New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

Jeremiah 3:1 They say, ‘If a man puts away his wife and she goes from him and become another man’s, should he return to her again?’. Wouldn’t that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the prostitute with many lovers- Jeremiah often makes a play upon the Hebrew word shub- it can mean to turn away (from God), and also to 'turn back' or repent (e.g. Jer. 3:1,7,10,12,14,19,22; 4:1). If Israel turned in repentance, then God would return them to their land (Jer. 15:19); if they turned away from Him, He would turn them out into the Gentile world. Our lives are a twisting and turning, either to or away from God; and God is waiting to confirm us in those twists and turns. Jer. 8:4-6 comment that if one turns from the right road, then they must turn back. We all know how when we miss the way in finding an unfamiliar address, there's a tendency to keep on going along the wrong road- because turning back is so psychologically difficult. And this is the image that God uses here- to appeal to Israel, and ourselves, not to foolishly 'backslide', keep on turning away, from Him- just because that's the course we're set upon.

Yet return again to Me, says Yahweh- Within His own law, it was an abomination for a man to re-marry the woman he had divorced. Yet this notwithstanding, God abases Himself in asking worthless Israel to re-marry Him (Dt. 24:4 cp. Jer. 3:1).

Jeremiah 3:2 Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see!-
Again, they are asked to see themselves from outside of themselves. Likewise in Jer. 2:23, "See your way in the valley" is an invitation to take as it were an aerial photograph or video of themselves there. And this same invitation comes to us in every generation.

Where have you not been lain with? You have sat for them by the ways, as an Arabian in the wilderness. You have polluted the land with your prostitution and with your wickedness- Even in Jeremiah's time, the Jews had the sense that they were superior to their 'Arabian' relatives. But here they are presented as an Arabian prostitute. Their worship of idols on the high places is directly equal to their prostitution. They were eager for these relationships, because they were addicted to getting help from others and immediate benefit, rather than going Yahweh's way. Sitting by the roadside could even mean that foreigners passing through Palestine were accosted by the Jews and asked to enter into political relationships with them.

Jeremiah 3:3 Therefore the showers have been withheld, and there has been no latter rain-
This had been God's way of telling them that their covenant blessings were being withheld; but still they refused to respond.

Yet you have a prostitute’s forehead, you refused to be ashamed- The Lord hardened His face like a rock (Is. 50:7; Lk. 9:51); and yet the wicked similarly harden their faces like a rock to go in the way of the flesh (Jer. 5:3). We are hardened in our path, one way or the other. Jeremiah had his face hardened in response to his own hardening of face (Jer. 1:17; 5:3), and the wicked in Israel likewise were hardened (Jer. 3:3; 4:30). Israel's shameless attitude is a major theme of God's criticism of them.  They were convinced that their behaviour was not wrong (Jer. 2:23,25). I suggest that they came to this position by assuming that they were serving Yahweh through serving the idols; and that is the essence of all spiritual temptation in every age.

Jeremiah 3:4 Will you not from this time cry to Me, ‘My Father, You are the guide of my youth?’-
I suggest in :4,5 we have the Divine hope, a kind of interjection from Yahweh fantasizing about their repentance, putting words in their mouths, of the kind we have in Hosea. God yearned for them to realize that they were His children, He and not the idol stocks was their Father (Jer. 2:27). He presents Himself as sentimental about their past together in Egypt and the wilderness, and so wishes for them to let Him guide them again as He had done in the desert. God therefore presents Himself as made weak by the depth of His love, even for a worthless woman.

Jeremiah 3:5 ‘Will He retain His anger forever? Will He keep it to the end?’ Behold, you have spoken and have done evil things, and have had your way-
As explained on :4, this is still part of God's fantasy as to the words He so hoped His repentant people would say. He wanted them to realize that they had said and done evil; and we note He gives priority to the words they had spoken. He presents Himself as a man deeply sensitive to words; and we see this reflected in the Lord's later teaching as to how our words shall be the basis of our salvation or condemnation at the last day. He wanted them to understand that He was angry, but that His wrath was but for a moment and would not last (Is. 57:16; Jer. 18:23).

Or we could read :5 as Israel's response to God's desire for their repentance in :4. The prophets spoke of the amazing grace and eternal love of God for Israel, how His wrath endured but for a moment (Is. 57:16; Jer. 18:23); and yet Israel asked: “Will he be angry for ever?”. They assumed the present moment is how it shall eternally be; they lacked faith to see the wider and longer plan of God. It was more than frustrating for the prophets; they shared God’s feelings of having poured out so great a love, to see it ignored and disregarded by short termist vision.

Jeremiah 3:6 Moreover, Yahweh said to me in the days of Josiah the king, Have you seen that which backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there has played the prostitute-
Jeremiah recalls how God's earnest desire and imagination of ten tribe Israel's repentance had been disappointed in the days of Josiah king of Judah, who made great reforms, perhaps motivated by the judgment upon the ten tribe kingdom of Israel. B
ut the essential love of idolatry was not removed. The stress on "every high mountain" matches the impression already given that Israel had been like a sexually addicted person, they wanted relationship with every possible partner. And so Judah were also being with idols.

Jeremiah 3:7 I said after she had done all these things, ‘She will return to Me;’ but she didn’t return; and her treacherous sister Judah saw it-
The ten tribe kingdom appear to have been in a hopeless state spiritually. But still God was "sure" that they would return to Him. There is a word play between the original Hebrew words for "backsliding / treacherous" and "return".
Just as the Father thought that His people “surely” would reverence His Son, so He had the same attitude to Israel in Old Testament times: “I thought that after she had done all this, she would return to me, but she did not” (Jer. 3:7 NIV). This surely is God limiting His omniscience in order to enter fully into relationship with His people in real time.

Jeremiah 3:8 I saw, when, for the very reason of committing adultery that I had put away and given a bill of divorce to backsliding Israel, then treacherous Judah her sister didn’t fear; but likewise went and played the prostitute-
The lack of "fear" in Judah repeats the theme being established; that they were shameless and refused to be convicted of their sins. They were intended to learn from Israel's sin and punishment, but instead they went ahead and sinned yet more. See on :3. God speaks as if He was the one who put away Israel.
God allowed divorce only for the hardness of man's heart (Mt. 19:7); yet God speaks as if He, with all His morality and justice, was responsible for the divorce (Jer. 3:8), when in fact it was Israel who had broken the marriage contract by their unfaithfulness. But in His grace, He as it were took the blame. See on Jer. 8:21.

Jeremiah 3:9 It happened through the lightness of her prostitution, that the land was polluted, and she committed adultery with stones and with stocks-
The problem was "Because she took her whoredom lightly..." (ESV). She had a light-hearted and not serious view of life, refusing to look to the implications, corollaries and results of her sins. She just wanted to experience pleasure in the immediate moment with no thought for anything further nor wider. And this is exactly the spirit of our age.

Jeremiah 3:10 Yet for all this her treacherous sister, Judah, has not returned to Me with her whole heart, but only in pretence, says Yahweh-
This has reference to the reforms of Josiah, which clearly did not affect the heart of the people. For they returned to their idols immediately he died.
“Though they called them to the Most High, none at all would exalt him” (Hos. 11:7) in the way which true repentance requires. They did turn back to Yahweh- but not in their heart. Israel rejoiced in the light of John’s teaching- and he taught real, on-your-knees repentance. They thought they’d repented. But the Lord describes John as mourning, and them not mourning in sympathy and response (Lk. 7:32).

Jeremiah 3:11 Yahweh said to me, Backsliding Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah-
The idea is that Israel appeared more just than Judah, for Judah had sinned worse. Judah had the example of Israel to warn them, and they failed to that and therefore became the more responsible for their sins.

Jeremiah 3:12 Go, and proclaim these words towards the north, and say, ‘Return, you backsliding Israel’, says Yahweh; ‘I will not look in anger on you; for I am merciful’, says Yahweh. ‘I will not keep anger forever-
Again there is a play on the related Hebrew words for "return" and "backsliding". Instead of turning to idolatry, they were to turn again to their God. God assures them of His essential characteristic- that His mercy is greater than His anger with sin. No man has ever gone so far in this life that the eternal anger of God is upon him, for God doesn't keep anger for ever. This contrasts with the  human tendency towards unforgiveness, and being still angry over things we were angry about decades ago. This feature of God is a strong encouragement for human repentance (Ps. 103:9; Jer. 3:5).

Jeremiah 3:13 Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against Yahweh your God-
Presumably Jeremiah's message was to be taken to the ten tribes. The Divine hope was that Israel and Judah would repent together, and form a revived, united kingdom of God in Israel under a Messianic king. Their unity would be on the basis of common experience of God's grace, their repentance and His forgiveness. It is this which is the ultimate basis of fellowship between believers.

Jeremiah uses the same phrase for "acknowledge iniquity" in saying that "we" have done so (Jer. 14:20). He either considered that he was representative of the people, or he failed to accept that their acknowledging of iniquity was only on a surface level. Although on one hand Jeremiah is in step with God's feeling and thinking, he comes over so often (especially in Lamentations) as implying that God is unjust. He has an over positive view of his people. They did not "acknowledge iniquity" as required, but he considers they had done. Or that they had done so whereas the ten tribes had not.

And have scattered your ways to the strangers under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed My voice’, says Yahweh- This 'scattering' to the gods of many different peoples would result in them being appropriately scattered amongst those nations (s.w. Esther 3:8; Jer. 50:17; Joel 3:2). Judgment was really a reflecting back to them of what they in essence had done.

Jeremiah 3:14 Return, backsliding children, says Y
ahweh; for I am a husband to you. I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion- "Two of a family" suggests that even though the ten tribes had intermarried in captivity, they would still be miraculously 'taken' from wherever they had been scattered and returned to a restored Kingdom of God in Israel. All that was required was that they 'returned' to God, and then He would return them. Although divorced (:1), God still felt as their husband. This is surely also relevant in trying to understand how God now feels towards His people from whom He is divorced.

Jeremiah 3:15 I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who shall feed you with knowledge and understanding-
The system of shepherds, be it the priesthood or the royal family, was to be replaced by one singular shepherd after the pattern of David (Ez. 34:23), although we learn here that he would have assistants who were also after God's own heart- another way of saying they too would be like David, the man after God's own heart (1 Sam. 13:14). This was God's intention for the restored Kingdom, but Israel and many of Judah didn't return. And so this will be fulfilled in the last days, when we will be those shepherds.

Jeremiah 3:16 It shall come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says Yahweh, they shall say no more, ‘The ark of the covenant of Yahweh!’ neither shall it come to mind; neither shall they remember it; neither shall they miss it; neither shall it be made any more-
The intended restoration of the kingdom would feature no ark of the covenant. The temple they were to build in Ez. 40-48 has no mention of a place for the ark, and it concludes with the comment that the city will be called "Yahweh Shammah", the Lord is there. His personal presence would be there. This great potential wasn't fulfilled, so it has been reapplied and rescheduled to the last days, when as Revelation says, God Himself shall be with us. The ark was a contentious issue at the time, with Judah considering they had God on their side because the ark was with them and not the ten tribes. But this mere symbolism would be irrelevant before the very presence of God Himself; as will so much of our contentions with other believers.

Jeremiah 3:17 At that time they shall call Jerusalem ‘The throne of Yahweh;’ and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of Yahweh, to Jerusalem-
As explained on :16, this is the equivalent of Jerusalem being called "Yahweh Shammah" in Ezekiel. The nations, who had abused Israel and Judah, were to be gathered again to Jerusalem; not to judge Jerusalem, but in repentance and acceptance of Israel's God.

Neither shall they walk any more after the stubbornness of their evil heart- Nobody in our current society would consider what you think to be a criminal act; and nobody did in early Israel, either. But time and again, the prophets passionately call down judgment for “evil thoughts” and “evil hearts” (Jer. 3:17; 4:14; 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 13:10; 14:14; 16:12; 18:12; 23:17).

Jeremiah 3:18 In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north-
Although God tacitly accepts Judah would sin, refuse Jeremiah's message and go into captivity, yet He looked ahead to how they would return together with the ten tribes.
Their unity would be on the basis of common experience of God's grace, their repentance and His forgiveness. It is this which is the ultimate basis of fellowship between believers.

To the land that I gave for an inheritance to your fathers- The latter chapters of Ezekiel stress how Israel were to “inherit” the land; yet the same word is used in other restoration prophecies, about Messiah causing Israel to “inherit” the land again after their return from “the north country” (Zech. 2:12; 8:12; Is. 49:8; Jer. 3:18). When Judah returned from the “north country”, then Jerusalem would be the universally recognized “throne of the Lord” (Jer. 3:17,18). The Kingdom could have come when Judah returned from Babylon. It was therefore potentially possible for the returning exiles to inherit all the land outlined in Ez. 47:13-21 and share it out between the 12 tribes. But they grabbed every man for himself, his own farmstead, his own mini-Kingdom. They had no interest in the wider vision, nor in subduing extra land; and the majority of the Jews didn’t even want to inherit it; they preferred the soft life of Babylon, the Kingdom of men rather than the Kingdom of God. And thus the Kingdom made possible was never actually fulfilled at that time.

Jeremiah 3:19 But I thought how I would set you among My children, and give you a pleasant land, a goodly heritage of the armies of the nations; and I thought you would call Me My Father, and would not turn away from following Me’-
God's being apparently mistaken because of His over enthusiasm for Israel reflects His limiting of His omniscience in order to enter into legitimate real time relationship with His people.
Despite realizing this, in :22 God still offers to restore them. His enthusiasm to almost force through His intentions with His beloved stands for all time as an encouragement to His people.

Jeremiah 3:20 Surely as a wife faithlessly departs from her husband, so you have dealt treacherously with Me, house of Israel, says Yahweh-
Their lack of faith was the essence of their immorality and seeking other gods. Despite the passion of His love (see on :19), God doesn't turn a blind eye to what they had done. The breaking of faith was breaking covenant; this is the essence of sin. We are to forever remember that we are in the bonds of an eternal covenant, and only wilfully walking away from it can end our part in it.

Jeremiah 3:21 A voice is heard on the bare heights, the weeping and the petitions of the children of Israel; because they have perverted their way, they have forgotten Yahweh their God-
The high places were where they worshipped idols. The tragedy was that even in the desperation of their nadir, they still would turn to their idols rather than fully to Yahweh. He simply cannot be one of many options we try in order to get us out of crises. Or it could be that this verse is another example of God as it were interjecting with His own fantasy of how they would repent; there on the high places, before their idols, He envisaged them realizing how vain were the idols, how they had forgotten Yahweh, and then by implication calling upon Him alone. Perhaps Daniel understood this verse like this, when he prays and confesses that "we" had perverted God's way (Dan. 9:5 s.w.). We notice that individual acts of sin aren't in view; rather is the issue with a "way" of being, thinking and living.

Jeremiah 3:22 Return, you backsliding children, I will heal your backsliding-
This is a promise to psychologically change them, if they were willing. And this operation upon their very heart or mind is the promise of the new covenant in Jer. 31 and Ez. 20. Although God's people refused that new covenant at that time, it is that which is made with us, and the psychological transformation of His Spirit is just as much available to us today.

Behold, we have come to You; for You are Yahweh our God- As suggested on :21, this seems to be God's almost placing words in their mouths in His imagination. The hopefulness and fantasy of God for Israel often comes out in His statements that Israel definitely will repent “As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is [note the present tense] the house of Israel ashamed” (Jer. 2:26). This was God’s fantasy for His people. Hosea is full of this. So here too, this latter sentence is God’s fantasy about Israel, imagining them saying those words. How bitter was His disappointment therefore- and how great His delight in those of us who in our weakness do come unto Him and recognize Him meaningfully as our God. Indeed the whole of Jer. 3:22-25 is full of God fantasizing about the sort of words Israel would say upon their repentance, and how they would take responsibility for their sins rather than blame them on their fathers . This apparent certainty that Israel would repent and thus obviate the threatened judgments must have conflicted within the thinking of the Father- with His certainty that all was already too late for them. Hence passages like Hos. 11:8 speaks of the burning pain within the thought processes of God Almighty.

Jeremiah 3:23 Truly in vain is help from the hills, the tumult on the mountains. Truly the salvation of Israel is in Yahweh our God-
God hoped Israel would come to realize that the various gods of the high places ("hills") and the whole ranges of mountains, representing the nations, could not save them. Rather was salvation (teshua) only in Yahweh. This would then make the word Yeshua, the Hebrew name for "Jesus", the salvation of Yahweh. Finally this hoped for repentance and acceptance of Yah's salvation will come true in the latter day repentance of Israel and acceptance of Jesus as God's Son and the source of their salvation.

Jeremiah 3:24 But the shameful thing has devoured the labour of our fathers from our youth, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters-
God hopes and imagines that they will recognize that Baal worship, "the shameful thing", had robbed them of the blessings which He had given them. The phrase "devoured the labours" is that used in Dt. 28:33 of how the invading armies would devour Israel's labours. But as so often, this judgment was only in fact what the people had themselves chosen. For they had allowed Baal to devour their labours.

Jeremiah 3:25 Let us lie down in our shame, and let our confusion cover us; for we have sinned against Yahweh our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day. We have not obeyed the voice of Yahweh our God
- This concludes God's fantasy about how His people would repent, the position they would adopt (lying down in shame) and the words they would say. Instead of prostrating themselves before the shameful thing (Baal), they would lie down in shame before God, in repentance. Fantasy or imagination is part of what it is to be made in God's image; and we must ask ourselves what our deepest hopes really are, and whether our fantasy or imagination for those who hurt us is their repentance and reconciliation... As it was God's for His spiteful people. Shame / confusion covered the faces of God's people when the temple was desecrated (Jer. 51:51 s.w.), but this was because their faces had not been covered with shame at their sins. It's shame for sin now, or shame at judgment day.