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Yahweh’s call for His people’s repentance 3:1-4:4
A passionate plea for repentance follows logically and textually the indictment of God’s people for their sins (ch. 2).
"There is a problem with free forgiveness. If you can always wipe the slate clean, how much does it matter what you write on it next? It is a problem for both parties-not only for the one in the wrong, who may feel that he can get away with more and more, but also for the one who forgives, who has to wonder what his forbearance may be doing to the other person. Here God sets about shaking his people out of their complacency." [Note: Kidner, p. 35.]
The Lord clarified that for His people to return to a blessed condition they must return to Him.
"A sincere return to God demanded not only the destruction of images and the suppression of idol-worship, but also the giving up of all wandering after idols, i.e. seeking or longing after other gods." [Note: Keil, 1:102.]
If they would put away their idolatry consistently and would swear by Him, rather than by the idols, then Israel would become responsible for the nations blessing themselves (cf. Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4; Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 65:16; Isaiah 65:18). That is, the Gentile nations would come to the Lord and so experience His blessing and would glorify Him.
". . . they will discern in the example of Israel that the source of true blessing lies in Yahweh and that he dispenses his blessings to those who are obedient to his covenant . . ." [Note: Thompson, p. 213.]
"Swearing by the Lord" means acknowledging Him as master in contrast to Lord Baal (lit. master) and other lords.
Gentile blessing through Israelite repentance 4:1-4
These verses provide the answer to God’s question in Jeremiah 3:1. This is the repentance that was necessary for Yahweh to return to His "wife."
This message closes with a call from the Lord to each of Jeremiah’s original Jerusalemite and Judean hearers. Yahweh appealed to them with two agricultural metaphors. They needed to plow up the previously unplowed soil that symbolized their hearts (cf. Hosea 10:12; Mark 4:1-9). They needed to cultivate soft hearts that would welcome the Lord’s words. Negatively, they needed to stop investing in counterproductive ventures such as idolatry.
"Just as a farmer does not sow his seed on unplowed ground, so God does not sow His blessings in unrepentant hearts." [Note: Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 595.]
Changing the figure, they should make a radical and permanent change in their commitments, a change that sprang from their innermost being (cf. Jeremiah 9:25-26; Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Romans 2:28-29). Removing the foreskins of the heart means removing the evil lusts and longings of the heart. [Note: Keil, 1:104.] Unless they did this, they could count on God’s judgment-that would burn and consume them like unquenchable fire-because their deeds were so evil. Breaking the covenant carried very serious consequences.
By repenting as the Lord and His prophet urged, Judah could have experienced a postponement of divine judgment. But Isaiah, over a century earlier, had announced that the Southern Kingdom would fall to Babylon sometime in the future. The Lord had revealed to him that Judah would not repent.
This sermon clarifies that the essence of repentance is turning.
". . . the key to life is to be found in the direction in which one faces; if that direction is wrong, one must turn to seek the true direction and walk in that path of life." [Note: Craigie, p. 68.]
Gary Yates saw Jeremiah 2:1 to Jeremiah 4:4 as a single message.
"The opening message in Jeremiah 2:1 to Jeremiah 4:4 portrays Israel as an unfaithful wife, and the remainder of the book explores how Yahweh will ultimately restore that broken relationship." [Note: Gary E. Yates, "Jeremiah’s Message of Judgment and Hope for God’s Unfaithful ’Wife,’" Bibliotheca Sacra 167:666 (April-June 2010):165.]
The Lord instructed Jeremiah to call for the people of Judah to assemble in the main cities. Blowing the trumpet in Israel’s history and in the ancient Near East was a call to assemble and take cover in fortified cities, similar to the sounding of an air raid siren today (cf. Hosea 5:8; Joel 2:1; Amos 3:6).
The sounding of the alarm that invasion was coming 4:5-10
Yahweh’s declaration of divine judgment 4:5-6:30
The Judahites-having sinned greatly (ch. 2)-failed to repent (Jeremiah 3:1 to Jeremiah 4:4). Consequently, judgment in the form of military invasion would overtake them. This whole section is an amplification and explanation of the overflowing cauldron vision in Jeremiah 1:13-16.
This section provides a clear example of the mosaic structure of the Book of Jeremiah. It consists of 13 separate messages that all deal with the threat of approaching invasion from the north. Someone, Jeremiah and or others, skillfully arranged them in the present order to make a strong impact on the reader.
The people were to lift up a flag or light a signal fire (Heb. nes) in Jerusalem as a sign of coming attack (cf. Isaiah 13:2; Isaiah 18:3). They should seek refuge quickly because the Lord was bringing an evil destroying force against them from the north (cf. 2 Kings 16:5-6; Hosea 5:8: Joel 2:1; Amos 3:6). This was not just a twist of political fate; Yahweh was sending this enemy against His people.
A lion-like enemy had left its home to desolate Judah and its cities, and this enemy would succeed in driving out the inhabitants of these towns (cf. 1 Peter 5:8). As noted previously, one of the symbols of Babylon was the lion. [Note: See Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 70, and see the discussions of the foe from the north in Thompson, pp. 86-87; Kidner, pp. 38-39; or Feinberg, p. 406.]
The people of Judah were to go into mourning over this situation. They were to view it as part of the continuing judgment of Yahweh on them.
When this enemy invaded, all the people, represented by their various groups of leaders, would be terrified (cf. Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 2:26). False prophets had created the illusion that peace would continue indefinitely (cf. Jeremiah 6:13-14; Jeremiah 14:13-14; Jeremiah 23:16-17).
Jeremiah reacted to this revelation, by objecting that the sovereign Lord had misled His people-by telling them that they would have peace when really they would have war. The basis of his charge seems to be that God had allowed false prophets to predict peace. [Note: See Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., p. 161; idem, "Does God Deceive?" Bibliotheca Sacra 155:617 (January-March 1998):18-19; and Robert P. Carroll, Jeremiah, pp. 161-62.] Even though Jeremiah announced this judgment, he took no personal delight in it, because it meant the destruction of his own people.
"At first glance Jeremiah’s comments appear to be blasphemous. . . . Rather must we see in such an utterance not so much a considered judgment, but the spontaneous reaction of a man who felt deeply about the tragedies of life, whether his own or those of others." [Note: Thompson, p. 222.]
The Lord also said that when this invasion came, it would descend like a violent wind from the north. It would be far more severe than an ordinary attack, that the prophet compared to a gentle breeze winnowing the grain of the people, namely, gently disciplining them . This "wind" would come at Yahweh’s command and would be the instrument of God’s judgment on the people. They were all too familiar with such devastating winds, or siroccos, that blew almost unbearable heat and dust into Judah from the Arabian Desert (cf. Genesis 41:6; Jonah 4:8).
The intensity and severity of the coming judgment 4:11-18
Jeremiah reflected on the great power of God to bring judgment. He has the power to bring judgment, just as He has power to build clouds that bring rain. The approaching enemy was like a bank of storm clouds growing in the north (cf. Ezekiel 38:16). The coming tornado was like a chariot on which the Lord rode to fight (cf. Isaiah 5:28; Isaiah 66:15). He can act even faster than eagles can fly. The foe would swoop down suddenly (cf. Habakkuk 1:8). Consequently, Judah was in big trouble.
The prophet appealed to his people to cleanse their hearts so God would be merciful to them. There was still time for repentance. The people needed to get rid of their wicked thoughts that had marked them for so long.
"Jeremiah is preeminently the prophet of the heart, for he used the word over sixty times." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 81.]
Already a voice, probably that of a watchman, from Dan in the far north, and from Mount Ephraim, in the north but much closer to Judah, was heard warning of the coming invader. Mount Ephraim is a reference to the mountains in the territory of Ephraim. [Note: See Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, The Macmillan Bible Atlas, maps 8, 64, 86, 113, and 125. This was "the last large section of Palestine to be crossed before one reaches Jerusalem" (Graybill, p. 663).] This voice may refer to the testimony of the Northern Kingdom that had already been overrun by another similar invader from the north, Assyria.
The Lord continued to instruct Jeremiah to announce to all nations, as well as to Jerusalem, that besiegers were coming from a distant country and would lift their battle cries against Jerusalem.
This enemy would surround the capital and observe the city carefully, as a watchman stood guard over his field to detect any possible irregularities. This invasion would come on Jerusalem because the people had rebelled against Yahweh.
God’s people had brought this punishment on themselves by breaking the Mosaic Covenant. God was not acting arbitrarily. Their evil had been great, but it had not moved them to repent.
Jeremiah complained that his heart was pounding and he felt very upset because he had heard the Lord’s announcement of impending invasion and destruction.
". . . it would be hard to find a sharper description of uncontrollable inner turmoil . . ." [Note: Kidner, p. 39.]
The anguished response of Jeremiah 4:19-22
This section is the first of Jeremiah’s so-called "confessions." [Note: See Thompson, pp. 88-92.] It is also a lamentation.
The prophet understood that this announcement meant sudden and complete devastation for Judah.
He longed to stop hearing this bad news and seeing the signal that indicated the need to flee for safety (cf. Jeremiah 4:6).
The Lord complained that His people were foolish, like stupid children. They did not really understand Him, but felt they could deceive Him, and that He would not bring them to account for their sins. They were clever when it came to sinning, but not clever at all when it came to understanding that He would punish their sins (cf. Proverbs 1:2-3).
"These verses of confession illuminate the internal torment of a man who is torn, precisely because he is himself so gripped by the urgency of his public preaching. He is not stern in public because he is heartless; it is because he loves his nation and people so dearly that he speaks the severe word, but it takes a terrible toll on his own emotional life." [Note: Craigie, p. 79.]
Jeremiah described the land of Judah, after the coming devastation, as appearing completely desolate: like the earth and heavens before God formed and filled them. He suggested that they would return to primeval chaos.
A vision of the coming destruction 4:23-26
"In one of the most magnificent lyrical passages in the entire prophecy [Jeremiah 4:23-31], Jeremiah experiences a dramatic moment of insight concerning the outpouring of divine anger upon Judah." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 72.]
He described the mountains, symbols of stability and strength, as moving back and forth. This was a picture for the people of their nation’s instability and weakness.
The people had deserted the land, and even the birds were gone, so thoroughly had this enemy purged the land. [Note: Contrast the descriptions of chaos in Jeremiah 4:23; Jeremiah 4:25 with the descriptions of creation in Genesis 1:2, 3, 8, 10, 20, and 26. See also Job 3:3-13.]
The Lord’s fierce anger had resulted in the land becoming wild and the cities destroyed.
"The picture is so extreme that only our present forebodings of nuclear winter may seem to come within sight of it." [Note: Kidner, p. 40. Cf. Zephaniah 1:14-18.]
The Lord promised to destroy the whole land, but not completely. A remnant of His people would survive the disaster.
An oracle concerning the coming destruction 4:27-31
Yahweh’s fixed purpose to bring this destruction on Judah was such bad news that even the earth and heavens would mourn upon hearing His plan.
The inhabitants of every Judean city would run and hide when they heard the enemy coming (cf. Isaiah 2:19-21; Revelation 6:15-16). The result would be vacant cities throughout the land. Archaeological monuments have shown that the Babylonians were a people of archers. [Note: Feinberg, p. 411.]
The Lord asked Judah what she would do then. Presently she pursued selfish interests and tried to make herself as attractive as possible, like a harlot, but the nations that pretended to love her would turn against her and attack her (cf. 2 Kings 9:30; Revelation 17). No last-minute compromise with the invaders would placate them. The unfaithful wife of Yahweh would reap judgment for the profligacy she had sown (cf. Jeremiah 3:1; Jeremiah 2:35-36).
Judah would cry out like a woman giving birth for the first time. She would be in agony because of the adversaries who had come to put her to death. Neither pretty words (Jeremiah 4:30), nor a pitiful cry (Jeremiah 4:31), would turn the Lord back from His decision to judge His people. [Note: Jensen, p. 31.]
". . . Jerusalem’s demise [in a fatal miscarriage] would be like that of a prostitute giving birth to a firstborn bastard." [Note: Craigie, p. 84.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany