These verses some make to belong to the sermon in the foregoing chapter, and they open a door of hope to those who receive the conviction of the reproofs we had there; God wounds that he may heal. Now observe here,
I. How basely this people had forsaken God and gone a whoring from him. The charge runs very high here. 1. They had multiplied their idols and their idolatries. To have admitted one strange God among them would have been bad enough, but they were insatiable in their lustings after false worships: Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, Jer. 3:1. She had become a common prostitute to idols; not a foolish deity was set up in all the neighbourhood but the Jews would have it quickly. Where was a high place in the country but they had had an idol in it? Jer. 3:2. Note, In repentance it is good to make sorrowful reflections upon the particular acts of sin we have been guilty of, and the several places and companies where it has been committed, that we may give glory to God and take shame to ourselves by a particular confession of it. 2. They had sought opportunity for their idolatries, and had sent about to enquire for new gods: In the high—ways hast thou sat for them, as Tamar when she put on the disguise of a harlot (Gen. 38:14), and as the foolish woman, that sits to call passengers, who go right on their way, Prov. 9:14, 15. As the Arabian in the wilderness—the Arabian huckster (so some), that courts customers, or waits for the merchants to get a good bargain and forestal the market—or the Arabian thief (so others), that watches for his prey; so had they waited either to court new gods to come among them (the newer the better, and the more fond they were of them) or to court others to join with them in their idolatries. They were not only sinners, but Satans, not only traitors themselves, but tempters to others. 3. They had grown very impudent in sin. They not only polluted themselves, but their land, with their whoredoms and with their wickedness (Jer. 3:2); for it was universal and unpunished, and so became a national sin. And yet (Jer. 3:3), “Thou hadst a whore’s forehead, a brazen face of thy own. Thou refusedst to be ashamed; thou didst enough to shame thee for ever, and yet wouldst not take shame to thyself.” Blushing is the colour of virtue, or at least a relic of it; but those that are past shame (we say) are past hope. Those that have an adulterer’s heart, if they indulge that, will come at length to have a whore’s forehead, void of all shame and modesty. 4. They abounded in all manner of sin. They polluted the land not only with their whoredoms (that is, their idolatries), but with their wickedness, or malice (Jer. 3:2), sins against the second table: for how can we think that those will be true to their neighbour that are false to their God? “Nay (Jer. 3:5), thou hast spoken and done evil things as thou couldst, and wouldst have spoken and done worse if thou hadst known how; thy will was to do it, but thou lackedst opportunity.” Note, Those are wicked indeed that sin to the utmost of their power, that never refuse to comply with a temptation because they should not, but because they cannot.
II. How gently God had corrected them for their sins. Instead of raining fire and brimstone upon them, because, like Sodom, they had avowed their sin and had gone after strange gods as Sodom after strange flesh, he only withheld the showers from them, and that only one part of the year: There has been no latter rain, which might serve as an intimation to them of their continual dependence upon God; when they had the former rain, that was no security to them for the latter, but they must still look up to God. But it had not this effect.
III. How justly God might have abandoned them utterly, and refused ever to receive them again, though they should return; this would have been but according to the known rule of divorces, Jer. 3:1. They say (it is an adjudged case, nay, it is a case in which the law is very express, and it is what every body knows and speaks of, Deut. 24:4), that if a woman be once put away for whoredom, and be joined to another man, her first husband shall never, upon any pretence whatsoever, take her again to be his wife; such playing fast and loose with the marriage-bond would be a horrid profanation of that ordinance and would greatly pollute that land. Observe, What the law says in this case—They say, that is, every one will say, and subscribe to the equity of the law in it; for every man finds something in himself that forbids him to entertain one that is another man’s. And in like manner they had reason to expect that God would refuse ever to take them to be his people again, who had not only been joined to one strange god, but had played the harlot with many lovers. If we had to do with a man like ourselves, after such provocations as we have been guilty of, he would be implacable, and we might have despaired of his being reconciled to us.
IV. How graciously he not only invites them, but directs them, to return to him.
1. He encourages them to hope that they shall find favour with him, upon their repentance: “Thou thou hast been bad, yet return again to me,” Jer. 3:1. This implies a promise that he will receive them: “Return, and thou shalt be welcome.” God has not tied himself by the laws which he made for us, nor has he the peevish resentment that men have; he will be more kind to Israel, for the sake of his covenant with them, than ever any injured husband was to an adulterous wife; for in receiving penitents, as much as in any thing, he is God and not man.
2. He therefore kindly expects that they will repent and return to him, and he directs them what to say to him (Jer. 3:4): “Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me? Wilt not thou, who hast been in such relation to me, and on whom I have laid such obligations, wilt not thou cry to me? Though thou hast gone a whoring from me, yet, when thou findest the folly of it, surely thou wilt think of returning to me, now at least, now at last, in this thy day. Wilt thou not at this time, nay, wilt thou not from this time and forward, cry unto me? Whatever thou hast said or done hitherto, wilt thou not from this time apply to me? From this time of conviction and correction, now that thou hast been made to see thy sins (Jer. 3:2) and to smart for them (Jer. 3:3), wilt thou not now forsake them and return to me, saying, I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better with me than now?” Hos. 2:7. Or “from this time that thou hast had so kind an invitation to return, and assurance that thou shalt be well received: will not this grace of God overcome thee? Now that pardon is proclaimed wilt thou not come in and take the benefit of it? Surely thou wilt.”
(1.) He expects that they will claim relation to God, as theirs: Wilt thou not cry unto me, My Father, thou art the guide of my youth? [1.] They will surely come towards him as a father, to beg his pardon for their undutiful behaviour to him (Father, I have sinned) and will hope to find in him the tender compassions of a father towards a returning prodigal. They will come to him as a father, to whom they will make their complaints, and in whom they will put their confidence for relief and succour. They will now own him as their father, and themselves fatherless without him; and therefore, hoping to find mercy with him (as those penitents, Hos. 14:3), [2.] They will come to him as the guide of their youth, that is, as their husband, for so that relation is described, Mal. 2:14. “Though thou hast gone after many lovers, surely thou wilt at length remember the love of thy espousals, and return to the husband of thy youth.” Or it may be taken more generally: “As my Father, thou art the guide of my youth.” Youth needs a guide. In our return to God we must thankfully remember that he was the guide of our youth in the way of comfort; and we must faithfully covenant that he shall be our guide henceforward in the way of duty, and that we will follow his guidance, and give up ourselves entirely to it, that in all doubtful cases we will be determined by our religion.
(2.) He expects that they will appeal to the mercy of God and crave the benefit of that mercy (Jer. 3:5), that they will reason thus with themselves for their encouragement to return to him: “Will he reserve his anger for ever? Surely he will not, for he has proclaimed his name gracious and merciful.” Repenting sinners may encourage themselves with this, that, though God chide, he will not always chide, though he be angry, he will not keep his anger to the end, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion, and may thus plead for reconciliation. Some understand this as describing their hypocrisy, and the impudence of it: “Though thou hast a whore’s forehead (Jer. 3:3) and art still doing evil as thou canst (Jer. 3:5), yet art thou not ever and anon crying to me, My Father?” Even when they were most addicted to idols they pretended a regard to God and his service and kept up the forms of godliness and devotion. It is a shameful thing for men thus to call God father, and yet to do the works of the devil (as the Jews, John 8:44), to call him the guide of their youth, and yet give up themselves to walk after the flesh, and to flatter themselves with the expectation that his anger shall have an end, while they are continually treasuring up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath.