The Word Made Fresh
1If a man divorces his wife, and she leaves him
and finds another husband, will he return to her?
Wouldn’t a nation acting like that be defiled?
You have played the prostitute with many lovers;
will you try now to return to me? says the LORD.
2Look up to the barren hilltops –
Is there any place you have not been ravished?
You have waited by the roadsides for lovers,
like you were a nomad in the desert,
and you have polluted the land
with your prostitution and wickedness.
3That is why the rains have been withheld
and that is why the spring showers have not come.
Yet, you have the brazen face of a prostitute
and you refuse to admit to any shame.
4Haven’t you just recently called out to me, saying,
“My Father, my friend since I was young,
5will you be angry with me forever?
Will you always be so outraged?”
You have made such complaints,
but you continue doing all the evil you can.
6When Josiah was king, the LORD said to me, “Have you seen what that faithless Israel has done? Have you seen her camped out on every hill and under every green tree, playing the prostitute?” 7And I thought she would return to me after she had satisfied herself with such behavior, but she did not. And her false sister Judah was a witness to it. 8Because of faithless Israel’s adultery, I divorced her. Still, her lying sister Judah wasn’t concerned and went herself to play the role of a prostitute. 9And Israel took her behavior so lightly that she polluted the whole land by committing adultery behind every stone and every tree. 10But even this did not cause Judah to return to me whole-heartedly, but only superficially, says the LORD.
11Then the LORD said to me: “Faithless Israel is not as guilty as false Judah.
12Go and declare to those in the north,
Return, faithless Israel,” says the LORD.
“I will not look at you in anger because I am merciful,”
says the LORD.
“I will not be angry with you forever
13if you will only confess your sin of rebelling against the LORD your God,
and that you have given your pleasures to strangers
under every shade tree,
and that you have not obeyed my word,” says the LORD.
14“Faithless children, come back!” says the LORD. “I am your master,
and I will gather you – one from each town and two from each family – and bring you to Zion.
15“I will give you shepherds after my own heart who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. 16When your numbers have increased in the land, that’s when they will no longer talk about ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ It won’t even come to mind or be remembered or be missed and another one will not be made. 17Then Jerusalem will be known as the LORD’s throne. All the nations will come to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem. They will stop stubbornly following their own wicked ideas. 18In those days the family of Judah will be joined with the family of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land I gave your ancestors as a heritage.
19I thought how I would embrace you as my children
and give you a wonderful land,
the most beautiful of all the nations.
And I thought you would call me ‘Father,’
and would never turn away from me.
20But you have been faithless to me, house of Israel,
as a faithless wife turns away from her husband, says the LORD.
21A voice is heard on the empty hilltops,
the weeping and groaning of Israel’s children,
because they have polluted their path
and have forgotten the LORD their God.
22Come back, faithless children!
I will heal you of your faithlessness!
We will come to you because you are the LORD our God.
23Surely the hills seek to turn us aside
with the wild parties on the hilltops.
Surely the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel.
24From our youth, shameful things have eaten away everything our ancestors worked so hard for with their flocks and herds, and with their sons and daughters. 25Let us lie down in our shame and let our disgrace be our covering, for we and our ancestors have sinned against the LORD our God from childhood to this day. We have not been obedient to the LORD our God.
1-5: Israel’s unfaithfulness is likened to a wife who has been divorced and turns to prostitution. Jeremiah, more than any of the other prophets, uses the imagery of sexual infidelity to describe how Israel has forsaken God and pursued other religions.
6-10: Israel in these verses is the northern kingdom, Judah the southern one. When the northern tribes rebelled and founded their own nation, they also founded their own religion (see 1 Kings 12:25-33). But Judah also then turned to pagan religious practices. King Josiah undertook significant reforms (2 Kings 23) but did not succeed in wiping out pagan influences.
11-14: In spite of Josiah’s efforts, God judges Judah to be more faithless than Israel. So, God turns to Israel and beckons them back into the fold.
15-18: God offers to provide leaders for Israel if they will return and be rejoined to Judah.
19-20: Israel does not respond to the invitation, however, and continues to “prostitute” itself to other gods.
21-25: I think these verses represent an imaginary response from Israel, the response God is hoping for. Of course, we know from the books of Kings and Chronicles that Israel was not repentant and suffered destruction at the hands of the Assyrians.
Reading this chapter naturally tends to make us wonder where our own nation is in regard to God’s claim on us. And what can we do? The first thing, of course, is to get our own lives in order. If people of faith remain faithful, others will be drawn to the LORD’s presence in their lives. Don’t underestimate the power of simple acts of faith. I think it begins with making sure we keep Sunday set apart as the LORD’s day.