“Turn, you turning-one” Thoughts from Jer. 3:12-14

This morning I was preparing for the Church Leaders seminar, which will be from Jer. 3:15. But as I was going over the context, I was struck by this phrase, “Return, faithless Israel” (12, 14, 22). Christopher Wright, in his commentary, translates it, “Turn, you turning-one” or “Turn back, turning-away Israel.” The people who should have known better had turned. (The northern kingdom turned first and Judah should have learned, but rather followed suit). She is guilty of “playing the whore” (6), and not just once, but “all the adulteries of that faithless one,” (8). And on top of that, she “takes her whoredom lightly,” (9). God says that He expected after all this gut-wrenching turning away, that she (Israel) would return, but she didn’t.

At this point, one might expect that God would have given up both northern and southern kingdoms to His judgment, but instead He makes an appeal. “Return! If you return, I won’t look at you in anger” (12). God asks of them to acknowledge their sin and rebellion, to own it (13). In calling the turning-one to return, God is calling her to repent, which begins by owning the fullness of her sins. God then tenderly says, “I will not be angry forever” (12). What a promise! God could justly be angry forever, but He offers His wayward daughter a way of escape: acknowledge your sin and return to Me.

Spurgeon’s famous predecessor, John Gill, said, “unless a man knows his sin, and is convicted of it, he’ll never repent of it, or turn from it; and when he is made sensible of it, and sorry for it, he ought to acknowledge and confess it before God, against whom he has sinned; this is what is insisted upon, and all that is insisted upon; and it is the least that can be done, and is what every sensible sinner will do, who upon it may expect the discovery of pardoning grace and mercy.”[1]

God is so tender and kind. His promise is to receive the one who turns, without anger. He can do this because of the great sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Truly, as we sing, “His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me.” But we must return.


[1] John Gill, An Exposition of the Old Testament, vol. 5, The Baptist Commentary Series (London: Mathews and Leigh, 1810), 416.

A New Covenant Prayer

He (h) Stanza (33-40)

Introduction

How often do we pray for our spiritual growth? We legitimately pray for all kinds of needs and concerns, but how often do we pray that God would grow and change us from the inside out?

This stanza is a prayer for growth from a changed heart. There are many New Covenant themes in this prayer. It is interesting to muse on Daniel meditating on the New Covenant promises in Jer. 31:31-34 and 32:39-40, and then praying those promises back to God. We know Daniel had access to Jeremiah’s prophecy and prayed about what he read (Dan. 9:2-4). Regardless, this is a wonderful prayer for us to pray today.

O LORD, Teach Me (33-34)

33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes,

And I shall observe it to the end.

34 Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law

And keep it with all my heart.

The first petition in this stanza is for God to teach and give understanding to His child. He uses God’s covenant name (Yahweh) and is asking for “transcendent tutoring” (Zemek, 136). He knows that if he is taught of God, he will obey, every day, all the way. When God the Holy Spirit is our teacher the result is full heart obedience to the end.

Lord, Change My Heart (35-36)

35 Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,

For I delight in it.

36 Incline my heart to Your testimonies

And not to dishonest gain.

The next petition is for God to cause His child to march along in the path of God’s commandments. The path he desires is the beautiful path of God’s law, it is his delight. For the Psalmist, God’s commandments are not burdensome, but rather they are delightful. Immediately he prays that God would be inclining or turning his heart, sustaining that desire. The Psalmist knows himself well enough to know that every day is a battle over what we will take delight in. He knows the inner conflicts of remaining sin. So he looks to God to sustain him with a willing spirit and delighting heart.

We cannot fail to notice the last line of v. 36, “and not to material gain.” Do you remember the offers made to Daniel if he would interpret the dream (Dan. 5:13-17)? Daniel had already prospered (Dan. 2:48). In this petition, the Psalmist asks God to change his heart and to keep his heart from wanting the wrong things.

Lord, Protect My Eyes (37)

37 Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity,

And revive me in Your ways.

The Psalmist knows where he is prone to look. How about us? Do we know where our eyes are prone to wander? He wants God to keep his eyes away from “vanity,” this word means “a vapor, a breath,” and by extension, that which is morally valueless. This describes the things of this world, the lust of the eyes. The Psalmist pleads that God would turn his eyes away from the world and would revive him. God’s life-giving, reviving power can break the attraction of the nothingness of the world.

Lord, Confirm Your Word (38)

38 Establish Your word to Your servant,

As that which produces reverence for You.

To “establish, “ or “confirm,” may have the idea of fulfill. The Psalmist may have in mind a specific word or promise. The reason that word needs to be established or fulfilled is because it produces godly fear. Charles Bridges wonderfully paraphrases, “Whatsoever, therefore, thy covenant has provided for my sanctification, my humiliation, my chastisement, my present and everlasting consolation – ‘Stablish this word:’ let it be fulfilled in me; for I am ‘thy servant, devoted to thy fear’” (94).

Lord, Take Away My Disgrace (39)

39 Turn away my reproach which I dread,

For Your ordinances are good.

The reproach of the enemy is a common theme in the Psalms. The Psalmist dreads such reproaches, not because they hurt his feelings, but because his testimony is at stake. He did not want to bring dishonor to his God.

Lord, Revive Me (40)

40 Behold, I long for Your precepts;

Revive me through Your righteousness.

He concludes this stanza with familiar but vibrant words. He longs for God’s Word and he longs for God to renew his heart through His righteousness. The reason he appeals to revival through God’s righteousness is because God’s righteousness is not only judgment on the wicked, it is also deliverance or salvation for His people.

Application

The New Covenant blessings have been secured for us by Christ and His blood. These blessings are a new heart, with new desires, empowered obedience and perseverance. To pray to God for what He has already promised has a wonderful power to it. Child of God, learn to plead the promises of the New Covenant!

The Danger of Successful Discipline 

Our hearts always break when one departs from their faith and refuses to listen to any of the steps of discipline outlined in Matt. 18:15-20. There is private confrontation which goes unheeded. There is an additional two or three witnesses and they have seen the impenitence and their admonitions go unheeded. Finally, the church is informed and becomes active in seeking the offender’s repentance. The praying church, in her pleading, is ignored. The very voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd, is ignored.

The final step of obligation is to put out the offender. This is an ecclesiastical judgment which reflects the judgment of Christ, hence the significance of “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst.” Jesus adds His testimony to the witnesses. Jesus then says the decision the church has made had already been made in heaven (Matt. 18:18-20). It is a sobering event. It is indeed an event. It is a sobering obligation if the church is to be faithful. Faithfulness is not always easy or comfortable. Sometimes faithfulness brings tears.

But what happens when the offender repents? Jesus says, “You have won Your brother.” Although this phrase is not repeated in each step, it is most definitely implied. If he listens to the two or three witnesses, you have won your brother. If he listens to the church, you have won your brother. You have won your brother is another way of saying that the offender, because he listened to Jesus through the church, shows he is a brother. How sweet is this repentance! It is the best possible outcome when someone strays. It is a joyful event. It is a saving event.

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).

When a saving event like this happens, someone has been “the brand plucked from the burning” (Zech. 3:1-2). The one who has turned has been snatched from Satan’s clutches. However, Satan is not done. There is another danger the church faces when a sinner repents. That danger comes not from taking sin too lightly (e.g., 1 Cor. 5:1-5), but from being more scrupulous than God. Some are shocked that certain people can commit certain sins. A thorough reading of the Bible would disabuse us of such shock, but it nevertheless remains among those who have a streak of self-righteousness. Paul addresses the danger of successful discipline in 2 Cor. 2:5-11.

Paul is dealing with a grievous offender in 2 Cor. In all likelihood, this offender is not the same man in 1 Cor. 5, but rather one who sinned, probably against Paul and the Corinthian body. The sorrow this man caused, the disappointment he inflicted, was immense. The body responded to Paul’s instruction and disciplined this man. And he repented! But some were not satisfied. Some believed that his repentance was not good enough, the punishment and consequences were not severe enough. Paul then exhorts the Corinthians to “forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2 Cor. 2:7-8). For Paul, forgiveness and affirmation of love was a test of the Corinthians’ obedience. Just as sure as discipline was a test of obedience (would they do what they were supposed to do?) so also love and forgiveness was a test of obedience.

Paul says he has forgiven and they should too. Then Paul tells them what is at stake. “So that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). If the Corinthians would not forgive and love this man, they were opening themselves to the strategy of Satan. If a church refuses to discipline, then Satan takes advantage of the church. But if the church seeks to faithfully deal with offenders, then that advantage is removed.

But Satan does not throw in the towel. He looks for a new angle. The new angle is to cause the offender excessive sorrow through the unforgiveness and lack of acceptance by the body. If the offender is grieved by the lack of forgiveness, then he is not rejoicing in grace. If he is not rejoicing in grace, then he is not moving ahead. Satan’s scheme now shifts to the attitudes within the body. If he cannot ensnare them through taking sin too lightly, then he will ensnare them by causing them to have different standards than Jesus Christ.

Once the offender repents, the matter is done. Certainly, the repentance must have the marks of godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10). Certainly, there may be consequences because of the sin, especially if the man is in leadership. Certainly, there may be counseling and help so that the repentant offender stays on the right track.

But it is not the church’s job to exact a pound of flesh, or to impose one more ounce of discipline than is warranted in the Word. So, let us, who take God’s Word seriously, take all of God’s Word seriously and make certain that when discipline is successful we don’t allow Satan to make that a danger to the church. Let us be as zealous in our forgiveness and acceptance as we were in our rebukes in seeking their repentance.