Jeremiah 4:1-31

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If there was to be a return on the part of Israel, it would be a return to YHWH, and he would be willing to accept the repentant people. A sincere return required that the people remove the abominations from before his “face” or away from his presence, abandoning idolatry and becoming exclusively devoted to him. They needed to stop wandering, ceasing to chase after nonexistent gods such as Baal. According to the Septuagint, the return called for Israel to remove “his abominations from his mouth,” suggesting that the people should cease from even mentioning the names of foreign deities. Instead, they were to be reverent before God’s “face” or in his presence. (4:1)

To swear with the words “as YHWH lives” would indicate that the oath is expressed in recognition of YHWH as the only true and living God. Such swearing was to be done “in truth, in justice, and in righteousness,” solemnly confirming that the oath-bound utterance was truthful, just, and right. When Israel would be devoted to YHWH, the people would be conducting themselves in harmony with his will. Individuals of other nations would come to see that he was with his people and blessing them. On this account, persons from other nations would bless themselves “in Israel,” choosing to attach themselves to Israel and thereby becoming sharers in the blessing of which YHWH is the source. Their boasting or glorying would also be “in Israel,” for they would glory in being attached to the people who belonged to YHWH. According to the Septuagint, it is in Israel that people of the nations “will praise God in Jerusalem.” (4:2; see the Notes section.)

The word of YHWH through Jeremiah was directed to the people (literally, “man” [a collective singular]; “men” [LXX]) of Judah and to Jerusalem (“residents of Jerusalem” [LXX]). They were told to plow to make the soil suitable for sowing and to stop broadcasting seed among thorns. As evident from the next verse, this indicated that they were to clear out of their lives everything that prevented them from choosing to do YHWH’s will. (4:3)

The men of Judah, including those residing in Jerusalem, were circumcised, but their circumcision was merely an operation that had been performed on them as infants. They failed to live according to the covenant relationship with YHWH that their circumcision represented. Therefore, they were told to get themselves “circumcised to YHWH [your God [LXX]),” taking away the “foreskins of [their] hearts.” It was essential for them to rid themselves of everything that had made them unresponsive to YHWH and caused them to disregard his commands. Their hearts (their mental faculties or they themselves in their inmost selves) were to be made sensitive to his will and to become obedient. If the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the people in the rest of the kingdom of Judah failed to stop their evil practices, YHWH’s rage would “go forth like fire,” and his rage would “burn with no one to extinguish” it. (4:4)

The message directed to the people in the kingdom of Judah, including the capital city Jerusalem, indicated that they would be facing a military invasion. “Throughout the land, ” they were to “blow a shofar” (a ram’s-horn trumpet) as a warning signal of the impending danger. The directive continued, “Cry aloud [literally, cry, fill (it)], ‘Assemble and let us go into the fortified cities.’” The action would be taken to find refuge from the invaders within the city walls. (4:5)

The raising of a “signal” or “standard toward Zion” may have served to warn the people of the impending danger from a military invasion and to indicate that they should take refuge in the fortified city of Jerusalem. In the Septuagint, the initial reference is to “taking up,” and the imperative is to “flee to Zion.” The thought may be that the people should take whatever they could and flee to well-fortified Jerusalem. This was, in fact, what the tent-dwelling Rechabites did. (35:11) According to the Hebrew text, the people were urged to bring themselves into safety and not to “stand,” not remaining where they were but fleeing out of harm’s way. In the Septuagint, the directive is, “Hurry, do not stand [or stop].” The reason for not delaying in taking action is because of what YHWH purposed to do in using military forces that would be invading from the north. He is represented as saying that he would be bringing “evil” or calamity “from the north, and great destruction.” In the fulfillment, this occurred when the Babylonians under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar invaded the territory of the kingdom of Judah. (4:6)

It may be that King Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as a “lion” that “has gone up from his thicket” and as one “destroying nations.” He is portrayed as having “gone forth from his place” to make the “land” of the kingdom of Judah a “waste” and to reduce the cities of the realm to “ruins without an inhabitant.” (4:7)

The people, in their distress, should gird on sackcloth (a coarse cloth made from goats’ hair) to cover the loins of their bare skin. They were to lament, beating their breasts, and to wail. Calamity was certain to befall them, for the anger of YHWH had not “turned back” from them. (4:8)

When “that day” or time of punitive divine judgment arrives, the “heart” or courage of the king and princes would fail. Priests would be appalled, dazed or “beside themselves” (LXX) on account of the calamity they had not expected, and the prophets (the false prophets) who had lulled the people into a false sense of security would be astounded. (4:9)

Jeremiah knew what the false prophets had been proclaiming, and he spoke of YHWH as deceiving the people, for he had not stopped these prophets from causing them to believe that everything would go well for them. “Alas, Lord YHWH!” Jeremiah exclaimed. “Surely you have completely deceived [literally, to deceive you have deceived] this people and Jerusalem [the inhabitants of the city], saying, ‘Peace will be with you, and [yet] a sword has reached to the soul,’” to the very life of the people. (4:10)

At the time for punitive divine judgment, the words directed to the people of the kingdom of Judah, including the inhabitants of Jerusalem, indicated that a searing wind would be coming against them (the “daughter of [God’s] people”) from the bare or treeless heights (or the paths) in the wilderness. This wind would not be one that was suitable for winnowing nor could it function for cleansing or blowing away chaff and debris. (4:11; see the Notes section.)

A “full wind,” or a wind that is stronger than one for winnowing or one for cleaning, would be coming. Depending on the meaning assigned to the Hebrew preposition, this wind could be coming “from,” “to,” “for,” or “against” YHWH. Modern translations vary in the choice of prepositions and convey a variety of meanings. “A wind too strong for these [that is, winnowing or cleansing] will come at my [God’s] bidding.” (REB) “A wind too strong for that comes from me.” (NIV) “A gale of wind comes to me from over there.” (NJB) “A wind too strong for this shall come for Me.” (Margolis) “A full blast from them comes against Me: Now I in turn will bring charges against them.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) If the wind is understood to come from YHWH or to him for his use, it would be a destructive wind that represents the calamity to befall his disobedient people. YHWH would be speaking or expressing his judgments against them. When the wind is regarded as directed against YHWH by the disobedient people, it would represent their defiantly acting contrary to his will. His judgments would then be expressed against them for their rebellious ways. (4:12; see the Notes section for the Septuagint rendering.)

In this context, the unnamed one who would be coming against the kingdom of Judah may be King Nebuchadnezzar who led his military force into the realm. His coming up would be like clouds, rain clouds that quickly darken the sky. His chariots would be moving like a tempest, and his horses would be running more quickly than eagles swooping down upon prey. In their distress, the people would then exclaim, “Woe to us, for we are ruined [we are distressed (or we are in misery) (LXX)]!” (4:13)

The opportunity for the people to repent remained open even after Jeremiah proclaimed that the time for the execution of YHWH’s judgment was fast approaching. To be saved or spared from calamity, the people (as here represented by Jerusalem) needed to “wash” badness from their “heart.” They could “wash” their “heart” by becoming responsive to YHWH’s commands in their inmost selves and ridding themselves of everything that was contrary to his will. “Jerusalem,” or the people in the kingdom of Judah, had long been unfaithful to YHWH. Therefore, the rhetorical question was raised, “How long shall your wicked thoughts [thoughts of your miseries (LXX)] lodge within you?” (4:14)

Invaders would be coming into the kingdom of Judah from the north and would not be entering the land from the east by way of the arid wilderness. Therefore, the voice (“voice of one declaring” or voice of a messenger [LXX]) that would resound with the message about the coming calamity is represented as coming from the territory of the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. The northernmost city was Dan and farther to the south lay the mountainous or hilly region of Ephraim. According to the Septuagint, it would be from the mountainous region of Ephraim that “misery” or “trouble” would be heard. (4:15)

The message of impending calamity for Jerusalem was to be related to the “nations.” According to the Septuagint, nations were to be reminded with the words, “Look, they [the invaders] have come!” Surrounding nations were to be put on notice to observe what would befall the city and its inhabitants. The implication may be that later they would also face invasion and conquest. “Watchers” would be coming “from a distant land.” The distant land proved to be Chaldea, the land from which the military forces under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar came against the kingdom of Judah. As to the “watchers,” these would have been the warriors who remained watchful and alert in battle, determined to be victorious. These “watchers” let their “voice” be heard (literally, “they give their voice”) “against the cities of Judah.” They would shout their war cries. (4:16; see the Notes section.)

“Guards of a field” would watch for intruders or any animals that could ruin crops or prey on sheep or goats. Like watchful guards, alert warriors would come against Jerusalem, encircling the city all around as if it were an unwanted intruder that had to be seized. This would happen because Jerusalem, or the inhabitants of the city, had rebelled against YHWH, refusing to adhere to his commands. According to the Septuagint, Jerusalem had “neglected” or disregarded God. (4:17)

In the Hebrew text, the pronominal singular suffix that is translated “your” is feminine gender. In this context, it refers to Jerusalem as representing the people. Most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the other residents in the kingdom of Judah had conducted themselves in a God-dishonoring manner. Therefore, the calamity that would befall them would be the consequence of their “way” or lawless course and their corrupt “dealings. The “evil” or calamity they would experience is described as “bitter” or very distressing and hurtful. It would reach to the “heart,” paining them greatly in their inmost selves. (4:18)

Apparently contemplating how greatly his people would suffer, Jeremiah was moved to exclaim, “My innards, my innards! I writhe [form of chil (based on the marginal reading of the Hebrew text)].” (“My belly, my belly aches.” [LXX]) O “walls of my heart! My heart is turbulent within me. I cannot remain silent, for my soul has heard [I myself have heard] the sound of the shophar [a ram’s-horn trumpet], a cry of war.” In his inmost self, Jeremiah was greatly pained. He sensed that his heart was in a state of upheaval, probably pounding wildly. Jeremiah could not restrain himself from expressing how he felt. As if the campaign of conquest was already in progress, he spoke of having heard the invading force sound the signal for attack and shout a war cry. (4:19; see the Notes section.)

Jeremiah was fully aware of the horrors of war. He envisioned crash upon crash, with the entire territory of the kingdom of Judah being devastated. The reference to “my tents” may be to the dwellings of Jeremiah’s people. He spoke of them as being “suddenly despoiled,” and the “tent cloths” as being despoiled “in a moment.” No part of any dwelling would remain intact. (4:20; see the Notes section.)

Jeremiah wondered how long he would see the signal and continue to hear the sound of the shofar (a ram’s-horn trumpet). The reference could be either to the raised signal of the invaders and the sound of their horn or the distress signal of the defenders and the horn that sounded alarms. In the Septuagint, the question is, “How long will I see refugees, be hearing the sound of trumpets?” (4:21)

The apparent speaker is YHWH. He is quoted as speaking of his people (the “leaders of [his] people” [LXX]) as “foolish,” acting in a senseless manner. They did not “know” him, as evident from their refusal to act according to his ways. Instead of being obedient children who lived uprightly. They were “unwise sons.” They behaved in a manner that revealed them to be without any understanding of what was right. As far as doing bad was concerned, they were “wise,” but they did not know how to do good. They were defiant in practicing evil, acting as if they had no knowledge of what was the proper course for them to take. (4:22)

The scene that Jeremiah envisioned was one of complete devastation as if the land had returned to its primeval state. He saw the land as “empty and waste,” and the “heavens” or celestial dome above him as being without “their light.” It was as if no celestial orbs or stars existed. (4:23; compare Genesis 1:2.)

Jeremiah continued his description of what he envisioned. He saw the otherwise stable mountains, and “they were quaking, and all the hills were moving back and forth.” (4:24) Jeremiah saw that there was not a man in the land to cultivate it, and he could see no birds or other creatures “of the heavens” flying in the air, for they had all “fled.” (4:25) The former well-cared for “fruitful land” (karmél) was a “wilderness,” and “all the cities” in this land had been reduced to ruins. This total devastation would come “before the face of YHWH [the Lord (LXX), before the face of the burning of his anger” or before his fierce anger, for his wrath would be directed against his disobedient people. According to the Septuagint, the cities were set on fire and were obliterated “before the face of the anger of his wrath.” (4:26; see the Notes section.)

YHWH decreed that “all the land” of his people would become desolate. The next phrase of the Hebrew text could be rendered as a rhetorical question, “And will I not make a complete end?” According to the Septuagint, however, the assurance is that he would by no means make a complete end, and the Hebrew text could also have this significance. In the Septuagint, the emphatic sense (“by no means”) is expressed with two words for “not.” (4:27)

The desolation would transform the land into a sad sight. Therefore, YHWH is represented as saying that the “land will mourn.” Nothing will remove the gloom over the entire land. The “heavens above” or the entire celestial dome “will become dark,” with the desolation having produced a state of total darkness. There would be no change in what YHWH had purposed. He is quoted as saying, “I have spoken, I have resolved, and I have not repented [regretted or changed my mind], and I will not turn back [from it].” The Septuagint reads, “I have spoken, and I will not repent; I have begun [literally, rushed], and I will not turn back from it.” (4:28)

“At the sound” (either the din or the shout) of “horseman and archer” (“bent bow” [LXX]), “all” the inhabitants of “the city,” or the residents of every city, flee (“every region [or the people there] withdrew” (LXX). The fleeing people try to find safety in the “thickets” and climb on “rocks,” apparently seeking a place of refuge in the caves of the rocky terrain. According to the Septuagint, the people entered “caves,” “hid in the groves,” and “climbed on the rocks.” Every city is abandoned, with no man residing in any of them. (4:29)

In the Hebrew text, the second person singular pronoun (“you”) is feminine gender and apparently refers to Jerusalem as representing the kingdom of Judah. The city is described in terms of a woman who has been despoiled. This could imply that the city was surrounded by destroyed cities and towns and devastated land. In view of the circumstances, the question is raised, “What will you do?” Lady Jerusalem is depicted as making herself attractive, evidently in an effort to ward off calamity. She clothes herself “in scarlet,” decks herself “with ornaments of gold,” and enlarges the appearance of her eyes with black paint. Her efforts to beauty herself would be in vain. Those with whom she had alliances (“her lovers”) despised her. They were seeking her “soul” or her life. (4:30)

Finally, Jerusalem is portrayed as a woman in great distress. It appears that it is Jeremiah who refers to himself as hearing the sound of writhing woman, the “distress of a woman giving birth to her first child,” the “cry of the daughter of Zion, gasping for breath” as is one who is about to die, “stretching out her hands” in a desperate appeal for help. Jerusalem is then quoted as crying out, “Woe to me, for my soul is [I myself am] wearied before the slayers!” (4:31; see the Notes section.)

Notes

When verse 2 is regarded as having a Messianic application, the words refer to repentant ones of Israel who recognized Jesus as the promised Anointed One, Messiah, or Christ and the unique Son of God and became his devoted disciples. Observing the evidence that God was with them as evident from the operation of his spirit among them, people from many nations responded to the message about Jesus Christ that they proclaimed and chose to become his followers. Thus, in ever-increasing numbers, people of the nations “blessed themselves in Israel” and gloried in Israel. They shared in all the blessings and privileges associated with having become part of the Israel of God, and they gloried in having come to be at one with the true Israel or having gained the blessed standing of members of God’s people. (Compare Ephesians 2:11-22.)

In verse 11, the Septuagint mentions a “spirit of wandering in the wilderness.” If the reference is to the way (or course of action) of God’s people, it would be a way that did not lead to “what is clean nor to what is holy.” Both in this verse and verse 12, the Hebrew word for “spirit” is also the designation for “wind.”

Possibly regarding Jeremiah, the Septuagint (in verse 12) refers to a “spirit of filling” as coming to “me.” This could apply to a spirit or a mental disposition that would cause the prophet to feel satisfied.

In verse 16, the Septuagint directs that the proclamation to be made “in Jerusalem” is, “Bands [of warriors] come from a distant land, and they gave their voice against the cities of Judah.”

In verse 19, the Septuagint does not mention the “walls of the heart.” It indicates that Jeremiah experienced painful “sensations” in his heart. His “soul” or he himself was in a state of great upheaval, and his “heart” felt as though it was being “torn.”

The Septuagint rendering of verse 20 differs somewhat from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “And ruin is calling for breakdown, for all the land is ruined. Suddenly the tent is ruined; my skin coverings have been ripped apart.”

In verse 26, the Hebrew word karmél, here rendered “fruitful land,” can also designate a mountain range. This mountain range extends southeastward from the Mediterranean coast, and the northern part of the range lies directly west of the Sea of Galilee. The Septuagint translator rendered the Hebrew word karmél as the proper noun “Carmel.”

In verse 31, the Septuagint rendering differs somewhat from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “For I heard the sound like that of one in labor, of your groaning like a woman giving birth to her first child; the sound [or voice] of the daughter of Zion will become faint, and she will drop her hands.” She is then quoted as saying, “Woe to me, for my soul is [I myself am] failing because of those slain.”