A Call to Repentance

Return, O faithless children, declares the LORD; for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion” (3:14).

- Jeremiah 3:6–4:4

Jeremiah began his ministry during the reign of King Josiah, one of the most righteous rulers of ancient Judah (Jer. 1:1–2). After years of Judean kings doing the worst imaginable, such as child sacrifice (2 Kings 21), Josiah seemed like a new start. This godly man repaired the temple, tore down pagan shrines, celebrated the Passover, and otherwise worked to set Judah back on a course of obedience to God’s law (22:1–23:25). In Josiah, Jeremiah had a reliable ally in his mission to call Judah to return to the Lord.

However, though Josiah’s reforms were promising, they were not enough to change the actual hearts of the people. The history of Josiah’s successors, who “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord,” proves this (2 Kings 23:31–32, 36–37; 24:8–9, 18–19). Jeremiah’s record of his preaching also hints at the lack of heart transformation that issues forth in true repentance. As Josiah enacted his reforms, Jeremiah still had to warn the people to repent. God saw through the hypocrisy of the people in tearing down pagan altars without having true love for Him, Josiah’s righteousness not withstanding.

In today’s passage, Jeremiah calls Judah to repent in a most unusual manner. Rather than addressing Judah directly, God tells Jeremiah to speak to the northern kingdom— Israel—which had not existed for nearly one hundred years at the time the prophet was to preach (Jer. 3:11–12). Apart from a few scattered Israelites living among the peoples with whom Assyria repopulated the north after it conquered Samaria in 722 B.C.(2 Kings 17:7–23), the prophet had no one to talk to in Jeremiah 3:6–4:4. But the northern kingdom was not Jeremiah’s true audience. God wanted to address Judah, and He had Jeremiah call “Israel” and not “Judah” to repentance in order to teach His people a vital lesson. Yesterday, we saw that the divorce regulations in Deuteronomy 24:1–4 made it humanly impossible for God to remarry His ex-wife, namely, His covenant people. But Jeremiah remembered that “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). The Lord would take back Israel, whom He had divorced long ago—if she were to repent and keep her oath to return to Him (Jer. 4:2).

Since God was willing to take back Israel, He would surely take back Judah, who at the time the sermon recorded in today’s passage was preached had not yet been divorced and sent away into exile. That was the lesson for Judah, and it remains a lesson for us today. No matter what we have done, the Lord will receive us back if we repent and return to Him.

Coram Deo

All sin breaches our relationship with God, but we must never think that the Lord will refuse us if we humble ourselves and return to Him with true contrition. He longs to take us back, and His willingness to forgive His children is infinite. No matter where we are or what we have done, we can be confident that God will pardon us if we forsake our sin and turn to Christ alone for our pardon. That is the magnitude of His grace. That is the mercy of the God whom we serve in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 5:1–13
Joshua 9
2 Samuel 21:7
1 Thessalonians 5:27

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