Deuteronomy 24 contains a provision concerning marriage. If a man found some indecency in his wife and gave her a certificate of divorce, if she then went and married a second man who also gave her a certificate of divorce or died, her first husband was not permitted to take her back again as his wife. The reason given was that such casual behavior concerning marriage was “an abomination before the Lord” which would bring sin upon the land.
God sent Israel away because of her spiritual adultery. His people worshiped other gods rather than the real God, and they gave their love to these idols. The Lord’s action was a divorce. Could Israel repent and come back to Him again after they had been with other gods? According to the marriage law of Deuteronomy 24, God could not take them back, but everything must give way to the greater news of God’s mercy to repentant sinners. If they would truly repent, He says that He would take them back.
In the beginning of Jeremiah 3 God’s people seem completely unwilling to admit their sin and to return to God. They are said to have the stubborn “forehead” of a woman who sells her body to anyone for money. They will not tell the truth about their sin. They refuse to be ashamed. They cry out to God wondering why He won’t help, but they won’t confess what they really know.
God still indicates that He will accept them when they come back. He talks to His people as two sisters. One is the northern kingdom of Israel and the other is the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel was sent away first by God. Even though Judah saw what happened to Israel, Judah sinned even more than Israel. Yet God calls them both to return to Him, and He indicates that some small number will do this.
God then moves from this situation in the 6th century before Christ and speaks forward to a much later day using the expression “in those days.” The Lord will give shepherds or pastors who will feed His people with knowledge and understanding. No one will care about the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant, the holiest object of Old Covenant worship. Yet not only will Israel and Judah come home to God—all the nations of the world will gather to the throne of the Lord.
What is so very exciting about this prophesy is that God says that His people will come to Him with true hatred of their sin and with hope in the God of salvation. This is what has happened throughout the New Covenant era. God has sent forth His messengers everywhere; from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. He has filled them with the Word of His Son Jesus, the one descendant of the tribe of Judah who could fully atone for their sins. During His days on earth He led previously faithless people back home. Now He has healed our faithlessness and exposed to us the filthiness of our idolatry. He has not only given us the strength to tell the truth about our sin, He has also accomplished our redemption through His sacrifice on the cross, taking away our guilt.
What Jeremiah said would happen “in those days” has now come about through Christ and the preaching of the Word. As we embrace His truth, a miracle of healing takes place. Former enemies are softened to hear a gospel of heart-warming love. We respond to His entreaties again, walking away from our former life of sin, knowing that we are safely home in the house of the Lord.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Husband of Your Church, we have been an unfaithful bride, and have polluted the land. Your people of old claimed You as their God even as they had done all the evil that they could. Will we follow in this treacherous way, and not return to You in truth? Please restrain our sin. We are not interested in the way of pretended religion. We want You and not some worthless foreign idol. You are the Master of Your people. Take us back, so that we will know Your love again. We will not stubbornly follow our evil hearts. You have brought us into a pleasant land. We turn from every perverted way. You are the Lord our God, and in You alone is the salvation of Your church. We honestly admit that we have sinned against You from our youth, even until this day, for we have not obeyed Your voice.