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Eternal One: If a husband divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he ever go back to her again? Such behavior would violate what is right, and the land itself would be tainted with sin. Now you, Judah, have acted like a whore and taken on many lovers. Why are you trying to return to Me now?

    Look up to the hilltops. Take a good look.
        Is there anywhere you have not committed perverse acts in the company of other gods?
    You sat on the side of the road, offering yourself to lovers;
        like a desert nomad you waited, patiently.
    Even the land itself is tainted by your prostitution and wickedness.

From the beginning, the covenant between God and His people is clear. They are to worship and trust Him alone. They are to remain true to His teachings. So when God sees His people worshiping idols made of stone and wood, when He sees them participating in demeaning sexual practices with prostitutes as part of local fertility rites, it is too much. The people of Judah have been unfaithful in nearly every way imaginable. They have witnessed what happened to the adulterous Northern Kingdom of Israel. But somehow, these stubborn people think they are special, even immune to such disaster. They think if they say the right prayers in the right ways to the right God from time to time, then all the blatant violations of God’s covenant will be ignored. The prophet Jeremiah sees it all differently.

God will send out a message to the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom, which He still calls Israel. For decades, those people have been scattered throughout the Assyrian Empire to the north, while their land has been under enemy occupation. But despite the tribes’ faithlessness, these many years later, the God of mercy offers to restore them. In the midst of divine judgment, God utters words of hope; but this hope, this restoration, is only found in true repentance.

    That is why I have held back the rain,
        why the spring rains have not come.
    But you still look and act the part of a prostitute—
        unfazed, unashamed.
    But wait, did you just now call out to Me, saying,
        “My Father, You have been my friend, my confidant since I was young”?
    You ask, “Surely He won’t be angry forever, will He?
        Surely He won’t hold this against us to the end, right?”
    This is how you talk—as if all I want are your words;
        meanwhile you continue in your selfish and evil ways.

Then the Eternal who rules over all of history reminded me of a lesson my people, Judah, should have learned from Israel a century ago. He spoke these words to Judah early in my career, during the days of Josiah the king.

Eternal One: Have you not learned anything from Israel’s unfaithful ways? How she turned away from Me, went up every high hill and under every green tree to worship another. She acted like a prostitute and broke our covenant there. I thought, “After she’s done all this, she’ll return home to Me,” but it never happened. She didn’t come back. And her deceitful sister, Judah, saw all of this and learned nothing. She saw that I sent unfaithful Israel away with a decree of divorce for these acts of adultery. But it didn’t matter to her deceitful sister, Judah. She wasn’t afraid or moved by any of this. She went her own way and played the prostitute as well. In fact, because her own infidelity bothered her so little, she defiled the land by committing adultery, worshiping stones and trees instead of Me. 10 And while this was a lesson to be learned by deceitful Judah, it was an opportunity lost—for she never learned it; she never completely returned to Me. She only pretended to be Mine, as if empty words would satisfy Me.

11 (to Jeremiah) Despite her faithlessness, Israel has proven to be more righteous than her deceitful sister, Judah. 12 Now go and cry out these words of hope to those people in the north:

    “Return to Me, faithless Israel.
        I will look on you with mercy, not anger.
        I will not hold this grudge against you forever.
13     Just admit what you did—your sin against Me.
        How you rebelled against the Eternal your God.
    How you gave yourself away to these foreign gods in the open, under the trees!
        How you disobeyed My voice.
14     Come back home, My restless, faithless ones,
        for I am your master, your husband (not that other god),
    And I will take you in—one from this city, two from that clan;
        I will bring you home to Zion.

15 “Then I will give you shepherds who trust and know Me, wise teachers who will impart knowledge and understanding to you. 16 In those days, after your people have grown and increased in the land, they will no longer talk about the covenant chest of the Eternal. They won’t think about it, remember it, or even miss it. There will be no need for it to be made again. 17 In this coming age, Jerusalem will be known as the throne of the Eternal. All the nations of the world will be drawn there to her, to honor the name of the Eternal. The days of people insisting on their own stubborn ways dictated by their own evil hearts will be gone. 18 In that day, the split between My people will be mended. Judah and Israel will walk together again. From a land to the north, they will come to this land I gave only to your ancestors.

19     “I thought to Myself how much I wanted to welcome you home as children
        and bless you with a good land and a future to be envied by all the world.
    I hoped for the day when you would call Me ‘My Father,’
        and no longer pull away from Me and My ways.
20     But just as an unfaithful wife betrays her husband,
        so have you betrayed Me, O house of Israel.”

Jeremiah tells the people what could happen, if only they will repent. The prophet hopes for dialogue between Israel and the God who has never stopped loving her.

21 A sound now echoes from the deserted hills
    where Israel betrayed her God.
It is the sound of bitter tears mixed with the prayers
    of the lost and rebellious people of Israel
    who have forgotten the Eternal, their True God.

22 Eternal One: Come back to Me, My faithless ones,
        and I will heal your faithlessness.

Israel: Look! We come to You now,
        because You are the Eternal our God.
23     The idols we worshiped on the hills,
        the rituals we performed on the mountains were based on a lie.
    You, the Eternal, our one True God,
        are the only hope of Israel’s rescue.

24 Everything our parents worked for—their livestock and even their families—has been devoured by the worship of the shameful god. 25 Let us fall on our faces in shame, covered in our humiliation. Ours is a legacy of rebellion, for we and those before us have sinned against the Eternal our God. From the time we were young to this very day, we have refused to obey His voice.

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