God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 21, 2014
Unfaithful Israel and Treacherous Judah
6 In the days of King Josiah the LORD asked me, “Have you seen what unfaithful Israel did? She has gone up onto every high hill and under every lush tree and committed adultery there.
There are only a few dates given in Jeremiah. The prophet was called in Josiah’s thirteenth year (627 or 626 BC), and we know that Josiah died in 609, so this oracle came to Jeremiah some time during those seventeen years, but we can’t say exactly when.
Throughout most of this book, there is no difference between “Israel” and “Judah,” since the northern kingdom had been exiled a hundred years before. But here in chapter 3, God is comparing exiled Israel with Judah, to bring shame and a strong law message to Jerusalem and the surrounding towns.
When the people of Israel went up to “every high hill,” they were going up to the caravan tracks that favored hilltops. Along the route were many shrines to idols, often including the standing stones like the ones Jeremiah already condemned (Jeremiah 2:27). Sometimes Jeremiah will say “barren heights” instead of “high hills” (six of the eight occurrences of “barren heights” are in Jeremiah). When he does this, he is talking about the same places, but with a special stinging reference to the emptiness of idolatry. It was on such a “barren height” that the false prophet Balaam went to try to have visions (Numbers 23:3).
The high hills were also the location of the lush trees (NIV “spreading trees,” the Hebrew term simply means “lush” or “green” without any distinction as to the variety of the tree). It was under such hilltop trees that fertility rites were carried out, usually involving an offering of some kind, prayer to the god or goddess of the shrine, and prostitution carried out in the name of worship to the deity. It was there that idolatry and adultery intersected.
7 I told myself that after she did all this she would return to me, but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it.
After God has described the state of affairs that brought Israel to its ultimate end, he pulls back to show us that there was a spectator to what was happening in the north: the southern kingdom of Judah was watching, like a girl spying on her older sister and her boyfriend.
8 Unfaithful Israel committed adultery and I sent her away. I gave her a certificate of divorce, yet I saw that despite this very thing, treacherous Judah her sister had no fear. She went and became a prostitute as well. 9 Since she regarded her sexual sins so lightly, she polluted the land by committing adultery with stones and trees. 10 Despite all this, her treacherous sister Judah did not turn back to me with all her heart, but only pretended,” declares the LORD.
11 Then the LORD said to me, “Unfaithful Israel is more righteous than treacherous Judah.”
Judah’s sin wasn’t just idolatry, but it was idolatry while pretending to repent. They regarded their sexual sins “so lightly” (they “mattered so little to her,” NIV), so that Judah didn’t think that repentance was even necessary. We need to be careful about this, too. We live in a culture that is so lost, so surrounded and soaking in sexual sins that we lose sight of what is unacceptable to God. There is so much around us that seems terrible that we forget that our own sinful thoughts are still sins to God. And so this warning about treacherous Judah should make us think very carefully about how we think about any of our sins. Just because the rest of the world around us seems to be sinning in worse ways, that doesn’t mean that God will look the other way or tolerate our own sins.
Repentance means being sorry about our sins, and also turning back to Christ for forgiveness. So we pray for forgiveness, and we listen to our Savior’s gospel: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus’ words remind us that there is no sin so wicked that his forgiveness cannot reach it and wash it away forever. Trust in Jesus, and ask him to help you turn away from your sins. His grace is something we don’t deserve, but it’s ours anyway. His love is that deep; his compassion is that kind; his mercy is that infinite.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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