God’s Plea to Israel

Posted on April 29, 2013


Jerusalem in Israel tourism destinationsBy David Ettinger

It is always a curious thing when people say something to the effect of, “The God of the Old Testament is hard and unfeeling.”

Even a casual glance of the ancient Scriptures will prove this statement false. By way of evidence, let’s take a look at Jeremiah 3:19-25. In this passage, God is making an impassioned plea for His people to return to Him in humility and repentance. The Lord even supplies Israel with the proper response, putting the very words into their mouths, if they so choose to utter them.

Sadly, the children of Israel did not choose repentance at that time, but this rejection of God’s favor does not detract from the all-embracing love of God for His people. Let’s examine God’s plea to Israel and determine whether or not there is any truth at all to the charge that the God of the Old Testament is hard and unfeeling.

An Unfaithful People
Chapter 3 of Jeremiah begins with the Lord accusing Israel of being adulterers – spiritual adulterers. That is, they have forsaken God and have given their allegiance to idols, bowing down to these non-entities in worship. The Lord takes them to task for their treacherous behavior: “They say, ‘If a man divorces his wife, and she goes from him and becomes another man’s, may he return to her again?’ Would not that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the harlot with many lovers; Yet return to Me,” says the Lord” (v. 1).

The Lord pulls no punches here as He speaks to the people of the southern kingdom of Judah. By this time the northern kingdom of Israel, or Ephraim, has already gone into Assyrian captivity. The Lord clearly lays out His accusation against His people for their multiple acts of adulteries. The surrounding nations provided a host of pagan deities for them to kneel down before, and Israel had bowed to them all.

boy prayingThe Lord then explains to Judah the consequences of their actions. For one thing, God has withheld rain from the land (v. 3), hence leading to weak crop yields. God also reminds Judah of what happened to the northern kingdom: “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” (v. 8). God dispensed of the northern kingdom for its idolatry, and He threatens to do the same to the southern kingdom, but to no avail: “yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also” (v. 8).

The First Plea
Interestingly, though the northern kingdom has already been exiled, the Lord nonetheless makes His first plea toward it:

Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say: “Return, backsliding Israel,” says the Lord; “I will not cause My anger to fall on you. For I am merciful,” says the Lord; “I will not remain angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord your God, and have scattered your charms to alien deities under every green tree, and you have not obeyed My voice,’ says the Lord (vv. 12-13).

A hard and unfeeling God? Did you notice the phrase, “For I am merciful … and will not remain angry forever”? Here God reveals Himself as compassionate and willing to forgive, even after He has leveled a decisive punishment upon His people. Since there is no record of the northern ten tribes ever returning to Israel as a distinct people, we can assume they snubbed God’s overtures of forgiveness.

The Second Plea
The Lord now takes on a more general focus regarding those He addresses. He seems to be speaking to the children of Israel as a whole, not one kingdom over the other. In this second plea, God pours out His heart to His wayward people: “But I said: ‘How can I put you among the children and give you a pleasant land, a beautiful heritage of the hosts of nations?’”  (v. 19).

The Lord’s astonishing compassion and generosity should be too overwhelming for Israel to resist. How can they, the Lord reasons, have any choice other than to repent? The Lord then paints this imaginary picture, one He desires to become reality: “A voice was heard on the desolate heights, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel. For they have perverted their way; they have forgotten the Lord their God” (v. 21).

No, this did not occur: Nowhere in Scripture do we read that the Israelites, while offering sacrifice on the high hills of Israel, ever suddenly become cognizant of their sin and repent with tears. There is no record of pre-exilic Israel ever mourning over their perverted ways and for committing adultery against their God – at least in a sustaining way.

jewish prayerThis, however, is what the Lord requires of them. Had they done so, despite the great unfaithfulness they had shown to him, the Lord would have unleashed a torrent of forgiveness the likes of which they had never experienced. “Return, you backsliding children,” God tells them, “and I will heal your backslidings” (v. 22).

The Proper Response
At this point of the scenario, God tells the children of Israel what they are to say to Him when they repent: “Indeed we do come to You, for You are the Lord our God. Truly, in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains; truly, in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel” (vv. 22-23).

In order for Israel to receive God’s forgiveness, the Lord asks that the people first to confess that God is not just the one true God, but that He is the only true God of Israel. He further wants the Israelites to admit that their sacrifices upon the hills to pagan deities have been in vain, for idols are incapable of delivering salvation. Instead, God longs for His people to say, “the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel.”

Next, the Lord instructs Israel to confess the foolishness and futility of their heathen worship practices. “For shame has devoured the labor of our fathers from our youth – their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters” (v. 24).

The “shame” referred to here is probably that of idols. In other words, the worship of idols has cost the children of Israel vast amounts of sheep, goats, and oxen by way of sacrifices. The allusion to “their sons and their daughters” could be a possible reference to child sacrifice, which was detestable to God (Deuteronomy 12:31).

Finally, the Lord asks Israel for a final acknowledgment of guilt before bestowing upon them reconciliation and fellowship. The children of Israel are to say: “We lie down in our shame, and our reproach covers us. For we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God” (v. 25).

With this, Israel’s cleansing is complete, or, at least, would have been complete.

Alas, Israel made no such plea to God, and reaped a horrible punishment for it as the southern kingdom was shortly to follow the northern kingdom into exile, this time to Babylon, not Assyria.

God’s Plea to Israel Today
If only the people of Israel in the twenty-first century would read these majestic words from the third chapter of Jeremiah and take them to heart, then God would bless them in ways they never could have imagined. If only the Jewish people of the world would read their own Old Testament scriptures and come to know the God who created them. They would discover that far from being a harsh and cruel God, the Creator of Israel, is indeed:

men prayingA God of forgiveness: “‘Return, backsliding Israel,’ says the Lord; ‘I will not cause My anger to fall on you.” (Jeremiah 3:12).

  • A God of mercy: “‘For I am merciful,’ says the Lord; ‘I will not remain angry forever’” (Jeremiah 3:12).
  • A God of faithfulness and reward: “‘Return, O backsliding children,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion’” (Jeremiah 3:14).
  • A God of provision: “‘Return, O backsliding children,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion’” (Jeremiah 3:15).
  • A God of restoration and redemption: “At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem. No more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts” (Jeremiah 3:17).

Yes, God still speaks to Israel today through the words of Jeremiah. This divine plea for repentance and humility has never been rescinded. God would have the Jewish people of the world today confess their sin in forsaking Him, seek His forgiveness, and accept His salvation on His terms. Should the Jewish people of the world heed the divine plea, they would soon come to the blessed words of the Apostle Paul, who put it this way: “…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

May God’s divine pleas be heard by His beloved, chosen people that they may turn from the darkness of their unbelief to the glory of “his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9)!

Read more insightful articles by David Ettinger and Marv Rosenthal at zionshope.org.
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