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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 4

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-4

Jer 4:1-4

Jeremiah 4:1-2


The chapter begins with a conclusion of the prophet’s address to the Northern Israel (Jeremiah 4:1-2); then there is a call for Judah’s repentance and return to duty as the very last hope of her averting destruction (Jeremiah 4:3-4); next, the Babylonian invasion is prophesied (Jeremiah 4:5-9); there follows the most difficult verse in the chapter (Jeremiah 4:10); a continued description of the forthcoming invasion is given (Jeremiah 4:11-18); personified Judah bewails her fate (Jeremiah 4:19-21); God’s answer and the cause of their misery are related (Jeremiah 4:22); a prophecy of the awful extent of the destruction is announced (Jeremiah 4:23-26); and, notwithstanding God’s promise not to make a "full end" of Judah (Jeremiah 4:27); there follows the magnificent prophecy of the Judgment of Judah in terminology that suggests also the final destruction of Adam’s rebellious race in the Day of Judgment (Jeremiah 4:16-31).

Jeremiah 4:1-2

"If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith Jehovah, if thou wilt return unto me, and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight; then shalt thou not be removed; and thou shalt swear, as Jehovah liveth, in truth, in justice, and in righteousness; and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory."

What marvelous things could have happened if only Israel had repented and returned to God. This promise came a hundred years after their going captive into Assyria; but even then God could have achieved wonders through them IF, only IF, they had repented. Of course, it proved a vain hope. There is no evidence whatever of any slightest intention upon their part of returning to God.

Note especially that "the nations," that is, the Gentiles would have been converted, and that Israel would have been the means of God’s reaching them! Gentiles and nations are alternate renditions of the same Hebrew noun.

As Cook stated it:

"Two great truths are taught in this verse: (1) that the Gentiles were to be members of the Church of the Messiah, and (2) that Israel’s peculiar office was to be God’s instrument in that great work. Thus Jeremiah is in exact accord with the evangelical teaching of Isaiah.”

It should not be overlooked that, "The situation envisaged here was a prospect, rather than a reality.” There could be neither a return of Israel to their homeland nor the conversion of the nations without a genuine abandonment of their apostasy, which never happened.

These verses appear to be God’s answer to Israel’s response to the invitation of Jeremiah 3:22. "When God called Israel to repent, they immediately answered, Lord, we return; now God takes notice of it in this reply." "If you have it in mind to return to me, return; but come all the way back to me"! Of course, there are three things involved in such a return: (1) the immediate and total abandonment of their idolatry, (2) a return to the sincere and wholehearted worship and service of the true God, and (3) a radical revision and restructuring of their lives in a pattern of obedience, justice, and faithfulness. These remain still, in all ages, the basics of true repentance.

Jeremiah 4:3-4

"For thus saith Jehovah to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to Jehovah, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn so that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings."

Here God’s Word is directed to Judah, the Southern Israel, with a call for their true repentance and conversion, coupled with a threat of drastic punishment.

"Break up your fallow ground ..." (Jeremiah 4:3). `Fallow ground’ refers to land that had not been recently cultivated, indicating that conditions in Judah were not at all favorable for the planting of God’s Word; and the practical import of the admonition is that they should get rid of all their idols, no longer visit the shrines of the fertility gods, and produce the kind of environment that would encourage godly living. It appears to this writer that McGee’s comment about our own country’s needing this same kind of advice is appropriate:

The fallow ground needs to be broken up. We are a nation in danger. We say we are one of the greatest nations in the world, but we could fall overnight. Babylon the great fell in one night. Rome fell from within ... Our nation is decaying from within. Morality is deteriorating. Someone needs to say something about it. We are still preaching, but we are sowing the seed among the thorns.

"Circumcise yourselves to Jehovah ... take away the foreskins of your heart ..." (Jeremiah 4:4). The second clause here explains the first. Circumcision was observed for all Jewish males; but the kind of circumcision they needed was not physical but spiritual. Cutting off the foreskins of their hearts meant removing from their thoughts and affections all of the sinful indulgences to which they were so addicted. As Harrison commented, "Inner cleansing of the heart is the only alternative to destruction by fire, a theme prominent also in the New Testament (Matthew 25:41, etc.)”

Some have difficulty understanding the part that man must play in his own conversion, repentance, and regeneration. The passage before us declares that the men of Judah and Jerusalem were to "circumcise their hearts"; but Deuteronomy 30:6 declares that, "The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart!" Is this a contradiction? Certainly not.

The simple fact is that man is both active and passive in regeneration. The text here (Jeremiah 4:4) stresses his activity, and the passage in Deuteronomy stresses his passivity.

This is the way it is in the New Birth. The sinner must "Arise and be baptized and wash away his sins" (Acts 22:16); but the actual cleansing and the convert’s reception of the Holy Spirit are from above, the convert being passive in their reception. It is for this truth that Paul could say, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Yes indeed, there are things for the sinner to do if he is ever going to be saved.

The Rewards of Repentance Jeremiah 4:1-4

If she was to reap the rewards of repentance Israel must make sure that she turns unto the Lord. The pronoun “Me” is in an emphatic position in the Hebrew sentence structure of Jeremiah 4:1. Israel had turned to other gods and to other nations. She was constantly turning in one direction or the other. Now she must make sure she returns to “Me.” A genuine return to the Lord will involve three distinct actions on the part of the nation. (1) They must remove all their abominations, i.e., their idols and the rites conducted in their worship, from before the face of the Lord. (2) From that point on they must never waver, i.e., run to and from other gods, but rather remain steadfastly faithful to the Lord. (3) They must swear by the life of the Lord. “As the Lord lives” was the common form of the Jewish oath. The men of Israel must swear to the Lord and by the Lord. They must renew their covenant to the Lord by swearing allegiance to Him. Cf. Deuteronomy 26:17 f.; 2 Kings 23:3; Nehemiah 9:1 to Nehemiah 10:39. To swear by the Lord means to call Him to witness to the truth of a statement. Lest one take this matter of swearing lightly three qualifications are placed upon the act. The oath must be made (a) in truth, i.e., in sincerity; (b) in justice, i.e., in keeping with that which is right; and (c) in righteousness, i.e., in accordance with the commandments of the law of God (Deuteronomy 6:24-25). Following this lengthy statement of the stipulations concerning repentance, the Lord adds a beautiful promise. If Israel truly repents then the Lord will make them a blessing to the whole world and the promise of Jeremiah 3:17 will be fulfilled. The heathen will come to bless and glorify the Lord when they see the way in which He will bless penitent Israel (Jeremiah 4:2).

From the explicit promise of reward in Jeremiah 4:2 the prophet develops two metaphors which contain implicit promises to penitent sinners. In the first metaphor, which Jeremiah has borrowed from Hosea (Hosea 10:12), the heart of the men of Judah is like a field which has never been cleared of dense brush and plowed for planting. (Jeremiah 4:3). It is no easy task to clear that land of thorn and thistle and plow that virgin soil. Superficial plowing will not do for the roots of the weeds can only be destroyed as the ground is worked again and again. But no harvest of any consequence can be reaped from a field which has not thoroughly been prepared. So must the sinner laboriously work to root up and kill the thorns of wickedness and idolatry. The seed of the word of God does not stand a chance in a heart which harbors the roots of sin. But the more thorough the plowing, the richer the harvest.

In Jeremiah 4:4 the metaphor changes as Jeremiah calls upon the men of Judah to circumcise themselves to the Lord. Here the prophet is taking a slap at the mere formal, ritualistic notions of circumcision. All Jews were circumcised; but not all were “circumcised to the Lord.” Jeremiah is certainly not advocating that the outward act of circumcision be abandoned. God Himself had commanded His people to perform this act. But the prophet is demanding that circumcision be carried out in the right spirit. Israel must not only circumcise the foreskin of their flesh but also of their hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16). While the outward act of circumcision made a man a member of the commonwealth of Israel, it was the circumcision of the heart that made a man part of the true Israel of God. The outward act was of no consequence if the heart was unchanged. The earnest entreaty of the Lord closes with an ultimatum. If these men fail to live up to their circumcision then the consuming fire of God’s wrath will break forth against them and no one will be able to extinguish that fire (Jeremiah 4:4).

Verses 5-10

Jer 4:5-10

Jeremiah 4:5-9

"Declare ye in Judah, and publish in Jerusalem; and say, Blow ye the trumpet in the land: cry aloud and say, Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities. Set up a standard toward Zion: flee for safety, stay not; for I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction. A lion has gone up from his thicket, and a destroyer of nations; he is on his way, he has gone forth from his place, to make the land desolate, that thy cities be laid waste, without inhabitant. For this gird you with sackcloth, lament and wail; for the fierce anger of Jehovah is not turned back from us. And it shall come to pass at that day, saith Jehovah, that the heart of the king shall perish, and the heart of the princes; and priests shall be astonished, and the prophets shall wonder."

These verses are a prophecy of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of Judah. That terrible judgment against Judah, like many other judgments of God throughout history against cities and/or nations whose wickedness had reached a point of no return, is also typical of the ultimate overthrow of Adam’s rebellious race in the Final Judgment. This is indicated by the words "at that day" in Jeremiah 4:9.

"Blow ye the trumpet in the land ..." (Jeremiah 4:5). This was an all-out war alarm, a signal for Judah and Jerusalem to brace themselves for the conflict.

"Set up a standard toward Zion ..." (Jeremiah 4:6). This meant that road signs should be set up pointing the way to the nearest fortified cities to which the people might flee for safety. It should not be thought, however, that any true safety was available. Of course, there was yet time, IF, only IF Judah repented and turned to the Lord, "There would then have been hope, that protected by their fortified cities, they might have waited till the tide of war had passed; but as long as their sins remained unrepented of, their punishment would continue.”

"I will bring evil from the north, and a great devastation ..." (Jeremiah 4:6). Quite a few of the scholars whose writings on this chapter we have consulted still believe they find the Scythians indicated here; but, as in our introduction, we cannot agree with that interpretation.

Taking all into consideration, we see that referring this prophecy to the Scythians is founded neither on exegetical results, nor upon historical evidence; but such a reference relies solely upon rationalistic prejudice that the prophecies of the Biblical prophets are nothing more than either disguised descriptions of historical events, or threatenings based upon forthcoming events that astute political observations could predict.

That the prophecy here refers to the Babylonians is a certainty, as proved by the next verse.

"A lion has gone up from his thicket, and a destroyer of nations ..." (Jeremiah 4:7). This lion was no ordinary beast, but a destroyer of nations. While true enough that a lion "could represent either Assyria or Babylon," after the fall of Nineveh (612 B.C.) the metaphor could have applied only to Babylon.

Jamieson identified the lion as, "Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans ... his `thicket’ was Babylon.” Of course, the emphasis in Babylon upon the lion as their symbol is proved by the lion’s den into which Daniel was cast, and also, as Harrison noted: "Archaeological discoveries have uncovered beautiful representations of lions in enamel from the Processional Street of ancient Babylon.”

"Gird you with sackcloth, lament and wail ..." (Jeremiah 4:8). There is nothing left for Judah except to weep and wail as the penalty of their sins is ruthlessly executed upon them by the savage lion of the Babylonians. Also note that the expression "at that day" also points forward to that day when "the weeping and the gnashing of teeth" shall mark the final punishment of our rebellious race of the sons of Adam.

This thought is developed more fully a little later in the chapter. "Jehovah’s judgment of his people here is similar to that of Isaiah 24, where the judgment of the enemies of Israel is interwoven with the judgment upon the earth.”

Jeremiah 4:10

"Then said I, Ah, Lord Jehovah! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall have peace; whereas the sword reacheth unto the life."

We have called this the most difficult verse in the chapter; because, as it is written, we find it very difficult either to believe or to interpret. As it stands, it would have to be based upon the oriental conception that everything that happens is actually accomplished by Jehovah; and some commentators take that view; but in English, this understanding is by no means evident. Another view, held by some, that this is really the way Jeremiah felt about it, and that the thought should be forgiven due to the discouragement of Jeremiah; but we cannot allow that a blasphemous view like this ever belonged to Jeremiah.

"One of the three most ancient MSS, namely, the Codex Alexandrinus, along with the Arabic Version and the LXX, give the first three verses here as `They will say.’" Many scholars support this rendition, among whom are Wiseman and Ash, with Green in the Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971) accepting the meaning that "The leaders of Israel" are the ones who accused God of deceiving them, although he apparently retained the American Standard Version reading. To us, "They will say" is the only reading that makes any sense at all. Certainly it was the false prophets who, all along, were deceiving God’s people with promises of peace and safety.

Jeremiah 4:5-10 present a picture of impending disaster. Mentally projecting himself into the future, Jeremiah describes the frenzied activity throughout the land of Judah as the foe draws near. The dramatic quality of the passage is enhanced by the use of a series of rhetorical imperatives addressed by God to the prophet, by the prophet to the people, and by the people to one another. Jeremiah urges the people to sound the alarm throughout the land by means of trumpet and word of mouth. He urges them to cry out as loudly as they possibly can in order that the scattered population might rush to safety in the fortified cities of the land (Jeremiah 4:5). The Hebrew says literally, “Cry out! Fill!” sometimes in Hebrew a verb is used to convey an adverbial idea. Jeremiah is then urging them to cry out with the fullness of their strength. Jeremiah urges them to set up a standard, a signal flag or signpost, to guide the fleeing refugees to Zion or Jerusalem. He pleads with fugitives not to hesitate (literally, stand around). They should not linger or tarry in order to have their possessions. It is an urgent hour. The Babylonian forces in the north are sweeping southward to bring calamity and destruction to Judah (Jeremiah 4:6).

Jeremiah compares Nebuchadnezzar to a lion which has gone up from its thicket. The lion, being the symbol of irresistible might and royalty, is a fitting figure for the invincible Chaldean conqueror. Unlike the literal lions which might attack individuals, this mighty and ruthless lion attacks and destroys whole nations. So certain is Jeremiah that this enemy from the north will descend on Judah that he can declare that Nebuchadnezzar “has gone out of his place” (lit., has broken up his camp). His purpose, declares the prophet, is to make the whole land of Judah a desolation (Jeremiah 4:7). In view of this impending disaster Jeremiah urges the people to gird on sackcloth as a sign of extreme distress. They should mourn and howl as in lamentation over the dead. The destruction of the land is inevitable because the fierce anger of the Lord has not turned away from Judah (Jeremiah 4:8) as the people naively believed (Jeremiah 2:35). In that day of disaster the heart of the king and his princes shall perish. The heart in the Old Testament is the center of the intellect, the will and the emotions. Hence the civil rulers who should be a tower of strength in the national emergency will lose their reason and their courage. The spiritual leaders who had so confidently been predicting that God could not and would not destroy Jerusalem will be utterly dumbfounded at the extent of the calamity (Jeremiah 4:9).

In Jeremiah 4:10 Jeremiah reacts to the vivid description of the future judgment which he has just faithfully related to the people. Shocking as it may seem, Jeremiah accuses God of deceiving or beguiling the nation, promising them peace while the sword of divine retribution was about to reach to the very soul or life of the nation. This is not the only passage where Jeremiah charges God with deceit (cf. Jeremiah 20:7). But what is the basis of the accusation against God? Where had God promised peace to the nation? Perhaps Jeremiah has reference to the Messianic promises of Jeremiah 3:14-18. He is not able to reconcile those glorious promises of a golden age to come with his present prophecy of the total destruction of Judah. On the other hand Jeremiah may be alluding to the prophecies of the fake prophets who had been confidently predicting peace for the land (Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 14:13; Jeremiah 23:17). In this case the Lord is held responsible for those predictions of peace because He did not immediately punish the men who delivered the prophecies. In other words God is said to have done what He only permitted to occur. Upon complaining about these other prophets in a later passage (Jeremiah 14:18) Jeremiah is told that they are prophesying lies in the name of God.

Verses 11-18

Jer 4:11-18

Jeremiah 4:11-18

"At that time shall it be said to this people and to Jerusalem, A hot wind from the bare heights in the wilderness toward the daughter of my people, not to winnow, nor to clean; a full wind from these shall come for me: now will I utter judgments against them. Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as the whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us, for we are ruined! O Jerusalem, wash thy heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thine evil thoughts lodge within thee? For a voice declareth from Dan, and publisheth evil from the hills of Ephraim. Make ye mention to the nations; behold, publish against Jerusalem, that watchers come from a far country, and give out their voice against the cities of Judah. As keepers of a field are they against her round about, because she hath been rebellious against me, saith Jehovah. Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee; this is thy wickedness; for it is bitter, for it reacheth unto thy heart."

Here we have a further description of the coming of Babylon upon the apostate Judah. It shall be like a bank of threatening clouds, like the terrible sirocco, or simoon, a wind, not at all helpful like the one used for winnowing, but a violent and destructive wind. The swift chariots shall descend upon the helpless people swifter than an eagle descends upon the prey. There will be no recourse for Judah; she must drink the bitter cup, because it came upon her solely as the result of her terrible wickedness, represented here as "procuring" the terrible disaster that befell her.

"From Dan ... from the hills of Ephraim ..." (Jeremiah 4:15). Dan was at the northern extremity of Palestine, and Ephraim was quite near Jerusalem. The rapid advance of the enemy upon Jerusalem is indicated:

"Make ye mention to the nations ..." (Jeremiah 4:16). The pagan nations are called to witness God’s punishment of Judah. "The tents or booths of the besiegers are compared to the stations of the farmers who guarded their crops in more prosperous times.”

"This thy wickedness ..." (Jeremiah 4:18). The meaning of this verse was given thus by the Dean of Canterbury:

"This word signifies both evil done and evil suffered by anyone. It means, `this is thy wretchedness, this army, and thy approaching ruin is thy misery, thy wretched lot.”

When the judgment falls upon Judah people will use the figure of a blasting wind to describe what has befallen the land. The foe sweeping down upon Jerusalem will not be like the gentle wind which separates the grain from the chaff but will be like the fierce sirocco which blasts in annually from the Arabian desert (Jeremiah 4:11). Repeating his figure for the sake of emphasis Jeremiah declares that the coming wind of retribution will be “too strong for these things,” i.e., it will be a more violent wind than could serve for winnowing the grain. God had spoken in times past through His prophets. Now God will speak to His people in the only language which they will understand, the language of judgment and punishment (Jeremiah 4:12). The hosts of God’s warriors will come up like the clouds (Ezekiel 38:16) which accompany a violent whirlwind (Isaiah 5:28; Isaiah 66:15). The horses of the enemy are more swift than eagles (Habakkuk 1:8; Deuteronomy 28:49). As the inhabitants of Judah see that vast horde descending upon them the wail of lamentation shall be taken up in the land (Jeremiah 4:13).

The third figure: the keepers (Jeremiah 4:14-18)

The third figure opens with an appeal to the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse themselves from evil in order that they might be saved. Amid the crashing threats of divine judgment it is easy to overlook these quiet and sincere appeals. Jeremiah was perplexed by the obstinacy of his countrymen. In view of the impending disaster Jeremiah asks rhetorically, “How long will you harbor (lit., cause to lodge) in your midst (within you) wicked thoughts” (Jeremiah 4:11). Repentance is so urgent for Jeremiah can see in prophetic vision the rapid advance of the enemy, He dramatically depicts a messenger arriving from Dan, the northern border of Palestine. Almost as quickly as the first messenger reaches Jerusalem a second runner from the hills of Ephraim ten miles from Jerusalem arrives with equally bad tidings. The enemy is rapidly advancing toward Jerusalem (Jeremiah 4:15). Even the neighboring nations are called upon to take heed to what is taking place at Jerusalem for the divine visitation there has universal significance. Watchers, i.e., the besieging army. station themselves around the cities of Judah. They lift up their voices against the besieged cities in ridicule, in taunts and. demands for total surrender (Jeremiah 4:16). The enemy erects pavilions, booths and tents about the besieged city like unto those erected by those who guard a field (cf. Isaiah 1:8). The enemy watches the city lest any within make good their escape. All this has come upon Judah because she has rebelled against the Lord (Jeremiah 4:17). The sin of Judah is bitter indeed. It has reached to the very heart of the nation dealing a death blow to her (Jeremiah 4:18).

Verses 19-22

Jer 4:19-22

Jeremiah 4:19-22

"My anguish, my anguish! I am pained at my very heart; my heart is disquieted in me; I cannot hold my peace; because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is laid waste: suddenly are my tents destroyed, and my curtains in a moment. How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? For my people are foolish, they know me not; they are sottish children, and they have no understanding; they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge."

Jeremiah was evidently not the owner of the many tents suggested in Jeremiah 4:20; and therefore it seems better to accept this paragraph as did Jamieson: "The prophet suddenly assumes the language of the Jewish state personified lamenting its affliction.” "Jeremiah 4:19-22 are best understood as a series of ejaculations, in which the people express their grief at the ravages committed by the enemy.”

God did not, however, leave the cries of his people unanswered but promptly supplied the reason that lay behind their dreadful suffering.

"My people are foolish ... sottish ... know me not... no understanding ... wise to do evil ... etc., ..." (Jeremiah 4:22). `Sottish’ means `stupefied with drink,’ thus adding drunkenness to the list of the debaucheries of the people.

The Anchor Bible has an interesting rendition of Jeremiah 4:22 as follows:

"Ah, my people are fools!
Me they know not.
Stupid sons are they,
Senseless - they.
Clever are they to do wrong,
To do right, they don’t know how!”

1. Terrifying judgment (Jeremiah 4:19-22)

Let no one think that Jeremiah enjoyed preaching his message of judgment. He was no sadist who took delight in the suffering of others. As he contemplates the imminent destruction of his people he is emotionally shaken. His heart pounds; his bowels, considered by the ancients to be the seat of emotion, are in agony. He cannot remain silent. He must give vent. to his intense feelings (Jeremiah 4:19). When he hears the war trumpet, the battle cry and sees in his mind’s eye wave after wave of destruction sweeping across his land he is completely overwhelmed. Suddenly, in a moment it seems, the land and all its “tents” and “curtains” fall into the hands of the enemy (Jeremiah 4:20). Of course the people of Judah had long since given up the tents and curtains of their nomadic age for more permanent dwellings. Here Jeremiah is using tents and curtains as a metaphor for the habitations of the citizens of Jerusalem. See Jeremiah 30:18; 2 Samuel 20:1; 1 Kings 8:66; 1 Kings 12:16; Psalms 132:3.

In Jeremiah 4:21 the agony of the prophet reaches a climax as he cries out, “How long shall I see a standard, hear the noise of a trumpet?” The prophet seems to be rebelling against the visions of divine judgment which he has so frequently seen. The trumpet and standard here may be those of the enemy who attack Jerusalem or those of the Judeans who are defending their capital. Jeremiah seems to have hoped for some breakthrough in divine revelation, some note of hope. Yet all he has received thus far in his ministry are revelations of death and destruction. He asks the question, “How long?” He really means “Why?” God answers that question in Jeremiah 4:23 by giving a three-fold justification for the impending destruction of the nation. (1) The Judeans are foolish and no longer truly know God in their hearts. (2) When it comes to spiritual things, God’s people are stupid and senseless sons. (3) These people are brilliant in planning further evil but do not know the first thing about how to do what is right. Jeremiah wanted to know how long he would continue to receive revelations of destruction. The implication of Jeremiah 4:22 is that these revelations will continue so long as the people continue to be foolish and disobedient.

Verses 23-26

Jer 4:23-26

Jeremiah 4:23-26

"I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was waste and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. And I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved to and fro. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. And I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful field was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of Jehovah, and before his fierce anger."

The terminology here clearly points to the final judgment. See Zephaniah 1:1-4; Revelation 6:12-17, etc. The lesson would appear to be that the judgment of God repeatedly executed throughout history upon rebellious cities and nations are all typical of the ultimate Judgment of the Final Day.

2. Devastating judgment (Jeremiah 4:23-26)

Jeremiah regains his composure after the emotional outburst of Jeremiah 4:19-21. God’s explanation of the forthcoming destruction in Jeremiah 4:22 seems to have satisfied the reluctant preacher. He takes up anew the description of the divine judgment by picturing the desolate condition of Judah during the years of the exile. Four times in Jeremiah 4:23-26 he declares that he “saw” what he describes to his hearers. What he saw was not a pretty picture. He saw “waste and void.” The same two words are used in combination in the second verse of Genesis to describe the state of primeval matter before the spirit of God molded it into order and form. He sees darkness prevailing over the land as the heavens refuse to give forth light (Jeremiah 4:23). The mountains and hills, despite their massive weight, are “shaking” (lit., to be light or move lightly), swaying, tossing and heaving (Jeremiah 4:24). Not a man could he see! Not even a bird remained in the land (Jeremiah 4:25). When birds flee a land the desolation is complete. Carmel, the “fruitful field,” had become a wilderness. All the cities of the land are in ruins. All had been laid waste and destroyed by the wrath of the God of judgment.

Verses 27-31

Jer 4:27-31

Jeremiah 4:27-31

"For thus saith Jehovah, The whole land shall be a desolation; yet will I not make a full end. For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black; because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and I have not repented, neither will I turn back from it. Every city fleeth for the noise of the horsemen and the bowmen; they go into the thickets, and climb up upon the rocks: every city is forsaken, and not a man dwelleth therein. And thou, when thou art made desolate, what wilt thou do? Though thou clothest thyself with scarlet, though thou deckest thee with ornaments of gold, thou enlargest thine eyes with paint, in vain dost thou make thyself fair; thy lovers despise thee, they seek thy life. For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, the anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that gaspeth for breath, that spreadeth her hands, saying, Woe is me now! for my soul fainteth before the murderers."

Of very great interest is the promise of God in Jeremiah 4:27 that he will not make a full end of Judah. Not so for Nineveh. God promised to make a "Full end of her place" (Nahum 1:8); and that was surely her fate, because when Alexander the Great encamped his army near the ancient ruins of Nineveh, he did not even know that a city had ever been there!

Ash complained that the optimistic note of Jeremiah 4:27 "seems out of place, and some scholars suggest omitting the not. This would seem more harmonious with Jeremiah 4:28!” All such scholar objections are founded upon the rationalistic prejudice that the same author could not prophecy both doom and deliverance at the same time. We reject that whole prejudice out of hand. It is just another one of the false rules followed by radical critics. Did not Jesus Christ himself prophecy heaven and hell in the same breath? Of course he did.

It was absolutely necessary that Jeremiah should have mentioned this hope in Jeremiah 4:27 that Judah would not be completely destroyed. Isaiah, who preceded Jeremiah, had named one of his sons Shear-Jashub, meaning, "A remnant shall return" (Isaiah 7:3; Isaiah 10:21);[20] and therefore at the very moment of his announcing the end of Judah was by all considerations exactly the right time for Jeremiah to have reiterated the promise that a remnant would return. This alone was the device by which God would at last fulfill all of the glorious promises to the patriarchs. It would have been criminal to have left it out of this context in which we find it.

Cook called Jeremiah 4:27 b "One of the most striking points of the prophecy.”

"And when thou art made desolate ..." (Jeremiah 4:30). The extremity of Judah’s punishment is depicted in these last verses.

Through her behavior in courting lovers Judah has become tainted with mortal disease, and by using the figure of a fatal miscarriage, the prophet depicts the nation moribund and gasping spasmodically with arms outstretched, crying `The murderers have killed me!’ Like the wanton she had become, Judah is here shown paying the price of her iniquity.

Robinson has an interesting comment on the contrasting figures employed here by Jeremiah to describe the helplessness of Judah before the invading Babylonians:

"Jeremiah 4:30 and Jeremiah 4:31 there is an effective contrast between the gaily decked prostitute and the travailing woman, though both figures are used to express the same fact, Jerusalem’s helplessness before the invader, either to allure or to withstand.”

"I heard a voice ..." (Jeremiah 4:31). "The cry is of one whose agony is unbearable. Jerusalem is in her death throes.” The tragic picture developed in this chapter of the conquest of Judah is not merely a masterpiece; but it is the most tragic picture ever presented of the pitiful end of rebellion against the Creator, whether of an individual, or of a nation. The extremely sorrowful emotions of the great prophet himself seem to wrap every line of the revelation here in tears. Something of this same deep emotion also belonged to Jesus Christ when he wept over the city of Jerusalem upon the occasion of his sentencing her to death, "Because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation!"

3. Inevitable judgment (Jeremiah 4:27-31)

However severe the punishment of Judah may be God “will not make a full end of it” (Jeremiah 4:27). A remnant will escape and become the seed for a holier nation. See Amos 9:8; Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 10:20; Isaiah 11:11; Hosea 6:1-2. Without such a conviction the work of the prophet would be meaningless. Yet God has proposed and decreed the destruction of the nation as a political entity. For this reason both earth and heaven are pictured as entering into mourning (Jeremiah 4:28). The figure of the earth mourning may mean that the soil will not produce its fruit. The lamentation on the part of nature is justified. Screaming, galloping horsemen and expert bowmen will sweep down upon “the city.” The inhabitants of the city will flee for safety to the thickets and rocks, the limestone caverns which abound in Palestine. Every city is forsaken, deathly silent (Jeremiah 4:29).

In view of the impending national disaster Jeremiah cannot comprehend the nonchalance of his countrymen. Like the wrinkled old Jezebel who painted her face in a desperate attempt to allure and seduce her antagonist Jehu (2 Kings 9:30), Judah is using every device to gain the favor of the powers of the world. Judah puts on scarlet robes and beautiful ornaments of gold. She applies cosmetics to her eyelids in order to make her eyes seem larger. But all of this primping is in vain. Judah’s political lovers actually despise her and are seeking to destroy her (Jeremiah 4:30). Judah had entered into adulterous liaison with Egypt, Assyria (Jeremiah 2:33 f.) and, most recently, Babylon. But history was about to prove again that Judah’s lover was her implacable foe. The foreign powers of antiquity were completely unimpressed by the seductive wiles of Zion. Three times in Jeremiah 4:30 Jeremiah emphasizes Judah’s efforts to please her political friends; three times he records the futility of her efforts. Too late the silly maiden will realize the folly of her ways. The dying daughter of Zion will experience agony akin to that experienced by a woman giving birth to her first child. She gasps for breath and spreads forth her hands in desperate appeal, crying out in anguish, “woe is me!” At last she realizes that her lovers (hogebim) are really her murderers (horegim).

Disaster from the North - Jeremiah 4:5-31

Open It

1. What plans have you made in case you receive warning of violent weather coming your way?

2. What was an effective punishment when you were a child? Why?

Explore It

3. What did Jeremiah predict that Judah would need to do in the near future? (Jeremiah 4:5-6)

4. To what wild animal did Jeremiah compare the attack by the people from the north? (Jeremiah 4:7)

5. What was the appropriate response of Judah to God’s anger? (Jeremiah 4:8)

6. Who did Jeremiah predict would lose courage when the Lord’s judgment came? (Jeremiah 4:9)

7. What deception was current in Jerusalem because people took God’s goodness for granted and believed the false prophets? (Jeremiah 4:10)

8. What would the people learn about the purpose of God’s judgment when it was already descending on them? (Jeremiah 4:11-12)

9. Even as the invading army was announced, what could Jerusalem do to be saved? (Jeremiah 4:13-17)

10. What brought the terrible judgment of God on Judah? (Jeremiah 4:18)

11. How did Jeremiah feel about knowing the fate of his people? (Jeremiah 4:19-21)

12. How did God evaluate the moral fiber of His own people? (Jeremiah 4:22)

13. How complete was the destruction foreseen by Jeremiah? (Jeremiah 4:23-26)

14. Though God promised a fearsome judgment, what element of hope did He give Jeremiah? (Jeremiah 4:27)

15. How do we know that God was not judging on a whim? (Jeremiah 4:28)

16. Though Judah "adorned herself" to win the favor of powerful nations, how did God say she would end up? (Jeremiah 4:30-31)

Get It

17. Why might people in your city or town listen to or ignore a prophecy like Jeremiah’s?

18. How do you demonstrate your concern for the certain doom of those who do not repent and turn to Christ?

19. Why would you want to know or not know about an instance of judgment from God?

20. How would you respond to a message of destruction from God?

21. What are some of the fruitless ways that people seek to evade the judgment of God?

22. What would be a concrete and appropriate way to express grief over the fate of wicked people?

Apply It

23. What step can you take this week to avoid becoming foolish as the people of Judah were?

24. What can you do to warn a believer or friend who is foolishly ignoring God’s warnings?

Questions on Jeremiah Chapter Four

By Brent Kercheville

1. What is God’s message in Jeremiah 4:1-4?

What do we learn for ourselves about what God seeks from us?

What will happen if the people do not respond to God’s call?

2. What is about to happen (Jeremiah 4:5-9)? Who is doing it?

3. What will God do (Jeremiah 4:10-13)? What is Jeremiah’s complaint (Jeremiah 4:10)? Explain.

4. What is the call of God (Jeremiah 4:14)? Explain the imagery.

5. Why is this calamity coming upon them (Jeremiah 4:15-18)?

6. What is the response of the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:19-26)? What does he see? Explain.

7. What promises does God make (Jeremiah 4:27-28)? What will the nation attempt and fail at (Jeremiah 4:30)?


How does this relationship change your relationship with God?

What did you learn about him?

What will you do differently in your life?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Jeremiah 4". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/jeremiah-4.html.
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