Jeremiah 3:1
They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man's, shall he return to her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but you have played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, said the LORD.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
III.

(1) The parable of the guilty wife who is condemned in spite of all her denials is carried out to its logical results.

They say.—Better, So to speak, as introducing a new application of the figure. The direct reference is to Deuteronomy 24:4, which forbade the return to the past husband as an abomination, a law which the recent discovery of the Book of the Law (2Kings 22:10-11) had probably brought into prominence. But there is also an obvious allusion to the like imagery in Hosea. There the prophet had done, literally or in parable, what the law had forbidden (Hosea 2:16; Hosea 3:3), and so had held out the possibility of return and the hope of pardon. Jeremiah has to play a sterner part. and to make the apostate adulteress at least feel that she had sinned too deeply to have any claims to forgiveness. It might seem as if Jehovah could not now return to the love of His espousals, and make her what she once had been.

Yet return again to me, saith the Lord.—The words sound in the English like a gracious invitation, and—in spite of the authority of many interpreters who take it as an indignant exclamation, and return to me! an invitation given in irony, and so equivalent to rejection, as though that return were out of the question—it must, I think, be so taken. The prophet has, as we have seen, the history of Hosea in his mind, where there had been such a call to return (Hosea 2:19; Hosea 3:3), and actually refers to it and repeats it in Jeremiah 3:7; Jeremiah 3:12; Jeremiah 3:14. It surely implies a want of insight into the character of Jeremiah to suppose that he ever came before men as proclaiming an irrevocable condemnation, excluding the possibility of repentance.

Jeremiah 3:1. They say — That is, men use to say, If a man put away his wife — Or give her a bill of divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1; and she go from him — In consequence thereof; and become another man’s — Engage herself to another; shall he return unto her? — He cannot take her again according to the law, Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Or, rather, will a man do such a thing? If the law were not against it, would any man be inclined to take such a woman again? Certainly not. Such playing fast and loose with the marriage-bond would be a horrid profanation of that ordinance, and would greatly pollute the land. Thus they had reason to expect, that God would refuse ever to take them again to be his people, who had not only been joined to one strange god, but had played the harlot with many lovers. If we had to do with a man like ourselves, after such provocations as we have been guilty of, he would be implacable, and we might despair of his ever being reconciled to us again. But he is God and not man, and therefore he adds, Yet return again to me — Namely, forsaking all those other lovers; which invitation implies a promise, that he would receive them upon their repentance and reformation.3:1-5 In repentance, it is good to think upon the sins of which we have been guilty, and the places and companies where they have been committed. How gently the Lord had corrected them! In receiving penitents, he is God, and not man. Whatever thou hast said or done hitherto, wilt thou not from this time apply to me? Will not this grace of God overcome thee? Now pardon is proclaimed, wilt thou not take the benefit? They will hope to find in him the tender compassions of a Father towards a returning prodigal. They will come to him as the Guide of their youth: youth needs a guide. Repenting sinners may encourage themselves that God will not keep his anger to the end. All God's mercies, in every age, suggest encouragement; and what can be so desirable for the young, as to have the Lord for their Father, and the Guide of their youth? Let parents daily direct their children earnestly to seek this blessing.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.

CHAPTER 3

Jer 3:1-25. God's Mercy notwithstanding Judah's Vileness.

Contrary to all precedent in the case of adultery, Jehovah offers a return to Judah, the spiritual adulteress (Jer 3:1-5). A new portion of the book, ending with the sixth chapter. Judah worse than Israel; yet both shall be restored in the last days (Jer 3:6-25).

1. They say—rather, as Hebrew, "saying," in agreement with "the Lord"; Jer 2:37 of last chapter [Maurer]. Or, it is equivalent to, "Suppose this case." Some copyist may have omitted, "The word of the Lord came to me," saying.

shall he return unto her—will he take her back? It was unlawful to do so (De 24:1-4).

shall not—Should not the land be polluted if this were done?

yet return—(Jer 3:22; Jer 4:1; Zec 1:3; compare Eze 16:51, 58, 60). "Nevertheless," &c. (see on [895]Isa 50:1).God’s forbearance with the idolatry of Judah, who is worse than Israel, Jeremiah 3:1-11. Both called to repent, with gospel promises, Jeremiah 3:12-19. Misery by sin; salvation only of God, Jeremiah 3:20-25.

They say; or, Men use to say. If this, with the four following verses, belong to the former chapter, then it seems to express God’s condescension to them: q. d. Though if a woman forsake her husband, and be married to another man, the law will not permit him to receive her again; yet God would receive thee again upon thy returning to him; but thou choosest rather obstinately to adhere to thy other confidences, wherein thou shalt not prosper. But if we look upon them as beginning a new argument, then here God declares his readiness to receive them again upon their repentance, though it be very unusual for husbands so to do, when their wives have proved treacherous unto them, in betaking themselves to other husbands; and so this chapter may very well begin with such a proverbial speech, They say, or, Men use to say, or, It is commonly said. Put away his wife; or give her a bill of divorce, Deu 24:1. Shall he return unto her again? q. d. He cannot take her again, according to the law, Deu 24:1-4. Or rather, will a man do such a thing? If the law were not against it, would any man be so easily wrought upon as to take her again? No, certainly. It is an argument from the less to the greater, to set forth God’s great lenity towards them: q.d. If a husband should turn away his wife merely because he pleased her not, though she gave him no just cause, and she should bestow herself on another, he would not be reconciled to her, neither might he take her again; but you have gone a whoring from me, and sufficiently provoked me to reject and turn you off. I will dispense with my own law for your sakes, and will act by my prerogative; I am ready to be reconciled, to follow them that fly from me, as in the close of the verse, and Zechariah 1:3 Matthew 3:7. God will pardon sins of apostacy, and falls after repentance.

Shall not that land be greatly polluted? Heb. in being profane be profaned. Would not so great a sin greatly pollute a state or nation? Leviticus 18:27,28. It must needs be polluted by such marriages to and fro, and promiscuous couplings, Deu 24:4.

With many lovers; not with one only, as being sufficient to make thee an adulteress, but a common strumpet, joining in fellowship with divers associates and companions, or many idols.

They say, if a man put away his wife,.... Or, "saying" (w); wherefore some connect those words with the last verse of the preceding chapter, as if they were a continuation of what the Lord had been there saying, that he would reject their confidences; so Kimchi; but they seem rather to begin a new section, or a paragraph, with what were commonly said among men, or in the law, and as the sense of that; that if a man divorced his wife upon any occasion,

and she go from him; departs from his house, and is separated from bed and board with him:

and become another man's, be married to another, as she might according to the law:

shall he return unto her again? take her to be his wife again; her latter husband not liking her, or being dead? no, he will not; he might not according to the law in Deuteronomy 24:4 and if there was no law respecting this, it can hardly be thought that he would, it being so contrary to nature, and to the order of civil society:

shall not that land be greatly polluted? either Judea, or any other, where such usages should obtain; for this, according to the law, was causing the land to sin, filling it with it, and making it liable to punishment for it; this being an abomination before the Lord. The Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, and Arabic versions, render it, "shall not that woman be defiled?" she is so by the latter husband; and that is a reason why she is not to be received by the former again, Deuteronomy 24:4,

but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; or served many idols; the number of their gods having been according to the number of their cities, Jeremiah 2:28,

yet return again to me, saith the Lord; by repentance, and doing their first works, worshipping and serving him as formerly; so the Targum,

"return now from this time to my worship, saith the Lord.''

The Vulgate Latin version adds, "and I will receive thee"; this is an instance of great grace in the Lord, and which is not to be found among men.

(w) "dicendo", Montanus, Vatablus, Janius & Tremellius.

They {a} say, If a man shall put away his wife, and she shall go from him, and become another man's, shall he return to her again? shall not that land {b} be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many {c} lovers; yet {d} return again to me, saith the LORD.

(a) According as it is written, De 24:4.

(b) If he take such a one to wife again.

(c) That is, with idols, and with them whom you have put your confidence in.

(d) And I will not cast you off, but receive you, according to my mercy.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.Verse 1. - They say, etc.; as the margin of Authorized Version correctly states, the Hebrew simply has "saying." Various ingenious attempts have been made to explain this. Hitzig, for instance, followed by Dr. Payne Smith, thinks that "saying" may be an unusual equivalent for "that is to say," "for example," or the like; while the Vulgate and Rashi, followed by De Wette and Rosenmüller, assume an ellipsis, and render, "It is commonly said," or "I might say." But far the most natural way is to suppose that "saying" is a fragment of the superscription of the prophecy, the remainder of which has been accidentally placed in ver. 6, and that we should read, "And the word of the Lord came unto me in the days of Josiah the king, saying." So J. D. Michaelis, Ewald, Graf, Naegelsbach. If a man put away his wife. The argument is founded on the law of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which forbade an Israelite who had divorced his wife to take her again, if in the interval she had been married to another. The Jews had broken a still more sacred tie, not once only, but repeatedly; they worshipped "gods many and lords many;" so that they had no longer any claim on Jehovah in virtue of his "covenant" with his people. Shall he return, etc.? rather, Ought he to return? The force of the term is potential (comp. Authorized Version of Genesis 34:7, "which thing ought not to be done"). Shall not in the next clause is rather would not. Yet return again to me. So Peshito, Targum, Vulgate, and the view may seem to be confirmed by the invitations in vers. 12, 14, 22. But as it is obviously inconsistent with the argument of the verse, and as the verb may equally well be the infinitive or the imperative, most recent commentators render, "And thinkest thou to return to me?" (literally, and returning to me! implying that the very idea is inconceivable). Probably Jeremiah was aware that many of the Jews were dissatisfied with the religious condition of the nation (comp. ver. 4). Judah has refused to let itself be turned from idolatry either by judgments or by the warnings of the prophets; nevertheless it holds itself guiltless, and believes itself able to turn aside judgment by means of its intrigues with Egypt. Jeremiah 2:29. "Wherefore contend ye against me? ye are all fallen away from me, saith Jahveh. Jeremiah 2:30. In vain have I smitten your sons; correction have they not taken: your sword hath devoured your prophets, like a devouring lion. Jeremiah 2:31. O race that ye are, mark the word of Jahveh. Was I a wilderness to Israel, or a land of dread darkness? Why saith my people, We wander about, come no more to thee? Jeremiah 2:32. Does a maiden forget her ornaments, a bride her girdle? but my people hath forgotten me days without number. Jer 2:33. How finely thou trimmest thy ways to seek love! therefore to misdeeds thou accustomest thy ways. Jeremiah 2:34. Even in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the innocent poor ones; not at housebreaking hast thou caught them, but by reason of all this. Jeremiah 2:35. And thou sayest, I am innocent, yea His wrath hath turned from me: behold, I will plead at law with thee for that thou hast said, I have not sinned. Jeremiah 2:36. Why runnest thou so hard to change thy way? for Egypt too thou shalt come to shame, as thou wast put to shame for Asshur. Jeremiah 2:37. From this also shalt thou come forth, beating thy hands upon thy head; for Jahveh rejecteth those in whom thou trustest, and thou shalt not prosper with them." The question in Jeremiah 2:29, Wherefore contend ye against me? implies that the people contended with God as to His visitations, murmured at the divine chastisements they had met with; not as to the reproaches addressed to them on account of their idolatry (Hitz., Graf). ריב with אל, contend, dispute against, is used of the murmuring of men against divine visitations, Jeremiah 12:1; Job 33:13. Judah has no ground for discontent with the Lord; for they have all fallen away from Him, and (Jeremiah 2:31) let themselves be turned to repentance neither by afflictions, nor by warnings, nor by God's goodness to them. לשּׁוא, to vanity, i.e., without effect, or in vain. Hitz. and Graf wish to refer "your sons" to the able-bodied youth who had at different times been slain by Jahveh in war. The lxx seem to have taken it thus, expression לקחוּ by ἐδέξασθε; for the third pers. of the verb will not agree with this acceptation of "your sons," since the reproach of not having taken correction could not apply to such as had fallen in war, but only to those who had escaped. This view is unquestionably incorrect, because, as Hitz. admits the subject, those addressed in לקחוּ, must be the people. Hence it follows of necessity that in בּניכם too the people is meant. The expression is similar to בּני עמּך, Leviticus 19:18, and is used for the members of the nation, those who constitute the people; or rather it is like בּני יהוּדה, Joel 3:6, where Judah is looked on by the prophet as a unity, where sons are the members of the people. הכּה, too, is not to be limited to those smitten or slain in war. It is used of all the judgments with which God visits His people, of sword, pestilence, famine, failure of crops, drought, and of all kinds of diseases; cf. Leviticus 26:24., Deuteronomy 28:22, Deuteronomy 28:27. מוּסר is instruction by word and by warning, as well as correction by chastisement. Most comm. take the not receiving of correction to refer to divine punitive visitations, and to mean refusal to amend after such warning; Ros., on the other hand, holds the reference to be to the warnings and reproofs of the prophets (מוּסר( stehpohic instructionem valet, ut Proverbs 5:12, Proverbs 5:23 cet.). But both these references are one-sided. If we refer "correction have they not taken" to divine chastisement by means of judgments, there will be no connection between this and the following clause: your sword devoured your prophets; and we are hindered from restraining the reference wholly to the admonitions and rebukes of the prophets by the close connection of the words with the first part of the verse, a connection indicated by the omission of all particles of transition. We must combine the two references, and understand מוּסר both of the rebukes or warnings of the prophets and of the chastisements of God, holding at the same time that it was the correction of the people by the prophets that Jer. here chiefly kept in view. In administering this correction the prophets not only applied to the hearts of the people as judgments from God all the ills that fell upon them, but declared to the stiff-necked sinners the punishments of God, and by their words showed those punishments to be impending: e.g., Elijah, 1 Kings 17 and 18, 2 Kings 1:9.; Elisha, 2 Kings 2:23; the prophet at Bethel, 1 Kings 13:4. Thus this portion of the verse acquires a meaning for itself, which simplifies the transition from the first to the third clause, and we gain the following thought: I visited you with punishments, and made you to be instructed and reproved by prophets, but ye have slain the prophets who were sent to you. Nehemiah puts it so in Nehemiah 9:26; but Jeremiah uses a much stronger expression, Your sword devoured your prophets like a lion which destroys, in order to set full before the sinners' eyes the savage hatred of the idolatrous people against the prophets of God. Historical examples of this are furnished by 1 Kings 18:4, 1 Kings 18:13; 1 Kings 19:10; 2 Chronicles 24:21., 2 Kings 21:16; Jeremiah 26:23.

The prophet's indignation grows hotter as he brings into view God's treatment of the apostate race, and sets before it, to its shame, the divine long-suffering and love. הדּור, O generation ye! English: O generation that ye are! (cf. Ew. 327, a), is the cry of indignation; cf. Deuteronomy 32:5, where Moses calls the people a perverse foolish generation. ראוּ: see, observe, give heed to the word of the Lord. This verb is often used of perceptions by any sense, as expressive of that sense by which men apprehend most of the things belonging to the outward world. Have I been for Israel a wilderness, i.e., an unfruitful soil, offering neither means of support nor shelter? This question contains a litotes, and is as much as to say: have not I richly blessed Israel with earthly goods? Or a land of dread darkness? מאפּליה, lit., a darkness sent by Jahveh; cf. the analogous form שׁלהבתיה, Sol 8:6.

(Note: Ewald, Gram. 270, c, proposes to read with the lxx מאפלּיּה, because (he says) it is nowhere possible, at least not in the language of the prophets, for the name Jah (God) to express merely greatness. But this is not to the point. Although a darkness sent by Jah be a great darkness, it by no means follows that the name Jah is used merely to express greatness. But by תּרדּמת ; 1 Samuel 26:12, it is put beyond a doubt that darkness of Jah means a darkness sent or spread out by Jah.)

The desert is so called not merely because it is pathless (Job 3:23), but as a land in which the traveller is on all sides surrounded by deadly dangers; cf. Jeremiah 2:6 and Psalm 55:5. Why then will His people insist on being quit of Him? We roam about unfettered (as to רוּד, see on Hosea 12:1), i.e., we will no longer bear the yoke of His law; cf. Jeremiah 2:20. By a comparison breathing love and longing sadness, the prophet seeks to bring home to the heart of the people a feeling of the unnaturalness of their behaviour towards the Lord their God. Does a bride, then, forget her ornaments? etc. קשׁרים, found besides in Isaiah 3:20, is the ornamental girdle with which the bride adorns herself on the wedding-day; cf. Isaiah 3:20 with Isaiah 49:18. God is His people's best adornment; to Him it owes all the precious possessions it has. It should keep fast hold of Him as its most priceless treasure, should prize Him more highly than the virgin her jewels, than the bride her girdle. but instead of this it has forgotten its God, and that not for a brief time, but throughout countless days. ימים is accus. of duration of time. Jeremiah uses this figure besides, as Calv. observed, to pave the way for what comes next. Volebat enim Judaeos conferre mulieribus adulteris, quae dum feruntur effreni sua libidine, rapiuntur post suos vagos amores.

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