A STILL (JUST) OPEN DOOR
Lord, help me to perceive when I am standing on thin ice with You.
Read JEREMIAH 3:6—4:4
6 During the reign of King Josiah, the Lord said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. 7 I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. 8 I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. 9 Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. 10 In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the Lord.
11 The Lord said to me, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah. 12 Go, proclaim this message toward the north:
“‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord,
‘I will frown on you no longer,
for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord,
‘I will not be angry forever.
13 Only acknowledge your guilt—
you have rebelled against the Lord your God,
you have scattered your favors to foreign gods
under every spreading tree,
and have not obeyed me,’”
declares the Lord.
14 “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. 15 Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding. 16 In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land,” declares the Lord, “people will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made. 17 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 people of Judah will join the people of Israel, and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your ancestors as an inheritance.
19 “I myself said,
“‘How gladly would I treat you like my children
and give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’
I thought you would call me ‘Father’
and not turn away from following me.
20 But like a woman unfaithful to her husband,
so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,”
declares the Lord.
21 A cry is heard on the barren heights,
the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel,
because they have perverted their ways
and have forgotten the Lord their God.
22 “Return, faithless people;
I will cure you of backsliding.”
“Yes, we will come to you,
for you are the Lord our God.
23 Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills
and mountains is a deception;
surely in the Lord our God
is the salvation of Israel.
24 From our youth shameful gods have consumed
the fruits of our ancestors’ labor—
their flocks and herds,
their sons and daughters.
25 Let us lie down in our shame,
and let our disgrace cover us.
We have sinned against the Lord our God,
both we and our ancestors;
from our youth till this day
we have not obeyed the Lord our God.”
4 “If you, Israel, will return,
then return to me,”
declares the Lord.
“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
and no longer go astray,
2 and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
and in him they will boast.”
3 This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem:
“Break up your unplowed ground
and do not sow among thorns.
4 Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
circumcise your hearts,
you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
because of the evil you have done—
burn with no one to quench it.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
If you were God, would you be at all pleased with the way you are being treated here?
Using our modern idiom, Jeremiah is saying to the people of Judah, “OK, which do you want first: the good news or the bad?” This passage certainly contains both—and it starts with the bad! It is very tempting for us to consider and apply only the positive prophecies and promises—like the old “promise boxes” in which a hundred or so verses from Scripture were written on tiny scrolls and you could pick one out with tweezers to get a blessing—all of them positive.
God’s message to Israel and Judah, however, is not all positive, and we fail to heed Scripture if we assume that it always is. In fact, the northern kingdom has already turned down so many chances that God has given her a “certificate of divorce and sent her away” (8; 2 Kings 17 recites the details of God’s complete rejection of northern Israel). Judah, the southern kingdom (sometimes confusingly called Israel, since only Judah was left representing the whole nation), has seen what happened up north and has failed to take note. Judah too has turned away from God’s covenant, and her religiosity is only a pretense (10). Judah is in rebellion and in actual danger of being rejected. The people assume that their heritage is enough. John the Baptist’s warning (when he brings the same message to later Judeans) will be that to say “We have Abraham as our father” is no guarantee of God’s favor.
However, there is good news. The certificate of divorce has not yet been presented; Judah has another chance; there is still an opening for them to return to God. Jeremiah reminds them (4:4) that this is not a “get out of jail free” card, but it establishes a very real hope for their future.
Take time to thank God for the warnings in his Word as well as for the reassurances.
Lord, we thank You for the grace and longsuffering with which You address Your people regardless of the covenant under which they serve You.