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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 4

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3392. B.C. 612.

The first two verses of this chapter seem to be closely connected with the preceding, being directed to Israel, the ten tribes, by way of reply to their compliance with God’s call, encouraging them to keep and execute their resolution, Jeremiah 4:1 , Jeremiah 4:2 . The rest of the chapter concerns Judah and Jerusalem.

(1,) They are called to repent and reform their conduct, Jeremiah 4:3 , Jeremiah 4:4 .

(2,) They are warned of the approach of Nebuchadnezzar and his forces against them, compared to devouring lions, to a blasting east wind, flying clouds, whirlwinds, and eagles; that they should besiege their cities, dispirit their governors, and punish them for their sins, Jeremiah 4:5-18 .

(3,) The prophet most pathetically laments over their folly and wickedness; and the dreadful ravage, confusion, desolation, and despair, which should be occasioned by the Chaldean army, Jeremiah 4:19-31 .

Verse 1

Jeremiah 4:1. If thou wilt return, O Israel, return unto me Israel having promised repentance in the latter part of the preceding chapter, they are here directed what sort of a repentance it must be; that it must not be hypocritical and feigned, but real and hearty; not deferred to another time, but immediate, without any delay; the words being not improperly interpreted, as they are by many, If thou wilt return, return now. Repentance, if it be delayed from time to time, is seldom ever put in execution; and therefore there cannot be a more useful admonition than to put our good resolutions immediately in practice. Blaney, who considers the clause as being principally intended to assure them “that upon their conversion they should be accepted and received again into the bosom of God’s church, from which they had before apostatized,” translates it very literally, thus, “If thou wilt turn again, O Israel, saith Jehovah, unto me shalt thou return.” And if thou wilt put away thine abominations Thine evil practices, and especially thine idolatries, as the word שׁקצים commonly signifies: out of my sight Hebrew, מפני , from before me: though God’s eye be everywhere, and therefore, as is implied, idols are nowhere to be admitted, either in public or private, yet the expression particularly relates to the place of his more immediate presence, as their land and the place of his solemn worship. Then shalt thou not remove Thou shalt be restored to thine ancient inheritance, and shalt be established in the peaceable possession of it. As if he had said, If thou wilt remove thy idols, thou shalt not be removed. The Hebrew, ולא הנוב , may be properly rendered, Then thou shalt not wander, that is, be an unsettled, fugitive, and vagabond people. “In the former part,” says Houbigant, “the conversion of their morals is spoken of; in the latter, the stability of their republic.”

Verse 2

Jeremiah 4:2. And thou shalt swear, &c. In taking a solemn oath, thou shalt appeal, not to dead and vain idols, but to Jehovah, the living and true God. This is put here for the whole worship of God, acknowledging and owning God as the only God, which is strongly expressed by this act: see Isaiah 48:1; Isaiah 65:16. In truth In sincerity, knowing that the matter of the oath is strictly true; in judgment Deliberately, advisedly, and reverently, the occasion being great and important; in righteousness That none be injured by it, that the things we engage to do, or to see done, be both lawful and possible, and that we look to the performance of our oaths. And the nations shall bless themselves in him This shall be a means of inducing the heathen nations to turn to the true God, and embrace the same way of worship. They shall think themselves happy to be incorporated with thee, that it may be with them according to the promise, Genesis 12:3. And in him, shall they glory Whereas before they gloried in their idols, they shall now glory in Jehovah alone. This is evidently “a prediction of gospel times, when the heathen should join with the Israelites in paying all solemn acts of worship and devotion to the true God only, and in ascribing all honour and glory to him, and to his only Son, the Messiah, in whom all the nations were to be blessed.”

Verses 3-4

Jeremiah 4:3-4. For thus saith the Lord The prophet now addresses himself to the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem, and exhorts them to repentance and reformation in metaphorical language. Break up your fallow ground, &c. That is, purge and purify the field of your hearts, by godly sorrow for your sins, and hatred to them; prepare your hearts for receiving the seed of the divine word, by making them soft, tender, and pliable, fit to believe and obey it. And sow not among thorns Eradicate the lusts and vices, the corrupt principles and dispositions, habits, and practices, which, unless rooted out, will effectually choke the good seed of truth and grace, and prevent the growth of piety and virtue in your souls. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord Put away your corruptions; mortify your vicious inclinations and passions: the same thing with the former, expressed in other words. Take away the foreskin of your heart Let your repentance and renovation be inward in your soul and spirit, and not merely outward in your flesh; lest my fury come forth like fire Which it is now ready to do, as that fire which came forth from the Lord, and consumed the sacrifices; and burn that none can quench it Which wrath is not only fierce and consuming like fire, but unquenchable; because of the evil of your doings Which is the thing that kindles the fire of God’s wrath against us. Observe, reader, that which is to be dreaded by us more than any thing else, in time or eternity, is the wrath of God kindled against us by the evil of our doings, for it is the spring and bitterness of all present miseries, and will be the quintessence and perfection of everlasting misery. And the consideration of the imminent danger we are in of falling and perishing under this wrath, should awaken us with all possible care to sanctify ourselves to God’s glory, and to see to it that we be sanctified by his grace.

Verses 5-6

Jeremiah 4:5-6. Blow ye the trumpet The Lord, being now about to bring enemies upon them, speaks in martial language, warning them of the nature of their approaching judgment. It is the beginning of a new discourse, in which the prophet describes the dreadful preparations of war, such as blowing a trumpet, and setting up a standard, for the assembling men together, in order to their leaving the open country, and retiring with their families and goods into the defenced cities, both for their own safety, and that they might maintain those garrisons against the power of the enemy. Retire, stay not Make haste away. I will bring evil from the north I am about to bring a great destruction upon you from Chaldea.

Verses 7-8

Jeremiah 4:7-8. The lion is come up from his thicket Nebuchadnezzar, so called from his fierceness and strength, shall come up from Babylon, where his chief seat is, as lions are principally among the thickets of the forests, in coverts. Babylon being remote and little known to the Jews, they did not expect trouble to arise from thence. The destroyer of the Gentiles Or, rather, the nations; is on his way Is already on his march: another description of the same person, who is so called, because God had given, not only Judea, but all the neighbouring countries, into his hands. To make thy lands desolate With a resolution to do so, and with power to effect his purpose. For this gird you with sackcloth Put on the habit of mourners. It is intended to express the dreadfulness of the approaching calamity. Lament and howl You will do so when the cry is made through the kingdom, Arm, arm. Then all will be seized with terror, and put to confusion. For the fierce anger of the Lord Which makes the army of the Chaldeans thus fierce and powerful; is not turned back from us Is not appeased, but still burns against us. The LXX., with whom the Syriac and Vulgate agree, read αφ ’ υμων , from you.

Verse 9

Jeremiah 4:9. At that day the heart of the king shall perish Both his wisdom and his courage: despairing of success, he shall have no spirit to do any thing, and if he had, he would be at a loss what to do; and the heart of the princes His privy counsellors, who ought to animate and advise him, shall be as much at a loss, and as much in despair as he. And the priests shall be astonished Shall be in such a consternation that they shall have no heart to execute their office, and therefore not likely to put spirit into the people. The prophets shall wonder The false prophets, that had nothing but visions of peace for them, shall be thrown into the greatest amazement imaginable, seeing their own guilty blood ready to be shed by that sword, of which they had frequently told the people there was no danger.

Verse 10

Jeremiah 4:10. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! The Hebrew word, Aha, is a word expressive both of admiration and lamentation. Surely thou hast greatly deceived this people Hast suffered them to be deceived by their false prophets. These pretenders to prophecy studied only to speak pleasing things to the people, and sooth them up in their impenitency and carnal security; and thou hast, in thy just judgment, given them up to follow these delusions: compare 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12. Saying, Ye shall have peace The word peace here comprises all good, signifying that all things should go on prosperously with them; whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul Whereas the sword is at the door, not only to take away the comforts of life, but even life itself.

Verse 11

Jeremiah 4:11. At that time When that calamity commences; shall it be said to this people and to Jerusalem There shall be tidings brought both to the country and city; A dry wind of the high places “The prophet here describes the Chaldean army coming up for the destruction of Judea, under the metaphor of a hot, pestilential wind, which sweeps away multitudes in a moment, blasts the fruits of the earth, and spreads desolation everywhere around. The passage, like that in the preceding verses, is spirited and sublime; but it loses a good deal of its elegance in our version. Houbigant renders it thus: ‘Behold, a wind hangs over the mountains of the deserts; behold, it shall come upon the daughter of my people, but not to fan or to cleanse, Jeremiah 4:12. A mighty wind shall come from thence upon her, and then at length will I declare my judgment concerning them, or her, Jeremiah 4:13. Behold, as clouds it shall hang over; its chariots shall be as a whirlwind; its horses swifter than eagles,’“ &c. See Lowth and Dodd.

Verses 14-15

Jeremiah 4:14-15. O Jerusalem, wash thy heart O ye inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, cleanse your inward parts; not your hands only, as hypocrites do, but your hearts, James 4:8; from wickedness Namely, from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, 2 Corinthians 7:1. See note on Isaiah 1:16. That thou mayest be saved As the means to prevent the judgments that are impending. How long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee? Hopes of safety by the help of foreign forces, or any other such means, while thou continuest in the practice of thine idolatries and other sins. The reformation of a corrupt state is absolutely necessary in order to its salvation. There is no other way of preventing the divine judgments, or turning them away when we are threatened with them, but putting away the sins by which we have procured them to ourselves. And no reformation is saving, but that which reaches the heart and makes it new. And it is made new by the washing of regeneration, and the renovating power of the Holy Ghost; or, by the exercise of repentance toward God, and that faith in him and his word which is productive of new obedience. For a voice declareth from Dan For, lo! a sound of devastation comes from Dan; lo! a tumult is heard from the mountains of Ephraim. Houbigant. As if he had said, It is high time to repent, because reports succeed reports of the enemy’s swift approach toward you. Dan, being the most northern part of Judea, was first invaded by the Chaldean army, which did not march directly through Mesopotamia and Arabia Deserta into Judea, because of the vast sandy deserts which lay in the way, but took a compass, and passed over the Euphrates at Thapsacus, which lay far northward of Judea, and thence marched through Syria: so that, of course, the rumour of the enemy’s approach was first heard from Dan. And the evil tidings still increased as the army marched forward toward Jerusalem, by the way of mount Ephraim.

Verses 16-17

Jeremiah 4:16-17. Make ye mention to the nations Tell the nations that now inhabit the cities of the ten tribes, that the Chaldean army is approaching, that they may provide for their own safety. Behold, publish against Jerusalem Let her be made acquainted with what is coming upon her. Let her have notice beforehand, that she may be warned. That watchers come from a far country That is soldiers from Chaldea, that will watch all opportunities to do mischief. By watchers, some think, are meant those scouts who usually precede an army, and announce its approach, whom Cesar, in his Commentaries, calls antecessores, or antecursores. But Blaney and others are of opinion that besiegers are intended, placing sentinels round the city to prevent any from coming in or going out, and keeping the place in continual alarm by shouts of war. As keepers of the field, &c. Those couriers or spies of the Chaldean army will be as diligent in their observation of Judah and Jerusalem, or those besiegers will as strictly watch her on all sides, as the keepers of a field watch the cattle, or the vineyards and fruits thereof, under their care. “As in the East,” says Sir John Chardin, in a MS. note on this place, quoted by Harmer, “pulse, roots, &c., grow in open and unenclosed fields, when they begin to be fit to be gathered, they place guards; if near a great road, more; if distant, fewer, who place themselves in and round about these grounds, as is practised in Arabia,” chap. 5. obser. 15.

Verse 18

Jeremiah 4:18. Thy way and thy doings Thy manner of life, and particularly thy idolatries; have procured these things unto thee Have been the causes of this thy grievous affliction, of bringing such a bitter enemy against thee, which hath reached unto thy very heart. “Whatsoever happens to you,” says Jerome on the place, “happens by your own fault, who have turned the sweet goodness of God into bitterness, and have compelled him, however unwilling, to rage against you.”

Verses 19-20

Jeremiah 4:19-20. My bowels, &c. Or, as Dr. Waterland renders it, My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at the centre, or in the midst, of my heart; my heart is tumultuous within me! It is an exclamation of the prophet, moved beyond measure at the calamities coming on his country, in being made the seat of war, and utterly ruined by a hostile invasion: which was so strongly represented to him in his vision, that he, as it were, saw the army of Nebuchadnezzar before his eyes, and the destruction and desolation made by it, heard the noise of the trumpets, the shouts of the soldiers, the outcries and lamentations of his countrymen, and the groans of the wounded and dying. And “the calamities described are presented to the mind in such lively colours, the images are so crowded, and arranged with so much art, and the breaks and apostrophes are so animated, that we seem to be involved in the same scene of misery with the prophet.” Bishop Lowth’s 9th and 17th Prelec. I cannot hold my peace I am so troubled I cannot forbear my complaints. Because thou hast heard, O my soul, &c. I have heard in the spirit of prophecy; the calamity will as certainly come as if I now heard the trumpet sounding. Destruction upon destruction Dr. Waterland reads, Breach upon breach, or, destruction dashes upon destruction; one sad calamity, like Job’s messengers, treading upon the heels of another. First, good Josiah is slain in battle; within three months after, his son and successor, Jehoahaz, is deposed by the king of Egypt; within two or three years after, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took it, and from thence forward was continually making descents on the land of Judah with his armies, during the reigns of Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, and Zedekiah, till, about nineteen years after, he completed their ruin by the destruction of Jerusalem. For the whole land is spoiled This is more particularly described Jeremiah 4:23-26. Suddenly are my tents spoiled The enemy makes no more of overthrowing my stately cities than if he were overturning tents made of curtains.

Verses 21-22

Jeremiah 4:21-22. How long shall I see the standard, &c. This dreadful war continued a great while, not in the borders, but in the bowels of the country; for the people were very obstinate, and would not submit to, but took all opportunities of rebelling against, the king of Babylon, which did but lengthen out and aggravate the calamity, as Jeremiah did not fail to warn them it would do. Had they taken his advice, and yielded sooner, their country would have escaped the utter destruction which came upon it. But God, as a punishment for their sins, suffered them to be infatuated. For my people is foolish Some commentators have considered these words, as well as those preceding, as being spoken by God, in answer to the prophet’s complaints of his grievous vision, to show that such sad images were presented to him, because, on account of the people’s obstinacy and wickedness, it was necessary that they should feel the effects of his just anger, even until Jerusalem should be levelled with the ground. But the passage seems to suit the prophet much better, speaking here as one commissioned by the divine authority to preach to this people. They have not known me Namely, they have not known the Lord, in whose name the prophet speaks. Those are foolish indeed, who, calling themselves God’s people, and having the advantage of becoming acquainted with him, yet have not known him. They are sottish children Stupid and senseless; and have no understanding They cannot distinguish between truth and falsehood, good and evil; cannot discern the mind of God, either in his word or in his providence; they do not understand what their true interest is, nor on which side it lies. They are wise to do evil To plot mischief against the quiet of the land; wise to contrive the gratification of their lusts, and then to conceal or palliate their conduct; but to do good they have no knowledge No contrivance, no application of mind; they know not how to make a good use either of the ordinances or providences of God, nor how to bring about any design for the good of their country. They are perfect strangers to the obligations of religion and virtue, and never show any quickness of thought but when they are contriving to bring about some mischief.

Verses 23-26

Jeremiah 4:23-26. I beheld the earth, and lo, it was without form and void “The images under which the prophet here represents the approaching desolation, as foreseen by him, are such as are familiar to the Hebrew poets on the like occasions.” See note on Isaiah 13:10, and Bishop Lowth, De Sac. Poesi Hebrews, Præl. 9. “But the assemblage is finely made, so as to delineate altogether a most striking and interesting picture of a ruined country, and to justify what has been before observed of the author’s happy talent for pathetic description. The earth is brought back, as it were, to its primitive state of chaos and confusion; the cheerful light of the heavens is withdrawn, and succeeded by a dismal gloom; the mountains tremble, and the hills shake under dreadful apprehensions of the Almighty’s displeasure; a frightful solitude reigns all around; not a vestige to be seen of any of the human race; even the birds themselves have deserted the fields, unable to find any longer in them their usual food. The face of the country, in the once most fertile parts of it, now overgrown with briers and thorns, assumes the dreary wilderness of the desert. The cities and villages are either thrown down and demolished by the hand of the enemy, or crumble into ruins of their own accord, for want of being inhabited.” Blaney.

Verse 27

Jeremiah 4:27. Yet will I not make a full end That is, say some commentators, neither shall the punishment suffice, nor my anger stop here: but it rather seems to be a word of comfort, signifying that they should not be utterly destroyed, but that, in the midst of judgment, God would remember mercy, and preserve a remnant; accordingly, in fact, after seventy years’ captivity, he brought a remnant back again into their own land.

Verses 28-29

Jeremiah 4:28-29. For this shall the earth mourn, &c. More expressions to set forth the dreadfulness of the judgment: he makes the elements to personate mourners. And the heavens above be black Under sad calamities every thing looks dismal; even the heavens themselves do not seem to shine with their usual brightness. Because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, &c. Blaney, following the LXX., changes a little the order of the words, and reads, “I have spoken, and do not repent: I have purposed, and will not recede from it.” God’s purpose of delivering up the Jews into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar was irreversible, because he foresaw that the greatest part of them would continue impenitent, and that it would be expedient and necessary, in order to their being humbled and brought to repentance, that they should be carried into captivity. Otherwise the removal of judgments, either those inflicted or threatened to be inflicted, is promised upon repentance, to which God frequently exhorted these Jews by his prophets. The whole city shall flee The inhabitants of all ranks and qualities shall seek to escape the fury of the Chaldean army, chap. Jeremiah 39:4. They shall go into thickets Either upon the report of the coming of their enemies, the prophet hereby, as it were, deriding their confidence, or rather at the approach of their vast armies: for they were closely besieged before they fled, as appears 2 Kings 25:4. Such a consternation there shall be upon them, that they shall run into every hole to hide themselves; thus Manasseh was taken among the thorns, 2 Chronicles 33:11. The Hebrew is, באו בעבים , they shall go into the clouds; meaning, probably, dark places on the tops of hills, reaching, as it were, to the clouds, or among the cloudy shades of trees and groves that usually grew there. The LXX. render it, εισεδυσαν εις τα σπηλαια , they entered into the caves; adding, και εις τα αλση εκρυβησαν , they were hid in the groves. And climbed up upon the rocks Namely, to save their lives. Every city shall be forsaken There shall be an utter desolation, their cities being quite deserted, and none left to inhabit them.

Verse 30

Jeremiah 4:30. And when thou art spoiled When this destruction shall come upon thee, which is very near; what wilt thou do? When thou, O daughter of Zion, art besieged by the Babylonians, what course wilt thou take? As if he had said, Thy condition will be desperate. Though thou clothest thyself, &c. The prophet proceeds in a kind of insulting speech, in which he, as it were, upbraids them with their pride and false confidence. With crimson, or scarlet. Though thou deckest thyself with ornaments, &c. Though thou superinduce those ornaments, or jewels of gold, that may render thy attire the most rich and splendid. Though thou rendest thy face with painting The Hebrew is, Though thou rendest thine eyes, &c.

“This alludes to the custom of the eastern ladies, who, esteeming large eyes beautiful, make use of stibium, a sort of black paint, which is laid upon the eyelids with a pencil, and being of all astringent quality, partly contracts the eyelids, and partly, by the contrast of colour, tends to enlarge the appearance of the white part of the eyes.” Blaney. See Bishop Lowth’s note on Isaiah 3:16. Dr. Durrell has remarked, that the Ethiopians, to this day, paint their eyebrows with antimony mixed with moist soot. See Ludolphi, Hist. Ethiop., lib. 7. cap. 7. In vain shalt thou make thyself fair The prophet carries on the idea wherewith he began, representing Jerusalem under the figure of a harlot, dressing herself up to captivate lovers; seeking, by the finery of her dress and other allurements, to engage their affections, but in vain: so, he signifies, it should be with them; all the arts they had made use of to engage the Egyptians, or other foreigners, to assist them against the Chaldeans, should stand them in no stead; nay, those very allies of theirs would join with their enemies.

Verse 31

Jeremiah 4:31. For I have heard a voice of a woman in travail Here Jerusalem is very pathetically described by the character of a woman under the pangs of her first child-bearing, when her pains as well as her fears are usually greatest. Such, saith the prophet, shall be the anguish of Jerusalem, bewailing the loss of her children by the devouring sword of the Chaldeans, and in vain imploring comfort and assistance. That spreadeth her hands, &c. Spreading out the hands is the gesture of one displaying the helplessness of her condition, and imploring the aid of others.

“Ingemit, et duplices tendens ad sidera palmas, Talia voce refert .”

VIRGIL ÆN., I. 50:97.

“Struck with unusual fright, the Trojan chief, With outspread hands and eyes, invokes relief.” DRYDEN.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 4". Benson's Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/jeremiah-4.html. 1857.
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