For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough

3:1.  "They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man's, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, yet return again to me, saith the Lord."


Commentators are divided as to whether the Lord was inviting Judah to return to Him, or whether the expression is one of sarcastic incredulity that might be paraphrased, "and yet you would dare to turn to Me to save you!"


Since Judah had exhausted God's patience, and thereby rendered her doom irrevocable, the latter interpretation seems the more likely.  Certainly in a day still future, God will take back  Israel and Judah united as one nation again, but it will be that new generation, the repentant believing remnant that will confess their sin and trust in Christ as their Messiah Savior in the Tribulation.  The generation addressed by the prophet would neither confess their sin nor repent, hence the impossibility of their being saved.


3:2.  "Lift up thine eyes unto the high places, and see where thou hast not been lien with.  In the ways hast thou sat for them, as the Arabian in the wilderness; and thou hast polluted the land with thy whoredoms and with thy wickedness."


There wasn't a place where Judah hadn't followed the example of her evil sister Israel in bowing down to false Gods.  Nor was this idolatry compelled!  Like a Bedouin watching for travelers to rob, so had Judah watched with the same care for opportunities to commit spiritual harlotry, i.e., idolatry, and thus rob God of the glory and honor that belonged to Him alone.


We are missing the point, however, if we see in this record of the past nothing more than the catalog of Judah's sin.  In the history of literal Judah God would have us read the prewritten symbolic history of spiritual Israel and Judah, the professing, but apostate church.  To marvel at the wickedness of Israel and Judah, without seeing that that of Christendom is just as great, is to read without understanding.  Apostate Christendom has been equally wanton in her spiritual harlotry.  She too has run eagerly after false gods: money, pleasure, ease, fame, education, sport, being just a few examples of those gods. 


3:3.  "Therefore the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain; and thou hadst a whore's forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed."


Judah's literal blessings are but symbols of the spiritual blessings God would heap upon an obedient church.  She, however, like Judah, has played the harlot spiritually, with the result that she is now experiencing the equivalent of Judah's blighted harvests.  The professing church lies under the withering grip of Famine's lean hand.  Few souls are being saved; and there is scarcity of "bread" - few are giving themselves to the work of feeding God's people, that is, studying the Word so that they may be able to minister to the needs of the believers.  The result is that these untaught believers are fair game for false teachers,  error abounding to such a degree that the Divine order has virtually vanished.


Judah should have seen the drought for what it was: the evidence of God's displeasure against her sin; but she didn't read that message for the simple reason that she was unwilling to admit that she was sinning.  She would brazenly charge God with fault while maintaining her own innocence.  She had indeed “a whore's forehead,” for she sinned blatantly, and “refused to be ashamed,” because she had sinned so long that she no longer saw anything wrong in her conduct.  So is it today with an equally guilty, and equally defiant apostate church.  She too fails to discern that her own sin is the cause of departed blessing.  Nor will all the human schemes now being devised effect any change.  There will be blessing only when there is confession, repentance, and a return to God in contrite submission.


3:4.  "Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My father, thou art the guide of my youth?"


Finding herself facing a fate similar to that of her equally sinful sister Israel, Judah continued to hypocritically call God her Father and her Guide, even though her idolatry belied her words, for she walked in paths that He abhorred.


Apostate Christendom also claims relationship with God, and professes to walk in His ways, even though her idolatry is just as great as was that of Israel and Judah; and her sin is greater because she has the fate of both to warn her against repeating

their folly.


3:5.  "Will he reserve his anger for ever? will he keep it to the end?  Behold, thou hast spoken and done evil things as thou couldest."


Judah apparently had some suspicion, as well she might, that God was angry, for He had declared clearly in His Word and through His prophets, that obedience would bring blessing; and disobedience, chastisement; but she consoled herself foolishly that He would soon “get over it,” and save her out of the hand of the Babylonians.  This was her reasoning even while she continued in sin.  She couldn’t grasp the truth that the only way God would “get over it” would be in response to genuine repentant obedience rendered in His time - but she had passed that time.  She had exhausted His patience, having crossed over the invisible line that separates His mercy from His wrath, and now she must perish.


Apostate Christendom has made the same fatal mistake.  Her day of grace is gone.  She is about to suffer the terrible outpouring of His righteous wrath in the imminent Tribulation.


Another rendering of the latter part of this verse is, “Although you have spoken of returning, you have at the same time done all the evil you could.”  Judah's cry wasn't from the heart.  Her conduct belied the profession of her lips.  Nor had she forsaken God and pursued idols casually: she had done it with all her might!  So also has Christendom forsaken Him, and given herself wholeheartedly to the worship of idols.


It is to be noted further in regard to the conflict between Judah's words and her deeds, that it is no different in the professing church.  There is found in her also the same immorality as blights society.


3:6.  "The Lord said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot."


It is generally recognized that the section beginning here and ending in 6:30, while continuing the denunciation of Judah, was written at a different time from what has preceded, and emphasizes that Judah's culpability was compounded by virtue of having had the example of her sister Israel as a warning, not only against idolatry, but against any form of disobedience.


The reforms instituted by the good king Josiah, see 2 Ki.23; 2 Chr.34; 35, were superficial.  There was compliance with the command of the king, but it was only an outward formality.  The heart of the people remained unchanged.


The description of Israel (here the ten northern tribes) as being backslidden, carries a deeper significance than is always recognized: backsliding and apostasy are virtually synonymous, for the one almost invariably leads to the other.  Few recognize the terrible character of the present condition of the professing church.  She is apostate!


The reference to Israel's idolatry practiced on “every high mountain” and “under every green tree,” may also have a deeper significance than is conveyed in the literal language.  Mountains represent governments; and trees, humanity.  The apostasy of the professing church, like that of Israel, touches every facet of life.  The practices of governments, and individuals, are alike apostate.  They have refused the rule of God, while bowing down submissively to the idols already mentioned - wealth, pleasure, fame, etc.


Small wonder that there is everywhere today chastisement instead of blessing!


3:7.  "And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me.  But she returned not.  And her treacherous sister Judah saw it."


Treachery is defined as violation of allegiance or of faith or trust: perfidy: treason.  Judah had seen her sister Israel (the ten northern tribes) carried off captive to Assyria because of continued rebellion against God, yet she hadn't profited from the lesson.  She continued in the same path of rebellion, and was soon herself to be carried captive into Babylon, though she refused to believe the prophets who warned her of that coming judgment.


This continues to foreshadow the experience of the apostate church; her guilt being compounded by reason of the fact that she has the Assyrian captivity of Israel, and the Babylonian captivity of Judah, and the later Roman destruction of both in AD 70, to warn her.  But she has neither eyes to see, nor ears to hear, and her fate will be to be left on earth when the true Church is raptured to heaven; and in the first half of the Tribulation she will continue to reign as she has for almost two thousand years, i.e. as the harlot queen described in Revelation.


But her reign will be brief, for the nations headed up by the Beast ruler of the revived Roman Empire, will destroy her, see Rev 17, the evil system of which she has been so long the representative and queen, falling then under the jurisdiction of the Beast, but to continue for only another short three and a half years, at the end of which Christ will return in glory to destroy the diabolic system, and establish His millennial kingdom.


3:8.  "And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery, I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also."


The world's brazen defiance of God is not to be wondered at, for that unbelieving world sees exactly the same defiance on the part of the apostate church, and concludes that if the professing church doesn't fear God, why should she?


But God is to be feared, Ps 89:7 being only one of many reminders of that fact, "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him."  Knowledge, apart from the fear of God, is foolishness, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction," Pr 1:7.


One of the clearest demonstrations that the fear of God has all but disappeared from the earth, is found in the spurious "gospel" preached today.  It omits all mention of man's ruined rebel state; of the need to tremble at the thought of meeting God without having sin cleansed through faith in Christ's blood; of the need to repent, and demonstrate the reality of that repentance in a holy life.  That same “gospel” has also dropped the word “hell” from its vocabulary because if there is no hell what need is there to fear God?


And a further evidence of the lack of fear of God is found in the irreverence that mars so many of the gatherings of professed believers today.  With increasing frequency God is subjected to irreverent standards of conduct that we wouldn't impose on men.  For example, in those assemblies which still cling to at least the outward form of the order that governed the Apostolic Church, tardiness; casual walking in and out during the Lord's supper, and in the course of Gospel, prayer, and teaching meetings; to say nothing of the distractions caused by undisciplined children, are commonplace, and are an insult to God.


The abandonment of reverential fear of God is one of the first steps to complete apostasy.


3:9.  "And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks."


Clearly Israel's idolatry had begun with only a few of the people, but time quickly gave credence to the false worship, so that soon this spiritual adultery had come to be regarded as a matter of little consequence, all of the people adopting the pernicious practice to the point where there was scarcely a place without the tangible evidence of their apostasy in the form of stone and wooden idols to which they gave the worship that belonged to God alone.


The present day world is similarly polluted with the evidence of the idolatry of the harlot church, the only difference being that the literal carved idols have been exchanged for those that are intangible but nonetheless real: money, education, pleasure, being but a few.


3:10.  "And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the Lord."


It is generally agreed that the feigned return has reference to the reforms instituted by the good king Josiah, see 2 Ki 22-23; but, as noted already, those reforms were superficial: the hearts of the people remained unchanged; and following Josiah’s death, Judah reverted to idolatry.


The same feigned allegiance marks the professing church today.


3:11.  "And the Lord said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah."


Judah's hypocrisy made Israel look virtuous by comparison, God's appraisal declaring His loathing of hypocrisy.  He abhors it no less today.  His repeated description of Judah as being treacherous emphasizes still further his hatred of duplicity.  Nor is this difficult to understand, for Scripture makes it clear that God's estimate of sins of ignorance is very different from His evaluation of sins of deliberate commission.  Apostasy is deliberate rejection of revealed truth.  The bitter cup of judgment which the apostate church will yet be compelled to drink in the coming Tribulation will be the one her own rebel hand is presently filling.


The examples of God's dealings with hypocritical Israel and Judah should make us fear to be anything but sincere in all our ways.


3:12.  "Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever."


In the experience of  Israel (the ten northern tribes), we have a foreshadowing of the yet future  experience of the whole nation of Israel, for as those ten tribes were carried away out of the land into Assyrian captivity, so has the whole nation been carried away out of the land, and scattered among the Gentiles in AD 70.  This present call to return, however, foreshadows the regathering of Israel that began in 1948, that is continuing today, and that will culminate in the Tribulation judgments from which a repentant believing remnant will emerge as the new Israel that will inherit millennial blessings.


In the experience of Judah (Judah and Benjamin) we may discern a figure of the church become apostate, in spite of having had the example of both Israel and Judah as a warning against such folly.  When the true Church is raptured to heaven, the apostate counterfeit will be left on earth to first fall prey to the Gentile Beast ruler in the ensuing Tribulation (the Babylonian captivity of Judah being the foreshadowing of that experience), and then to be destroyed by the Lord returning in power and glory to establish His millennial kingdom.


Scripture makes it clear that in the very same period (the Tribulation) when God is dealing in judgment with the nations, and with the apostate church, He will again turn to the long scattered Israel, and call her back to Himself, just as here He is turning from apostate Judah, to call the ten northern tribes back to repentance and blessing.  That pattern is clearly discernible in the passage we are now considering, for God, Who up to this point has been addressing Judah, now bids the prophet direct an appeal to Israel to return so that she might be blessed.


Since, however, the north is the biblical direction connected with mere human wisdom as the antagonist of faith, God's command to "proclaim these words toward the north" would remind us that above and beyond His appeal to the nation of Israel, is His appeal to all men to abandon their fatal trust in human wisdom, and return to Him through simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  The assurance that their repentant return would see His anger exchanged for mercy, also goes beyond the nation of Israel, and is addressed to all men.


3:13.  "Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the Lord."


The pattern for recovery never changes.  Whether it is a sinner seeking salvation, or a saint seeking restoration, there must be first repentant confession of sin.  The Church, whose delinquency is even greater than that of Israel by reason of the fact that she has had the examples of Israel and Judah as warnings, will be blessed only when she confesses her sin, and demonstrates that her repentance is genuine, by abandoning that sin, and walking in obedience before God.


“... hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree,” is also translated, “and lavished your love upon alien gods under every green tree,” and “your promiscuous traffic with foreign gods.”


3:14.  "Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:"


In declaring Himself to be the Husband of this backslidden people, God is disclosing the nearness of His relationship with them.  There is no closer relationship than that existing between husband and wife.  No people are nearer or dearer to God than Israel.  As a husband chooses one woman to be the exclusive object of his affection, so has God chosen Israel from among the nations.


It is generally agreed that the “one of a city, and two of a family” has reference to the relatively few who will be saved and restored to a right relationship with God in the Tribulation, as in all ages.  They will be a small remnant.  It is the same in this present dispensation of grace, for the Lord Himself declared, "... strait (narrow) is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it," Mt 7:14.


"... and I will bring you to Zion."  Zion, meaning a parched place, is generally understood to have reference to the land of Canaan; and the meaning seems particularly inappropriate to what is clearly to be a place of blessing.  There is no incongruity however.  It will be a parched place only during the Tribulation; but following that terrible era of judgment when the remnant will turn to God, there will be miraculous transformation, for in the following Millennium, "the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose .... for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert .... And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy ...." Isa 35:1-10.


This is a principle with God relative to salvation.  In the present age sinners are called upon to repent, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of their souls, having the assurance that for the little while of their earthly experience they will have tribulation, Jn 16:33; but how different will be their experience in eternity!  There will be no more tribulation, tears, sorrow, crying or death in that heaven to which every believer is going.  The brief period of tribulation which tests the reality of faith, is of little consequence to the true believer, in view of the eternal blessings to follow.


3:15.  "And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding."


The word pastors here is from a primitive root meaning to tend a flock, i.e. "pasture" it.  It is exactly the same word used in the NT relative to elders; and it is significant that, in spite of the false doctrine abroad today that would have us see elders as administrators, the NT also makes it clear that elders are to the Church what shepherds are to flocks of sheep.  Their principal work is to feed the sheep committed to their care by the Holy Spirit.  There is not one word in the NT which even hints that administration is any part of elders' work.  The only "Administrator" in the Church is the Holy Spirit, and He hasn’t delegated that authority to any man, not even the elders.


Note, for example, Paul's admonition to the elders of the Ephesian church, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God ...."  Acts 20:28 .  It is to be noted also that the Apostle Peter, addressing the elders, describes himself, not as an apostle, but as an elder, and exhorts, "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder ... feed the flock of God ...." 1 Pe 5:1-2.  And it is significant that he is the Apostle who was specifically commanded by the Lord, "Feed my lambs .... Feed my sheep .... Feed my sheep," Jn 21:15-17.


It is of further significance that the principal qualification of elders is that they be apt to teach, 1 Tim 3:2, for teaching is the spiritual equivalent of feeding.  Nor is it strange that God should emphasize the need for elders to teach His people.  The well fed flock is the best shepherded, for the well taught believer will not fall prey to the false teaching of the wolves who seek to ravage the flock.


Note that in the verse we are considering feeding and teaching are synonymous, "which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding."  There is a crying need today for elders willing to give themselves to the study of Scripture so that they may be able to feed God's sheep.


3:16  "And it shall come to pass, when ye be multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, saith the Lord, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord: neither shall it come to mind: neither shall they remember it; neither shall they visit it; neither shall that be done any more.”


This looks on to the Millennium, when the ark, and all that it represents, will no longer be needed.  In those days a converted Israel will bask in the fulfillment of all God's promises relative to their earthly blessing.  The ark, and some similar anticipatory symbols, will no longer be needed.  Christ, of Whom the ark is but a figure or type, will then be known and adored by the very same nation which, not knowing Him, crucified Him two thousand years ago.  "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah .... And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more,” Jer 31:31-34.


The Ark was associated with Israel’s wanderings, and with a God to Whom they had only representative and limited access through the Levitical priesthood and offerings.  In the Millennium their wilderness experience will be forgotten, the priesthood and  offerings associated with the levitical order, however, being continued, but with a different purpose.  In the past dispensation they expressed Israel’s worship and typologically anticipated the coming and death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Millennium they will express, not only the worship of Israel, but also of the nations, and will be typologically retrospective of that coming and death.


What is true of Israel, relative to future blessing, is true in greater measure of the Church.  Before Israel's time of restoration and blessing comes, the Church will be raptured to heaven, to enjoy eternal blessings so superior to Israel's millennial enrichment, that we read concerning them, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him," 1 Co 2:9.


In this determination of God to bless both Israel and the Church, we see revealed love and grace that are beyond human comprehension, for the one as much as the other has proved herself unworthy of anything except eternal punishment.


It is to be noted incidentally that the Ark was never found or replaced after Babylon destroyed the city and Temple in 586 BC, and this is the last reference to it in the historical books.


3:17.  "At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart."


In the Millennium Jerusalem will be the earthly center of Divine government, with a descendant of David sitting on the throne as the representative of Christ Who will be ruling over the earth from the heavenly Jerusalem.  (Scripture does not validate the view that Christ will be personally present on the Millennial earth.  It seems that the form of government will be theocratic, as in the days of Solomon, whose reign is clearly typical of the Millennium).


3:18.  "In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers."


This is the assurance that the nation of Israel, divided since the days of Rehoboam, will be united in the Millennium.


There has been much speculation as to the location of “the land of the north,” but Ezek 38-39 indicates that the northern coalition which will invade Palestine in the Tribulation will consist of Russia, Persia, Ethiopia, Libya, Germany, and Turkey.


3:19.  "But I said, 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."


Another translation reads, "And I thought how wonderful it would be for you to be here among My children.  I planned to give you part of this beautiful land, the finest in the world.  I looked forward to your calling me 'Father,' and thought that you would never turn away from Me again" (Taylor).


This is the expression of what God wished, but His desire was disappointed by the rebellion of the people He so much longed to bless.  (It must be kept in mind that this is the expression of God's thoughts from the human perspective, for, having perfect foreknowledge of all things, He is never “disappointed” as men are).


And again we are confronted with a love that is beyond comprehension, for this is the One Who, by a word, called the universe into existence, and Who, by that same power, could have banished into hell the rebels He longed to bless, replacing them with an obedient race of men.


Man has little conception of his high calling as a creature made in the image of the Creator, for as such he is possessed of intelligence, emotion, and will, as is God Himself; and it is because he has been given these attributes that he has the capacity to defy his Maker, and thereby secure his own eternal ruin; or to love and obey God, and thereby ensure himself of eternal blessing.  An incomprehensible mystery is that God should condescend to plead with men to receive His blessings.  And a still greater wonder is that He should have been willing to give His only Son to redeem men from the consequences of their wilful rebellion.


3:20.  "Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord."


No treachery is greater than that of a wife who turns from her husband to give her love to another; but in the case of Israel, whose departure from God is presented under this figure, the sin is compounded, for here the word “husband” is literally “friend.” One may be a husband without being a friend to the wife, but Israel could make no such charge against Jehovah.  He had proved Himself to be both a Husband and a Friend.  She had no excuse for her treachery in departing from Him to worship the Baals of Canaan.


We miss the point, however, if we fail to see that an apostate church is guilty of the same treachery and folly.  She too has turned from the God Who is also her dearest Friend, to worship the counterparts of the idols worshiped by rebel Israel and Judah: money, education, pleasure, ease, etc., her sin being compounded by virtue of the fact that she has had the examples of Israel and Judah to warn her against such madness.


3:21.  "A voice was heard upon the high places, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel: for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the Lord their God."


Sin never delivers its promised rewards, a fact very aptly expressed by the one who wrote:


I tried the broken cisterns, Lord;

But, ah! the waters failed. 

E'en as I stooped to drink, they'd fled,

And mocked me as I wailed."


Israel's voice was heard on the high places, i.e., around the idol altars that had been erected on every hill and mountain; but it is significant that the voice was that of "weeping and supplications."  Her treacherous departure from her Husband God had brought no joy, but rather, misery and tears; and it is to be noted further that it was the voice of "supplications," literally, asking for grace.  But as mercy is the withholding of deserved punishment, so is grace the giving of undeserved blessing. The tragedy of Israel's weeping and supplication around the altars of her idols, was that had she walked in obedience, she would have been bowing before her Husband God with joy and gladness, not to supplicate, but to worship and praise Him for the abundance of His blessings.


An apostate church, blind to the warnings written so clearly on the pages of Israel's history; deaf to the voices of the prophets whose warnings to Israel and Judah are no less applicable to her, has pursued the same path of folly.  And she too, empty, frustrated, weeping ... prostrates herself at the feet of the idols worshiped by an unbelieving world, pleading for more money, more education, more pleasure, more ease.  But she weeps for the wrong reason.  The writer referred to above has also written:


I sighed for rest and happiness,

I yearned for them, not Thee 

The pleasures lost I sadly mourned,

But never wept for Thee.


An apostate Church pleads for the same baubles, and weeps for the same lost sinful pleasures, but will not do what she must do to be happy and blessed: repent, and walk in obedience.


The cause of Israel's weeping was that they had “perverted their way,” i.e., turned from the path of obedience, to do wickedness; and they had “forgotten the Lord their God.”  In chapter 6:16 they are exhorted to "ask for the old paths," but they never did seek those "old paths" with a whole heart, and the result is that today they are scattered amongst the nations, pursued by the sword.  Nor will they know blessing until they return to those "old paths" of pleasantness and peace, Pr 3:17, i.e., to an obedient walk before God.


A professing but apostate church, no less than disobedient Israel, has left those paths of obedience, and the result is that she too weeps for lost sinful pleasures, but not for lost righteousness, and spiritual power.  Those biblical "old paths" are despised today; and those who preach the need of a return to them, are mocked, and branded old fashioned, rigid, strict, legalists.  But those same "old paths" are the ones God has marked out for the Church, as for Israel; nor are those who preach the need of a return to them today, any less God's messengers than were the prophets who preached the need of repentance to Israel and Judah long ago.


God declared the initial cause of their apostasy: "... they have forgotten the Lord their God."  It is instructive to note that in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, the formula for recovery is, "Remember ... and repent," Rev 2:5.  Nothing secures obedience like the recollection of the Lord's goodness.  Hence the importance of the Lord's Supper, for it is there that we are reminded afresh, on the first day of each week, of the extent of our indebtedness to His love, mercy, and grace.


Deadly forgetfulness begins with neglect of daily reading and prayer, and soon becomes manifest in absence from the midweek prayer and Bible study meeting, and finally, in failure to come to the Lord's Supper on the first day of each week.


3:22.  "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God."


The grace they didn't seek from God was nevertheless offered.  Well might the poet ask:


Who is a pardoning God like Thee;

Or Who has grace so rich and free?


God's response to their treachery was to plead with them to return to Him, so that He might heal them.  How much they needed His healing is disclosed in their weeping and pleading at the altars of their false gods.


The rest of the book of Jeremiah makes it clear that the recorded response of Israel was simply an empty profession that was never followed by action.


With their lips they said, "We come unto thee; for thou art our God"; but there was no change in their lives. They still bowed down to their idols.  They would say with their lips, "Thou art the Lord our God," but their true sentiments were disclosed by the fact that they continued to worship the Baals of Canaan.


He is spiritually blind who fails to see that the apostate professing church today is guilty of the same dissimulation: hence her wretched state; yet she is willing to attribute that condition to every cause but the true one: her own disobedience.


3:23.  "Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel."


Their duplicity would be incredible were it not that we see it duplicated daily in the professing but apostate church.  They say with their lips that it is folly to put trust in money, education, pleasure, ease, etc., yet these are the very gods they continue to worship.  They say that there is no hope apart from God, but their lives contradict the profession of their lips.  And sadly, genuine believers are all too often guilty of the same mendacity.


3:24.  "For shame hath devoured the labor of our fathers from our youth; their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters."


Shame is literally “the shameful thing,” i.e., the Baal, or false god, and the worship given him.  Never was a declaration more applicable to the condition of the professing but apostate church.  It is her worship of the gods already mentioned that has brought about her ruin.  Nor should we miss the pertinence of the reference to "the labor of our fathers."  The professing church has similarly squandered the goodly heritage bequeathed by preceding generations of godly believers who were willing to live as pilgrims and strangers on earth; willing to be poor temporally that they might be rich spiritually; willing to be considered fools as far as worldly wisdom goes, that they might be wise in God's sight; willing to forego pleasure and ease, so that God's work might be done; willing, if need be, to die for the cause of Christ.


How different are their children!  We have settled down in the world, exchanging the pilgrim's tent for the merchant's mansion.  We have despised true riches, and chosen instead to scrabble for dollars.  We have disdained the wisdom that is from above, and become fools in God's sight that we might appear wise in the eyes of men.  We have refused God's command to labor in His field and vineyard, choosing instead to loll on beds of ease, and squander precious hours on the world's sport and entertainment.  Nor is it to be expected that such a "believer" would be willing to die for the cause of Christ.


For every literal blessing possessed by Israel, there is a spiritual counterpart to be possessed by Church age believers, so that the lost "flocks and herds" represent the spiritual riches forfeited by our worship of the world's false gods.  Some of those blessings are: a knowledge of God's Word; the ability to worship and pray; competence in service ... to say nothing of the peace that is the concomitant of an obedient life.


As for their "sons and their daughters," we are they.  It is we who have been devoured by our idolatry.  We have destroyed ourselves.  Sadder still (if there can be degrees of comparison in relation to such sin) we have destroyed our own sons and daughters.  We have left them without an inheritance.  We have failed to teach them the imperative of obeying God.  And we have destroyed those who might have been our spiritual "sons and daughters,"  those we might have led to Christ - but for our frantic pursuit of the world’s wealth and pleasure, our worship of the world's idols.



Judah confessed all this with her lips, but in her heart she still clung to her idols, and so do we.


3:25.  "We lie down in our shame, and our confusion covereth us: for we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God."


This sounds like genuine repentance, but the rest of the book shows it to have been sheer hypocrisy.  They continued to worship their idols.  Nor has the professing church proved any more sincere.  She too is willing to acknowledge that she has been disobedient, but she too refuses to abandon her idol worship.

[Jeremiah 4]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough