Playing the Harlot

No matter how many times I read the Old Testament prophets, I never cease to be shocked by the graphic language that God uses. I imagine that perhaps his intention in using such language was so that Israel and future readers would indeed be shocked about our sin. I think we sometimes take our sin too lightly (or at least I know I do) because of the free grace we have been given. Even Israel took that view in verses 4-5:

“Even now you say to me, ‘You are my father! You have been my faithful companion ever since I was young. You will not always be angry with me, will you? You will not be mad at me forever, will you?’ This is what you say, but you continually do all the evil that you can.”

Unfortunately, I know that line all too well. I sin, quickly ask for the forgiveness I know is available, and turn around to sin again. In Jeremiah 3, however, God gives us insight into how he views our sin, and I’m not sure one can read it and ever look at sin the same way again. Just look at the language God uses to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness:

“you…have given yourself as a prostitute to many gods.” (3:1)

” You have had sex with other gods” (3:2)

“your wicked prostitution to other gods” (3:2)

“you are obstinate as a prostitute” (3:3)

“give herself like a prostitute to other gods.” (3:6)

“she took her prostitution so lightly” (3:9)

“her adulterous worship of other gods” (3:8, 9)

“an unfaithful wife who has left her husband” (3:20)

I often equate my sin with a child making a mistake and a parent forgiving him. God, however, equates it with a wayward wife unashamedly giving herself over to prostitution. What a huge difference!

Fortunately for us, however, this chapter, much like the Gospel, does not end with God’s condemnation of sin. In a way that is true only of God, he ties condemnation of sin in with forgiveness and reconciliation, and in the process gives us a little insight into his heart. As Christians I think our exclusivity on the issue of salvation, while a correct biblical doctrine, often blinds us to the fact that God does in fact desire that people return to him:

“‘Come back to me, wayward Israel,’ says the LORD. ‘I will not continue to look on you with displeasure. For I am merciful,’ says the LORD.” (3:12)

“‘Come back to me, my wayward sons,’ says the LORD, ‘ for I am your true master.'” (3:14)

“I thought to myself, ‘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 in the world!” (3:19)

“Come back to me, you wayward people, I want to cure your waywardness.” (3:22)

The desire of God’s heart is that his people, despite their continued unfaithfulness, will return to him for forgiveness. And if the desire really is to return, God says that he wants to cure the waywardness. He even gives instruction as to how to receive his forgiveness:

“‘However, you must confess that you have done wrong, and that you have rebelled against the LORD your God. You must confess that you have given yourself to foreign gods under every green tree, and have not obeyed my commands,’ says the LORD.” (3:13)

“Say, ‘Here we are. We come to you because we know that 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.” (3:23)

Confession is the key to forgiveness, but it is not confession only of the deed, but also of the fact that the motive behind the deed was giving loyalty, love, and faithfulness that is due the LORD to false gods.

Notice also that the confession in verse 23 is first person plural. In the Old Testament, the fortunes of Israel were based on the obedience of the nation as a whole. This is why when the exile was coming to a close, Daniel, who was perhaps the most righteous person on the planet at the time and who had probably never participated in the sins that led to exile, included himself with the nation in his prayer for forgiveness and restoration. This idea is completely foreign to the contemporary Church, where we often try to distance ourselves from those who have departed from the path. We never consider that the wayward churches and people out there reflect on us, definitely in the world’s eyes and perhaps in God’s as well. Perhaps we have a greater commitment to those churches and people than we ever imagined and perhaps we need to work harder to keep them or bring them back into the fold.

Heavenly Father, thank you for loving me as a husband loves a wife and a father loves his children despite me frequently turning away from you. Help me to see my sin as you see my sin. May I realize the pain it causes you so that I may refrain from unfaithfulness in the future. Help your Church be a people that seeks to hold each other accountable and be your ministers to each other and not only to the lost. Amen.

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