Jeremiah 3:1-25

Submitted by admin on Fri, 2016-07-08 16:07.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

The answer to the first rhetorical question is, “If a man divorced his wife and she left and then married another man, the first husband could not “return to her anymore.” According to the Deuteronomy 24:4, remarriage, in that case, would have violated God’s law. Being a sinful act by reason of the fact that the woman had been polluted, it would have defiled the land. God gave the land to the Israelites as an inheritance, and this made it a “holy” land, and sin polluted it. In view of the fact that a man could not remarry the wife he had divorced and who came to be the wife of another man, the question is raised as to whether YHWH should permit Jerusalem (as representing the people of the kingdom of Judah) to return to him after she had made herself guilty of prostituting herself to many companions, doing so by involvement with nonexistent deities and alliances with foreign powers. The implied answer is, No. In her defiled state, Jerusalem could not return. (3:1; see the Notes section.)

Jerusalem (as representing the people of the kingdom of Judah) was called upon to raise her eyes to look at the bare or treeless heights and to see what she has done. The rhetorical question is, “Where have you not been ravished” (“lain with” [qere substitute])? “By the ways,” she sat “like an Arab in the wilderness [like a desolate crow (possibly meaning a lone crow) ],” seeking to have relationships that constituted a violation of her covenant obligations to YHWH, obligations that bound her to him as a wife is bound to her husband. She polluted the land by repeatedly prostituting herself and committing evil. (3:2)

Showers and spring rain did not come when needed. Yet “Jerusalem” (the people of the realm) did not recognize that precipitation was withheld because of having been unfaithful to YHWH and choosing to continue in a course like that of a brazen prostitute. Therefore, Jerusalem is described as having the brow of a woman committing prostitution and as refusing to be ashamed. (3:3; see the Notes section.)

Despite a record of unfaithfulness, “Jerusalem” is represented as claiming to be in a close relationship with YHWH. This is implied in the rhetorical question, “Have you not just now called to me, ‘My Father’; friend of my youth you are”? In the Septuagint, the question is, “Did you not call me, as [one being the] home, and father, and ruler of your virginity?” (3:4)

“Jerusalem” is seemingly represented as questioning whether God would remain indignant for all time to come or keep watching her (apparently to administer punishment for transgressions). The implication is that the people of the kingdom of Judah did not believe that this would be the case and continued in their God-dishonoring actions. Accordingly, “Jerusalem” is referred to as having spoken in this manner and yet having done all the evil that she could. (3:5; see the Notes section.)

In the “days” or in the time of Josiah’s reign, Jeremiah received a message that is attributed to YHWH. It related to the unfaithfulness of the people in the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. “Have you seen,” Jeremiah was asked, “what the apostate [or rebellious] one, Israel [the community of Israel (LXX)], has done [to me (the Lord) (LXX)]?” She ascended “every high hill” and went to groves to be under the shadow of flourishing trees. The reason for going up to elevated sites and groves was to engage in abominable idolatrous rites. These rituals often included ceremonial prostitution. As acts that violated the covenant that bound the people to YHWH as a wife is bound to her husband and that required being exclusively devoted to him, all of the idolatrous practices constituted prostitution. (3:6)

After “Israel” (the people of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel) had “done all these things” or made herself guilty of abominable idolatrous practices, YHWH “said” or thought that she would return, “but she did not return.” Her “treacherous sister Judah saw” or witnessed the developments in the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. According to the Septuagint, “faithless Judah saw her [sister’s] unfaithfulness.” (3:7)

When YHWH saw the adulterous course of Israel (the people of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel), or what she had done in repeatedly violating her covenant relationship with him, he sent her away and severed his relationship with her (as if having given her a “certificate of divorce”). This happened when YHWH permitted the Assyrians to conquer the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel and to take survivors of the military campaign into exile. “Treacherously acting Judah” (the people of the kingdom of Judah) witnessed this but “did not fear,” never considering that like punishment for unfaithfulness to YHWH could come upon her. She also conducted herself like a prostitute, acting contrary to the covenant relationship that bound her to YHWH like a wife to her husband. (3:8)

In the Hebrew text, a noun for “lightness” or “frivolity” is linked to the “prostitution” that Judah (or the people of the kingdom of Judah) committed. This could mean that she treated her unfaithfulness to YHWH as a matter of no consequence. The Septuagint rendering could be understood to mean that her prostitution became “nothing” to her. Her acts of unfaithfulness defiled the God-given land, and she continued to commit adultery “with stones and with trees,” doing so by revering and bowing down before representations of nonexistent deities that were fashioned from stone or wood. (3:9)

Apparently despite the reforms that King Josiah initiated and his campaign against idolatrous practices, Judah did not “return” to YHWH “with all her heart” or with undivided devotion, but only in pretense. Outwardly, because Josiah had taken action to root out idolatrous practices from his realm, his subjects seemed to return to YHWH, but this was insincere. At heart, they were still attached to their idolatrous ways. Their seeming return was but a pretense and, therefore, a “false” return. (3:10)

Treacherous Judah had more time to return to YHWH than did her sister Israel and should have been motivated to do so after witnessing the severe judgment that befell the people of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel in the form of conquest and exile. The people of the kingdom of Judah, however, refused to return to YHWH, abandoning all idolatrous practices and coming to be exclusively devoted to him. Therefore, Israel, by contrast, revealed her “soul” or herself to be more righteous than treacherous Judah. (3:11)

Jeremiah was instructed to “go” and to make a proclamation to the “north.” This was a message for the people of the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, the realm that was situated north of the kingdom of Judah. The proclamation was an appeal for unfaithful or apostate Israel to return to YHWH. This appeal included the assurance that he would not look upon the people with anger, for he was kind, gracious, loyal, or “merciful” (LXX). He would not be angry for all time to come (“into the age” [LXX]). (3:12)

The admonition directed to Israel (the people of the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel) is, “Know,” recognize, or acknowledge “your iniquity, for against YHWH your God you rebelled [acted impiously (LXX)] and scattered your ways among strangers under every flourishing tree, and to my voice you have not listened.” These words are identified as an “utterance of YHWH.” The “strangers” were foreign gods whom the people worshiped, engaging in abominable rituals under the shade of trees located in groves devoted to the nonexistent deities. There the people “scattered” their “ways.” The reference to the scattering of the “ways” has been variously understood. “You ran hither and yon to strangers.” (NAB) “You have scattered your favors to foreign gods.” (NIV) “You have prostituted yourself with the Strangers [foreign deities].” (NJB) (3:13)

The “utterance of YHWH,” through Jeremiah, is for the apostate or rebellious “sons” or people of the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel to return to him, for he is the “owner” or “master” of the people. As repentant persons, he promised to take them, “one from a city and two from a family” and to bring them “to Zion,” the place that, according to the words that follow, will come to have a far loftier position than the former Zion or Jerusalem enjoyed. The reference to “one” and “two” may serve to indicate that only a remnant would return to YHWH. (3:14; compare Isaiah 10:21, 22.)

YHWH would give “shepherds” to the repentant people who returned to him. These “shepherds” or leaders would be men whom he approved. They would be individuals after his own “heart,” men who delighted in doing his will and who would deeply care about the people. (Compare 1 Samuel 13:14.) Like concerned shepherds who conscientiously looked after the flock, these shepherds would do their pasturing, feeding, or leading of people with “knowledge and understanding.” This suggests that they would recognize the needs of the people and respond accordingly. (3:15)

The time would come when those who returned to YHWH would become many and “be fruitful,” or increase greatly, “in the land.” “In those days” or at that future time, the sacred status of “Zion” would not be linked to the “ark of the covenant” as representatively indicating the presence of YHWH in the midst of his people. The people will then cease to speak of the “ark of the covenant of YHWH [the Holy One of Israel (LXX),” and “it will not come to heart” (or give rise to nostalgic thought among the people). They “will not remember it.” The ark “will not be missed,” and it will never again be made. (3:16)

In the time to come (“in those days and at that time” [LXX]), the people “will call Jerusalem the throne of YHWH [the Lord (LXX)],” suggesting that he will then be personally present as the Sovereign (and not just in a representative way in connection with the ark of the covenant [Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 16:2]). “All the nations,” or people from all the nations, “will be gathered to the name [the person or presence] of YHWH in Jerusalem, and they will walk,” or conduct themselves, no longer according to the “stubbornness of their evil heart [thoughts of their evil heart (LXX)].” They would cease to act defiantly against YHWH in keeping with the inclination of an “evil heart” or corrupt thinking. (3:17; see the Notes section.)

“The land of the north” includes territory situated both to the north and the east of the land of Israel. Merchants and armies coming from any part of that region avoided the inhospitable desert that extended many miles to the west of their location of origin. They entered the land of Israel from the north, and the designation “the land of the north” relates to the direction from which the land of Israel was entered. The Septuagint rendering is more specific, for it refers to the “land of the north” and “all regions.” At a future time after a period of exile, people of the “house of Judah” (the former territory of the kingdom of Judah) and those of the “house of Israel” (the former territory of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel) would cease to have bitter rivalry but would come to enjoy unity. Together they would come “out of the land of the north,” the region where they had been exiled, and enter the land of Israel, the land that YHWH gave as an inheritance to their “fathers” or ancestors. (3:18; see the Notes section.)

“Sons,” not “daughters,” were the usual heirs. Therefore, for YHWH to set Israel (in the Hebrew text referred to with the feminine pronominal suffix and thus represented as a woman) “among sons” (“children” [LXX]) would mean to grant Israel all the privileges associated with sonship. It included giving Israel the land of Canaan, which is here described as a “desirable land, an inheritance most beauteous of the armies of nations [a choice land, an inheritance of God Almighty of nations (LXX)].” This description indicates that it was the most beautiful or delightful land among all lands. To have been granted the position of a “son,” the people of Israel should have been drawn close to YHWH, calling him “my Father” and never turning back from following him or from wanting to do his will. (3:19; see the Notes section.)

The “house of Israel” or the people of Israel failed to appreciate what YHWH had done for them. They acted like a treacherous woman who left her companion or mate. The people proved to be treacherous toward YHWH, rejecting him as the one to whom they should have been exclusively devoted. (3:20)

The “sons” or people of Israel suffered greatly because of their having been unfaithful to YHWH. Without his aid and protection, they experienced conquest and exile. Therefore, they are portrayed as weeping on the bare or treeless heights. The Septuagint refers to the “voice” or sound of “weeping” as being “heard from lips.” The “entreaty” or pleading of the people would have been for mercy and help in their distress. They had brought affliction upon themselves, for they had “perverted their way and forgotten YHWH their God [their holy God (LXX)],” choosing to follow the wrong course and ignoring what their covenant obligations to him required of them. (3:21)

Through Jeremiah, YHWH appealed to the “apostate,” rebellious, backsliding or unfaithful “sons” or people to “return” to him, and this is followed with the promise, “I will heal your apostasy [wounds (LXX)],” curing them from backsliding into a course of rebelliousness. Repentant ones among the people are represented as responding with the words, “See, we come to you, for you [are] YHWH our God.” The Septuagint rendering is, “See, we will be your servants, for you are the Lord our God.” (3:22)

The acknowledgment of the repentant people regarding the hills and mountains relates to the idolatrous practices that were carried out on them. They would come to recognize these practices as “falsehood” or as a delusion, completely worthless and devoid of any benefits. The “commotion” on the mountains could refer to noisy idolatrous orgies. In the Septuagint, the reference is to the “power of the mountains.” Possibly this is to be understood as applying to the power idolaters ascribed to the deities they venerated at various sites on the mountains. The repentant people are portrayed as rejecting the worship of nonexistent deities and coming to be exclusively devoted to YHWH. They are quoted as acknowledging, “Truly in YHWH our God [is] the salvation of Israel.” YHWH alone is the one who can deliver his people, whereas the nonexistent deities can do nothing. (3:23)

The “shame” or “shameful thing” apparently designates all the nonexistent deities as a whole. Through the veneration of this “shameful thing,” ruination had come to the people. The repentant ones would come to recognize that, from their youth, the “shameful thing” (the false or foreign deities collectively) had “devoured the labor of [their] fathers, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters.” These disgusting nonexistent deities gave nothing to them, but only brought great loss to those who worshiped them. (3:24)

In view of what had befallen the people because of their unfaithfulness to YHWH, the repentant ones would be moved to say, “Let us lie down in our shame and let our dishonor cover us, for against YHWH our God we have sinned, we and our fathers, from our youth and to this day, and we have not listened to the voice of YHWH our God.” The repentant people would humbly acknowledge that they deserved to be shamed and disgraced or humiliated for having disobeyed YHWH. During the lifetime of Jeremiah, shame and disgrace came in the form of conquest and exile. (3:25)


In verse 1 of the Septuagint, the focus is on whether the divorced woman would return to her first husband after she has defiled herself. Additionally, Jerusalem is represented as having committed prostitution with many “shepherds” or rulers.

In verse 3, the Septuagint translator appears to have read the Hebrew word for “spring rain” (malqóhsh) as mohqésh (“snare” [something that entangles or causes stumbling]). This may account for a rendering of the initial phrase that is very different from the wording of the Masoretic Text. “And you had many shepherds as a stumbling block for yourself.” This could mean that “Jerusalem” (the people of the kingdom of Judah) had many kings who led the people astray. Another possibility is that “Jerusalem” allied herself with many foreign rulers, and these were a snare or a stumbling block to her, with ruinous consequences. The Septuagint text continues, “You came to have the appearance of a prostitute; you were shameless toward all.”

The Septuagint rendering of verse 5 contains wording that parallels the Hebrew text, but the meaning of the initial phrase is not clear. “Will it remain forever [literally, “into the age”], or will it be guarded to victory? See, you spoke, and you did these evils and have prevailed.” The closest antecedent is “virginity” (verse 4), and possibly it is the object of the initial phrase.

Especially the wording of verse 17 indicates that the future Messianic time is in view. Although people from many nations did become proselytes and went to the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem for worship, the city did not then become known as the “throne of YHWH.” Therefore, it appears that the prophetic words find their fulfillment in relation to the “Jerusalem above.” Once the opportunity to become children of the heavenly Jerusalem opened up to non-Jewish peoples, individuals from many nations availed themselves of the means to become children or citizens of the heavenly city and thus were gathered to the person of YHWH there. They came to enjoy the status of God’s approved children when they accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah, Anointed One, or Christ, the unique Son of God, and his sacrificial death for them so as to have their sins forgiven. (Acts 15:7-18; 26:16-18; Galatians 4:26; Ephesians 2:11-13) They ceased to conduct themselves stubbornly according to their former corrupt ways. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Peter 1:14; 2:9-11; 4:1-4)

When linked to Jerusalem as the “throne of YHWH” (verse 17), the reference to “Zion” in verse 14 could also have an application to the heavenly Zion, for to it members of all the tribes of Israel were brought as repentant persons who had been forgiven of their sins on the basis of their faith in Jesus as the unique Son of God and his sacrificial death for them. (Hebrews 12:22-24) These true Israelites came to have “shepherds” who genuinely cared for them, laboring in their interests. (Jeremiah 3:15; compare Acts 20:28, 32-35; 1 Peter 5:1-4.) Initially, there were only a few Israelites who accepted Jesus as the Son of God, but soon, through the labors of the apostles and other disciples, their numbers increased greatly. (Jeremiah 3:16; Acts 6:7) Once they came to recognize the far grander arrangement for worship that did not depend on any specific place or geographical location (John 4:21-24), the “ark of the covenant” would indeed not have been missed. (Jeremiah 3:16; compare Hebrews 9:1-27.)

When verse 18 is regarded as having a Messianic application, the prophetic words would relate to the unity that Israelites from all tribes would enjoy in the realm under the rule of the Messiah.

In verse 19, the Septuagint quotes Jeremiah as saying regarding the promised restoration, “And I said, May it be, Lord.” The text then continues with God’s words, “For I will set you among children and give you a choice land, an inheritance of God Almighty of nations.”