“The LORD said to me, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.” (Jer 3:11.)
Throughout history, God has sent prophets to His people calling their hearts back to Him. One of these prophets was Jeremiah.
Towards the end of Solomon’s reign, because of his unfaithfulness to God’s command, God declared that He would split Israel into two separate nations, (1 Kings 11:11-13.) Sure enough, during the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam there was a rebellion in Israel and it split into two separate nations. Israel in the north was made up of 10 of the tribes of Israel, and Judah in the south consisted of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
There were important differences between Judah and Israel spiritually. Israel had 19 kings, all of them wicked. They set up thrones to Baal (1 Kings 12) They were weak, and idolatry was rampant. God sent them prophets, notably Elijah and Elisha, to warn them to repent, but they refused and hence they were taken into captivity by Assyria (721bc, II Kings 17.)
Judah on the other hand kept the religion of the Israelites. It was initially governed by Rehoboam, and as such was a continuation of the house of David. The kingdom of Judah contained Jerusalem where the temple still operated as it had in the days of Solomon. They still held to the Hebrew religion, and in theory they continued to worship God. Despite this “faith,” they had mainly bad kings (with the occasional exception,) and in 586bc they were captured by the Babylonians. Although they kept to their religious practices, they did not obey God with their heart and were every bit as sinful as the non-religious Israel. It was to Judah that both Jeremiah and Isaiah were sent as prophets.
Out of these two nations, one completely turned its back on God and the other kept up its religious activity by using God’s name and claiming to be His followers. Yet between them, God called the nation without faith, Israel, more righteous than the nation that still practised the worship of God but was unfaithful in its heart, Judah. God describes these two nations differently. Israel is pronounced as faithless. Israel had no faith, it did not pretend to know God and it had no care for His ways. The path that Israel was on led to her destruction. When a nation denies God there are always consequences, but God was not angry with the people, He simply wanted them to repent for their sake because He knew where their path would lead.
Judah on the other hand was the nation that still gave lip service to God. God called it unfaithful, and it was this unfaithful nation, rather than the faithless nation, that felt God’s anger. Although Judah still worshipped the true God, the kings of Judah, (with a couple of exceptions,) were just as bad as the rulers of Israel. The Judean people worshiped God in deed only. They claimed to know the living God, yet they were not faithful to Him and their hearts did not desire Him.
“The people worship me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is made up of rules made by man” (Is 29:13.)
These two nations still exist today. The world neither knows, nor pretends to know God. It is acting in the manner that a people who reject God is expected to. Contrary to what has sometimes been taught, God is not looking to bring wrath upon the world, but to save it (John 3:17.). God wants to see the world repent, not out of anger but out of love for it. When Jesus came, He did demonstrate God’s wrath, yet this was not against the world but against the religious hypocrisy of those who used His name and His temple incorrectly. The world will always be the world, but His people are called to circumcise their hearts for Him alone.
Out of the 10 commandments that God gave Moses in Exodus 20, the first three deal with our relationship with the holy God. The third of these commandments states, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Ex 20:7.)
God’s name is holy, and it is important that we understand this if we are to serve Him correctly. Being sinful as part of the world is obviously wrong, but sinning by using His name is something that God will hold us to account for. We are called to represent His name and His authority as the powerful and beautiful thing that it is, but when we misuse His name it reflects upon how the world sees Him. This is why we saw Jesus reflect God’s anger against the religious authorities but not the world, and this explains why faithless Israel was more righteous than unfaithful Judah.