14 “Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. 15 Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding. 16 In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land,” declares the Lord, “people will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made. 17 At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the Lord. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.18 In those days the people of Judah will join the people of Israel, and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your ancestors as an inheritance.
(Jeremiah 3:14-18 NIV)
Today’s passage is a continuation of verses 11 – 13, where the Lord reaches out to His bride to return to Him, the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom desires reconciliation and restoration, not separation and divorce.
Similar to verse 11, today’s passage starts with a call to turn back to the Lord. The phrase “Return, faithless people” is another Hebrew play on words, using two forms of the root word “turn”. The Lord is saying, “Turn back to me, children, you who have turned away from Me.”
The end of the first sentence (v. 14) is a second play on words, again in the Hebrew. The phrase “for I am your husband” is doubly focused, leaving no doubt. The phrase could also be translated “I myself am your husband”. Also, the Hebrew word for “husband” is “ba’al”, not to be confused with Baal, the Canaanite god of stone. The Lord was saying that He is the Bridegroom, not the false gods that the Israelites were worshipping.
In the second half of verse 14, the Lord promises to restore His bride back to Zion (another name for Jerusalem). The return will not be in total, but a sampling, a remnant (“one from a town, two from a clan”). The idea here is that there will be full representation from each of the twelve tribes, but only a fraction of those who were carried away into exile by their captors.
In contrast to the former evil kings who did much to lead the bride away from her Bridegroom, the Lord promises to supply leaders (“shepherds”) who will lead those who will return to Jerusalem according to the Lord’s heart, with knowledge and understanding (v. 15). This promise implies that the Lord will care for and love His bride, providing for her needs. This covenant shows us God’s grace, in contrast with His judgment shown earlier. Truly He is a good Father and husband.
Verses 16 – 18 all point to a future hope and promise (“in those days”, “at that time”, “in those days”) as proof of God being a good Father and Bridegroom. In verse 16, the Lord promises expansion through the increase in numbers. The Lord also promises spiritual prosperity through increased faith. No longer will God’s presence be linked with a single piece of furniture in one building (the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple). Instead, God’s presence will be associated with an entire city (Jerusalem). The Lord is not saying the Ark of the Covenant is missing or has been destroyed. Instead, the Lord is saying these holy relics won’t matter anymore when the people’s spiritual hearts are enlarged to understand the enormity of God. Their understanding and appreciation of the Lord will expand from the size of a chair to the capital city of the nation.
Verse 17 further expands on that promise of expansion. The focal point of worship will change from God’s throne room, the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, to the entire city of Jerusalem. The worshippers will not be limited to God’s people living in the promised land. The Lord promises that ALL nations will now gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the Lord.
Finally, in verse 18, the Lord promises to reunite the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah into a single nation again, bringing back a remnant from each of the twelve tribes.
May we experience the growth in our hearts as we consider the love and reconciliation the Lord offered wayward Israel and Judah. And how much more the Lord has now given us through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus for our sins!
May we allow Him to shepherd our souls, to find rest and peace in Him regardless of our circumstances and surroundings, to find contentment in Him and Him alone.
May we join with others from every nation to praise His name today, and look forward to worship Him one day in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21 – 22).
Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
(Isaiah 49:23c NIV)