“Return” – Jeremiah 3:14-4:4

May 19th, 2019

Jeremiah 3:14-4:4


Possible Aux. Texts: Luke 8:4-15

Call to Worship: Psalm 51


Service Orientation: Natural man is an enemy of God. God sees our hearts so we can’t fake piety.  The only way we can be reconciled to God is by Jesus through repentance and being born again.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. —  2 Corinthians 7:10


Background Information:

  • (v. 14) Now Baal, as we have seen, is the Canaanite god of fertility upon whom the people so freely lavished their affection; but baal in Hebrew also means lord or master, and it is one of the words for husband. So the people are being challenged to remember that their true baal (husband) is not Baal, but the Lord.  (Robert Davidson, Daily Study Bible Series: Jeremiah, 40)
  • (v. 14) No matter how small, a remnant will return; God’s message of pardon is ultimately on the basis of individual response to him. (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 4001)
  • (vss. 14 & 19) These verses show that the relationship between God and his people is too rich to be defined by any single human relationship. The Lord reminds his people that they are like unfaithful spouses.  But he also compares them to wayward sons who are unworthy of their inheritance.  Not only is God a spurned husband, but he is also a disappointed father.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 64)
  • (v. 16) What was the history of the ark? The first mention is in Ex 25.  It was in Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs 8:6).  The last historical reference to it is in 2 Chr 35:3.  It was probably taken to Babylon in 586 B.C.  Strangely enough, it is not mentioned among the spoils listed in 52:17-23.  It was lost in 586 B.C. and never found or replaced.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 402)
  • (v. 16) That the ark would be lost and not replaced was so incredible to Jewish commentators that they have admitted great perplexity concerning Jeremiah’s prediction. One of them, Abarbanel, expressed the opinion that the promise was bad since it uprooted the whole law, and he wondered how it could be that Scripture referred to it as good.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 402)
  • (v. 16) Nothing is known definitely concerning the time when the ark of the covenant of the LORD was removed from the temple in Jerusalem. If Lam 2:1 means by “his footstool” the ark of the covenant (cf. Ps 132:7; 1 Chr 28:2), then it apparently was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadrezzar in 587 B.C.  (George Arthur Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, 827-8)
  • (v. 16) No one knows how or when it disappeared. According to Pss 24 and 68 it was there until comparatively late times, as late as King Josiah, if the account in 2 Chr 35:3 can be accepted.  It is not mentioned among the spoils taken from the temple by Nebuzaradan (52:17-23); nor is it listed in the treasure taken by Nebuchadrezzar at the time of Jehoiachin’s surrender.  It evidently disappeared in Jeremiah’s days, and was missed by the people.  (George Arthur Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, 829)
  • (v. 23) One of the best discussions of the options in interpretation of these verses is given by F. B. Huey Jr. in Jeremiah, Lamentation, in The New American Commentary.  After listing five possible ways of viewing these verses, he concludes with an excellent summary:

The Israelites seemed to be admitting everything God wanted to hear–that their idol worship had been a deception and that salvation was found only in the Lord (3:23).  From their “youth” (when the covenant was established at Sinai) they had wasted their resources of cattle, grain, and even their children as useless sacrifices to their “shameful gods.”  The people appeared to be taking full responsibility for their folly and disobedience.  “Let us lie down in our shame” suggests they were overwhelmed by guilt.  If these words had been an  expression of sincere repentance and return to God, the rest of Jeremiah’s ministry would have been unnecessary.  True repentance requires admission of sin but more than that.  There must be sorrow for the sin (Ps 51:17) and genuine turning away from it (Jam 2:4).  (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 44)

  • (v. 2) The three adjectives, truthful, just and righteous, occur many times in the OT. They combine to define the character required for a covenant relationship with Yahweh.  (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 45)
  • (vss. 2-4) Here again two powerful figures of speech are used, both shearing through the surface solutions to the problem and cutting into the inmost core of the human condition. These verses form a fitting climax to what has gone before.  They are a call to a deeper repentance than the people of the world, let alone Judah, are prone to.  (George Arthur Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, 832)
  • (v. 2) For the people of Judah circumcision had come to represent the covenant made by Yahweh with Abraham–a rite of initiation or dedication whereby impurity should be removed and singleness of devotion pledged. Wesley therefore is analogically justified in regarding circumcision as the seal of the covenant, and suggesting that it bore the same relation to the old covenant as baptism bears to the new.

Since the people were prone to glory in being thus chosen through Abraham, they were tempted also to accept the outward sign as sufficient.  But it is precisely this externality of religious rite, cultism, or legal rectitude which is, for Jeremiah, the root of the betrayal.  (George Arthur Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, 833)

  • Failing such an inner renewal, there can only be the grim prospect of judgment. It is this note of coming judgment upon the evil within the community which prepares the way for the next major section in the book.  (Robert Davidson, Daily Study Bible Series: Jeremiah, 44)


The question to be answered is . . . Why is Jeremiah so bent on making sure we understand just how much we have offended a holy, perfect, and righteous God?


Answer: Because God sees our hearts, we cannot fake remorse for our sins, nor fake repentance, for our return to God.  To be reconciled to God and enjoy all the benefits of a relationship with God as our Husband/Father; we must truly repent with a broken and contrite heart.


It was not by accident, I suspect, that the first of the ninety-five theses Martin Luther nailed to the Wittenberg church door read, “when our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘repent,’ He willed that the entire life of believers be one of repentance.”  (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 32)


The Word for the Day is . . . Return


Repentance is “ . . . that change wrought in the conscious life of the sinner, by which he turns away from sin.”  (Louis Berkhof; Systematic Theology, 486)


Natural repentance is that natural feeling of sorrow and self-condemnation, of which a man is conscious for having done that which he sees he ought not to have done, and which arises from a discovery of the impropriety of it, or from reflecting on the disagreeable consequences of it to others, and especially to himself. (Dr. John Colquhoun; Repentance, 9)


Legal repentance is a feeling of regret produced in a legalist by the fear that his violations of the Divine law and especially his gross sins do expose him to external punishment.  This regret is increased by his desire to be exempted on the ground of it from the dreadful punishment to which he knows he is condemned for them.  He is extremely sorry, not that he has transgressed the law, but that the law and the justice of God are so very strict that they cannot leave him at liberty to sin with impunity. (Dr. John Colquhoun; Repentance, 9)


Evangelical repentance is altogether different from either of these.  It is a gracious principle and habit implanted in the soul by the Spirit of Christ, in the exercise of which a regenerate and believing sinner, deeply sensible of the exceeding sinfulness and just demerit of his innumerable sins is truly humbled and grieved before the Lord, on account of the sinfulness and hurtfulness of them.  He feels bitter remorse, unfeigned sorrow, and deep self-abhorrence for the aggravated transgressions of his life, and the deep depravity of his nature; chiefly, because by all his innumerable provocations he has dishonored an infinitely holy and gracious God, transgressed a law which is ‘holy, and just, and good’, and defiled, deformed, and even destroyed his own precious soul.  This godly sorrow for sin and this holy abhorrence of it arise from a spiritual discovery of pardoning mercy with God in Christ, and from the exercise of trusting in His mercy.   And these feelings and exercises are always accompanied by an unfeigned love of universal holiness, and by fixed resolutions and endeavors to turn from all iniquity to God and to walk before him in newness of life.  Such, in general is the nature of that evangelical repentance, to the habit and exercise of which the Lord Jesus calls sinners who hear the Gospel. (Dr. John Colquhoun; Repentance, 10)


Repentance is a grace required under the gospel.  Some think it legal; but the first sermon that Christ preached, indeed, the first word of his sermon, was “Repent” (Mt 4:17).  And his farewell that he left when he was going to ascend was that “repentance should be preached in his name” (Lk 24:47).  The apostles did all beat upon this string: “They went out and preached that men should repent” (Mk 6:12).  (Thomas Watson; The Doctrine of Repentance, 13)


What is God telling us about repentance?:

I-  I will empower you to return through the Holy Spirit and godly leaders.  (Jer 3:14-15, 22a; see also: Acts 5:31; 11:18; Rom 2:4; 2 Cor 7:9-10; 2 Tm 2:25 )


Who called you home?  God did.  Who chose you and brought you back from the wilderness?  God did.  You did the repenting, of course, but your repentance was a response to God’s love.  God also provided the faithful preachers who taught you God’s Word.  So from beginning to end, your salvation is the work of God.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 60)


Preachers are fenced into only one hope of success–“If God gives repentance’ to their hearers.  Oratory will not convince rebels.  Clever devices will not reverse the steps of rich, young sinners.  Careful preparation and energetic delivery of precise theology can do nothing in themselves.  But ‘if God’ attends Biblical messages and means, the dead will rise.  (Walter J. Chantry, Today’s Gospel:  Authentic or Synthetic?, 89)


In addition to righteous judgment on Israel and Judah for their faithlessness, this section is also about healing and future restoration that only God can provide.  Note the emphasis on divine activity: “I will choose. . . [I will] bring. . . I will give. . . I will cure” (Jer 3:14-15, 22).  As everywhere in the Bible, so here too God is the author of salvation.  (J. Andrew Dearman, The NIV Application Commentary: Jeremiah, 72)


In the reshaping of the corrupt national leadership Judah will be governed by true servants of God such as David was (cf. 1 Sm 13:14), and not by military usurpers of the Israelite variety (cf. Hos 8:4).  Leadership of the divine flock is crucial, as both the Old (cf. Ezk 34:8-10; Zc 10:3; 11:17, etc.) and New (Mk 13:22; 2 Pt 2:1; 1 Jn 4:1, etc.) Testaments recognize.  (R.K. Harrison, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Jeremiah, 66)


A good pastor is a pastor after God’s own heart.  He is a man of strong affection.  Having received the love and compassion of God, he is filled with love for God’s people and compassion for the lost.  Then notice what he does: he shepherds God’s people with knowledge and understanding.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 58)


Not everyone will survive the judgment that God’s people have brought on themselves.  Those who do survive will come back to Zion, the spiritual center of Jerusalem, and God will give them shepherds (leaders) who will shepherd them.  Ezekiel 34 describes the effects of bad shepherds on the people, and also looks forward to the day when God will put a new shepherd, associated with David, over his people (34:23-24).  The beginning of the fulfillment of this promise may be seen at the time of Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel and then later Ezra and Nehemiah (see the books of Ezra and Nehemiah).  The NT associates Jesus with both David and shepherd imagery, and surely understands that he is the ultimate fulfillment of these prophecies.  (Tremper Longman III, Understanding the Bible: Jeremiah, Lamentations, 42-43)


II-  A godly, repentant, return will dodge judgment and facilitate a comprehensive reconciliation.  (Jer 3:16-18; see also: Neh 11:1; Isa 2:2-4; 56:6-7; Jer 12:15-16; 15:19; 16:19; 18:8; Ezek 18:30-32; Mic 4:1-3; Zech 2:11; 8:2-23; 14:16-17; Lk 13:3-5; Acts 8:22; Rv 2:5, 16, 21-22; 16:9-11)


There can be no reconciliation unless it is based on a clear-eyed facing of the facts which led to the breakdown in the relationship.  (Robert Davidson, Daily Study Bible Series: Jeremiah, 40)


The Lord is asking for a deep repentance, a much deeper repentance than we are used to giving, a true repentance that gets to the very root of sin and digs it out.  He wants more than just prayers of repentance–he wants deeds of repentance.  He wants more than just circumcised Israelites–he wants circumcised hearts.  And he wants more than just baptized Christians–he wants baptized lives.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 71)


What will happen if God’s people meet all the conditions of true repentance? “Then the nations will be blessed by him and in Him they will glory” (v. 2).  This shows the vital importance of true repentance.  Nothing less than the evangelization of the world depends on it.  The church’s effectiveness in evangelism and world missions is directly tied to the sincerity of its repentance.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 71)


As the story of Zachaeus hyperbolically states, repentance entails for them paying back “four times as much” and giving half of their possession to the poor (Lk 19:8).  A genuine repentance of the oppressors will lead to the “injustice” of superabundant restitution, which seeks to offset the injustice of the original violation.  (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace, 118)


There is no such thing as a ritual repentance.  — Buddy Briggs


Repentance must go right down to the historical root of our sins.  True repentance exposes the heart of sin’s darkness.  To return to God is to bring the blackest sins right out into the light of his glorious presence and to freely admit that you have done and thought evil things.

Repentance is not easy, but the words of this confession give comfort because they teach us that God is willing to forgive even the vilest sins.  His invitation to return to him is given to everyone. . . even those who have murdered their own children.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 70)


The real prayer of repentance seems to begin at the end of verse 22, after God has promised to cure their backsliding.  Furthermore, there is something suspicious about the fact that God’s people are still standing up on the barren heights, which were places for idolatry.  If they really want to repent for their sins, they need to come down from the place of sin and go back to the temple to meet with God.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 65)


The ark will not be restored because it will no longer be necessary as a symbol of God’s presence.  The times of ceremonial emphasis will pass away.  The actual glory of God in the midst of his people will be sufficient, and therefore the typical glory will not be missed.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 402)


Christians usually blame social and national problems on the sinful ideas of secular people.  But this passage teaches that if the people of God would truly confess their own sins, the nations of the world would be blessed.  If born-again Christians in the evangelical church would return to God with all their hearts and get their idols out of God’s sight, then the world would give glory to God.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 71)


In the spiritual life lost power can only be regained when the sinner retraces his steps to the point where he sinned, and seeks forgiveness and restoration with God.  (R.K. Harrison, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Jeremiah, 67)


The voice of weeping and supplication, as of sons who repent of their sin, would be the sign of a genuine return to God their Father.  He could then as a divine Physician restore them to health.  But their only help was in the very God whom they and their fathers had disobeyed (3:15-25).  (Howard Tillman Kuist, Layman’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 31)


It is fatal when a man looks upon his evil, gets a more or less clear sight of it, and is not sorry and penitent.  It is conceivable that there should be perfect knowledge of sin and perfect insensibility in regard to it.

A sinful man’s true mood should be sorrow–not flinging the blame on others, or on fate, or circumstances; not regarding his sin as misfortune or as inevitable or as disease.  (Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: Jeremiah, 255)


In the time of their restoration to the land, the Lord’s people will increase greatly (cf. 23:3; Ezek 36:11; Hos 1:10 [2:1 MT]).  The phrase “in those days” (vv. 16, 18) clearly refers to messianic times (cf. 30:24; 21:27, 29, 31, 33, 38).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 401)


  1. In that era of blessing, no one will even mention the ark of the covenant of the Lord. For an OT prophet to make such a statement was an unparalleled example of boldness.  The thought is that the worship of God will need no visible aids, for God will dwell among his people; and all nations will be drawn to them.  The ark will not be recalled with heartfelt longing.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 401-2)


The hope that Israel and Judah would be reunited ultimately is seen in Isa 11:12; Ezk 37:16-28; Hos 2:2 (cf. Jer 2:4), but such an event must be preceded by true repentance.  Since there is no indication that the ten tribes ever repented, the projected union must point to the Messianic age of grace, when Jew and Gentile alike will do honor before the enthroned Lord in Zion.  (R.K. Harrison, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Jeremiah, 67)


United to God in holiness of life, the two long-divided parts of the nations will finally be reunited to dwell in the land promised to the patriarchs (cf. Ezek 37).  In summary, the elements of the promise are godly leaders, absence of outward elements of worship, the dwelling of God’s presence with them, a godly life, a successful witness to the nations, and a unified nation.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 402)


Calvin’s opinion was that these prayers did not arise from faith, “but simply that they were such lamentations as betokened misery and wretchedness,” the kind of distress that always comes from not following God.  In that case, they were not shedding sweet tears of repentance, but salty tears of sinful bitterness.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 65)


(The Holy Spirit reminded Tim) “Don’t you dare look at any good thing in your life as anything other than a sheer act of (God’s ) grace, . . . undeserved grace.   And as you meditate on these good things as a sheer act of undeserved grace then turn to Jesus and say, ‘Lord, I can’t believe your grace.  Your grace is so great, that I want to adore you, not these things.  I want your smile, your honor, your pleasure should be my joy and crown, and my worth and my significance.’”

Because if I put my heart down for anything else when the trouble free stretch is over, and inevitably it will be over, I will perish.  Therefore, Jesus Christ says, “That there is no more important time to repent than when everything is going very well.”

You see and now we know what repentance is.   You say, “How can I repent if I have not done anything wrong?”

Repentance is not so much for doing bad things as for over trusting good things.   Because breaking rules is just a symptom of sin.  But, the disease of sin is being your own savior by trusting in something besides Jesus Christ for your righteousness, your wisdom, . . . your sanctification, and your redemption.  And as my wife likes to say, “The default mode of the human heart is self-salvation.”

And there is no more time for it to happen, no more time for that to go into overdrive, then during the calm times, the safe times, the comfortable times, the prosperous times.  (Tim Keller message from Luke 13:1-9, The Falling Tower )


Even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb.  (Jerry Bridges, The Joy of Fearing God, 169)


Christ has not invented a different Gospel for the twentieth century.  But the sad fact is that evangelical missionaries, churches, and literature have unconsciously scrapped the doctrine of repentance to replace it with an easy, sorrowful confession.  This fundamental, indispensable foundation stone of the Gospel is being ignored.  If ‘The word of the beginning of Christ’ [Heb 6:1] is discarded, what will be the end of the souls under this influence?  No wonder evangelism is ineffective!  The church has great cause to be disturbed.  It isn’t preaching Jesus’ Gospel!  (Walter J. Chantry, Today’s Gospel:  Authentic or Synthetic?, 55)


In the early history of Israel, the most potent symbol of God’s presence was the ark of the covenant.  However, its loss will be insignificant in the future because all of Jerusalem will be holy.  It is interesting to note that by the end of the book of Nehemiah, after the temple and the walls of Jerusalem are rebuilt, the whole city is called “holy” (Neh 11:1).  Zechariah 14 too ends with the vision of the entire city of Jerusalem pervaded by God’s presence and holiness.  Accordingly, the nations recognize God’s glory and journey to Jerusalem to be in God’s presence (Jer 3:17).  The picture of the nations gathering in Jerusalem to worship the Lord is found elsewhere in the prophets (Isa 2:2-4; 56:6-7; Jer 12:15-16; 16:19; Mic 4:1-3; Zech 2:11; 8:2-23; 14:16-17).  In the NT, the fact that the Gentiles were turning to Christ was surely thought to be a fulfillment of this OT anticipation.  (Tremper Longman III, Understanding the Bible: Jeremiah, Lamentations, 43)


There is a vast difference between perfunctory repentance and heartfelt restoration to God.  If Judah would truly repent, it must be to God alone (v. 1).  Furthermore, they must really rid themselves of their detestable things, their idols.  Evidently they had not yet done this.  Moreover, if the people will remain steadfast (on their oath in the name of the Lord (in the essential qualities of truth, justice, and righteousness, then their example will profoundly affect the nations (v. 2).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 404-5)


Now all must repent and return to God in their hearts; only by such a movement would an eventual return to Zion be rendered possible.  With such a message the Book of Jeremiah is given a thematic framework that conveys to the reader its overall message of hope.  (R.E. Clements, Interpretation: Jeremiah, 36)


No matter how essential contrition and penitence are seen to be, only the Lord himself can save (4:1).  Returning, as an act of inward rethinking and renewing, can lead to a blessed future only if it is a sincere and genuine returning to the Lord.  It is not the inner movement of the heart that saves, but such may herald a returning to God, who truly can save.  (R.E. Clements, Interpretation: Jeremiah, 37)


We no longer need the ark of the covenant because God himself is with us, by his Holy Spirit.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 60)


We have such smooth, almost secularized ways of talking people into the kingdom of God that we can no longer find men and women willing to seek God through the crisis of encounter.  When we bring them into our churches, they have no idea of what it means to love and worship God because, in the route through which we have brought them, there has been no personal encounter, no personal crisis, no need of repentance–only a Bible verse with a promise of forgiveness.  (A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 118)


III-  To return you must be born again. (Jer 3:19-25, 22b-4:4; see also: Dt 10:16; Jer 9:25-26; 31:31-34; Mt 3:11; 4:17; 13:1-22; Mk 1:15; 3:2; 4:3-20; Lk 8:4-15; John 3:1-21; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 20:21; Rom 2:25-29; Phil 3:2-3; Col 2:11-14; 1 Pt 1:23 )


Jeremiah now uses two figures to show the nation’s need of spiritual renewal: one from agriculture and the other from physiology.  He exhorts the people of Judah to break up their neglected and untilled hearts, which had become as hard as an uncultivated field (v. 3).  No farmer will sow seed on unplowed ground.  So the plow of repentance and obedience was needed to remove the outer layer of weeds and thorns that had resulted from idolatry.  Otherwise, thorns would choke the newly sown seed (Hos 10:12).  The very foundations of the nation’s spiritual life needed tending, even restructuring.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 405)


In demanding that the fallow land be ploughed up, Jeremiah is insisting on the removal of the hard exterior of idolatry so as to expose a softer and more responsive environment (cf. Hos 10:12, and the full meaning in Ezk 18:31).  It would be pointless to sow the seeds of repentance in unsuitable soil.  Part of the reason for leaving land fallow was to help the farmer clear it of weeds.  If the seed is sown among thorns it is choked and becomes unfruitful, a lesson driven home in one of Christ’s parables (Mt 13:7, 22; Mk 4:7, 18; Lk 8:7, 14).  (R.K. Harrison, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Jeremiah, 69)


Repentance must be as thoroughgoing as the plowing up of fallow ground, which removes the thorns and prepares the way for new seed.  (George Arthur Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, 832)


Judah’s previous “religious field” was so infested with thorn seeds of evil deeds that her only hope was to reclaim new ground.  The nation’s future was threatened by the legacy of its past.  Only a radically new beginning would save Judah.  Unfortunately, even the national collapse and the Babylonian exile were inadequate.  Jeremiah saw later that only a new covenant had the dynamic required to fill the vacuum and meet the need (31:31-34).  (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 45)


The foreskin (omitted in NEB) typified unregenerate nature with all its inbred passions and lusts.  This “old man” or “carnal mind” (Rom 6:6; 8:7, AV) has no place in the lives of those in Christ (Rom 8:10-13).  The Hebrews assigned concomitant emotional functions to the main physical organs, the heart being the locus of will, intelligence and purposeful action.  The plea for a changed heart thus constituted an appeal for spiritual conversion.  The gravity of spurning the divine offer of renewal consequent upon true repentance is indicated by the fiery anger and unquenchable fury of God.  Inner cleansing is the only alternative to destruction by fire, a theme prominent also in NT thought (cf. Mt 13:42, 50; 25:41; 1 Cor 3:13, etc.).  (R.K. Harrison, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Jeremiah, 69)


In pictorial terms, more evocatively, 4:3-4 insists that there can be no spiritual harvest from hearts that stay unploughed, and no circumcision worth the name which leaves the will untouched.  The law itself had said the same about this rite (Dt 10:16), and in a scathing oracle Jer 9:25-26 will rank Judah among the heathen because they are “uncircumcised in heart.”  The NT takes up both these analogies: that of the fallow ground, in the parable of the sower (Mk 4:3-20), and that of the true circumcision, in Rom 2:25-29 (cf. Phil 3:2-3; Col 2:11-14).  (Derek Kidner, The Bible Speaks Today:  Jeremiah, 37)


The object of the plowing is clear.  The soil that has been left untilled, that has been hardened under the dry heat and packed solid by being repeatedly trod upon, this ground must be broken up and turned; it must be prepared for the reviving and fructifying rain of the Lord’s grace.  The callous and hardened hearts will have to feel the discipline of the plow; the rigid and implacable egos of the people, stiffened under the incessant treading of the heavy soled feet of pride, will have to be turned over, so that the repressed hunger for seed is exposed and the whole self loosened into responsiveness.  Every tiller of the soil understood.

The parable of the sower is anticipated here.  This turning of the soil, of the inside out, will hurt.  The weeding will hurt.  The plucking which precedes the planting will hurt.  What Judah–the kings and the priests and the prophets and the people–has pretended to be and was not; her infidelities under every green tree; all this will have to be unmasked, and confessed, to let the heart lie open to the quickening rain.  (George Arthur Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, 832)


23-25.  Jeremiah sees clearly what Judah has yet to learn through the harsh experience of captivity, i.e. that the friendship of the world in enmity with God (Jam 4:4), and that the carnal mind is a particular threat to the believer in all ages (Rom 8:7).  (R.K. Harrison, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Jeremiah, 67-8)


Again, Jeremiah calls for repentance–this time under the figure of circumcision (v. 4).  The hard encrustation on their hearts must be cut away.  Nothing less than removal of all natural obstacles to the will of God would suffice.  Outward ritual must be replaced by inward reality (cf. Dt 10:16; Rom 2:28-29).  The heart was involved because outward worship was valueless unless the inner life was given over to God.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 405)


Worship Point: If we come before God in worship without, in some way, a broken, contrite, and repentant heart, then we have not really come before God.  (Psa 51:17; Isa 29:13; Mt 15:8-9; Mk 7:6-7; Col 2:23)


Scripture itself condemns worship that is based only on human ideas: “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 made up only of rules taught by men” (Isa 29:13).  This word of God through Isaiah was repeated by Jesus in Mt 15:8-9 and Mk 7:6-7.  Paul in Col 2:23 condemns “self-imposed worship,” worship unauthorized by God.  (John M. Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth, 39)


But those who do have the Holy Spirit and are now capable of worshiping in spirit do not worship in spirit if they do not worship in holiness.  “Worship the LORD in holy array,” says Ps 29:2.  The holy array that God required of the OT priests was that they dress in a very particular way and prepare themselves in minute detail before presenting their sacrifices.  Likewise the priests who come before the Lord today–that is, all believers in Christ (1 Pt 2:9)–must also come in holy array.  First and foremost, our holy array is the holiness of Christ.  God receives our worship based upon Jesus’ having already offered to him the perfect sacrifice–himself–on our behalf.  And all our subsequent worship of the Lord is received, not because we are now so sincere, but because the blood of the high priest Jesus has made it acceptable to God.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 310)


Admitting that God is God may seem rather obvious, but it was Israel’s whole problem.  It is the same basic problem that every unbeliever has: worshiping everything else except God.  Notice that the phrase “the LORD our God” is repeated four times in this prayer of confession.  The entire prayer is uttered with a proper sense of the majesty, holiness, and righteousness of God.  It is offered to the Lord God Almighty, Jehovah, the great “I AM.”  True repentance testifies that the Lord is God.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 68)


Jesus warns us that it is possible to engage in what we call worship, only for God to reject it as worship “in vain.”  How is it that we can worship the true God in vain?  Jesus gives two causes.  First, God turns away from worship when the worshiper’s “heart is far away” from him.  Second, he refuses worship when the teaching or doctrines about worship are “the precepts of men,” not the precepts of God.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 309)


One other point here: while worship in spirit is more than worshiping sincerely, it is not less than worshiping sincerely.  The Lord looks on more than the heart; that is, what we do in worship also matters, but he does look closely at our hearts.  One of the best-loved Puritan writers, Stephen Charnock, said, “How can we imagine God can delight in the mere service of the body, any more than we can delight in converse with a carcass?  Without the heart it is no worship; it is a stage play; an acting a part…If we lack sincerity; a statue upon a tomb, with eyes and hands lifted up, offers as good and true a service.”  Regardless of what we say with our lips or do with our bodies in our private worship, God turns away if our heart is far away.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 310)


When you have pursued God in repentant helplessness, you will have worshiped.  And every time you sense his embrace, your soul will shine the slightest bit brighter with his reflected glory, and you will be the slightest bit more ready to face what his life has in store for you.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 122)


Gospel Application: Only through the Holy Spirit prompting you to come to Jesus, (Who alone is the truly broken and contrite One {Ps 22:6; Isa 53; Mt 3:15; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17; Lk 22:44; Jn 15:25 }) can you be saved.  By being born again your heart can be broken and contrite providing true, sincere repentance so you too can enjoy a relationship with God as your Husband/Father.  (Lk 7:47)


Contrite (Strongs 1794 – TWOT # 428) The verb appears in laments and is consistently used of one who is physically and emotionally crushed because of sin or the onslaught of an enemy. (R. Laird Harris, Gleason Archer, Jr., Bruce Walke; Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament: Vol 1, 189)


In Adam we all suffered shipwreck, and repentance is the only plank left us after shipwreck to swim to heaven.  —Thomas Watson


Spiritual Challenge: Endeavor to know God and to know yourself well enough to promote a broken and contrite heart that lives in a state of constant repentance; and yet basks in joy, freedom, peace, security and love by recognizing God’s wonderful grace, forgiveness, mercy, patience, and love for such a wretch as I.  (Ps 51:17; Isa 57:15; 66:2; Mt 3:8; 5:3-11)


Men must be brought down by law work to see their guilt and misery, or all our preaching is beating the air.  A broken heart alone can receive a crucified Christ.  (Andrew Bonar, Memoirs and Remains of R.M. Mcheyne)


Being a Christian means being broken and contrite.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you get beyond that in this life.  Brokenness marks the life of God’s happy children until they die.  We are broken and contrite all the way home–unless sin gets the proud upper hand.  Being broken and contrite is not against joy and praise and witness.  It is the flavor of Christian joy and praise and witness.  Jonathan Edwards says it best:

All gracious affections [feelings, emotions] that are sweet [aroma] to Christ…are brokenhearted affections.  A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble brokenhearted love.  The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires: their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable, and full of glory, is a humble brokenhearted joy.  (John Piper, Shaped By God, 38-9)


The improvement of our graces depends on the keeping of our hearts.  I never knew grace to thrive in a careless soul.  (John Flavel, Keeping the Heart, 32)


Jesus always preached the Law to the proud and arrogant and grace to the meek and the humble (Lk 10:25, 26; 18:18-20; Jn 3:1-17).  He never gave good news to proud Pharisees.  They needed humbling.  In a similar vein, Wesley said that people need 90% Law followed by 10% grace.  Why?  Because the Law breaks hardened hearts while the gospel of grace heals broken hearts.  You need to plough the land before you sow in order to reap after that same sowing.

It is a great mistake to give a man who has not been convicted of sin certain passages that were never meant for him.  The Law is what he needs. . . Do not offer the consolation of the gospel until he sees and knows he is guilty before God.  We must give enough of the Law to take away all self-righteousness.  I pity the man who preaches only one side of the truth–always the gospel and never the Law.  (Simon Guillebaud, Choose Life, 365 Readings for Radical Disciples, 2-3)


Again, and yet again would we repeat it–there cannot possibly be any true, spiritual, and abiding revival of grace in a believer, while secret sin remains undiscovered and unmortified in the heart.  True and spiritual mortification of sin is not a surface-work: it consists not merely in pruning the dead tendrils that hang here and there upon the branch; it is not the lopping off of outward sins, and an external observance of spiritual duties; it includes essentially far more than this: it is a laying the axe at the root of sin in the believer; it aims at nothing less than the complete subjection of the principle of sin; and until that is effectually done, there can be no true return of the heart to God.  (Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, 33-4)


Should we, then, despair because of our being unable to retain perfect purity?  We should, if perfection were our goal.  However, we are not obliged to be perfect once and for all, but only to rise again and again beyond the level of the self.  Perfection is divine, and to make it a goal of man is to call on man to be divine.  All we can do is to try to wring our hearts clean in contrition.  Contrition begins with a feeling of shame at our being incapable of disentanglement from the self.  To be contrite at our failures is holier than to be complacent in perfection.  (Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man, 402-3)


The careless heart is an easy prey to Satan in the hour of temptation; his principal batteries are raised against the heart; if he wins that, he wins all, for it commands the whole man: and alas! how easy a conquest is a neglected heart!  It is not more difficult to surprise such a heart, than for an enemy to enter that city whose gates are opened and unguarded.  It is the watchful heart that discovers and suppresses the temptation before it comes to its strength.  (John Flavel, Keeping the Heart, 33)


An acquaintance with your own heart will furnish you a fountain of matter in prayer.  The man who is diligent in heart-work will be richly supplied with matter in his addresses to God.  (John Flavel, Keeping the Heart, 114)


Oh for a heart to love God more; to hate sin more; to walk more evenly with God.  Lord!  deny not to me such a heart, whatever thou deny me: give me a heart to fear thee, to love and delight in thee, if I beg my bread in desolate places.  ‘It is observed of an eminent saint, that when he was confessing sin, he would never give over confessing until he had felt some brokenness of heart for that sin; and when praying for any spiritual mercy, would never give over that suit till he had obtained some relish of that mercy.  (John Flavel, Keeping the Heart, 20)


Heart-work is hard work indeed.  To shuffle over religious duties with a loose and heedless spirit, will cost no great pains; but to set thyself before the Lord, and tie up thy loose and vain thoughts to a constant and serious attendance upon him; this will cost thee something.  To attain a facility and dexterity of language in prayer, and put thy meaning into apt and decent expressions, is easy; but to get thy heart broken for sin, while thou art confessing it; melted with free grace while thou art blessing God for it; to be really ashamed and humbled through the apprehensions of God’s infinite holiness, and to keep thy heart in this frame, not only in, but after duty, will surely cost thee some groans and pains of soul.  To repress the outward acts of sin, and compose the external part of thy life in a laudable manner, is no great matter; even carnal persons, by the force of common principles, can do this: but to kill the root of corruption within, to set and keep up an holy government over thy thoughts, to have all things lie straight and orderly in the heart, this is not easy.  (John Flavel, Keeping the Heart, 21-2)


‘My son, give me thine heart,’ is God’s request.  God is pleased to call that a gift which is indeed a debt; he will put this honor upon the creature, to receive it from him in the way of a gift; but if this be not given him, he regards not whatever else you bring to him.  There is only so much of worth in what we do, as there is of heart in it.  (John Flavel, Keeping the Heart, 22)


He that performs duty without the heart, that is, heedlessly, is no more accepted with God than he that performs it with a double heart, that is, hypocritically.  (John Flavel, Keeping the Heart, 22)


Until we are broken, our life will be self-centered, self-reliant; our strength will be our own.  So long as you think you are really something in and of yourself, what will you need God for?  I don’t trust a man who hasn’t suffered. —John Eldredge  (Simon Guillebaud, Choose Life, 365 Readings for Radical Disciples, 10/6)


Spiritual Challenge Questions:

  1. What is the difference between natural, legal and evangelical repentance? Why is it necessary that we make a distinction between these three?
  2. Is there any aspect in which your heart is broken, contrite and in a state of true, godly repentance? How do you know?
  3. How does taking a close look at the Sermon on the Mount (Mt chps 5-7) allow you to understand the tension of living in a state of brokenness, contrition and in constant repentance; and yet, at the same time, live in blessedness, joy, freedom, peace, security and love?
  4. If you do not have the security of living with a broken and contrite heart, how does one encourage such a state?


So What?: Your relationship with God as your Husband/Father is contingent upon your heart.  Your eternal destiny is continent upon your relationship with God.  


I am called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable so you might all be the new Israel and wrestle with God.  —Pastor Keith


My brother, only the heart is hard that does not know it is hard.  Only he is hardened who does not know he is hardened.  When we are concerned for our coldness, it is because of the yearning God has put there.  God has not rejected us. —Bernard of Clairvaux  (A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 90)


I suppose every Christian goes through springs, summers, autumns, and winters, various cycles of ups and downs in their attitudes toward private worship.  But the person in whom it is always winter in their desires for private worship is a person with a cold, dead soul.  When there are no longings month after month, year after year, for regular communion with God, obviously there is no life from God or life with God.  In Gal 4:6 the Bible explicitly describes the desires for communion with God on the part of those who are children of God, who have his Holy Spirit: “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba!  Father!’” Without such a heart cry to draw near to God, there is no Spirit of God in the heart.  And without the presence of the Spirit of God there is no relationship with God.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, pp. 313-4)


God’s love and favor met with Israel’s ingratitude and disobedience.  His intention was to give them a place as if they were sons (v. 19).  As a daughter, Israel was to receive an inheritance like that of sons, an event that was contrary to Hebrew practice (cf. Nm 27:1-8).  The legacy was the land of Palestine.  But they would match their words with their deeds.  They will enter into the promise only when they practice what they profess.  But again they disappointed all expectations and committed treachery (v. 20).  What a contrast between God’s hopes for them and what happened!  From the rosy prospects of the future, Israel must be called back to the dark present.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 403)




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