Spiritual Adultery-Jeremiah 2-4

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Last Sunday (2/12/17): Called by the Word (Jeremiah 1). Read Jer 1:4-5, 12. There may be no greater fulfillment in life than to live out our calling on the basis of the Word of God.

Big Idea: (1) God is very serious about sin/idolatry/adultery. It leads to devastating consequences.

(2) Abandoning God and turning to idols is like abandoning a loving faithful spouse for other sexual partners. [Alternate titles: Forsaking the Spring of Living Water; God, the Jilted Lover; An Emotionally Wounded God; God Feels the Pain of Betrayal.]

Key Themes: a) Forsaking God is foolish and stupid, with devastating consequences.

b) When his people forsake God, God is hurt emotionally because of his undying love for us.

"My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jer 2:13).

"Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’  Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute"  (Jer 2:20).

"This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem: 'Break up your unplowed groundand do not sow among thorns. 4 Circumcise yourselves to the Lordcircumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done—burn with no one to quench it'" (Jer 4:3-4).

When the vow breaks. Nothing is more volatile, heart-breaking and has more far-reaching and long-lasting consequences than marital unfaithfulness. The heart of the matter--the real issue in marital infidelity--is not sex or romantic dalliances, though that is the focus of everyone’s attention! The real issue is trust. Vows have been broken. Betrayal has occurred. Adultery does to marriage what treason does to the nation. It is what Judas did to Jesus. In the traditional wedding ceremony, there are two sets of vows: (1) Vows made to God. You can be sure that he is listening (Mal 2:13−14). (2) Vows made to the man:

"Will you have this woman to be your wedded wife; to live together in the holy estate of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?" (Then the same question is asked of the bride).

Vows made to one another.   I,_____, take thee,_____, to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith/faithfulness.  

When adultery occurs, it means that vows are negotiable, commitments can be ignored, promises can be broken, and words have no meaning“Truth has perished”  (Jer 7:28). When a marriage (a culture, a nation, or a church) reaches this point then things fall apart. The barbarians are at the gates.

Thus, one of Jeremiah's foundational repeated message throughout the book is that the people have broken their relationship with God. They broke the Mosaic covenant, as defined in Deuteronomy. Jeremiah 2 presents a formal, legal lawsuit against the Judahites for breaking the covenant. The three main indictments are:

  1. Idolatry.
  2. Social injustice.
  3. Religious ritualism.

In Jeremiah 2, idolatry is stressed as the primary indictment. Although the lawsuit is formal, the injury is personal. God uses the imagery of a husband and his unfaithful wife to convey the pain and betrayal that he feels because of Judah's idolatry. This will be a major image throughout the book of Jeremiah. Throughout Jeremiah 2 there are numerous connections and allusions to Deuteronomy (esp. ch. 32).

Baal (Jer 2:8, 23) was one of the primary gods of the Canaanites and others in the region. Baal was a storm-god, closely connected with rain, fertility and agricultural production. The worship of Baal was officially incorporated into the worship of Israel by Ahab (1 Ki 16:31-33), and into the worship of Judah by Manasseh (2 Ki 10:18-27). The name "Baal" means "lord" or "master." It can also mean "master of the house" (i.e. "husband"). Later in Jeremiah Baal is used in wordplays involving idolatry as well as in the analogy of marital unfaithfulness.

The English pronoun "you" can refer to masculine singular, feminine singular, and corporate entities, whereas these are all differentiated in Hebrew. Readers cannot tell from the NIV when the identity of the addressee has shifted. It is important to know that the change in addressee used by the prophet is for poetic effect. The people of Judah and Jerusalem are the real audience, regardless of the poetry or metaphor being used by the prophet.

  1. 1-2 (female in Hebrew, cities personified as female) address Jerusalem.
  2. 3 (masculine) refers to Israel.
  3. 4-13 (pleural) is for the people.
  4. 14-16 (masculine) continues the address to Israel (B.).
  5. 17-25 (female) shifts back to Jerusalem (A.).
  6. 26-32 (pleural) addresses Israel and Judah, both of which are corporate designations of the people.
  7. 33-37 (female) addresses Jerusalem again (A.).

 2:2-3. Jerusalem is reminded of her beginnings as the young bride of the Lord. Jerusalem represents the people, just as Washington or Beijing represent the US and the PRC. It is her gender (feminine singular) that provides the metaphor of Jerusalem as the bride of the Lord.

2:3 switches abruptly to address the people by their covenant name "Israel," even though Israel is grammatically masculine singular. Devotion and dependence on the Lord for both identity and sustenance recalls the exodus from Egypt into the desert, the covenant ceremony at Mt. Sinai, and God sustaining them in the arid desert. This period of intimacy is contrasted with the estrangement from God at present.

2:4-13. Corporately Israel is accused of having defected from its first love in order to pursue "worthless idols," i.e., other deities. Baal is a popular Canaanite deity (Jer 2:8). The leadership is singled out for particular criticism (Jer 2:8, 26). "Priests" had the sacred task of interpreting God's presence and will among the people based on the Torah (law--Jer 2:8). "Leaders" is more literally rendered as "shepherds" after God, the great Shepherd of his people. "Prophets" speak from Baal rather than the Lord. Contrast God's faithfulness (Jer 2:6-7) with the emptiness of idolatry (Jer 2:11). They reject God and attempt vainly to support themselves (Jer 2:13). The care of cisterns was a laborious job in the hill country of Palestine. Jeremiah compares the labor-intensive work of repairing cisterns with the idolatry of following other gods, whereas the Lord is a fountain of living water (Jn 4:10, 14; 7:37-38).

2:14-19 address two entities: Israel (2:14-16) and Jerusalem (2:17-19). The tragic example of Isreal (northern kingdom)  should highlight/expose/indict the precarious position of Judah for becoming entangled with Egypt and Assyria. Judgment awaits (Jer 2:19).

2:20-25. By forsaking God the people (Jerusalem) are personified as a prostitute., like animals in heat who are unrestrained in seeking a mate. The valley (Jer 2:23) is likely the Valley of Hinnom, southwest of Jerusalem. It is the probable site of child sacrifice to Molech or Baal (Jer 7:30-34).

2:26-32. Judah has as many (useless, worthless) gods as they have towns (Jer 2:28). Some have apparently accused God of negligence, while God, through his prophets, acuse the people of defection (Jer 2:29-32), earlier depicted/described as prostitution. Forgetting is not that their memory or recognition of God has faded in Judah. Forgetting is associated with not honoring God ow with being disobedient, jast as remembering is associated with doing what is right. If one "remembers," one will act appropriately, thus, forgetting is tantamount to an inappropriate or nonresponsive act.

2:33-37. Jerusalem is personified as a prostitue or an adulteress. Prostitution is more than a defection from worship of the Lord--innocent blood is shed (Isa 2:34). Injustice and unrighteousness flow from a defective understanding of who the Lord is and what he desires from his covenant partner. The final image is the posture of mourning and resignation, like that of captives being led away (Jer 2:37).

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