Did you at one time serve Jehovah? Have you thought about serving him again but wondered whether he would welcome you back? Please carefully read this article and the one that follows. They were prepared especially with you in mind.
“I PRAYED to Jehovah to please let me come home and to forgive me for hurting him.” So said one woman who had strayed far from her Christian upbringing. Does your heart go out to her? Do you wonder: ‘How does God feel about those who once served him? Does he remember them? Does he want them to “come home”?’ To answer those questions, let us examine words recorded by Jeremiah. The answers will no doubt warm your heart.—Read Jeremiah 31:18-20.
Consider the setting of Jeremiah’s words. In 740 B.C.E., decades before Jeremiah’s day, Jehovah permitted the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel to be taken captive by the Assyrians.* God allowed this calamity as discipline because his people had taken up sinning in gross ways, ignoring the repeated warnings of his prophets. (2 Kings 17:5-18) Were the people softened by the hardships they experienced in exile, when they were separated from their God and far away from their homeland? Did Jehovah forget all about them? Would he ever welcome them back home?
“I Felt Regret”
The people came to their senses in captivity and were moved to repentance. Their heartfelt contrition did not escape Jehovah’s notice. Listen as Jehovah describes the attitude and feelings of the exiled Israelites, spoken of collectively as Ephraim.
“I have positively heard Ephraim bemoaning himself,” says Jehovah. (Verse 18) He heard the Israelites as they lamented the effects of their sinful course. The phrase “bemoaning himself” can mean “a shaking or rocking motion,” says one scholar. They were like a wayward son ruefully shaking his head as he reflects on the hardships he has brought upon himself and longs for the life he had back home. (Luke 15:11-17) What were the people saying?
“You have corrected me . . . like a calf that has not been trained.” (Verse 18) The people acknowledged that they deserved the discipline. After all, they had been like an untrained calf. This simile may mean that they had been like a bullock that would never have “felt the goad if he had not first rebelled against the yoke,” says one reference work.
“Cause me to turn back, and I shall readily turn back, for you are Jehovah my God.” (Verse 18) Their hearts humbled, the people called out to God. They had been lost in a sinful course, but now they pleaded for help to find their way back into his favor. One translation says: “You are our God—please let us come home.”—Contemporary English Version.
“I felt regret. . . . I became ashamed, and I also felt humiliated.” (Verse 19) The people felt sorry because they had sinned. They accepted the blame and admitted their guilt. As if beating their breast, they also felt disgraced and cast down.—Luke 15:18, 19, 21.
The Israelites were repentant. They were filled with sorrow, confessed their sins to God, and turned back from their bad ways. Would their repentance soften God’s heart? Would he let them come home?
“By All Means I Shall Have Pity Upon Him”
Jehovah had a special attachment to the Israelites. He said: “I have become to Israel a Father; and as for Ephraim, he is my firstborn.” (Jeremiah 31:9) How could a loving father refuse to welcome back a son whose heart is filled with genuine remorse? Notice how Jehovah expresses his Fatherly feelings for his people.
“Is Ephraim a precious son to me, or a fondly treated child? For to the extent of my speaking against him I shall without fail remember him further.” (Verse 20) How tender those words are! Like a firm but loving parent, God had been obliged to speak “against” his children, repeatedly warning them about their sinful ways. When they stubbornly refused to listen, he let them go into exile—in effect, making them leave home. But even though he had to punish them, he did not forget them. He could never do that. A loving father does not forget his children. How, though, did Jehovah feel when he saw true repentance in his children?
“My intestines have become boisterous for him.* By all means I shall have pity upon him.” (Verse 20) Jehovah felt a strong yearning for his children. Their sincere repentance touched his heart, and he had a deep longing for them to return to him. Like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, Jehovah “was moved with pity” and eager to welcome his children back home.—Luke 15:20.
“Jehovah Let Me Come Home!”
The words at Jeremiah 31:18-20 give us insight into Jehovah’s tender compassion and mercy. God does not forget those who once served him. What if such ones want to return to him? God is “ready to forgive.” (Psalm 86:5) He will never turn away those who come to him with repentant hearts. (Psalm 51:17) On the contrary, he is happy to welcome them home.—Luke 15:22-24.
The woman mentioned at the outset took the initiative to return to Jehovah and visited a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At first, she had to overcome her own negative feelings. “I felt so unworthy,” she recalls. But the congregation’s elders offered encouragement and helped her to regain spiritual strength. With a heart full of appreciation, she says, “It is so wonderful that Jehovah let me come home!”
If you once served Jehovah and have thought about serving him again, we invite you to visit the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Remember that Jehovah responds with compassion and mercy when repentant ones call out to him, “Please let us come home.”
Suggested Bible reading for April:
Centuries earlier, in 997 B.C.E., the Israelites were split into two kingdoms. One was the southern two-tribe kingdom of Judah. The other was the northern ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, also called Ephraim, for its most prominent tribe.
Commenting on this word picture about intestinal agitation, a guide for Bible translators explains: “For the Jews the interior of the body was the center for emotions.”