Why Does Jeremiah 3:8 Contradict Jeremiah 3:14?

Why Does Jeremiah 3:8 Contradict Jeremiah 3:14? 

Steve, I have a question concerning God’s divorce of Israel: In Jeremiah 3:8 it says God divorced Israel. Why does it say in Jeremiah 3:14 that God is still married to her? Thank you.  — Kevin

Steve’s Answer:

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for your question. That’s a good one.  But always keep in mind that God’s Word never contradicts itself.  And if it seems to, then we must sharpen our understanding through study, in order to see the truth.

Let’s first take a quick look at both verses you’ve mentioned, and then I’ll explain:

Jer 3:8  And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.


Jer 3:14  Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:

So we see one verse in which God says He’s divorced Israel (Jeremiah 3:8), and six verses later He appears to say He’s still married to her (Jeremiah 3:14).

Now for the explanation, which will require a bit of background detail, so please stick with me:

Keep in mind that Jeremiah chapter 3 talks about Israel and Judah as two separate entities, which they were, because God separated them into two kingdoms after the reign of Solomon.

Israel was the so-called “northern kingdom,” and Judah was the so-called “southern kingdom.”

The nation of Israel had gone into captivity to Assyria nearly 100 years before God called Jeremiah to witness against the southern kingdom of Judah.  Allowing Israel to go into captivity to Assyria was God’s way of divorcing Israel and giving her over to another man, so to speak, for her blatant and chronic adultery/idolatry.

You see, the people of Israel had been blatantly worshiping the false gods of the surrounding heathen nations.  So, after many warnings to them to stop, God let Israel be taken captive by Assyria, which was, at that time, the largest and most powerful of those surrounding heathen nations.

As I’ve frequently stated, our heavenly Father is a “You asked for it, you got it,” kind of guy.  If you’re one of His people, and you want to ignore Him, and worship the false gods of the heathen nations, He’ll set you right in the midst of the heathen and let them (and their false gods) rule over you, so you can experience for yourself how bad it is.

So about 100 years after Israel went into captivity to Assyria for her adultery/idolatry (i.e., divorced by God and forcibly sent to live among the heathen idolaters), we find the prophet Jeremiah warning the southern kingdom of Judah, at God’s behest, that the same thing is about to happen to her because of her own blatant idolatry, which Jeremiah chapter three tells us surpassed even Israel’s idolatry.

Through Jeremiah the prophet, God told the southern kingdom of Judah that if she didn’t repent and stop worshiping the false gods of the surrounding nations, she’d end up being sent away into captivity to Babylon, which, by then, had grown to be an even greater regional power than Assyria. Babylon was essentially the New World Order of its time.

The Rhetorical Question

With all of that information firmly in mind, here’s what you need to understand about Jeremiah chapter 3:

In Jeremiah 3:1, God asks a rhetorical legal question, and then answers it.  Basically, He asks this:  If a man “puts away” his wife (i.e., divorces her for her sinfulness), and she becomes another man’s wife, can she ever return to her original husband?

This is analogous to what had happened to Israel.  God divorced Israel for her sinfulness and sent her away to live among the heathen and their gods.  So the question is, can she return to Him?

God then states that such a circumstance would “greatly pollute” the land, meaning that under the law, it’s an egregious sin for a man to divorce a woman for her sinfulness, and then take her back again after she’s already been with another man.

But in that third chapter of Jeremiah, God says to Israel, His divorced wife, “Yet return again to me.”

In other words, after admitting that a woman who has been divorced for her sinfulness and has found a new husband cannot return to her original husband without spiritually polluting him, (and the land, as well), God nevertheless invites backslidden Israel to return to Him.

Now that’s hard for some folks to grasp.  But almost everything in the Old Testament is a foreshadowing, or symbol, of that which was later to come, meaning salvation through Christ Jesus.

So think of the husband in God’s rhetorical question as a type of Christ, who, although divorced from Israel, came back and tried to woo her to Himself, polluting Himself in the process by taking all of her sins onto Himself on that cross at Calvary, so she could later be forgiven for those sins, upon repentance, and be restored to Him.

He died for those sins, none of which were His own.  So He suffered the pollution of Israel’s sins so He could take her back to Himself after the price had been paid for those sins.

Do you see the type?

The woman of God’s rhetorical question had sinned enough to be divorced by her apparently righteous husband, and had gone and found another man to serve — symbolic of the false gods Israel was serving instead of serving our heavenly Father.

This divorced woman, therefore, typifies Israel’s idolatry, divorce from God and subsequent captivity to a foreign nation.

God and His Mysterious Ways

Under such a circumstance, under God’s law, the woman could not come back to her original husband.  But as Christ states in Mark 10:27, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”

In other words, God has His ways of working these things out in accord with His great plan to save His children.

So let’s take a quick look at that first verse in Jeremiah chapter 3, one more time, and try to grasp it from that perspective:

Jer 3:1  They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD

So the Lord is asking Israel, as His divorced wife, to come back to Him from the false gods she’s been whoring around with in the heathen nations.

But there’s a bit more to it, than that.  What you might have missed is the fact that there are conditions for her return, which are spelled out in Jeremiah 3:12-13:

Jer 3:12  Go and proclaim these words toward the north [i.e., where Israel had been taken into captivity in Assyria], and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever.


Jer 3:13  Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the LORD thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the LORD.

In other words, God says He’ll mercifully take Israel back to wife (essentially taking her spiritual pollution onto Himself, so she can be cleansed of it), but only on the condition that she openly confesses her adultery against Him and repents of her disobedience to Him.

Again, there’s a lot of Christ/salvation typology or, if you prefer, symbolism, in this; God is saying He can blot out Israel’s sins and make her clean again, if she’ll just return to Him in sincere repentance.

In other words, she can’t just come back out of the blue and pick up with Him where she left off.  She first has to humbly acknowledge her sinfulness and work to change her ways — symbolic of, and foreshadowing, the forgiveness in Christ that we, as Christians, enjoy today, after sincere repentance of our own sins.

Then, in the very next verse, God tells Israel that if she’ll “turn” (i.e., return) to Him — after sincerely confessing and repenting — He’ll consider Himself still married to her, and will ultimately return her to what was once her rightful place in Zion. As it’s written:

Jer 3:14  Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:

Simply put, He tells Israel “You come back to me, in full repentance, and I’ll bring you back into the family.  I’ll restore your position as my spiritual wife.  (Again, foreshadowing salvation through Christ.)

As an aside, the Septuagint version of the Old Testament — the version used by Christ and the apostles — translates the phrase “for I am married unto you” as “for I am your master,” instead.

Indeed, in the Septuagint, that particular verse reads, “Return, apostate children,” declares Yahweh. “For I am your master, and I will take you one from a city and two from a clan, and I will bring you to Zion.”

There’s a lot of debate among scholars over which translation of this verse is correct, i.e., “I am married to you,” or “I am your master.”

The Hebrew word translated “married” in this verse is ba’al (Strong’s H-1166), which can mean either “master” or “married.”

It’s also important to note that ba’al is not the only frequently-used Hebrew word for “married.” The Hebrew word laqach (Strong’s H-3947) is also frequently translated “married,” as is the Hebrew word ownah (Strong’s H-5772).

Nevertheless, in his scholarly sidenotes in the Companion Bible, Dr. E. W. Bullinger translates the phraseology used in that verse as “I am become your husband” instead of “I am married” or “I am your master.”

Bullinger’s translation indicates a re-marriage taking place.

But honestly, it works either way.  As our spiritual Master, God has the right to forgive our sins and thereby restore us to our servant relationship to Him.  Likewise, as our spiritual Husband, He has the same right to forgive our sins and thereby restore us to the marriage relationship with Himself.

In terms of the Christ typology (or perhaps better stated, foreshadowing) found in this chapter, always keep in mind that when Christ died for our sins, the door was opened for His People to remarry the Father through the risen Son, if they would accept Him.

Backsliders and the Prodigal Son

If you think about it, the way God handled what He called “backsliding Israel” in Jeremiah 3:12 is similar to the way Father handles backsliders in the church today.

God will indeed forgive a backslider who has run off from the church (i.e., the family body of Christ).  And He’ll welcome that backslider back into the family.

But…the forgiveness and “welcome back” into the family comes only after the backslider sincerely repents and returns to living his or her life in a Godly manner.

After all, God has promised to forgive all sins if they’re sincerely confessed and the sinner is clearly working to change and be pleasing to God, through Christ.

So this story of Israel’s divorce, and God’s invitation for her to return to Him, is basically the same story as the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15:11-32.

The son did not deserve, in the least, to be welcomed back into the family, after rejecting the family and running off and squandering his family inheritance on prostitutes and booze until he’d lost everything.

But because the Prodigal Son returned to his father humbly, in full confession and repentance (Luke 15:18-19), his father enthusiastically welcomed him back, and put the family ring on his finger (Luke 15:22), restoring his position in the family just as God, under the same circumstances, will welcome Israel back into the family and restore her position as His wife.

So that’s why you see God admitting, in verse 8, that after Israel committed adultery (idolatry) on Him, He divorced her, yet in verse 14 He says He’s married to her (or master over her), which is essentially the same thing.  (Biblically speaking, the husband was always considered master of the house, and the wife and children subservient to him.)

So, if, at that time, the sincerely repentant confession that God had called for from Israel in Jeremiah 3:13 would have taken place, God would have blotted out Israel’s sins, thus restoring her marriage relationship to Himself as if it had never been broken.

And why?  Because God said so.  That’s why.  “With God all things are possible.”

God Incarnate

But, of course, as you know, nearly 600 years later Israel still hadn’t repented.  And Father ultimately had to come to this earth Himself, as Jesus Christ, the Husband incarnate, in order to give His life on that cross for our sins so we could all repent and be forgiven, and could thereby return to Him, cleansed of all sinfulness.

Because He took all of our sins onto Himself on that cross, and then shed His precious blood, and died in payment for those sins, the slate was wiped clean and we can now return to Him in repentance, legally, without polluting the marriage.

The sins are wiped clean, no longer existing in the record books, as long as the repentance was sincere and was done in faithful acknowledgement and acceptance of Christ’s shed blood.

That’s why, today, the Christian church — which is largely composed of the western Christian nations that constitute True Israel in dispersion — is considered to be the bride of Christ.  True Israel has indeed returned to God, in Christ.

As St. Paul put it to the Christians in II Corinthians 11:2, “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

Spiritually speaking, a “chaste virgin” is any person who has sincerely repented of their sins, in Christ’s name, and who faithfully stands by the Lord, refraining from returning to a state of habitual sinfulness.  It’s any person who has “put off the old man” (i.e., the old nature — Ephesians 4:22) and has “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

That tells us that it’s through Christ’s redemptive act on that cross that Israel can finally be restored to her former married status with the Father.

What’s more, faithful Gentiles can be “grafted into” Israel, as well (Romans 11:11-24), thanks to Christ’s redemptive act.

It’s taken a long time for all of this to come to pass, since Father issued that invitation to the northern tribe of Israel to return to Him, in Jeremiah chapter 3.

But as St. Peter states in II Peter 3:15, “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you…”

In other words, God is very patient when it comes to the salvation (and restoration) of His children.  These things often take a long time, because He wants to save as many of His children as possible, and He knows how stubborn and stiff-necked his wayward children are.

As it’s written, again, in II Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Yes, our heavenly Father is very patient when it comes to the salvation and full restoration of His People Israel to their rightful place, along with the salvation of the rest of His children, as well.

It’s been about 2,600 years since God issued that call to Israel to repent and return to Him, so He could once more become her husband.  And since that time, Christ, the Husband incarnate, has come to this earth, and has given His life for our sins, paving the way for Israel’s full restoration to God the Father.

And as a result, tens of millions of God’s People Israel — chiefly from among the western Christian nations — have been saved through His shed blood.

What more can you say but “Praise God!” for His longsuffering faithfulness to His great plan to save His children, which includes the restoration of His People Israel to their rightful place in His eternal family household.

One Final Thought

The name “Israel” means “the prince who prevails with God.”

If God’s divorce from Israel (Jeremiah 3:8) had remained final, that family name — which God Himself had given to Jacob in Genesis 32:28 — could, today, only be used in abject mockery.

But through confession of our sins to God, coupled with sincere repentance and thankful acceptance of Christ’s generous gift on the cross, our heavenly Father’s prophetic words to Israel, “I am become your husband” (Bullinger translation) becomes an eternal reality.

In short, it’s through acceptance of Christ Jesus that our heavenly Father once more becomes Israel’s husband.

Regards in Christ,

Steve Barwick


Steve Barwick

Sign up here to receive notifications of Steve’s News & Current Events Commentaries, as well as notifications when new in-depth Bible studies are posted.  You’ll also receive a free copy of Steve’ in-depth Bible study, The Four Parts of God’s Plan, when you sign up.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This