God gives Israel (and the over-hearing residents of Judah) a model of repentance in Jeremiah 3:19-25. So now God follows that up by emphasizing that any repentance that hopes to result in God’s blessings must bear fruit in the lives of those who exercise it.
Sincerity of Repentance Probed
God first probes the sincerity of repentance (Jeremiah 4:1).
In effect, God says, Do you really want to do it? Are you really interested in coming back to me?
Conditions of True Repentance
Condition #1: Put away the idols (Jeremiah 4:1).
Condition #2: Stop Straying (Jeremiah 4:1).
Condition #3: Keep your word (Jeremiah 4:2).
Promised Result of True Repentance
And here’s the promised result of true repentance on the part of the nation of Israel – and it might not be what you’d expect (Jeremiah 4:2).
Was Israel really was supposed to get excited about the nations blessing themselves in the Lord and glorying in him?
Yes, they were!
The Nations Will Be Blessed
Have you not read the promise God made to Abraham, the father of the Jews? In Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth will bless themselves.
We now know the identity of that seed. It’s none other than Jesus Christ – the son of Abraham. It will be to him that the nation of Israel bows one day and then all the nations will bow the knee to him and be blessed in him.
The Nations With Glory
And in that day they will glory in him.
The word glory in the Hebrew is halal. That’s the word that’s included in the Hebrew word Hallelujah. Praise the Lord. Glory in the Lord!
When Israel repents and receives Jesus as King and Messiah and God – the new covenant will be fully enacted and received by the entire nation of Israel. And the nations will be engaged in one big Hallelujah.
And isn’t that what we see in the last book of our Bible? Revelation 19. Four times we have the uttering of the word Hallelujah! And why is all creation saying Hallelujah at the end of this age as recorded in Revelation? Here’s why – Revelation 19:6 – for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!
Who’s going to be reigning? Jesus Christ, the king of heaven will reign. He will be the king of Israel. He will be the king of all the nations. All of this will unfold when all Israel is saved in a day by her Messiah and ours.
So, now we'll start our study in Jeremiah 4:3-5:6.
The Larger Context
Jeremiah 4:3-5:6 falls within the larger section that encompasses most of Jeremiah 3, all of Jeremiah 4, 5, and 6. The main message of that section as I've said before is that God Has Been Forsaken, But Judah Is Unshaken by their utter turning away from the Lord.
The Previous Section
We've previously focused on Jeremiah 3:6-4:2. There we witnessed the following. That God was moved to receive back a repentant Israel. He then offered blessings for that repentance. He gave a model repentance for them to follow. And lastly he followed-up on and probed any alleged repentance, declaring that it must bear fruit.
And you might remember that what caused the Lord to feel moved to receive a repentant Israel was his comparing the sin of Israel – the northern 10 tribes – with the sin of the southern kingdom of Judah. God reached the conclusion that Israel was in some ways less guilty than Judah.
The Message to Israel Was Also For Judah
Also, recall that this message was to be proclaimed by Jeremiah toward the north – where Israel was in exile. But it was also to be proclaimed most likely from the city of Jerusalem – where all of Judah could have heard that part about Israel being less guilty than Judah.
So, Jeremiah 3:6-4:2 was mainly concerning Israel. But this new section in Jeremiah 4:3-5:6 is all about Judah.
The Message of Jeremiah 4:3-5:6
And the message to Judah in this section is Refusal to Repent Necessitates God’s Punishment.
Jeremiah 3:6-4:2 ends with the Lord probing any supposed repentance. He was calling for repentance from Israel, but he wanted to make it clear that repentance needs to bear fruit. And that probing and the entire message was mostly directed toward Israel – with Judah overhearing it.
Judah Urged to Repent or Face Punishment
But now in Jeremiah 4:3-4, God stops addressing Israel and instead turns his attention toward Judah and tells them that they too need to repent or face punishment.
I appreciate the NET Bible's rendering of Jeremiah 4:3-4.
The explanation that translation gives for the statement in Jeremiah 4:3 regarding breaking up fallow ground is restated as follows, "Like a farmer breaking up hard unplowed ground, you must break your rebellious will and make a new beginning; just as a farmer must clear away thorns lest the seed is wasted, you must get rid of the sin that is ruining your lives."
And for the command to circumcise hearts in Jeremiah 4:4 the NET Bible says "Just as ritual circumcision cuts away the foreskin as an external symbol of dedicated covenant commitment, you must genuinely dedicate yourselves to the LORD and get rid of everything that hinders your commitment to me."
God ends Jeremiah 4:3-4 with the threat of punishment for Judah’s evil behavior and actions.
Encouragement to Repent
And he continues with that theme in Jeremiah 4:5-9 where the Lord gives Judah sobering encouragement to repent. Namely, God is bringing an enemy to destroy them if they don't!
What God says in those verses is sobering news to Judah. A destroying nation is coming. And God tells Judah that when this destroyer comes the leadership of Judah will be unable to stop it. Ultimately, their cities will be destroyed. Their land will be devastated.
And God speaks of this coming nation as an absolute reality. He doesn’t speak of this as conditional – though I think if Judah really did repent, God according to his merciful nature would have spared them for a little while longer. And yet this coming judgement was long-delayed by our very patient Lord. And it had to fall some time.
Now, God’s tone in Jeremiah 3:6-4:2 was gentle. It was conciliatory. He expressed a desire to receive repentant Israel and not be angry with her forever. He revealed his mercy and desire to bless. He even hinted at some New Covenant blessings in store for his people. It was an encouraging message in that section.
But now this. Coming judgement portrayed as a certain reality for Judah.
We go from the glorious mercy of the Lord … to … this that we’ve just read about – God’s unsparing punishment of his unrepentant people.
Now, you and I have had the benefit of being able to take in this information over the span of a few posts. So, the change in God's tone might not be as jarring to you as it was to Jeremiah. But remember, Jeremiah is hearing this message from the Lord all at once.
So, you know he would have been basking in the glory of God’s revealing his mercy and love … only to be told of the harsh realities that face his own people at the present time.
And so in Jeremiah 4:10, the prophet – the faithful follower of the Lord – the man who will spend his entire life serving the Lord and his wayward people – Jeremiah himself responds to the Lord with shock and accusation.
Jeremiah sees two conflicting realities. One, God had offered peace in Jeremiah 3. Two, God is promising destruction in Jeremiah 4. Huh?!
Are the False Prophets Deceiving?
The NET Bible suggests that Jeremiah is expressing shock to the Lord because the prophets of Judah have been deceiving the people into thinking that they’ll have peace. So, then the prophets are saying to Judah “you shall have peace”.
And that possibility is attractive because it would mean that our beloved prophet Jeremiah is not actually accusing the Lord of deception. But unfortunately I think the NET Bible is missing the flow of the context, especially considering Jeremiah 3.
Or Was God Deceiving?
God was promising peace in Jeremiah 3. But he was doing so to a repentant Israel – which repentance God is still waiting for to this very day! It will happen. But it hasn’t yet.
So, Jeremiah is being a little selective in his recollection of God’s statement. God actually wasn’t offering peace to Judah to begin with. And if Judah wanted peace with God though, they’d need to repent to obtain it.
The Reason for Jeremiah's Confusion
I think what’s happening here is that Jeremiah just heard God promising peace to Israel if they repent. And that must have thrilled his heart to hear. But then seemingly without warning the Lord switches from future-blessing mode to current-punishment mode. This kind of swift change in tone happens with some regularity and frequency in the book of Jeremiah. And, yes, it can be shocking. And to a man like Jeremiah here, this can be confusing, and if we’re not on our guard we might find ourselves accusing the Lord of deception as we read this book.
God's Response to Jeremiah's Accusation
So, Jeremiah unwisely accuses the Lord of deception. And so God strikes him down, right?
Wrong! God doesn’t respond to Jeremiah’s comment at all. Instead, the Lord goes right back to warning his people about the coming enemy who will destroy them if they don't repent.
And in Jeremiah 4:11-12, the enemy is pictured as a strong scorching desert wind.
So, Jeremiah unwisely accuses the Lord of deception. You might expect the Lord to strike him down or at least respond to Jeremiah. Instead, amazingly, God goes right back to warning his people about the coming enemy who will destroy God's unrepentant people.
A Strong Scorching Wind
In Jeremiah 4:11-12, the enemy is pictured as a strong scorching desert wind.
This wind represents the coming enemy. It is strong and overwhelming and harmful. And this coming enemy is stated as God’s means of judgement on his unrepentant people.
Swift Clouds & Birds
But not only is the enemy pictured as a strong scorching wind. They’re also pictured as swift clouds, while their chariots are compared to a whirlwind, and their horses are pictured as eagles in Jeremiah 4:13.
So, the emphasis of what we just read is on the swiftness of the enemy and his means of transportation.
The Reaction to the Enemy
And both the overwhelming and harmful strength and the swiftness of the enemy causes a reaction of fear and dread and despair at the end of Jeremiah 4:13.
It might sound like the people of Judah are being recorded in that verse. But unfortunately I think we see in the book of Jeremiah that the people are fairly unmoved by God’s threats. The reaction we have in Jeremiah 4:13 is certainly how the people should have reacted.
So, this could be God again providing a template or model for his people to follow in regard to how they should react to this pronouncement of judgement. Or it could be Jeremiah himself reacting to this news of the swift and dangerous enemy.
Repentance Urged in Light of Coming Punishment
And because this is how Judah should respond – with contrition – and yet that’s not how they are responding, God in Jeremiah 4:14-18 urges repentance upon them precisely so that he can turn back from his plans to bring the destroying enemy to humble his hard-hearted people.
I think it’s beautiful and very telling of the character of our God that the Lord even here is urging repentance upon his people. He’s giving them a way of escape from the punishment. His main aim was not the punishment of his people. It was restoring a right relationship between himself and his people that was his main desire.
Another Reaction to the Enemy
Well, despite God’s desire for his people to repent, the threat of the coming enemy is still on the table. And so in Jeremiah 4:19-21 we have another reaction to the coming of the enemy. In this case, the one who’s reacting – probably Jeremiah – is lamenting that this is going to happen.
Despite God’s desire for his people to repent, the threat of the coming enemy is still on the table. And so in Jeremiah 4:19-21 we have another reaction to the coming of the enemy. In this case, the one who’s reacting – probably Jeremiah – is lamenting that this is going to happen.
After that, God feels the need to justify again why he’s sending the destroying enemy in Jeremiah 4:22.
Poetic Picture of the Coming Destruction
So, after justifying his punishing his people for their unrepentant heart, in Jeremiah 4:23-26 God poetically pictures the destruction to come.
By the way, you might wonder why God keeps coming at this same theme from different angles. He keeps playing one note in this section – punishment. And he covers it from multiple angles. And he keeps talking about it. And he says just about the same thing in slightly different ways.
He’s trying to get his people’s attention. He can tell them plainly – you must repent, and if you don’t I will need to punish you. But they don’t listen to that.
So, he brings in some poetry. That doesn’t work.
So, he employs a lament. That doesn’t work.
So, he uses more poetry...
What God is about to do to his people is no light matter for him. He is giving them multiple chances to repent and turn to him. He is trying to demonstrate for them what it will be like for him to send this punishment on them. God is going above and beyond in trying to turn his people back to him.
And so, he continues – as I said – with a picture of the coming destruction in Jeremiah 4:23-26.
Explaining the Picture of Destruction
Then, in Jeremiah 4:27-29 God explains the picture he just painted in plain words.
The poetic picture of destruction is explained as meaning that people will flee from the cities of Judah when the enemy comes. The land will eventually be completely desolate. And yet God sees fit to promise to not completely destroy.
Destroy whom or what? We’ll see the Lord make similar statements throughout the book of Jeremiah. And usually he’s saying that he won’t completely destroy his people. He’ll leave a number of them alive.
Judah's Allies Will Destroy Her
Well, at Judah’s time of greatest need – when this enemy is going to come and destroy them – guess where all their friends will be. All those allies that Judah has turned to in order to try to escape the consequences of God’s chastening of them. Jeremiah 4:30-31 tells them that their allies will turn on them.
And who are the murderers spoken of in these verses? None other than the nations that Judah put her trust in. They will turn on her in her hour of need.
We see that played out in the short Old Testament book of Obadiah. The nations that surrounded Judah rejoiced when she was attacked by Babylon. But not only did they rejoice, they also attacked her when she was most vulnerable.