The Northern Kingdom had turned their back on God. They had become enamored by the pagan practices of the Nations living in the land that God had given to them. They had failed to drive out these negative influences and generation after generation fell further and 09 ritualsfurther into the miry pits of their neighbors. God let their rebellion take them as deep into the mud as they were willing to go thinking that sooner or later they would see the errors of their way and come home. In Jesus’ story of the prodigal son that’s exactly what happened and Jesus made it clear that’s always what God wants. Yet, that’s not what happened with Israel. Israel never saw the error of her ways and God let his unfaithful bride suffer the consequences of her sin. Jeremiah 3:7-8 says, “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. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore.”

Judah could not learn from watching what had happened to the Northern Kingdom for some reason. I’d agree with Willis who says, “They saw what happened to their northern cousins (3:7b), but they assumed their own better fortunes were a result of their goodness or, more likely, because they worshiped in the right place (Jerusalem) and had the right royal family (the House of David).”[1] They had put their confidence not in a personal, loving, and faithful relationship with their God, but rather in the rituals along with their heritage. But they proved no better than their northern neighbor. One commentary says, “Sin has a domino effect. … It is painful for a parent, including the divine Parent, to witness a child launched on a path of self-harm. God was saddened over Judah’s learning deficit, for she failed to learn from the mistakes of others. Judah’s spiritual obtuseness dashed God’s high hopes that she would be an improvement over Israel. God’s disappointment extended to both sisters—Israel and Judah.”[2]

Judah thought that some external ritual would suffice to quench God’s possessive love for His people. But God always wants more than rituals. He wants our hearts. God wants us to love Him as He loves us. Jesus made it clear that the greatest commandment was to love God. The Pulpit Commentary says it well, “God wants our love, as we want the love of our children and of our friends, and cannot accept anything, however valuable, in its stead: so Christ wants the pure, deep, lasting affection of our souls. No ceremonies, or services, or even sacrifices, will compensate for its absence (see 1 Cor. 13). And the measure of our love will depend on the depth of our sense of God’s forgiving love toward us.”[3]

[1] Timothy M. Willis, Jeremiah/Lamentations, College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 2002), 54.

[2] Larry L. Walker, Elmer A. Martens, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, & Lamentations, vol. 8 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005), 326.

[3] H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., St. Luke, vol. 1, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 194.