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Deeper Commentary


Jeremiah 4:1 If you will return, Israel, says Yahweh, if you will return to Me- The Hebrew implies as AV that 'If you will return, then return to Me'. We can confuse a desire for change, a fleeting twinge of conscience, with real repentance. “They return, but not to the most High” (Hos. 7:16). They had the sense that they must turn away from the way they were in, but this wasn’t necessarily the same as turning back behind the Lord.

And if you will put away your abominations out of My sight; then you shall not be removed- If there was a real turning to God, then God would not remove Judah into captivity. Or it could be that the ten tribes are still the subject, as they largely were in the previous chapter. If they returned to God, then He would miraculously return them to their land; and they would never again be removed. This would imply that some kind of Kingdom of God situation would have been established then, under a Messianic ruler, with the Gentile nations glorifying Israel's God (:2).


Jeremiah 4:2 And you shall swear, ‘As Yahweh lives’, in truth, in justice, and in righteousness. The nations shall bless themselves in Him, and in Him shall they glory- When Israel return to the Lord and swear in truth that “the Lord lives”, then all the other nations of the world will be blessed in the coming of the Kingdom. Their repentance is a prerequisite for the second coming. The implication is that this could have happened at Jeremiah's time, see on :1. It didn't, and so the fulfilment is reapplied and rescheduled to the last days.

The implication is that God's people swore that "Yahweh lives" but without moral justice and right behaviour. To believe that God exists is therefore to act like Him, in truth, justice and righteousness. To live otherwise is to effectively deny His existence. His very existence is therefore an imperative to live and be as He is.

Jeremiah 4:3 For thus says Yahweh to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground-
This repentance could have brought about some kind of Kingdom situation as described in :1,2. The idea of using fallow ground is that they were to realize their potential- which was that it Judah repented and so did the ten tribes, then those tribes would be regathered into a reestablished Kingdom of God in Israel.
We too must "break up our fallow ground" (Heb. 'plough the unploughed'), analayze ourselves from outside ourselves, and use our time and our “all things” to the utmost of their potential (Hos. 10:12). We were created "unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10); we were redeemed that we might be zealous of good works (Tit. 2:14)- not that we might drift through life playing with our hobbies and with the fascinations of our careers.

And don’t sow among thorns- The Lord's parable of the sower alludes here. The thorns to Him meant the cares of life and the desire for wealth in the here and now (Mk. 4:19). This was Judah's problem; all their idolatry was choosing the fertility cults in order to get immediate material blessing.

Jeremiah 4:4 Circumcise yourselves to Yahweh, and take away the foreskins of your heart, you 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-
To self circumcise is the picture of intimate involvement with oneself. This is what they were asked to do to their own minds and hearts; see on :9. They could have avoided the wrath to come by quenching the fire of that wrath through reformation of their own hearts. We note the paramount importance of the heart; there is no specific call to quit idolatry or any specific manifestation of sin, because the essence was and is in the heart. Here at the beginning of Jeremiah's ministry, the implication is that the wrath could be quenched still; but the time would come when it could not be. By the time of Jer. 7:20, God was saying that His wrath could no longer be quenched (as 2 Kings 22:17; 2 Chron. 34:25). And yet even after this point, God still speaks as if it could be quenched by repentance (Jer. 21:12). Even to the point of self-contradiction, God was so eager to have His wrath quenched. And this God is our God. His eagerness for human repentance should be reflected in our attitudes, both to others and to our own sins. Breaking relationship with people by casting them out of fellowship is not reflective of that.

Jeremiah 4:5 Declare in Judah and publish in Jerusalem; say, ‘Blow the trumpet in the land!’ Cry aloud and say, ‘Assemble yourselves! Let us go into the fortified cities!’-
The "cities" may be an intensive plural for the one great city, Zion. For in :7 it seems that God's wrath was at a point where the other cities would be destroyed, but if the people entered Jerusalem in repentance, then although the invaders would surround her, He would miraculously deliver her. This of course is what had happened a few generations before in the time of Hezekiah and the Assyrian invasion. God was willing to use that as a prototype for their salvation now from Babylon. A restored Kingdom of God could have emerged after the destruction of the Assyrians; but Judah didn't really repent, and Hezekiah let the baton drop. But now, out of their sin and the need to judge it, there was to be another opportunity. See on :8; Jer. 5:1; 6:23.

Right in the context of God predicting the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah is presented as a strong, fortified city, made strong by God against any opposition (Jer. 1:18). The implication was that the faithful should identify with Jeremiah if they wished to avoid the destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah uses the same term for "fortified city" here in urging the faithful to run into one in the face of the Babylonian advance. But that fortified city was himself and the community of the faithful. 

Jeremiah 4:6 Set up a standard towards Zion. Flee for safety! Don’t wait; for I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction-
See on :5; Jer. 5:10. There was to be destruction in the land, but there was potentially safety / salvation in Jerusalem for those who were obedient and repentant. This was a test to Judah, because they trusted in their defenced cities (Jer. 5:17). But the prophecy of Jeremiah 4 (and Mic. 5:11) asks them to believe that these cities would fall, and there would be salvation only in Jerusalem. And yet they were disobedient, and did go into those other defenced cities (:29; Jer. 8:14).

Jeremiah 4:7 A lion is gone up from his thicket, and a destroyer of nations; he is on his way, he is gone forth from his place, to make your land desolate, that your cities be laid waste, without inhabitant-
Already God had raised up the Babylonians. They had only recently come to prominence by defeating Assyria, and were still somewhat of an unknown quantity at the time Jeremiah's ministry began. The extent of destruction threatened here didn't totally come; the majority of the peasants remained in the land, and they still brought food offerings to the temple even after the destruction of Jerusalem (Jer. 41:5). In wrath God remembered mercy.

The collapsing of time at the judgment would mean that the events used to punish the world could fall upon the rejected from the judgment seat. These unfortunate individuals will be threshed, as will the world be (Mt. 3:12; Rev. 16:16). This is foreshadowed by the way apostate Israel were treated like the surrounding Gentile world ("nations") in the time of their judgments (Jer. 4:7).

Jeremiah 4:8 For this clothe yourself with sackcloth, lament and wail; for the fierce anger of Yahweh hasn’t turned back from us-
The implication is that such repentance would turn back Yahweh's wrath; Joel uses similar language. Sackcloth and wailing suggested a death had happened; they were to believe they were condemned and the death sentence had been passed, and to lament it; and yet they could repent. I suggested on :5 that they were being encouraged to copy the example of Hezekiah turning away the Assyrians; and his urgent appeal for repentance had led to Yahweh's fierce anger being turned back (s.w. 2 Chron. 29:10; 30:8).

Jeremiah 4:9 It shall happen at that day, says Yahweh, that the heart of the king shall perish, and the heart of the princes; and the priests shall be astonished, and the prophets shall wonder-
We note the continued stress upon the state of their heart; see on :4. The focus is not upon how they would be slain, tortured, have their eyes put out etc.- but upon the mental, internal panic and collapse they would experience. The physical "desolation" of the land would be matched by the internal, psychological desolation of the priests (s.w. "astonished"). Jeremiah felt the same as the other priests; he was desolated / astonished (s.w.) at the desolation of Jerusalem (Lam. 1:4,13). We can read this as meaning that he as the righteous totally identified with the wicked; or that he was too identified with the wicked priests, and felt like them when instead he should have perceived that this was exactly the astonishment of the priests which he had prophesied.

Jeremiah 4:10 Then I said, Ah, Lord Yahweh! Surely You have greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem in saying, ‘You shall have peace;’ whereas the sword reaches to the heart-
Again, as noted on :9, Jeremiah perceives that the judgments will be upon their hearts. The promise of peace was if the people repented; but Jeremiah considered it so obvious that they wouldn't repent that he therefore accuses God of being unreasonable in even speaking of the possibility of peace. Here we see Jeremiah's struggle with God; his experience of Divine inspiration didn't make him just a mere instrument for relaying God's word. He was personally involved in it. I noted on :5 and :8 the similarities with the siege of Jerusalem at the time of Hezekiah; and the same word was used by Rabshakeh in warning that Hezekiah and Isaiah were deceiving the people by saying there would be peace through Divine salvation (2 Chron. 32:15). This further indicates that Jeremiah was out of step with God in his feelings. God perhaps corrects things by saying that the people were deceiving themselves in thinking that the Babylonians would withdraw, because their false prophets had deceived them to think this (Jer. 29:8; 37:9).

Jeremiah 4:11 At that time shall it be said to this people and to Jerusalem, A hot wind from the bare heights in the wilderness towards the daughter of My people, not to winnow, nor to cleanse-
The high places ("bare heights") were the scene of their apostasy with the idols. This wind represented the invasion; but "wind" and "spirit" are the same word in Hebrew, and the idea as in Ezekiel's vision of the cherubim was that the invasion would be moved by God's Spirit. It came down, as it were, from the high places. At this point, God's wrath was such that He intended simply to destroy; but elsewhere He says that the judgments were indeed "to cleanse" His people in a national sense (Ez. 20:38 s.w.). Again we see Him relenting; although perhaps the idea is that those destroyed were not personally cleansed, although the cleansing was to be thus achieved on a national level.

Jeremiah 4:12 A full wind for these things shall come from Me. Now I will also utter judgements against them-
This is the language of the judge uttering the final judgment after the case has been considered. LXX "a spirit of full vengeance shall come upon me" may indeed be the idea; but God never carried out "full vengeance", in wrath He remembered mercy.

Jeremiah 4:13 Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as the whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles-
As noted on :11, this is the equivalent to Ezekiel's vision of the clouds and chariots of the cherubim, God's Spirit in action, being manifested in the chariots and dust clouds thus formed by the invaders.

Woe to us! For we are ruined- This is Jeremiah's interjection. He sees the personal truth of the message he is relaying. Likewise Jeremiah responds to the prophecy he has to utter against the hated Philistines by begging the Father to limit these judgments, presumably on account of their repentance: “O thou sword of the Lord, how long will it be ere thou be quiet? Put up thyself into thy scabbard, rest, and be still” (Jer. 47:6). Here likewise he almost interrupts a prophecy he is giving to Israel about judgment to come by appealing for them therefore to repent (Jer. 4:13,14). Our handling of the prophecies of judgment to come should have a like effect upon us: they should inspire us to an inevitable witness. Each of our days cannot be just ‘the same old scene’ when we see the world in this way.

Jeremiah 4:14 Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved. How long shall your evil thoughts lodge within you?-
This is Jeremiah's personal appeal for repentance; he so believed that what he had prophesied would come true. Again the appeal is for reformation of thought patterns; see on :4. "Evil" is literally 'vain', a word often associated with the "vanities" of the idols. But the essence of idolatry, then as now, was vain thinking, emptiness of heart. That to this day is the essence of idolatry, and the prophetic call is not let this vanity lodge within us, but to cast out those thoughts.

Jeremiah 4:15 For a voice declares from Dan, and publishes evil from the hills of Ephraim-
These were areas within the ten tribe kingdom which had already been carried captive. The idea is that from there would come advance warning of the Babylonian advance; just as Judah ought to have taken warning from the judgment upon the ten tribes.

Jeremiah 4:16 Tell the nations; behold, publish against Jerusalem, ‘Watchers come from a far country and lift up their voice against the cities of Judah-
Why should the Gentile nations also be informed of the Babylonian advance? Presumably in the hope that they too would repent and turn to Yahweh; for this was the Divine intention. "Watchers" could simply mean 'besiegers' (s.w. Is. 1:8; Ez. 6:12); or it could be a reference to the Angels who watch over God's word to perform it (Jer. 1:11-13), and who would bring the invaders on their journey, like Ezekiel's cherubim.

Jeremiah 4:17 As keepers of a field, they are against her all around, because she has been rebellious against Me’, says Yahweh- "
They (the enemy) are lying in wait on the fields round about". This would support the translation "besiegers" in :16. The rebellion of the people is specifically stated as being in their hearts (Jer. 5:23 s.w.). The state of the heart is such a repeated theme here.

Jeremiah 4:18 Your way and your doings have brought these things to you. This is your wickedness; for it is bitter, for it reaches to your heart-
Their "way" refers to their way of thought and internal imagination, the trodden paths of mental reactions and thoughts, which led to their "doings".

Jeremiah speaks of the pain of his heart after having spoken of the pain that would reach unto the heart of Judah (Jer. 4:18,19). The pain of their heart became the pain of his heart. And yet Jeremiah had the mind of God in this sense, as David was after God’s own heart. This is reflected by the way in which it is very difficult at times in Jeremiah to decide who is speaking- Jeremiah, or God. Jer. 9:1-3,10,11 is a good passage to work through from this perspective, asking ‘Who is speaking? Jeremiah, or God?’. Their minds were clearly so intertwined. Both of them are described, in consecutive verses, as rising up early to plead with Israel (Jer. 25:3,4).

Jeremiah 4:19 My anguish, my anguish! I am pained at my very heart; my heart is disquieted in me; I can’t hold my peace; because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war-
See on :18.
Despite being betrayed and hated by his own people, Jeremiah felt such pain for the judgment to come upon them- he was still struck with pain at the thought of their judgment. If we too have a heart that bleeds, we will come to know the mind of Jeremiah, who as he proclaimed the judgments of his last days, interrupted his sermon with this outburst. His very soul heard the message which he preached, and he interrupts his proclamation of it with this emotional outburst; this was no mindless distribution of bills or casual mention of our church. He was pained in his heart to the extent that he seems to have had some form of seizure. This is how much Jeremiah felt for those he preached to and warned, both within and without of the ecclesia. And he speaks of the pain of his heart after having spoken of the pain that would reach unto the heart of Judah (Jer. 4:18,19). The pain of their heart became the pain of his heart.

Jeremiah 4:20 Destruction on destruction is cried; for the whole land is laid waste: suddenly are my tents destroyed, and my curtains in a moment-
In this whole section, it is hard to decide whether this is Jeremiah or Yahweh speaking in the first person. Jeremiah, as every true preacher, was no mere relayer of God's word. He was personally involved in the message, sharing the heart of God whilst also full of heartbreak for his own people- just like the Lord Jesus.

Jeremiah 4:21 How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet?-
Again we can question whether Jeremiah was correct in feeling that he didn't want to hear any more judgment to come upon his people. And yet despite this, the personal pronouns in the next verse clearly relate to God rather than Jeremiah. He shared the mind of God, whilst being also so terribly pained for his people- a fine insight into the Lord's mind.

Jeremiah 4:22 For my people are foolish, they don’t know me. They are foolish children, and they have no understanding. They are skilful in doing evil, but to do good they have no knowledge-
Clearly the "me" is God, and yet the surrounding context suggests Jeremiah is speaking. Again we see how the thinking and spirit of Yahweh was meshed with that of His servant and preacher. This is how our witness should be.

Jeremiah 4:23 I saw the land and, behold, it was waste and void; and the heavens, and they had no light-
Clearly an allusion to the language of Genesis, supporting the idea that there we have a description of the formation of eretz Israel rather than the entire planet. The judgments were intended to bring the eretz back to what it was then; but implicit in this judgment is the expectation of new creation. See on :31.

Jeremiah 4:24 I saw the mountains, and behold, they trembled, and all the hills moved back and forth-
The vision before Jeremiah suggests that the land of Israel was to return to the state it was in when the creation process began.

Jeremiah 4:25 I saw, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the sky had fled-
This would suggest that "no man" was to be left on the land. But this didn't happen at this time; only the leadership were taken captive, and soon after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, local Jews still came to worship at the temple site (Jer. 41:5). In wrath God remembered mercy; or perhaps responded to some degree of repentance or intercession from a minority.

Jeremiah 4:26 I saw, and behold, the fruitful field was a wilderness, and all its cities were broken down at the presence of Yahweh, before His fierce anger-
Israel were told to "throw down", "break in pieces" and "utterly destroy" the idols and altars of Canaan. There were times during their history when they obeyed this command by purging themselves from their apostasy in this. The Hebrew words used scarcely occur elsewhere, except very frequently in the context of how God "broke down", "threw down" and "destroyed" Israel at the hands of their Babylonian and Assyrian invaders as a result of their not 'breaking down' (etc.) the idols. "Throw down" in Ex. 34:13; Dt. 7:5; 12:3; 2 Chron. 31:1 is the same word in 2 Chron. 36:19; Jer. 4:26; 31:28; 33:4; 39:8; 52:14; Ez. 16:39; Nah. 1:6. "Cut down" in Dt. 7:5; 12:3; 2 Chron. 31:1 later occurs in Is. 10:33; Jer. 48;25; Lam. 2:3. So Israel faced the choice: either cut down your idols, or you will be cut down in the day of God's judgment. Those who worshipped idols were like unto them. The stone will either fall on us and destroy us, or we must fall on it and become broken men and women (Mt. 21:44). For the man untouched by the concept of living for God's glory, it's a hard choice.

Jeremiah 4:27 For thus says Yahweh, The whole land shall be a desolation; yet will I not make a full end-
Earlier God had threatened to make a full end, the same phrase is found in Is. 10:23 and Zeph. 1:18. But now God promises that He will not make a full end (Jer. 5:10,18; 4:27; 30:11; 46:28). God is not capricious; but His love and pity is such that He is unafraid to not do according to His wrath. In wrath God remembered mercy; or perhaps responded to some degree of repentance or intercession from a minority. And this God is our God.

Jeremiah 4:28 For this the land will mourn, and the heavens above be black; because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and I have not relented, neither will I go back from it-
See on Hos. 13:14. God was prepared to relent (Jer. 18:8; 26:3,13,19; 42:10), and yet He says in Jer. 4:28 that He will not. This is not self-contradiction, but rather a reflection of the depth of how God's compassion is finally greater than His judgment of sin. The whole mental and emotional trauma made God weary of all the relenting, so deeply did He feel it (Jer. 15:6). There has to come a moment when the pull of the flow toward the waterfall of condemnation is now too strong, and the plunge is inevitable. It is that moment which perhaps we need to fear more than anything else in human experience. It happened to Israel- their hearts too were hard, and in the end, after a period, God have them over to their hard hearts (Ps. 81:11,12)- the implication being that even whilst He hardened their hearts, He kept them by grace from the full consequences... but in the end, the final inevitable drag towards the waterfall set in. This is why there were times when even repentance, as a change of mind, could not save Jerusalem from destruction (Jer. 4:28; 15:1-9; 16:12; Ez. 7:1-9). This was the moment after the inevitable tug towards the waterfall beings, but before the actual plunge. It's Saul cowering before the witch of Endor, lying face down in the dirt that fateful night... and this is the human condition we should most dread.

Jeremiah 4:29 Every city flees for the noise of the horsemen and archers; they go into the thickets and climb up on the rocks: every city is forsaken, not a man dwells therein-
This was avoidable; if Judah had obeyed the commandment to flee their fenced cities and go into Jerusalem.
See on :6. They refused God's peace and safety in Jerusalem, and so they fled into the rocks and thickets.

Jeremiah 4:30 You, when you are made desolate, what will you do? Though you clothe yourself with scarlet, though you deck you with ornaments of gold, though you enlarge your eyes with paint, in vain do you make yourself beautiful; your lovers despise you, they seek your life-
The very nations whose help and blessing Judah had sought, and whose idols she had worshipped, were now coming to demand her life. Just as those idols had demanded the lives of her firstborn children, and she had given them. Now her life itself would be required by them.

Perhaps more than anything, the prophetic descriptions of condemnation were aimed at attacking the indifference which pervaded Israel. And so the power of sexual imagery is used to the full in the description of rejected Israel as a whore all dressed up with no place to go, so utterly unwanted and despised (Jer. 4:30,31). This was and is the tragedy of Divine rejection of those who have so desperately sought the approval of this world, when all too late they find this world is over for good. We so minimize sin. Just a bit of injustice, a little touch of selfishness, a moment of hypocrisy… but all this is obscene treatment of our God. We read the description of the red clothing, gaudy jewellery and heavy make up of the harlot Israel in Ezekiel and Jeremiah… and this is how inappropriate is mere external religion (Jer. 4:30). And we’re all guilty of that, in some ways at some times.

Jeremiah 4:31 For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, the anguish as of her who brings forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, who gasps for breath, who spreads her hands saying, Woe is me now! For my soul faints before the murderers
- The imagery here pictures a woman who is dying in childbirth, but who will still produce a live birth. Just as the imagery of decreation has implicit within it the hope of new life, so here. Although the woman would die, the hope was that she would bring forth a new generation who would respond. The woman in travail is the woman of :30 who desperately dresses as a prostitute in order to placate her former lovers, when she realizes they have come to murder her. And she is in fact heavily pregnant, about to give birth with her murderers standing around her. This was the pathetic, awful picture of Judah's position. This kind of shocking imagery is deployed to try to shake them out of their indifference, as it should us too.