Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
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 Isa 50:1).
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. high places—the scene of idolatries which were spiritual adulteries.
In … ways … sat for them—watching for lovers like a prostitute (Ge 38:14, 21; Pr 7:12; 23:28; Eze 16:24, 25), and like an Arab who lies in wait for travellers. The Arabs of the desert, east and south of Palestine, are still notorious as robbers.
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—essential to the crops in Palestine; withheld in judgment (Le 26:19; compare Joe 2:23).
whore's forehead—(Jer 8:12; Eze 3:8).
Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My father, thou art the guide of my youth?
4. from this time—not referring, as Michaelis thinks, to the reformation begun the year before, that is, the twelfth of Josiah; it means—now at once, now at last.
me—contrasted with the "stock" whom they had heretofore called on as "father" (Jer 2:27; Lu 15:18).
thou art—rather, "thou wast."
guide of … youth—that is, husband (Jer 2:2; Pr 2:17; Ho 2:7, 15). Husband and father are the two most endearing of ties.
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. he—"thou," the second person, had preceded. The change to the third person implies a putting away of God to a greater distance from them; instead of repenting and forsaking their idols, they merely deprecate the continuance of their punishment. Jer 3:12 and Ps 103:9, answer their question in the event of their penitence.
spoken and—rather (God's reply to them), "Thou hast spoken (thus), and yet (all the while) thou hast done evil," &c.
as thou couldest—with all thy might; with incorrigible persistency [Calvin].
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. Jer 3:6-6:30, is a new discourse, delivered in Josiah's reign. It consists of two parts, the former extending to Jer 4:3, in which he warns Judah from the example of Israel's doom, and yet promises Israel final restoration; the latter a threat of Babylonian invasion; as Nabopolassar founded the Babylonian empire, 625 B.C., the seventeenth of Josiah, this prophecy is perhaps not earlier than that date (Jer 4:5, &c.; Jer 5:14, &c.; Jer 6:1, &c.; Jer 22:1-30); and probably not later than the second thorough reformation in the eighteenth year of the same reign.
backsliding—literally, "apostasy"; not merely apostate, but apostasy itself, the essence of it (Jer 3:14, 22).
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—(2Ki 17:13).
sister—(Eze 16:46; 23:2, 4).
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 that, though (whereas) it was for this very reason (namely), because backsliding (apostate) Israel had committed adultery I had put her away (2Ki 17:6, 18), and given her a bill of divorce, yet Judah, &c. (Eze 23:11, &c.).
bill of divorce—literally, "a writing of cuttings off." The plural implies the completeness of the severance. The use of this metaphor here, as in the former discourse (Jer 3:1), implies a close connection between the discourses. The epithets are characteristic; Israel "apostate" (as the Hebrew for "backsliding" is better rendered); Judah, not as yet utterly apostate, but treacherous or faithless.
also—herself also, like Israel.
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. it—Some take this verse of Judah, to whom the end of Jer 3:8 refers. But Jer 3:10 puts Judah in contrast to Israel in this verse. "Yet for all this," referring to the sad example of Israel; if Jer 3:9 referred to Judah, "she" would have been written in Jer 3:10, not "Judah." Translate, "It (the putting away of Israel) had come to pass through … whoredom; and (that is, for) she (Israel) had defiled the land" &c. [Maurer]. English Version, however, may be explained to refer to Israel.
lightness—"infamy." [Ewald]. Maurer not so well takes it from the Hebrew root, "voice," "fame."
And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD.
10. yet—notwithstanding the lesson given in Israel's case of the fatal results of apostasy.
not … whole heart—The reformation in the eighteenth year of Josiah was not thorough on the part of the people, for at his death they relapsed into idolatry (2Ch 34:33; Ho 7:14).
And the LORD said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah.
11. justified herself—has been made to appear almost just (that is, comparatively innocent) by the surpassing guilt of Judah, who adds hypocrisy and treachery to her sin; and who had the example of Israel to warn her, but in vain (compare Eze 16:51; 23:11).
more than—in comparison with.
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. Go—not actually; but turn and proclaim towards the north (Media and Assyria, where the ten tribes were located by Tiglath-pileser and Shalmaneser, 2Ki 15:29; 17:6; 18:9, 11).
Return … backsliding—Hebrew, Shubah, Meshubah, a play on sounds. In order to excite Judah to godly jealousy (Ro 11:14), Jehovah addresses the exiled ten tribes of Israel with a loving invitation.
cause … anger to fall—literally, "I will not let fall My countenance" (compare Ge 4:5, 6; Job 29:3), that is, I will not continue to frown on you.
keep—"anger" is to be supplied (see on Jer 3:5).
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. Only acknowledge—(De 30:1, 3; Pr 28:13).
scattered thy ways, &c.—(Jer 2:25). Not merely the calves at Beth-el, but the idols in every direction, were the objects of their worship (Eze 16:15, 24, 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. I am married—literally, "I am Lord," that is, husband to you (so Jer 31:32; compare Ho 2:19, 20; Isa 54:5). Gesenius, following the Septuagint version of Jer 31:32, and Paul's quotation of it (Heb 8:9), translates, "I have rejected you"; so the corresponding Arabic, and the idea of lordship, may pass into that of looking down upon, and so rejecting. But the Septuagint in this passage translates, "I will be Lord over you." And the "for" has much more force in English Version than in that of Gesenius. The Hebrew hardly admits the rendering though [Hengstenberg].
take you one of a city—Though but one or two Israelites were in a (foreign) city, they shall not be forgotten; all shall be restored (Am 9:9). So, in the spiritual Israel, God gathers one convert here, another there, into His Church; not the least one is lost (Mt 18:14; Ro 11:5; compare Jer 24:5-7).
family—a clan or tribe.
And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.
15. pastors—not religious, but civil rulers, as Zerubbabel, Nehemiah (Jer 23:4; 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. they shall say no more—The Jews shall no longer glory in the possession of the ark; it shall not be missed, so great shall be the blessings of the new dispensation. The throne of the Lord, present Himself, shall eclipse and put out of mind the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat between the cherubim, God's former throne. The ark, containing the two tables of the law, disappeared at the Babylonian captivity, and was not restored to the second temple, implying that the symbolical "glory" was to be superseded by a "greater glory" (Hag 2:9).
neither … visit it—rather, "neither shall it be missed" (so in Jer 23:4).
done—rather, "neither shall it (the ark) be made (that is, be restored) any more" [Maurer].
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. Jerusalem—the whole city, not merely the temple. As it has been the center of the Hebrew theocracy, so it shall be the point of attraction to the whole earth (Isa 2:2-4; Zec 2:10, 11; 14:16-21).
throne of … Lord—The Shekinah, the symbol of God's peculiar nearness to Israel (De 4:7) shall be surpassed by the antitype, God's own throne in Jerusalem (Ps 2:6, 8; Eze 34:23, 24; Zec 2:5).
imagination—rather, as Margin, "the obstinacy" or stubbornness.
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. Judah … Israel … together—Two distinct apostasies, that of Israel and that of Judah, were foretold (Jer 3:8, 10). The two have never been united since the Babylonish captivity; therefore their joint restoration must be still future (Isa 11:12, 13; Eze 37:16-22; Ho 1:11).
land … given … inheritance—(Am 9:15).
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. The good land covenanted to Abraham is to be restored to his seed. But the question arises, How shall this be done?
put … among … children—the Greek for adoption means, literally, "putting among the sons."
the children—that is, My children. "How shall I receive thee back into My family, after thou hast so long forsaken Me for idols?" The answer is, they would acknowledge Him as "Father," and no longer turn away from Him. God assumes the language of one wondering how so desperate apostates could be restored to His family and its privileges (compare Eze 37:3; Calvin makes it, How the race of Abraham can be propagated again, being as it were dead); yet as His purpose has decreed it so, He shows how it shall be effected, namely, they shall receive from Him the spirit of adoption to cry, "My Father" (Joh 1:12; Ga 4:6). The elect are "children" already in God's purpose; this is the ground of the subsequent realization of this relationship (Eph 1:5; Heb 2:13).
pleasant land—(Jer 11:5; Eze 20:6; Da 11:16, Margin).
heritage of … hosts—a heritage the most goodly of all nations [Maurer]; or a "heritage possessed by powerful hosts" (De 4:38; Am 2:9). The rendering "splendors," instead of "hosts," is opposed by the fact that the Hebrew for "splendor" is not found in the plural.
Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the LORD.
20. Surely—rather, "But."
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. In harmony with the preceding promises of God, the penitential confessions of Israel are heard.
high places—The scene of their idolatries is the scene of their confessions. Compare Jer 3:23, in which they cast aside their trust in these idolatrous high places. The publicity of their penitence is also implied (compare Jer 7:29; 48:38).
Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the LORD our God.
22. Jehovah's renewed invitation (Jer 3:12, 14) and their immediate response.
heal—forgive (2Ch 30:18, 20; Ho 14:4).
unto thee—rather, "in obedience to thee"; literally, "for thee" [Rosenmuller].
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. multitude of mountains—that is, the multitude of gods worshipped on them (compare Ps 121:1, 2, Margin).
For shame hath devoured the labour of our fathers from our youth; their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters.
24. shame—that is, the idols, whose worship only covers us with shame (Jer 11:13; Ho 9:10). So far from bringing us "salvation," they have cost us our cattle and even our children, whom we have sacrificed to them.
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. (Ezr 9:7).