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Israel Has Been a Faithless Spouse - Jeremiah 2:1–3:5

A description of the spiritual apostasy of Old Testament Israel, and how the American church has done much the same thing

Jeremiah 2:1–3:5; Ezekiel 16:30-34

Aug 12, 2012 12:00 PM

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Today we are going to talk about things that might make some of you uncomfortable.  The text we are about to read together contains words which we generally avoid using because they shouldn’t be spoken in public.  But this is the word of God, and God has chosen to use these words to communicate to us the extreme sinfulness of His people Israel.  Turn with me to Jeremiah, chapter 2, verse 1 through chapter 3, verse 5.

Chapter 2 begins with God's first message through Jeremiah to Judah.  Until now, chapter 1 was concerned with God's calling of, and speaking to Jeremiah. Now He begins to speak to the nation through His young prophet.

Verses 2 & 3 sound nostalgic: "a sentimental or wistful yearning for the happiness felt in a former place, time, or situation".  ( Compared to what Judah has become, those days back in the wilderness were the good old days. It was like the love of a young bride for her husband and His protective care for her if anyone sought to harm her.  This is how God describes His initial relationship with the nation of Israel: a young married couple in love.

One very interesting word used here is "firstfruits". Even now, in Judah's darkest hours, God is reminding her yet again that there will be others who will be called to Himself, from the nations of the world.  But she was the first, the most precious of His entire harvest which would eventually include the Gentiles.

Israel, once a cherished bride, has now become worthless. She went after other gods but not because she found fault in God. There was no fault to be found which makes her wandering after other lovers all the worse.  And it has been a long term wandering. The fathers wandered far, and now the children's children are pagans.

There seems to have been an immediate national amnesia after Israel arrived in Canaan. They forgot from whence they came. They forgot their own history in Egypt, their forty years in the desert, the conquering of their enemies, the enjoyment of the promised land granted to them by their Husband.

Priests, scribes, shepherd leaders, and even their so-called prophets went after things that do not profit and they collectively led the entire nation after worthless things so that they became like the things they sought after. They became worthless.

Priests did not say, "Where is the Lord?" even though their specific task was to be the intercessors between the people and God. The "Lawyers" lost the book of the Law ().

The "shepherds", instead of protecting the people, sinned against God and brought His anger against them and made them vulnerable. The "prophets" spoke falsely to the people because they spoke for a god that does not exist.

Everyone that had a part in the spiritual leadership of Israel was apostate, going after things that do not profit, thus making Judah "worthless".

Even the idolatrous pagan nations around Judah were more faithful to their false gods than Judah was to the true God.  The nations would never forsake their gods like Judah forsook Jehovah.

He illustrates their infidelity by simile, describing two remarkable sins: turning from God, and turning to worthlessness. They have traded the fountainhead of pure water for broken containers of mud and slush made by their own hands.

This is the difference between grace and works.  The endless supply of life at no cost is exchanged for making my own means of sustaining my life which is shot full of holes! It won't hold water!

Israel, once the beloved and protected bride, has now become vulnerable to all her enemies, namely Egypt and Assyria. Drinking the water of Egypt and Assyria is preferred to "the fountain of living waters", Jehovah. She loves the foreign gods, rather than her own husband.

But what have these other lovers done to her? Waste, ruin, uninhabited cities, enslavement. And this is specifically because of her forsaking her husband Jehovah. They have brought this disaster upon themselves.

"Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God."

Her guilt is obvious even though she denies it: "I am not unclean, I have not gone after the Baals". Cleansing with soap cannot accomplish the effects of repentance.  Baptism cannot wash away sin.  Not only have you not repented, you are actually running after sin, like animals in heat.

God would care for all her needs, like a good husband for His wife. But she must chase other lovers. Her covenant with her husband has been hopelessly broken. She is determined to be unfaithful.

Judah will be ashamed. In her hour of need, when her foreign gods should be helping her, she will cry out to Jehovah who will not be found. All of her leaders have trusted in trees and stones as their creators. But these gods which are everywhere throughout Judah are worthless, they do not profit, they are no help at all "in the time of their trouble".

Has not our own well-educated, scientifically-minded, modern society, by means of embracing the theory of evolution with religious devotion, said to a stone, in effect, "You gave me birth"?

Then they cry to the Lord, and He reminds them of their undying faith in their gods, the gods they took in exchange for their husband. The gods who are like broken, mud-filled cisterns in comparison to the pure, clear, clean, unadulterated streams of life-giving water that come from Jehovah alone.

Spiritual amnesia is the disease which has resulted in spiritual whoredom. God struck them by means of Assyria, but Judah paid no attention. God sent them prophets, but they killed them all. God Himself dwelt in their midst, but they sought to be free from Him. How is it possible that they should be so forgetful of their covenant, their marriage to the perfect husband? But they are perpetually forgetful of the One who created them.

Judah lives in a state of denial. "I have not sinned. I am innocent. Surely His anger is turned from me."

No, not really. You are so wicked that you have exported your wickedness to pagans. Your guilt is so obvious, the blood of your innocent victims stains your garments.

"I will bring you to judgment. You will be put to shame by your lover, Egypt. They will not profit you because I have rejected them. They are worthless, just like everything else you've pursued apart from Me."

If a man divorces his wife, it is assumed he does not intend to pursue her.  And if, after she became another man's wife, he did pursue her, would that not be even worse? Not only has there been a divorce, but now is added adultery.

But the fact is, the husband has sent his wife away because she is a whore, sleeping with whoever will have her. And in this unrepentant condition, she now wants to return to her husband and expects him to take her back? Not hardly.

Judah has been a prolific idolator. She has had multitudes of lovers throughout all of Judah. Everywhere there is evidence of her unfaithfulness. On the hilltops, by the waysides, everywhere. And you want to return to Jehovah, no questions asked?

In spite of her love for the gods of fertility who presumably controlled the rain, there has been no rain. But whorish Judah is determined in her refusal to acknowledge that her lover is powerless. She should be ashamed of her own stupidity, but she persists.

Judah calls upon the LORD, and even now does so in the midst of her unfaithfulness, seeming to appeal to His fatherly love for His child. It is an attempt to manipulate the Father to get what she wants. "Are you going to be angry with me from now on?" with Bambi eyes and eyelashes batting in innocence.

And the Father says, "I hear what you say, but you have done all the evil that you could." Your behavior is utterly inexcusable. You have been as evil as possible. That is quite an indictment.


On Friday I ran across this article on “Mom’s Gone Wild: 40-Year-Old Reversion”. 1  It was a report about a book which supposedly chronicles the sordid nightlife of middle-aged bored moms from an affluent Brooklyn neighborhood.  (Not that this is only a Brooklyn phenomenon.)  It also seems that this reversion of married moms back to the behavior that characterized them as college single girls is presented in the book as a problem.  It’s just a matter of fact.

In commenting on the book, the author of the article, Shanon Cook, says she has not only personally met moms who fit this description in the book, but she herself admits to being rather loose out on the town from time to time.  She is married and lives with her husband and daughter in New York.  She refers to hers and other moms’ innocent night time escapades as “blowing off a little steam”.  I believe Jesus would refer to it in terms of infidelity and adultery.  But that was way back then.  This is 2012.  We’ve gotten past things like adultery and fidelity.  Times have changed.

Jeremiah speaks of Judah’s love affairs with false gods as whoredom.  Not just a fling or a one night stand, but wholesale abandonment of her covenant with Jehovah in order to give herself over to gods of wood and rock, all the while maintaining her innocence, as though she has done nothing wrong.  Kind of like an open marriage.

“When having dinner at a pub in Montclair, New Jersey, my girlfriend, a local, started pointing out patrons she knew who were at the bar cheating on their spouses. They were all parents and none of them seemed to be looking over their shoulders. Later she introduced me to a couple with kids who decided to make their marriage an open one after the wife's affair with a neighbor was exposed.

“Perhaps it's not so hard to see how some of this happens. To save money on sitters, it's often just one parent who goes out. After a few rounds at the bar, mom might start to actually feel a little on the single side. And her susceptibility to do something nutty might correlate to the challenging -- even desperate -- day she had.” 2

“I’ve had a tough day.  I think I’ll go out tonight to the local bar, have a few drinks, maybe look for a man who is willing, and have some fun for a change.  My husband won’t mind.  He’s done the same thing.  Everybody does it.”

This also sounds like Judah:

23  How can you say, ‘I am not unclean, I have not gone after the Baals’? Look at your way in the valley; know what you have done — a restless young camel running here and there, 24  a wild donkey used to the wilderness, in her heat sniffing the wind! Who can restrain her lust? None who seek her need weary themselves; in her month they will find her. 25  Keep your feet from going unshod and your throat from thirst. But you said, ‘It is hopeless, for I have loved foreigners, and after them I will go.’

“I just can’t help it.  And even so, there’s nothing wrong with me or my behavior.  We’ll just call it an open marriage and agree to have whatever partners we want.”

And God says no.  You belong to Me, and Me alone.

As I was thinking about all of this and meditating on what Judah was doing, it occurred to me that things were actually worse than what we may see from this text, if you can imagine that.  The nature of Judah’s sin was both spiritual and sexual.  They worshipped gods of fertility that presumably controlled the rain and consequently the crops and ultimately life itself.  Water was needed for everything, and Baal controlled the water and therefore life.  So they worshipped Baal.

Their worship was sexual also.  Temple prostitution was normal.  That was their manner of worship.  And this inevitably produced children.  Another part of their worship of Baal was what?  The sacrifice of their children in fire.  So they worshipped by having “holy sex”, which produced children that were then sacrificed to the god who gave it to them, all in exchange for rain, or some might call it “living water”.

But in the end, do you recall what happened in Jerusalem towards the end of the siege of the Babylonians? The children they might have sacrificed to their idols in gratitude for fertility, they now were eating in order to survive because their god was impotent (and I chose that word intentionally).  This is the weight of God’s judgment which has come to bear upon his faithless, adulterous, bride who has become a whore, who also maintains her innocence before the Husband she has spurned.

Beloved, this kind of thing sends chills up my spine.  The current estimated population of New York City is 19,465,197.  In the past 40 years, we have aborted two and a half times the population of New York City for the sake of comfort and stuff.  For the sake of financial security.  For the sake of pursuing a profitable career or a coveted degree.  For the sake of a boyfriend’s lack of responsibility.  For the sake of angry parents whose reputations would be stained by an unwanted and unexpected grandchild.

And while all of this has happened, we as a nation have made every excuse in the book for these 50 million murders.  We have simultaneously called incessantly upon God to bless America.  And abortion is not even a topic of concern in the current presidential election.  Marriage for homosexuals is a topic. But not abortion.  Because nobody really cares that much about it.  And may God continue to bless America!

We sound EXACTLY like Judah to whom God said through Jeremiah, you have done all the evil that you could. Well I don’t think we’re quite at that point, but you can see it from here.  And we say, “Well, yeah, the culture has really turned it’s back on God.”  And that is correct.  But is that not the condition of much of the church as well?  Have we not traded God, and the Scriptures, and the Gospel message for things that do not profit?  Have we not exchanged the truth of God for lies and called it “being culturally relevant”?  Have we not concluded that our own methods of evangelism are more effective in growing the church than the proclamation of the biblical gospel?

When Jeremiah is speaking here in this text, he is not speaking to the entire world.  He is speaking to people who used to be God’s beloved bride.  But she forgot Him, she forsook Him, she sought out other lovers, she chased them down, she endured their abuse of her, and preferred her spiritual enemies of wood and stone, over the God who loved her.

The American church, to a large degree, has done the very same thing.  We say, “We live in such difficult times.  We’re surrounded on every side by godlessness.  It’s just too hard to live a godly life in the world today.  It’s hopeless.  Praise the Lord I’m saved by grace and not by works of righteousness.”  And the sins which we “hopelessly” commit don’t make us feel too guilty.  Nobody’s perfect.

Beloved, there is one biblical message which is never irrelevant.  It is a timeless message which needs to always be preached regardless of the times, regardless of the culture, regardless of the nature of the audience hearing it.  It is always timely, it is always relevant, it is always needed.  It is the same message which the prophets and the apostles and John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus preached.  And it can be summed up in one emphatic word: Repent!

Judah absolutely refused to even admit she had done anything wrong WHILE doing the wrong of which she needed to repent.  She wanted an open marriage, so she could belong to Jehovah while being a spiritual whore with all the other gods.  The ESV uses the word “whore” because a whore is different from a prostitute.  A prostitute does it for money.  Judah not only loved her lovers but paid them to be with her.

30 “How sick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, 31 building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a prostitute, because you scorned payment. 32 Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! 33 Men give gifts to all prostitutes, but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from every side with your whorings. 34 So you were different from other women in your whorings. No one solicited you to play the whore, and you gave payment, while no payment was given to you; therefore you were different. ( ESV)

The church in America is much like Judah.  She has rejected God for the sake of pursuing her own desires.  She has traded:

  • The gospel for church growth,
  • conversions for baptisms,
  • holiness to God for popularity with the world,
  • preachers of the truth for entertainers of the masses,
  • submission to our Master for the love of money.
  • We’ve traded Niagara Falls for a bucket of mud.
  • We’ve traded the heavenly Bridegroom for an open marriage with demons,
  • and we’ve sacrificed our children to the enemies of our souls and theirs.


But the solution to all of this is quite simple.  One word, really.  Repent.  Humble ourselves and repent.  The only escape from certain destruction is a repudiation of our sinful behavior and a turning back to the God who loved us to the extent that He crushed His own Son in our stead. We’ll look at that more closely next week.

Israel was a faithless spouse.  The Church today is much like Israel.  And the Lord may deal with the Church in much the same manner as He dealt with the people of Judah.  May we be found faithful when people all around us are chasing after worthless idols.



2. Ibid.



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