“For this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above be dark;
for I have spoken; I have purposed;
I have not relented, nor will I turn back.”
At the noise of horseman and archer
every city takes to flight;
they enter thickets; they climb among rocks;
all the cities are forsaken,
and no man dwells in them.
And you, O desolate one,
what do you mean that you dress in scarlet,
that you adorn yourself with ornaments of gold,
that you enlarge your eyes with paint?
In vain you beautify yourself.
Your lovers despise you;
they seek your life.
For I heard a cry as of a woman in labor,
anguish as of one giving birth to her first child,
the cry of the daughter of Zion gasping for breath,
stretching out her hands,
“Woe is me! I am fainting before murderers.” – Jeremiah 4:28-31 ESV
God had spoken, and He made it very clear to Jeremiah that all He had said would come to pass. He would not change His mind or relent. None of the warnings of coming destruction had been idle threats. They were real and every prophecy spoken by Jeremiah was going to come true, right down to the last detail. And the mourning over Judah’s fall would be great. God even personifies nature as joining in the sorrow over the fall of the people of God. The coming disaster was going to have far-reaching implications. The sins of Judah and their consequences were going to impact that region of the world for centuries to come. The fall of Judah was going to dramatically alter the religious, political and sociological landscape of that region of the world. The fall of Jerusalem was going to have tremendous geopolitical implications. Despite their unfaithfulness, Israel and Judah had both managed to influence the world around them. Their worship of Yahweh, while sporadic and spotty at best, had still played a role in establishing the cultural dynamics of the region. Now they would be going into captivity, their capital would be turned to rubble, and their once glorious temple would be destroyed and, as a result, their access to atonement through the sacrificial system would be eliminated.
These were going to be dark days. When the Babylonians arrived, people living all over the land of Judah would find themselves running in fear for their lives, attempting to hide from the oncoming devastation.
They hide in the bushes
and run for the mountains.
All the towns have been abandoned—
not a person remains! – Jeremiah 4:29 NLT
The prophet, Isaiah, gives even more details about what this mass flight of the people of Judah will look like.
And people shall enter the caves of the rocks
and the holes of the ground,
from before the terror of the Lord,
and from the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.
In that day mankind will cast away
their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
which they made for themselves to worship,
to the moles and to the bats,
to enter the caverns of the rocks
and the clefts of the cliffs,
from before the terror of the Lord,
and from the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth. – Isaiah 2:19-21 NLT
The idols they once turned to for hope and help will be thrown aside in their rush to find safety. The false gods who abandoned them will be abandoned by them. These lifeless deities will prove powerless to stand before the wrath of God Almighty. The pitiful and somewhat ironic image is of the people running for thelr lives while carrying their lifeless idols in their hands. Not only were these gods incapable of doing anything about the tragedy facing the people of Judah, they couldn’t even save themselves. These inanimate objects had to be rescued by the very people there were meant to save. What a sad picture of the futility of idol worship.
Judah is described as a prostitute, all decked out in fancy clothes, covered in makeup, and adorned with jewels, in an attempt to entice the aid of other nations. But God warns that their actions would prove futile. No one was going to come to their defense. In fact, the surrounding nations would be glad to see them fall. All Judah’s efforts to woo and win aid from Egypt and other nations would result in nothing but an unwanted pregnancy. That is the image God uses next. he describes Judah as a pregnant woman, agonizing over the pains of childbirth.
I hear a cry, like that of a woman in labor,
the groans of a woman giving birth to her first child. – Jeremiah 4:31 NLT
Their unfaithfulness was going to result in pain and suffering, and they were going to give birth to destruction. Like a prostitute who finds herself pregnant as a result of her promiscuous ways, the nation of Judah would find their pleasure turned to pain and their unfaithfulness giving birth to unexpected suffering. But their cries of anguish would go unheeded and unanswered. No one was going to be able to save them. God was not going to change His mind regarding them. He had given them ample opportunity to repent and return. He had sent prophets like Jeremiah to warn them. He had allowed King Josiah to rediscover the law and attempt to enact religious reforms among the people. But their hearts had remained unchanged and their faithlessness, undiminished.
The result would be Judah’s demise. They would end up like a woman dying in childbirth, “gasping for breath and crying out, ‘Help! I’m being murdered!’” (Jeremiah 4:31 NLT). Their end would not be pretty. Their demise would be painful and bloody. Many would end up dying as a result of their stubborn refusal to accept God’s call to repentance. They would turn up their noses at His offer of mercy and end up suffering the consequences. But it’s fascinating how many read the stories surrounding Judah’s fall and get angry with God. They wrestle with the idea of a loving, gracious God treating His people in such a horrific fashion. And in doing so they fail to grasp the deep significance and gravity of sin. We tend to tolerate sin. We learn to live with it. We even excuse it and justify it. But God can’t. He is holy. He is righteous. And as the God of the universe, He must deal justly with sin. He can’t overlook it or ignore it. To do so would be like a judge refusing to mete out justice on a criminal deserving punishment for a crime for which he was guilty. To overlook a crime is not justice, it is injustice. It is a crime in and of itself. For God to tolerate our sin would be sin and He would cease to be God.
The problem is that we tend to read the Bible in snapshot fashion. We pick up an photograph depicting an event that happened thousands of years ago, and we judge God based on that solitary image. We fail to see the bigger picture. God’s treatment of Judah was a moment-in-time glimpse into God’s much larger plan for the redemption of mankind. We can look at the events surrounding the fall of Judah and wonder how a good God could do such a thing. But if we step back and examine the full scope of God’s redemptive plan, we see that He has something far greater in store than we could ever imagine. To get angry at God because we don’t like the way in which He has handled a particular moment in our lives reveals that we have a myopic image of God. We live in the moment. God lives in eternity. We can only know the present, while He knows the future and the eventual outcome of all things. The people of Judah had no idea what was going to happen to them. All they knew was that God had predicted their doom. But He had something far greater in store for them as a people. He had the plan for the Messiah in place and the time for His arrival already set. It is a dangerous thing to judge God based on the limited information we have at a given moment. We must trust that He has bigger plans than we can see or even grasp. What may look hopeless and purposeless to us is nothing of the sort to God. It is all part of His sovereign plan.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT
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.