A SURVEY OF THE MAJOR PROPHETS, 6

The Lonely Prophet

Jeremiah 3:  The Shamefulness of Sin

Human beings have a difficult time understanding the gravity of sin.  Perhaps this is because we have such short memories; when we knowingly disobey God, we ask for forgiveness—or not—and we just move on.  Or perhaps it is because we know how loving and gracious and merciful God is, so no matter what we do, all we have to do as ask Him for forgiveness and we move on.  Or it could be we are so used to comparing ourselves to others, our misdeeds when compared to the misdeeds of others are not as bad as theirs, and so we assume that, while we may not be saints, we aren’t really evil people, either.  Of course, we delude ourselves.  When we sin against an immortal God, our sins wound eternally because, unlike us mortals with comparatively short life spans and short memories, God’s memory is perfect and eternal.  How great are our sins?  They are as wicked and as evil and as hideous as God is loving and as merciful and as eternal.

The prophet Jeremiah, God’s mouthpiece to the people of Judah, had to convey this message to them in a language they could understand.   The first five verses of chapter 3 probably belong to thoughts Jeremiah began in 2:26—

As a thief is disgraced when he is caught, so the house of Israel is disgraced—they, their kings and their officials, their priests and their prophets.

1.  Setting the scene:  the irrationality of sin

Jeremiah began his preaching ministry in a no-nonsense manner, like a bullet fired from a gun.  At length the prophet described how far the House of Jacob had fallen from grace.  He used several figures to describe her lost condition:

  • A prostitute
  • A vineyard
  • A deeply stained object
  • A young she-camel
  • A female donkey in heat

Throughout chapter 2, God reminded his people of His many deliverances—

I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. (2:7a)

God had taken enough from generations of His faithless and rebellious children, and so He warned them in 2:9—

“Therefore I bring charges against you again,” declares the LORD. “And I will bring charges against your children’s children.”

No one in all the land was insulated from God anger; from the top political leaders to their top religious leaders, to the children; all were in the Lord’s crosshairs.  Despite all the blessings the people had received from the hand of Jehovah, time and again they went on “playing the harlot,” worshiping false gods at the many country shrines that had come to dot the Judean landscape.

The people had become totally incorrigible in their wickedness; their sins so deeply ingrained that they were forever stained.   Despite the outward prosperity and religious reforms under Josiah, the inner defilement of the people could not be cleansed.  No amount of reform could please God because sin is more than skin deep.   With great blessings comes great responsibility; the nation of Israel was birthed in the heart of God and had been given the keys to success:  the Law of God at Mount Sinai, and the presence of God in the Temple.  She was planted and groomed to be a perfect vineyard, yet she had degenerated into a wild and corrupt vine.  The nation ran around like a frenzied she-camel looking for satisfaction, driven by mere instinct; so the people of Judah appeared to God as they chased after false gods and engaged in all manner of perverse and wicked idolatry.  To make matters all the worse was their haughty, arrogant attitude—

But you said, ‘It’s no use! I love foreign gods, and I must go after them.’  (2:25b)

Why do my people say, ‘We are free to roam; we will come to you no more’?  (2:31b)

The people of Judah had descended to the depths of religious and moral depravity, yet they felt that they had a claim on God; in their time of trouble they believed they could call on the Lord and they He would rush to their aid.  To this, the Lord replies ironically—

Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you    when you are in trouble!  For you have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah.  (2:28)

The people had to understand the senselessness of trusting in nothing, but instead, they continued to claim innocence and blamed God for their problems—

Why do you bring charges against me?  You have all rebelled against me,” declares the LORD. (2:29)

Like a spoiled child, Judah thought she had a case against God; she found fault in God because she was unable to manipulate Him.  Even though the people were at fault, they murmured and spoke out against God.   In spite of their obvious guilt, the people irrationally believed they were innocent.  We can learn a great lesson from the behavior of Jeremiah’s countrymen:  we may be able to hide our sins in the guise of good intentions and we may be very creative in justifying our rebellion and selfish lifestyles, but those things do nothing to change God’s attitude.   From Adam to the saintliest church member, we have become experts in self-delusion and self-justification.

2.  The spectacle of sinful living

Unrestrained selfish living, which leads to gratifying only our sinful natures, eventually leads to a state of shamelessness where we are literally unable to care.  Judah had reached that state.  Though caught in her sin like a burglar in the night, the nation’s civic and spiritual leaders continued to compromise their preaching and the people went on practicing their spiritual whoredom.  Despite the suffering the people may have experienced, they learned nothing.

Because Judah had placed her confidence in false gods and false prophets and had aligned herself with heathen nations, she had nothing to look forward to except:

  • Certain judgment;
  • Consternation and desolation;
  • Betrayal by the nations she depended on;
  • A realization that there was no one to blame but themselves.

In chapter 3, the shamelessness of Judah’s sin is further illustrated in language reminiscent of Hosea 2:1—5; 9:1.

(a)  No easy repentance, 3:1—5

In using the figure of an adulterous wife who continues to run from lover to lover, Jeremiah paints a bleak picture of Judah and makes it clear that there is no such thing as “easy repentance.”  Religiously, Judah had had many lovers, yet she seemed to think she could return to God, her only husband, any time she wanted and He would take her back.

That Judah had reached the point to utter shamelessness is seen in how she lives versus how she addresses God—

2 “Look up to the barren heights and see.  Is there any place where you have not been ravished?  By the roadside you sat waiting for lovers, sat like a nomad in the desert. You have defiled the land  with your prostitution and wickedness.

3 Therefore the showers have been withheld, and no spring rains have fallen. Yet you have the brazen look of a prostitute; you refuse to blush with shame.

4 Have you not just called to me: ‘My Father, my friend from my youth, 5 will you always be angry?  Will your wrath continue forever?’  This is how you talk, but you do all the evil you can.”  (3:2—5)

In fact, it is fairly easy to repent from sin except when the point of no return has been reached, and Judah was crowding the point:  her sin was such a part of her everyday day existence and it had become so enmeshed in her national character, she became literally unable to repent.  Despite having a very godly king, Josiah, Judah’s final righteous king, his efforts at religious reform, though monumental and outwardly impressive, did nothing to halt the fall of his nation.  Judah was rushing headlong into sure and certain doom, caught up in the overwhelming and unstoppable momentum of her sin.

(b)  Missed opportunity, verses 6—10

Was Judah’s future inescapable?  In order to show the seriousness of Judah’s sin, Jeremiah compared it to that of Israel, the northern kingdom, which had been in exile for some time before Jeremiah began preaching.  In truth, what happened to the Ten Tribes had been a warning to Judah, but Judah in her arrogance, missed the warning completely.  Judah had assumed she was the favored nation because Israel had backslidden and the northern kingdom had, in effect, come to personify apostasy.  She was hauled away in disgrace, and the laid bear.

However, verse 11 is stunning—

The LORD said to me, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.”

The verse is stunning because historically, Israel had not one righteous king, while Judah had many.  The reason faithless Israel is more righteous is because Judah had the benefit and the blessing of an example of God’s judgment and yet failed to take advantage of that blessing; they followed in Israel’s example instead of avoiding it.

What excuse do believers have for living sin?  We have the accumulated examples of thousands of years of the Lord’s interaction with His people throughout the Old and New Testaments.  So before we smugly assert our righteousness and boast of our enviable position in Christ which precludes us from any kind of judgment, let’s make sure our hearts are right and that we are not, as Judah was, merely going through the religious motions, unaware that awful judgment is looming just ahead.

(c) A call to return, verses 11—14a

So grieved with the people of Judah, God turned His attention to the people of Israel, in exile.  Though their sin had been so heinous, He is ready and even eager to forgive them if the people would only acknowledge their guilt and repent.

‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will not be angry forever.’  (verse 12)

For almost a century, the Ten Tribes had been in Assyrian captivity, though a small remnant was left behind and had mingled with the expatriated Assyrians to form the Samaritans.  God’s word to all of Israel was that they could be restored if they met His conditions.  It should be noted that Israel, though faithless, never allowed themselves to be assimilated into the surrounding nations.

This group of verses gives us valuable insight into the heart and mind of God.  There is great love, mercy, and forgiveness available, however, man and nations must respond to His call.

Only acknowledge your guilt.  (verse 13a)

(d)  A future blessing assured, verses 14b—18

How great is the love of God for His errant people?  Both the Northern and Southern kingdoms had proven themselves to be untrustworthy, rebellious and wicked people, yet the Lord promises they will be reunited and restored in the future.

“Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion.”  (verse 18)

Not only would the kingdoms be returned to the land and reunited as one, they would grow and prosper and be given godly rulers.  Jeremiah refers to them as “shepherds” after God’s heart.  In contrast to the ungodly rulers of Jeremiah’s day, the new breed of leader would conform to the mind and will of God.  We also know that this future restoration will actually happen; it is not symbolic.  Note carefully the wording of verse 16—

In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land…

The phrase “in those days” is significant because it always refers to a very specific time:  the time of Messiah.

Here in these verses we see the recurring structure of prophetic literature:  a mixing of the near and the far.  In just a handful of verses, Jeremiah addresses:  (1)  the immediate time in which he was living, (2) the near future of his day when, in just a few months and years hence Judah would fall,  and (3) the far future, when the Messiah—Jesus Christ—would return and restore Israel’s fortunes.  How marvelous will that day be for Jeremiah’s people?

At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the LORD, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the LORD. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. 18 In those days the house of Judah will join the house of Israel, and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your forefathers as an inheritance.  (verses 17—18)

Conclusion

From Jeremiah’s standing, the immediate future was dark, but the far future was glorious.  But God had a problem.  How was He going to make all this happen?  For Jeremiah, the message of hope must have also been a baffling message.  Verse 19 is difficult verse to understand because the Hebrew is very obscure, as evidenced by the different ways our English translations have interpreted it.  Notice these two very different renderings of the same verse—

‘How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me.’ – NIV

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. – KJV

The sense of the original language seems to be God saying, “How can I do all these good things for you, when you are so far from me?”  The answer is in the second part of the verse:  He will give them the Promised Land when they finally come to Him as their Father, never to leave Him again.

God wants to extend mercy and forgiveness to backsliders and desperately wants to restore them to a right relationship with Him.  Regardless of the time and the distance of their drifting or the sins they may have involved themselves in; there is always an open door to them.  However, as Jeremiah has made clear, the way back is not easy and involves more than simple confession.  There must be repentance; a conscious effort to stay right and to remain away from sin.  God continually yearns for and reaches out to the backslider.

In these verses, we once again see in Jeremiah a kind of foreshadow of Christ’s ministry.  In proclaiming the Word of the Lord to the north—toward what was once Israel, and in the direction of the Assyrians—we see that the Word of the Lord is, in fact, for all people, Jew and Gentile alike.  A call to Israel in the land of the north would be heard by others in that land, just as the Gospel began in Jerusalem and spread out to the Gentiles in foreign lands.  All who heard and responded in faith to Jeremiah’s pleas would be included in God’s grace just as His people are.

Yes, there is nothing more shameful for a child of God than to be caught up in sin.  But there is nothing more powerful than the pull of God’s grace.  He never gave on His people and we should never cease praying for those who have wandered from the Truth and proclaiming that Truth to all who have ears to hear.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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