Jeremiah 3:12–17; 4:1–4comment (0)
June 9, 2011
By Douglas K. Wilson
Related Scripture: Jeremiah 3:12–17; 4:1–4
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Professor of Christian Studies, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
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Jeremiah 3:12–17; 4:1–4
The nation of Judah survived even after greater kingdoms fell. More than a century before Jeremiah’s time, Assyrian troops destroyed the idolatrous tribes of Israel, ransacking the capital city of Samaria in 722 B.C. Assyria’s pantheon was unable to protect Nineveh from the Babylonian army. Due in large part to the spiritual renewals under kings Asa, Hezekiah and Josiah, however, Judah had avoided a similar end.
“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it/Prone to leave the God I love.” In these few words, lyricist Robert Robinson characterized the bent to walk away from God. This nature is one of the ways in which His people resemble sheep (Isa. 53:6). God sent shepherds to guide His people, but most of them failed to keep Judah from straying from Him. In these passages, Jeremiah announced God’s plan to judge and then restore His wandering people.
Admit Guilt (3:12–13)
The northern kingdom of Israel never had a godly king. Judah, in the south, had eight. Israel had faced God’s judgment by the hands of the Assyrians, yet God called Jeremiah to pronounce them more righteous than the people of Judah. Jeremiah was to proclaim toward the north that God would restore Israel if they would admit and repent of their wickedness.
Israel had committed spiritual adultery by following after the gods of the Philistines, Phoenicians and Canaanites. They had prostituted themselves for the sake of convenience and wealth, yet God said they were more righteous than Judah. How was Judah worse than Israel?
Jeremiah was calling Jerusalem and the wandering citizens of Judah to turn back to God while kings were ignoring prophetic words and gathering advisers who spoke only encouraging words. Priests were allowing forbidden altars and statues inside the temple. God invited them to admit and repent in order to experience His blessings.
Accept Blessings (3:14–17)
Under God’s mighty hand, Moses shepherded Israel. Centuries later, a shepherd boy became king, and David confessed that Yahweh was his shepherd. Before his calling to announce a message of judgment to Israel, Amos also owned or herded sheep. Each of these men had an honorable responsibility, in some way reflecting Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10).
In the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, the term “shepherd” is used to refer to leaders who had been entrusted with the care and protection of Judah and Israel. Prophets, priests and kings were given stewardship responsibilities over God’s people. They failed. More often than not, they were more concerned about their own welfare and position than about the nation. Jeremiah conveys God’s promise that He will provide honorable shepherds who love Him and will care for His people.
God’s plan includes representatives from every people, tribe and tongue (Gen. 12:3). This plan is for the nations to hear the gospel message (Matt. 24:14) and worship Him together (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). Jerusalem will be the gathering place. This section is a reminder that God blesses His people in order for others to know Him (see Ps. 67:1–7).
Avoid Judgment (4:1–4)
The idea presented in the lesson is that repentance allows for believers to avoid judgment. In truth, even after turning away from sin, believers may still face consequences for thoughtless words, foolish choices and blatant rebellion.
Restoration and repentance are Jeremiah’s actual focus. Avoiding judgment is only secondary. Jeremiah’s message called for the people to remove their idols from the temple, bear the name of Yahweh and reflect Him in truth, justice and righteousness. They must admit that their hearts are as hard as unused ground in a time of drought, that their hearts are uncircumcised, without faith like the Gentiles.
If they turned from their wickedness, then would they avoid God’s righteous indignation. Only then would the nations be blessed by God and glory in Him.