Jeremiah 3 Commentary

Judah unfaithful and unashamed (3:1-5)

By her spiritual adultery Judah has broken the marriage bond with Yahweh and defiled the land. In her immorality and idolatry she has acted like a prostitute who lures lovers in the city streets. She is like a desert outlaw who looks for innocent victims along the country’s highways (3:1-2).

God sent drought to bring Judah to repentance, but the nation has remained unmoved. She is so shameless she even looks like a prostitute (3). Yet she is bold enough to ask God to act like an over-kind father and give her whatever she wants. But God will act in righteousness against her because of her sin (4-5).

Need for true repentance (3:6-18)

King Josiah had tried to reform Judah, but because people had not changed inwardly, the reformation affected only the external forms of religion. Looking from God’s viewpoint, Jeremiah calls the people’s so-called repentance a pretence (see v. 10). Judah had seen her sister nation Israel divorced from God and sent into captivity because of her spiritual adultery, but Israel’s experience taught her nothing. She is now doing what Israel did. In accepting Josiah’s reforms she pretends to be returning to God, but she is not sincere (6-10).

Judah’s spiritual adultery is more blameworthy than Israel’s, because she ignored the warning God gave her through the divine judgment poured out on Israel (11). Jeremiah promises the northerners that if they acknowledge their unfaithfulness and turn from it, God will bring them from captivity back to their own land (12-14). He will give them new leaders, who will lead the people in his ways (15). There will be no need for the ark of the covenant as symbol of God’s presence, because God himself will dwell among them. He will rule over a united and obedient people (16-18).

Repentance means genuine change (3:19-4:4)

God wanted the relationship between him and his people to be like that between a father and a son, or between a husband and a wife. But his people have been rebellious and unfaithful (19-20). In hope, the prophet pictures the people turning from their false worship at Baal’s high places and crying out to God for forgiveness. In response God promises that if they truly repent, he will forgive them and heal them (21-22a).

The people then turn to God and confess their sins. They admit that the worship of Baal has been a deception; instead of bringing them prosperity it has brought them disaster. They are ashamed of themselves, and return to Yahweh in acknowledgment that he alone is God (22b-25).


God reminds the people that if they repent, their repentance must be genuine. They must remove every trace of idolatry from their lives and renew their oath of absolute loyalty to him. Only then will they be able to serve him by taking his message to the nations (4:1-2).

People must break up their hardened hearts and remove wrongdoing from their lives, just as farmers break up the hard ground and remove weeds before they plant new seed. Inward change, not outward ceremony, is what is needed. Without such repentance, the nation will be destroyed in divine judgment (3-4).

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