Jeremiah 4 – The Terror of Coming Judgment
A. The repentance that brings restoration.
1. (1-2) Blessings to a returning and repentant Israel.
“If you will return, O Israel,” says the LORD,
“Return to Me;
And if you will put away your abominations out of My sight,
Then you shall not be moved.
And you shall swear, ‘The LORD lives,’
In truth, in judgment, and in righteousness;
The nations shall bless themselves in Him,
And in Him they shall glory.”
a. Return to Me: This carries the same theme from Jeremiah 3, where Yahweh pled with Israel to stop their backsliding ways and to return to Him. The call went out to Israel, with all tribes and both kingdoms in mind (Jeremiah 3).
b. If you will put away your abominations out of My sight: For Israel, returning to the LORD meant they had to put away their idols (abominations). They could not hold on to their idols and still return to Yahweh, even as an adulterous spouse cannot continue to hold on to their illicit lover and genuinely return to their marriage partner.
i. “The term abominations was used in Hosea 9:10 and also by both Jeremiah and Ezekiel of pagan deities and their associated cultic rituals.” (Harrison)
c. Then you shall not be moved. And you shall swear, “The LORD lives”: These were two rewards that would come to a returning, repentant Israel. First, they would have security (not be moved). Second, they would be restored to real relationship with Yahweh, able to swear, “The LORD lives.”
i. Then you shall not be moved: “This was spoken before the Babylonish captivity; and here is a promise that if they will return from their idolatry, they shall not be led into captivity. So, even that positively threatened judgment would have been averted had they returned to the Lord.” (Clarke)
ii. There are some who at one time claimed to walk with God and experience Him, and then departed from outward profession. Some of those, in their departure, claim that their experience with God was all an illusion and go on to deny the reality of God and His revelation in Jesus Christ. If those would return to the Lord in true repentance, they would be able to once again swear, “The LORD lives.”
d. In truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; the nations shall bless themselves in Him, and in Him they shall glory: This is the understanding of the LORD that belongs to those who return to Him and repent. Once again they see His true, good, righteous character, and His blessing to the nations.
2. (3-4) Breaking up the fallow ground.
For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem:
“Break up your fallow ground,
And do not sow among thorns.
Circumcise yourselves to the LORD,
And take away the foreskins of your hearts,
You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
Lest My fury come forth like fire,
And burn so that no one can quench it,
Because of the evil of your doings.”
a. Break up your fallow ground: God invited Judah and Jerusalem to return to Him from a hardened condition. Fallow ground is uncultivated farmland, especially ground that was plowed before but has laid dormant for a year or more. It is hard to plow, but no useful crops can be grown until the fallow ground is broken up.
· Fallow ground implies prior fruitfulness.
· Fallow ground needs some hard work to break.
· Fallow ground implies some resistance.
i. “It would be pointless to sow the seeds of repentance in unsuitable soil.” (Harrison)
b. And do not sow among thorns: This probably has in mind what does grow upon fallow ground – weeds and thorns. It’s not as if nothing grows upon fallow fields, simply nothing useful grows there. Spiritually speaking, returning Judah must put their energy into prepared, repentant hearts.
i. “There must be a deep ploughing, and the eradication of that which hinders growth, both in the realm of the spirit and in nature, before there can be a bountiful harvest.” (Cundall)
c. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD: Jeremiah switched images, moving away from the idea of an unplowed field to the idea of a baby boy’s circumcision, in obedience to the covenant of Abraham. Instead of taking away the literal foreskin, Judah had to remove the foreskins of your hearts, cutting away the flesh in covenant dedication to the LORD.
d. Lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it: God drew His people with kind words, but also told them of the consequences of continued rejection. If they did not return, judgment was waiting.
B. A vision of coming judgment.
1. (5-8) A description of coming judgment.
Declare in Judah and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say:
“Blow the trumpet in the land;
Cry, ‘Gather together,’
And say, ‘Assemble yourselves,
And let us go into the fortified cities.’
Set up the standard toward Zion.
Take refuge! Do not delay!
For I will bring disaster from the north,
And great destruction.”
The lion has come up from his thicket,
And the destroyer of nations is on his way.
He has gone forth from his place
To make your land desolate.
Your cities will be laid waste,
For this, clothe yourself with sackcloth,
Lament and wail.
For the fierce anger of the LORD
Has not turned back from us.
a. Blow the trumpet in the land: In his prophecy, Jeremiah saw an army come from the north to destroy an unrepentant Judah and Jerusalem. They busily prepared a defense (assemble yourselves…. go into the fortified cities), but it would be of no help.
i. “The blowing of the horn (sopar) announced a state of emergency (cf. Amos 3:6). Hearing it citizens would flee for safety behind the walls of their fortified city.” (Thompson)
ii. “The description is the more vivid because he uses the prophetic present, which sees the judgment as already in progress, so certain is its fulfillment.” (Cundall)
b. The lion has come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of nations is on his way: This was prophetically fulfilled when the Babylonians conquered Judah.
i. There is debate as to if the invasion so vividly described came from the Scythians, the Assyrians, or the Babylonians. The best choice seems to be the Babylonians. “The fact remains that God’s word through him not only made no mention of the Scythians, but decisively excluded them at certain points. It was Babylon, a generation later, which would bring all this to pass.” (Kidner)
ii. “The lion could represent both Assyria and Babylonia here as fierce destroyers of nations.” (Harrison)
c. Clothe yourself with sackcloth, lament and wail: Jeremiah pictured God’s people finally repenting, yet when it was too late to prevent the terrible judgment.
2. (9) The effect of the coming judgment.
“And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the LORD,
“That the heart of the king shall perish,
And the heart of the princes;
The priests shall be astonished,
And the prophets shall wonder.”
a. The heart of the king shall perish: When the terrible judgment comes, even the nobility of Judah will lose their courage and hope.
i. “Even the rumors of impending disaster are a disaster.” (Ryken)
b. The priests shall be astonished, and the prophets shall wonder: When the terrible judgment comes, the spiritual leaders will not know what to do – because they did not return to the LORD, break up the fallow ground, and circumcise their hearts in answer to God’s invitation.
3. (10) In a brief interlude, Jeremiah considers the difficult nature of judgment.
Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD!
Surely You have greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem,
Saying, ‘You shall have peace,’
Whereas the sword reaches to the heart.”
a. Surely You have greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem: Jeremiah wondered if God had not greatly deceived His people when He promised, “You shall have peace.” Seemingly, God promised peace to His people when an astonishing judgment would come upon them instead (Jeremiah 4:9).
i. “Here we have an outburst, in which the prophet said what he thought. Many men think things like this who never utter them.” (Morgan)
ii. Yet it could be said that it was not the LORD who promised peace, but false prophets who claimed to speak in His name. Another use of the phrase “You shall have peace” (in the New King James Bible) is found in Jeremiah 23:16-17, where they are the words in the mouth of false prophets who prophesied peace to those who despised the LORD.
iii. It wasn’t the Lord GOD who greatly deceived the people and Jerusalem; it was the false prophets who promised peace when judgment was coming instead.
b. Whereas the sword reaches to the heart: Instead of peace, judgment would come to an unrepentant Israel, causing the kingdom to die and many with it.
4. (11-12) The sobering announcement of coming judgment.
At that time it will be said
To this people and to Jerusalem,
“A dry wind of the desolate heights blows in the wilderness
Toward the daughter of My people—
Not to fan or to cleanse—
A wind too strong for these will come for Me;
Now I will also speak judgment against them.”
a. A dry wind of the desolate heights blows in the wilderness toward the daughter of My people: Jeremiah announced that judgment would come upon His people and upon Jerusalem, and it would be like a wind that destroys.
b. Not to fan or to cleanse – a wind too strong tor these will come: The judgment that would come like a wind would be so strong that it would not be like a fan, cooling the people; nor to cleanse with a gentle wind. It would destroy and bring judgment, like a wind too strong.
i. “It is the hot breath of divine judgment, consuming good and bad alike.” (Harrison)
5. (13) A vision of the coming judgment.
“Behold, he shall come up like clouds,
And his chariots like a whirlwind.
His horses are swifter than eagles.
Woe to us, for we are plundered!”
a. He shall come up like clouds, and his chariots like a whirlwind: The instruments of the announced judgment would move quickly. They would come as quickly as clouds move through the sky, their chariots as fast as whirlwinds, and their horses faster than eagles.
b. Woe to us, for we are plundered! The speed of the instruments of the Lord’s judgment indicated that they would be unstoppable. They would succeed in conquering and plundering God’s people.
C. Appealing to those targeted for judgment.
1. (14-18) An appeal to Jerusalem.
O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness,
That you may be saved.
How long shall your evil thoughts lodge within you?
For a voice declares from Dan
And proclaims affliction from Mount Ephraim:
“Make mention to the nations,
Yes, proclaim against Jerusalem,
That watchers come from a far country
And raise their voice against the cities of Judah.
Like keepers of a field they are against her all around,
Because she has been rebellious against Me,” says the LORD.
“Your ways and your doings
Have procured these things for you.
This is your wickedness,
Because it is bitter,
Because it reaches to your heart.”
a. O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness: Judah had made a show of repentance, but only in pretense (Jeremiah 3:10). Jeremiah begged the people to wash their heart from wickedness, not only their outward actions.
i. “Carnal hearts are stews of unclean thoughts, slaughter-houses of cruel and bloody thoughts, exchanges and shops of vain and vile thoughts, a very forge and mint of false politic undermining, thoughts, yea, oft a little hell of confused and black imaginations.” (Trapp)
ii. “The insertion of this call to repentance is quite in keeping with Jeremiah’s pleas in chapter 3. Even though judgment was at the doors, it would seem that Jeremiah never thought an appeal to repent was too late.” (Thompson)
b. How long shall your evil thoughts lodge within you? The wickedness in the heart of the people of Judah brought the threat of God’s judgment, but it wasn’t just a heart problem; it was also a problem with evil thoughts. They indulged their evil thoughts and allowed them to lodge within their mind.
i. Charles Spurgeon preached a wonderful sermon on this text, titled Bad Lodgers, and How to Treat Them. He explained how evil thoughts were like bad renters or lodgers in a property. “Now, the Lord says, ‘How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?’ for they are all vain – these delays, these false promises, these self-deceptions. How long shall it be that they shall throng the avenues of your soul and curse your spirit?” (Spurgeon)
ii. Spurgeon described why evil thoughts are like bad lodgers:
· Vain thoughts are bad lodgers because they are deceitful.
· Vain thoughts are bad lodgers because they pay no rent; they bring in nothing good.
· Vain thoughts are bad lodgers because they waste your goods and destroy your property.
· Vain thoughts are bad lodgers because worse than damaging your house, they damage you.
· Vain thoughts are bad lodgers because they bring you under condemnation.
iii. Spurgeon then suggested what one should do with these bad lodgers:
· Give them the eviction notice at once.
· If they refuse to leave, then starve them out.
· Sell the house out from under them; put the house under new ownership.
c. Yes, proclaim against Jerusalem, that watchers come from a far country: This is the reason why there was an urgent, passionate appeal to truly repent – because judgment was coming in the form of an invading army.
i. “To declare the menace is merely to announce it as an item of news; to proclaim it is to publish it so forcefully that all must take notice.” (Harrison)
ii. The New King James Version (and the King James Version) uses the word watchers to describe the invaders. Other translations give a better sense of the invading army coming against Jerusalem:
· NASB, ESV: besiegers.
· NIV: a besieging army.
· NLT: the enemy.
iii. Like keepers of a field: “Like men guarding their crops in their fields they settle down to occupy and lay siege to the land. The picture is an apt one since a largely rural population was very familiar with the small shelters or booths erected by sheepherders and farmers to protect their flocks and crops (cr. Isaiah 1:8).” (Thompson)
d. Your ways and your doing have procured these things for you: Before the judgment came, God gave Judah and Jerusalem clear warning that the judgment would be their fault and not God’s. It would be bitter and reach to their heart, but it would be because of their wickedness, not God’s unfaithfulness.
2. (19-21) The anguish of soul on the part of those who face judgment.
O my soul, my soul!
I am pained in my very heart!
My heart makes a noise in me;
I cannot hold my peace,
Because you have heard, O my soul,
The sound of the trumpet,
The alarm of war.
Destruction upon destruction is cried,
For the whole land is plundered.
Suddenly my tents are plundered,
And my curtains in a moment.
How long will I see the standard,
And hear the sound of the trumpet?
a. O my soul, my soul! I am pained in my very heart! Jeremiah prophetically spoke in the voice of the one plundered by the invading army to come. It was not only an army of material destruction with the loss of land and tents and curtains, but a true affliction of the soul.
i. The King James version gives a more literal translation of O my soul, my soul: My bowels, my bowels!
ii. Pained: “Is a word for intestinal discomfort. Literally, Jeremiah was ‘sick to his stomach’ about what was going to happen to Judah.” (Ryken)
b. How long will I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? In the voice of the prophetic future, Jeremiah wondered how long the destruction and plunder of the invading army would last.
3. (22) The LORD speaks to the condition of His people.
“For My people are foolish,
They have not known Me.
They are silly children,
And they have no understanding.
They are wise to do evil,
But to do good they have no knowledge.”
a. For My people are foolish, they have not known Me: God accurately diagnosed their problem when He noted that Judah was foolish, and especially so in their lack of true knowledge of God. Yet Yahweh was generous enough to still call them, “My people.”
b. They are silly children, and they have no understanding: It is unlikely that the people of Judah saw themselves as silly children and without understanding. They probably saw themselves as sophisticated and wise.
c. They are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge: God explained their pretended wisdom. They were indeed wise, but in the ways of evil. When it came to doing good, they had no knowledge.
i. “So perverse were they that their only skills lay in doing evil. Of doing right they knew nothing.” (Thompson)
4. (23-26) With prophetic insight, Jeremiah considers the might and power of God.
I beheld the earth, and indeed it was without form, and void;
And the heavens, they had no light.
I beheld the mountains, and indeed they trembled,
And all the hills moved back and forth.
I beheld, and indeed there was no man,
And all the birds of the heavens had fled.
I beheld, and indeed the fruitful land was a wilderness,
And all its cities were broken down
At the presence of the LORD,
By His fierce anger.
a. I beheld the earth, and indeed it was without form and void: In turning around the images from Genesis 1, Jeremiah gives a poetic and powerful picture of the utter devastation that would come upon Judah in the coming judgment.
i. “It was as if the earth had been ‘uncreated’ and reverted back to its erstwhile primeval chaos. Order seemed to return to confusion.” (Thompson)
b. The heavens, they had no light…the mountains, and indeed they trembled…all the hills moved back and forth…indeed there was no man…all its cities were broken down: The judgment Jeremiah prophetically saw was complete, and it all happened at the presence of the LORD, by His fierce anger.
i. Similar pictures are used to describe the Day of the LORD, looking forward to the ultimate passing of this world before the new heavens and the new earth (2 Peter 3:12-13, Revelation 21:1, Isaiah 65:17).
ii. The point for Jerusalem and Judah was plain: the God who could devastate the entire earth by His presence and fierce anger could easily bring judgment to them through an invading army. They needed to remember the greatness of the God they had offended.
iii. Jeremiah rightly used this poetic imagery to describe the horror that would come upon Judah in the Babylonian invasion. Yet we should consider that the fullness of God’s judgment – even worse than what Judah experienced – came upon Jesus Christ, God the Son, as He was crucified and judged as our substitute.
5. (27-29) The certainty and complete nature of the coming judgment.
For thus says the LORD:
“The whole land shall be desolate;
Yet I will not make a full end.
For this shall the earth mourn,
And the heavens above be black,
Because I have spoken.
I have purposed and will not relent,
Nor will I turn back from it.
The whole city shall flee from the noise of the horsemen and bowmen.
They shall go into thickets and climb up on the rocks.
Every city shall be forsaken,
And not a man shall dwell in it.
a. The whole land shall be desolate; yet I will not make a full end: God promised that judgment would come to Judah and Jerusalem, but the desolation would not be complete. God would not make a full end of the place of His people in that land.
i. “After this, and after the vision of a deserted landscape in Jeremiah 4:23-26, the saving clause in verse 27, ‘yet I will not make a full end’, shines very brightly.” (Kidner)
b. For this shall the earth mourn and the heavens above be black: In some way, creation itself suffers with the judgment that comes upon God’s people. We know that creation groans until the completion of God’s plan (Romans 8:20-22). Apparently, creation also sympathized with Israel’s humiliation, even as it would rejoice in her restoration (Isaiah 55:12).
c. Every city shall be forsaken, and not a man shall dwell in it: God promised that the judgment to come upon Judah was both inevitable (I have purposed and will not relent) and would be complete, with no cities successfully holding out against the coming invaders.
6. (30-31) The vanity of hoping to appeal to the invading army of judgment.
“And when you are plundered,
What will you do?
Though you clothe yourself with crimson,
Though you adorn yourself with ornaments of gold,
Though you enlarge your eyes with paint,
In vain you will make yourself fair;
Your lovers will despise you;
They will seek your life.
“For I have heard a voice as of a woman in labor,
The anguish as of her who brings forth her first child,
The voice of the daughter of Zion bewailing herself;
She spreads her hands, saying,
‘Woe is me now, for my soul is weary
Because of murderers!’
a. When you are plundered, what will you do? Through Jeremiah the Prophet, God asked Judah this important question. Perhaps they thought they could somehow appeal to the invaders as a woman might adorn and decorate herself to appeal to a man. Yet God warned them, “In vain you will make yourself fair.”
b. Your lovers will despise you; they will seek your life: There was no way to decorate themselves enough to soften the judgment. It was certain. Instead of outward decoration, true repentance was their only hope.
i. “An enemy army was on the march. Yet God’s people dressed up like prostitutes, putting on fancy red dresses with spangles and sequins. They took out all their gaudy jewelry and cosmetics.” (Ryken)
c. I have heard a voice as of a woman in labor: Instead of seductive words from an adorned woman, Jeremiah prophetically heard a woman crying in pain and fear, as if she were giving birth. The screaming came from the daughter of Zion, who in the misery of her judgment finally understood her condition.