Jeremiah 3:1 (ESV)

“If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him

and becomes another man’s wife,

will he return to her?

Would not that land be greatly polluted?

You have played the whore with many lovers;

and would you return to me?

declares the Lord.

The illustration of Judah as an unfaithful wife, an adulteress, a prostitute, is well known in the Old Testament. The whole Book of Hosea grows out of Hosea’s marriage to a prostitute as a picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness some two hundred years previous.

The striking thing about what God says to Jeremiah here is that God is using divorce and remarriage and then divorce and remarriage to the divorced partner as an illustration of just how sinful Judah had become. The reason this is so striking is that an illustration is only useful if those for whom the illustration is given – get it. This illustration that Jeremiah is to deliver to the people will make its point because the people of Judah know the abhorrence of divorce, remarriage, divorce again and then returning to the first spouse.

The sins in Judah are nothing to be sneezed at. The nation has deteriorated into a cesspool of idolatry, trust in political powers instead of God, neglect and abuse of the poor and women, love of money and power and more. Their intransigence tries God’s patience to the breaking point so that He eventually declares that the opportunity for repentance for them is gone. The die is cast and exile is inevitable.

But even to such a people as wicked as they are, an illustration of the magnitude of their sin can make sense to them since not even they have deteriorated to the place where they can marry and divorce and remarry on a whim. Or if they do, it is considered scandalous. When God says “If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted?”, He expects to get a positive reply. When the point is made that this is what they are doing the people will be horrified, or they will deny the audacity of the charge. What they will not do is shrug and say “I don’t get it. What would be so wrong with that happening?”

But we would. We do. We read this account in Jeremiah and we wonder what all the fuss would be about a woman having multiple marriages and then marrying her first husband again. This is not to say that grace is not greater than such things. Where sin abounds grace abounds even more. God can, and does, forgive such great sin. But let us not lose sight of the fact that it is a great sin. We need to see that the grace that can forgive even this sin is a true wonder; that marriage and divorce and divorce and divorce is a major blight upon the land and the church.

And the major point is this: it is not for us, either in the church or in the culture at large, to look at Judah in Jeremiah’s day and say that their sin was worse than ours. It was not. And in this thing at least, Judah was not as bad: they were still horrified that their sins could be compared to such an abhorrent thing.

That the culture we live in can sin to the point where sin is not even recognized should make us weep. That the church of Jesus Christ should be a part of it should cause the tears to never stop. And what this text says to us about how God views marriage should make us turn to God in repentance for the sin of dullness of spirit that matches the world that we are called to be transformed from. It should cause us to study what the Bible says about marriage. It should make us put great effort into ensuring that our marriages will never be a part of what could be labelled “greatly polluted”. And it should get us to the point where we will be shocked at sin again.

What a relevant message a Book written over 500 years B.C. is for us today. May it have the result for which God preserved it for us to have.