on the past sin of Israel and how the scattered people still refuse to turn to the Lord and know His restoration.

•  Their sin is clearly identified as longstanding idolatry – idolatry that involved turning from God and worshipping idols in shrines scattered around the country – and which was observable for centuries past in their ancestors and yet which still existed to the present day.

•  That sin seen in Israel in the past was now also seen in Judah in the present.

•  The grace and mercy of God is seen again and again as He indicates His desire for His people to return to Him and for their relationship to be restored.

•  Sadly this never happened in any true measure, even though there were pockets in their history when kings did return to the Lord, but it seems the desire to worship idols remained ingrained in the people and would soon bring about God's judgment that would mean the vast majority of Judah going into exile.]



Continue to Chapter 4