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Jeremiah 3:1-5 – Does God Break the Law?


God determines to override the law for the sake of a future with his divorced partner Israel.


The divorce law of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is assumed in Jeremiah 3:1. That law states that a husband who had divorced his wife for cause could not remarry her if she had been remarried and then divorced or widowed. To do so would defile the land itself. In terms of the use of this law in Jeremiah 3:1-5, Israel has left her husband, Yahweh, and "married" another (Baal). This move entails divorce from the first husband, Yahweh (contrast Isaiah 50:1, which declares that no divorce has occurred). In terms of the divorce law, Yahweh cannot remarry the former wife (Israel), and the unfaithful wife cannot return to her husband. Such action would pollute the land even more severely (Jeremiah 3:2-3; 2:7). So, if one is to obey the law, no renewal of the relationship between God and Israel is possible.

In a stunning move, God decides to ignore the "if" in what follows, with the repeated invitation to Israel to return (3:15-18). God has determined that, for the sake of the relationship, the law must be broken. Relational issues supersede legal issues. God determines that God cannot simply walk away from Israel. Israel can certainly bring nothing to the table to enable this divine move, but God makes a gracious move and allows Israel a place at the table once again.

God is thus not bound to the Torah in any static sense. For God, the personal and relational factors at stake override the strict application of the law. Hence, to use lawsuit or other legal language to describe the God-Israel relationship is to treat it in a much too formal and legalistic way. God's mercy, for the sake of a future with God's people, proves to be more decisive for God than divine justice.

Jeremiah 3:1-5

Unfaithful Israel

3If* a man divorces his wife
   and she goes from him
and becomes another man’s wife,
   will he return to her?
Would not such a land be greatly polluted?
You have played the whore with many lovers;
   and would you return to me?

says the Lord.
2 Look up to the bare heights,* and see!
   Where have you not been lain with?
By the waysides you have sat waiting for lovers,
   like a nomad in the wilderness.
You have polluted the land
   with your whoring and wickedness.
3 Therefore the showers have been withheld,
   and the spring rain has not come;
yet you have the forehead of a whore,
   you refuse to be ashamed.
4 Have you not just now called to me,
   ‘My Father, you are the friend of my youth—
5 will he be angry for ever,
   will he be indignant to the end?’
This is how you have spoken,
   but you have done all the evil that you could.

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