The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Luke 18:9-14

In this post we’re going to study the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. You can find that parable in Luke 18:9-14.

The Audience (Luke 18:9)

Luke 18:9 tells us for whose sake the Lord Jesus Christ spoke this parable.

So, that’s the audience. That’s whom Jesus is speaking to. He’s addressing the kind of person who: 1) trusts in himself and thinks he’s righteous and 2) who thinks little of others.

Are you that kind of person?

Do you think you’re a good person? Are you confident that you are better than others? Are you proud of that fact? Are you trusting in your own goodness? Do you despise those people whom you think are less righteous than you are?

If you’re like that, then this message is for you straight from the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s speaking to you right now. Listen.

The Parable (Luke 18:10-14)

The Scene (Luke 18:10)

Jesus starts to tell a story in Luke 18:10.

Two Guys

So, here these two guys are.

Pharisee

The first guy is a Pharisee. He’s religious. He’s viewed as a model of religious devotion. In Jesus’ days you couldn’t exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. This man was righteous – he was a good man – and he knew it and others knew it.

Tax Collector

The other guy is a publican – a tax collector. Do any of you still have to file your own taxes? When you last filed your taxes, was that a pleasant experience? Some people aren’t too happy with the IRS these days, and it wasn’t any different in Jesus’ day. The Jews in Jesus’ time viewed tax collectors as traitors and almost sub-human.

Summary of the Two Guys

So, we have one really good guy and one really bad guy.

The Temple

And where are these two? Luke 18:10 says that they’re in the Temple. They’re in the place of worship. The place where God’s people gather to praise and worship him. And they’ve come to pray.

Now, no one would be surprised to see the Pharisee in the place of worship in order to pray to God. But I think the appearance of the tax collector might have turned some heads. A man like that might not make it to the Temple very often. He certainly wouldn’t have been welcomed by most people.

The Prayers (Luke 18:11-13)

But nevertheless, they both show up at the Temple in order to pray. And in Luke 18:11-13, we get to hear the prayer of each of these men.

The Pharisee’s Prayer (Luke 18:11-12)

Jesus starts with the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11-12. So, let’s note a few things about this prayer.

Focus on Self

The content of this prayer is all about the Pharisee himself. He addresses God, but really the prayer is focused on himself.

He’s Not Bad

In Luke 18:11 he thanks God that he isn’t like other people. He’s not a extortioner – he doesn’t obtain things through force or fraud. He’s not unjust or an outwardly sinful person. He’s not an adulterer – he doesn’t commit adultery with someone who isn’t his wife. And he’s probably most thankful of all for the fact that he’s not like this tax collector who came up to the Temple to pray.

He’s Good

Then in Luke 18:12 the Pharisee shifts his focus from what he doesn’t do to what he does positively do. He fasts twice a week. He denies himself food for the sake of prayer two times every week. He also gives one-tenth of all that he owned.

Summary

So, taken together, this prayer to God consists of thanksgiving for what the Pharisee was not followed by a bare statement of what he was doing right.

Application

Have you ever prayed this kind of prayer yourself? When you communicate with God, are you always talking about yourself and how good you are and how bad others are?

Have you ever heard this kind of prayer from others? What if you entered this service and the man who leads the people in prayer stood up and thanked God that he wasn’t like all the rest of you folks out in the audience here – and then he proceeded to list all of the good things about himself. What would you think about that?

We’re going to find out what God thinks about that kind of prayer in a few minutes.

The Tax Collector’s Prayer (Luke 18:13)

But first, let’s read Luke 18:13 where we get to hear the prayer of the tax collector and notice a few things.

Similarities Between the Prayers

Now, there are a few similarities between the prayer of the tax collector and that of the Pharisee.

The tax collector and the Pharisee were both in the Temple – the place of worship. They both prayed – they directed their words to God. They both stood up as they did this. They both even spoke of themselves as they prayed.

Differences Between the Prayers

Content

But while the Pharisee stood proudly and proclaimed his own goodness in contrast to the wickedness of everyone else around him – this tax collector was focused only on his own wickedness and on God’s ability to pardon his great sinfulness.

Posture

Notice the posture of the tax collector as he prays. He stands just like the Pharisee stood. But he refuses to even lift his eyes to heaven. The weight and shame of his own sinfulness wouldn’t allow it. He beat upon his chest in sorrow over his sins.

Request

And the tax collector’s words are addressed to God just like the Pharisee’s were. But he’s asking God for something. The Pharisee apparently didn’t feel the need to receive anything from God. He was good. He didn’t need a thing – or so he thought. But this tax collector knows he needs mercy from the Lord. He needs his sins to be forgiven. He needs peace with God.

Confession

Why does he need peace with God? Because he knows he’s a sinner. Literally, he’s “the sinner”. There are other sinners around, but he’s not thinking about them. He’s thinking about himself. The Pharisee also was thinking about himself – but he was thinking about his own goodness. The tax collector was thinking about his own badness and sinfulness and unworthiness to stand before God.

Application

Have you ever communicated to God like that? Have you ever humbly confessed your own sinfulness to him? Have you ever asked him for mercy?

God’s Response (Luke 18:14)

If you do, then Jesus ends this parable telling you what you can expect if you pray to God with a tender heart and a heart broken by the weight of your sin against a holy God in Luke 18:14.

Righteousness

Jesus says that the sinful wretched tax collector was justified. He was declared righteous. This parable started off with Jesus addressing those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. This Pharisee was one such man – he trusted in himself that he was righteous. But ultimately, who is Jesus saying was declared by God as being righteous? It’s the sinful tax collector who was so grieved over his own sin and so humbled before God. That’s the kind of person whom God will justify.

But the Pharisee – as externally good and righteous as he thought he was and as he appeared to be in the eyes of others – his prayer didn’t accomplish anything. He came to the Temple thinking that he was righteous, but he leaves with Jesus’ evaluation of him that he was not righteous after all.

Why? Why would the sinner walk away from the Temple righteous while the externally righteous man walks away unrighteous? End of Luke 18:14.

Two Choices

Here’s the point. There are two actions under discussion – exalting and humbling. Every one of us has the choice of doing one or the other for ourselves. We can exalt ourselves or we can humble ourselves.

Exalt Self

If we exalt ourselves – if we’re lifted up with pride over our own goodness – if we think that we’re good in God’s sight – then Jesus Christ promises that we will be forcibly humbled.

Humble Self

But if we humble ourselves – if we acknowledge our own sin and unrighteousness – if our hearts are broken by the weight of our sin against a holy and totally-righteous God – then Jesus Christ promises that he will exalt us. He will justify us. He will declare us righteous.

Application

Where are you today? Are you’re the proud self-righteous person whom God will need to humble? Or are you the humble sinner who knows your need of mercy from God – the God who promises to resist the proud but to give grace to the humble?

Jeremiah 4 Summary

Jeremiah 4:1-2

God gives Israel (and the over-hearing residents of Judah) a model of repentance in Jeremiah 3:19-25. So now God follows that up by emphasizing that any repentance that hopes to result in God’s blessings must bear fruit in the lives of those who exercise it.

Sincerity of Repentance Probed

God first probes the sincerity of repentance (Jeremiah 4:1).

In effect, God says, Do you really want to do it? Are you really interested in coming back to me?

Conditions of True Repentance

If so…

Condition #1: Put away the idols (Jeremiah 4:1).

Condition #2: Stop Straying (Jeremiah 4:1).

Condition #3: Keep your word (Jeremiah 4:2).

Promised Result of True Repentance

And here’s the promised result of true repentance on the part of the nation of Israel – and it might not be what you’d expect (Jeremiah 4:2).

Was Israel really was supposed to get excited about the nations blessing themselves in the Lord and glorying in him?

Yes, they were!

The Nations Will Be Blessed

Have you not read the promise God made to Abraham, the father of the Jews? In Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth will bless themselves.

We now know the identity of that seed. It’s none other than Jesus Christ – the son of Abraham. It will be to him that the nation of Israel bows one day and then all the nations will bow the knee to him and be blessed in him.

The Nations With Glory

And in that day they will glory in him.

The word glory in the Hebrew is halal. That’s the word that’s included in the Hebrew word Halelujah. Praise the Lord. Glory in the Lord!

When Israel repents and receives Jesus as King and Messiah and God – the new covenant will be fully enacted and received by the entire nation of Israel. And the nations will be engaged in one big Halelujah.

And isn’t that what we see in the last book of our Bible? Revelation 19. Four times we have the uttering of the word Hallelujah! And why is all creation saying Hallelujah at the end of this age as recorded in Revelation? Here’s why – Revelation 19:6 – for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!

Who’s going to be reigning? Jesus Christ, the king of heaven will reign. He will be the king of Israel. He will be the king of all the nations. All of this will unfold when all Israel is saved in a day by her Messiah and ours.

Hallelujah!

So, now we’ll start our study in Jeremiah 4:3-5:6.

The Larger Context

Jeremiah 4:3-5:6 falls within the larger section that encompasses most of Jeremiah 3, all of Jeremiah 4, 5, and 6. The main message of that section as I’ve said before is that God Has Been Forsaken, But Judah Is Unshaken by their utter turning away from the Lord.

The Previous Section

We’ve previously focused on Jeremiah 3:6-4:2. There we witnessed the following. That God was moved to receive back a repentant Israel. He then offered blessings for that repentance. He gave a model repentance for them to follow. And lastly he followed-up on and probed any alleged repentance, declaring that it must bear fruit.

And you might remember that what caused the Lord to feel moved to receive a repentant Israel was his comparing the sin of Israel – the northern 10 tribes – with the sin of the southern kingdom of Judah. God reached the conclusion that Israel was in some ways less guilty than Judah.

The Message to Israel Was Also For Judah

Also, recall that this message was to be proclaimed by Jeremiah toward the north – where Israel was in exile. But it was also to be proclaimed most likely from the city of Jerusalem – where all of Judah could have heard that part about Israel being less guilty than Judah.

So, Jeremiah 3:6-4:2 was mainly concerning Israel. But this new section in Jeremiah 4:3-5:6 is all about Judah.

The Message of Jeremiah 4:3-5:6

And the message to Judah in this section is Refusal to Repent Necessitates God’s Punishment.

Jeremiah 3:6-4:2 ends with the Lord probing any supposed repentance. He was calling for repentance from Israel, but he wanted to make it clear that repentance needs to bear fruit. And that probing and the entire message was mostly directed toward Israel – with Judah overhearing it.

Judah Urged to Repent or Face Punishment

But now in Jeremiah 4:3-4, God stops addressing Israel and instead turns his attention toward Judah and tells them that they too need to repent or face punishment.

I appreciate the NET Bible’s rendering of Jeremiah 4:3-4.

The explanation that translation gives for the statement in Jeremiah 4:3 regarding breaking up fallow ground is restated as follows, “Like a farmer breaking up hard unplowed ground, you must break your rebellious will and make a new beginning; just as a farmer must clear away thorns lest the seed is wasted, you must get rid of the sin that is ruining your lives.

And for the command to circumcise hearts in Jeremiah 4:4 the NET Bible says “Just as ritual circumcision cuts away the foreskin as an external symbol of dedicated covenant commitment, you must genuinely dedicate yourselves to the LORD and get rid of everything that hinders your commitment to me.

God ends Jeremiah 4:3-4 with the threat of punishment for Judah’s evil behavior and actions.

Encouragement to Repent

And he continues with that theme in Jeremiah 4:5-9 where the Lord gives Judah sobering encouragement to repent. Namely, God is bringing an enemy to destroy them if they don’t!

What God says in those verses is sobering news to Judah. A destroying nation is coming. And God tells Judah that when this destroyer comes the leadership of Judah will be unable to stop it. Ultimately, their cities will be destroyed. Their land will be devastated.

And God speaks of this coming nation as an absolute reality. He doesn’t speak of this as conditional – though I think if Judah really did repent, God according to his merciful nature would have spared them for a little while longer. And yet this coming judgement was long-delayed by our very patient Lord. And it had to fall some time.

Now, God’s tone in Jeremiah 3:6-4:2 was gentle. It was conciliatory. He expressed a desire to receive repentant Israel and not be angry with her forever. He revealed his mercy and desire to bless. He even hinted at some New Covenant blessings in store for his people. It was an encouraging message in that section.

But now this. Coming judgement portrayed as a certain reality for Judah.

We go from the glorious mercy of the Lord … to … this that we’ve just read about – God’s unsparing punishment of his unrepentant people.

Now, you and I have had the benefit of being able to take in this information over the span of a few posts. So, the change in God’s tone might not be as jarring to you as it was to Jeremiah. But remember, Jeremiah is hearing this message from the Lord all at once.

So, you know he would have been basking in the glory of God’s revealing his mercy and love … only to be told of the harsh realities that face his own people at the present time.

Jeremiah’s Response

And so in Jeremiah 4:10, the prophet – the faithful follower of the Lord – the man who will spend his entire life serving the Lord and his wayward people – Jeremiah himself responds to the Lord with shock and accusation.

Jeremiah sees two conflicting realities. One, God had offered peace in Jeremiah 3. Two, God is promising destruction in Jeremiah 4. Huh?!

Are the False Prophets Deceiving?

The NET Bible suggests that Jeremiah is expressing shock to the Lord because the prophets of Judah have been deceiving the people into thinking that they’ll have peace. So, then the prophets are saying to Judah “you shall have peace”.

And that possibility is attractive because it would mean that our beloved prophet Jeremiah is not actually accusing the Lord of deception. But unfortunately I think the NET Bible is missing the flow of the context, especially considering Jeremiah 3.

Or Was God Deceiving?

God was promising peace in Jeremiah 3. But he was doing so to a repentant Israel – which repentance God is still waiting for to this very day! It will happen. But it hasn’t yet.

So, Jeremiah is being a little selective in his recollection of God’s statement. God actually wasn’t offering peace to Judah to begin with. And if Judah wanted peace with God though, they’d need to repent to obtain it.

The Reason for Jeremiah’s Confusion

I think what’s happening here is that Jeremiah just heard God promising peace to Israel if they repent. And that must have thrilled his heart to hear. But then seemingly without warning the Lord switches from future-blessing mode to current-punishment mode. This kind of swift change in tone happens with some regularity and frequency in the book of Jeremiah. And, yes, it can be shocking. And to a man like Jeremiah here, this can be confusing, and if we’re not on our guard we might find ourselves accusing the Lord of deception as we read this book.

God’s Response to Jeremiah’s Accusation

So, Jeremiah unwisely accuses the Lord of deception. And so God strikes him down, right?

Wrong! God doesn’t respond to Jeremiah’s comment at all. Instead, the Lord goes right back to warning his people about the coming enemy who will destroy them if they don’t repent.

And in Jeremiah 4:11-12, the enemy is pictured as a strong scorching desert wind.

So, Jeremiah unwisely accuses the Lord of deception. You might expect the Lord to strike him down or at least respond to Jeremiah. Instead, amazingly, God goes right back to warning his people about the coming enemy who will destroy God’s unrepentant people.

A Strong Scorching Wind

In Jeremiah 4:11-12, the enemy is pictured as a strong scorching desert wind.

This wind represents the coming enemy. It is strong and overwhelming and harmful. And this coming enemy is stated as God’s means of judgement on his unrepentant people.

Swift Clouds & Birds

But not only is the enemy pictured as a strong scorching wind. They’re also pictured as swift clouds, while their chariots are compared to a whirlwind, and their horses are pictured as eagles in Jeremiah 4:13.

So, the emphasis of what we just read is on the swiftness of the enemy and his means of transportation.

The Reaction to the Enemy

And both the overwhelming and harmful strength and the swiftness of the enemy causes a reaction of fear and dread and despair at the end of Jeremiah 4:13.

It might sound like the people of Judah are being recorded in that verse. But unfortunately I think we see in the book of Jeremiah that the people are fairly unmoved by God’s threats. The reaction we have in Jeremiah 4:13 is certainly how the people should have reacted.

So, this could be God again providing a template or model for his people to follow in regard to how they should react to this pronouncement of judgement. Or it could be Jeremiah himself reacting to this news of the swift and dangerous enemy.

Repentance Urged in Light of Coming Punishment

And because this is how Judah should respond – with contrition – and yet that’s not how they are responding, God in Jeremiah 4:14-18 urges repentance upon them precisely so that he can turn back from his plans to bring the destroying enemy to humble his hard-hearted people.

I think it’s beautiful and very telling of the character of our God that the Lord even here is urging repentance upon his people. He’s giving them a way of escape from the punishment. His main aim was not the punishment of his people. It was restoring a right relationship between himself and his people that was his main desire.

Another Reaction to the Enemy

Well, despite God’s desire for his people to repent, the threat of the coming enemy is still on the table. And so in Jeremiah 4:19-21 we have another reaction to the coming of the enemy. In this case, the one who’s reacting – probably Jeremiah – is lamenting that this is going to happen.

Despite God’s desire for his people to repent, the threat of the coming enemy is still on the table. And so in Jeremiah 4:19-21 we have another reaction to the coming of the enemy. In this case, the one who’s reacting – probably Jeremiah – is lamenting that this is going to happen.

After that, God feels the need to justify again why he’s sending the destroying enemy in Jeremiah 4:22.

Poetic Picture of the Coming Destruction

So, after justifying his punishing his people for their unrepentant heart, in Jeremiah 4:23-26 God poetically pictures the destruction to come.

By the way, you might wonder why God keeps coming at this same theme from different angles. He keeps playing one note in this section – punishment. And he covers it from multiple angles. And he keeps talking about it. And he says just about the same thing in slightly different ways.

Why?

He’s trying to get his people’s attention. He can tell them plainly – you must repent, and if you don’t I will need to punish you. But they don’t listen to that.

So, he brings in some poetry. That doesn’t work.

So, he employs a lament. That doesn’t work.

So, he uses more poetry…

What God is about to do to his people is no light matter for him. He is giving them multiple chances to repent and turn to him. He is trying to demonstrate for them what it will be like for him to send this punishment on them. God is going above and beyond in trying to turn his people back to him.

And so, he continues – as I said – with a picture of the coming destruction in Jeremiah 4:23-26.

Explaining the Picture of Destruction

Then, in Jeremiah 4:27-29 God explains the picture he just painted in plain words.

The poetic picture of destruction is explained as meaning that people will flee from the cities of Judah when the enemy comes. The land will eventually be completely desolate. And yet God sees fit to promise to not completely destroy.

Destroy whom or what? We’ll see the Lord make similar statements throughout the book of Jeremiah. And usually he’s saying that he won’t completely destroy his people. He’ll leave a number of them alive.

Judah’s Allies Will Destroy Her

Well, at Judah’s time of greatest need – when this enemy is going to come and destroy them – guess where all their friends will be. All those allies that Judah has turned to in order to try to escape the consequences of God’s chastening of them. Jeremiah 4:30-31 tells them that their allies will turn on them.

And who are the murderers spoken of in these verses? None other than the nations that Judah put her trust in. They will turn on her in her hour of need.

We see that played out in the short Old Testament book of Obadiah. The nations that surrounded Judah rejoiced when she was attacked by Babylon. But not only did they rejoice, they also attacked her when she was most vulnerable.

 

A Model of Repentance

Jeremiah 3:19-25

 

Jeremiah 3:14-18 declare God’s promised blessings for exiled Israel if they turn from their sin and back to him. Then the Lord follows that up in Jeremiah 4:19-25 where he gives a template or model of repentance. He wants it to be clear to Israel as far as what he’s looking for from them.

God’s Initiating Desire to Bless

First we have God communicating his desire to bless his wayward children in Jeremiah 3:19.

Now, you might think it strange that the first thing God communicates about a model repentance is him expressing his desire to bless.

But it’s not strange. Have you not read that it’s the goodness of God that leads you to repentance?

God’s promised punishment can do it, too. But so often it’s the goodness of God that leads a person to repentance.

So, that’s where God starts in his demonstrating a model repentance.

God’s Call to Repent of Infidelity

Second, God calls men to repent of their spiritual infidelity in Jeremiah 3:20.

Here the Lord mixes the description he’s been using of Judah and Israel. He has been calling Judah treacherous. But now here he applies that term to Israel.

And again, Judah is most likely hearing all of this anyway – especially if Jeremiah is proclaiming this message somewhere in Jerusalem toward the north.

The Beginnings of Repentance

The next part of this model of repentance is the stirrings or beginnings of turning to the Lord in Jeremiah 3:21.

This weeping is coming from the very places where Israel sinned against the Lord – on the high places, where they offered sacrifices to false gods.

A Further Pleading for Repentance with Promise of Forgiveness

Next, God continues to plead with Israel to repent and promises his forgiveness in Jeremiah 3:22.

The Ideal Response of Repentance

And finally, we have the ideal response of repentance (Jeremiah 3:22-25) – where the people humbly and mournfully acknowledge the wrongs of their sins and the rights of their God.

Acknowledging God’s Relationship to You

First, they should acknowledge God’s relationship to them (Jeremiah 3:22).

Acknowledging Sin’s Emptiness

Next, they should acknowledge sin’s emptiness (Jeremiah 3:23).

Acknowledging God’s Unique Power to Save

They must acknowledge God’s unique power to save them (Jeremiah 3:23).

Acknowledging Sin’s Costliness

And again they should turn to consider their sin and its costliness (Jeremiah 3:24).

Acknowledging Sin Against God and Its Shame

And not only sin’s costliness, but also its shame for those who commit it and it’s offensiveness to God (Jeremiah 3:25).

Summary

So, that’s God holding out a model of repentance in Jeremiah 3:19-25.

Next in Jeremiah 4:1-2 we see God following up on any alleged repentance on the part of his people. In particular, he’ll emphasize that any such repentance – any repentance that will receive God’s blessings – must bear fruit in the lives of those who exercise it.

God Promises Israel Blessings for Repentance

Jeremiah 3:14-18

We’ve seen that God compared Israel’s sin to Judah’s in Jeremiah 3. Based on that comparison God was moved to offer forgiveness to Israel if they repented. And if Israel were to repent, God promises blessings for them in Jeremiah 3:14-18, which is what we’ll study in this post.

Restoration to the Land

The first blessing in Jeremiah 3:14 is that God will restore Israel to the land if they repent.

Godly Leaders

Next in Jeremiah 3:15 God will give repentant Israel godly leaders.

Increased Population

The Lord will also increase repentant Israel’s population (Jeremiah 3:16) – which God definitely views as a blessing – contrary to the current mindset of the age, where population control is an agenda of the world elite.

No More Longing for the Ark

Another blessing that God promises Israel in Jeremiah 3:16 if they repent is that they won’t remember the ark of the covenant anymore.

But the question is why will Israel no longer think about the ark of the covenant?

(By the way – the ark was still probably in the temple at this time.)

If you put yourself in the shoes of an Israelite of that day I think you’d be asking that same question. Why would God be listing the fact that we’ll forget about the ark of the covenant as one of the blessings he’s holding out for our repenting?

Here’s my best attempt at answering why the Lord mentions this here. Could it be that he’s dropping the first hint in this book of the new covenant that he will later promise Israel and Judah in Jeremiah 31?

After all, if you have a box – or ark – in which you keep a covenant – and then that covenant has been superseded by another covenant – who’s going to remember that old covenant – let alone the box that contains it?

When Israel returns to the land in true repentance then they’ll be under the new covenant. And this means that the promises we’re reading about here have not yet come to pass. But they surely will – when (it’s conditional) Israel turns to the Lord with all their heart and receives their Messiah, Jesus our Lord.

So, why is Israel forgetting about the ark of the covenant a blessing? Because they’ll have a better covenant — a New Covenant!

Jerusalem the Seat of God’s Kingdom

When all of that takes place – Israel has repented, the new covenant has been enacted so that they practically forget about the old one – here’s another – Jerusalem will be the seat of God’s kingdom on earth (Jeremiah 3:17).

Jerusalem a Center of Worship for the Nations

Jerusalem will be a center of worship for – not just the nation of Israel or the nation of Judah – but all the nations (Jeremiah 3:17)!

The Nations Changed

And these nations will have changed hearts. Hearts that are submitted to the Lord (Jeremiah 3:17).

Life from the Dead!

And again, all of this is predicated upon Israel repenting. Can you see why Paul says in Romans 11:15 that if the Jews’ rejecting God and being rejected by God is the reconciliation of the world – and it has been. Right? To use the analogy there in Romans 11 – Jews have been broken off as branches from the cultivated olive tree. And we Gentiles have been grafted in in place of them. That’s reconciliation.

If their rejection is reconciliation for the world, then what will it be like when they are accepted? Paul says it will be no less than life from the dead!

When Israel truly repents, not only they – but all the nations of this world – will experience these wonderful blessings!

Judah and Israel Reunited

And the last blessing held out for Israel’s repentance is their reuniting with Judah and the restoration of that reunified nation to the land which God has promised them in Jeremiah 3:18.

God says that Israel and Judah will come back from the north country. That’s more than a little foreboding even while it’s encouraging. Why? Because Jeremiah 3:18 states that Judah will be brought back from the land of the north. In other words, Judah will be sent away into exile just like Israel.

Summary

So, we just witnessed in Jeremiah 3:14-18 God’s promised blessings for Israel. The only condition for receiving those blessings is that they repent – that they turn back to God.

So, then in Jeremiah 3:19-25 God gives what I can best describe as a model of repentance to help Israel and Judah know what he’s looking for.

God Is Moved to Receive a Repentant Israel from Exile

Jeremiah 3:11-14

To summarize Jeremiah 3:6-10, Judah didn’t take the warning that was available to her from God’s punitive dealings with Israel. And because that was the case, in Jeremiah 3:11-14 God is moved to received a repentant Israel.

Israel Is Less Guilty Than Judah

Jeremiah 3:11 has God reaching the conclusion that Israel is less guilty than Judah. And he communicates that to Jeremiah.

So, when God weighs the culpability of both Israel and Judah on the scale of his mind – Judah actually comes out as more guilty. And it’s not as if Israel is innocent. But compared to Judah and the sin she committed and the knowledge she had – Israel was comparatively less guilty.

God’s Message to Israel in Captivity

And that mental action of comparing the two kingdoms leads the Lord to send a message to Israel through Jeremiah in Jeremiah 3:12.

Let’s consider what exactly Jeremiah is being commanded to do here.

Now, remember that Israel was in exile at this time. And in this very book that we’re studying, Judah is the only one that’s promised a return to the land after 70 years. I don’t think that Israel ever received such a promise.

Added to this, we don’t actually see Jeremiah giving this message to the people of Israel in captivity. He could have – maybe he did. But we’re not told that it happened.

So, I assume that Jeremiah is given these words to proclaim – as the King James Version says – toward the north – probably while he’s physically in Judah. And what that means then is that this whole message – while it reveals God’s heart toward exiled Israel – it’s really intended for the people of Judah to hear and learn from. Jeremiah is going to be proclaiming this message presumably while facing north and he’ll be doing that somewhere in the hearing of his fellow Judeans.

And really, the rest of the text we’ll be studying in Jeremiah 3 is God’s message to Israel. And it’s a message that the people of Judah will hear.

Israel, Return to God!

So, God’s message to Israel begins with a call to return to him in Jeremiah 3:12.

God says “Shub you meshub-ing Israel!Turn back to me – you who have turned away from me!

God Will Forgive Repentant Israel

And God makes it clear that he is ready to forgive them if they repent in Jeremiah 3:12.

God Is Merciful

Why will God not cause his anger to fall upon Israel? He says – because he is merciful. The Hebrew word there is chasid. If you’ve ever heard the term chasidic Jew then now you know where that term comes from. But the chasidic Jews are known for their strict, legalistic lifestyle. That’s not what God’s speaking of here. The term chasid communicates something of a kind piety. So, God is saying that he’s pious or holy. But that piety and holiness are completed with kindness. It’s kind piety. And that’s the character of God that he points to as the reason for him not continuing to look upon Israel in anger.

God Won’t Be Angry Forever

And isn’t it interesting what God says in that next statement? He will not keep anger forever. In Jeremiah 3:5 the people of Judah were asking whether that would be the case or not – “Will God be angry forever?” But in that situation, they were trying to question the appropriateness of God’s judgement upon their unrepentant idolatry. Here God is saying that the way to have him not keep anger forever is to repent!

Confess Your Sin

And that’s just what God says in Jeremiah 3:13. Would Israel like God to forgive their sins? All they need to do is own up to it.

Why God’s Angry

By the way, let me just point out what seems to make God the angriest. As God is condemning sin in the book of Jeremiah, what does he keep pointing to time and time again as the reason for that burning anger?

  • Is God going after Israel and Judah for not tithing?
  • Is he taking issue with them for trimming the edges of their beards?
  • Or not building railings on the roof of their houses?
  • Or wearing garments of mixed materials?
  • Or sowing their fields with two different types of seed?

No. Those things were indeed commanded under the Mosaic Law. But they aren’t what God is going after specifically here in Jeremiah. So much of what God is expressing anger towards is the people’s idolatry – their choosing another god in place of him.

Come Back to the True Baal

One of those gods was named Baal – which meant something like master or lord or even husband. And so its interesting in Jeremiah 3:14 that the Lord declares that he himself is Israel’s true Baal.

So, again, turn back to God you children who have turned away from him! Why? He says I (emphasis!) am married to you – or I am master to you – or literally, I am Baal to you!

God is saying then – forget the false god Baal! I’m your true Lord – you’re true Baal!

And if Israel were to repent, God promises blessings for them in Jeremiah 3:14-18.