John T. Willis

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yahweh's First Conversation with His People--Jeremiah 3:19-4:4

The next segment of Jeremiah 1-10 is a "conversation" or a "dialogue" between Yahweh and his people Judah. This conversation appears in three parts:
1. Yahweh beseeches his people to return to him--3:19-22a.
2. Yahweh's people respond positively, promising they will return to him. 3:22b-25
3. Yahweh responds, declaring that his people do not intend to return to him genuinely. 4:1-4. This blog follows this conversation.

I. Yahweh beseeches his people to return to him. Jeremiah 3:19-22a.
a. Yahweh reflects on the past with his people. Yahweh "thought" or "assumed" that Yahweh would set them among his "children" and they would honor him as their "heavenly Father," and thus would not "turn from following" Yahweh. 3:19.
b. Just the contrary!!! Judah has "left" or "forsaken" or "abandoned" Yahweh AS a "faithless wife" "leaves" her husband. 3:20. Note that Jeremiah intermingles the metaphors of Yahweh as father and husband, and Judah as child or children and wife.
c. As a result, Yahweh's people are "weeping," because punishment has set in. The problem is: they have "perverted" their way and have "forgotten" Yahweh. 3:21.
d. Thus, Yahweh cries out to his people: "RETURN" so that I may HEAL you. 3:22a. The verb "heal" presents the metaphor of Yahweh as a physician or a doctor. This metaphor will appear often throughout the book of Jeremiah.

II. Yahweh's people respond positively, promising they will return to him. Jeremiah 3:22b-25.
a. Whereas Yahweh is the SPEAKER in 3:19-22a, the speaker in 3:22b-25 is Yahweh's people, as demonstrated by two facts: (1) the speaker is PLURAL--note the pronouns "we," "us," "our," throughout 3:22b-25; (2) the speaker addresses "Yahweh" throughout 3:22b-25.
b. Yahweh's people brazenly CLAIM that they are penitent and confessional and sincere. All of their expressions appear to be positive. They want to flatter Yahweh and convince Yahweh that they are sincere. READ carefully their words.
1. We come to YOU--Yahweh.
2. YOU [alone} are Yahweh our God.
3. The worship of Baal is "a delusion." We had been worship Baal "on every high hill and under every green tree," but we are now abandoning such worship.
4. Only in Yahweh is salvation.
5. We admit that "from our youth," we have been unfaithful to YOU, Yahweh.
6. We have sinned against Yahweh.
7. We have not obeyed the voice of Yahweh.
All this looks sincere and convincing. BUT--Yahweh responds, declaring they are dishonest, sham, counterfeit, false.

III. Yahweh responds, declaring that his people do not intend to return to him genuinely. Jeremiah 4:1-4.
a. Yahweh now responds through the prophet Jeremiah, since Jeremiah says: "says the Lord." 4:1.
b. Three times, Yahweh emphasizes the word IF:
1. IF you return, TO ME you must return. 4:1a-b. The Hebrew here has "to me" first in line b. Hence, the emphasis is on "to me." Yahweh's people "returned" to a series of external words and deeds, but they did not REALLY "return" all the way to Yahweh. Yahweh demands that they return "TO ME"--to Yahweh.
2. IF you Judeans REALLY remove their "abominations"--the Baals. 4:1c-d
3. IF you Judeans GENUINELY "swear" "As Yahweh lives" IN TRUTH--genuinely, not falsely. The verb "swear" is a good word, meaning "solemnly make a promise." God commands his people to "swear" to him sincerely--this is quite clear, for example, in Deuteronomy 10:20. The problem here is not "swearing," but making a promise falsely or insincerely. This is what the third commandment means: Exodus 20:7= Deuteronomy 5:11. 4:2a.
c. Yahweh expects his people to "swear" to Yahweh "in truth, in justice, and in righteousness." 4:2b.
d. If and when Yahweh's people respond to Yahweh genuinely, THEN "nations shall be blessed by Yahweh." 4:2c-d. This is the same promise Yahweh gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--Genesis 12:3; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14. Yahweh's purpose from the very beginning was to choose his chosen people Israel [the descendants of Abraham] in order to bless [convert, save] the nations. This purpose still lives.
e. Now, Yahweh concludes his response by using two metaphors.
1. Break up your fallow ground
and do not sow among thorns. 4:3c-d.
Here, Jeremiah is borrowing the language and concept of Hosea in Hosea 10:12. The heart is like hard ground full of thorns and weeds. Yahweh summons his people to break up the hearts of their fallow ground and quit sowing among thorns.
2. Circumcise yourselves to Yahweh,
remove the foreskin of your hearts. 4:4a-b.
Yahweh's people had been circumcised physically in the flesh. See Genesis 17:1-14; Leviticus 12:3; Joshua 5:2-9. Physical circumcision is a "sign" or symbol of remove the sins from the heart. One can receive physical circumcision, and never be circumcised spiritually. This is quite clear in passages like Deuteronomy 10:16;
30:6; Jeremiah 9:25-26; etc.
The point of Jeremiah 3:19-4:4 is that God's people can SAY and ACT convincingly externally, when in reality they are hypocrites, counterfeits, false. Yahweh sees through the facade, and summons his people to return to him SINCERELY and GENUINELY. This is obviously a perennial problem that God's people face. Hear this message loud and clear.

Share YOUR thoughts and feelings and experiences and ideas with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis