Did God divorce all of Israel or only the northern tribes?
In Jeremiah 3:8, who did God divorce? Was it the House of Israel (ten northern tribes) only or all twelve tribes?
"Then the LORD said to me in the days of Josiah the king, "Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. "I thought, 'After she has done all these things she will return to Me'; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception," declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 3:6-10).
God likens His covenant with the nation of Israel to a marriage covenant. Because Israel split after the days of Solomon into two nations: Israel (the northern ten tribes) and Judah (the southern tribe), God likens it to a man married to two sisters. It is an interesting parallel because the founder of Israel, Jacob, was married to two sisters.
Northern Israel did not remain faithful to their covenant with God. They immersed themselves in idolatry and numerous sins. "God says, 'If a husband divorces his wife and she goes from him and belongs to another man, will he still return to her? Will not that land be completely polluted? But you are a harlot with many lovers; yet you turn to Me,' declares the LORD. 'Lift up your eyes to the bare heights and see; where have you not been violated? By the roads you have sat for them like an Arab in the desert, and you have polluted a land with your harlotry and with your wickedness'" (Jeremiah 3:1-2). Israel thought she could both worship God and idols.
"They forsook all the commandments of the LORD their God and made for themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him. So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from His sight; none was left except the tribe of Judah. Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the customs which Israel had introduced. The LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them out of His sight" (II Kings 17:16-20).
The problem is that while Israel led the way, Judah followed. Even after seeing Israel destroyed for her sins, Judah became just as guilty. "So while these nations feared the LORD, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day" (II Kings 17:41). The result is that all the descendants of Israel were cast out (II Kings 17:20), though Judah was not cast out until 250 years after northern Israel when her sins became as great as her sister country. "Moreover, among the prophets of Samaria I saw an offensive thing: They prophesied by Baal and led My people Israel astray. Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: The committing of adultery and walking in falsehood; and they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one has turned back from his wickedness. All of them have become to Me like Sodom, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah" (Jeremiah 23:13-14).
On the eve of Judah's exile, God is asking through Jeremiah why Judah did not learn from Israel instead of imitating her sins. Since Judah is more guilty than her sister, God is just in treating her as He treated Israel. "'These things will be done to you because you have played the harlot with the nations, because you have defiled yourself with their idols. You have walked in the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand" (Ezekiel 23:30-31).
Yet, He is willing to take them all back if they will just give up their sins. "In those days the house of Judah will walk with the house of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers as an inheritance" (Jeremiah 3:18).