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Jeremiah;- Not too late for the northerners (ch3)

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posted on Feb, 4 2022 @ 05:00 PM
“The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah; Have you seen what she did, that faithless one Israel, how she went up on every high hill… and there played the harlot?” ch3 v6

This prophecy differs from the preceding passages in a number of ways. The most obvious difference in a modern translation is that the poetry is now interrupted by passages of prose.

This may be related to the fact that this prophecy is older, from the time of Josiah, and being recollected in one of the later reigns. And it becomes clear that when the Lord says “Israel” in this chapter he means the old northern kingdom, already destroyed by the Assyrians. The word “faithless” (“backsliding” in the AV) runs through most of the rest of this chapter and holds it together as one prophecy.

Jeremiah was probably still living in Anathoth when this prophecy was given. A glance at a map of the twelve tribes will show how Benjamin would be more conscious than Judah of the fate of Israel, which had played itself out on their own doorstep. In fact Benjamin had been one of the original tribes of the northern kingdom.

The Lord had thought that Israel would return to him. So he gave her a certificate of divorce and sent her away into exile.

The strange thing is that “her false sister” Judah saw what Israel was doing, imitated her, and did not fear the same fate. She polluted the land by worshipping at stones and trees. When she felt obliged to offer repentance, she “did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretence” (v10).

V11 “And the Lord said to me; faithless Israel has shown herself less guilty than false Judah”.
The obvious moral is that Judah has earned judgement to an even greater degree, but that conclusion is left on one side, to be the message of other prophecies. For the rest of this chapter, the Lord looks at the other side of the coin. If Israel is less guilty than Judah, then Israel should be offered another chance.

Jeremiah is instructed (v12) to proclaim the following message towards the north; Let them return, for the Lord is merciful and will not be angry for ever ( a thought which Judah themselves were misusing in v5). All that is necessary is that they should acknowledge their guilt in rebellion, idolatry, and disobedience.

V14 “Return, O faithless children, says the Lord, for I am your master” (RSV).
The AV has “For I am married unto you”. In fact “master” and “husband” are both legitimate ways of translating “baal”, which is a normal word for “lord”. It was frequently applied to the God of Israel, and only became offensive when it was being used as the proper name of one specific rival deity.
Presumably the RSV wanted to avoid the odd-looking combination of the two metaphors, “You are my children” and “You are my wife”.

“I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion”.
You might have been wondering how a kingdom which had been destroyed could return to the Lord. The answer is that the message is addressed to the individuals living in what used to be Israel’s territory, the survivors of the old kingdom.

[vv15-18 are not part of this prophecy and are postponed to another page.]

V19 “I thought how I would set you among my sons and give you a pleasant land, a heritage most beauteous of all nations.”
This looks like a very literal understanding of “bring you to Zion”. It appears to be an invitation to migrate, as individual families, from the northern hills into the territory of Judah, where they will live among “my sons” in Judah and enjoy the pleasant heritage of Judah. They had been thinking of Israel itself as their heritage from the Lord, but it had been spoiled by their idolatries.

“I thought you would call me My Father and would not turn from following me.”
The old right relationship could be restored permanently.

V20 He reminds faithless Israel that she left him like a wife leaving her husband. This complaint has been made before, but now it serves to introduce a description of the form of repentance that they could follow.

There would be the remorseful weeping of Israel’s sons on the bare heights of their land, because they had forgotten their God.
V22 “Behold, we come to thee, for thou art the Lord our God.”
He is the true salvation of Israel, whereas the worship of the gods of the hills and the orgies associated with it are a delusion, leading people astray.
Yet “from our youth” (that is, I think, from the early days of the kingdom) the “shameful thing” (a euphemistic nickname for the false god Baal) has devoured everything they inherited; their flocks and herds and their children.
V25 shows their sense of shame over all this.

How would the Lord respond to such a confession of sin? I think his reply was slipped in before they got started;
V22 “Return, O faithless ones, I will heal your faithlessness”.
This echoes the wonderful promise made by an earlier prophet;
“I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely. For my anger has turned from them” (Hosea ch14 v4).
“Healing faithlessness” can only mean that he will make it impossible for them to be faithless any more. In other words, they will never part from him again. This is the territory of Revelation ch22.
The problem of sin will be solved, the breach will be cured.


Vv15-18 are not part of this “northern” prophecy. The poetry of the main prophecy is interrupted here by a prose passage which must have been given at a later date.

When Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians and the people were taken into exile, the message of the prophets of the Lord took a new turn. They began talking about the restoration of Israel and the return to Jerusalem. These verses belong to that genre. In fact they are almost a summary of the more encouraging chapters of Ezekiel.

V15 “I will bring you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”
Ezekiel ch34 promises to take the sheep away from the bad shepherds and feed them himself, and/or set his servant David to be shepherd over them.

V16 “”When you have increased and multiplied in the land… they shall no longer say ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord’.”
Evidently this is addressing a people, currently few in number, who may soon be returning to the land. They don’t have the ark any more (probably destroyed by the Babylonians) and are feeling its absence keenly. By the time their numbers have increased again, they will realise that they don’t need the ark to be able to come into the presence of the Lord.

V17 “At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord and all the nations shall gather to it.”
One of the stock promises of “restoration” prophecy.
“They shall no longer follow their own evil heart.”
Again, the promise of the end of sin.

V18 “In those days, the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers for a heritage.”
Compare the second half of Ezekiel ch37, from v15. This implies that Judah and Israel are both in exile, hence the promise that they will return together.

Although this passage and the main prophecy come from opposite ends of Jeremiah’s life, the similarity of theme (the people returning to Zion and to God) is enough to explain why they have been brought together.

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