19 “I myself said,
“‘How gladly would I treat you like my children
and give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’
I thought you would call me ‘Father’
and not turn away from following me.
20 But like a woman unfaithful to her husband,
so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,”
declares the Lord.
21 A cry is heard on the barren heights,
the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel,
because they have perverted their ways
and have forgotten the Lord their God.
22 “Return, faithless people;
I will cure you of backsliding.”
(Jeremiah 3:19-22a NIV)
As in yesterday’s passage, the Lord continues to reach out to His own for reconciliation and restoration.
Verse 19 begins with the Lord speaking. Similar to verse 14, the Lord uses a double emphasis to show His intent to keep His part of the covenant He made with His people. The phrase “I myself said” could also be expressed as “I, for my part, have said, and continue to say”.
The rest of verse 19 proves the Lord’s heart and original intent. The Lord rolls back in time when He made His promises to His people and addresses the nation as His children (Deuteronomy 28:1-6; 30:9-10, 19-20, just to cite a few promises). As His children, He promised an inheritance of land. Not just any inheritance, but the most beautiful estate of any nation. They would be the envy of every nation on earth.
In return, the Lord had hoped that His children would call Him “Father”, and be devoted to Him forever. Not just for the one-time gift, but for a place to call their own, a place to call home, with all its beauty, provision, and protection that came from His hand.
But in return for the Lord’s extravagant gift, His children tossed His gift back in His face. The Lord uses the picture of an unfaithful wife who smirks at her faithful husband’s sincere, kind, and lavish gifts and gestures of love, tosses her hair back, and walks out the door in defiance of her promise to be faithful to him (v. 20).
Verse 21 is an odd mix of what happens next. The unfaithful wife goes to her favorite places to meet her partners, but all the locations are now barren and desolate. Rather than repent and turn back to her husband, the wife weeps and pleads for her lovers to come back. Her sense of entitlement has overtaken her – unrequited love is not acceptable for her. And yet, she has completely forgotten about her husband’s willingness to take her back and love her unconditionally.
Historically, verse 21 likely refers to the reforms that Josiah made, including the destruction of the Asherah shrines on the hilltops around Jerusalem. While God’s people outwardly supported the changes, inwardly they longed for the old days and the worship of the Canaanite gods. It was as if the people were crying out to God, but doing so following the rituals of praying to the Baals. The Canaanite gods were lifeless and nowhere to be found; the God of the Universe did not inhabit the sites and rituals of these pagan deities.
Verse 22 is a clarion call for repentance, very similar to verses 11 and 14. The Lord offers to heal His children and restore them to Himself. J.A. Thompson, in his commentary on Jeremiah, expresses this verse as follows: “Turn back, backsliding sons; I will heal your backslidings.”
Indeed, the way forward is the way back.
May we remain with our first love, our faithful Husband who loves us and provides for us like no other.
And when we stray, may we remember that the way forward to the Lord is to turn back to Him.
He awaits with open arms.