Jeremiah 3:21
A voice was heard on the high places, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel: for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the LORD their God.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(21) A voice was heard.—Yes, the guilty wife was there, but she was also penitent. The “high places” which had been the scene of the guilt of the sons of Israel, where the cries of their orgiastic worship had been heard, now echoed with their weeping and supplication (or, more literally, the weeping of suppliant prayers), as they called to mind the hateful sins of the past.

Jeremiah

A COLLOQUY BETWEEN A PENITENT AND GOD

Jeremiah 3:21 - Jeremiah 3:22
.

We have here a brief dramatic dialogue. First is heard a voice from the bare heights, the sobs and cries of penitence, produced by the prophet’s earnest remonstrance. The penitent soul is absorbed in the thought of its own evil. Its sin stands clear before it. Israel sees its sin in its two forms. ‘They have perverted their way,’ or have led a wrong outward life of action, and the reason is that ‘they have forgotten God,’ or have been guilty of inward alienation and departure from Him. Here is the consciousness of sin in its essential character, and that produces godly sorrow. The distinction between mere remorse and repentance is here already, in the ‘weeping and supplication.’

I. So we have here a consciousness of sin in its true nature, as embracing both deeds and heart, as originating in departure from God, and manifested in perverted conduct.

Further, we have here sorrow. There may be consciousness of sin in its true nature without any sorrow of heart. 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.

Conscience is meant to produce that consciousness and that sorrow: but conscience may be dulled or silenced. It cannot be anyhow induced to call evil good, but it may be mistaken in what is evil. The gnomon is true, but a veil of cloud may be drawn over the sky.

Further, we have here supplication. These two former may both be experienced, without this third. There may be consciousness of sin and sorrow which lead to no blessing. ‘My bones waxed old through my roaring.’ Sorrow after a godly sort may be hindered by false notions of God’s great love, or by false notions of what a man ought to do when he finds he has gone wrong. It may be hindered by cleaving, subtle love of sin, or by self-trust. But where all these have been overcome there is true repentance.

II. The loving divine answer.

Another ear than the prophet’s has heard the plaint from the bare heights. Many a frenzied shriek had gone up from these shrines of idolatrous worship, and as with Baal’s prophets, it had brought no answer, nor had there been any that regarded. But this weeping reaches the ear that is never closed. Contrast with Jeremiah 3:23 : ‘Truly in vain is the help that is looked for from the hills, the shouting {of idol-worshippers} on the mountains.’

The instantaneousness of God’s answer is very beautiful. It is like the action of the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who saw his repentant boy afar off and ran and kissed him.

There seems to be, in both the invitation to return and in the promise to hear the backslidings, a quotation from Hosea 14:1 - Hosea 14:4. We see here how God meets the penitent with a love that recognises all his sin and yet is love. It is not rebuke or reproach that lies in that designation, ‘backsliding children.’ It is tenderest mercy that lets us see that He knows exactly what we are, and yet promises His love and forgiveness. He loves us sinners with a love that beckons us back to Himself, with a love that promises healing. The truth which should be taken into the mind and heart of the man conscious of sin is God’s knowledge of it all already and yet His undiminished love, God’s welcome of him back, God’s ready pardon. All this is true for the world in Christ, and is true for every individual soul.

The answer and the invitation here are immediate.

There is often a long period of painful struggle. It looks as if the answer were not immediate. But that is because we do not listen to it.

III. The happy response of the returning soul.

That too is immediate. The soul believes God’s promises. It recognises God’s claim. It returns to Him. We are attracted by His grace. The sunflower turns to the sun. The penitent is not driven only, but drawn -God’s own loving self-revelation in Christ is His true power. ‘I, if I am lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.’

The consciousness of sin remains and is even deepened {subsequent verses}, and yet is different. A light of hope is in it. The very sense of sin brings us to Him, to hide our faces on His heart like a child in its mother’s lap.

This response of the soul may be instantaneous. If it is not immediate, it too probably will never be at all.3:21-25 Sin is turning aside to crooked ways. And forgetting the Lord our God is at the bottom of all sin. By sin we bring ourselves into trouble. The promise to those that return is, God will heal their backslidings, by his pardoning mercy, his quieting peace, and his renewing grace. They come devoting themselves to God. They come disclaiming all expectations of relief and succour from any but the Lord. Therefore they come depending upon him only. He is the Lord, and he only can save. It points out the great salvation from sin Jesus Christ wrought out for us. They come justifying God in their troubles, and judging themselves for their sins. True penitents learn to call sin shame, even the sin they have been most pleased with. True penitents learn to call sin death and ruin, and to charge upon it all they suffer. While men harden themselves in sin, contempt and misery are their portion: for he that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but he that confesseth and forsaketh them, shall find mercy.Upon the high places - Upon those bare table-lands, which previously had been the scene of Israel's idolatries Jeremiah 3:2. The prophet supposes the offer of mercy to Israel if repentant to have been accepted, and describes Israel's agony of grief now that she is convinced of her sins.

Weeping and supplications - literally, "the weeping of earliest prayers for mercy."

For they have ... - Rather, because "they hare perverted their way," literally, made it crooked. It gives the reason of their cry for mercy.

21. In harmony with the preceding promises of God, the penitential confessions of Israel are heard.

high places—The scene of their idolatries is the scene of their confessions. Compare Jer 3:23, in which they cast aside their trust in these idolatrous high places. The publicity of their penitence is also implied (compare Jer 7:29; 48:38).

A voice was heard: here the prophet seems to express Israel’s repentance and turning to God; and that which they were at present engaging themselves in; (the word being participial, and in the present tense;) delivered in a prophetical style, as that in Jeremiah 31:15; and that not only out of a sense of their judgments that they were under, but chiefly of their sins they were guilty of, and the pardon of which they were now begging. which is intimated by weeping and supplication.

Upon the high places, viz. that their cry might be the more public, both open and loud, Jeremiah 22:20 Matthew 10:27; possibly alluding to the usual practice of praying on the tops of houses in great calamities, Isaiah 15:3 22:1 Jeremiah 7:291,

Weeping and supplications; or rather, weeping supplications; showing the intenseness of it; praying in weeping, and weeping in prayer, Zechariah 12:10, like Peter’s weeping, Matthew 26:75.

Of the children of Israel; the end of which might be to provoke Judah also to repentance, or otherwise to charge upon them their stupidity, and threaten them with the like judgments, if they would not return upon Israel’s example.

They have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the Lord their God: this expresseth rather the matter of their prayer than the cause of it, Lamentations 5:16, drawn chiefly from their sins, as also from their calamities. A voice was heard upon the high places,.... And so might be heard afar off; it shows that the repentance and confession of the Jews, when convinced and converted, will be very public, and made upon those places where they have committed their sins; see Jeremiah 2:20, for this and the following verses declare the humiliation, repentance, and conversion of the Jews, and the manner in which they shall be brought to it, and be openly put among the children:

weeping and supplications of the children of Israel; not so much lamenting their calamities, as mourning over their sins, supplicating the pardon of them, and freely and ingenuously confessing them:

for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the Lord their God; or, "because they have" (k), &c. this they shall be sensible of, that they have perverted the right ways of the Lord by their traditions, and have forgotten the worship of the Lord, as the Targum paraphrases it; yea, the Lord himself, their covenant God and kind benefactor, and lightly esteemed of the true Messiah, the Rock of their salvation. The consideration of which will cause them to weep and mourn; which they will do when the Spirit of grace and supplication is poured out upon them; and they shall look upon him whom they have pierced, Zechariah 12:10. Some interpret this as the cause of their calamities, and not as the subject matter of their mourning; but the latter seems best to agree with what follows, which shows by what means they were brought to repentance, and were converted.

(k) "quia perverterunt viam suam", Munster, Montanus, Junius & Tremellius; "eo quod", Piscator; "quod pravam viam inierunt", Cocceius.

{u} A voice was heard upon the high places, weeping and supplications of the children of Israel: for they have perverted their way, and they have forgotten the LORD their God.

(u) Signifying, that God, whom they had forsaken, would bring their enemies to them, who would lead them captive, and make them to cry and lament.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
21. bare heights] For the choice of such places for lamentation cp. ch. Jeremiah 7:29; Isaiah 15:2; Jdg 11:37.

21–25. Vividly drawn picture of Judah’s repentance. From the high places, the very scenes of her idolatrous excess, there comes a sound, at first of inarticulate weeping. In response to Jehovah’s gracious invitation, the emotion ventures to express itself in words of deep shame and contrition.Verse 21. - Another of those rapid transitions so common in emotional writing like Jeremiah's. The prophet cannot bear to dwell upon the backsliding of his people. He knows the elements of good which still survive, and by faith sees them developed, through the teaching of God's good providence, into a fruitful repentance. How graphic is the description! On the very high places (or rather, bare, treeless heights or downs, as ver. 2) where a licentious idolatry used to be practiced, a sound is heard (render so, not was heard) - the sound of the loud and audible weeping of an impulsive Eastern people (comp. Jeremiah 7:29). For they have; this evidently gives the reason of the bitter lamentation; render, because they have. An indispensable element of the return is: Acknowledge thy guilt, thine offence, for grievously hast thou offended; thou art fallen away (פּשׁע), and תּפזּרי את־דּרכיך, lit., hast scattered thy ways for strangers; i.e., hither and thither, on many a track, hast thou run after the strange gods: cf. Jeremiah 2:23.

The repeated call שׁוּבוּ, Jeremiah 3:14, is, like that in Jeremiah 3:12, addressed to Israel in the narrower sense, not to the whole covenant people or to Judah. The "backsliding sons" are "the backsliding Israel" of Jeremiah 3:7, Jeremiah 3:8, Jeremiah 3:11., and of Jeremiah 3:22. In Jeremiah 3:18 also Judah is mentioned only as it is in connection with Israel. בּעלתּי בכם, here and in Jeremiah 31:32, is variously explained. There is no evidence for the meaning loathe, despise, which Ges. and Diet. in the Lex., following the example of Jos. Kimchi, Pococke, A Schultens, and others, attribute to the word בּעל; against this, cf. Hgstb. Christol. ii. p. 375; nor is the sig. "rule" certified (lxx διότι ἐγὼ κατακυριεύσω ὑμῶν); it cannot be proved from Isaiah 26:13. בּעל means only, own, possess; whence come the meanings, take to wife, have oneself married, which are to be maintained here and in Jeremiah 31:32. In this view Jerome translates, quia ego vir vester; Luther, denn ich will euch mir vertrauen; Hgstb., denn ich traue euch mir an;-the reception anew of the people being given under the figure of a new marriage. This acceptation is, however, not suitable to the perf. בּעלתּי, for this, even if taken prophetically, cannot refer to a renewal of marriage which is to take place in the future. The perf. can be referred only to the marriage of Israel at the conclusion of the covenant on Sinai, and must be translated accordingly: I am your husband, or: I have wedded you to me. This is demanded by the grounding כּי; for the summons to repent cannot give as its motive some future act of God, but must point to that covenant relationship founded in the past, which, though suspended for a time, was not wholly broken up.

(Note: Calvin gives it rightly: "Dixerat enim, se dedisse libellum repudii h. e. quasi publicis tabulis se testatum fuisse, nihil amplius sibi esse conjunctionis cum populo illo. Nam exilium erat instar divortii. Jam dicit: Ego sum maritus vester. Nam etiamsi ego tam graviter laesus a vobis fuerim, quia fefellistis fidem mihi datam, tamen maneo in proposito, ut sim bovis maritus;...et perinde ac si mihi semper fidem praestitissetis, iterum assuman vos, inqiut.")

The promise of what God will do if Israel repents is given only from ולקחתּי (with ו consec.) onwards. The words, I take you, one out of a city, two out of a race, are not with Kimchi to be so turned: if even a single Israelite dwelt in a heathen city; but thus: if from amongst the inhabitants of a city there returns to me but one, and if out of a whole race there return but two, I will gather even these few and bring them to Zion. Quite aside from the point is Hitz.'s remark, that in Micah 5:1, too, a city is called אלף, and is equivalent to משׁפּחה. The numbers one and two themselves show us that משׁפּחה is a larger community than the inhabitants of one town, i.e., that it indicates the great subdivisions into which the tribes of Israel were distributed. The thought, then, is this: Though but so small a number obey the call to repent, yet the Lord will save even these; He will exclude from salvation no one who is willing to return, but will increase the small number of the saved to a great nation. This promise is not only not contradictory of those which declare the restoration of Israel as a whole; but it is rather a pledge that God will forget no one who is willing to be saved, and shows the greatness of the divine compassion.

As to the historical reference, it is manifest that the promise cannot be limited, as it is by Theodrt. and Grot., to the return from the Assyrian and Babylonian exile; and although the majority of commentators take it so, it can as little be solely referred to the Messianic times or to the time of the consummation of the kingdom of God. The fulfilment is accomplished gradually. It begins with the end of the Babylonian exile, in so far as at that time individual members of the ten tribes may have returned into the land of their fathers; it is continued in Messianic times during the lives of the apostles, by the reception, on the part of the Israelites, of the salvation that had appeared in Christ; it is carried on throughout the whole history of the Church, and attains its completion in the final conversion of Israel. This Messianic reference of the words is here the ruling one. This we may see from "bring you to Zion," which is intelligible only when we look on Zion as the seat of the kingdom of God; and yet more clearly is it seen from the further promise, Jeremiah 3:15-17, I will give you shepherds according to my heart, etc. By shepherds we are not to understand prophets and priests, but the civil authorities, rulers, princes, kings (cf. Jeremiah 2:8, Jeremiah 2:26). This may not only be gathered from the parallel passage, Jeremiah 23:4, but is found in the כּלבּי, which is an unmistakeable allusion to 1 Samuel 13:14, where David is spoken of as a man whom Jahveh has sought out for Himself after His heart (כּלבבו), and has set to be prince over His people. They will feed you דּעה . Both these words are used adverbially. דּעה is a noun, and השׂכּיל an infin.: deal wisely, possess, and show wisdom; the latter is as noun generally השׂכּל , Daniel 1:17; Proverbs 1:3; Proverbs 21:16, but is found also as infin. absol. Jeremiah 9:23. A direct contrast to these shepherds is found in the earlier kings, whom Israel had itself appointed according to the desire of its heart, of whom the Lord said by Hosea, They have set up kings (to themselves), but not by me (Hosea 8:4); kings who seduced the people of God to apostasy, and encouraged them in it. "In the whole of the long series of Israelitish rulers we find no Jehoshaphat, no Hezekiah, no Josiah; and quite as might have been expected, for the foundation of the throne of Israel was insurrection" (Hgstb.). But if Israel will return to the Lord, He will give it rulers according to His heart, like David (cf. Ezekiel 34:23; Hosea 3:5), who did wisely (משׂכּיל ) in all his ways, and with whom Jahveh was (1 Samuel 18:14.; cf. 1 Kings 2:3). The knowledge and wisdom consists in the keeping and doing of the law of God, Deuteronomy 4:6; Deuteronomy 29:8. As regards form, the promise attaches itself to the circumstances of the earlier times, and is not to be understood of particular historical rulers in the period after the exile; it means simply that the Lord will give to Israel, when it is converted to Him, good and faithful governors who will rule over it in the spirit of David. But the Davidic dynasty culminates in the kingship of the Messiah, who is indeed named David by the prophets; cf. Jeremiah 22:4.

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