Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2003 James Melough
"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.
"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
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.
"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.
"Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My father, thou art the guide of my
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
"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
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
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.
"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
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!
"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.
"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.
"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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Sin never delivers its
promised rewards, a fact very aptly expressed by the one who wrote:
I tried the broken cisterns,
But, ah! the waters failed.
E'en as I stooped to drink,
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
I yearned for them, not
The pleasures lost I sadly
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
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
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.
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
Or Who has grace so rich and
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
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.