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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 20–25
Verses 20–25

Here is, I. The charge God exhibits against Israel for their treacherous departures from him, Jer. 3:20. As an adulterous wife elopes from her husband, so have they gone a whoring from God. They were joined to God by a marriage-covenant, but they broke that covenant, they dealt treacherously with God, who had always dealt kindly and faithfully with them. Treacherous dealing with men like ourselves is bad enough, but to deal treacherously with God is to deal treasonably.

II. Their conviction and confession of the truth of this charge, Jer. 3:21. When God reproved them for their apostasy, there were some among them, even such as God would take and bring to Zion, whose voice was heard upon the high places weeping and praying, humbling themselves before the God of their fathers, lamenting their calamities, and their sins, the procuring cause of them; for this is that which they lament, for this they bemoan themselves, that they have perverted their way and forgotten the Lord their God. Note, 1. Sin is the perverting of our way, it is turning aside to crooked ways and perverting that which is right. 2. Forgetting the Lord our God is at the bottom of all sin. If men would remember God, his eye upon them and their obligation to him, they would not transgress as they do. 3. By sin we embarrass ourselves, and bring ourselves into trouble, for that also is the perverting of our way, Lam. 3:9. 4. Prayers and tears well become those whose consciences tell them that they have perverted their way and forgotten their God. When the foolishness of man perverts his way his heart is apt to fret against the Lord (Prov. 19:3), whereas it should be melted and poured out before him.

III. The invitation God gives them to return to him (Jer. 3:22): Return, you backsliding children. He calls them children in tenderness and compassion to them, foolish and froward as children, yet his sons, whom though he corrects he will not disinherit; for, though they are refractory children (so some render it), yet they are children. God bears with such children, and so much parents. When they are convinced of sin (Jer. 3:21), and humbled for that, then they are prepared and then they are invited to return, as Christ invites those to him that are weary and heavy-laden. The promise to those that return is, “I will heal your backslidings; I will comfort you under the grief you are in for your backslidings, deliver you out of the troubles you have brought yourselves into by your backslidings, and cure you of your refractoriness and tendency to backslide.” God will heal our backslidings by his pardoning mercy, his quieting peace, and his renewing grace.

IV. The ready consent they give to this invitation, and their cheerful compliance with it: Behold, we come unto thee. This is an echo to God’s call; as a voice returned from broken walls, so this from broken hearts. God says, Return; they answer, Behold, we come. It is an immediate speedy answer, without delay, not, “We will come hereafter,” but, “We do come now; we need not take time to consider of it;” not, “We come towards thee,” but, “We come to thee, we will make a thorough turn of it.” Observe how unanimous they are: We come, one and all. 1. They come devoting themselves to God as theirs: “Thou art the Lord our God; we take thee to be ours, we give up ourselves to thee to be thine; whither shall we go but to thee? It is our sin and folly that we have gone from thee.” It is very comfortable, in our returns to God after our backslidings, to look up to him as ours in covenant. 2. They come disclaiming all expectations of relief and succour but from God only: “In vain is salvation hoped for from the hills and from the multitude of the mountains; we now see our folly in relying upon creature-confidences, and will never so deceive ourselves any more.” They worshipped their idols upon hills and mountains (Jer. 3:6), and they had a multitude of idols upon their mountains, which they had sought unto and put a confidence in; but now they will have no more to do with them. In vain do we look for any thing that is good from them, while from God we may look for every thing that is good, even salvation itself. Therefore, 3. They come depending upon God only as their God: In the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel. He is the Lord, and he only can save; he can save when all other succours and saviours fail; and he is our God, and will in his own way and time work salvation for us. It is very applicable to the great salvation from sin, which Jesus Christ wrought out for us; that is the salvation of the Lord, his great salvation. 4. They come justifying God in their troubles and judging themselves for their sins, Jer. 3:24, 25. (1.) They impute all the calamities they had been under to their idols, which had not only done them no good, but had done them abundance of mischief, all the mischief that had been done them: Shame (the idol, that shameful thing) has devoured the labour of our fathers. Note, [1.] True penitents have learned to call sin shame; even the beloved sin which has been as an idol to them, which they have been most pleased with and proud of, even that they shall call a scandalous thing, shall put contempt upon it and be ashamed of it. [2.] True penitents have learned to call sin death and ruin, and to charge upon it all the mischiefs they suffer: “It has devoured all those good things which our fathers laboured for and left to us; we have found from our youth that our idolatry has been the destruction of our prosperity.” Children often throw away upon their lusts that which their fathers took a great deal of pains for; and it is well if at length they are brought (as these here) to see the folly of it, and to call those vices their shame which have wasted their estates and devoured the labour of their fathers. Of the labour of their fathers, which their idols had devoured, they mention particularly their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. First, their idolatries had provoked God to bring these desolating judgments upon them, which had ruined their country and families, and made their estates a prey and their children captives to the conquering enemy. They had procured these things to themselves. Or, rather, Secondly, These had been sacrificed to their idols, had been separated unto that shame (Hos. 9:10), and they had devoured them without mercy; they did eat the fat of their sacrifices (Deut. 32:38), even their human sacrifices. (2.) They take to themselves the shame of their sin and folly (Jer. 3:25): “We lie down in our shame, being unable to bear up under it; our confusion covers us, that is, both our penal and our penitential shame. Sin has laid us under such rebukes of God’s providence, and such reproaches of our own consciences, as surround us and fill us with shame. For we have sinned, and shame came in with sin and still attends upon it. We are sinners by descent; guilt and corruption are entailed upon us: We and our fathers have sinned. We were sinners betimes; we began early in a course of sin: We have sinned from our youth; we have continued in sin, have sinned even unto this day, though often called to repent and forsake our sins. That which is the malignity of sin, the worst thing in it, is the affront we have put upon God by it: We have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, forbidding us to sin and commanding us, when we have sinned, to repent.” Now all this seems to be the language of the penitents of the house of Israel (Jer. 3:20), of the ten tribes, either of those that were in captivity or those of them that remained in their own land. And the prophet takes notice of their repentance to provoke the men of Judah to a holy emulation. David used it as an argument with the elders of Judah that it would be a shame for those that were his bone and his flesh to be the last in bringing the king back, when the men of Israel appeared forward in it, 2 Sam. 19:11, 12. So the prophet excites Judah to repent because Israel did: and well it were if the zeal of others less likely would provoke us to strive to get before them and go beyond them in that which is good.