In Jeremiah 3:6-10 we see that Judah did not learn from Israel’s sin and subsequent punishment. Israel had been exiled by the Babylonians for a while at the time that Jeremiah was ministering. And the reason that they were exiled was due to their sin. And although Judah should have seen and learned from Israel’s punishment they didn’t.
Israel Sinned, Judah Saw It
Jeremiah 3:6-7 reviews Israel’s unrepentant sin and Judah’s witnessing of it.
This Is Written Under Josiah’s Reign
First of all, I’ll just repeat the king under which much of Jeremiah’s ministry took place. It’s Josiah. And when we think of King Josiah, we have warm thoughts. He was a godly man. He also instituted reforms to Judah’s worship.
Josiah’s Repentance Was Genuine
And when I say reforms, that might not do justice to what he really undertook.
- He worked to obliterate idolatry – in both Judah and whatever was left of Israel.
- He encouraged correct orthodox worship of the Lord.
- He destroyed the idolatrous high places.
- He even burned the bones of idolatrous priests.
- He trembled at God’s word.
And God never says a negative word about him in the book of Jeremiah – unlike the other four kings who ruled during Jeremiah’s ministry and after Josiah. We can assume that God approved of what Josiah was doing and where his heart was.
But what kind of effect did all of Josiah’s reforms have on his people? Well, they seemed to have generally gone along with him in those reforms. We don’t read of anyone rebelling against his attempts to turn Judah around. Some surely were excited about what he was doing. No one mutinied against his efforts – at least that we have recorded.
The People’s Repentance Was Fake
But generally it seems that Josiah’s reforms weren’t able to change the hearts of the people.
He could smash their idols. But he couldn’t remove them from the throne of their hearts.
He could destroy the high places where they practiced false worship. But he couldn’t root out the desire to engage in that false worship.
So, I think we just need to keep this in mind as we study through Jeremiah. Josiah was a good man and a good king who trembled at God’s word and who tried to lead his people the right way. The people were willing to go along with him for the most part – externally, at least. But their hearts generally were not changed.
Backsliding Israel & Treacherous Judah
Next, let’s note how God describes both Israel and Judah.
And by the way, Israel here refers to the Northern ten tribes that had split off from the southern kingdom of Judah after Solomon’s death. Sometimes in the Bible Israel can refer to the entire Jewish nation. But in this chapter it’s used to refer to just the northern kingdom – which at the point of Jeremiah’s ministry had been exiled already for over a hundred years (2 Kings 17:6).
Now, God uses one word to described Israel and another to describe Judah. Israel is backsliding and Judah is treacherous.
The Hebrew word used to describe Israel and tranlated as backsliding in the KJV is meshubah. Right in the middle of that Hebrew word is another Hebrew word – shub. That’s a word that means to turn. And turning can be a good thing. Or it can be a bad thing. It depends on what one is turning from and turning to. In Israel’s case – this backsliding or turning is not in the right direction. They turned away from the Lord.
And then Judah is described as treacherous or bogedah. From the context it’s pretty clear that Judah’s treachery was a greater evil than was Israel’s backsliding. And hopefully we’ll see that demonstrated througout the text to come.
OK, now, to summarize Jeremiah 3:6-7 – Israel was idolatrous and the Lord pictures that as adultery. He told meshubah (backsliding) Israel to shub (turn) to him. But they would not shub (turn) back to the Lord.
And we left Jeremiah 3:7 with the ominous statement “and her treacherous sister saw it.” Judah saw the unrepentant idolatry that Israel committed.
And not only did Judah witness the idolatry of the northern kingdom. She also witnessed the punishment that that idolatry brought from the Lord.
Judah Copied Israel’s Punished Sin
So, in Jeremiah 3:8 God put Israel away for her spiritual adultery – her idolatry – her seeking other gods to worship them and her rejecting and forsaking the Lord. He compares his putting Israel away to a husband divorcing his wife. This is not to promote divorce, of course. God says elsewhere that he hates divorce. But it is a poetical metaphorical way for God to picture his exiling of the northern kingdom. They were a spouse to him – but he had to put them away.
And despite the drastic measures that God had to take with the northern kingdom of Israel – her southern sister Judah did not fear. She didn’t learn from the punishment her sister experienced. Judah herself went after other gods and commited spiritual adultery!
Then in Jeremiah 3:9-10 God basically recaps what he’s just said – while adding some emphases that haven’t been noted yet.
Israel Polluted the Land
Israel’s spiritual adultery defiled the whole land. It is interesting that God pictures sin – not just here but elsewhere in Scripture – as defiling or polluting the land. It’s something that we can’t see with our natural eyes – like we could see spillage of toxic waste somewhere or a bunch of candy wrappers being blown around by the wind. And yet God communicates that there’s pollution that results in a land where sin has been committed.
And in our day we have folks that are so concerned about pollution. And some of that is warranted. But do people who are so concerned about industrial pollution – pollution to our waters and air – are they nearly as concerned about the spiritual pollution that comes about through infidelity to the Lord who made the waters and the air that they claim to care so much about?
Israel Pretended to Turn
Well, in spite of Israel’s spiritual adultery and pollution of the land – Judah hadn’t learned a thing! Judah didn’t shub (turn) back to God sincerely. Any apparent turning was all in pretense.
Again, remember when this was written. In the days of what king? Josiah! And we already reviewed that there did appear to be some turning going on in his days and under his influence. But what does God say about that supposed turning here? It was not genuine in most of the people. They were willing to follow their earthly king’s commands. But they had no concern for the king of heaven and his desires.
So, to sum up Jeremiah 3:6-10 – Judah didn’t take the warning that was available to her from God’s punitive dealings with Israel.