Would you return?

Jeremiah 3:1-5
There’s an interesting point of translation in Jeremiah 3:1.

The entire chapter outlines God’s accusation against Judah and Israel. Both have turned from the Lord to other lovers. At times, many others! That is the driving image described in the chapter. God’s people have played the harlot. Where have you not done these things, God asks.

Some of us are uncomfortable with such imagery. But it expresses the intimacy God desires with humanity. If we’re being honest, that kind of makes us uncomfortable, too. Admittedly, the first time I heard someone suggest God “makes love to our hearts,” I cringed. That wasn’t because it doesn’t match the biblical sense of intimacy. No, I had warped notions of what it means. An unfaithful spouse perfectly characterizes the rebellion of God’s people. It stands to reason, then, that loving, intimate relations can illustrate what God wants with us.

This is all helpful to consider the translation point before us today.

How much did Israel’s and Judah’s unfaithfulness impact God? When you read words like polluted, desolate and wickedness you start to realize how much. So, when an unfaithful spouse wants to return, what is the proper response? More to the point, when God’s unfaithful people want to return, what is God’s response?

In this case, it might surprise you. I have read this passage with my usual Bible translations: NRSV and NKJV. Both seem to offer a slight difference in translation. Jeremiah 3:1 begins God’s indictment against the people. According to the NKJV, the ending of the verse declares, “‘But you have played the harlot with many lovers; yet return to Me,’ says the Lord.” The NRSV says it this way, “‘You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?’ says the Lord.”

Was it just me or does one translation read like an invitation while the other an accusation?

On this side of the Jesus experience, we’re quick to acknowledge it as an invitation. After all, God wants to redeem us. We’re just a bit stubborn and God knows that. I remember using the old Motel 6 tagline in a sermon once. Like the motel, God always leaves the light on for us. Praise God.

At the same time, consider the problem God has with Judah and Israel. They did come back, supposedly. That is, they maintained their worship and special offerings. They considered themselves people of God. And yet they have done, as God says, all the evil they could.

It seems as if Jeremiah 3:1 is God challenging the people. We needn’t worry whether God offers us an invitation or not. You can always hear Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” But the Lord’s challenge to them extends to us as well. Have we returned to God? Or are we more like a cheating spouse? Do we profess the blessings of God while seeking the pleasures of the world?

God knows the difference when do and don’t. And true discipleship teaches us to know the difference.

Stay blessed…john

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