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The Depths Of The Series Of Droughts (Jeremiah 14:1-6 ).
The plural for ‘droughts’ suggests that there had been a series of droughts, probably over a number of years. Such droughts did occur in Canaan from time to time and their effects could be devastating. In the days of Joseph there had been one lasting for seven years, which had caused the move to Egypt. In the days of David there was one that lasted for three years ‘year after year’ (2 Samuel 21:1) which caused great distress. In the days of Elijah there was one that lasted for three and a half years (1 Kings 17-18). Thus while, thankfully, comparatively rare, such severe droughts were not unknown.
‘The word of YHWH which came to Jeremiah concerning the droughts.’
We are not told whether this word comes before the periods of the droughts, thus acting as a prophecy of their coming (as with Elijah - 1 Kings 17:1), or whether it came when the series of droughts were already in process with the emphasis being on the depth of the droughts and the lesson that follows.
Unlike Egypt with the Nile, and Mesopotamia with its great rivers, Judah and the surrounding countries very much depended on the rains for its water (and therefore on the God of Heaven - Leviticus 26:4; Deuteronomy 8:7; Deuteronomy 11:11; Deuteronomy 28:12). When the rains were normal water was reasonably plentiful, but when the rains were sparse then the land suffered. Thus a period of two or three years when water was really scarce could bring the land to its knees. Reserves would soon be used up, cisterns would be drunk dry and the land would soon become barren. Water would be at a premium. That was the situation being described here.
And its gates languish,
They sit in black on the ground,
And the cry of Jerusalem is gone up.’
Jeremiah draws a vivid picture of the feelings of the population as they saw their land withering around them and struggled to find sufficient water for their families, while the hot sun continued to beat down. Judah was in mourning. Those who sat in the gates, the elders responsible for the cities and towns, were anxious and troubled. They had clothed themselves in black as a sign of their distress, whilst from the whole of Jerusalem a plaintive cry went up, ‘for pity’s sake send us rain’.
‘And their nobles send their lowly ones to the waters,
They come to the cisterns, and find no water,
They return with their vessels empty,
They are put to shame and confounded, and cover their heads.’
Even the large and wealthy households were without water. They sent their servants to their large cisterns, but they found no water there, and came back with their vessels empty, ashamed and confounded, and with their heads covered as a sign of their distress. This covering of their heads as a sign of distress is also mentioned in 2 Samuel 15:30; 2 Samuel 19:5.
We are reminded here of Ahab’s exhaustive and in depth searching of the land of Israel for sources of water during the great drought in the days of Elijah, when he had led one search party, and his chief minister the other. See 1 Kings 18:5-6.
‘Because of the ground which is cracked,
In that no rain has been in the land,
The ploughmen are put to shame,
They cover their heads.’
And it was not only the lowly servants who had to cover their heads in distress. The ground was cracked (literally ‘was struck with terror, dismayed’), there was no rain on it, and the ploughmen thus ploughed in vain, also ashamed because they were producing no food for their dependants, and they too were covering their heads in distress. There was distress throughout the land in both town and countryside.
‘Yes, the hind also in the field calves,
And forsakes her young, because there is no grass.
The droughts were such that even the hinds, famous for their motherly instinct, abandoned their new born calves because there was no grass, and therefore no milk for their calves.
‘And the wild asses stand on the bare heights,
They pant for air like jackals,
Their eyes fail,
Because there is no vegetation.’
And it was no better in the wild. The wild asses standing on the heights in the burning sun were desperate for air and panted as though they were jackals (we would say, like a dog). In the burning sun they were becoming dehydrated, weak and feeble, with their sight failing, because there was no vegetation (although the idea may simply be that ‘their eyes failed’ because there was nothing to see).
Thus the whole land was affected and the situation was becoming desperate. All their efforts to make the gods concerned about their problems had failed and so at last they began again to think about YHWH.
The Lesson of The Great Droughts (Jeremiah 14:1-10 ).
As a preliminary warning of what is coming YHWH sends a great drought on Judah with the result that the cisterns are empty, the springs are dry, the pastures are bare and the ground is parched and cracked. Of course according to their then current theology it was Baal who should have ensured the supplies of rain as a result of their ritual antics before him, for he was the god of rain and storm, but they recognise that he had failed them, and that in such circumstances there was only one final port of call and that was to YHWH. So recognising it for what it was, a judgment from YHWH because of their sins (compare Leviticus 26:19 ff; Deuteronomy 11:17; Deuteronomy 28:23), the people cry to Him in a well rehearsed ritual only to discover that this time He has no intention of responding because He is sick of their wandering. In view of His past mercies it is an unexpected warning shot across their bows. Like so many they had always been confident that in the last analysis they would be able to persuade YHWH to help them even if they had rather neglected the covenant. Had He not done so in the past time and again? Now was the time for them to be pulled up short and to learn that even YHWH’s patience had its limits.
The passage divides up into three parts, the first revealing the depths of the droughts (Jeremiah 14:1-6), the second reflecting their response in supposed penitence (Jeremiah 14:7-9), and the third indicating YHWH’s negative counter-response (Jeremiah 14:10).
Section 5. The Word Concerning The Droughts: The Certainty Of Exile For Judah (Jeremiah 14:1 to Jeremiah 17:27 ).
The new section is again introduced by the words ‘The word of YHWH which came to Jeremiah --’ (Jeremiah 14:1) although in slightly altered form (literally ‘that which came, the word of YHWH, to Jeremiah’). “The word concerning the droughts” gives illustrative evidence confirming that the impending judgment of Judah cannot be turned aside by any prayers or entreaties, and that because of their sins Judah will be driven into exile, although a promise of hope for the future when they will be restored to the land is also incorporated (Jeremiah 16:14-15), but this only with a view to stressing the general judgment (Jeremiah 14:1 to Jeremiah 17:4). The passage then closes with general explanations of what is at the root of the problem, and lays out cursings and blessings and demonstrates the way by which punishment might be avoided by a full response to the covenant as evidenced in the observance of the Sabbath (Jeremiah 17:5-27).
The People Cry To YHWH In Their Distress (Jeremiah 14:7-9 ).
Things had come to such a pass with the effects of the droughts that the people began to visit the Temple in droves and call on YHWH. Of course, it had not been so to begin with. They had initially engaged in their usual antics in the high places on the mountains and in the cities, offering incense and seeking to stimulate the gods with their sexual activities, being confident that they would receive a response. But year after year no answer had come. The drought had continued, and at length they were brought to realise that this must be YHWH’s doing. That was why they now turned to YHWH, and why He was so sickened by their approach. For He knew that they had come to Him, not because they wanted to seek His face, but because they had reached an impasses where there was nowhere else for them to turn. He was simply the last resort.
‘Though our iniquities testify against us,
Do you work for your name’s sake, O YHWH,
For our backslidings are many,
We have sinned against you.’
It is regularly at times of national emergency that men and women seek God, for then there is nowhere else to look. It was so then. It is so now. And then when the emergency is past they conveniently forget Him again. But God was not deceived, even though they gave every appearance of genuineness. They admitted that their sins testified against them, and confessed their sinfulness. They even admitted to the many times that they had backslidden in the past (while making no promises for the future). And they asked YHWH to work ‘for His Name’s sake’, in other words, in order to demonstrate that He was still their covenant God Whom they could turn to when all else failed. Sadly they saw Him as the God of last resort.
‘O you hope of Israel,
Its Saviour in the time of trouble,
Why should you be as a sojourner in the land,
And as a traveller who turns aside to stay for a night?
They acknowledged now that they recognised Him as ‘the hope of Israel’ (something that had been slipping their mind for years) and as their ‘Saviour in time of trouble’ (when all else failed and everyone else to whom they had been giving glory let them down). Both thoughts would, of course, have been true if they had been faithful to Him. But addressed to One Whom they had forgotten for years it had a hollow ring to it. Then they asked Him why He should act like a passing traveller, or a resident alien, when surely Jerusalem was His dwellingplace. It was language designed to flatter or to persuade YHWH of what was His duty because He was the God of Israel. There was no genuine repentance or submission in it. They wanted Him while it was convenient and there was a drought to get rid of.
‘Why should you be as a frightened (or bewildered) man,
As a mighty man who cannot save?
Yet you, O YHWH, are in the midst of us,
And we are called by your name. Do not desert us.’
They then called on Him to reveal His true worth in positive action, and to demonstrate that He was not inadequate. Let Him stand up and be counted. Let Him act and prove Himself. Surely He was not like a coward who held back from acting, or like a mighty man who was in no position to save because of his own insufficiency? Surely He was not that inadequate?
Then they pointed out that it was He Who dwelt among them and that they were called by His Name. Were they not said to be YHWH’s people? Surely then it was His responsibility to save them, and prove Himself at the same time. And it was on that basis they called on Him not to desert them. But as will be noted, while there was a lot of attempt at persuasion, and at putting YHWH under an obligation, they said nothing about their obligations, or their returning to the covenant and beginning to walk in obedience to Him. Their prayers were mainly flannel as a last desperate hope. They were playing Him like a musician plays his stringed instrument.
YHWH’s Reply To His People (Jeremiah 14:10 ).
‘Thus says YHWH to this people,
“Even so have they loved to wander,
They have not prevented their feet from straying,
Therefore YHWH does not accept them,
Now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins.”
But this time YHWH’s reply was one of rejection. It was no good their deserting Him, and then calling on Him not to desert them. They had done it too often before. But what they had proved was that they loved to wander away from Him. They had made no real attempt to prevent their feet from straying. Now therefore it was too late. While in the past He had often responded to such entreaties, now He was not willing to accept them back. Rather He would remember their iniquity and visit on them their sins. They had reached the end of the road.
YHWH Informs Jeremiah That He Will No Longer Hear His People But Rather Intends To Continue To Visit Them with the Sword And With Famine (Jeremiah 14:11-18 ).
Once again we learn with something of a shock that God no longer wished Jeremiah to pray for His people (compare Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14). The time when He would respond to prayer for them was past. Now only judgment awaited, judgment by sword, famine and pestilence. They had rebelled against Him once too often. It is a reminder to us that there does come a time when God has been so rejected that the time for mercy ceases, and only judgment awaits. We cannot go on putting Him off for ever.
A different story, however, was being taught by the false prophets. They were promising that YHWH would bring peace to Jerusalem. But YHWH assured Jeremiah that they had not been sent by Him and that what they were prophesying was lies. Indeed they too would experience the sword and the famine, along with the people. (This may well have been prophesied prior to the great famine described above). Meanwhile Jeremiah himself was to confirm that not only Jerusalem, but also the whole land, was soon to experience sword and famine.
‘And YHWH said to me,
Do not pray for this people for good,
When they fast, I will not hear their cry,
And when they offer burnt-offering and meal-offering,
I will not accept them,
But I will consume them by the sword,
And by the famine, and by the pestilence.
YHWH informs Jeremiah that he was not to pray for good to come to His people, for He would no longer hear such prayers. When they fasted He would not hear their cry, when they offered their burnt offerings and cereal offerings He would not accept them, for their hearts were not right and they were not coming to Him in restored obedience to His covenant. Intercession for them would thus no longer be successful, for His intention was to consume them by sword, by famine, and by pestilence. These were three of the curses which were threatened for breach of the covenant. See Leviticus 26:19-20; Leviticus 26:25; Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:21-24; Deuteronomy 28:49-52. The three regularly went together, as well as occurring independently. War would bring famine, and famine would bring pestilence, or they could occur independently.
‘Then said I, “Ah, Lord YHWH! Behold, the prophets say to them, You will not see the sword, nor will you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.”
Jeremiah then points out that many prophets claiming to speak in the name of YHWH were promising the people that neither sword nor famine would come on them, but that they would have assured peace ‘in this place’. There are never lacking those who will promise fair weather ahead, and who dismiss ideas of God’s severity against sin, and there were plenty such in the final days of Judah before disaster came on them, as there had been previously in the days of Micah 3:8-11. It was, of course, a popular message and one that the people wanted to hear, and made life very difficult for Jeremiah with his constant warnings of judgment. It was such prophets whose urgings were responsible for the final fatal rebellion against Babylon.
‘Then YHWH said to me,
“The prophets prophesy lies in my name,
I sent them not,
Nor have I commanded them,
Nor did I speak to them,
They prophesy to you a lying vision,
And a thing of nought,
And the deceit of their own heart.”
YHWH’s reply is comprehensive as He describes the activities of such prophets, many involving methods condemned by the covenant. He declared that what these prophets were declaring in His name were lies, and that they were not prophets who had been sent by Him, or who had been commanded by Him, or who had heard His voice speaking to them (note the threefold rebuttal), for He had not spoken to them. They were thus not authorised to speak in His name. What they prophesied was a lying vision, which included what they learned from divination which was forbidden by the Law. It was a nonsense, a thing of nought, arising from their being taken up with ‘no-gods’ (as many are today), and it arose from the deceit within their own hearts.
“Therefore thus says YHWH concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name, and I sent them not, yet they say, ‘Sword and famine shall not be in this land.’ By sword and famine will those prophets be consumed.”
Such prophets were declaring that ‘the sword and famine will not be found in this land’. But the truth was that those prophets would themselves experience the sword and the famine.
“And the people to whom they prophesy will be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword, and they will have none to bury them - them, their wives, nor their sons, nor their daughters, for I will pour their wickedness on them.”
And not only would the false prophets experience it, but also the sinful people of Jerusalem. There would be massive slaughter and large numbers of deaths as a result of famine and sword, so that the bodies would be thrown out into the streets with none to bury them. And this would happen to all, to the menfolk, to their wives, and to their sons and daughters because He would pour out on them the punishment for their many sins. This no doubt partially occurred during the droughts described above as people died of malnourishment, but it would be multiplied over and over again when the invaders arrived.
“And you shall say this word to them,
‘Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,
And let them not cease,
For the virgin daughter of my people is broken with a great breach,
With a very grievous wound.’ ”
Jeremiah is to appeal to the people on the basis of his own grief for them. He is to bring home to them that his eyes run with tears day and night because of what is coming on his people. Here was no hardened, denunciating prophet, but a prophet whose love reached out longingly on behalf of his people, even though he knew that there was no hope for them. Right to the end they would have no excuse for their failure to respond from the heart to YHWH.
But the reason for his tears was the terrible wound that was about to be inflicted on Judah, a great breach that would break them. And this is made all the more terrible by his description of them as ‘the virgin daughter of my people’, a description which brings out their helplessness in the face of such a fearsome enemy (compare Jeremiah 6:2; Jeremiah 8:11; Jeremiah 8:19). The pathos is underlined by the fact that this is what they should have been, a pure daughter, untarnished and untouched. The irony comes out in that they were far from that, having adulterated themselves with idols.
‘If I go forth into the open country (field),
Then, behold, the slain with the sword!
And if I enter into the city,
Then, behold, those who are sick with famine!
For both the prophet and the priest go about in the land,
And have no knowledge.’
Jeremiah looks ahead and describes the vision of the future that YHWH has given him. Wherever he goes he will find nothing but death. When he goes into the open country all he will find will be bodies slain with the sword. When he enters the besieged cities he will find nothing but famine and need. There is much sickness because of famine. In contrast when the priests and the prophets go about the land they see nothing of this. For they are without the knowledge of what YHWH is going to do. They are oblivious to the future. They ‘go about the land and know not’.
Jeremiah Still Feels That He Must Make Some Plea On Behalf Of His People, But Is Firmly Informed That Even Though Moses And Samuel Were There To Plead The Cause Of The People They Would Not Prevail, Because Judgment On His Obstinate people Was Determined (Jeremiah 14:19 to Jeremiah 15:9 ).
Jeremiah puts in a desperate plea for his people, unable to believe that YHWH has utterly rejected His people, and acknowledges their sin on their behalf, calling on YHWH not to forget His covenant. For he recognises that only YHWH can end the series of droughts. But he learns that for this generation YHWH’s rejection is indeed final, and that even the intercessions of men like Moses and Samuel would have made no difference. The only end that awaits is death through wild beasts, through the sword, through famine and through captivity, the latter resulting in their being scattered among the nations. And this is because of what Manasseh had done in Jerusalem in leading it astray after idols, a leading astray which they had avidly seized on to and participated in even after Manasseh’s repentance. For even though He had made every effort to win them back they had not returned from their ways. Thus inevitable judgment must come upon them. There is in this a warning for us all not to delay repentance, lest we become hardened and the opportunity slip away.
‘ Have you utterly rejected Judah?
Has your soul loathed Zion?
Why have you smitten us,
And there is no healing for us?
We looked for peace,
But no good came,
And for a time of healing,
And, behold, dismay!
The pattern of questions here should be compared with Jeremiah 2:14 where a similar pattern is followed, two general questions followed by a request for an explanation. Here Jeremiah (or the people) just cannot intellectually accept that YHWH has rejected Judah, and views Zion with loathing, and seeks an explanation as to why they have been smitten with no remedy available. They had looked for such a remedy, but it had not come, and all that they had received in respect of the time of healing that they sought was dismay because it had not happened. (The questions will be answered in Jeremiah 15:5-6).
‘We acknowledge, O YHWH, our wickedness,
And the iniquity of our fathers,
For we have sinned against you.
Do not abhor us, for your name’s sake,
Do not disgrace the throne of your glory,
Remember, do not break your covenant with us.
Jeremiah then confesses the people’s sins on their behalf, and calls on YHWH not to bring dishonour on Himself by not responding and by breaking His covenant. It was a similar basis to that on which Moses had previously prayed for the people centuries before when he had been concerned for YHWH’s honour and for His faithfulness to His promises made to Abraham, and then it had been effective (Exodus 32:11-13). But that had been in the beginning when the nation was still young, not when it had become hardened by sin as it was now.
‘The throne of your glory’ probably refers to Jerusalem as containing the Dwellingplace of YHWH (compare Jeremiah 3:17; Ezekiel 43:7). His hope was still that YHWH would observe the covenant even in the face of the people’s disobedience. He still clung to the hope that it was not too late for God to show mercy. But he is to learn that it is now too late for that (Jeremiah 15:1).
‘Are there any among the vanities of the nations that can cause rain?
Or can the heavens give showers?
Are not you he, O YHWH our God?
Therefore we will wait for you,
For you have made all these things.
The drought is still in mind as Jeremiah asserts on behalf of the people that he at least recognises the futility of appealing to false gods. He recognises that there are none among the gods of the nations who can bring showers when called on. They cannot cause it to rain. Nor can the heavens (the sun, moon and stars). It is only YHWH Who can do such things because He is the Creator. Because His is ‘HE’, the One Who is. That is why he and the people need to ‘wait for Him’ (pray in expectancy and hope), because He made the rain and ‘all these things’.
Outwardly the people would appear to ‘wait for Him’, but it would only be by using ritual in order to persuade Him to act differently. There would be no thought of obedient response to the covenant.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 14". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19