Jeremiah 3
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chs. 2–6

Jeremiah’s earliest discourses, viz. from the time of his call (b.c. 626) to a date shortly after that of Josiah’s reforms (b.c. 621).

These utterances as a whole describe the condition of things at this period, setting forth the corruption of the nation and the punishment to ensue. As the discourses were not committed to writing till b.c. 604, we can scarcely take them as a verbatim report of the prophet’s utterances, of which however they no doubt faithfully record the substance with probably some colouring of the original language here and there to adapt them to the state of affairs at the later date. The metrical form which appears in a large part of this Book is well shewn in the Hebrew of these chs. Here Jeremiah 2:2-3; Jeremiah 2:14-22; Jeremiah 2:25-32 give us good examples of the Ḳinah rhythm (see Intr. ch. 5), while the other vv. yield (with occasional slight changes of the MT.) other forms of metre Jeremiah 2:5-8; Jeremiah 2:23-24, a triple beat or accented syllable in each half verse; Jeremiah 2:9-13; Jeremiah 2:33-34; Jeremiah 2:36-37, a quadruple beat in each half).

The whole may be arranged in sections, thus:

-1Jeremiah 2:1 to Jeremiah 3:5 Jehovah’s faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness; (2) Jeremiah 3:6 to Jeremiah 4:4 conditional offers of restoration; (3) Jeremiah 4:5-31 impending national disaster; (4) Jeremiah 5:1-31 the foe is at hand, Jerusalem is ripe for judgement; (5) Jeremiah 6:1-30 the Doom: these last three sections giving a more definite description of the approaching punishment.

Chs. Jeremiah 2:1 to Jeremiah 3:5. Jehovah’s faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness

We may divide as follows.

-1Jeremiah 2:1-13 Israel’s ingratitude in return for Jehovah’s love; (2) Jeremiah 2:14-30 her sin and obstinacy under punishment; (3) Jeremiah 2:31-37 her disregard of Jehovah’s past favours; (4) Jeremiah 3:1-5 her faithlessness towards her Divine Spouse.

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.
Ch. Jeremiah 3:1-5. Israel’s faithlessness towards her Spouse

1. They say] The Hebrew is simply saying. Either the opening words of Jeremiah 3:6 have been displaced and should stand here, or a similar introductory clause has accidentally dropped out. The connexion of thought is: the Lord refuses to recognise either Egypt or Assyria as the lawful spouse of His people, at the same time saying that as they have chosen to forsake Him for them, He will act in accordance with the law of divorce and will refuse to receive Israel again.

shall he return unto her again?] According to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, when a woman left her husband in accordance with a bill of divorce and was married to another, even a bill of divorce given her by her new husband did not enable the former one to take her back. As the illustration applies to Israel’s return to Jehovah, not His to her, there is something to be said for the LXX’s reading, viz. Shall she indeed return to him? The form of the MT. has been accounted for as a reference to Deut. as above, although we cannot say that the Deuteronomic code on the matter was as yet in operation. Moreover the case contemplated in that passage is one of divorce, and Israel had not been divorced. In the time of Saul the marriage of a divorced woman to a second husband did not preclude her from returning to the former one (see 1 Samuel 25:44; 2 Samuel 3:14 f.). The prophet, however, may be here thinking of the contraction of an illegitimate union by a divorced woman. “His argument is apparently this: If a man divorces his wife and she lives with another man, how can her first husband take her back, defiled as she is for him? But Judah’s case is still worse, for she has not been divorced, and has contracted an adulterous union not with one lover but with many.” Pe.

yet return] and thinkest thou to return (as mg.). An expression of surprise. It is impossible surely to play fast and loose with God in such a matter—a thing forbidden even in human affairs.

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.
2. Israel is shameless and wholly given up to idolatrous excesses.

bare heights] a favourite word in this Book (Jeremiah 3:21, Jeremiah 4:11 etc.).

an Arabian in the wilderness] lit. steppe-dwellers (of N. Arabia). See on Jeremiah 25:24. As they lie in wait for companies of travellers passing, so does Israel seek eagerly its unholy rites.

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.
3. no latter rain] See ch. Jeremiah 5:24, and for the general thought cp. Amos 4:6 ff. The wholly different rendering of the clause by LXX, though doubtless wrong, suggests an original Hebrew with the sense, And thy many friends (lovers or idols) were a snare to thee.

Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My father, thou art the guide of my youth?
4. Wilt thou not from this time cry] Hast thou not but now cried. Judah, at the very time that she is deserting Jehovah, is using to Him the language of wheedling affection.

guide] mg. companion. The same word is used of a husband in Proverbs 2:17.

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.
5. The continued expression of Israel’s ill-founded confidence and God’s reply.

thou hast spoken, etc.] rather (as mg.) thou hast spoken thus, but hast done, etc.

hast had thy way] Heb. been able, carried thy purposes into effect. For the thought of the whole verse cp. Hosea 6:1-4.

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.
6. backsliding Israel] lit. Israel “(which is) apostasy (itself).” The play on the two senses of the Hebrew verb to turn back from Yahweh, and to turn back (or return) from false gods to Him, which runs through all this passage (as far as Jeremiah 4:1) is lost by the rendering “backsliding.” See Dr. p. 340.

hath done] rather did (and so for the following verbs, went up … there played). Samaria had fallen, c. b.c. 722.

6–18. Dr. (with Co. and others) points out that here the word “Israel” is used in its restricted sense for the ten tribes, whereas in Jeremiah 2:1 to Jeremiah 3:5 it meant the people as a whole, and he infers that the passage, though (apart from certain insertions) genuine and of the age of Josiah, has been inserted from some other context, so that Jeremiah 3:19 should follow immediately on Jeremiah 3:5. Jeremiah’s general reasoning here is: Israel, though guilty, is less so than Judah, who, in defiance of the warning afforded by her sister’s exile, has since plunged deeper into sin. If then Judah may still avert overthrow by repentance and amendment, how much more Israel?

Chs. Jeremiah 3:6 to Jeremiah 4:4. Conditional offers of restoration

We may subdivide thus.

-1Jeremiah 3:6-18. The ten tribes as less guilty than Judah are invited to repent and return. (2) Jeremiah 3:19 to Jeremiah 4:4. The invitation includes the whole nation, on a like condition.

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.
7. I said] to myself; I thought.

after she had done, etc.] mg. better, After she hath done all these things, she, etc.

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.
8. I saw] rather (as mg.) she (Judah) saw that etc., thus harmonizing with the similar passage, Ezekiel 23:11.

And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks.
9. lightness] frivolity. The Hebrew word occurs here only in this sense.

with stones and with stocks] See on Jeremiah 2:27.

And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD.
And the LORD said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah.
11–13. In spite of (i) greater privileges, (a) succession of kings of the same family, (b) the Temple, (c) Levites; (ii) the warning example of Israel, Judah has proved faithless and hypocritical as well (Jeremiah 3:4). Therefore the prophet is bidden to look toward the North (Assyria) whither the captives had been led. Upon sincere acknowledgment of sin pardon will ensue.

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.
12. look in anger] lit. as mg. cause my countenance to fall upon you. For the falling of the countenance in this sense, cp. Genesis 4:5.

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.
13. hast scattered thy ways] hast wandered hither and thither. Cp. Jeremiah 2:23.

strangers] foreign gods. Cp. Jeremiah 2:25.

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:
14. one of … family] Very small places were called “cities,” while “family” must mean a considerable number, a clan, or even a larger group. Cp. Jeremiah 8:3, Jeremiah 25:9.

14–18. Much here is probably a later editorial insertion (see Intr. iv. § 8), for (i) the picture (Jeremiah 3:14) of a very limited number of the captives returning from Assyria, and settling in Jerusalem, while afterwards (Jeremiah 3:16) spreading over the land, is inconsistent with Jeremiah 31:7 ff., (ii) we have no warrant for thinking that Jeremiah (Jeremiah 3:17) expected all nations to gather at Jerusalem to worship, (iii) Jeremiah 3:18 contemplates a return of Judah and Israel together from exile, but the earlier part of the ch. emphasizes the difference of treatment to be accorded to the two. Is the reference to the Ark (Jeremiah 3:16) also late? After Solomon’s time its history is obscure. Was it carried off by Shishak (1 Kings 14:26), or removed by Manasseh (as suggested by 2 Chronicles 33:7) to be replaced, according to the Chronicler’s tradition (2 Chronicles 35:3), by Josiah, though there is no confirmation of this in the parallel account in 2 Kings 23. We therefore cannot be sure that it existed in Jeremiah’s time. The post-exilic Temple had no Ark (Josephus, Wars, V. Jeremiah 3:5). But whether the Ark was still in existence or not, this part of Jeremiah 3:16 is probably a genuine fragment, though displaced, for the prophet’s attitude towards the Ark, as symbolical of the old Covenant which was destined to yield to the new one for which he looked (Jeremiah 31:31 ff.), is paralleled by his view as to the Temple (Jeremiah 7:4).

And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.
15. shepherds] See on ch. Jeremiah 2:8.

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.
16. The Ark, which had been the seat of the special manifestation of Jehovah, shall be forgotten, because the whole city shall be filled with His presence.

And it shall … in the land] Probably a later insertion in the passage, connecting with the “one” and “two” of Jeremiah 3:14, and implying that when they came to be numerous, they would no longer need the Ark as symbol, while till then it would be essential. In accordance with this view are the words “be multiplied and increased,” as being an expression characteristic of the exilic document (P), which forms one of the component parts of the Pentateuch. Cp. the same two verbs (identical in the Hebrew) in Jeremiah 23:3, and so in Ezekiel 36:2.

in those days] a phrase denoting the ideal future. Cp. Jeremiah 5:18, Jeremiah 33:16.

visit] rather (with mg.) miss, feel the want of.

neither shall that be done any more] rather (with mg.) neither shall it (the Ark) be made any more; no visible symbol shall be needed.

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.
17. all the nations] Gentile peoples shall be gathered into the Church of God, which shall thus become Universal. But see introd. note on Jeremiah 3:14-18.

stubbornness] a favourite word in this Book.

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.
18. For the reunion of the returned Israel and Judah cp. Ezekiel 37:16-28; also Isaiah 11:12-14.

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.
19. shall … nations] rightly mg. would … nations! Not a question, but the expression of a wish.

children] sons. Cp. Exodus 4:22. The point is that as daughters could not as a rule inherit (Numbers 27:1 ff.; cp. Job 42:15), God desired to treat His people as sons.

goodly heritage of the hosts] heritage of the chief splendour, or, goodliest heritage, mg. the goodliest heritage of the nations, lit. “the heritage of the beauty of the beauties (better than ‘hosts’) of the nations.” Cp. Ezekiel 20:6; Ezekiel 20:15; Daniel 11:16; Daniel 11:41. The sense is that Israel shall have a more glorious land than any other nation.

19, 20. Jehovah would desire to treat His people as sons in the matter of inheritance. Their conduct precludes this.

Chs. Jeremiah 3:19 to Jeremiah 4:4. The invitation includes the whole nation, on a like condition

This section should follow immediately on Jeremiah 3:5. See introd. note on Jeremiah 3:6-18.

Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the LORD.
20. O house of Israel] Israel as including Judah.

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.
21. bare heights] For the choice of such places for lamentation cp. ch. Jeremiah 7:29; Isaiah 15:2; Jdg 11:37.

21–25. Vividly drawn picture of Judah’s repentance. From the high places, the very scenes of her idolatrous excess, there comes a sound, at first of inarticulate weeping. In response to Jehovah’s gracious invitation, the emotion ventures to express itself in words of deep shame and contrition.

Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the LORD our God.
22. God’s reply to the lamentation and expressions of repentance. The Hebrew is striking in its play on the word turn, Turn, ye turned children; I will heal your turnings. Cp. Jeremiah 3:6; Hosea 14:4.

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.
23. Truly in vain is the help that is looked for from the hills, the tumult on the mountains] The Hebrew construction is difficult. MT. reads, Truly in vain from the hills the tumult the mountains. Probably a word such as sound should be restored in the first clause, while the change of a Hebrew vowel point enables us to insert on in the second. So Dr. The tumult (mg. noisy throng) denotes the orgies that attended on idol worship. Cp. Hosea 4:13.

For shame hath devoured the labour of our fathers from our youth; their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters.
24. Vain was the boisterous service spoken of in Jeremiah 3:23. It is not merely without profit, but most hurtful.

the shameful thing] Heb. Bosheth (shame), a word frequently substituted for Baal, when the latter had come to have idolatrous and therefore shameful associations. Cp. Jeremiah 11:13, where the two are identified, also Hosea 9:10; so too Jerubbaal (Jdg 6:32) = Jerubbesheth (2 Samuel 11:21); Eshbaal (1 Chronicles 8:33) = Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 2:8).

their sons and their daughters] See on Jeremiah 5:17, and cp. 2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 21:6.

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.
25. Let us lie down] Cp. for such a custom as indicative of very painful feelings 2 Samuel 12:16; 2 Samuel 13:31; 1 Kings 21:4.

cover] Cp. Psalm 109:29.

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