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A Last Call to Return
v. 1. If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto Me, or, "if thou wilt return unto Me," the repetition serving to emphasize the anxious, merciful call of the Lord, and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of My sight, so that they no longer fill Him with loathing, then shall thou not remove, no longer waver, no more be an unsettled wanderer, running from one sanctuary of idolatry to the next.
v. 2. And thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, not in hypocrisy, as formerly, in judgment, and in righteousness, in a just cause and with genuine uprightness of heart; and the nations, under the influence of this confession, shall bless themselves in Him, and in Him they shall glory, thereby becoming partakers of the blessings which were promised in the Messianic prophecies from the time of the patriarchs. The sincere conversion of Judah would have this effect upon the Gentiles, for such an open confession is a powerful argument for the truth. Cf Luke 22:32.
v. 3. For thus saith the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, the capital being mentioned particularly as the center of Jewish worship, Break up your fallow ground, that of their hearts, which is like wild land overgrown with weeds, where cleansing is effected only by deep and repeated plowing, and sow not among thorns, in not removing hypocrisy and other evil growths.
v. 4. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and take away the foreskins of your heart, the natural corruption which seriously interfered with the proper attitude toward the Lord, Cf Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Romans 2:29; Colossians 2:11, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, a sincere repentance being required of all of them, lest My fury come forth like fire and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings. Just as the Lord required a circumcision of the heart in those days in addition to the circumcision of the body, so He insists upon the baptism with the Spirit in our days, lest we offend Him by insincerity.
Description of The Judgment under three Emblems
v. 5. Declare ye in Judah, announcing it, making it known widely, and publish in Jerusalem and say, Blow ye the trumpet in the land, as a signal calling the inhabitants to arms; cry, gather together, and say, rather, "cry fully," that is, with a loud voice, shouting. Assemble yourselves and let us go into the defensed cities, into their strongest fortresses.
v. 6. Set up the standard toward Zion, raising their banners as a signal to make the city of God their refuge; retire, stay not, flee, do not try to make a stand ! For I will bring evil from the North and a great destruction, namely, by the invasion of the enemy.
v. 7. The lion is come up from his thicket, Nebuchadnezzar, like an angry lion, leaving his lair, Babylon, with his army of Chaldean soldiers, and the destroyer of the Gentiles, he who subdued many nations, is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate, by ravaging it with fire and sword; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant. Cf. Jeremiah 2:15.
v. 8. For this, on account of the impending destruction, gird you with sackcloth, the garment of deep mourning, lament and howl; for the fierce anger of the Lord is not turned back from us. Cf Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 17-21. The people who had expected to return to the Lord on the basis of their hypocritical behavior, their feigned repentance, would find themselves sorely disappointed.
v. 9. And it shall come to pass at that day, saith the Lord, at the time when this judgment would come upon Judah, that the heart of the king shall perish, the rulers whose position demanded that they devise means of defense would be utterly at a loss in this emergency, unable to provide help, and the heart of the princes; and the priests shall be astonished, amazed at the turn of events, and the prophets shall wonder, be filled with horror. So all the leaders are helpless and without presence of mind.
v. 10. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! the prophet here recording the impression which the declaration of the Lord made upon him; surely Thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, in permitting the false prophets to lead the people astray, willing as they were to be duped, saying, Ye shall have peace, that being the common assurance of the deceiving prophets, whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul. Cf 1 Kings 22:22. If people persist in opposing Him, the Lord finally delivers them to the certain consequences of such opposition and brings their punishment upon them in this manner.
v. 11. At that time, when the judgment of the Lord will strike the idolaters, shall it be said to this people and to Jerusalem, the center of Jewish religious life, A dry wind, the simoom, or desert wind, with its destructive breath, of the high places in the wilderness, sweeping down from the high places and across the desert, toward the daughter of My people, the children of God's chosen nation, not to fan nor to cleanse, not the gentle breeze which ordinarily carried off the chaff as the threshed grain was winnowed,
v. 12. Even a full wind from those places, more violent than any such light breezes, shall come unto Me, as the Lord's instrument for working His punishment; now also will I give sentence against them, passing judgment upon the idolaters and executing the same.
v. 13. Behold, he, the enemy with his army, shall come up as clouds, those of sand and dust blown up by the tempest, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles, in bringing destruction to the land of Israel. Woe unto us! for we are spoiled, thus the exclamations of the despairing Israelites are recorded. But the Lord has still another emblem of the expected judgment, which He proceeds to hold before the eyes of Judah and Jerusalem.
v. 14. O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, for a mere outward change of behavior is not sufficient, heart and mind and soul must undergo a complete transformation, that thou mayest be saved, for only he who truly repents may partake of the Lord's deliverance. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? It was high time for all sinful thoughts to be dismissed.
v. 15. For a voice declareth from Dan, in the extreme northern part of Canaan, where the advance of the enemy would be felt first, and publisheth affliction from Mount Ephraim, this being an evidence that the foe is coming nearer and nearer, and that there is great danger in delaying repentance.
v. 16. Make ye mention to the nations, calling the attention of the neighbors to the Lord's judgment. Behold, publish against Jerusalem that watchers come from a far country, people who would witness the catastrophe upon Jerusalem, and give out their voice against the cities of Judah, in a shout of triumph or derision.
v. 17. As keepers of a field, the men whose duty it was to frighten away wild animals from the cultivated land, lest they work harm, are they against her round about, as watchers who have surrounded a harmful animal and are making ready to dispatch it, because she hath been rebellious against Me, saith the Lord. This God further affirms by turning directly to Judah once more.
v. 18. Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee, she had only herself to blame if the punishment struck her with full force; this is thy wickedness, the fruit and consequence of her evil doing, because it is bitter, in its effect upon others as well as upon the sinners themselves, because it reacheth unto thine heart, inflicting deadly wounds. Such is ever the result of sin: sweet and attractive as it seems at first, it strikes deadly wounds, as the sinner usually finds out to his great regret.
The Desolation Following the Lord's Judgment.
The prophet here, in a most dramatic manner, introduces Israel as lamenting over the calamity which has struck the nation.
v. 19. My bowels, my bowels! the whole inner part of the man quaking with terror. I am pained at my very heart! or, I feel the pain of a severe cramp the chambers of my heart! My heart maketh a noise in me, moaning with the severity of the affliction; I cannot hold my peace because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war, the shout of battle, as the enemy advances to subdue the land of Israel.
v. 20. Destruction upon destruction is cried, blow upon blow is reported; for the whole land is spoiled, rendered desolate by the enemy; suddenly are my tents spoiled and my curtains, those out of which the tent was made, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.
v. 21. How long shall I see the standard, the banner of the advancing enemy, and hear the 'sound of the trumpet? How long would this state of things continue? When would the reports of calamities and disasters cease? The answer of the Lord gives them the proper enlightenment.
v. 22. For My people is foolish, without the right knowledge of God, they have not known Me, still more emphatic in the Hebrew, "Me have they not known"; they are sottish children, silly and unreasonable, and they have none understanding, no discernment; they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge, thereby showing themselves to be the opposite of the ideal held before men in Romans 16:19.
v. 23. I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form and void, as in the beginning of creation, the prophet thus picturing the dismal waste which would follow the Chaldean invasion, and the heavens, and they had no light; here also a return to chaos.
v. 24. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, because the very foundations of the earth were moved, and all the hills moved lightly, as heavy bodies which shake with the slightest disturbance.
v. 25. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, the land itself was stripped of its inhabitants, and all the birds of the heavens were fled, preferring to shun the dead wastes beneath them. Note that this description presupposes the account of Genesis 1.
v. 26. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, Carmel, the part of Canaan renowned for its fertility, a desert, and all the cities thereof were broken down, sharing in the general devastation, at the presence of the Lord, whose sentence of judgment would thereby be carried out, and by His fierce anger.
v. 27. For thus hath the Lord said, thus has Jehovah spoken, The whole land shall be desolate, be turned into a desert; yet will I not make a full end, He would not bring about a total annihilation at this time.
v. 28. For this shall the earth mourn, lamenting on account of the desolations just described, which destroyed its fruitfulness, and the heavens above be black, wearing the garment of mourning, because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, the sentence as carried out rested upon His decree, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it, the ruin had definitely been determined upon on account of the persistent transgressing of the people.
v. 29. The whole city, or, "every city," all the cities of the land, shall flee for the noise of the horsemen and bowmen, as the invading army draws near; they shall go into thickets, their hiding-places, and climb up upon the rocks, seeking refuge before the attacking hordes; every city shall be forsaken and not a man dwell therein. Cf Judges 6:2; 1 Samuel 13:6.
v. 30. And when thou art spoiled, rather, "But thou, O destroyed one," what wilt thou do? How escape the threatened destruction? Though thou clothest thyself with crimson, in garments of the most expensive material, though thou deckest thee with ornaments of gold, in decking herself for the purpose of coquetting with heathen nations, though thou rentest thy face with painting, applying antimony black to the eyelids, in order to increase the luster of the eyes, a custom still followed by harlots and vain women in the Orient and elsewhere, in vain shalt thou make thyself fair, all arts exercised to procure the aid of foreign nations would be useless; thy lovers will despise thee, no longer attracted by such artifices, they will seek thy life.
v. 31. For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail and the anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first child, heartrending wails and moans, the voice of the daughter of Zion, of the Lord's own chosen people, that bewaileth herself, that spreadeth her hands, saying, panting in her agony, Woe is me now! for my soul is wearied because of murderers, as one who yields to murderers, unable to withstand any longer. Such is the usual fate of men who disregard the warnings and pleadings of the Lord: when it is too late, they begin to mourn and lament, bewailing their fate. But as far as God is concerned, love is still with Him even in the might of His anger.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Jeremiah 4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter