Jeremiah 2-3The Voice

2 The word of the Eternal came to me again.

With Jeremiah as God’s mouthpiece, the mighty oracles begin about a loving husband (God) divorcing his unfaithful wife (Judah).

Eternal One: Go now, and say this loud enough for all Jerusalem to hear. Tell them that the Eternal speaks these words:

    “I still remember the way you clung to Me in your youth, in the early days of our union.
        Like a young bride, you loved the vows you made.
    As I led you from slavery in Egypt to your freedom in Canaan, you drew close to Me.
        Even in the barren wilderness along the way, I filled your every need.
    In those days, you, Israel, were set apart for Me, the Eternal.
        You were like the first portions of the harvest—devoted and true.
    All who defied this arrangement and ate My portion for themselves were guilty,
        and evil rained down upon them.”

Listen to the very word of the Eternal, house of Jacob and all the clans of Israel!

Eternal One: What happened between us?
        What could I have done to your ancestors that was so wrong, so unfair?
    Why would they pull away from Me
        to pursue the empty worship of idols that has left them just as empty?
    They didn’t think to say, “Where is the Eternal who rescued us from slavery in Egypt?
        Where is the One who led us through the wilderness—a land of deserts and ravines?”
    No one seems to remember how they crossed a scorched and lifeless land,
        a darkness none had ever crossed before, a place where none survive.
    I am the One who delivered you into this land of abundance
        to enjoy its fruits and many good things.
    But you have now taken the very land I gave you and defiled it.
        You have done a most disgusting thing with this gift I reserved only for you.
    Even then, the priests didn’t think to say, “Where is the Eternal One?”
        Those who understand and teach the law act as if they’ve never known Me.
    The rulers also have moved against Me.
        Even the so-called prophets spoke in the name of Baal
        and pursued worthless idols in their vain attempt for greater prosperity.

    This is the case that I bring against you and your descendants:
    You can search from the coastlands of Kittim in the west
        to the deserts of Kedar in the east, and you won’t find anything as sickening as this.
    Has a nation ever exchanged its gods for some others,
        even if they weren’t really gods in the first place?
    But My beloved people have done just that: they have exchanged their glory
        to pursue worthless idols in their vain attempt for greater prosperity.

Israel’s plan to submit herself to the authority of a stronger pagan nation in return for protection makes no sense to an objective observer, much less to God Himself. During the long history of this nation, her troubles have often resulted from a stubborn refusal to trust God. They have a habit of looking elsewhere—to anywhere or anyone but God—for relief, of turning to nations that are never constant friends. For example, when the Assyrian Empire was conquering the region 100 years earlier, the Northern Kingdom of Israel attempted to ward off the threat by making treaties with other nations. Despite their feeble plans, Israel fell in 722 b.c. to Assyrian might and cruelty. Now God points out to Judah’s leaders in the Southern Kingdom how useless it is to align with either Egypt or Assyria when the punishing Babylonian army is on the horizon. It doesn’t matter how powerful her allies may seem; once the covenant with God is broken, Israel must pay for her infidelity.

    Be horrified, O you heavens, at this appalling betrayal.
        Cringe in horror and be repulsed.
    My people are guilty of two evils:
        They have abandoned Me, the spring of living waters;
    And instead, they have settled for dead and stagnant water
        from cracked, leaky cisterns of their own making.

Is Israel some common slave, born into bondage?
Why has he been carted off as if he were the spoil of battle?
The nations have circled him like hungry young lions,
    roaring and growling their war cries.
They have left Israel a wasteland—
    the cities destroyed and the people scattered.
Even your Egyptian allies, from Memphis and Tahpanhes,
    have stripped you of land and your crowning glory.
Is there anyone to blame but yourself?
    Weren’t you the ones who abandoned the Eternal,
Your True God, even as He led you on this journey?

Eternal One: What do you hope to accomplish by going to Egypt
        and drinking from the waters of the Nile?
    What do you think you will gain by traveling to Assyria
        and drinking from the waters of the Euphrates?
    It is your wickedness that will punish you
        and your desertion of My ways that will convict you.
    See the evil and taste the bitterness of forsaking the one True God, the Eternal.
        At the core of this evil is the sad truth that you have forgotten the wonder and terror of who I am.

So says the Eternal Lord, Commander of heavenly armies.

Eternal One (to His people): A long time ago, I broke the yoke that weighed you down
        and tore off the chains that enslaved you;
    Still you boldly said, “I will not serve You!”
        Instead, you bowed down like a whore to pagan gods on the high hills, under every green tree.
    I am the One who planted you like a select vine, chosen from vintage stock.
        How could you turn into such a useless, wild weed of a vine?
    You can scrub yourself with all the soap you want,
        but you’ll never be able to wash away the stain of what you’ve done before Me.

So says the Eternal Lord.

Eternal One (to His people): How can you say, “I have not been defiled”?
        How can you reply, “I have not run after the idols of Baal?”
    You know exactly what you’ve done down in the valley—
        you’re like a young camel running here and there without any direction.
    You’ve acted like a wild donkey at home in that desert,
        sniffing at the wind for any scent of the next encounter, unbridled in her lust.
    It’s not even fair to say you were seduced by these gods.
        You sought them out!
    I warn you again: stop running after these rituals
        till your feet are bare and your throat is dried out.
    You said, “I can’t help myself, for I love these strange gods I am chasing after.”

    Like a thief caught in the act, the people of Israel will be put to shame:
        kings, leaders, priests, and prophets will be shamed.
    They say to a piece of wood, “You are my father”;
        they confess to a stone, “You gave me birth.”
    They have shunned Me, who gave them life—turning their backs
        instead of facing Me—
    But that will change when troubles come.
        That’s when they will cry out to Me, “Stand up for us, and save us!”
    O Judah, where will your pagan gods be then?
        You know, the ones you made yourself?
    Let them stand up on their own.
        See if they’re able to save you from your troubles.
    You have as many gods as villages, Judah. Now let them take care of you.

    Why are you leveling charges against Me?
        You are the unfaithful one here.
    You have all pulled away from Me.
    I tried to discipline your sons, but it didn’t work; they wouldn’t listen.
        You destroyed the prophets I sent to speak truth to you.
    You devoured them as a lion does his prey.

People of this generation, consider again the word of the Eternal.

Eternal One: Have I been a barren wasteland to Israel with nothing to offer?
        Am I no more than a land cloaked in darkness to them?
    Why do My own people say to Me,
        “We would rather wander where we want than come to You”?
    Does a young woman ever forget her jewelry?
        Does a bride forget to bring along her wedding dress?
    And yet My people forgot Me long, long ago.
    How good you’ve become at your reckless loving!
        You could teach even a loose woman a thing or two.
    The stain of the blood of the poor and the innocent is on your clothes
    Even though you didn’t find them breaking into your houses.
        In spite of it all,
    Still you dare to say, “I am innocent;
        surely God could not be angry with me anymore.”
    Yet watch as I condemn you
        because you perjure yourself saying, “I have not sinned.”
    How do you keep changing directions,
        making a covenant with Me, then a treaty with them?
    You will soon be disappointed by the alliance with Egypt
        just as you were by the one with Assyria.
    You will leave this land as captives, with your hands on your head.
        Why? Because I, the Eternal One, have rejected those you relied on.
    You will never prosper from their help.

3 Eternal One: If a husband divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he ever go back to her again? Such behavior would violate what is right, and the land itself would be tainted with sin. Now you, Judah, have acted like a whore and taken on many lovers. Why are you trying to return to Me now?

    Look up to the hilltops. Take a good look.
        Is there anywhere you have not committed perverse acts in the company of other gods?
    You sat on the side of the road, offering yourself to lovers;
        like a desert nomad you waited, patiently.
    Even the land itself is tainted by your prostitution and wickedness.

From the beginning, the covenant between God and His people is clear. They are to worship and trust Him alone. They are to remain true to His teachings. So when God sees His people worshiping idols made of stone and wood, when He sees them participating in demeaning sexual practices with prostitutes as part of local fertility rites, it is too much. The people of Judah have been unfaithful in nearly every way imaginable. They have witnessed what happened to the adulterous Northern Kingdom of Israel. But somehow, these stubborn people think they are special, even immune to such disaster. They think if they say the right prayers in the right ways to the right God from time to time, then all the blatant violations of God’s covenant will be ignored. The prophet Jeremiah sees it all differently.

God will send out a message to the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom, which He still calls Israel. For decades, those people have been scattered throughout the Assyrian Empire to the north, while their land has been under enemy occupation. But despite the tribes’ faithlessness, these many years later, the God of mercy offers to restore them. In the midst of divine judgment, God utters words of hope; but this hope, this restoration, is only found in true repentance.

    That is why I have held back the rain,
        why the spring rains have not come.
    But you still look and act the part of a prostitute—
        unfazed, unashamed.
    But wait, did you just now call out to Me, saying,
        “My Father, You have been my friend, my confidant since I was young”?
    You ask, “Surely He won’t be angry forever, will He?
        Surely He won’t hold this against us to the end, right?”
    This is how you talk—as if all I want are your words;
        meanwhile you continue in your selfish and evil ways.

Then the Eternal who rules over all of history reminded me of a lesson my people, Judah, should have learned from Israel a century ago. He spoke these words to Judah early in my career, during the days of Josiah the king.

Eternal One: Have you not learned anything from Israel’s unfaithful ways? How she turned away from Me, went up every high hill and under every green tree to worship another. She acted like a prostitute and broke our covenant there. I thought, “After she’s done all this, she’ll return home to Me,” but it never happened. She didn’t come back. And her deceitful sister, Judah, saw all of this and learned nothing. She saw that I sent unfaithful Israel away with a decree of divorce for these acts of adultery. But it didn’t matter to her deceitful sister, Judah. She wasn’t afraid or moved by any of this. She went her own way and played the prostitute as well. In fact, because her own infidelity bothered her so little, she defiled the land by committing adultery, worshiping stones and trees instead of Me. And while this was a lesson to be learned by deceitful Judah, it was an opportunity lost—for she never learned it; she never completely returned to Me. She only pretended to be Mine, as if empty words would satisfy Me.

(to Jeremiah) Despite her faithlessness, Israel has proven to be more righteous than her deceitful sister, Judah. Now go and cry out these words of hope to those people in the north:

    “Return to Me, faithless Israel.
        I will look on you with mercy, not anger.
        I will not hold this grudge against you forever.
    Just admit what you did—your sin against Me.
        How you rebelled against the Eternal your God.
    How you gave yourself away to these foreign gods in the open, under the trees!
        How you disobeyed My voice.
    Come back home, My restless, faithless ones,
        for I am your master, your husband (not that other god),
    And I will take you in—one from this city, two from that clan;
        I will bring you home to Zion.

“Then I will give you shepherds who trust and know Me, wise teachers who will impart knowledge and understanding to you. In those days, after your people have grown and increased in the land, they will no longer talk about the covenant chest of the Eternal. They won’t think about it, remember it, or even miss it. There will be no need for it to be made again. In this coming age, Jerusalem will be known as the throne of the Eternal. All the nations of the world will be drawn there to her, to honor the name of the Eternal. The days of people insisting on their own stubborn ways dictated by their own evil hearts will be gone. In that day, the split between My people will be mended. Judah and Israel will walk together again. From a land to the north, they will come to this land I gave only to your ancestors.

    “I thought to Myself how much I wanted to welcome you home as children
        and bless you with a good land and a future to be envied by all the world.
    I hoped for the day when you would call Me ‘My Father,’
        and no longer pull away from Me and My ways.
    But just as an unfaithful wife betrays her husband,
        so have you betrayed Me, O house of Israel.”

Jeremiah tells the people what could happen, if only they will repent. The prophet hopes for dialogue between Israel and the God who has never stopped loving her.

A sound now echoes from the deserted hills
    where Israel betrayed her God.
It is the sound of bitter tears mixed with the prayers
    of the lost and rebellious people of Israel
    who have forgotten the Eternal, their True God.

Eternal One: Come back to Me, My faithless ones,
        and I will heal your faithlessness.

Israel: Look! We come to You now,
        because You are the Eternal our God.
    The idols we worshiped on the hills,
        the rituals we performed on the mountains were based on a lie.
    You, the Eternal, our one True God,
        are the only hope of Israel’s rescue.

Everything our parents worked for—their livestock and even their families—has been devoured by the worship of the shameful god. Let us fall on our faces in shame, covered in our humiliation. Ours is a legacy of rebellion, for we and those before us have sinned against the Eternal our God. From the time we were young to this very day, we have refused to obey His voice.

Yesterday’s ReadingThe 6 Year PlanTomorrow’s Reading

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.