CLICK HERE to read Jeremiah 3.
Jeremiah begins this chapter by discussing the impact of families upon societies and nations. The Lord says it is all connected, and that individuals and families falling away will incur calamities on entire communities and countries. This is consistent with the Family Proclamation, which states:
We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
Jeremiah is explaining that this is why destruction has come to Israel and Judah. Isaiah had prophesied to Judah, urging them as a nation to repent so the Lord could help them. Now Jeremiah says that since they did not, the consequences have arrived. He teaches them that even when an entire nation is called to repentance, repentance comes on an individual basis. It is each of us turning to the Lord that turns a whole nation back to God.
Jeremiah calls the people out for being legalistic, making bad behavior lawful, instead of living as people of holiness (verse 1). When we legalize immoral behavior, instead of living the laws of God, we have polluted our nation which had been set apart as holy unto Him. He tells them to look up to the holy places, and instead of temples they will see sacred places corrupted by sexual sin (verse 2). Instead of a nation seeking to be pure and holy, they have become a nation seeking power and wealth. Instead of following commandments and being obedient, the people follow impulse and selfish.
Because of this, Jeremiah says, “the showers have been withholden” (verse 3). He gives the temporal (Aaronic) example of there not being any rain, but also implied the spiritual (Melchizedek) layer of blessings being withheld because the people are not prepared to receive them. Their sin is big and blatant, and they are refusing to repent. The Lord hopes that by using the prophet Jeremiah to explain why this is happening, the people will soften and decide to cry out to Him, turn to Him for help, so that he can deliver them as He has in the past (verse 4). Though the people have done as much evil as they could, still the Lord says He will forgive them if they just turn back to Him (verse 5). God’s ultimate goal is not to punish the people, but to rescue them; it is their own consequences of poor choices that are punishing them.
Verse 6 opens with “in the days of Josiah the king”. This is important if you want to understand the book of Jeremiah chronologically, because this book is not in order by chapter. It is a collection of his writings, maybe even compiled by his secretary, Baruch, after his death. These little time markers help re-order the sequence of events if that is important to your understanding. In this case, we know that King Josiah was king from 640-610 BC – and that he has an amazing story, having become king at age 8 and being the one who compiled the Jewish scriptures, reclaimed the Temple from idol worship and prostitutes, and reinstituted Passover.
It is in this context that the Lord explains to Jeremiah how far the people are backsliding, and points out the specific sins they are committing (verse 6). The Lord reminds the people that after they have sinned, He calls them to repentance but would not turn to Him (verse 7). He tells Israel that they were a bad example for Judah, and caused Judah to sin also (verse 8). The Lord explains how because of small individual sins, the whole nation was corrupted (verse 9).
The Lord explained that the people are punished for their sins by their sins. When they would not give their tithes and offering, the nation became overburdened with taxes and deep in debt. When they committed sexual sins, the institution of family became corrupted and in chaos until sins were legalized. When they refused to listened to Truth and Prophets, the consequences of their sins began to grow, and destruction grew closer. When threatened with destruction, the people only faked repentance just to avoid their consequences (verse 10). Instead of turning to the Lord with sincere hearts and contrite spirits, the people justified their sins by legalizing them and arguing philosophy (verse 11).
Because of all this, the Lord has called Jeremiah to be a Prophet to the people so that they may repent even as the consequences of their sins catch up to them. He says that even now, even after all this, “I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever” (verse 12). But their repentance must be true and sincere, and that means they must acknowledge their iniquity and the ways they have transgressed against the Lord (verse 13).
He calls out to individuals specifically, urging them to repent, saying that even a single faithful person, or even one righteous family, He will establish in safety and peace in His holiness (verse 14). These who repent will receive “pastors”, which means shepherds, which means our bishops, and promises that these bishops will nourish them “with knowledge and understanding” (verse 15). The people will no longer grieve the loss of the ark of the covenant, to which only the priests could enter to make atonement (verse 16), because the Savior Himself will make atonement for us so that we can each have the full ordinances of the temple (verse 17). By these ordinances we will be cleansed and empowered, and gathered back to the Lord. And in that day, which is now, the testimony of the Jews will come together with the covenants of Abraham, restoring the full gospel with its priesthood authority and ordinances (verse 18; see also 2 Nephi 29:8, 14).
How can He restore these things for us, until we turn to Him (verse 19)? He grieves like one whose spouse has betrayed and abandoned him, and is sorrowful to watch us sin and then suffer the consequences when He knows he could rescue us – even restore us (verse 20). He cries out to the people, even while they sin in holy places, perverting the laws and ordinances of God (verse 21). He begs them to turn to Him, to repent, and to let Him help them through the repentance process and be healed and restored (verse 22). He watches them worship false idols who can do nothing for them, and waits for the people to return to Him who can do everything for them (verse 23). He is saddened by how their bad behavior shames the noble work and testimony of their righteous ancestors, and grieves the destruction that will come to their children who will not be brought up in His ways (verse 24).
Jeremiah testifies of all this, and obeys the Lord to be an example to the people by acknowledging that the people have sinned “and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God” (verse 25).