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).


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.


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.

Judah Didn’t Learn from Israel’s Punishment

Jeremiah 3:6-10

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.

An Introduction to Jeremiah 3:6 to 4:2

Jeremiah 3:6-4:2

Jeremiah 3:6-4:2 is a sub-section of a broader section which spans from Jeremiah 3:6-6:30. As I mentioned elsewhere I think we can summarize this unit of text in the book of Jeremiah as Future Restoration, Current Punishment. That’s what we’re reading about in Jeremiah 3:6-6:30.

Jeremiah 3:6 – 6:30 Is One Major Unit

Jeremiah 6:30 is the end of this main section because in Jeremiah 7:1 we have a verse that changes the scene – “The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Stand in the gate of the LORD’S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, …

So, there’s a specific location – the gate of the Lord’s house. The subject matter also changes from Jeremiah 6:30 to Jeremiah 7:1.

And so, for those reasons I think that Jeremiah 3:6-6:30 constitute one unit of text.

Jeremiah 3:6 – 4:2 Is a Sub-Unit

Yet even in this one unit of text I think we have a convenient breaking point right after 4:2. And this sub-unit of Jeremiah 3:6-4:2 has five major parts:

  1. Jeremiah 3:6-10 have God declaring that Judah didn’t learn from the punishment of Northern Israel.
  2. Then Jeremiah 3:11-14a show God being moved to receive a repentant Israel in exile.
  3. Next, Jeremiah 3:14b-18 has God promising blessings for that repentance.
  4. Then Jeremiah 3:19-25 demonstrates a Model of repentance – what that repentance should look like.
  5. And last, Jeremiah 4:1-2 has God following-up on that repentance. In particular, God declares that a real repentance will bear fruit.