A nation’s unfaithfulness (2:1-19)
While Josiah was reconstructing the outward form of Judah’s religion, Jeremiah was searching into the deeply rooted attitudes of the people and trying to bring about a truly spiritual change. He contrasts the nation’s present sad condition with its devotion to God in former days. Israel once loved God, as a bride loves her husband. She was like the firstfruits of the harvest that belonged to God, and those who plundered her were punished (2:1-3).
God now challenges the nation to produce proof that her turning away from God has resulted from any failure on God’s part. He brought his people out of Egypt, cared for them on their long journey through harsh dry country, and gave them a pleasant fertile land to live in. But they polluted the land by their wickedness. Under the leadership of ungodly priests, ignorant teachers, corrupt rulers and worthless prophets, they turned away from God and followed the religious practices of their heathen neighbours (4- 8).
Therefore, God lays a charge of unfaithfulness against his people, and calls upon the sun, moon and stars that shine upon them to be his witnesses. Heathen nations remain true to their gods, even though those gods may be lifeless and useless. Israel and Judah, by contrast, exchanged the true and living God for useless idols (9-12). They acted like people who turned away from the natural spring that gave them a permanent supply of pure water, and trusted for their water supply in a cracked cistern they had made themselves (13).
Israel and Judah boasted that they were God’s children, but now they are becoming slaves of other nations. A century earlier Assyria had invaded the northern kingdom, destroyed its cities and taken its people into captivity (14-15). Other nations now threatened the southern kingdom. God warns that it is useless and foolish for Judah to ask either Egypt or Assyria to help defend it against enemy invasions. It is useless because such attacks are a judgment on Judah for its disobedience. It is foolish because, in seeking aid from a more powerful nation, Judah is placing itself under that nation’s religious influence and political power (16-19).
Idolatry and immorality (2:20-37)
In associating with Baal and other gods, Judah has broken the covenant bond with Yahweh. Judah’s unfaithfulness is likened to adultery (20). (Throughout the following chapters, Jeremiah makes repeated reference to the beliefs and practices of Baalism, and to the significance they had in leading God’s people into spiritual adultery and prostitution. For information that will help to understand Jeremiah’s teaching, see introductory notes to Judges, subheading ‘The religion of the Canaanites’.)
Two brief illustrations picture Judah’s uselessness for God. In one illustration the nation is likened to a well cultivated vine that has grown wild. In the other it is likened to a filthy object that no amount of
washing can cleanse (21-22). But the main illustration in this section is that of a woman who has left her husband for other men. Judah, however, claims that she cannot be held responsible for her idolatry. She is like an innocent person who has been led astray. God replies that, far from being innocent, she has actually lusted after other gods – as an animal in heat lusts for a mate. She has gone looking for foreign gods with the eagerness of a thirsty traveller who walks the desert searching for water till the sandals drop off his feet (23-25).
God’s people will bring disgrace upon themselves because of their rebellion against him. They worship idols of wood and stone, but when these idols prove powerless to help them in a time of need, they turn back to God and expect him to save them. God will surely send shameful calamity upon such a worthless nation. Then the people will find out that their idols cannot save them (26-28).
As a father punishes his children to correct them, so God has punished his people, but it has not resulted in any change within them (29-30). He has not treated them harshly. They should feel no need to want to be ‘free’ from him. Yet they have done what would seem impossible: they have forgotten the one who gave them glory (31-32).
The wickedness of the people of Judah has become so great that they can even teach prostitutes how to be immoral. A person might happen to shed blood in defending himself against a robber, but the people of Judah attack the poor and helpless simply because they love violence. Their consciences have become so dull that they cannot see their wrongdoing (33-35). They have turned from God to trust in Egypt and Assyria, but these nations will prove to be treacherous friends. They will bring injury and shame upon Judah (36-37).