Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 14 2019 - Jeremiah 3:1-18 – Call to a faithless people

You may remember that Josiah had ordered the temple to be repaired and idols removed. As the work was going on, a scroll of the Book of the Covenant was discovered containing the laws which God had given his people through Moses – a scroll which may have contained the Book of Deuteronomy. Jeremiah 3:1 seems to refer to Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which prohibited a divorced couple, after marrying others, from getting back together. One writer explains this law as follows:

[It] was aimed against what would amount to virtually lending one's partner to another – for if an authoritarian husband could dismiss his wife and have her back when the next man had finished with her, it would degrade not only her but marriage itself and the society that accepted such a practice. (Derek Kidner, The Message of Jeremiah)

Such practices would trivialise marriage, turning it from being a binding commitment into a temporary association that people could drift into and out of at will.

And this, says the Lord, is how his people have been behaving. God uses the dramatic picture of marriage to represent his relationship with his people. Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes, had been married to two sisters. God represents his relationship with his people in the same way; both Judah and her sister, the northern kingdom of Israel, were his brides, united to him in the covenant bonds of his redeeming love.

But both Israel and Judah have treated their relationship with the Lord as if they could drift away from it and back to it as they pleased; they have failed to take it seriously. They have been seduced away by the idol gods of the nations around them. They have installed their lovers, their gods and goddesses, on every hilltop where they performed sexual acts hoping to charm the rain out of the sky and the corn from the earth in the time-honoured way of Canaan.

But the Lord alone is the living God. He is the one who has withheld the rain and blighted their harvests (v.3). He is the one who has allowed the unfaithful northern kingdom of Israel to be defeated by the Arameans and taken off into captivity: "I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries" (v.8). But, "In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretence,’ declares the Lord" (v.10).

The Lord had hoped that Judah would learn from Israel's fate and would abandon her love affair with idols. With the discovery of the scroll in the temple there had indeed been some reform. Josiah had destroyed many of the places where Baal and Asherah were worshipped. He had called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem, along with the people of Judah, their priests and prophets, and had read in their hearing the Book of the Covenant. Then:

The king … renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord – to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul… Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant. (2 Kings 23:3)

But reform was only skin deep. Far from keeping the Lord's commands with all their hearts and souls, the people of Judah had quickly drifted back into the idolatrous worship of the gods of Canaan. Through Jeremiah, the Lord declares that their sin is worse than that of Israel.

How seriously do we treat our relationship with our God? The Lord Jesus has redeemed us through his shed blood so that he might make us his own – his bride. But are we sometimes drawn away from him by the idols of this world – the things which charm, captivate, excite and entertain the world around us? God gave his best for us to make us his own. Let's not hold back anything from him but offer him the undivided devotion of heart and soul.

Father God, help us by your Spirit to keep ourselves in your love and to keep ourselves from idols.

Peter Misselbrook