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Jeremiah 3

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

(The parentheses represent poetic literary units)

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Polluted Land Israel Is Shameless Exhortations To Repent
(3:1-4:4)
Unfaithful Israel Conversion
3:1-5
(1-5)
3:1 3:1-5
(1-5)
3:1-3 3:1
  3:2-5
(2-5)
    3:2-3a
(2-3a)
        3:3b-5
(3b-5)
      3:4-5  
Faithless Israel A Call To Repentance   Israel and Judah Must Repent The Northern Kingdom Urged To Repent
3:6-10
(6-10)
3:6-10 3:6-10 3:6-10 3:6-10
God Invites Repentance        
3:11-14
(12-14)
3:11-13
(12b-13)
3:11-14
(12b-14)
3:11-13 3:11-13
(12b-13)
        Zion In the Messianic Age
  3:14-18   3:14-18 3:14-17
3:15-18   3:15-18    
        3:18
      The Idolatry of God's People Continuation of the Poem On Conversion
3:19-20
(19-20)
3:19-20
(19-20)
3:19-20
(19-20)
3:19-20
(19-20)
3:19-20
(19-20)
3:21-23
(21-23)
3:21-25
(21)
3:21-22a
(21-22a)
3:21-22a
(21-22a)
3:21-25
(21-25)
  (22-25) 3:22b-24
(22b-23)
3:22b-25  
3:24-25        

READING CYCLE THREE (see introductory section)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

BACKGROUND

A. Jeremiah 2:1- 4:4 forms a literary unit.

 

B. Chapter 3 is a word play on the word shub (בוש, BDB 996, KB 1427, see Special topic at 2:22), which means "to turn," either to something or to someone (cf. 3:1,7,10,14,19,22).

 

C. The broken covenant is expressed as a broken marriage resulting in a legal divorce. However, YHWH's grace is so powerful that the Deut. 24:1-4 requirements are annulled (i.e., faithless, idolatrous Israel can return to her first husband, YHWH)! A new day, a new covenant is possible!

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 3:1-5
1God says, "If a husband divorces his wife
And she goes from him
And belongs to another man,
Will he still return to her?
Will not that land be completely polluted?
But you are a harlot with many lovers;
Yet you turn to Me," declares the Lord.
2"Lift up your eyes to the bare heights and see;
Where have you not been violated?
By the roads you have sat for them
Like an Arab in the desert,
And you have polluted a land
With your harlotry and with your wickedness.
3Therefore the showers have been withheld,
And there has been no spring rain.
Yet you had a harlot's forehead;
You refused to be ashamed.
4Have you not just now called to Me,
'My Father, You are the friend of my youth?
5Will He be angry forever?
Will He be indignant to the end?'
Behold, you have spoken
And have done evil things,
And you have had your way."

3:1

NASB"God says"
NKJV"they say"
LXX, NRSV,
NJB, REB - Omit -
TEV"the Lord says"
JPSOA"[the word of the Lord came to me] as follows"

The MT simply has the Qal infinitive construct (BDB 55, KB 65) "saying." The UBS Text Project suggests (p. 180)

1. it introduces a principal, a proverb, or judicial statement

2. it relates to 2:37

 

▣ "If a husband divorces his wife" This reflects Moses' statement in Deut. 24:3-4. YHWH uses divorce as a metaphor of His peoples' "spiritual adultery" of idolatry. Israelites could not take back a wife after another man had married her (cf. Deut. 24:4), but YHWH's great love will remarry Israel even after her idolatry (cf. 4:1; Hosea 1-3).

YHWH was stating what had occurred years ago (cf. 2:20-25).

▣ "Will he still return to her" This was not allowed (cf. Deut. 24:1-4). Their return was for political reasons, not for spiritual reasons.

"land be completely polluted" The verb and infinitive absolute of the same root (BDB 337, KB 335) are used to intensify the sense of the idolatrous pollution. This very thing is discussed in Lev. 18:24-28; 19:29; Deut. 24:4.

The LXX has "woman," האשה, but the MT has "land," ץראה. The UBS Text Project rates "land" as B (some doubt); both fit the context.

"you are a harlot with many lovers" YHWH is depicted as a husband, possibly based on Deut. 10:20; 11:22; 13:14 (i.e., "cling to Him"). This is one of several anthropomorphic metaphors used of God and His relationship to His faith children (see Special Topic at 1:9).

NASB"Yet you turn to Me"
NKJV"yet return to Me"
TEV"now you want to return to Me?"
LXX, NJB"would you return to me?"
JPSOA"can you return to Me?"

This is the infinitive absolute of a verb (Qal imperfect, BDB 996, KB 1427) used earlier in the verse (and throughout this chapter). It can be

1. turned into an imperative (NKJV)

2. turned into a verb (NASB)

3. turned into a question (TEV, NJB, JPSOA following the LXX)

 

3:2 "Lift up your eyes. . .see" These are both Qal imperatives.

1. lift up - BDB 669, KB 724

2. see - BDB 906, KB 1157, cf. 1:10; 2:10 (twice), 19, 23, 31

 

▣ "bare heights" This was the place of the worship of Ba'al (cf. 3:21; 4:11; 7:29; 12:12; 14:6; Hos. 4:11-14).

NASB"violated"
NKJV"lain with men"
NRSV"offered your sex!"
TEV"acted like a prostitute?"
NJB, JPSOA,
REB"lain with"
LXX"contaminated" or "utterly defiled"

The MT has "be ravished" (שׁנל, BDB 993, KB 1415, cf. NASB), but the Masoretic scholars suggest "be lain with" (שׁכב, BDB 1011, KB 1486).

The covenant people were not raped. They voluntarily committed "spiritual adultery" with foreign idols.

"By the roads you have sat" This is an historical/cultural reference to what the prostitutes did (cf. Gen. 38:14; Pro. 7:12ff; Ezek. 16:25).

NASB, NRSV,
TEV, REB"Arab"
NKJV"Arabian"
NJB"nomad"
JPSOA"bandit"

The MT has "steppe-dweller" (ערבי, BDB 787 IV, cf. Isa. 13:20), but the Septuagint has "raven" (ערב, BDB 788 VI).

The JPSOA interprets the word as a robber (see UBS Handbook, p. 94). The LXX's "raven" could be parallel to "polluted land," as the raven was an unclean scavenger, but it could also mean a supposed helper, cf. I Kgs. 17:4.

▣ "harlotry" See Special Topic at 2:20.

3:3 The first two lines are parallel. God tried to use the cycles of nature to open the eyes of His people (cf. Lev. 26:14-20; Deut. 28:15-68), but they would not see. There are two rainy seasons in Palestine (cf. Deut. 11:14), one at planting time and the other as the plants mature. Most moisture came from daily dew.

"harlot's forehead" This is a reference either to

1. characteristic ornamentation (cf. Rev. 17:5)

2. a metaphor for stubbornness and lack of shame (cf. Ezek. 3:7-8)

 

3:4 "My Father" This is another family metaphor for God (see Special Topic at 1:9).

SPECIAL TOPIC: FATHERHOOD OF GOD

3:5 "Will he be angry forever" They were trying to take advantage of God's mercy. This same concept is discussed in Ps. 103:8-14. God's mercy was not the issue, but their willful and repeated idolatry (cf. vv. 12-14).

"spoken. . .done evil" Their lips said one thing, but their actions showed another (cf. Isa. 29:13).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 3:6-10
6Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, "Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. 7I thought, 'After she has done all these things she will return to Me'; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. 8And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. 9Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. 10Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception," declares the Lord.

3:6 "Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king" This surely dates the poem and by implication the surrounding strophes.

For the reign of King Josiah see Appendix Four, #3.

"Israel" These are the northern ten tribes (see Special Topic at 2:3). Verses 7-8,10,11 show that in light of Israel's sin, Judah should have learned, but she did not, and even copied her sister's sins (cf. Ezek. 16:44-52; chapter 23).

"on every high hill and under every green tree" This was the site for Ba'al worship (see Special Topic at 2:20).

3:7 "Judah" These are the southern three tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. Most of the Levites and priests also stayed with the southern tribes.

"she will return to Me" The word "return" (BDB 996, KB 1427) is the Hebrew concept of repentance (see Special Topic at 2:22). It is used several times in this chapter (cf. vv. 1 [twice], 7 [twice], 10, 12,14, 19,22). The OT, as the NT, is a conditional covenant as it relates to human choices, but an unconditional covenant as to YHWH's plan to redeem those individuals who will turn to Him by repentance and faith (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16,19; 20:21).

SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT

3:8

NASB, NKJV"I saw. . ."
TEV"Judah also saw. . ."
NRSV"She also saw. . ."
NJB, REB"She saw"
JPSOA"I noted:"

The MT has "and I saw" (וארא), but the DSS and the Syriac versions have "she saw" (ותרא). The UBS Text Project gives the MT a B rating (some doubt).

The next line of the verse describes YHWH's actions in light of Israel's response.

"I had sent her away" This seems to be linking the Assyrian exile (i.e., 722 b.c.) with the metaphor of divorce ("send away," BDB 1018, KB 1511, cf. Deut. 22:19,29; 24:1,3; Jer. 3:1).

"writ of divorce" This was a legal document first discussed in Deut. 24:1-4.

1. involved some legal procedures which took some time so that the couple could work out their differences if possible

2. another person had to be involved (i.e., a Levite)

3. involved the restitution of the dowry to the wife or her family

4. allowed the vulnerable woman to remarry and be a functioning member of that society

 

3:9

NASB"the lightness of her harlotry"
NKJV"her casual harlotry"
NRSV"her shameless whoring"
TEV"was not at all ashamed"
NJB"she took her whoredom so lightly"
JPSOA"her casual immorality"
REB"her casual prostitution"
LXX"her whoredom came to nothing"

The key word is "so light" (קל, BDB 887, KB 1101 I), found only here. BDB suggests "lightness" or "frivolity."

"stones and trees" This is a reference to the male Canaanite deity, Ba'al, and the female Canaanite deity, Asherah (cf. 2:27, see Special Topic at 2:20).

3:10 "Judah did not return to Me with all her heart" This may be a reference to the reforms of Hezekiah or Josiah. The reforms of these godly kings were only superficially accepted by the populous.

For "returned" see the Special Topic at 2:22. For "heart" see the Special Topic at 4:19.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 3:11-14
11And the Lord said to me, "Faithless Israel has proved herself more righteous than treacherous Judah.
12Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say,
'Return, faithless Israel,' declares the Lord;
'I will not look upon you in anger.
For I am gracious,' declares the Lord;
'I will not be angry forever.
 13Only acknowledge your iniquity,
That you have transgressed against the Lord your God
And have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree,
And you have not obeyed My voice,' declares the Lord.
14'Return, O faithless sons,' declares the Lord;
'For I am a master to you,
And I will take you one from a city and two from a family,
And I will bring you to Zion.'"

3:11 This is a shocking statement. Judah had more spiritual light and opportunities than did the northern tribes, but she did not learn from YHWH's judgment on them (cf. Ezekiel 23; Luke 12:48).

Israel is "faithless" (BDB 1000, cf. 3:6,8,12; also note 2:19; 3:22; 5:6; 8:5; 14:7) but Judah is "treacherous" (BDB 93, Qal active participle, cf. 3:8,20; 5:11; 12:6; Isa. 21:2; 24:16; 33:1).

3:12-14 The NASB, NKJV, NRSV, NJB all show these verses in poetic form (like vv. 1-5 and 19-20).

1. God tells the prophet to

a. go (Qal infinitive absolute)

b. proclaim (Qal perfect)

2. God tells the northern tribes to

a. return (Qal imperative, see note at v. 1)

b. acknowledge (lit. "know," Qal imperative)

(1) your iniquity

(2) that you have transgressed (Qal perfect)

(3) that you scattered your favors (BDB 202) to strangers (i.e., idols)

(4) that you have not obeyed (Qal perfect)

3. If they will obey, God will

a. not look upon you in anger

b. not be angry forever

This literary form is called "a summons to repentance" in Cracking OT Codes by Sandy and Giese (p. 164). It includes a divine promise, an accusation of sin, and a divine threat of judgment (cf. Isa. 1:19-20; 55:6-7; Jer. 3:12-13; 4:1-4; Joel 2:12-13; Amos 5:4-7,14-15).

3:12 "For I am gracious" This is one of the primary presuppositions of the character of Deity. Often in other world religions, deity is capricious, detached, but not so the God of the Bible. Note His repeated characteristics.

1. compassionate (BDB 933), cf. Exod. 34:6; Deut. 4:31; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13

2. gracious (BDB 337), cf. Exod. 34:6; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13

3. slow to anger (BDB 74 construct BDB 60), cf. Exod. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13

4. abounding in lovingkindness (hesed, BDB 338, see Special Topic at 2:2), cf. Exod. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13

5. abounding in truth ("faithfulness," amen, BDB 54), cf. Exod. 34:6; Ps. 86:15

6. forgiving iniquity and transgression, cf. Num. 14:18

7. will not (cf. Deut. 4:31)

a. fail you

b. destroy you

c. forget the covenant with your fathers

8. abundant forgiveness (BDB 699), cf. Neh. 9:17

9. did not forsake them (BDB 736 I), cf. Neh. 9:17

10. will not keep His anger forever, cf. Ps. 103:9

11. relenting of evil, cf. Joel 2:13

Wow! What a wonderful God we trust, serve, and emulate!

SPECIAL TOPIC: AMEN

3:13-14 God's people must acknowledge their sin and turn back to faith and faithfulness in YHWH!

3:14 "I am a master to you" This is a play on the word Ba'al (BDB 127), which means husband. This continues the family metaphors.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 3: 15-18
15"Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding. 16It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land," declares the Lord, "they will no longer say, 'The ark of the covenant of the Lord.' And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again. 17At that time they will call Jerusalem 'The Throne of the Lord,' and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord; nor will they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart. 18In those days the house of Judah will walk with the house of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers as an inheritance."

3:15 God's leaders (i.e., "shepherds," BDB 944), both civil and religious, will

1. be after YHWH's own heart (BDB 524)

2. feed the people with knowledge (BDB 395, only here in Jeremiah)

3. feed the people with understanding (BDB 968, cf. 9:24; 20:11)

Numbers 2 and 3 could refer to the shepherds themselves or what they give the people.

3:16 "in those days" This refers to the New Covenant period (cf. vv. 16-18; 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38) or the Messianic age.

"ark of the covenant" Whether it was actually missing at this point in time is uncertain; this passage points to internal worship (cf. John 4:23). There will be no need for a physical object representing YHWH. He Himself will be among His people!

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ARK OF THE COVENANT

3:17 "Jerusalem" I think this refers to the New Jerusalem (i.e., the new people of God, cf. Rev. 21:1-4).

"all nations will be gathered to it" Notice the universal element (cf. 4:2; 12:15,16; 16:19; Isa. 2:2-4; 11:12; 56:6-8; Ezek. 37:16-28; Hos. 3:5; Micah 2:12). This would have shocked and offended these Judean readers/hearers, just as Isaiah's inclusion of the nations shocked the readers/hearers of his day!

"nor will they walk any more after the stubbornness of their evil heart" This had been the problem since Genesis 3 (cf. 11:8)! But the new day will reverse this self-centeredness. Compare Ezek. 18:31 with Ezek. 36:26-27. The new covenant (31:31-34) will be based on God's acts, not human acts!

The real question is to whom does "they" refer?

1. the faithful remnant of Abraham's seed

2. all of Abraham's seed alive in that day

3. the Gentiles gathered to Jerusalem

For me, I have been deeply influenced by Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 3:7-9,28; 6:16; E ph. 3:11-4:13; I Pet. 3:6. Abraham is the father of those who believe, not a racial/ethnic group.

3:18 "the land of the north" This is not a reference to a country to the north, but to the route of return (cf. 31:8).

"to the land that I gave your fathers as an inheritance" See Gen. 12:1-3; 22:16-18; Amos 9:15. YHWH acted toward this generation, and every generation of Abraham's seed, because of His love and promises to the Patriarchs!

God has an eternal redemptive plan that involves Israel and the Messiah. His plan is for all humanity. His plan will not be defeated, delayed, or destroyed! See Special Topic at 1:5!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 3: 19-20
19"Then I said,
'How I would set you among My sons
And give you a pleasant land,
The most beautiful inheritance of the nations!'
And I said, 'You shall call Me, My Father,
And not turn away from following Me.'
20Surely, as a woman treacherously departs from her lover,
So you have dealt treacherously with Me,
O house of Israel," declares the Lord.

3:19 This verse begins a new strophe (i.e., vv. 19-20). It could refer to

1. the natural seed of Abraham (i.e., Israel as the firstborn son)

2. the faith seed of Abraham (cf. Isa. 63:16; Rom. 2:28-29)

Verse 20 implies option #1, while v. 19 implies option #2. Remember vv. 16-18 are describing the new age, the new covenant period.

The last two verbs in v. 19 are plural in the MT, but the Masoretic scholars suggest a change to the singular.

The NET Bible (p. 1295) suggests (because of the gender of the verbs) that "Israel appears to be addressed here contextually as the Lord's wife" and "the imagery here appears to be that of (1) treating the wife as an equal heir with the sons and (2) giving her the best piece of property."

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 3: 21-23
21"A voice is heard on the bare heights,
The weeping and the supplications of the sons of Israel;
Because they have perverted their way,
They have forgotten the Lord their God.
22Return, O faithless sons,
I will heal your faithlessness.
Behold we come to You;
For You are the Lord our God.
23Surely, the hills are a deception,
A tumult on the mountains.
Surely in the Lord our God
Is the salvation of Israel."

3:21 "A voice" This would be the loud lament of Israel's repentance.

1. weeping (BDB 113)

2. supplications (BDB 337)

They are repenting of

1. perverting their way - Hiphil perfect, BDB 730, KB 796

2. forgetting YHWH - Qal perfect, BDB 1013, KB 1489, cf. 2:32; 13:25

 

▣ "bare heights" This has been used sarcastically of the place of Ba'al worship, but here it reflects a place of mourning (cf. Jdgs. 11:37).

3:22-23 This verse has words from

1. YHWH

a. return - Qal imperative

b. I will hear - Qal imperfect

2. the faithless sons

a. we come to You - Qal perfect

b. for You are the Lord our God

c. the hills (i.e., a place of fertility worship) are a deception

d. salvation is only in YHWH

Verse 25 continues the words of "the faithless sons" (i.e., their repentance)

e. let us lie down in our shame - Qal cohortative

f. let our humiliation cover us - Piel imperfect used in a jussive sense

g. we have sinned against the Lord our God - Qal perfect

h. we and our fathers have sinned since our youth even to this day

i. We have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God

 

3:22 The UBS Handbook notes that the words

1. return (BDB 996, KB 1427)

2. faithless (BDB 1000)

3. faithlessness (BDB 1000)

all are based on the same Hebrew consonants, שׁוב (p. 113).

3:23 "surely" The adverb (BDB 38) occurs twice and gives the words of the people a solemnity!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 3: 24-25
24"But the shameful thing has consumed the labor of our fathers since our youth, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. 25Let us lie down in our shame, and let our humiliation cover us; for we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day. And we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God."

3:24 "shameful thing" This is used sarcastically of Ba'al (cf. 11:13; Hos. 9:10) or because of the mention of "sons and daughters," it may refer to the worship of Molech (see Special Topic at 2:23).

3:25 "from our youth even to this day" This rebellion was no new or passing thing. It went back to the wilderness wandering period (i.e., Exodus 32).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. To what is Jeremiah comparing God's people?

2. What two metaphors does he use of God?

3. Did His people truly repent? Why or why not?

4. Do verses 19-25 reflect the future or post-exilic time?