20 “Long ago you broke off your yoke
and tore off your bonds;
you said, ‘I will not serve you!’
Indeed, on every high hill
and under every spreading tree
you lay down as a prostitute.
21 I had planted you like a choice vine
of sound and reliable stock.
How then did you turn against me
into a corrupt, wild vine?
22 Although you wash yourself with soap
and use an abundance of cleansing powder,
the stain of your guilt is still before me,”
declares the Sovereign Lord.
23 “How can you say, ‘I am not defiled;
I have not run after the Baals’?
See how you behaved in the valley;
consider what you have done.
You are a swift she-camel
running here and there,
24 a wild donkey accustomed to the desert,
sniffing the wind in her craving—
in her heat who can restrain her?
Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves;
at mating time they will find her.
25 Do not run until your feet are bare
and your throat is dry.
But you said, ‘It’s no use!
I love foreign gods,
and I must go after them.’
(Jeremiah 2:20-25 NIV)
Like yesterday’s passage, we find ourselves in the courtroom again, observing the trial between the Bridegroom and His bride. As we stated previously, God’s goal is not to divorce His people, but to help them see the error of their ways, return to Him and be reconciled to the fullness of the love relationship He created for them to enjoy.
Today’s passage depicts the bride in a series of short vignettes. Verse 20a shows the overall attitude of the bride toward her bridegroom. Rather than enjoying the protection and provision of her marriage, with the bonds of mutual love to the bridegroom, she saw her marriage as enslavement and struggled until she was free. The promise and lure of the unknown and forbidden was irresistable. Her cry of freedom was not one of relief and release from an abusive spouse. Her cry of freedom was of angry, open defiance toward any relationship with her Bridegroom: “I will not serve you!”
Once the bride declared herself free from her Bridegroom, what does she do? Verse 20b tells us that she immediately gives herself to another, namely the Canaanite false gods of Asherah and Baal. This was not an intellectual or educational study of these local religions; the bride lay down like a common whore for any false lover that came her way.
When I first read this passage, my initial reaction was, “wow, Lord, those are really graphic words!” As I studied more, I then understood that the false Cannanite deities of Asherah and Baal were their fertility gods, and part of their cultic practices included ceremonial prostitution at their places of worship. God’s people gave their hearts away and practiced spiritual prostitution by worshipping these false gods. They also gave their bodies away by participating in the physical practice of ceremonial prostitution.
Verse 21 picks up the next illustration, a choice vine gone wild. Other translations call out the Sorek vine, which was a highly-prized vine that bore red grapes used to make great wine. The Lord Himself picked out the vine (Abraham and his descendants), planted it in fertile soil (the Promised Land), and was hoping for an abundant harvest of choicest grapes (the children of Israel walking with Him in love and community) to make fine wine (the love of God shared with the rest of the world). Instead, something had gone terribly wrong. The grape flowers (the children of Israel) had cross-pollinated with an obnoxious weed (the Canaanite people and their false gods), and the result was foul-smelling and terrible-tasting fruit, not fit for consumption.
Verse 22 depicts a tinge of guilt on the part of God’s people. They knew what was right, and tried to wash themselves of their sins and accompanying guilt. The Lord told them that nothing that they could do would remove the stain of their sins. There was (and is) no soap strong enough to cleanse them (or us) of unrighteousness. Only God can (and did) take away their (and our) sins through Jesus Christ.
Verse 23a plays back the statement that God’s people made in their own defense: “we have done nothing wrong; we have not pursued the Canaanite false gods”. The Lord confronts them with the overwhelming evidence: “Tell me then, what happened in the valley. What did you do there?” The “valley” referred to the Ben-Hinnom valley just outside Jerusalem. This was the epicenter of all pagan shrines and worship including the detestable practice of child sacrifice (2 Kings 23:10) to the false god Molek (also spelled “Molech” in some translations).
Verses 23b and 24 paints the next vignette God uses to illustrate the behavior of His children. Like a wild she-camel, she is wandering aimlessly in the desert, her paths cris-crossing each other. Like a wild she-donkey in heat, she is sniffing the wind, pursuing the scent of male urine in order to mate. Normally with both domesticated and wild animals, the males pursue the females, following the female scent. God says that the male donkeys can stay in one place; the females will shamelessly find them. And so it is with the hearts of God’s children – they will seek out the false gods and worship them.
Verse 25a is God’s offer of forgiveness, cleansing of unrighteousness, rest, healing, and reconciliation to His bride. Verse 25b is her response: “I can’t help myself; I love these idols, and have to chase after them.” She is still openly defiant and hell-bent on pursuing her animal-like lusts.
May we learn from the mistakes of the Israelites and be satisfied with the love relationship God offers us as His bride.
May we realize that chasing after anything other than God Himself is an exercise in futility, and ends badly. God’s bonds of love with us are not constraints, but boundaries of love and protection in which we have tremendous freedom to love others.
May we shed the excuses that “we can’t help ourselves” and give up our pursuit of our own contemporary Canaanite gods, whatever they might be, and humbly turn back to our Bridegroom in repentance. He waits with loving and open arms to forgive us and take us back.