In this study of Jeremiah chapter three, we look at backsliding; what it truly is as well as its cause and cure. When I hear the term backsliding, it makes me think of someone who has accidently fell and slid down a hill but, as we shall see, that is not how God sees it.
'If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again? Would not the land be completely defiled? But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers - would you now return to me?' declares the Lord.
In chapter two, we saw how Israel had chased after several world powers to help them instead of God. Their actions were compared to the actions of a prostitute and that continues here. Even though it does not make sense for the husband to take back the cheating wife, we know that God stands waiting for His people to return to Him. The same is true for us, in that, no matter how far we have strayed God stands ready to welcome us back.
'Look up to the barren heights and see. Is there any place where you have not been ravished? By the roadside you sat waiting for lovers, sat like a nomad in the desert. You have defiled the land with your prostitution and wickedness.'
God tells them that they have sunken so low that they have even defiled the land. A land that had been established based on God's words and His leading, has now become the home of idolatry.
'Therefore the showers have been withheld, and no spring rains have fallen. Yet you have the brazen look of a prostitute; you refuse to blush with shame.'
Because of their idolatry, God has removed His hand of provision from the land and stopped the rain. That is true even today as the land of Israel is a very dry place and you can almost hear the land cry out for the people to turn to Jesus and be healed. We see, here, that what makes the idolatry even worse is the fact that they do not even feel shame but instead walk around with their heads held high.
'Have you not just called to me: "My Father, my friend from my youth, will you always be angry? Will your wrath continue forever?" This is how you talk, but you do all the evil you can.'
The people's actions did not match their words or their faith. They called out to God as Father but did not listen to the words of the Father or to His correction. This is even more widespread today as there has been great numbers of people come to God and acknowledge Him as Father yet do not have a daily walking relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. This demonstrates the true nature of "backsliding" as it is not an accidental stumbling but an out right defiance of following God's direction. It is much like what happens when you try to move a small cow or calf that does not want to be moved. They dig in their front feet and sit down on their hind quarters. It is virtually impossible to move them forward until they are ready to stand up again. This is the same thing that is happening with God's people, in that, He is waiting for us to decide to stand up where we can then be moved by Him in His direction.
During the reign of King Josiah, the Lord said to me, 'Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it.'
King Josiah was a king over the land of Judah and led a great revival of the faith. During this time, God pointed out the backsliding of the northern kingdom (Israel) and the fact that they knew they were to go to Jerusalem to worship but refused. The people of Judah saw that people from the northern kingdom no longer came to Jerusalem for worship.
'I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.'
At this time, the northern kingdom (Israel) had been conquered and taken into exile. That is like a certificate of divorce in that God did not protect her anymore as a husband protects his wife. The southern kingdom (Judah) witnessed this and yet did not fear God but followed false gods as well. This verse speaks of the impact that our personal walk with the Lord can have on others around us. This impact can be negative as we see it was here with Israel and is sorta like what is commonly called carnal Christians. This is where those around you know that you go to a "church" regularly but they also see that, once you leave that building, you run after wealth, fame, or some other idol. If that describes you or someone you know, then, like Israel, you/they are backsliding.
Because Israel's immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense, declares the Lord.
Israel lost sight of God's holiness and the land was invaded with them going into exile. Judah saw all of this happen and yet did not really repent of their idolatry and turn back to God. During this time (the reign of King Josiah), there was a great revival and an apparent turning back to God but, as we see here, it was not based on the holiness of God and was not a true change of heart. The same thing happened many years ago in the USA and is happening even more today. Many appear to come to Christ but not with a recognition of God's holiness and our sin. The "message of love" has been preached without mentioning the problem of sin but you cannot understand God's grace until you understand sin and its consequences. Without grace, it is impossible to be saved.
The Lord said to me, 'Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.'
At first glance, this verse may seem hard to understand but Judah had the opportunity to see how God judged Israel and yet they did not repent. This is similar to what is going to happen during the great tribulation as described in Revelation. The people that are here on earth, at that time, will have the opportunity to see God's judgment in action and yet most will still not repent. (see Revelation 6)
'Go, proclaim this message toward the north: "Return, faithless Israel," declares the Lord, "I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful," declares the Lord, "I will not be angry forever."'
God sent the prophet to declare to the northern kingdom that there was still hope for them because of His mercy. That mercy is available to us as well no matter what we have done in the past.
'Only acknowledge your guilt - you have rebelled against the Lord your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me,' declares the Lord.
This verse refers to the fact that, in order to have a right relationship with God, we must acknowledge the fact that we have sinned. Once we admit that we are sinners in need of salvation, then we can accept the grace of God's forgiveness.
'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.'
There are those who say this has been fulfilled by the establishment of the state of Israel but that is not so. This verse speaks to the fact that God has chosen them and that He will bring them to be with Him but the only way to Him is through Jesus Christ. Therefore, this verse speaks to the fact that there will be many Jews who accept Jesus in the final days. They will reign with Jesus in Jerusalem (Zion) for a thousand years as John described in Revelation 20.
Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.
In this millennial reign, John saw thrones set up and these "shepherds" will be on the thrones with Jesus as the Chief Shepherd.
'In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land,' declares the Lord, 'men 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.'
Although many people want to bring back symbols and things from the Old Testament worship, we see that that is not God's plan. The ark that this verse speaks of was the place where God met with the high priest but our High Priest (Jesus) is with God now and forever. During the millennial reign that is being described, we will be with Jesus here on earth for one thousand years. Therefore, there is no need for another ark of the covenant.
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.
During this millennial reign and for ever after, Jerusalem will once again be known as God's city. Everyone will go there to honor Him and they will follow His ways instead of their own ways. Today, there is so much controversy over who owns the city of Jerusalem (Palestinians or Jews) but the answer always has been and always will be that it is God's city.
In those days the house of Judah will join the house of Israel, and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your forefathers as an inheritance.
During this reign, all of God's people will be united in His land. This will include all of the tribes of Israel as well as the Gentiles. This is only possible because of the grace of God displayed through Jesus Christ.
'I myself said, "How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation." I thought you would call me "Father" and not turn away from following me. But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,' declares the Lord.
Throughout the Old Testament, individuals never heard that they would call God their "Father" as they were treated collectively as a nation of God. Here, God says that, He was ready to have them call Him "Father" and to treat them like sons. But, like a woman who cheats on her husband, they have turned to other gods. This promise is for us today through Jesus Christ as He made the way for us to be children of God. As God told Israel, He wants to treat us like His children and He has given us the most beautiful of inheritance (for more details, check out Revelation 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.'
This verse speaks of repentance which is a changing of the mind. The weeping and pleading is an outward expression of this inner change. The people have realized that their ways are wrong and they are now far from the Lord.
'Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.' 'Yes, we will come to you, for you are the Lord our God.'
We see, here, the conversation between God and His people about the cure for backsliding. The calf we talked about in verses 4 & 5 can simply stop digging its feet in and decide to follow the man's direction. It is the same for God's people to return to Him as we simply need to stop digging our feet in and accept the direction of the Lord.
Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception; surely in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel. From our youth shameful gods have consumed the fruits of our fathers' labor - their flocks and herds, their sons and daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our disgrace cover us. We have sinned against the Lord our God, both we and our fathers; from our youth till this day we have not obeyed the Lord our God.'
This realization of the need to stop digging our feet in is called repentance. Here, we see Israel recognizing that they were deceived and changing their mind to agree with God. This is what is meant by repentance and it is the same thing that we all have to go through to get to the point of accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. In order to fix a problem (sin) you must first admit that you have it and desire to change.