My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
Oh the walls of my heart!
My heart is beating wildly;
I cannot keep silent,
for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
the alarm of war.
Crash follows hard on crash;
the whole land is laid waste.
Suddenly my tents are laid waste,
my curtains in a moment.
How long must I see the standard
and hear the sound of the trumpet?
“For my people are foolish;
they know me not;
they are stupid children;
they have no understanding.
They are ‘wise’—in doing evil!
But how to do good they know not.”
I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and behold, there was no man,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
For thus says the Lord, “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.” – Jeremiah 4:19-27 ESV
As has been discussed before, the role of a prophet of God was far from easy. They were not automatons who mechanically went about their business. They were not heartless, unfeeling robots who simply mouthed the words given to them by God. They were flesh-and-blood human beings who were being required by God to deliver devastating news of pending destruction to their own people. In this section, we have the first of Jeremiah’s laments or confessions of anguish over what is about to happen to the people of Judah. He fully believed that what God said He was going to do, He would do; but he found no joy in that fact. He was emotionally distraught over the prospect of his people having to endure the suffering that was headed their way. His description of his physical condition speaks volumes concerning his mental and emotional state:
My heart, my heart—I writhe in pain!
My heart pounds within me! I cannot be still. – Jeremiah 4:19 NLT
Whether God had given Jeremiah an actual vision of the coming invasion by the Babylonians is not clear. But Jeremiah describes those future events as if he has already witnessed them.
For I have heard the blast of enemy trumpets
and the roar of their battle cries. – Jeremiah 4:19 NLT
For Jeremiah, the future events that God has prescribed were unavoidable, but also unbearable. He was already tired of hearing about them and having to constantly describe them to the people. So, he calls out to God:
How long must I see the battle flags
and hear the trumpets of war? – Jeremiah 4:21 NLT
It was all too much for him. But God reminds Jeremiah not to forget why he is having to suffer so much inner turmoil. There is a very good reason for his visions of destruction and his personal grief. Rather than point the finger at God, Jeremiah needed to recall the true cause of his unbearable sorrow. So, God tells him:
“My people are foolish
and do not know me,” says the Lord.
“They are stupid children
who have no understanding.
They are clever enough at doing wrong,
but they have no idea how to do right!” – Jeremiah 4:22 NLT
God speaks a powerful word of accusation over the people of Judah, claiming that they don’t even know Him. He describes them as ignorant and devoid of understanding. The only thing they know how to do well is sin. But they lacked the capacity to do what is right. This is a description of a people who had gone off the moral cliff and plunged themselves into a black hole of sin and immorality. They were not coming back. God knew that they were not going to repent of their sins and return to Him. Their destruction was not inevitable, it was unavoidable. As a righteous, holy and just God, He was obligated by His very nature to deal with their sins and keep the covenant He had made with them. He had told them that disobedience would bring curses upon them and He had been quite explicit in what those curses would entail.
“Because you have not served the Lord your God joyfully and wholeheartedly with the abundance of everything you have, instead in hunger, thirst, nakedness, and poverty you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. They will place an iron yoke on your neck until they have destroyed you. The Lord will raise up a distant nation against you, one from the other side of the earth as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, a nation of stern appearance that will have no regard for the elderly or pity for the young.” – Deuteronomy 28:47-50 NLT
God had done what He had promised to do. He had brought them into the land of promise. He had given them victories over their enemies. He had blessed them in innumerable ways, just as He had said He would do.
“The Lord will designate you as his holy people just as he promised you, if you keep his commandments and obey him. Then all the peoples of the earth will see that you belong to the Lord, and they will respect you. The Lord will greatly multiply your children, the offspring of your livestock, and the produce of your soil in the land which he promised your ancestors he would give you. The Lord will open for you his good treasure house, the heavens, to give you rain for the land in its season and to bless all you do; you will lend to many nations but you will not borrow from any.” – Deuteronomy 28:9-12 NLT
But the people of Judah and Israel had proven to be unfaithful and disobedient. They had not kept their side of the covenant. And so, God was bringing on them the very judgment He had said would come. He was keeping His word. And, evidently, God gave Jeremiah a look at the pre-release trailer of the coming destruction.
I looked at the earth, and it was empty and formless.
I looked at the heavens, and there was no light.
I looked at the mountains and hills,
and they trembled and shook.
I looked, and all the people were gone.
All the birds of the sky had flown away.
I looked, and the fertile fields had become a wilderness.
The towns lay in ruins,
crushed by the Lord’s fierce anger. – Jeremiah 4:23-26 NLT
This was not going to be a slap on the wrist. What Jeremiah saw was total and complete destruction. The Babylonians were going to leave behind when they were done was a barren wasteland that was full of destroyed cities, but void of life. This was going to be an apocalypse. The once-great city of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, would have its walls completely destroyed. The city would be laid waste. Even the beautiful temple built by Solomon would be turned into a pile of rubble. Anything of value would be taken as booty by the Babylonians, and the people of Judah would be gathered up and marched off as slaves. And it would all be the result of God’s righteous anger. But the cause of His anger would be the sins of the people. This was not going to be some arbitrary, unprovoked outburst of uncontrollable anger from God. It was going to be His judgment against the open rebellion of the very people He had set apart as His own and blessed in unprecedented ways. The nuclear winter-like vision Jeremiah saw was the direct result of the sins of the people. They were getting what they deserved.
But wait. There is a silver lining to this dark cloud. God gives Jeremiah a glimpse of the good news that lay hidden in all the darkness.
This is what the Lord says:
“The whole land will be ruined,
but I will not destroy it completely.” – Jeremiah 4:27 NLT
It’s not much, but in this one verse lies a message of hope. As bad as things might have appeared in Jeremiah’s vision, there was a glimmer of light. God was not going to destroy the land completely. This was not going to be a complete destruction. While the people of Judah deserved nothing but total annihilation for their sins, God was going to show them mercy. He was going to extend them grace. A remnant would survive the coming holocaust. Not all would be killed or taken captive. God was still going to bless the people of Judah – in spite of them. His love for them would not fade. Yes, He was going to punish them for their sins, but He was not going to abandon them. He was not going to give up on them. Because He is faithful. And because He had a plan for the nation of Judah that was bigger than that one generation. He had a purpose for them as a nation for which they were unaware. He was going to raise up a king from the nation of Judah who would rule and reign in righteousness. God had made a covenant with King David, telling him:
“Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’” – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT
And that promise would eventually be fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ, as Gabriel made clear to Mary:
“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:30-33 NLT
Judah would be preserved. Yes, they would end up in captivity in Babylon, but God would one day restore them to the land. Why? Because He had made a promise and He was going to keep it. He had a much bigger plan in store for the world. He was going to bring a Savior into the world who would bring a solution to the very sin problem that got Judah in trouble in the first place. Through His Son, God was going to provide a means by which mankind might find release from their slavery to sin and death. So, while Jeremiah saw only doom and gloom, God wanted him to know that this story was going to have a very happy ending.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.