A prominent theme that ran through Jeremiah chapter three was the Lord’s call to His wayward people to return. Calls like, “Return to Me” or “Return, O backsliding children” occur four, arguably five, times in the twenty-five verses of that chapter. That sentiment carries over into the opening four verses of chapter four. In some way Israel voiced a desire to return (Jer. 3:22b-25) and now, like a parent offering their child an impetus for obedience, the LORD extended to Israel an ultimate incentive to be realized as they closed the door to idolatry and walked across the threshold of obedience. But first He made the conditions clear:
1a “If you will return, O Israel,” says the Lord,“Return to Me; And if you will put away your abominations out of My sight,”
God wanted real returning. God did not want them to be simply ‘sayers of repentance’ but ‘doers of repentance.’ “If you will return, O Israel… return to Me.” It’s as though the LORD was saying, ‘If that’s truly your heart, Israel, then do it. Act upon it. Walk in a way that demonstrates the validity of your previously stated desire.’ And, lest there be any confusion as to what that would look like, the LORD expounded on the condition – “and if you will put away your abominations out of My sight.”
To return meant leaving things behind; namely, the things (and behaviors) that were abominable in God’s sight. It meant returning wholly and not hypocritically (cf. Isa. 1:13), in deed as well in word (Jer. 9:3); in humility not self-righteousness (cf. Jer. 13:17-19); and very specifically – laying aside and/or tearing down the idols that filled the land (2 Ki. 23:24). It’s kind of like the portion of the traditional marriage vows where each spouse not only commits to be with one another “for better or worse” and “in sickness and health” but by “forsaking all others” they pledge themselves solely to each other. That’s the kind returning that the Lord demanded.
Now according to the New King James Version you would think that the incentives immediately follow but that may not be the case. See, for example, the contrast between the NKJV and ESV:
1b …then you shall not be moved 2a And you shall swear, ‘The Lord lives,’ in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; (NKJV)
1b …and do not waver, 2 and if you swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness (ESV)
In the NKJV, in the middle of verse one, the conditions have given way to incentives; namely, staying in the land (then you shall not be moved) and the manifestation of a real and vibrant profession of faith (and you shall swear, ‘The Lord lives,’ in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness); whereas, according to the ESV the conditions continue through the first half of verse two, as though the LORD continued emphasizing that this returning was, indeed, to be real – without wandering (vs.1b) and with sincerity (vs.2a). If the latter is indeed the case the motivation that is held out to the nation doesn’t come until the end of verse two, and you may find it to be a surprising one. Here it is:
The nations shall bless themselves in Him, and in Him they shall glory. (vs.2b)
That’s an interesting incentive isn’t it? You may need to read it again. Make sure you get it because God esteemed it to be a compelling reason for real repentance. If the previous conditions of repentance were met then God would be glorified by the heathen nations. Not – Israel will be exalted; rather – the heathen will be happy in God and God will be glorified. The reason likely being: God would have bestowed such covenant blessings upon Judah that the nations would see and forsake their false worship, bless themselves in Him, and, having laid aside their false gods, in Him they shall glory.
Not to give away the rest of the book of Jeremiah but Israel failed to meet the conditions laid out by the Lord in these verses; and thus, the nations would not bless themselves in Yahweh and glory in Him. Not yet. But where Israel, the vine (Ps. 80:8), failed, Jesus, the true vine (Jn. 15:1), has succeeded. He met every condition of the Old Covenant. And as a result of His perfect mediatory work the nations – people from every tribe, kindred, and tongue – are blessing themselves in Him, seeing themselves astounded by God’s great grace to engraft such wild olives branches into the true vine, and they are glorying in a God who is so holy and so gracious to have sent His Son to be the wrath-appeasing offering for their sins.