6 The Lord said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. 7 And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. (Jer 3:6-7 NKJV)
6 The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? 7 And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. (Jer 3:6-7 ESV)
The reason why there are two verse citations from two different translations above is so you can see the issue open theists raise with this passage. If you open your King James Bible, or your New King James Bible, and read the passage you might wonder, “Where’s the controversy?” If, however, you were to read the ESV, NASB, or NIV, you would see it clearly in verse 7. The open theist sees a verse that quotes God as saying, “I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return…’” and they conclude that God made the best assessment He could make with the information He had but was wrong. Again, as at other times, we’re presented with two options. Leaving the translational difference aside for the moment, if we take the ESV translation at face-value (which is a legitimate translation of the text) either God made a mistake or He was speaking in anthropomorphic language to make a specific point. Think about the first option – it’s the equivalent of saying ‘God made an oops.’ He looked at the evidence, came to a conclusion, and was surprised to find out His infinite wisdom (Ps 147:5) had limits. Such an assessment would contradict Scripture, misinterpret the text, and misrepresent God.
First, as we have stated many times before, this text must be seen against the backdrop of so many other passages that demonstrate God’s perfect foreknowledge. God makes known the end from the beginning (Is 40:28). His understanding is infinite (Ps 147:5). He gave prophets prophecies to predict future events along with human behavior (Deut 18:22; 1 Sam 8:11-18; Is 41:21-23; 44:7; 46:10; 48:3-7). He knows the days of men before they happen (Ps 139:16) and the words of men before they speak them (Ps 139:4). Simply put – He “knows all things” (1 Jn 3:20).
Second, compare Isaiah 48:3-7 with the passage above. There the LORD said, “The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth, and I announced them; then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead as brass” (vs. 3-4 ESV emphasis added). Then again in verse 8 the LORD said, “For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel” (vs.8b emphasis added). I reference these passages to say – God clearly foreknew the behavior of the people of Israel in this passage, even before they were born! Are we to think that God was able to figure this one out but not the situation in Jeremiah? Of course not. God knew what Israel would do and He knew it from “of old”. Therefore, in light of passages like this, alongside of others that speak of God’s comprehensive foreknowledge, I think we should seek better interpretations than the open theist’s view of Jeremiah 3:6-7.
Third, consider the context of Jeremiah 3. The chapter is filled with metaphor, allegory, and anthropomorphic language. A quick read through the chapter will bear that fact out. God used the language of husbands and wives, adultery and whoredom, shepherds and siblings, all to communicate the drastic nature of the spiritual adultery that was committed against Him. Therefore, when God said, “I thought…she would return” (vs.7) or “I thought you would call Me ‘My Father’” (vs.20), these words are said within the context of dramatic imagery. This is the kind of place where anthropomorphic language is not only the appropriate interpretive posture but it makes the most sense because it depicts God, in human terms, as the faithful husband who did everything that could be done to win over His beloved; and it depicts the sin of Israel as utterly inexcusable. All that had happened to Israel and Judah, from a human vantage point, should have convincingly brought them to repentance. But it did not. God, then, is not depicted as one who made merry over the judgment that faithless Israel has merited, but as a husband who did all that could be done (humanly speaking) to win over the heart of the wayward spouse.