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:
Was the breach irreparable? Was the relationship irreconcilable? Had Israel, to use language from chapter three, backslid so far past the point of no return that any previous promises that God had made towards them or any future plans that God had for them were annulled? Not according to Jeremiah chapter three. Amidst the calls to repent and the promises of forthcoming judgment came a declarative promise of future restoration.
Having seen the prophet’s call in chapter one, our attention is now directed towards the prophet’s message in chapter two. Jeremiah began by writing, “Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying…” (vs.1). The message that follows, the first prophetic utterance that we read of Jeremiah receiving, continues all the way through the beginning of the following chapter (2:1-3:5). But before Jeremiah received the words he was to speak, the LORD told him what to do and where to do it: “Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying…” (vs.2a). Not Anathoth, but Jerusalem. Not a small village, but a capital city. Whatever reticence of public speaking and preaching that Jeremiah had (cf. Jer. 1:6), it was about to be confronted head-on. This message was meant to be heard by the Jewish masses; hence the expression: “… cry in the hearing of Jerusalem.” The good news for Jeremiah was – he not only had an imperative but a promise of God’s presence – “speak to them all that I command you…for I am with you…” (vs.17a, 19b). The Christian can relate, he or she has just about the same imperative and promise (Mt. 28:19,20), but with a far greater announcement.
Upon reading the question in the title you probably immediately thought – ‘That’s easy. Of course not!’ And you would be correct in that assumption. Be that as it may, there are some who contend that the Bible contradicts itself on this subject. They argue that the same God who orders people not to steal encouraged the Israelites to steal in the Old Testament. Let’s look at the verses they use and see what’s going on. First, here are two Old Testament texts that instructed the children of Israel not to steal:
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.