In Jeremiah 3 God, through the prophet, pleads with Judah to repent. About ninety years earlier Israel, because of their persistent sinfulness, had been defeated and brought into captivity by the Assyrians. Now God’s attention was directed toward Judah. Surely Judah would learn from what had happened to Israel! The Biblical examples of the results of disobedience should encourage others to obey God and repent of sin. “Now these things happened unto them by way of example; and they were written for our admonition” (1 Cor. 10:11—ASV). But God’s people, even today, have difficulty in accepting such lessons.
In this case, Judah would not heed the warning: “Repent or be destroyed like Israel before.” God’s spokesman was rejected, abused, and persecuted because he preached the truth. Those who preach the truth need to be willing to endure such treatment (2 Tim. 2:3, 9-10) for there will be those who “will not endure sound doctrine” (4:3). Jeremiah was given a message from God that needed to be heard and, therefore, had to be preached. He was genuinely concerned for the people and for the truth. Jeremiah described the message as “fire shut up in my bones” (Jer. 20:9) and that message was “from above” (Lam. 1:13). Such a message must be preached.
Sin was the problem in Judah—not military weakness or political alliances. A covenant existed between the descendants of Israel and God. God said, “I am married unto you” (Jer. 3:14). This was a sacred, permanent covenant. In the New Testament this husband-wife relationship exists between Christ and the church. Paul wrote about this relationship and the faithfulness it requires in 2 Corinthians 11:2: “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”
Because of this marriage, unfaithfulness is considered spiritual adultery. To some this concept may be harsh and severe, but sin is not to be treated lightly. One sin separates the sinner from God and leads to other sins. In this third chapter of Jeremiah notice God’s repeated reference to Judah’s sinfulness.
thou hast played the harlot with many lovers…thou hast polluted the land with thy whoredoms and with thy wickedness…yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also…Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord (11:1-2, 8, 20).
Departure usually begins with idolatry. Idolatry is not restricted to statues and images (Col. 3:5). In fact, anything that becomes more important than God becomes an idol. When this priority is changed, any act, however wrong, can be justified. Sin, unrepented of, brings destruction (Rom. 6:23).
It is often as difficult to get a sinner to repent as it is to force a goat’s nose to the ground. Why? Because they are stiff-necked, stubborn, and determined to resist. Stephen described those who were about to kill him because of his preaching, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51).
In order for sin to be forgiven it must initially be acknowledged. When Nathan told David that he was a sinner, David reacted by penitently acknowledging his sin. He wrote: “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (Psa. 51:3-4).
Jeremiah implored Judah, “Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God” (Jer. 3:13). Sinners must be made to realize their guilt because of sin before repentance and forgiveness are possible. As on Pentecost, sinners must always first be “pricked in their heart” (Acts 2:37), convicted of their sinfulness, before they will be willing to follow God’s prescription for forgiveness.
Be assured that God desires to forgive the sinner and, therefore, calls them to repentance. Now this call to repentance comes through the preaching of the Gospel (2 The. 2:14). In Jeremiah 3, God, through the prophet, repeatedly calls and declares: “Turn thou unto me…Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly…Return, thou backsliding Israel…Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings” (2:7, 10, 12, 22).
It is still true today. God does not want any to be lost but desires to forgive (2 Pet. 3:9). The choice is clear: “Repent or be destroyed.” Sin separates man from God (Isa. 59:1-2), but God is willing and able to save. Today sin is still described as spiritual adultery. James wrote: Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jam. 4:4). We cannot flirt with and love the world without suffering the consequences (2 The. 1:7-9). Worldliness, being like the world, will destroy the children of God. We dare not follow “a multitude to do evil” (Exo. 23:2). We cannot afford to ignore the warning. God calls upon us, His children, “Repent…and pray God” (Acts 8:22) or be destroyed. Will we listen?