When God called His backsliding people to return to Him (chapter 3:22), they immediately answered, “Lord, we return!” And now He here takes notice of their answer, and replies to it. He directs them how to go about doing the good resolutions that they had made. “Did you say, ‘I will return’?” He seems to ask. “Then you must return unto Me! Make a thorough work of it. Do not only turn away from your idolatries, but also return to the instituted worship of the God of Israel.” He tells His people that they must utterly abandon all sin, and not retain any of the relics of idolatry, because they were a provocation to the pure eyes of His glory. Sin must be put away out of the heart, or else it is not put away out of God’s sight; for the heart and all that is within it lie open before His eye. But these sins must not be returned to again; the Lord says, “Then shalt thou not remove” – meaning, “Thou shalt not, and must not, wander.” And yet even this was not all! The Lord must receive the glory that is due unto His name! “Thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth.” His existence is the most certain and sacred fact, and His judgment is the Supreme Court to which we must appeal.
Jehovah encourages His people to remain in this good mindset, and to adhere to their resolutions. If God’s scattered people would thus return to Him, they shall be blessed themselves; and they shall also be blessings to others – for their returning to Him again will be a means of others turning to Him, who never knew Him. If you will confess your living Lord wherever He has placed you, then you will thereby influence those persons around you to bless themselves in Him – that is, to place their happiness in His favor, and to think themselves happy because they are brought to enjoy a relationship of love with Him. Those who part with their sins in order to return to God shall find, in the long run, that they did not come off as losers!
Beginning in verse 3, the prophet turns his speech, in God’s name, to the men of the place where he lived. We have heard the words which he proclaimed (chapter 3:12) for the comfort of those who were in captivity, and who were being humbled under the hand of God. But let us now see what he says to convict and awaken the people of Judah and Jerusalem, who were in prosperity. He exhorts them to repentance and reformation, as the only way left open to them to prevent the desolating judgments that were already about to come upon them.
Let us observe the duties which the prophet required of them, which it was in their best interest to do. First, they were to deal with their hearts as they would deal with their farming-ground; they must plow it up (verse 3). An unhumbled heart is like ground that is untilled, unoccupied, and unfruitful. If such a heart is not renewed by grace, the blessings of rain and sunshine are lost upon it. Therefore, it ought to be our greatest concern to get this fallow ground plowed up! We must search into our own hearts, and let the Word of God plow and divide between the joints and the marrow (Heb. 4:12). We must prepare ourselves to receive mercy from God, and to put away anything and everything that keeps it from us; and then we may expect to receive mercy, and to prosper in our endeavors.
Jeremiah does not forget to remind his people of the danger which they are threatened with, which they would be wise to take care to avoid. He advises them to repent and reform so that the Lord’s fury might not come forth upon them like fire because of the evil of their doings. If nothing else will move our hardened hearts, at least the thought of the imminent danger of perishing under this wrath should awaken us – with all possible care – to flee at once to find pardon for our sins in Jesus Christ, and to sanctify ourselves to God’s glory!
The prophet predicted that the Babylonians – the fierce conquerors of all the neighboring nations – would also make the land of Judah desolate. The approach of this enemy, and the terrors that it would bring, are described in verses 5-18. Jeremiah was very greatly saddened to see his countrymen lulled into security by the false prophets who preached lies to them. Some of the people in Jerusalem did give some sort of attention to the works of reformation that King Josiah initiated, but these outward motions were not enough; it was necessary that their hearts should also be washed and cleansed from the love and pollution of sin, in the exercise of true repentance and faith. How sad it is when lesser calamities do not rouse sinners and reform nations, for it is then that the Lord will pronounce greater sentences against them! The Lord’s voice declares that misery is quickly overtaking wicked hypocrites who profess to believe the Gospel, and yet live a lifestyle of willful and obstinate sin. And when this awful judgment overtakes them, it shall be plainly seen that the fruit of wickedness is bitter, and that its end is eternally fatal.
Truly, the prophet had no pleasure in delivering the Lord’s messages of wrath to his fellow countrymen. In a vision, he sees the whole land of Judah in a state of confusion (verses 19-31); and no outward privileges or professions of faith would prevent this destruction. Everything was out of order; but even in the midst of these woeful tidings, the prophet is given the assurance that the ruin of God’s people would not be final (verse 27). He may temporarily remove our comforts from us, but He will not make a full end. He may correct His people very severely, yet He will never cast them off!
Lord, we pray for Your mercy to be bestowed upon us, so that the unfruitful fallow ground of our corrupt hearts – which are overgrown with thorns and weeds – may be renewed by grace. Cause His Word to plow our hearts, so that the glorious Gospel-sunshine and showers of blessings may be wasted upon them no longer! Amen.
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