A voice on the bare heights is heard,
the weeping and pleading of Israel’s sons
because they have perverted their way;
they have forgotten the LORD their God.
“Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness.”
“Behold, we come to you, for you are the LORD our God.
In Jeremiah 3:19–4:4 we have something of the inverse of that poetic dialogue between lovers, The Song of Songs. There, covenant love is in bloom; here, as regards God’s bride, it has rotted. While there is some tension in Solomon’s Song, it is the lover’s mutual adoration that comes to the fore. Here, the tension is stressed and you are left longing for the relationship to be resorted, for Israel to return to Yahweh.
Israel speaks of returning, but we are left wondering if her “return” is like the presumptuous return of Judah (3:1), done in pretense (3:10). There is no resolution. God clarifies what true repentance involves in 4:1–2 but then turns from the north to the south, commanding Judah to break up her fallow ground and circumcise her heart, to repent. The dialogue between Yahweh and Israel in 3:19–4:2 is imaginative. It is something of a vision, like the boiling pot of chapter 1. Though fictional, it is true. It isn’t a recording of Israel; it is pedagogical for Judah. It is meant to teach presumptuous Judah what true repentance is.
As we study this passage, we are left, like Judah, with the command to repent lying on us. The aim isn’t that we become morbidly introspective, questioning whether or not we’ve repented enough. This is a call for hypocrites who vow fidelity with their mouths but prove adulterous with with bodies to repent, not perfectly, but truly.
God is no hopeless romantic. This is no cliche romance novel or cheesy romantic comedy. Israel’s tears and pleas are not met with instant embrace and reconciliation. Yahweh is indeed merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast covenant love and faithfulness, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but He is no fool. Israel’s pleas are met not with pardon, but with further pleas. True repentance will find the Father’s arms open wide, but only true repentance. God recognizes a fake cry. Such a cry doesn’t move Him to compassion, but wrath.
Repentance means turning with disgust from idolatrous lovers to vow fidelity to the Bridegroom, loving Him with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. There should be no lustful glances cast aside wondering if others desire you. The eyes of repentance are fixed on Christ; they don’t look back to Sodom. You may be able to sing the song of Sodom to the tune of the Song of Solomon, but the Bridegroom knows when you’re just humming the tune, feigning loyalty while longing for others.