The Historical and Covenantal Context of Jeremiah (Come, Follow Me: Jeremiah 1-29) – powered by Happy Scribe
As we delve into Jeremiah III, it’s helpful to set some both historical and political context of what’s going on in Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah, as well as the covenantal or religious context. So let’s actually begin in first with the covenantal context. We might remember this pivotal time in Israelite history where God David, the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, brought them to Sinai, and there he declared, I want to be your God. I want you to be my people. And he revealed a covenant.
And the Ten Commandments are kind of the middle portion of that covenant, where the covenant instructions for how to show love and loyalty to God and his people and stay within the covenant was revealed. So it’s important to note that that covenant, where people are expected to love God and love their neighbor, was how the people would prosper in the land. And now they’re in the promised land. They’ve been there for hundreds of years. And it’s clear from the record that the people have been struggling to worship God only to care for their neighbors, to not commit adultery, not kill, and so on and so forth.
And God, as the landlord of the promised land, and he has this agreement for people to be in the land. He is under covenant obligation to remove the people from the land if they do not live up to their covenantal obligations. It’s exactly what we see going on throughout Israelite history, but specifically during the time of Jeremiah. And incidentally, as you know, Lehi was a contemporary of Jeremiah. Lehi was living during all these times that were going on in Jerusalem.
Let’s get to the historical context. Remember that Israel is smack dab in the middle of the crossroads of the Middle East. And typically Egypt and Mesopotamia were the two major world empires at the time. And they often were fighting with each other and they would have to cross through the land of Israel or control the land of Israel to get to one another. Of course, all the trade routes go through there as well.
And why was there a military conflict? Well, whoever controlled the trade routes got all the money. And so Israel often was being conquered or bothered by Egypt or by Mesopotamia. And politically the Israelites were like, do we turn to Egypt for help? Do we turn to Mesopotamia for help?
And Jeremiah has been trying to tell people, and the Prophet has been trying to tell people, if you first look to God, if you first stay true to your covenant obligations to be loyal to God as he revealed to you at Mount Sinai in the Ten Commandments, he will give you all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And God lovingly and persistently has worked with the people. So as we get into Jeremiah three, we hear God using some very stark metaphors, using a marriage relationship metaphor, to talk about how the people have been so persistently unfaithful to him. And he uses this metaphor to kind of rouse their awareness that if you guys are not faithful to me, I will have to divorce you. I will have to send you away.
Which eventually is what happens to the Jews as it happened to the ten northern tribes they’re taken into captivity. And it’s because they wanted to worship the gods of other nations. God says, well, if those are the gods you want to follow, I’m going to send you those lands that those gods have jurisdiction over. So let’s take a look at some of the things that Jeremiah teaches us, that God teaches us through Jeremiah. Let’s begin in verse one.
They say, if a man put away his wife and she go from him and become another’s man, shall he return again unto her? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the harlot this is God speaking to Israel, but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, yet return again to me, saith the Lord. Very interesting. He’s saying in a typical marriage relationship, if somebody goes and gets divorced and then the wife marries another man, does the first husband go back and say to the former wife, hey, I want you back?
Typically not. And in the ancient world, it was really unlikely for that first marriage that’s now been broken apart to be reformed. And yet look at God saying in his loving kindness and forgiveness and mercy, yet return again to me, saith the Lord. Very interesting. He’s saying, I know I had to send you away, but I really want you back.
I want to be in this relationship even though you’ve been unfaithful to me. And that’s what God is saying to Israel. Verse two lift up thine eyes unto the high places and see where thou hast not been lined with in the ways hast thou sat for them as the Arabian in the wilderness, and thou hast polluted the land with thy hordes and with thy wickedness. So God is giving a litany or a list of the ways that the people have not been faithful to God, because if he’s going to have to punish them, he can’t just do it willy nilly without some kind of reason. So God explains it’s almost like a lawsuit.
He’s like, here’s what’s happened, and therefore I’m bringing a cause for divorce, or at least a cause for why this relationship is troubled. Verse three therefore the showers have been withholding and there has been no ladder rain, and now has had a hoarse forehead that refuses to be ashamed. So God’s saying, because if you’re in faithfulness, I’ve even had to withhold the blessings of the natural weather patterns that would help the agriculture to grow. And if you keep my commandments, you’ll prosper in the land, but you have not been keeping the commandments, therefore you cannot prosper in the land. If we jump down to verse six.
The Lord said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? Remember Israel refers to the ten northern tribes conquered about 120 years before by the Assyrians and the Israelites the ancient kingdom of Israel. The ten northern tribes had been backslided. They had been unfaithful to God and so they were taken into captivity. And God is saying didn’t you see what they did?
Have you not learned your lesson by listening to them and seeing their circumstances? Let’s continue. She has got upon every high mountain and upon every green tree and there have played the harlot again, a very stark metaphor if you think about a marriage relationship. It’s very hard for a marriage relationship to endure if one or both partners are cheating on the other. If God is just trying to get the message across to his people don’t cheat on me.
I’ve never cheated on you so don’t cheat on me. You have cheated on me, Israel and Judah but I have lovingkindness. I want to bring you back into relationship with me. So Jeremiah chapter three is very much accusations or telling the people what they’ve done wrong so they can see their error and return to the Lord. You might note the connection here to the Book of Mormon.
Lehigh leaves Jerusalem about this time because it’s so wicked. God says I’m going to destroy the city because of the wickedness we’ve been talking about. And Lehigh now goes to the promised land in the New World. What do we learn there? God tries to establish a new people and one of the key things he teaches is if you keep my commandments you shall prosper in the land.
Well, what happens at the end of the Book of Mormon time period that people are completely disloyal to God? They’re unfaithful to him. They cheat on Him metaphorically and therefore he has to remove them from the land just like he had done to their ancestors back in Judah and in Israel. So the lesson for us is are we willing to be faithful to God completely connected to him metaphorically like in a marriage relationship and be loyal to Him as he’s been loyal to us and we’re willing to sacrifice our sins, our greed, our anger, whatever it might be on the altar and turn back to him? Are we willing to have eyes only for God and for no other distractions that may keep us from God?
That is the message. Message of Jeremiah three.