3:16 – The Rest of the Story – God Reveals His Plan 13: Jeremiah

A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate

  • the Human Condition
  • God’s Revelation of His Plan (Current location of study)
  • God’s Fulfillment of His Plan
  • Our Response

“And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again.” – Jeremiah 3:16

As God continues to reveal His plan of redemption of His people, the prophet Jeremiah comes into the picture. Jeremiah prophesied in Judah during the last 40 or so years before they were conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. In Chapter 1 of the book that bear’s his name Jeremiah describes his call by God to urge Judah to repentance, and Chapter 2 and onward pick right up with that theme.

God, through His prophet Jeremiah, begins Chapter 2 by reviewing Israel’s apostasy. A couple of sample verses from that chapter will give you the basic message – vs. 7 “And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination.” …. vs. 20 “For long ago I broke your yoke and burst your bonds; but you said, ‘I will not serve.’ Yes, on every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down like a whore.

Throughout scripture God used a metaphor of marriage to describe His relationship with His people, and He used a metaphor of adultery to describe the infidelity of His people seeking other gods in disobedience to Him. Israel has been overthrown because of their faithlessness to God and He said in v. 17, “Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the LORD your God, when he led you in the way?

In Chapter 3, God, through Jeremiah, turns to Judah to pronounce a similar charge. He says (vss. 6-10), “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? 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. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the LORD.

There was approximately 150 years between the time that Israel (the northern kingdom) was overthrown by Assyria and the time that Judah (the southern kingdom) was overthrown by Babylon. God blames Judah for not learning from the judgment against Israel and even accuses them of being worse!

This week’s 3:16 verse is

And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. – Jeremiah 3:16

This verse can best be understood in the context of the immediate verses before and after it, so read verses 11 through 18 below, along with some brief commentary that I’ve added.

11 And the LORD said to me, “Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. 12 Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say,
“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the LORD.

God tells Jeremiah to preach a message of repentance and reconciliation to the remnant of Israelites who are still living in the land – those who were not deported by the Assyrians.

I will not look on you in anger,
for I am merciful,
declares the LORD;
I will not be angry forever.
13 Only acknowledge your guilt,
that you rebelled against the LORD your God
and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
and that you have not obeyed my voice,
declares the LORD.

This is the same message of repentance that we have today through the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ. God simply wants us to acknowledge the FACT that we have been disobedient to Him and are guilty. Then He promises mercy and grace by forgiving our sins and promising eternal life with Him.

14 Return, O faithless children,
declares the LORD;
for I am your master;
I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,
and I will bring you to Zion.

God begins by promising a renewed relationship with the remnant of Israel. In scripture (e.g. Isaiah 10:20-22) God has consistently promised that after the judgment of the exile, a remnant of His people would return to the promised land and have a renewed relationship with Him.

15 “‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.

The shepherd motif is also a frequent occurrence in Scripture. Having a shepherd after God’s own heart leading the restored Israel is a throwback reference to King David. The shepherd’s referred to here would include both political and religious leaders, according to the plan that God originally had established with them.

16 And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again.

Our key verse for this week’s study marks a transition in the overall plan that is being revealed here. Time will elapse from the initial return of Israel to its land, as indicated by the “multiplied and been fruitful” reference. The most interesting part, though, is the lack of importance the ark of the covenant will have for these people. The ark served as a key focal point of worship and symbolism for the people, lasting from their initial encounter with God at the base of Mount Sinai, all the way through the construction of the temple by King Solomon, about 600 years. The last time the ark is mentioned in the historical books of the Old Testament is under the reign of Josiah (when Jeremiah started his ministry), referenced in 2 Chronicles 35:1-6.

There are numerous theories and traditions about what may have eventually happened to the ark. This article in Smithsonian Magazine relates an interesting story about the claim that the ark lies in a chapel in Ethiopia and this article lists quite a few interesting theories. The important thing, though, is that, just as this prophecy from Jeremiah indicates, the ark never again was the focal point in the worship of God.

The ark served as a symbol of God’s presence among his people – the focal point in the tabernacle. When Jesus died and rose again, the curtain in the temple was split, indicating that God’s place of residence was no longer symbolized by the Holy of Holies in the temple, but rather His dwelling place was in the hearts of His people. The revelation of His plan continues with:

17 At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart. 18 In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers for a heritage.

This references a time when Israel will operate again as one nation under God. God further enlightens us on His plan with a parallel passage from Jeremiah 31:31-34.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

This new covenant will be written on their hearts (rather than on the stone tablets placed in the ark) and individuals will have direct knowledge and understanding of God’s Word (through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit). Forgiveness of sins will be permanent (hence the removal of the need of the Holy of Holies and the High Priest, etc.) because there will be a permanent dwelling place with God through the permanent intercession of His son Jesus on our behalf. This is truly good news in God’s revelation of His plan for redemption!

We’ll look at Joel 3:16 next week.

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