God’s Charge Against Judah
“If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me? declares the LORD” (v. 1).- Jeremiah 3:1–5
Having described his call to ministry, Jeremiah begins recording in chapter two of his book the message he preached to Judah. Like many other prophets, Jeremiah likens God’s relationship to His old covenant people as that of a bridegroom to his bride (Jer. 2:1–3; see Ezek. 16; Hos. 1:2–2:23). This bride’s devotion to her Husband was at first unquestionable, but soon Israel forsook the Lord. The people of Judah, the last descendants of the original nation of Israel, were guilty of adultery, of rejecting God their Husband for other lovers, namely, the false gods of Canaan (Jer. 2:4–37).
Despite having committed grievous evil in breaking the first rule the Lord gave His people after saving them from Egypt (Ex. 20:1–3), Judah did not fully grasp her peril. She had not cheated on the Lord merely once or twice, a bad thing in itself. Instead, Judah had “played the whore with many lovers” (Jer. 3:1). The people’s desire for foreign deities had no limits; Judah was not a passive victim who had been unwittingly seduced by a charming Casanova, but she sold herself to others without remorse. She was like a prostitute who waited alongside the road for male clients among the trading caravans, the many altars to Baal and others on the “bare heights” proving her wanton adultery (v. 2). Matthew Henry comments, “to have admitted one strange God among them would have been bad enough, but they were insatiable in their lust after false worship.”
Baal, the Canaanite god of rain and storm, was particularly enticing to Judah (Jer. 2:8, 23). The Judahites would have worshipped this god to guarantee good rains for their harvests, but their service produced the opposite effect—the covenant curse of drought (3:3; see Deut. 28:23–24). Yet even that curse did not lead to repentance; rather, Judah kept on professing its loyalty to God while blaming Him for its situation (Jer. 3:3–5).
Under the old covenant’s legal system, a divorced man could not later remarry the wife he divorced if she had married someone else in the interim, even if her second husband was dead or if he divorced her (Deut. 24:1–4). By abandoning the Lord for other gods, Judah had put herself in this predicament. Having divorced God and remarried other deities, a reconciliation and remarriage between Judah and her Creator was impossible from a human perspective (Jer. 3:1). As we will see, however, remarriage was not impossible for God (vv. 12–14). Such is His amazing grace to His wayward people.
John Calvin comments on today’s passage, “When an adulteress finds her husband so willing of himself, and ready to grant free pardon, it is certainly an example not found among mortals.” Adultery harms, often irreparably, the bond between husband and wife on an earthly level. Thus, Christ permits divorce for sexual infidelity (Matt. 19:9). However, no sin destroys permanently the bond between God and His people, provided that we are repentant. That is the magnitude of His grace.
Passages for Further Study