The law of Moses said that a man could divorce his wife if he found no favour in her, or if he found any uncleanness in her, but if her next husband also divorced her, or if he died, her former husband was not permitted to re-marry her after she had become defiled.1 Christ's teaching on the subject of divorce was quite different: He explained that it was only because of the hardness of their hearts that Moses wrote this precept. Christ taught that what...God hath joined together, let not man put asunder (Mark 10:9), and that if a divorced person married another, it was adultery,2 because in God's eyes once a couple are married they remain married until the death of one partner.3
Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD
In Jeremiah 3:1 God used the Old Testament law of Moses to show His love and patience for His people. He said ...thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, but He didn't say 'You are defiled, I can't have anything to do with you now', He said ...yet return again to me.
Judah had turned away from God. They had backslidden; other thingsidolshad taken the place of God. In fact there had been so many idols that it was easier to count the ones they hadn't played the whore with!4 We are told that Judah had a whore's forehead (Jeremiah 3:3), that is, they refused to be ashamed of their whoredom. Yet God was not willing to punish them if they would return to Him:
Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My father, thou art the guide of my youth? (Jeremiah 3:4);
...thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD (Jeremiah 3:1).
The love and compassion of God for His people is evident here.
Break up your fallow ground
Thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. (Jeremiah 4:3)
In farming terms fallow ground was ground which was ploughed but left uncultivated. Fallow ground is potentially useful but not actually in use. These Judeans had been letting their hearts lie fallow. The things of the Lord had been lying neglected in their hearts. Their hearts had at one time been prepared and they had committed themselves to follow the Lordwe read about this in 2 Kings:
And the king [Josiah] stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant. (2 Kings 23:3)
King Josiah followed two kings, Manasseh and Amon, who did evil in the sight of the Lord. Josiah, however, did that which was pleasing to the Lord. He repaired the temple and when the book of the law was found, he instituted a great revival and committed himself to the Lord and all the people joined in this covenant. Jeremiah was speaking during the reign of Josiah when he said to the Judeans, from the Lord, break up your fallow ground.
Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done?
The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen some 80 years before Josiah's reign and was therefore still fairly recent history. God, in Jeremiah chapter 3, was showing Judah, Israel's folly:
The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. (Jeremiah 3:6-8)
Why was God saying to the Judeans under the reign of king Josiah break up your fallow ground? After all, Josiah and all the people had made a covenant to follow the Lord. It was a time of great revival! And yet here was the Lord, speaking through Jeremiah, calling Judah 'treacherous'5 and a 'harlot'. How could this be? Surely they had left their idolatry behind them when they had made the covenant to follow the Lord. We get the answer in Jeremiah 3:10,
...her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD.
Backsliding people returning to the Lord must first truly repent of their sins and seek forgivenessthe fallow ground must be broken upthe weeds and thorns must be uprootedthe heart must be properly prepared to receive the things of the Lord. The seed will not grow among thorns. In Jeremiah 4:4 the men of Judah were told to:
Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart.
It was not just ritualistic observance that the Lord wanted from them. He wanted a true heart-felt obedience; not just an habitual observance but a true desire to follow the Lord. The Lord does not look on the outward appearance but on the heart of man.6
As well as their idolatry, for the past 490 years the Judeans had been neglecting the law of the Sabbatic year.7 The land was supposed to lie fallow for one year in every seven and was now owed 70 Sabbatic years. This was the reason why their captivity in Babylon was to last for 70 years:
To fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years. (2 Chronicles 36:21)
Who was to blame?
Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. They have made it desolate, and being desolate it mourneth unto me; the whole land is made desolate, because no man layeth it to heart. (Jeremiah 12:1011)
Here, God's vineyard is Israel and God's pleasant portion is Judah.8
The word pastors used here literally means 'to feed'. It refers to those people who were responsible for the spiritual feeding and spiritual welfare of the people, that is, the priests, the prophets and to a large extent in those days the king. Often when a king did good in the sight of the Lord, the people followed suit and when a king did evil in the sight of the Lord, the people returned to idolatrous worship. The king was a very great influence as a pastor to his people. At this time, Israel had fallen, Judah was about to go into captivity in Babylon for 70 years and God lays the blame fair and square on the pastors!
What about now?
The situation is similar today. Church leaders have a great responsibility, but lamentably, in these modern times, the only pastors who become known to the general public are the ones with controversial and liberal views. Those who pervert the word of God in this way are guilty of bringing desolation to the church. Their perversions bring people into the church but those who come are often deceived into thinking that they are Christians when they are in fact unsaved. Worse still, the Bible tells us that:
The time will come when [people] will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:34)
We are in an age when it is unfashionable to preach about Hell. It is not easy to change a person's mind on this point once they have been told by the pastor of their church that 'there's no such place, don't worry, nobody's going to Hell'.
We are in the age of unified religions; we are supposed to believe that we all worship the same god who can be approached in a variety of ways, according to the religion that you ascribe to. This is idolatry akin to that in Jeremiah's day!
It was the pastors who had destroyed Israel and who were leading Judah into captivity in Babylon, and there are pastors today who lead people astray. It is a tremendously important part of God's work. If the pastors of Israel and Judah had been faithful in teaching the truth, Israel would not have fallen and Judah would not have gone into captivity.
1 Deuteronomy 24:14. Return to text
2 Mark 10:12. Return to text
3 Romans 7:2. Return to text
4 Jeremiah 3:2. Return to text
5 Jeremiah 3:7, 8. Return to text
6 1 Samuel 16:7. Return to text
7 Exodus 23:1011. Return to text
8 Isaiah 5:7. Return to text
© Paul Rose 2004 <http://www.twoedgedswordpublications.co.uk/Articles/Many_Pastors.htm>