And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the Lord, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart. In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers for a heritage.
How I would set you among my sons,
and give you a pleasant land,
a heritage most beautiful of all nations.
And I thought you would call me, My Father,
and would not turn from following me.
Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband,
so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel,
declares the Lord.’”
A voice on the bare heights is heard,
the weeping and pleading of Israel’s sons
because they have perverted their way;
they have forgotten the Lord their God.
“Return, O faithless sons;
I will heal your faithlessness.”
“Behold, we come to you,
for you are the Lord our God.
Truly the hills are a delusion,
the orgies on the mountains.
Truly in the Lord our God
is the salvation of Israel.
“But from our youth the shameful thing has devoured all for which our fathers labored, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor 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.” – Jeremiah 3:16-25 ESV
God has called the people of Israel to return to Him. He told them, “‘Come back to me, my wayward sons,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am your true master. If you do, I will take one of you from each town and two of you from each family group, and I will bring you back to Zion.’” (Jeremiah 3:14 NLT). The word for “master” that God uses is actually the Hebrew word ba`al and it is obviously similar to the name of the false god, Baal, whom the Israelites worshiped. The word ba`al can be translated as “master or husband” and carries the idea of dominion. It seems that God was using a play on words, telling His people that if they would give up their false gods (Baal), and return to Him, He would be there real master and faithful husband. And unlike a lifeless idol, God would give them blessings. He would provide them leaders who would prove faithful to him and capable of providing knowledge and insight. And even though God predicts that just a remnant will end up returning to Him, He promises to multiply them in the land.
In 538 B.C., after the people of Judah had been in captivity in Babylon for 70 years, God arranged for a remnant of them to return to the land of promise. Cyrus, the Persian king, issued a decree that allowed the Jews to return the their land and even funded their trip.
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the mind of King Cyrus of Persia. He disseminated a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, announcing in a written edict the following:
“Thus says King Cyrus of Persia:
“‘The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has instructed me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone from his people among you (may his God be with him!) may go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may build the temple of the Lord God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.’” – Ezra 1:1-4 NLT
Not all of the Jews took Cyrus’ offer to return to Jerusalem. After 70 years of captivity, they had acclimated to life in Babylon and preferred to stay where they were. Many were probably turned off by the prospect of the long journey home and the prospect of returning to a destroyed city with few, in any, amenities. They were not interested in doing manual labor in a land with no king, no army and trying to survive in a city that had been completely destroyed 70 years earlier. But a few did return. They made the long trek back and, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and reconstructed the temple.
But much of what God promises in these verses has yet to happen. This is typical of many Old Testament prophecies. There is a now/not yet aspect to this prophecy. It will be partially fulfilled when the people return to the land in 538 B.C., but it will not be fully fulfilled until a later time. God says:
“At that time the city of Jerusalem will be called the Lord’s throne. All nations will gather there in Jerusalem to honor the Lord’s name. They will no longer follow the stubborn inclinations of their own evil hearts. At that time the nation of Judah and the nation of Israel will be reunited. Together they will come back from a land in the north to the land that I gave to your ancestors as a permanent possession.” – Jeremiah 3:17-18 NLT
It isn’t difficult to see that this has not yet happened. The nations have not gathered in Jerusalem to honor the Lord’s name. In fact, in anything, the nations have gathered around Israel in order to destroy it. There are countless nations that would like to see Israel eliminated and its sovereign status annulled. This portion of God’s prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. But it will be.
From the day God determined to make Israel His own, He has longed to see them serve Him faithfully and love Him unconditionally. But despite all that God had done for them, they had proven to be anything but faithful.
“Oh what a joy it would be for me to treat you like a son!
What a joy it would be for me to give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful piece of property there is in all the world!’
I thought you would call me, ‘Father’
and would never cease being loyal to me.
But, you have been unfaithful to me, nation of Israel,
like an unfaithful wife who has left her husband,”
says the Lord. – Jeremiah 3:19-20 NLT
These verses seem to indicate that God was totally caught off guard and surprised by Israel’s unfaithfulness. But He wasn’t. God knew they would prove to be unfaithful, and He had planned all along for their eventual destruction and captivity. When He had given them the Mosaic law, God knew they would fail to keep it. He had warned them that they would need to be obedient in order to receive His blessings. And He had told them that disobedience would lead to curses. And He had been very specific about what those curses would entail.
The Lord will force you and your king whom you will appoint over you to go away to a people whom you and your ancestors have not known, and you will serve other gods of wood and stone there. You will become an occasion of horror, a proverb, and an object of ridicule to all the peoples to whom the Lord will drive you. – Deuteronomy 28:36-37 NLT
God had not been surprised by Israel’s apostasy. He had planned for it. Left to their own devices, Israel had proven to be like every other nation: sinful and stubborn. While they had been chosen by God, their sinful natures had led them to choose false gods. Sin came naturally to them. And as a result, they turned their backs on God.
Indeed they have followed sinful ways;
they have forgotten to be true to the Lord their God. – Jeremiah 3:21b NLT
But God proved faithful to them. In fact, throughout their history, God has shown His love for Israel by constantly calling them to repentance.
“Come back to me, you wayward people.
I want to cure your waywardness.” – Jeremiah 3:22 NLT
God simply wanted them to return to Him and admit the folly of their ways. He was looking for confession, not a complete reversal of their behavior. He wasn’t expecting them to fix all their problems on their own and clean up their act before He would accept them. He just wanted them to confess what they had done to offend Him.
“Say, ‘Here we are. We come to you
because you are the Lord our God.
We know our noisy worship of false gods
on the hills and mountains did not help us.
We know that the Lord our God
is the only one who can deliver Israel.’” – Jeremiah 3:22-23 NLT
Notice those four simple words: “We come to you.” They are reminiscent of the words of Jesus spoke to the people of Israel when He appeared on the scene: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT). God and His Son both invited Israel to come to them with an attitude of dependency, with arms outstretched. They simply needed to admit their weariness and confess their wickedness. Their turning to God was to be an acknowledgement that He was their only source of deliverance.
“Let us acknowledge our shame.
Let us bear the disgrace that we deserve.
For we have sinned against the Lord our God.” – Jeremiah 3:25 NLT
Come to me. That is God’s standing invitation and it always has been. He invites us to come to Him in humility and brokenness, ready to receive from Him what we could never have found anywhere else: Help, hope, strength, forgiveness, mercy, love and eternal life. But we have to come. And when we do, the benefits are unbelievable.
“Come, let’s consider your options,” says the Lord.
“Though your sins have stained you like the color red,
you can become white like snow;
though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet,
you can become white like wool.” – Isaiah 1:18 NLT
And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say: “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge. – Revelation 22:17 NLT
Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. – John 6:37 NLT
Seek the Lord while he makes himself available;
call to him while he is nearby!
The wicked need to abandon their lifestyle
and sinful people their plans.
They should return to the Lord, and he will show mercy to them,
and to their God, for he will freely forgive them. – Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT
Israel had a standing invitation from God. And they had an unbreakable promise from God. He would one day restore them. He would one day do for them what they could not do for themselves. He would redeem them and restore them to a right relationship with Him. He would give them new hearts and a new capacity to live faithfully and love Him fully.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.