Jeremiah prophesies the end-time restoration of the lost tribes of Israel. In ancient times, God divorced them and sent them away because they worshipped other gods. But they will repent in the end times and discover God as Father.
God's divorce from Israel, and relationship with unfaithful Judah (v1-11)
God pictures himself metaphorically as the husband originally of both Israel and Judah. He first of all describes his divorce from Israel. The first of the ten commandments says, "You must not have any other gods besides me" (Deuteronomy 5:7). So God pictures his relationship with Israel as a marriage, and he considers worship of any other god to be an act of adultery. Israel didn't just have a one-off adulterous affair, but prostituted herself to many gods (v1). So God 'gave wayward Israel her divorce papers and sent her away because of her adulterous worship of other gods' (v8). Isaiah 50 also talks about this divorce. This divorce metaphor represents Israel's conquest and exile by the Assyrians in 722 BC. According to 2 Kings 17:5-6 and 1 Chronicles 5:26, they were settled along the River Habor (a tributary of the River Euphrates in Mesopotamia), and among the cities of the Medes (to the east of the River Tigris). In other words, God 'sent them away'.

Jeremiah's ministry began in the 13th year of the reign of King Josiah of Judah (Jeremiah 1:2), which was about 628 BC, nearly a hundred years after the Assyrian exile of Israel. At that time, verses 4 to 5 portray Israel wishing she could return, and hoping that God will not be angry with her forever. In verses 12 to 14, Jeremiah proclaims God's call for Israel to repent. God promises that if they come back to him, he will bring them back to Zion (v14), but they have to first confess that they have done wrong and rebelled against the Lord their God (v13). God promises that he will restore a remnant, one from each town, and two from each family group, and then give them leaders who will be faithful to God (v14-15). Historically, this never happened. Israel remained in exile, and over time they lost their ethnic identity. Today they are known as the lost ten tribes. But God still knows who they are. In verses 14 to 18, Jeremiah prophesies the end-time restoration of Israel when they will return to their ancestral homeland and be reunited with the nation of Judah (v18). Today, the descendants of Judah are knows as the Jews. At that time, Jerusalem will be called the Lord's throne, and the nations will gather there to honour the Lord. This will be fulfilled at the beginning of the Millennium when Jesus sits on his glorious throne and judges the nations (Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 20:4).

In verses 7 to 11, Judah sees what Israel did, and how she was divorced and sent away. But instead of learning from it, she does the same. Although she makes a pretence of repentance, God says Judah has not turned back with any sincerity (v10). In verse 11, God says, "Under the circumstances, wayward Israel could even be considered less guilty than unfaithful Judah". It is likely that Jeremiah delivered this message shortly before Hilkiah the priest found the book of the Law (i.e. Deuteronomy) in the temple and gave it to Josiah. That happened in Josiah's 18th year (2 Kings 22), the 5th year of Jeremiah's ministry. The book of the Law would have been the book of Deuteronomy, primarily, but perhaps all of the Torah (2 Kings 23:25) and more. At the age of 26 when Josiah read it, he repented wholeheartedly, and began a comprehensive program of reforms in an attempt to lead the whole nation back to God (2 Kings 23). Unfortunately, at the age of 39, King Josiah was killed in battle against Pharaoh Necho of Egypt. His sons Jehoahaz and then Jehoiakim were kings after him, but failed to continue in Josiah's devotion to Jehovah. In 605 BC, four years after Josiah's death, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded Judah, deported his first group of exiles to Babylon, and made Judah his vassal state. This was followed by a further deportation in 597 BC, and the final deportation in 586 BC when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed.

In verses 19 to 21, God expresses his longing for Israel (the northern kingdom) to return to him. He now pictures Israel as a son, and himself as Israel's father. He imagines what a joy it would be to bring Israel back and restore them to the most beautiful land in all the world. But instead of hearing Israel's repentance, he hears the noises of them worshipping false gods.

However, in verses 22 to 25, God once again calls Israel back and gives them a 'repentance script'. They need to recognise that God is the only one who can deliver them. Verse 24 says, "From earliest times our worship of that shameful god, Baal, has taken away all that our ancestors worked for". Given that this passage is a prophecy of Israel's end-time repentance and restoration to the land, it is reasonable to understand an association between Baal and Allah. Israel was deported to Mesopotamia (parts of modern-day Syria, Turkey and Iraq) and to the land of the Medes (part of modern-day Iran), so today most of their descendants are almost certainly Muslims. Their end-time repentance will be a turning away from Allah (represented here by Baal) and back to Jehovah. It is at that time they will truly discover God as Father.
Places: Israel, Judah, Jerusalem
Symbols: Unfaithful wife, Prostitute, Divorce and remarriage, God as Father, Baal as Allah
Tags: Israel as a wife, Israel as a son, Restoration of Israel and Judah, Throne of God, Baal as Allah, Lost tribes of Israel, Lost tribes pray for deliverance
3 “If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and becomes another man’s wife, he may not take her back again. Doing that would utterly defile the land. But you, Israel, have given yourself as a prostitute to many gods. So what makes you think you can return to me?” says the Lord.
2 “Look up at the hilltops and consider this. Where have you not been ravished? You waited for those gods like a thief lying in wait in the wilderness. You defiled the land by your wicked prostitution to other gods.
3 That is why the rains have been withheld, and the spring rains have not come. Yet in spite of this you are obstinate as a prostitute. You refuse to be ashamed of what you have done.
4 Even now you say to me, ‘You are my father! You have been my faithful companion ever since I was young.
5 You will not always be angry with me, will you? You will not be mad at me forever, will you?’ That is what you say, but you continually do all the evil that you can.”
6 When Josiah was king of Judah, the Lord said to me, “Jeremiah, you have no doubt seen what wayward Israel has done. You have seen how she went up to every high hill and under every green tree to give herself like a prostitute to other gods.
7 Yet even after she had done all that, I thought that she might come back to me. But she did not. Her sister, unfaithful Judah, saw what she did.
8 She also saw that, because of wayward Israel’s adulterous worship of other gods, I sent her away and gave her divorce papers. But still her unfaithful sister Judah was not afraid, and she too went and gave herself like a prostitute to other gods.
9 Because she took her prostitution so lightly, she defiled the land through her adulterous worship of gods made of wood and stone.
10 In spite of all this, Israel’s sister, unfaithful Judah, has not turned back to me with any sincerity; she has only pretended to do so,” says the Lord.
11 Then the Lord said to me, “Under the circumstances, wayward Israel could even be considered less guilty than unfaithful Judah.

The Lord Calls on Israel and Judah to Repent
12 “Go and shout this message to my people in the countries in the north. Tell them, ‘Come back to me, wayward Israel,’ says the Lord. ‘I will not continue to look on you with displeasure. For I am merciful,’ says the Lord. ‘I will not be angry with you forever.
13 However, you must confess that you have done wrong, and that you have rebelled against the Lord your God. You must confess that you have given yourself to foreign gods under every green tree, and have not obeyed my commands,’ says the Lord.
14 “Come back to me, my wayward sons,” says the Lord, “for I am your true master. If you do, I will take one of you from each town and two of you from each family group, and I will bring you back to Zion.
15 I will give you leaders who will be faithful to me. They will lead you with knowledge and insight.
16 In those days, your population will greatly increase in the land. At that time,” says the Lord, “people will no longer talk about having the ark that contains the Lord’s covenant with us. They will not call it to mind, remember it, or miss it. No, that will not be done any more!
17 At that time the city of Jerusalem will be called the Lord’s throne. All nations will gather there in Jerusalem to honor the Lord’s name. They will no longer follow the stubborn inclinations of their own evil hearts.
18 At that time the nation of Judah and the nation of Israel will be reunited. Together they will come back from a land in the north to the land that I gave to your ancestors as a permanent possession.
19 “I thought to myself, ‘Oh what a joy it would be for me to treat you like a son! What a joy it would be for me to give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful piece of property there is in all the world!’ I thought you would call me, ‘Father’ and would never cease being loyal to me.
20 But, you have been unfaithful to me, nation of Israel, like an unfaithful wife who has left her husband,” says the Lord.
21 “A noise is heard on the hilltops. It is the sound of the people of Israel crying and pleading to their gods. Indeed they have followed sinful ways; they have forgotten to be true to the Lord their God.
22 Come back to me, you wayward people. I want to cure your waywardness. Say, ‘Here we are. We come to you because you are the Lord our God.
23 We know our noisy worship of false gods on the hills and mountains did not help us. We know that the Lord our God is the only one who can deliver Israel.
24 From earliest times our worship of that shameful god, Baal, has taken away all that our ancestors worked for. It has taken away our flocks and our herds, and even our sons and daughters.
25 Let us acknowledge our shame. Let us bear the disgrace that we deserve. For we have sinned against the Lord our God, both we and our ancestors. From earliest times to this very day we have not obeyed the Lord our God.’