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Bible: What Does Jeremiah 3-4 Teach Us About Repentance and Restoration?
The LORD's Faithfulness
Yahweh quotes Israel’s leaders ("they") who, while considering a divorce and subsequent adultery situation, ask rhetorical questions that imply that human remarriage is not permissible, because adultery destroys the purity of the marriage.
Such is not the case in a divine-human relationship.
The LORD asserts that Israel’s repeated unfaithfulness toward Him can neither terminate His love for them, nor His desire that they return (v. 1).
He has withheld blessings from them because of their spiritual pollution and their refusal to be ashamed of it (vv. 2-3).
By expecting Israel to feign remorse for their behavior, Yahweh shows His perfect knowledge about their bent toward evil (vv. 4-5).
Who is Worse?
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Backsliding Israel and Treacherous Judah
Jeremiah notes that more revelation of a similar kind came to him during Josiah’s reign, as the LORD discusses with him the case of "backsliding Israel" and "treacherous Judah."
Israel's "backsliding"—that is, spiritual harlotry, from which she refused to repent—provided a bad example for Judah, her sister (vv. 6-7).
God consequently "divorced" Israel (cf. Is. 50).
Sadly, even this divine action did not frighten treacherous Judah; in fact, she proceeded to "defile the land" and only pretend to repent of her wrongdoing (vv. 8-10).
Deeming backsliding Israel "more righteous than treacherous Judah" (v. 11), the LORD offers the former people a chance to admit their transgressions, adulteries and disobedience, and return to Him in repentance.
[Israel could still repent, but Judah apparently felt too safe (complacent) to recognize any need for such.
Is this an example of God's preference for “cold” over “lukewarm”? (See Rev. 3: 15-16]
Obedience Brings Peace to Jerusalem
God stands ready to be merciful if they would only confess their sin and disobedience (vv. 12-13).
He would restore them all to Zion (v. 14), give them good instruction (v. 15), and bless them until they no longer needed the Ark of the Covenant as a visible prop of the presence of the LORD (v. 16).
"At that time" (a reference to the era of the Messianic kingdom) Yahweh will be present in Jerusalem, and both the nations and the united houses of Israel and Judah will obey God's law (vv. 17-18; cf. Jer. 31).
At the present time, however, He asks Himself a rhetorical question regarding Israel's current unfitness to enter blessedness (v. 19), fully recognizing that the nation has schemed against the LORD (v. 20).
Jeremiah announces that Israel weeps aloud, for the nation is lost and has forgotten God (v. 21).
He repeats Yahweh’s call for them to return and His promise to heal their backslidings (v. 22a).
As the national representative, the prophet confesses Israel’s (future?) faith in Him as they turn from vain idols to their Savior (vv. 22b-23).
Yet now he acknowledges their shame, sin, and disobedience (vv. 24-25).
Break Up the Fallow Ground
A Spiritual Operation
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Real Fruits of Repentance Bring Renewal
Yahweh continues to stress that Israel should demonstrate their repentance by producing good fruit, including
(1) a strong stand for righteousness (v. 1) and
(2) an effective witness to the true God (v. 2).
In order to avoid divine judgment, the nation needs spiritual renewal in at least three areas:
(1) they must “break up” their uncultivated parts ("fallow ground"); in other words, they must set apart to God's service certain unused areas of their lives;
(2) they must not spend their lives doing unfruitful work ("sowing among thorns"; See Mark 4:7, 18-19); and
(3) they must remove impediments to blessing, and show that they are true believers ("circumcising the foreskins of their hearts") [vv. 3,4; cf. Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Rom. 2:29].
God through the prophet gives Judah advance warning of the coming of a northern invader, admonishing His people to seek refuge in the fortified cities (vv. 5, 6).
Sad news he brings, for this conqueror (which he characterizes as a lion and a destroyer of nations) will wreak great destruction on land and in cities (v. 7).
Jeremiah, therefore, again calls the people to repentance and mourning (v. 8), knowing that this invasion will cause deep emotional upheaval, even among the spiritual and civil leaders (v. 9).
Characteristically, the prophet voices a rather strong disapproval of God's handling of the circumstances (v. 10), but Yahweh graciously says nothing about his words here.
Later, He tells Jeremiah that false prophets are preaching lies in His name (cf. 14:13).
A Foreign Invader
The Weeping Prophet
Winds (or a wind) of judgment, a dry wind—perhaps representative of a marauding army on horseback—advances at the LORD's command (vv. 11-12).
When he learns the number, power, and speed of this hastening conqueror, Jeremiah moans for himself and his people (v. 13).
Again, he pleads with Jerusalem to repent and be saved (v. 14).
Reports arrive regarding "watchers" from a "far country" who verbally threaten Judean cities (vv. 15-16).
Yahweh points to Jerusalem's rebellion as the cause of these assaults (v. 17); wickedness has led her into a deep bitterness of spirit (v. 18).
Jeremiah, now overflowing with grief, cries out when he hears the war trumpet (v. 19).
He foresees overwhelming destruction and plundering in the land, and wonders how long he must endure the incessant, loud trumpeting (vv. 20-21).
A one-verse statement from God summarizes the cause of this chastening upon Judah: the people are foolish, silly, lacking in understanding, and ignorant of good morals and of the LORD (v. 22).
The prophet's description of the land’s emptiness intentionally resembles Moses' depiction of the world before God began to form it (vv. 23-26; cf. Gen. 1:2).
Yahweh intends to show mercy (v. 27), yet His purpose—judgment of sin—will also surely come to pass (v. 28).
All the people will abandon the cities and flee to the mountains (v. 29; cf. Matt. 24:16).
The LORD further condemns the worldliness of His people, warning them that their lovers now will become their murderers later (vv. 30-31).
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