While we explored God’s faithfulness to Israel and possible objections to the concept last week, we prepared to discuss how Jeremiah 3:8 affects their relationship. In this verse, the Lord said, “Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce.”
A Long-Term Return
First, it is extremely important to note that God is speaking figuratively to illustrate the ongoing tumultuous relationship between Himself and His people. In other words, Israel is literally and permanently chosen, but God uses figurative language to describe the current relationship. Beware of clinging to the figurative language too tightly, lest you run into problems when considering other passages. The fact of the matter is that we can’t read the entire passage of Jeremiah 3 with wooden literalness, or we will run into serious theological problems when considering the whole of Scripture. A literal, grammatical, and historical interpretation of Scripture recognizes that the Bible uses types, symbols, and figures of speech that all speak and point to literal truth.
We can’t read the entire passage of Jeremiah 3 with wooden literalness, or we will run into serious theological problems when considering the whole of Scripture.
Second, the rest of the passage refutes Replacement Theology. In Jeremiah 3, God is saying that Judah (the southern kingdom) is the sister of Israel (the northern kingdom), and that Judah should have taken note of Israel’s Assyrian invasion and repented. The point of the chapter is that despite the unfaithfulness, the backsliding, the exiles (figuratively the divorce), and the length of time it takes for Israel to repent, God still says “return to Me” in various ways throughout the entire passage (Jeremiah 3:1, 12, 14, 22; 4:1). That demonstrates the faithfulness, mercy, and grace of God!
Although we are still awaiting Israel’s return to God, it is guaranteed to happen because God said it will. Israel’s issue all along has been turning to God with clean, circumcised hearts (Leviticus 26:40–41; Deuteronomy 10:16; 29:4)—which is a Gentile problem, too.
A Heart Change
What does turning to God with a circumcised heart look like? It means repentance towards the true and living God, and not a false idea of Him. Repentance in love, and in humble recognition that our sin requires blood atonement (Leviticus 17:11).
Tragically, Israel believed its newfound zeal for the Law, with additional man-made commandments, would keep them in the land during the time of Jesus. However, if the traditions being followed by Israel were pleasing to God, Messiah’s Kingdom would have come and the dispersion would have never happened 2,000 years ago. The punishment of dispersion through Rome still happened because Israel still lacked a circumcised heart, rejecting the Messiah who made the new heart possible. Isaiah predicted the reason for Israel’s dispersion by Rome when writing, “These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Isaiah 29:13).
Commandment-keeping and simply being a descendant of Abraham, or even calling oneself a Christian, will not save anyone. There has to be a heart for God. A child can do what a parent asks and at the same time that child can still have an internal resentment of the parent. Jeremiah diagnosed all of mankind’s heart issue when he said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Everyone needs his or her heart cleansed to be right with God, and Scripture says that the heart transformation is something only God can give, both to national Israel and to the individual, whether Jew or Gentile (Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 36:26–27; John 3:6–8).
When Moses led Israel to the Promised Land, he told them God hadn’t given them the heart to know Him (Deuteronomy 29:4). The result was failing in faithfulness and a future global dispersion (Leviticus 20:22; Deuteronomy 28:58–67). But the Bible says this kosher heart comes to national Israel after the dispersion, accompanied by an acceptance of the Messiah. As Scripture foretells, “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). If Hosea teaches us anything, it’s that God is waiting to rip up that figurative certificate of divorce! Hosea 2:19–20 says, “I will betroth you to Me forever, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lᴏʀᴅ.”
If Hosea teaches us anything, it’s that God is waiting to rip up that figurative certificate of divorce!
While Leviticus 26:33 foretells the Diaspora, that same chapter says, “But if they confess their iniquity . . . if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they accept their guilt—then I will remember My covenant with Jacob . . . with Isaac . . . with Abraham . . . I will remember the land” (Leviticus 26:40–42, emphasis mine). The same promises of a permanent, post-diaspora, restoration of Israel are found in Deuteronomy 30:1–10; Ezekiel 36–37; and by Jesus Himself in Matthew 24:30–31 and Luke 21:20–28.
An Offer to All
The good news is that Jews and Gentiles alike do not have to wait for Israel’s repentance to receive circumcised hearts (Romans 1:16). “Today, if only you would hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:7–8). Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” Good deeds do not save, for “we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:14, NIV). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV).