Jeremiah 2:22—Were Israel’s sins eradicable or not?

Problem: Jeremiah seems to imply that nothing could wash away Israel’s sins. “ `For though you wash them with lye, and use much soap, yet your iniquity is marked before Me,’ says the Lord God.” However, later Jeremiah changes his tune and calls upon them to “Wash your heart from wickedness that you may be saved” (4:14). Why the difference?

Solution: The solution seems to lie in the fact that the first passage is speaking about mere outward washing that does not cleanse their hearts. That is, no external ritual can purify a sinful heart. As the prophet said elsewhere, they needed to “circumcise” their hearts, not just their flesh (Jer. 4:4; cf. Deut. 10:16). What was wrong with them could only be purified by true penitence, not by phony practices.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.