They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man's, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD.
They say - Or, That is to say. The prophet has completed his survey of Israel's conduct, and draws the conclusion that as an adulterous wife could not be taken back by her husband, so Israel has forfeited her part in the covenant with God. Apparently the opening word, which literally means "to say," only introduces the quotation in the margin.
Yet return again to me - Or, "and thinkest thou to return unto me!" The whole argument is not of mercy, but is the proof that after her repeated adulteries, Israel could not again take her place as wife. To think of returning to God, with the marriage-law unrepealed, was folly.
Lift up thine eyes unto the high places, and see where thou hast not been lien with. In the ways hast thou sat for them, as the Arabian in the wilderness; and thou hast polluted the land with thy whoredoms and with thy wickedness.
These words are not the language of consolation to the conscience-stricken, but of vehement expostulation with hardened sinners. They prove, therefore, the truth of the interpretation put upon the preceding verse.
As the Arabian ... - The freebooting propensities of the Bedouin had passed in ancient times into a proverb. As eager as the desert-tribes were for plunder, so was Israel for idolatry.
Therefore the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain; and thou hadst a whore's forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed.
Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My father, thou art the guide of my youth?
Or, Hast thou Not from this time called "me, My Father, thou art the" husband "of my youth?" i. e., from the time of Josiah's reforms in his eighteenth year, in opposition to "of old time" Jeremiah 2:20.
Will he reserve his anger for ever? will he keep it to the end? Behold, thou hast spoken and done evil things as thou couldest.
Rather, "Will he, the young husband," retain, "keep up His anger forever!" These words should be joined to Jeremiah 3:4.
Behold ... - Rather, "Behold, thou hast spoken" thus, but thou hast "done evil things" persistently. The King James Version translates as if Judah's words and deeds were both evil. Really her words were fair, but her deeds proved them to be false.
And here ends the prophecy, most interesting as showing what was the general nature of Jeremiah's exhortations to his countrymen, during the 14 years of Josiah's reign. He sets before them God and Israel united by a covenant of marriage, to the conditions of which Yahweh is ever true, while Israel practices with zest every form of idolatry. Therefore, the divine blessing is withheld. It is an honest and manly warning, and the great lesson it teaches us is, that with God nothing avails but a real and heartfelt repentance followed by a life of holiness and sincere devotion to His service.
Jeremiah 3:6-4:4 - "The Call to Repentance"
The former prophecy ended with the denunciation of God's perpetual anger because of Israel's obstinate persistence in sin. Now there is an invitation to repentance, and the assurance of forgiveness. The argument is as follows: Israel had been guilty of apostasy, and therefore God bad put her away. Unwarned by this example her more guilty sister Judah persists in the same sins Jeremiah 3:6-11. Israel therefore is invited to, return to the marriage-covenant by repentance Jeremiah 3:12-14, in which case she and Judah, accepted upon the like condition, shall become joint members of a spiritual theocracy. Jeremiah 3:15-18. The repentance which God requires must be real Jeremiah 3:19-4:4.
The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot.
Backsliding Israel - The original is very strong: Hast thou seen Apostasy? i. e., Israel: as though Israel were the very personificatiom of the denial of God.
She is gone up - Rather, she goes; it is her habitual practice.
And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it.
Or, "And I said (i. e., within myself), After she has done all these things, she will return to me." But she did not return.
Treacherous - literally, "Falsehood," i. e., false, faithless. The character of the two sisters is plainly marked. Samaria is apostate; she abandons Yahweh's worship altogether. Judah maintains the form only; her secret desires are set upon the orgies of pagan worship.
And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.
Rather, "And I saw" that because apostate "Israel" had "committed adultery, I had put her away, and given her" the writing of her divorcement, "yet" false "Judah her sister feared not."...The expression, "For all the causes whereby," is probably the actual formula with which writings of divorcement commenced.
And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks.
Lightness - Others render as in the margin.
Defiled - Rather, profaned. The land especially consecrated to Yahweh's service was treated by Judah as a common land.
And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD.
Her treacherous sister Judith - These words are a sort of refrain, thrice Jeremiah 3:7-8, Jeremiah 3:10 repeated before God finally pronounces Judah more culpable than Israel.
And the LORD said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah.
Hath justified herself - Judah had had the benefit of the warning given by Israel's example. Both abandon Yahweh's service for idolatry, but Israel is simply "apostate," Judah is also false.
The verse is important,
(1) as accounting for the destruction of Jerusalem so soon after the pious reign of Josiah. Manasseh's crimes had defiled the land, but it was by rejecting the reforms of Josiah that the people finally profaned it, and sealed their doom:
(2) As showing that it is not by the acts of its government that a nation stands or falls. Ahaz and Manasseh lent the weight of their influence to the cause of idolatry: Hezekiah and Josiah to the cause of truth. But the nation had to determine which should prevail. Excepting a remnant it embraced idolatry, and brought upon itself ruin: in the remnant the nation again revived Jeremiah 24:5, Jeremiah 24:7.
Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever.
The north - The ten tribes, settled by Salmanezer in the north of Assyria.
I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you - literally, I will not cause my face "to fall upon you:" i. e., "I will not receive you with averted looks." The "and" before this clause should be omitted, as also before the next clause, "I will not keep ..."
I will not keep - All God's promises and threats are conditional upon man's conduct.
Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the LORD thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the LORD.
Acknowledge - literally, "know thy iniquity;" know that thy doings are iniquitous.
Scattered thy ways - Wandered in search of those idolatries which foreign nations practice.
Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:
Children ... married - The twofold relationship gives a double certainty of acceptance. As children, they were sure of a father's love, as a wife they might hope for a revival of past affection from the husband of their youth.
One of a city, and two of a family - The family (in Hebrew) is far larger than a city, as it embraces all the descendants of a common ancestor. Thus, the tribe of Judah was divided into only four or five families. However national the apostasy, it does not involve in its guilt the few who are faithful, and the promises are still their rightful possession.
To Zion - To the true Church. The fulfillment of the promise began with the return to Palestine after the Babylonian exile, but is complete only in Christianity.
And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.
Pastors - "Kings, rulers" (compare Jeremiah 2:8). Not military usurpers Hosea 8:4, but true servants of God, as David 1 Samuel 13:14.
And it shall come to pass, when ye be multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, saith the LORD, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the LORD: neither shall it come to mind: neither shall they remember it; neither shall they visit it; neither shall that be done any more.
In those days - This and the phrase "the latter days," had become under the Messianic teaching of the prophets a regular formula for the time of Christ's coming, when all the nation's hopes would be fulfilled.
The ark was the center of the Mosaic economy, containing within it the two tables' of the Law as the conditions of the covenant and having over it, upon the mercy-seat, the Shechinah as the visible sign of God's presence. But "in those days" the symbol must pass away, because God will then dwell in His people by the gift of the Holy Spirit 1 Corinthians 3:16, and the terms of the covenant will be written on their hearts Jeremiah 31:33.
Neither shall they visit it - Rather, neither shall they miss it; i. e., they will not trouble about it, nor regret its loss.
Neither shall that be done anymore - Rather, "neither shall it (the ark) be made anymore;" it shall not be renewed or repaired, because the tabernacle of God will be one "made without hands" Hebrews 9:11, even the heart of His believing people.
At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart.
The throne of the Lord - Yahweh's throne shall not be the ark, but Jerusalem, i. e., the Christian Church Revelation 21:2; Galatians 4:26.
To Jerusalem - The Septuagint and Syriac are probably right in omitting this word.
Imagination ... - Stubbornness (margin). A word always used in a bad sense, for "obstinacy."
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 to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers.
With - To (margin). The prophet has just described the return of the ten tribes Jeremiah 3:14, etc. Israel is represented as the first to repent, and Judah must go to her, in order that they may come together back to the holy land, divided no longer into Jews and Israelites, but merged into one people.
Out of the land of the north - The objection that the Jews were not carried like the Israelites into the northern provinces of Assyria Jeremiah 3:12, but into Babylonia, misinterprets the whole prophecy, the gist of which is that in case of Israel's repentance, Judah must humbly seek her out, and be content henceforward to take the inferior place, as having been the more guilty (see Jeremiah 3:11).
But I said, How shall I put thee among the children, and give thee a pleasant land, a goodly heritage of the hosts of nations? and I said, Thou shalt call me, My father; and shalt not turn away from me.
But I-- (emphatic). "And I." The emphasis lies in the abundant goodness of God contrasted with Israel's waywardness.
How ...? - Rather, How ...! i. e., How gloriously! With what honor will I place thee among the children!
Goodly ... of the hosts ... - Rather, "a heritage of the chief beauty of nations." The general sense is, that Israel "possesses the most beautiful territory of any nation."
And I said - This clause is not the answer to a difficulty, as in the King James Version, but completes the description of God's loving purpose. "I said within myself that I would treat thee as a son, and give thee a glorious inheritance: I also said, that ye would return my love, would call me Father, and be untrue to me no more."
Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the LORD.
Surely as - Rather: "Just as."
A voice was heard upon the high places, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel: for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the LORD their God.
Upon the high places - Upon those bare table-lands, which previously had been the scene of Israel's idolatries Jeremiah 3:2. The prophet supposes the offer of mercy to Israel if repentant to have been accepted, and describes Israel's agony of grief now that she is convinced of her sins.
Weeping and supplications - literally, "the weeping of earliest prayers for mercy."
For they have ... - Rather, because "they hare perverted their way," literally, made it crooked. It gives the reason of their cry for mercy.
Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the LORD our God.
Yahweh's answer to their prayer in Jeremiah 3:21 is immediately followed by their acceptance of the offer of divine mercy.
For - Rather, because ... This profession of faith gives the reason why they return to Yahweh. The whole description is most graphically conceived. The people weeping upon the hills: God's gracious voice bidding them return: the glad cry of the penitents exclaiming that they come: the profession of faith won from them by the divine love; these form altogether a most touching picture of a national repentance.
Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel.
Rather, Surely "in vain from the hills" is the revelry of the mountains. The penitents contrast in it the uselessness of idol-worship with the salvation which Yahweh gives to His people.
For shame hath devoured the labour of our fathers from our youth; their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters.
For ... - And. It is the continuation of the thought in Jeremiah 3:23. Idolatry was there described as unprofitable, here as ruinous and hurtful.
Shame - literally, the shame (Bosheth, personified), that is, "Baal." The names "Bosheth" and "Baal" are constantly interchanged. Compare Judges 6:31-32.
Their flocks and their herds - The temperate and sober enjoyments connected with Yahweh's sacrifices led to no excess, whereas in idol-worship the people, after sitting down "to eat and drink, rose up to play," and wasted both health and substance in licentious revelry.
Their sons ... - This probably refers to human sacrifices.
We lie down in our shame, and our confusion covereth us: for we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.
We lie down ... - Or, We will lie down: we are ready to throw ourselves upon the ground in bitter humiliation.
Covereth - literally, shall cover us. We will hide our face from others.