The Prophet, after having shewn that the tribe of Judah deserved a heavier punishment than the ten tribes, and having mentioned the cause, that they had seen their brethren severely chastised and were not moved, now turns his discourse to the Israelites themselves, or the ten tribes, and promises that God would be propitious to them. The kingdom of Israel had now been overthrown, and the people had been banished into Assyria, Persia, and Media. They had been scattered, and the name of the kingdom had been obliterated. The land had been often laid waste and the kingdom partly existed, as four tribes only were first driven to exile; but at, length the very name of a kingdom ceased to exist, and they were all, as I have said, led away into captivity. Hence the Prophet is bidden to address his words towards the north; for though the greater part of the people dwelt then in the east, yet as they had been banished by the Assyrians, God had a regard to the capital of the monarchy in bidding the Prophet to address those whom the enemies had led away to the north.
Cry, then, not so much on account of the distance of the place, but that the Jews, who were deaf, might hear him crying; for the Prophet was bidden to speak not only for the sake of the Israelites, but that through them he might set before the Jews the mercy of God, if only they returned to a sound mind. Now the import of the whole is, — that though the Israelites had been rebellious and had turned away from God, yet pardon was ready for them, if they returned. What the Prophet means by the word return, we have already in part explained, and we shall have to speak on the subject more fully elsewhere. He then requires repentance, and promises that God would be propitious to them in case they returned to him.
He afterwards adds, I will not make my face, or rather, my wrath, to fall upon you; for this latter meaning is the most appropriate. God had already severely punished their sins; for what can happen to a people more grievous than to be banished from their own country, and then to be oppressed by cruel tyranny? They yet suffered a heavier punishment; for the worship according to the Law had been taken away from them, they had been repudiated by God, they had lost that glory by which they thought that they excelled all other nations in having been chosen as God’s peculiar people. All these things had been entirely lost. In what sense then does God declare that he would not be angry with them? By this way of speaking the Prophet simply means, that God would not be irreconcilable, as though he had said, “My wrath shall not dwell, or shall not he upon you; but I will mitigate the punishment which I have inflicted.” Hence I do not disapprove of Jerome’s rendering, “I will not make steady,” (firmabo;) though when he adds “face, “he does not sufficiently set forth the meaning of the Prophet. But this may be admitted, “I will not make steady my wrath upon you;” that is, “My wrath shall not lie or dwell on your heads, so as wholly to overwhelm you.” God’s wrath had already fallen upon them, but in such a way that there was still some hope of deliverance. God then denies, that the calamities, by which he had chastised their sins, would be fatal, for he would withdraw his hand and not pursue them to the last extremity.
The meaning then is, — that if the people returned to God they would obtain pardon, because God of his own free will invited them and promised that the punishment which he had inflicted on account of their sins, would be only for a time.
God further confirms this truth by mentioning what his nature is, for merciful am I, and I will not retain wrath for everThe promise was special in case the people returned; God now adds a general truth by way of confirmation, — that he was disposed to shew mercy, and that he would readily forgive for his mercy’s sake. Since God then is such, and cannot deny himself, there is no reason why a sinner should despair and thus close up the way, that he should not in his penitence implore God’s mercy.
We may hence gather a profitable doctrine, — that whenever unbelief lays hold on our minds, so that we cannot apply to our benefit the promises of God, this should ever be remembered by us — that God is merciful. As God then is so gracious, that he reserves not wrath for ever, but that it is only for a time, we ought to entertain hope; and corresponding with this is what is said in the Psalms, “A moment is he in his wrath; and life is in his goodness and mercy,” (Psa_30:5;) as though he had said, that God’s wrath soon passes away, provided we repent, but that he shews his mercy through all ages; for this is what is meant by the word “life.” He then goes on —
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Go — not actually; but turn and proclaim towards the north (Media and Assyria, where the ten tribes were located by Tiglath-pileser and Shalmaneser, 2Ki_15:29; 2Ki_17:6; 2Ki_18:9, 2Ki_18:11).
Return … backsliding — Hebrew, Shubah, Meshubah, a play on sounds. In order to excite Judah to godly jealousy (Rom_11:14), Jehovah addresses the exiled ten tribes of Israel with a loving invitation.
cause … anger to fall — literally, “I will not let fall My countenance” (compare Gen_4:5, Gen_4:6; Job_29:3), that is, I will not continue to frown on you.
keep — “anger” is to be supplied (see on Jer_3:5).
The north – The ten tribes, settled by Salmanezer in the north of Assyria.
I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you – literally, I will not cause my face “to fall upon you:” i. e., “I will not receive you with averted looks.” The “and” before this clause should be omitted, as also before the next clause, “I will not keep …”
I will not keep – All God’s promises and threats are conditional upon man’s conduct.
God lays down here a condition, lest hypocrites, relying on his goodness, should become more and more hardened, and yet think that he is bound as it were to them; for they usually reason thus, — “God is so kind that he recalls us to himself, and of his own free will invites even sinners; we may therefore easily settle matters with him.” Thus hypocrites by false thoughts’ delude themselves, thinking that they can elude God, since he seeks nothing else but to restore sinners to himself. Hence with the promise of favor there ought ever to be connected an exhortation to repentance. God then reminds here the Israelites, that they were greatly deceived, if they thought they could without any difficulty obtain pardon.
Hence he says, know thine iniquity The particle אך, ak, may be rendered only, or but, or yet. I prefer the second meaning, but; for an exception, as I have said, is here added, lest the Israelites slumbered in their vices, if they persuaded themselves that God was, as it, were, in their power and subject to their will. We hence see that the Prophet, modifying what he had said, introduces this sentence, “But in the meantime know thine iniquity, otherwise thou canst expect no peace with God.” Then these words follow, because thou hast acted wickedly against Jehovah thy God By these words the Prophet proves that the Israelites were guilty, lest they supposed that they could by evasions escape the wrath of God; for we know that often, even those who are conscious of their guilt, are not willing to confess their sins; and it is strange that men are so besotted as ever to contend with God. On this account the Prophets, when they exhorted the people to repent, at the same time brought to light their sins. Were there in men frankness and honesty, there would be no need thus to charge them; but as they either boldly deny their sins, or are so callous as to be moved by no fear, it is necessary to prick them sharply and even deeply to wound them. This is what the Prophet now does; Thou, he says, hast done wickedly against thy God; as though he had said, “I do not now in vain remind thee to own thy sins, for God himself condemns thee: think not thou that thou canst gain anything by thy subterfuges.”
He mentions also particulars, that he might come into closer quarters with them, Thou hast dispersed, he says, or scattered, thy ways to strangers, under every shady tree He again compares the Israelites to strumpets, who commonly so prostitute themselves, that they ramble from one place to another, invite and allure all they meet with. The Prophet then says, that the Israelites had thus dispersed themselves. He speaks delicately on an indelicate subject. But what he means is, that the Israelites were not content with one kind of superstition or with one idol, but blended together as many superstitions as they could, and borrowed false notions from all quarters: they were like a rambling strumpet, who prostitutes herself to all men indifferently. And strangers he calls all their fictitious gods; for as I have often said, they ought to have regarded him as their husband. When therefore the Israelites turned away to other gods, they became like a woman, who leaves her husband and prostitutes herself to any she can find. It is indeed a most common thing for those who forsake the true worship of God to seek for themselves various errors from all quarters, and to abandon themselves unreservedly to all kinds of superstitions.
He at length adds, And thou hast not hearkened to my voiceBy this fact the Prophet enhances their sin; for they had been instructed in the doctrine of the law, and understood the right way of salvation: how then was it that they thus polluted themselves with so many superstitions? It could not have been attributed to ignorance. It was then their manifest rebellion against God. The Prophet then shews that they had been disobedient and intractable, and that they had relapsed into idolatry and pernicious errors, because they had shaken off the yoke of God, and suffered not themselves to be ruled and guided by his word.
We now then perceive the meaning of this verse: God first requires a confession of sins from the Israelites; and thus he sets forth how available that return would be which he had previously mentioned; for until a sinner knows his sinfulness, he will never really and from the heart return to God, as the beginning of repentance is the confession of guilt. He then proves them to have been guilty, that he might cut off from them every pretense for evasion. He mentions in the third place specific sins, that he might hold them as it were fast bound, even that they had polluted themselves with superstitions, and that they had become, not only like an adulterous woman who follows another man, but also like filthy strumpets, who run here and there and make no difference between men known or unknown. He shews in the last place, that all this happened through mere obstinacy; for they had cast aside every regard for God, though he had given them his law, and sent the prophets as its faithful interpreters, so that they understood what God approved and what was just and right. The reason then why they went astray was, that they closed their ears to God’s word, and suffered not themselves to be ruled by it, but became wholly unteachable. Let us go on —
Jer 3:13 Only acknowledge thine iniquity,…. Or, “know” (e) it; unless a man knows his sin, and is convicted of it, he will never repent of it, or turn from it; and when he is made sensible of it, and sorry for it, he ought to acknowledge and confess it before God, against whom he has sinned; this is what is insisted upon, and all that is insisted upon; and it is the least that can be done, and is what every sensible sinner will do, who upon it may expect the discovery of pardoning grace and mercy, Psa_32:5,
that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God; against his law, his declared mind and will, and notwithstanding he is the Lord thy God; against a God of love, grace, and mercy, who had loaded them with his benefits, and followed them with his goodness; all which aggravates the sin they had been guilty of:
and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree; a phrase expressive of whoredom; it is an euphemism, the same with פישוק רגלים, as Jarchi observes, “the opening of the feet”, to everyone that passes by, to be lain with, Eze_16:25 and is to be understood of the multiplied idolatries of Israel; and that as harlots run about here and there, and prostitute themselves to whomsoever they meet with, so they worshipped the strange gods of the Heathens everywhere, in all their cities, upon every mountain and hill, and under every green tree; see Jer_2:20 so the Targum,
“and thou hast corrupted thy way, thou hast joined thyself to the people that worship idols under every green tree:”
and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the Lord: the voice of his command in the law, which forbids idolatry; and his voice by his prophets, which reproved them for it, and exhorted them to repentance; but they regarded neither.
(e) דעי “scito”, V. L. Pagninus, Montanus.
Jeremiah repeats the same thing in other words; but God by so many words shews clearer how ready he would be to grant pardon, provided the Israelites really repented. It would have been enough for God to testify once, that he would be reconcilable, but seeing that they were slow and hard to believe, he proceeds in the same strain. It is a wonderful forbearance and kindness that God, finding his favor neglected, and as it were rejected through the sloth of men, should yet persevere, and invite them again and again. What man would thus patiently bear the loathing of his favor and kindness? But we see that God does not immediately reject the tardy and the slothful, but adds new stimulants that he might at length move them, though this may seem more than necessary. How great is our torpidity? Were not God daily to urge us, how little attention would any of us give to his admonitions? It is, therefore, no wonder that he, pardoning our tardiness, should again and again invite us to repentance; which we find is done continually in the Church.
This, then, is the reason why the Prophet now repeats the same thing, Return, now, ye rebellious children; for he had said before, “Return, thou rebellious Israel.” He then adds, For I am a husband to youSome regard בעלbol, in the sense of being wearied, when found as here, בעלתי בכם bolti bekem, “I have been wearied by you:” but this meaning does not comport with this passage. More correctly, then, have others rendered the words, “I am lord to you: “but this lord is not to be taken indefinitely as in Latin, for it properly means a husband, who is a lord to his wife. God, then, no doubt, continues the same comparison, that of a marriage, which has already been often mentioned; for he charges the Israelites with adultery, because they had departed from him. Hence it is that he says, I am your husband He had previously said, “Though a person, when he repudiates his wife, and she be married to another, will never again be reconciled to her; yet I am ready to forgive your perfidy and wantonness: only observe chastity hereafter, and I will deal kindly with you.” Similar is this passage, “I am your husband,” though I have repudiated you. He had, indeed, said, that he had given them a bill of divorce, and thus testified, as by a public document, that there was no longer any connection between him and that people, for exile was a kind of divorce; but he says now, “I am your husband; for though I have been grievously offended with you, because you have broken your pledged faith, I yet remain in the same mind, so as to be ready to be your husband.”
We now, then, perceive the real meaning of the Prophet: despair might have laid hold on the Israelites so as to dread that access to which the Prophet had invited them; but that no terror might hinder them to repent, God here declares that he would become their husband, and that he had not forgotten that relationship with which he had once favored them. The sum of what he says is, “I have once embraced you with the love of a husband; ye have, indeed, become alienated from me, but return, and I am ready to forgive and to receive you, as though ye had always been faithful to me.”
Again will I take you, he says; and then he adds, one from a city, two from a family Deserving of especial notice is this passage; for God shews that they were not to wait for one another, and also, that though the whole body of the people rotted in their sins, yet a few would return to him, and that he would be reconciled to them. This was a point most necessary to be taught; for God’s covenant was in common with the whole seed of Abraham; they might then have concluded that the covenant was extinct, except he gathered together the whole people; for he had not chosen one or two or a hundred or a thousand, but all the seed of Abraham. Since then the promise, without exception, was common, to all, any one might thus reason, “What connection have I with God, except as one born of the race of Abraham? but I am not alone, for we are all the children of Abraham: yet I see that none turn to God, so I must perish with the rest of the people.” Now, that this thought should not hinder the godly, he says, “I will take one from a city, two from a family;” that is, “If one only come to me from a city he shall find an open door; if two only from a tribe come to me, I shall receive them.” We now apprehend the design of the Prophet.
Interpreters, indeed, explain one from a city as meaning, that though the multitude should perish, yet God would not deny forgiveness to three or four; but they teach not what is especially worthy of notice, that two or three are mentioned, because this thought, as it has been said, might have perplexed them, that is, that they had been all in common chosen as a holy people.
What is here taught may be useful to us in the present day. For we see many foolishly excluding themselves from the hope of salvation, and seeking no access to God, because they have a regard to one another, and the great mass hold them entangled. How is it under the Papacy, that so many pertinaciously resist God? even because they think themselves safely hid in the multitude. We also find among us that some are an hindrance to others. Let this truth be ever remembered, that when God stretches forth his arms, he is ready to receive, not only all, were they with one consent to come to him, but also two or three, even from one city, or from a whole people.
He adds, I will cause you to come to Zion.This had been once said before: God intimates that their exile would be temporary, that the Israelites would again be made partakers of his inheritance, if they returned to God in sincerity and truth. It follows —
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
I am married — literally, “I am Lord,” that is, husband to you (so Jer_31:32; compare Hos_2:19, Hos_2:20; Isa_54:5). Gesenius, following the Septuagint version of Jer_31:32, and Paul’s quotation of it (Heb_8:9), translates, “I have rejected you”; so the corresponding Arabic, and the idea of lordship, may pass into that of looking down upon, and so rejecting. But the Septuagint in this passage translates, “I will be Lord over you.” And the “for” has much more force in English Version than in that of Gesenius. The Hebrew hardly admits the rendering though [Hengstenberg].
take you one of a city — Though but one or two Israelites were in a (foreign) city, they shall not be forgotten; all shall be restored (Amo_9:9). So, in the spiritual Israel, God gathers one convert here, another there, into His Church; not the least one is lost (Mat_18:14; Rom_11:5; compare Jer_24:5-7).
family — a clan or tribe.
Children … married – The twofold relationship gives a double certainty of acceptance. As children, they were sure of a father’s love, as a wife they might hope for a revival of past affection from the husband of their youth.
One of a city, and two of a family – The family (in Hebrew) is far larger than a city, as it embraces all the descendants of a common ancestor. Thus, the tribe of Judah was divided into only four or five families. However national the apostasy, it does not involve in its guilt the few who are faithful, and the promises are still their rightful possession.
To Zion – To the true Church. The fulfillment of the promise began with the return to Palestine after the Babylonian exile, but is complete only in Christianity.
Here God promises that he would so provide for the salvation of his people after their return from exile, that they should not again perish. But the cause of God’s vengeance ought to be observed, which is expressed in the fifth chapter of Isaiah, “My people,” he says, “have been led captive, because they had no knowledge; therefore the grave has widened its soul or its throat. He then says, that the cause of the people’s ruin was, because instruction had ceased among them, and pastors had become mute dogs or robbers. Here, on the other hand, God declares that he would give them faithful pastors, who would discharge in a befitting manner their office. I, indeed, allow, that under this term are included faithful and wise magistrates; but he especially refers to prophets and priests, whose office it is in particular to reform idolatry.
We hence learn that the Church cannot continue without having faithful pastors to shew the way of salvation. The wellbeing of the Church then is secured, when God raises up true and faithful teachers to proclaim his truth: but when the Church is deprived of sound teachers, all things soon fall into ruin. For God, no doubt, intimates by this promise that he would not only be the deliverer of his people, so as to restore them from exile, but that he would be also their perpetual guardian after the people had returned to their own country. It hence follows, that the Church of God is not only begotten by means of holy and godly pastors, but that its life is also cherished, nourished, and confirmed by them to the end. As it is not enough for civil order to be once set up, except the magistrates continue in their office, so nothing is more ruinous to the Church than for God to take away faithful pastors. It cannot indeed be, that people will return to God, unless prophets be first sent: but God speaks here of a continued course of instruction, and of a well regulated government in the Church, as though he had said, “I will not only give you prophets to lead you from your wanderings to me, and to restore you to the way of salvation, but I will also continually set over you sound and faithful teachers.” But we must notice, that those who preside cannot rightly discharge their office unless they are endued with wisdom. God also intimates his paternal love, when he says, that good pastors would be dear to him. It afterwards follows —
I win give you pastors according to mine heart – The pastor means either the king or the prophet; and the pastors here promised may be either kings or prophets, or both. These shall be according to God’s own heart; they shall be of his own choosing and shall be qualified by himself: and in consequence they shall feed the people with knowledge, דעה deah that Divine truth concerning the true God and the best interests of man, which was essentially necessary to their salvation; and understanding השכיל haskeil, the full interpretation of every point, that in receiving the truth they might become wise, holy, and happy.
Interpreters have perverted this verse, for none of them have understood the design of the Prophet. The Jews, for the most part, have adduced frigid and far — fetched glosses, — that they would no more bring out to battles the Ark of the Covenant, as no enemy would invade their land. They think then that a peaceable state is promised to the people, as they would be constrained by no hostile force to carry the Ark of the Covenant here and there. But we clearly see that the words mean no such thing: it is then a comment wholly foreign to the subject. Others say, that what is said must be applied to the time of the Messiah, and none even of the Jews deny this; for it afterwards follows, that the Israelites would return with the tribe of Judah. This had not yet been fulfilled; it hence follows, that the Prophet here predicts of the kingdom of Christ. But the Jews, while allowing this, do not understand that anything is said of the abrogation of legal ceremonies; it has yet been thought by almost all Christians, that the Prophet here teaches us, that when Christ should come, an end would be put to all the shadows of the law, so that there would be no more any Ark of the Covenant, as the fullness of the Godhead would dwell in Christ.
This indeed is a view which seems plausible, but the meaning of the Prophet, as I think, is wholly different: for he refers here to that divorce or division which had for a long time existed between the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel. Though the kingdom of Israel, as to the number of its men, largeness of territory and wealth, was more flourishing and prosperous than the kingdom of Judah; yet there remained these advantages to the Jews, — that they had a Temple built according to God’s command, — that its place had been chosen by God, — that they had the Ark of the Covenant as a symbol of God’s presence. Hence there was contention between the kingdom of Judah and the ten tribes: the Israelites were elated on account of their number and their riches, and other temporal advantages; and the Jews gloried in their Temple and the Ark of the Covenant. And what now does the Prophet say? He declares that such would be the concord between the Israelites and the Jews, that the Jews would no more say, “The Ark of the Covenant,” “The Temple of God;” for God would be present with them all. And the Prophet proceeds to confirm more fully what I have just said: it is therefore necessary to add the two following verses. He then says —
Jer 3:16 And it shall come to pass, when ye be multiplied and increased in the land,…. That is, when the number of the disciples and followers of Christ, and true believers in him, shall be multiplied and increased in the land of Judea, and in the Gentile world also, under the ministry of the above said pastors, apostles, and ministers of the Gospel, who should be succeeded everywhere, as they were; see Act_6:1,
in those days, saith the Lord of hosts, they shall say no more, the ark of the covenant of the Lord; because the antitype of it would be come, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word that is made flesh and dwelt among men; and in whom the Shechinah, or divine Majesty, dwells in a more glorious manner than it did over the ark, for in him dwells the fulness of the Godhead bodily; and the ark may be put for the whole ceremonial law, which was abolished at the death of Christ, and to be used and spoken of no more; and whereas it was, for a good while after the abrogation of it, a matter of debate and contention, and was not wholly under the church’s feet until about the times of Constantine, when there was a great multiplication and increase of Christians throughout the Roman empire, the prophecy may be thought to belong to those times, at least there was then a greater accomplishment of it; see Rev_12:1,
neither shall it come to mind, neither shall they remember it; as it should not be spoken of, so it should not be thought of any more than if it had never been:
neither shall they visit it; to inquire of the Lord, before it, about what they wanted to be informed of, as they used to do, Jdg_20:23,
neither shall that be done any more; or, “made any more” (g) the Jews (h) say, the ark was wanting in the second temple, and was never afterwards remade: all the expressions denote the utter abolition of legal rites and ceremonies, never to be revived more. The Targum paraphrases the last clause,
“neither shall they make war with it any more;”
and so Jarchi and Kimchi interpret it as if it was a prophecy of such a time of profound peace, that there would be no need of bringing out the ark as formerly; this use of it would be quite forgotten; but this was not the principal use of the ark, and very rarely was it ever used in this way.
(g) ולא יעשה עוד “neque reparabitur amplius, vel et non constuetur amplius”, Schmidt. (h) T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 21. 2.
they shall say no more — The Jews shall no longer glory in the possession of the ark; it shall not be missed, so great shall be the blessings of the new dispensation. The throne of the Lord, present Himself, shall eclipse and put out of mind the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat between the cherubim, God’s former throne. The ark, containing the two tables of the law, disappeared at the Babylonian captivity, and was not restored to the second temple, implying that the symbolical “glory” was to be superseded by a “greater glory” (Hag_2:9).
neither … visit it — rather, “neither shall it be missed” (so in Jer_23:4).
done — rather, “neither shall it (the ark) be made (that is, be restored) any more” [Maurer].
In those days – This and the phrase “the latter days,” had become under the Messianic teaching of the prophets a regular formula for the time of Christ’s coming, when all the nation’s hopes would be fulfilled.
The ark was the center of the Mosaic economy, containing within it the two tables’ of the Law as the conditions of the covenant and having over it, upon the mercy-seat, the Shechinah as the visible sign of God’s presence. But “in those days” the symbol must pass away, because God will then dwell in His people by the gift of the Holy Spirit 1Co_3:16, and the terms of the covenant will be written on their hearts Jer_31:33.
Neither shall they visit it – Rather, neither shall they miss it; i. e., they will not trouble about it, nor regret its loss.
Neither shall that be done anymore – Rather, “neither shall it (the ark) be made anymore;” it shall not be renewed or repaired, because the tabernacle of God will be one “made without hands” Heb_9:11, even the heart of His believing people.
We now understand more clearly what I have already said, — that the Prophet promises here that there would be concord between the ten tribes and the kingdom of Judah, when both returned from exile; as though he had said, that their condition would be better than it ever had been; for the seed of Abraham had been torn as it were asunder; and the people whom God intended that they should continue in a holy union had become divided in the most shameful manner. We indeed know that there had been inveterate hatred between the Jews and the Israelites. As then there had been such disgraceful division for a long time between the children of Abraham, the Prophet now shews what would be the fruit of exile; for after having been for a time chastised by the Lord, they would return to their own country, not to entertain the same emulation as had existed, but to unite together in calling on God, in order that the Jews might be as brethren to the Israelites, and the Israelites might cultivate mutual concord with the tribe of Judah.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Jerusalem — the whole city, not merely the temple. As it has been the center of the Hebrew theocracy, so it shall be the point of attraction to the whole earth (Isa_2:2-4; Zec_2:10, Zec_2:11; Zec_14:16-21).
throne of … Lord — The Shekinah, the symbol of God’s peculiar nearness to Israel (Deu_4:7) shall be surpassed by the antitype, God’s own throne in Jerusalem (Psa_2:6, Psa_2:8; Eze_34:23, Eze_34:24; Zec_2:5).
imagination — rather, as Margin, “the obstinacy” or stubbornness.
The throne of the Lord – Yahweh’s throne shall not be the ark, but Jerusalem, i. e., the Christian Church Rev_21:2; Gal_4:26.
To Jerusalem – The Septuagint and Syriac are probably right in omitting this word.
Imagination … – Stubbornness (margin). A word always used in a bad sense, for “obstinacy.”
The Prophet no doubt requires here from the people a sincere return to God, inasmuch as they had often pretended to confess their sins, and had given many signs of repentance, while they were acting deceitfully with him. As then they had often dealt falsely with God and with his prophets, Jeremiah bids them to return to God without any disguise and in good faith. With regard to what is here substantially taught, this is the Prophet’s meaning; but there is some ambiguity in the words.
Some read thus, “If thou returnest, Israel, to me, saith Jehovah, “connecting “to me, אלי, “with the first clause, then they read separately “תשוב, teshub, thou shalt rest;” and so they think that what follows is the repetition of the same thing, “If thou wilt take away thine abominations from before me, thou shalt not migrate;” that is, I will not cast thee out as I have threatened. Others take the verb תשוב, teshub, in the same sense, (for it is the same verb repeated,) “If thou wilt return, Israel, return to me.” The Prophet doubtless bids the Israelites to return to God in sincerity, and without any disguise, and not to act falsely with him, as they had often done.
I have as yet mentioned only what others have thought; but, in my judgment, the most suitable rendering is, “If thou wilt return, Israel, rest in me, “arrete toi, as we say in French. Rest then in me; and then a definition is given, If thou wilt take away thine abominations (for the copulative is to be taken as expletive or explanatory) from my sight, and wilt not wander What some of those I have referred to have given as their rendering, “If thou wilt return to me, Israel, thou shalt rest,” I wholly reject, as it seems forced: but I allow this reading, “If thou wilt return, Israel, thou shalt rest in me;” or this, “If thou wilt return, Israel, return to me;” for the difference is not great. The Prophet here evidently condemns the hypocrisy which the Israelites had practiced; for they had often professed themselves as ready to render obedience to God, and afterwards proved that they had made a false profession. Since then deceit and emptiness had been so often found in them, the Prophet demands here, in the name and by the command of God, that they should in truth and sincerity return to him.
If this reading be approved, “Israel, return to me,” the intimation is, that they ever took circuitous courses, that they might not return directly to God: for it is usual with hypocrites to make a great show of repentance and at the same time to shun God. If then we follow this reading, the Prophet means this, “Israel, there is no reason for thee hereafter to think that thou gainest anything by boasting with thy mouth of thy repentance; return to me; know that thou hast to do with God, who is not deceived, as he never deceives any: return then faithfully to me, and let thy conversion be sincere and in no way deceptive.”
But if the verb, תשוב, teshub, be taken in the other sense, there would be no great difference in the meaning; “If thou wilt return, Israel, thou shalt rest in me;” that is, thou shalt hereafter have nothing to do with idols and with thy perverted ways. Thus the Prophet briefly shews that the return of Israel would be nothing, except they acquiesced in God alone, and wandered not after vain objects, as they had often done. And with this view corresponds what follows, “Even if thou takest away (for the copulative, as I have said, is to be taken as explanatory) thine abominations from my sight, and wilt wander no more, ולא תנוד, vela tanud.” For the vice which Jeremiah meant especially to condemn was this, — that Israel, while pretending a great show of religion, yet vacillated and did not devote themselves with all their heart to God, but were changeable in their purpose. This vice then is what Jeremiah justly condemns; and hence I am disposed to embrace this view “Israel, if thou wilt return, rest in me;” that is, continue constantly faithful to me: but how can this be done? “Even if thou wilt take away thy abominations, and if thou wilt not wander;” for thy levity and inconstancy hitherto has been well known.
Whatever view we may take, this passage deserves to be noticed as being against hypocrites, who dare not openly to reject prophetic warnings; but while they shew some tokens of repentance, they still by windings shun the presence of God. They indeed testify by their mouth that they seek God, but yet have recourse to subterfuges: and hence I have said that this passage is remarkably useful, so that we may know that God cannot be pacified by those fallacious trifles which hypocrites bring forward, but that he requires a sincere heart, and that he abominates all dissimulation. It is therefore expressly said, If thou wilt take away thy abominations from my sight For hypocrites ever regard display and seek to be approved by men, and are satisfied with their approbation; but God calls their attention to himself. It must at the same time be observed, that he cannot be deceived; for he is the searcher of hearts. It follows —
Jer 4:1 If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord,…. To which they had been encouraged, and as they had promised they would, and said they did, Jer_3:14,
return unto me; with thy whole heart, and not feignedly and hypocritically, as Judah did, Jer_3:10. Some render the words (and the accents require they should be rendered so) “if thou wilt return to me, O Israel, saith the Lord, thou shalt return” (l); that is, to thine own land, being now in captivity; or, “thou shalt rest” (m); or “have rest”; so Kimchi interprets the last word; see Jer_30:10, and these words may very well be considered as the words of Christ, and as spoken by him, when he entered upon his ministry, who began it with calling the people of the Jews to repentance, and promising to give them rest; and all such who return to God by repentance, and come to Christ by faith, find spiritual rest for their souls now, and shall have an eternal rest hereafter, Mat_4:17,
and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight; not only their sins, but their self-righteousness, and dependence upon it; the rites and ceremonies of the old law abolished by Christ, together with the traditions of the elders, by which they made void the commandments of God; all which were abominations in the sight of the Lord, Isa_1:13,
then shalt thou not remove; from thine own land again when restored, or further off, into more distant countries, for they were now in captivity; or rather the words may be rendered, not as a promise, but as a continuation of what is before said,
and not move to and fro (n); or be unstable and wavering, tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, and precept of men; but be established in the faith of the Gospel, and steadfast and immovable in every good work. The Targum is:
“if thou wilt return, O Israel, to my worship, saith the Lord, thy return shall be received before thy decree is sealed; and if thou wilt take away thine abominations from before me, thou shalt not be moved;”
or wander about.
(l) אם תשוב ישראל נאם יהוה אלי תשוב “si reverteris ad me, O Israel, dicit Jehovah, reverteris”, Gataker, (m) תשוב “quiescas”, Vatablus; “quiesce apud me”, Calvin. (n) ולא תנוד “et non vagaberis”, Gatatker; “et non instabilis fueris”, Cocceius,
Return – The repentance of Israel described in Jer_3:21-25 was a hope, and not a reality. The return, literally, would be their restoration to their land; spiritually, their abandoning their sins.
Jer_4:1-2 should be translated as follows:
If thou wouldst return, O Israel, saith Yahweh.
Unto Me thou shalt return:
And if thou wouldst remove thy abominations from before Me,
And not wander to and fro,
But wouldst swear truly, uprightly; and justly
By the living Yahweh;
Then shall the pagan bless themselves … –
In him – In Yahweh. Two great truths are taught in this verse;
(1) that the Gentiles were to be members of the Church of the Messiah;
(2) that Israel’s special office was to be God’s mediator in this great work.
Thus, Jeremiah is in exact accord with the evangelical teaching of Isaiah.
Here the Prophet goes on with the same subject; for he denudes these flatteries, by which they thought that God could be pacified: for when they had his name in their mouth, they thought it sufficient for their defense, — “What! do we not call upon God? do we not ascribe to him his due honor, when we swear by his name?” There is in the Prophet’s words a part given for the whole; for swearing is to be taken for the whole of God’s worship. When therefore the Israelites made a profession of God’s name, they thought themselves absolved from all guilt.
Hence the Prophet says, Thou shalt swear truly in the name of God; that is, “Ye are indeed self — confident, because an external profession of religion seems to you to be a sort of expiation, whenever ye seek to contend with God: ye boast that you are Abraham’s seed, and swear by the name of God; but ye are sacrilegious, when ye thus falsely profess God’s name.” Swear then, he says, in truth
We hence see how the words of the Prophet harmonize together: he had said, that Israel had hitherto dealt falsely with God, because they had not performed what in words they had promised, for they went astray; and now he adds, that it availed the Israelites nothing, that they openly called on God and shewed themselves to be his people by an external worship: this, he says, is nothing, except ye worship God in truth and in judgment and in righteousness
Truth is no doubt to be taken here for integrity, as we shall see in the fifth chapter: it is the same as though he had said, that God is not rightly worshipped, except when the heart is free from all guile and deceit; in short, he means that there is no worship of God without sincerity of heart. But the truth, of which the Prophet speaks, is especially known by judgment and righteousness; that is, when men deal faithfully with one another, and render to all their right, and seek not their own gain at the expense of others. When therefore equity and uprightness are thus observed by men, then is fulfilled what is required here by the Prophet: for then they worship not God fallaciously, nor with vain words, but really shew that they do, without disguise, fear and reverence God.
What follows is variously explained by interpreters; but the Prophet, I have no doubt, does here indirectly reprove the Israelites, because God’s name had been exposed to many reproaches and mockeries, when the heathens said, that there was no power in God to help the Israelites, and when the people themselves expostulated with God, as though they had a just cause for contending with him, — “What! God has promised that we should be models of his blessing; but we are exposed to the reproaches of the heathens: how can this be?” Since then the Israelites thus deplored their lot, and cast the blame on God, the Prophet gives this answer, Bless themselves shall the nations and glory in him Some refer this to the Israelites, but not correctly. It had indeed been said to Abraham, “In thy seed shall all nations be blessed,” or, shall bless themselves. But this blessing had its beginning, as it is here noticed by the Prophet. For we must look for the cause or the fountain of this blessing: how could the nations bless themselves through the seed or the children of Abraham, except God, the author of the blessing, manifested his favor towards the children of Abraham? Very aptly then does the Prophet say here, Then bless themselves in God shall all the nations, and in him shall they glory; that is, “Ye are to be blamed, that God’s curse is upon you and renders you objects of reproach to all people, and also, that heathens disdain and despise the name of God: for your impiety has constrained God to deal more severely with you than he wished; for he is ever ready to shew his paternal clemency. What then is the hindrance, that the nations bless not themselves in God and glory in him? that is, that pure religion does not flourish through the whole world, and that all nations do not come to you and unite in the worship of the only true God? The hindrance is your impiety and wickedness; this is the reason why God is not glorified, and why your felicity is not everywhere celebrated among the nations.” We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet, — that the Jews groundlessly imputed blame to God, because they were oppressed by so many evils; for they had procured for themselves all their calamities, and at the same time gave occasion to heathens to profane God’s name by their reproaches. It follows —
Jer 4:2 And thou shalt swear, the Lord liveth,…. Or by the living Lord, by him and him only; not by the creatures, but by the God of truth. This is sometimes put for the whole worship and service of God, Deu_6:13 and for a confession of Christ, and profession of faith in him, Isa_45:23, compared with Rom_14:11 and which ought to be done,
in truth, in righteousness, and in judgment; in sincerity, integrity, and uprightness of soul; in spirit and in, truth; in righteousness and true holiness:
and the nations shall bless themselves in him, not in Israel, as the Targum, Jarchi, and Kimchi, interpret it; but in the Lord, even in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed with all spiritual blessings; with which being blessed, they call and count themselves happy, being pardoned through the blood of Christ, justified by his righteousness, and having peace, life, and salvation by him, Gen_22:18,
and in him shall they glory; not in themselves, nor in any creature, or creature enjoyment; but in the Lord, and in what he is to them, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; in whom all the seed of Israel, being justified, glory; see 1Co_1:30. The sense of the words seems to be, that upon the Gospel being preached by Christ and his apostles to the Israelites, and some of them being converted, and their abominations put away, and they cleaving to the Lord, and to his worship; the Gentiles should have the Gospel sent to them, and receive it, and place all their blessedness in Christ, and glory in him.
Thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth – Thou shalt not bind thyself by any false god; thou shalt acknowledge Me as the Supreme. Bind thyself By me, and To me; and do this in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness.
The nations shall bless themselves in him – They shall be so fully convinced of the power and goodness of Jehovah in seeing the change wrought on thee, and the mercies heaped upon thee, that their usual mode of benediction shall be, May the God of Israel bless thee!
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
And thou — rather, “And if (carried on from Jer_4:1) thou shalt swear, ‘Jehovah liveth,’ in truth, etc.“, that is, if thou shalt worship Him (for we swear by the God whom we worship; compare Deu_6:13; Deu_10:20; Isa_19:18; Amo_8:14) in sincerity, etc.
and the nations — Rather, this is apodosis to the “if”; then shall the nations bless themselves in (by) Him” (Isa_65:16). The conversion of the nations will be the consequence of Israel’s conversion (Psa_102:13, Psa_102:15; Rom_11:12, Rom_11:15).
The Prophet still pursues the same subject; for he reproves the hypocrisy of the Israelites, because they sought to discharge their duty towards God only by external ceremonies, while their hearts were full of deceits and of every kind of impiety and wickedness. Hence he says, that God required this from the Jews, — to plough again the fallow, and not to sow among thorns.
It is a most suitable comparison; for Scripture often compares us to a field, when it represents us as God’s heritage; and we have been chosen by God as a peculiar people for this end — that he may gather fruit from us, as a husbandman gathers produce from his fields. We can indeed add nothing to what God is; but there is a fruit which he demands; so that our whole life is to be devoted to his glory. God then would not have us to be idle and fruitless, but to bring forth some fruit. But what is done by hypocrites? They sow; that is, they shew some concern, yea, they pretend great ardor, when God exhorts them to repent, or when he invites them. They then make a great bustle; yet they mar everything by their own mixtures, the same as though one scattered his seed among thorns: but it will be of no avail thus to cast seed among thorns; for the ground ought to be well cleared and prepared. Hence God laughs to scorn this preposterous care and diligence, in which hypocrites pride themselves, and says, that they busy themselves without any advantage; for it is the same, as though an husbandman had wholly lost his seed; for when the ground is full of briers and thorns, the seed, though it may grow for a time, cannot yet bring forth fruit. For this reason God bids the Israelites to plough the fallows; as though he had said, that they were like a rough ground, which is full of thorns, and that therefore there was need of unusual and by no means a common cultivation; for when thorns and briers grow in a field, of what benefit will it be to cast seed there? Nay, a field cannot be well prepared by the plough alone, so that it may produce fruit; but much labor is also necessary, as is the case with fallow ground, which is called essarter in our language.
The Prophet then intimates that the people had become hardened in their vices, and that they were not only full of vices, like a field left uncultivated for two years; but that their vices were so deep, that they could not be well cleared away by ploughing alone, except they were drawn up by the roots, as they were like thorns and brambles, which have been growing in a field for many years. We hence see, that not only impiety and contempt of God, and other sins of the people of Israel, are referred to by the Prophet, but also their perverseness; for they had so hardened themselves for many years in their vices, that there was need not only of the plough, but also of other instruments to tear up the thorns, to eradicate those vices which had formed deep roots. As then, he had before warned them, that they would labor in vain except they returned to God with sincerity of heart and acquiesced in him; so here he bids them to examine their life, that they might not cast away their seed, like hypocrites, who formally acknowledge their sins. Hence he bids them wholly to shake off their vices, which were hid within, according to what they do, who tear up thorns and briers in a field, which has been long neglected, and left without being cultivated. It now follows —
Break up your fallow ground – Fallow ground is either that which, having been once tilled, has lain long uncultivated; or, ground slightly ploughed, in order to be ploughed again previously to its being sown. Ye have been long uncultivated in righteousness; let true repentance break up your fruitless and hardened hearts; and when the seed of the word of life is sown in them, take heed that worldly cares and concerns do not arise, and, like thorns, choke the good seed.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Transition to Judah. Supply mentally. All which (the foregoing declaration as to Israel) applies to Judah.
and Jerusalem — that is, and especially the men of Jerusalem, as being the most prominent in Judea.
Break … fallow ground — that is, Repent of your idolatry, and so be prepared to serve the Lord in truth (Hos_10:12; Mat_13:7). The unhumbled heart is like ground which may be improved, being let out to us for that purpose, but which is as yet fallow, overgrown with weeds, its natural product.
To the men – To each man “of Judah.” They are summoned individually to repentance.
Break up – literally, Fallow for you a fallow ground, i. e., do not sow the seeds of repentance in unfit soil, but just as the farmer prepares the ground, by clearing it of weeds, and exposing it to the sun and air, before entrusting to it the seed, so must you regard repentance as a serious matter, requiring forethought, and anxious labor. To sow in unfallowed ground was practically to sow on land full of thorns.
The Prophet expresses here more clearly what he had before said metaphorically or by a figure; for he had bidden them to eradicate their vices, according to what is usually done by breaking up the fallow ground; but now dropping that figure, he clearly shews what was to be done, and yet the clause contains what is figurative. He calls their attention to circumcision, which was a symbol of renovation, as though he had said, — That they sufficiently understood what they were to do, except they were wholly unteachable; “For why, “he says, “has circumcision been enjoined? Does not God by this symbol shew, that if a man rightly aspires after true religion, he ought to begin by putting off all the evil propensities of his flesh? Is he not to deny himself, and to die as it were both to himself and to the world? for circumcision includes all this.” Then the Prophet shews that the Israelites had no excuse, that they went not astray through mistake or through ignorance; but they were acting perversely and deceitfully with God; for circumcision, by which they had been initiated into God’s service, sufficiently taught them, that God is not rightly nor faithfully served, except when men deny themselves.
We now then see what the Prophet meant by these words, when he bids them to be circumcised to God, and to take away the foreskin of their heart: Be ye circumcised, he says, to Jehovah Circumcision was their great boast; but only before men; for nothing but ambition and vanity ruled in them, while they openly exulted and boasted that they were God’s holy and peculiar people. Hence the Prophet bids them not to value what was of no importance, but to become circumcised to Jehovah; that is, he bids them not to seek applause before the world, but seriously to consider that they had to do with God. And hence he adds, Take away the foreskin of your heart, as though he had said, “When God commanded the seed of Abraham to be circumcised, (Gen_17:10,) it was not his object to have a small portion of skin cut off, but he had regard to something higher, even that ye should be circumcised in heart.”
The Prophet, in short, teaches us here what Paul has more clearly explained, (Rom_2:29,) even this, — that the letter is of no value before God, but that the spirit is what he requires: for Paul in these words means, that the external sign is worthless, except accompanied by the reality within; for the literal circumcision mentioned by Paul is merely the external rite; in the same manner baptism with us may be called the letter, when there is no repentance and faith. But the spirit, or spiritual circumcision, is the denial of self; it is renovation, and in a word, that true conversion to God, of which the Prophet speaks here. Nor has Moses been silent on this point; for in the tenth chapter of Deuteronomy he shews that the Jews greatly deceived themselves, if they thought that they did all that God required, when they were circumcised in the flesh; “Circumcise, “he says, “your hearts to the Lord.” He indeed reminds us in another place, that this is altogether the work of God; but though God circumcises the heart, yet this exhortation, that men are to circumcise themselves, is not superfluous: and the same is the case with baptism; for when Paul exhorts the faithful to fear God and to lead a holy life, he refers to baptism. It is yet certain that men do not bestow on themselves what God signifies by the sign of baptism; but he counsels them to seek from God the grace of his Spirit, that they might not in vain be sealed by the external rite of baptism, while destitute of its reality. When therefore the Prophet bids the Israelites to take away the foreskin of their heart, it is the same as though he had said, that they were indeed liberal enough with regard to ceremonies and outward worship, but that these were empty masks unless preceded by a right disposition within.
And he addresses the Jews, and also the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for they thought that they far excelled the Israelites, on whom God had inflicted so grievous a punishment. He then shews that the tribe of Judah, nay, that the very inhabitants and citizens of Jerusalem were not better than others, and that they could not be exempted, as it were, by privilege, except they returned to a right mind, except they seasonably and from the heart repented.
He then adds, Lest my fury go forth like fire The Prophet here expressly declares, that the Jews were not to wait until God came forth as an avenger; for then, he s
ays, if, would be too late to repent: in short, he bids them to anticipate in due time the judgment of God; for if once his fury went forth, it would burn like fire so as to consume them, and there would be no extinguishing of it. But if they repented, he holds forth to them the hope of pardon; for the fury of God had not yet gone forth.
He afterwards subjoins, On account of the wickedness of your deeds By these words the Prophet again reproves them sharply, and shews that they gained nothing by their evasions; for when God ascends his tribunal and begins to execute his vengeance, then all vain excuses will come to an end, such as, that they deserved no such thing, or, that the atrocity of their sins was not great: “God, “he says, “will, with his own hand, teach you how grievous has been the atrocity of your vices; he will not, then, deal with you in words.” It then follows —
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Remove your natural corruption of heart (Deu_10:16; Deu_30:6; Rom_2:29; Col_2:11).
See the Deu_10:16 note. Nature, such as it is in itself, unconsecrated to God, is to be removed from our inner selves, that a new and spiritual nature may take its place.
Lest my fury … – God is long-suffering, but unless this change take place, the time of judgment must at length come to all as it came to Jerusalem – “like fire” (compare 1Co_3:13; Phi_2:12-13).