Jesus Finds A Wee Little Man

Zacchaeus

Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately.  I must stay at your house today.”  So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter.  “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner”. 

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look Lord!  Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

 

We’ve seen this before: Jesus passes through a town, and people crowd around him each trying to get a piece.  Usually in these situations, Jesus heals some ambitious person who calls out for him or touches his clothes.  But this story is unique…

Our other person is Zacchaeus: he’s a chief tax collector, he’s wealthy, he’s short, he wanted to see what was happening.

This is not the first time that a wealthy person wanted to see Jesus, earlier in Luke we see the “Rich Young Ruler”.  He was a wealthy, law-abiding citizen, who walked away from Jesus when told to tell his possessions.  Jesus actually said that it’s virtually impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.  But this story shows us that nothing is impossible with God.

We’re told that Jesus goes to the spot where Zacchaeus is, calls him down, and invites himself over to the house.  We’re not told whether or not Zacchaeus was planning on going after Jesus, only that he wanted to see who he was.  When Zacchaeus is called down, he doesn’t even question why he’s been chosen or how Jesus knows his name, rather he jumped down and “welcomed him gladly”.

The crowd began to talk amongst themselves, saying that Jesus was addressing a “sinner”.  If Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector, then he’s probably very good at what he does, and perhaps is in charge of lesser tax collectors (and possibly thugs).  When the people call him a sinner, I get the feeling that really mean “dirty bastard”.

Zacchaeus, who is still enamored by Jesus, says a remarkable thing… “Look, Lord!” He acknowledges Jesus as God immediately upon meeting him.  He then announces that he’s giving away half of what he owns to the poor, and from the rest he’s giving back anything he’s stolen x4.  This really struck me.

Generally when most people meet Jesus, one of two things happen: they either ask him to do something, or he asks them to do something.  In this scenario, the only thing Jesus tells him to do is come out of the tree and open his home.  Zacchaeus is one of only a few people who have a beautiful and unique reaction to Christ: their first response when meeting Jesus is to give of themselves.

This story reminds me of the woman who washed his feet with her hair.  As soon as she met Jesus, she gave the only thing she could give.  The Pharisee at the table thought that she was a “sinner”, and Jesus used her example to teach a lesson.  Those who are forgiven much love much.  This might be true of Zacchaeus.  The people were calling him a sinner, and still he gives what he has to give.  He needed no convincing, and he’s still speaking only to Jesus, rather than defending himself from slander of the crowd.

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

I love it. “Salvation has come to this house”, literally.  Jesus says, this man too is a son of Abraham.  Even this chief tax collector, even this sinner, he too has an inheritance.  Jesus came to seek and save what was lost; and so, thank God, Zacchaeus was found.

Jonah reminds me of someone…

What a crazy story… and I’m skipping the part about the fish.  Seriously, I re-read Jonah this morning and the fish is the least interesting part.  But then again, while watching movies I often find the dialogue to be interesting and the explosions to be boring… so maybe it’s just me.  Still I don’t think there’s any coincidence that he gets swallowed the 1st chapter, and that it’s a set-up for the crazy dialogue in the following three chapters.

So Jonah went to Nineveh, and proclaimed God’s message… and they all repented.  From the least to the greatest they all fasted and wore sackcloth.  The king wore sackcloth, the dogs wore sackcloth, everyone was sorry for being jerks.

God heard their cry, and decided not to smite everyone… everybody’s happy, except Jonah.

Jonah 4: 1-4 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.  He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home?  That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”

Wow… so Jonah knew God would have compassion on the Ninevites, and that’s why he didn’t want to go.

Any Jonah-story that I’ve ever heard has implied that he ran away because he was scared of God, or scared of preaching, or perhaps scared of the Ninevites themselves.  But that’s not it at all…

This sounds really terrible… but he wanted them to burn.

He himself admits that he was afraid that God would be merciful and let them off the hook (or fish-hook in this case).  So is Jonah a bible-hero, worthy of a VeggieTales movie… or is he a seriously shady character, a “hater” if you will?

Maybe that’s why God put him in the whale… not to scare him into blind obedience, but to humble him, to help him get over himself, and to change his attitude about who does or doesn’t deserve mercy.

I know people like that, and I’ve been one of them at some unfortunate times in my life…  When you can look at a “sinner”, and teach them human hate by condemning them to hell, instead of teaching them the love of Christ through redemptive grace…  or when you can look at a criminal and rather have them executed than help them rehabilitate.   When you’d rather die than reconcile with your enemies… I feel like everything Jesus ever said points to these kinds of issues. I also have a hunch that God kept Jonah alive precisely to prove this point… if he had killed him, then Jonah wouldn’t have learned anything about grace.

God asked him if he had any right to be angry, but Jonah doesn’t answer him just yet.

Jonah 4:5-11 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city.  There he made himself a shelter, sat down in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.  But at dawn the next day, God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered.  When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint.  He wanted to die, and he said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”

“I do,” he said, “I am angry enough to die.”

But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow.  It sprang up overnight and it died overnight.  But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.  Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

Our story continues… and Jonah goes out to sulk alone in the desert.

He still won’t acknowledge the Ninevites as being saved by God (just as he was in the fish), and so he sets himself apart from them awaiting their fate.  Then God plays a really bizarre trick on him…

God sprouts up some type of plant which grows so tall that it provides shade for Jonah, to “ease his discomfort”.  I wonder if they mean physical discomfort from the sun, or the emotional discomfort of seeing God make enemies into friends.  Either way, Jonah was “very happy” with the vine… I have a feeling that he really loves God’s compassion (and wants it all for himself).

But blessings come and go, so the vine was gone the next day.  Jonah realized again how hot it was, but he refused to go back to the city to find shade. He was so stubborn in his contempt that he stayed out in the sun wanting to die in his anger.

Then God asks him the same question again, “Do you have a right to be angry?”

God asked this question about the Ninevites, and now he asks about the vine… but it’s the same question, because Jonah’s anger for both are rooted in the same thing.  Did the Ninevites deserve mercy from God’s wrath? Did Jonah?

God doesn’t order him to stop being angry, and he doesn’t command him to love the Ninevites… he simply asks Jonah to step back and take a look at his own anger, he’s teaching him.

God describes Jonah as being concerned about the vine… and God also describes himself as being concerned about the Ninevites.  This causes me to believe that God was really pleased with their repentance, just as Jonah was pleased with growth of the vine… and that God would be angry if he lost all of those people, just as Jonah lost the vine.  Whether or not those ideas broadened Jonah’s horizons we’ll never know, the book ends there… but they can certainly broaden our own horizons and who we allow into our sphere of grace (and who we “allow” into God’s sphere of grace for that matter).

Ezekiel 46: 9-10

Ezekiel 46: 9-10

“When the people of the land come before the LORD at the appointed feasts, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out the north gate.  No one is to return through the gate by which he entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate.”

 There’s a lot more going on there than traffic control.

If you go to the temple, you cannot leave through the door you came in, you must go directly through the temple and walk out the other side.

There are a few different things that catch my attention about this, and one is that they don’t allow you to backtrack.  If you enter through the north gate, and exit through the south gate, then you’re moving in the same direction the whole time.

 As a Christian, I want to be (and feel like I’m supposed to be) in a “good place” spiritually (being close to God, being disciplined, being obedient, making wise choices) and I also want Christians (as a collective) to be in a “good place” spiritually.  However, I usually hear people approach the issue like this:

“I used to be really close to God, but I’m not anymore… so I’m going to try to get back to that place”.

OR

“America used to be a Christian nation, and now it’s veering away from that, we need to go back to they way it used to be”.

 One problem I have with those statements (one of many) is the endeavor of recreating the past instead of building a future.  If you’re unhappy when you’re middle-aged, you shouldn’t try to regain (and sustain) happiness by reliving your teenage years.  There is a past, present, and future perspective for each situation (and it kinda works backwards).  Our perception of a situation might be completely different whether we’re anticipating it as a future event, living it out in the present, or looking at it in retrospect.  So when we compare our current situation to our past situation (retrospect), we’re not being fair, and we’re not seeing things as clearly as we think.

Likewise, when we realize that we don’t like the place we’re at spiritually, the best thing is to work through it with God in the present, rather than trying to fabricate a replica of a spiritual feeling from the past.  Let’s pretend that I have a friend who doesn’t like our current friendship: they wouldn’t be able to fix the problem by trying to be old versions of ourselves.

  After they enter the temple, they can’t walk backwards down the path that they’ve come from… they have to keep moving forward to get where they need to go.  Although it might seem like we’ve veered from the path (or it might feel like we’re back at the beginning), we might be surprised one day to see that we’re on the right road, and have crossed the whole world without knowing it.

 Something else that grabs my attention is the idea of going into the world with a new outlook… leaving the temple through a new doorway, seeing things differently than you did when you came in.  Whatever is going on in your life that is acting as a filter through which you see the world, check it at the door.  God is removing the scales from our eyes, he’s torn open space and time to come open the door for us himself, and all we have to do is not walk backwards.  We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that we can stand still and stay the same, but every decision we make moves us ever so slightly.  I don’t think it’s saying that every church meeting needs to be life-changing, but I think we can certainly try to go in with the intention of dropping our baggage, and with the intention of pulling the planks out of our eyes, and with the intention of receiving a cleansed palate and new perspective.

One last (and slightly more abstract) idea is the brief passage of time between life and death.  We weren’t created so that can simply return the earth and then cease to be completely, that’s why energy is always transferred and never destroyed… we’re meant to walk through this temple, and exit through a different doorway than the one we came in, not resigning ourselves to the ghosts of what used to be, but stepping into a new, living country.

Jeremiah 4:5-31

“In that day,” declares the LORD, “the king and the officials will lose heart, the priests will be horrified, and the prophets will be appalled.”

Then I said, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, how completely you have deceived this people and Jerusalem by saying, ‘You will have peace,’ when the sword is at our throats.”
 

At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, “A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; a wind too strong for that comes from me.  Now I pronounce my judgments against them.”
 

Look! He advances like the clouds, his chariots come like a whirlwind, his horses are swifter than eagles.  Woe to us! We are ruined!  O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved.  How long will you harbor wicked thoughts?
A voice is announcing from Dan, proclaiming disaster from the hills of Ephraim.  “Tell this to the nations, proclaim it to Jerusalem: ‘A besieging army is coming from a distant land, raising a war cry against the cities of Judah.  They surround her like men guarding a field, because she has rebelled against me,’ ” declares the LORD.

“Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you.  This is your punishment.  How bitter it is!  How it pierces to the heart!”

Oh, my anguish, my anguish!  I writhe in pain.  Oh, the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me, I cannot keep silent. For I have heard the sound of the trumpet; I have heard the battle cry.  Disaster follows disaster; the whole land lies in ruins.  In an instant my tents are destroyed, my shelter in a moment.  How long must I see the battle standard and hear the sound of the trumpet? 
“My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”

I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone.  I looked at the mountains, and they were quaking; all the hills were swaying.  I looked, and there were no people; every bird in the sky had flown away.  I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert; all its towns lay in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger.
This is what the LORD says: “The whole land will be ruined, though I will not destroy it completely.  Therefore the earth will mourn and the heavens above grow dark, because I have spoken and will not relent, I have decided and will not turn back.”

At the sound of horsemen and archers every town takes to flight.  Some go into the thickets; some climb up among the rocks.  All the towns are deserted; no one lives in them.  What are you doing, O devastated one?    Why dress yourself in scarlet and put on jewels of gold? Why shade your eyes with paint?  You adorn yourself in vain.  Your lovers despise you; they seek your life.

I hear a cry as of a woman in labor, a groan as of one bearing her first child— the cry of the Daughter of Zion gasping for breath, stretching out her hands and saying, “Alas! I am fainting; my life is given over to murderers.”
 

God is holding the shepherds responsible for the condition of the sheep.  Not only have they allowed injustice to flourish, but they themselves have lied in their prophecy and persuaded the people even further from the truth.

Then Jeremiah, using typical Hebrew poetry, gives a parallel to the situation.  God says that the leaders have deceived the people, and Jeremiah replies with “so have you” (the Hebrew verb “to deceive” can also mean: to persuade, entice, allure, flatter).  I wish we could see Jeremiah’s face as he says this, to know what emotion he’s speaking from.  Jeremiah does not include himself among the deceived, so it’s possible that he’s only talking about the people who have been persecuting him.  Although, he does include himself among those cut by the sword, so he doesn’t deny that his life is at stake here.  Jeremiah is suggesting (or maybe just jesting) that God says one thing and does another, but God has been consistent in his proclamations.  He’s been saying the whole time that these people will suffer the consequences of their sin if they don’t return to the Lord.  However, we’re also told that the other prophets in Jerusalem had been falsely prophesying “peace”, and denying Jeremiah’s truth.  This would be very confusing to everyone, having multiple prophets saying different things (so naturally they’re going to listen to the one who supports their lifestyle, e.g. the prosperity gospel).

He’s trying to convince them how dire the consequences of their actions are, and for the first time Jeremiah himself is getting a little frightened by it.  When Jeremiah speaks his mind he starts crying woes and pleads with the people to change their ways (also for the first time). 
God again tells them that he doesn’t want to bring this punishment on them, but he must have justice if they won’t repent.  Again, God is giving us these heartbreaking statements… about how bitter the situation is, and “How it pierces to the heart!”  Again, God is in pain.

Meanwhile, Jeremiah is wailing and writhing on the floor.  His sass and cynicism has dissipated, now he’s hearing battle cries and each one is like a fatal blow… with each sound of the trumpet he’s clutching his ears, and howling in pain.  “Oh, the agony of my heart!”

Now God is stating some grim conclusions.  Now he no longer speaks of them as an unfaithful bride, but as fools, children, who only know evil.
Jeremiah now describes a vision that God gives him, and it is unbearable to read… the world is unmade. 

In the time of Noah, God was so appalled at the state of the Earth that he only saved one family.  Now that his chosen people have utterly abandoned him, he’s ready to unmake the world.  “I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone… I looked, and there were no people… “

He gives this terrible vision to Jeremiah as a warning of what is possible, but he goes onto say that he will not destroy the Earth completely.  Jeremiah is still pleading with the people, telling them how post-apocalyptic their lives are going to be, and still they are proud and unrelenting. 

This next vision/statement from Jeremiah is interesting.  He hears a cry like a woman in labor, “the cry of the Daughter of Zion gasping for breath, and stretching out her hands…”  My first thought, is that he’s saying Jerusalem is aborting their future generations through this disobedience.  Like a pregnant woman in the hands of murders, the hope of Israel is being cut off.  It also reminds me of a quote from Indian activist Arundhati Roy:
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Jeremiah 4:5-8

 “Announce in Judah and proclaim in Jerusalem and say: ‘Sound the trumpet throughout the land!’ Cry aloud and say: ‘Gather together! Let us flee to the fortified cities!’  Raise the signal to go to Zion!  Flee for safety without delay!  For I am bringing disaster from the north, even terrible destruction.”

 A lion has come out of his lair; a destroyer of nations has set out.  He has left his place to lay waste your land.  Your towns will lie in ruins without inhabitant.  So put on sackcloth, lament and wail, for the fierce anger of the LORD has not turned away from us.   

God is giving Jeremiah his second message, a warning cry.  Even now the Lord won’t punish the people… he’s saying that he will, but rather than wiping them out he’s warning them and giving them further opportunities to change their ways.

 Here we have Jeremiah speaking his mind, and in this chapter it’s really interesting what he has to say about the situation (remember from chapter one how mouthy he is).  Jeremiah refers to God as a lion.  We often hear God called “The Lion of Judah”, but this is one of the earliest places in the Bible where God is referred to like this.  The first time that God is likened to a lion is by Job, describing himself as God’s prey; the 2nd time is when God himself told the people through prophet Isaiah that he is like a great growling lion over his prey.  Now, the 3rd book in the Bible using this reference, Jeremiah calls him a lion who destroys nations.  Personally, when I think of “The Lion of Judah”, I think of it as a regal lofty title… but so far, the lion-esque aspects of God described here are his fierce anger and fearsome power to overcome his prey.  Even when I think of Aslan, I tend to focus on his mercy and wisdom, forgetting the part about him being a wild/untamed lion

It can sometimes be difficult to accept or relate to God’s anger in the Old Testament, and because it’s difficult to understand we either reject it or ignore it.  We want God to be sweet and compliant, so we mistake Jesus’ primarily nonviolent revolution as passivity and we expect that same passivity from God.  We justify our own vengeance on our enemies (even to the point of going to war) but if God does it then it seems barbaric.  We want God to be good all the time… but we want him to be “good” by our standards.  We’ll slap him in the face, but we don’t want to be slapped back… we take the cross for granted, we take forgiveness for granted, not realizing that our selfishness and hate required some kind of atonement… not realizing how powerful that atonement needed to be for all of the hateful things we’ll do in our lives.  We love justice until it points us out as the unjust.

Back to the lion idea, Jeremiah calls God “a destroyer of nations”.  This actually reminds me very strongly of Shiva within the Hindu trinity.  Hindus traditionally believe in a triune manifestation of one God.  The trinity is  Brahma (creator), Vishnu (physical manifestations), and Shiva (spirit), as well as accepting the existence of other deities (henotheism).  Shiva is often represented in paintings as the Nataraja, which means “The Lord of the Dance”; having many arms and legs (each one symbolizing something specific).  In one hand Shiva holds a drum symbolizing life (the rhythm of life, or “Om”); in the other hand Shiva holds a flame representing death.  Because of the flame, Shiva is often called “the Destroyer”, but not in the sense that he’s evil… I think that’s a difficult concept for Western culture

We want God to be good by our limited and fluctuating ideas of what is good… our double standards.  Too often we want God to be predictable, we want him to be at our beck and call, to bless us regardless of our actions, without getting in the way of how we want to live our lives… we want to be in charge, we want to be the gods.  I think that’s why idolatry was so tempting for the Israelites, because they could treat the idols however they wanted.  They could worship the idols and ask them for blessings, but without covenants or moral laws… basically, no fear of punishment.  They created a reversed kind of religion, where instead of focusing on some higher power or greater good, it seemed to be totally egocentric and the “gods” were simply tools to support it.  That’s why they continued to offer sacrifices to God, in the midst of their idolatry.  They wanted the gods’ favor (all of the gods, including the one true God) without actually having to change their behavior.

Jeremiah 3:21-25, 4:1-4

A cry is heard on the barren heights, the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel, because they have perverted their ways and have forgotten the LORD their God.

“Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.”
 

 

“Yes, we will come to you, for you are the LORD our God.  Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception; surely in the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel.  From our youth shameful gods have consumed the fruits of our fathers’ labor— their flocks and herds, their sons and daughters.  Let us lie down in our shame, and let our disgrace cover us.  We have sinned against the LORD our God, both we and our fathers; from our youth till this day we have not obeyed the LORD our God.”

“If you will return, O Israel, return to me,” declares the LORD.

“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As surely as the LORD lives,’ then the nations will be blessed by him and in him they will glory.”

This is what the LORD says to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem:
“Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns.  Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it.

 

In these verses we see a change of tone from the people.  It could be a time of momentary bargaining on their part, or it may simply be an example of what the Lord wants to hear from them… either way, they are no longer proud but are weeping and pleading, and the Lord bids them come.

They say “Yes, we will come to you”.  They blame their idolatry on deception, and accuse the false gods of “consuming the fruits of our fathers’ labor”.  They admit to shame, they admit to disgrace, and they admit to disobedience.  The Lord once again stabs us with vulnerability:

“If you will return, O Israel, return to me”.  This reminds me of Hosea wooing back Gomer.  If there’s any chance that you think you’ll come back, then please come back…  The Lord once told me “the only thing worse than you leaving, is you not coming back… just come back to me.”

Again he reminds them of the one primary change they need to make, and it’s regarding the first commandment, “have no other Gods before me”.  He led them out of slavery, and asked for monotheism in return… several generations later, they’ve decided it’s not too important anymore.  Now he tells them to redeem themselves.  They’ve become a wild vine, and it needs to be tended and mended.  He puts them to work plowing the neglected fields, taking care of the problems caused by inaction.  He also warns them not to “sow among thorns.”  Jesus later uses this analogy, describing how healthy seeds cannot grow among thorns and weeds, they’ll be choked out.  We must be set apart, we cannot follow The Way while being stunted and ensnared by thorns.  If you are tempted by something in particular, then don’t surround yourself with that temptation.  Work diligently, make wise decisions, don’t surround yourself with people who stop you from growing, don’t set yourself up to fail.

In addition to working on the “vineyard”, he says “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts”.  Move the soil so that new life can break through; move your heart so that new life can break through.  If their fields and hearts are not broken with repentance, then the wrath of the Lord will break out like wildfire.  It’s already there, his anger burns inside of him, but his love and mercy are holding it back to give Israel a chance to reconcile, re-new their marriage vows, and come back home.

Jeremiah 3:1-20

“If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again? Would not the land be completely defiled?   But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers— would you now return to me?” declares the LORD.

“Look up to the barren heights and see. Is there any place where you have not been ravished?  By the roadside you sat waiting for lovers, sat like a nomad in the desert.  You have defiled the land with your prostitution and wickedness.  Therefore the showers have been withheld, and no spring rains have fallen.  Yet you have the brazen look of a prostitute; you refuse to blush with shame.  

Have you not just called to me: ‘My Father, my friend from my youth, will you always be angry? Will your wrath continue forever?’ This is how you talk, but you do all the evil you can.”

During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.  I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it.  I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.  Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood.  In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the LORD.

The LORD said to me, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.  Go, proclaim this message toward the north: ” ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will not be angry forever.  Only acknowledge your guilt— you have rebelled against the LORD your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me,’ “declares the LORD.

 “Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion.  Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.  In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land,” declares the LORD, “men will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made.  At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the LORD, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the LORD. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.  In those days the house of Judah will join the house of Israel, and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your forefathers as an inheritance.

“I myself said,” ‘How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me.  But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,” declares the LORD.

He starts this chapter with the marriage analogy (or rather the divorce analogy).  The Israelites were very familiar with the concept of divorce, primarily concerning infidelity, and it was a long running debate (even in the time of Christ).  In Deuteronomy 24, we’re told that a man can divorce his wife if he finds something “indecent” about her.  This is obviously an ambiguous idea, and in the 1st Century CE (the time of Christ) the scripture was taught differently by two reigning schools.  The House of Hillel (looser about the rules) taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason, while the House of Shammai (tighter about the rules) taught that adultery was the only legal grounds for divorce.  Another divorce-related rule (also in Deuteronomy) was that a man could not change his mind about divorcing his wife if she has already remarried (which is now an issue of fidelity to her new husband).

The way this first verse is worded makes me wonder about the nature of divorce… “If a man divorces his wife, and she leaves him…”  It sounds like she’s actually chosen to leave to marry someone else, when she may have waited to see if her husband would have changed his mind and reconciled with her.  If a man could divorce his wife at any time, then I imagine they would have threatened to divorce their wives in the midst of arguments (or actually gone through with it, and then regretted the action later, which is why so many men apparently tried to get their wives back after divorcing them).

So not only did Israel leave God, but she became a prostitute to idols and is unfit to return.  He says “Look up to the barren heights and see.”  Look around you, look what you’ve done to yourself, look what you’ve done to the promised land.  God has withheld his blessings from them, but they are still prideful and feel no shame in their perversion.  If this wasn’t enough, they not only attack God and accuse him of always being angry, but they accuse him of being evil, “you do all the evil you can”.  What an unbelievable response to God’s rebuke.

God says to Jeremiah, do you see what she’s done?!  He thought that Israel would come back to him, but she did not (again, the idea of remarrying the same person after a divorce).  He also turns to Judah, and accuses them of the same.  Judah apparently returned to God in some fashion, “but only in pretense.”

He once again calls them back home, promising mercy and an end to anger… on the condition that they admit their guilt.  Once again, the majority of his anger is based on their denial and lack of shame.  He pleads with them, and says it outright “I am your husband – I will choose you.”  And he describes how they would be blessed if they would only return to him, and how they would no longer need the Ark of the Covenant because Jerusalem itself would be the throne of the Lord.  He would unite Israel and Judah, and bring them into the land promised to their forefathers.  He would gladly call them sons welcoming them back into his household.

“I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me.”  

What a gut wrenching statement.   It’s difficult to imagine God as being “vulnerable” because that implies some degree of weakness, but to extend your love someone like this and to let them make their own decision of whether to accept  or reject you is a position of both vulnerability and strength.  To force someone’s love (and therefore not allow them to genuinely love you or reject you) is a position of weakness.